Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Get by with a little help from my friends

Lucas Arts adventure games hold a special place in my heart, as you can tell from the name of this blog. So I've been following the Vintage Game Club's discussion of Grim Fandango with some interest, even though I'm not participating and, in fact, never played the game.

Much of the discussion so far has centered on the difficulty of the game's puzzles. One of the hallmarks of the Lucas Arts games was the twisted logic of the inventory based puzzles, which often became clear only in retrospect. Consider the scene in The Secret of Monkey Island in which Guybrush is tethered to an idol and thrown off a pier. Dozens of sharp objects surround him, all just a little bit further than he can reach. He is unable to cut the the anchor keeping him on the sea floor.

The solution? Pocket the statue, and walk away. It is the last thing you would think of, and yet within the game world it makes perfect sense. Moreover, because it is the only object in the scene that Guybrush can interact with, no other solution is even conceivable.

Most of the puzzles make more sense than that. But they all require a degree of lateral thinking that action games don't match. My favorite Lucas Arts puzzles are completely straightforward, but it's hard to analyze your way through them. More often, the solution springs from that elusive "Eureka moment," when your brain suddenly connects two pieces of information in a totally new way.

But I've got to be honest: I didn't make my way through these games by myself. In fact, I didn't even own them. I played through The Secret of Monkey Island, Monkey Island 2, Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, and Full Throttle all at my friend Justin's house. He walked me through them almost every step of the way, giving me hints where appropriate and solutions where necessary. I did as much as I could on my own, but given the choice between agonizing over some esoteric puzzle, or moving ahead with the storyline, I chose the easier option every time. I don't know if that helped me enjoy these games more, or less. But how could I possibly have liked them more?

Puzzle games weren't the only genre in which I needed a boost. Another friend of mine in elementary school, Ryan, was a gaming savant. There was no single-player game he couldn't rip through, and no multiplayer game in which any of us could compete with him. He entered the Nintendo World Championships and did all right for himself, advancing beyond the state level, if I recall correctly. He was sponsored by Child World, the toy store, and the Framingham location had his picture on their wall. Most of what I learned about playing video games, I learned from him. He was GameFAQs before there was GameFAQs.

Ryan couldn't help me play action games the way Justin helped me play puzzle games, but I improved just by watching him. I never would have figured out on my own to use the Wood Shield against Air Man, the the Air Blades against Crash Man, or the metal blades against Metal Man -- to say nothing of navigating the tricks and traps of Dr. Wiley's castle. To this day, Mega Man 2 is the only game in the series I can beat, because it's the only one I was able to watch Ryan play. My list of vanquished NES games is brief, but I think Ryan deserves credit for just about all of them.

I know lots of people who consider using walkthroughs to be cheating, and whose enjoyment of video game derives from overcoming challenges. But frankly, I think the help I got from my friends is part of the reason I came to love games in the first place. These days I'm much more apt to bail on a game that's giving me too much trouble, because, after all, there are so many other games out there. People remember Contra as being brutally difficult, but even today I can still power through it without even using The Code, and only because I got the guidance I needed from a friend. I cannot say the same about any game released in the last, oh, 15 years or so.

It's hard to remember that some of these older games were ever that difficult, if we can recall them only through the prism of victory. Which brings us back to Grim Fandango. The quirky nature of the puzzles is confounding several of the folks participating in the Vintage Game Club. And it seems to be keeping some of them from fully surrendering themselves to the world that Schafer and company created. What's the better outcome: letting the game defeat you, or getting by with a little help from your friends?

This post is an entry in the July '08 Round Table. To read more entries, use the dropdown below.

Note: After writing -- and titling -- this entry, I saw that another Round Table bloggist had covered much the same ground. It was a coincidence, I swear!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Anyone can play guitar

Above: Steven Tyler's had so much plastic surgery that he doesn't even look human anymore.

My review of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is up now at The short version: It's not the worst Guitar Hero game ever made (that honor goes to On Tour, and Rocks the 80s was also worse), but it's symptomatic of the series' downward trend.

In some ways, the Aerosmith edition is almost better than Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, because the difficulty level makes more sense, and there's only one guitar battle -- which is still one guitar battle too many. But a music game lives and dies by its tracklist, and this is one of the weakest yet.

Strangely, though, I seem to have gotten much better at Guitar Hero during my most recent sabbatical from playing. I shredded my way through Aerosmith's hard difficulty without any trouble. Then, because the tracklist was so sparse, I popped in Legends of Rock and proceeded to slaughter a bunch of songs that had been giving me trouble before. If you recall, the difficulty in that game suddenly skyrocketed in tier 7. Well, suddenly I found myself five-starring "Stricken" and "Before I Forget" after limping my way through them months before. I don't know what happened. Best not to question it.

Still didn't have the balls to attempt tier 8, though. I'm not a masochist.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Atari 2600 box art vs. Atari 2600 games

No doubt about it, video games look great these days. Realistic character models, lushly rendered environments, and eye-popping visual effects seem to leap off the screen. If only box art had kept pace. In the days of the Atari 2600, the covers for most games were rendered with rich artistic detail, promising boundless visual delights within. If only the games looked anything like the box art promised. Here are some of my favorites.


The box promises:
A pitched battle against super advanced robotic insects through the depths of a Tron-like computerized environment. Your character is a lithe, speedo-clad Bruce Jenner lookalike.

The game delivers:
Several confused golems wait for their turn at the pink water fountain. They all got there at the same time, and no one knows who gets to go first.

Cosmic Ark

The box promises:
A Star Destroyer can pat its head and rub its tummy at the same time, blasting oncoming asteroids while gently scooping up the imperiled citizens of the galaxy.

The game delivers:
The flying oyster is nauseous, possibly from looking too long at the greenish starfield.


The box promises:
Dragons! Castles! Hedge mazes! The grandest adventure of all time awaits, if thou are stout of spirit and pure of heart!

The game delivers:
Damn it, Warren left the pool floaty out again.

Custer's Revenge

The box promises:
A horny, nude cowboy ravishes a captive Native American woman.

The game delivers:
A horny, nude cowboy -- ah, crap.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A link to the present

A little link love for a post-E3 week:

-If you're not reading Jeremy Parish's 25-part celebration of the Famicom's 25th anniversary, you should be. Nobody does retro reporting so well.

-Stephen Totilo has the definitive take on Nintendo's E3 performance, which was poorly received in hardcore quarters (hardquarters?). To me, this is just another example of the uselessness of these shows in general, but now that the backlash has started against E3 critics, maybe I'll just shut my big mouth.

-Then again, if you still agree that E3 is a waste of space, maybe you'd like Magical Wasteland's take. It didn't have to be this way, says Matthew.

-Matthew Gallant takes a look at bloom disasters. Bloom can be quite pretty, but a little goes a long way. I remember finding myself squinting at Tomb Raider Anniversary, wondering if the settings on my TV were wrong.

-Tommy Tallarico drops by Cruise Elroy to discuss "real music" vs. "video game music." Besides presenting an interesting look at game audio (as Dan Bruno always provides), this is also proof positive that any time you mention anybody on the Internet, they will respond within 24 hours. Even if, as has been this case on this blog a few times, your traffic qualifies you to be little more than an ant under their shoes.

-Giant Bomb launched. Whether the world needs another straight-up news and reviews site, I don't know, but it's hard not to root for Gerstmann and friends after all they've been through.

-I try not to read reviews of games I'll be covering, but when I read Gamers with Jobs' review of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, I didn't yet know that I'd be reviewing it myself. Unfortunately for me, Sean Sands' take is just about perfect.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Shorter Electronic Entertainment Expo

Who has time to read painstaking, thorough reports filed from the E3 showfloor by some of the hardest working writers around? Here's your brief but indispensable show digest, by a guy who wasn't even there.*

Shorter Resident Evil 5:
You bet we've got exploding barrels.
Shorter Jeremy Parish:
I am now carrying Mega Man's child.
Shorter Texas Governor Rick Perry:
I was elected too late to help Ion Storm, but we can still save Midway Austin!
Shorter Square Enix:
Although we care deeply about our reputation on NeoGAF, we also value our continued existence as a company.
Shorter Nintendo:
"I'm Keith Hernandez."
Shorter Microsoft:
You can stream movies from Netflix absolutely free -- provided you're paying $50 a year for an Xbox Live Gold account, and at least $8.99 a month to Netflix.
Shorter Sony:
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
*You may think I stole this conceit from Penny Arcade, but in fact I stole it from Sadly, No!, who themselves stole it from some damn place or another.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Space is the place

Count me among those pleasantly surprised by Space Invaders Extreme. Still, there's not all that much I can think to say about it. This was a tough review to write, but an easy game to recommend.

I'm suffering from E3 overload right now, fending off dueling live-Twitters and redundant news posts in Google Reader. Even the interesting stuff from this show still isn't that interesting. It's a little surprising that Final Fantasy XIII is no longer PS3-exclusive, but what does that really mean for anybody? Exclusives are much more newsworthy than non-exclusives.

Anyway, I've railed against the culture of hype before, and I don't really have the energy to do it again. Suffice it to say that much of what comes out of E3 -- even in its newer, sleeker iteration -- is not news. It is publicity. The message is controlled fully by the marketers. By now, you'd think people would know better.

In a perfect world, maybe the only way we'd find out about any games would be by taking them off the shelves at random and discovering what awaited within. Probably not worth the effort pining for that world.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The worst interview ever

Above: "Not really" big gamers.

Whenever someone refers to me as a games journalist, I cringe. Journalism involves things like enterprise reporting, talking to people, and leaving your house. That's not my scene. My scene is asking someone else to bug publishers for promos, retreating to the privacy of my apartment, and then blustering on for thousands of words while wearing an open bathrobe and drinking Narragansett.*

Nevertheless, when I first got into this racket, I assumed it was expected of me to engage in some journalistic activities. So I attended a Major League Gaming event, visited the offices of Atari and Harmonix (this was before Guitar Hero, mind you), and, on the eve of the 2004 Nintendo Fusion Tour, conducted the worst interview in the history of the printed word.**

You can read that link to find out more about the Fusion Tour, but in a nutshell it was a cross-promotional music festival that featured crappy pop-punk bands on the stage and Nintendo kiosks in the lobby. The kiosks featured, among other games, a playable demo of the not-yet-released Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, which was my favorite part. Onstage were a bunch of up and coming bands, including a pre-"Helena" My Chemical Romance.

Headlining the Fusion Tour was Story of the Year. At each stop along the way, two lucky fans would win a chance to compete against the band in a game of WWE: Day of Reckoning. Somehow, I found myself with an appointment to do a phone interview with the band's singer, Dan Marsala.

You have to understand how nervous I was. I hate the phone. I won't even call for pizza unless physically threatened. Sure, everyone has to start somewhere, but I had no experience interviewing people, and I am not by nature a talkative guy. Someone else needs to lead the discussion. Hiring me to conduct an interview is like asking Amy Winehouse to be your AA buddy. I'm not proud of this. It's just the way things are.

The moment came, and I called. Their manager answered. "This gonna take long?" he said. "Cause we got some other stuff to do."

"No! Just a couple of minutes," I said. I was grateful. The less time I had, the better.

He handed the phone to Dan. All right. Showtime. I'd been thinking hard about what to talk about. Story of the Year. Nintendo Fusion Tour. Metroid Prime 2. WWE: Day of Reckoning.

"So!" I said as cheerily as I could. "Headlining the Nintendo Fusion Tour. Are you guys big gamers?"

"Not really," he said.

Neither of us spoke for a moment. I wasn't sure if the hissing noise was the open phone line, or the blood rushing in my ears.

Finally, I thought of a follow-up: "Oh."

If you read the article, you can tell that I was able to stammer out a few more sentences and get some workable quotes, although I don't even mention Marsala's name until about two-thirds of the way through. When I do, it feels superfluous. But hell, I'd gone to the trouble of doing the interview -- I'd be damned if I didn't use some of it.

As these things go, obviously my interview wasn't as bad as, say, NFL quarterback Jim Everett beating the stuffing out of Jim Rome. If anything, I probably set myself up for failure by not preparing to talk about this guy's music. But it was enough for me to know I never wanted to do that again.

*At least one part of this sentence is not true. I will leave it to you to guess which.

**Sorry these are all Web Archive links; the originals have gone fishin' since the Phoenix's site redesign.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

This does not assuage my fears

Chris Dahlen got some hands-on time with Rock Band 2 for the AV Club. Among his terrifying findings (all direct quotes):
  • Rock Band 2 is an expansion, not a reinvention.
  • In the band world tour... you'll have more variables to play with. You can hire staff – promoters, your mom – to support your band or find new gigs. A risk and reward system will complicate the business end: hire a sleezy accountant and you may clear more money from a successful gig, or you may get robbed if you underperform.
  • Harmonix has skipped user-generated content for the forseeable future

None of that is encouraging -- particularly the middle part, which reminds me of all of those bloated features that found their way into the Madden games, like picking your custom player's parents, putting him through college, making him do squats, and helping him to score in double-digits on the Wonderlic.

I should say that after airing all my concerns about Rock Band 2 on Monday, I've come around somewhat. The simplest thing I didn't consider is the usefulness of the disc-only version this time around. Rock Band owners won't have to splurge to get almost all of the benefits of the new version, as they did last year. If you consider that the disc will house over 80 songs, according to Chris's article, then you're saving a bundle on song costs alone -- if, that is, you would have chosen to download all of those tracks a la carte. That's a big "if."

While I still think it's something of a kiss-off to people who bought Rock Band last year that newer, better peripherals will be available in September, ultimately it's not a dealbreaker. Even so, I still think that with the DLC spigot spewing cash into Harmonix's coffers, they would have been better off releasing these iterative improvements as updates to the original, while they toiled away on the real sequel.

One more thing about that lack of user-generated content. I'm sure that whatever Harmonix has up their sleeve regarding this "indie initiative" is going to be a positive feature. But Chris's article seems to suggest -- and Ryan Stewart's Phlog post concurs -- that the coming wave of mostly crappy Guitar Hero IV user-generated tracks is a bad thing.

Sure, most of it will be crap. That's to be expected. The sheer volume of it will ensure that, in absolute terms, much of it will also be good -- some of it surprisingly so. The best will rise to the top, just as happens on sites like YouTube, thanks to community involvement. This is a good thing. And it goes further toward democratizing music than does an exclusionary model by which, if you're some kid dicking around in his room instead of playing in a "real" band, no one thinks you could possibly create something worthwhile.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Speaking of Guitar Hero

Yesterday, I mentioned that I had played Guitar Hero: On Tour. The full review is up now at

In short: The game is disqualified because the peripheral is so uncomfortable. QED.

Guitar Hero: On Tour is sort of impressive to behold on a philosophical level, but in practice it just plain sucks. I could not recommend playing this to anyone. But there are a couple things I didn't get to in the review that are worthy of discussion.

For one thing, the battle mode that was introduced with such a splat in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock actually fits better on this Nintendo DS version. Since the whole user experience feels less like you're playing a guitar, these sort of extracurricular gameplay features don't feel as grafted on. Plus, you can actually store up attacks, up to three in all, after you've earned them. There's a bit more strategy as a result (though still not much).

Because this is a DS game, of course, you must blow into the microphone. During battle mode, your opponent may set your guitar on fire, and you have to blow it out. Okay. And to activate star power, your options are to shout "Rock out!" (yeah, right), or blow into the microphone.

This... this was a lot harder than I would have thought. It's easy to miss the tiny mic slot when you've got your eyes on the note charts. As a result, as with the console versions of Guitar Hero, I still cannot activate star power without bungling my note streak at least half the time.

(You can also activate star power by hitting the D-pad or the A, B, X, or Y buttons, but this turns out to be nearly impossible. Might have worked if you could hit the shoulder button, but alas, that's the one button you can't use to activate star power.)

I gave it a 4.0, so I was a bit surprised to see that Guitar Hero: On Tour's Metacritic score is a 74. But in video game terms, that's actually not great. By Guitar Hero standards, it's a disaster.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Rock Band 2: Why now?

Give me a choice between Rock Band and Guitar Hero, and I'll take the former every time. This despite the countless hours of entertainment the first two GH games gave me. That was the past. Now? Activision has ruined Guitar Hero. I don't know how to put it more plainly than that.

(Bill Harris does know how to put it more plainly, laying out in exquisite detail the destruction of the Guitar Hero brand.)

I'll grant that when Harmonix was at the GH reins, they still pinched off a stinker, but that one had "contractual obligation album" written all over it. Besides, by that point, they were hard at work on a much better game: Rock Band.

In the meantime, Activision had dished off Guitar Hero development to Neversoft, a company that knew a little something about running quality brands into the ground. (But let's be fair to Neversoft: The first several THPS games, which they created, were freakin' fantastic.)

This resulted in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, a game which was pleasant enough in its own right, but lacked the secret sauce that made its predecessors so great. Ultimately, it seemed that its developers weren't trying so much to replicate the feeling of playing these songs, but were trying to shoehorn them into a traditional skill-based gaming style, in which harder equaled better.

Most troubling was what GHIII seemed to portend. Instead of focusing on the music, the developers added features like the gimmicky boss battles, which no one enjoyed. Inevitably, the sideshow became the main attraction, and we were treated to Guitar Hero: Aerosmith Edition, which I have not played, and the full-on belly-flop of Guitar Hero: On Tour, which I have.

In the meantime, Rock Band came out and just pushed music. Each week, new tracks were available for download -- not costumes, not backgrounds, just songs. Some songs appeared in both games. In each case, the song was harder to play in Guitar Hero, and more fun to play in Rock Band.


Insult Swordfighting reader Iroqouis Pliskin actually asked the folks at Harmonix. It's not just how Harmonix draws up the note charts, although that's a big part of it. Song choice is also crucial. Their emphasis is less on pushing new, hot tracks. and instead "reflects a curatorial esteem for musicianship," in Pliskin's words. (Not that this excuses that bland new Motley Crue song.)

Strangely, with Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero 4 poised to do battle this fall, it's Guitar Hero that seems more innovative, and not because they're stealing Rock Band's idea (except they're putting the cymbals above the drum pads, so it's, like, totally original). No, they're including a create-a-song feature, the first really good idea the series has had since the original, and the logical next step. I don't know how well it will work, but I know I want to try it.

By contrast, Rock Band 2 will have one feature it really should have had the first time around, and everything else new has only been hinted at. Maybe you'll be able to import tracks from your iPod. Everything else seems evolutionary. Improved peripherals are fine, online World Tour is helpful, and other than that we haven't heard much. (In fact, after paging through Google Reader, I'm not even sure if I've hallucinated the online World Tour functionality.)

My question: Does any of this stuff warrant a sequel? Particularly a full-priced sequel, to be released less than a year after the original? I'm not sure I follow the logic. Rock Band's DLC is a financial juggernaut. People are quite happy to keep forking over a few bucks for new songs. Much of what Harmonix seems to be promising for the sequel could probably be implemented on the software side via downloadable updates. Improved peripherals are welcome, but they hardly seem to justify the sequel treatment as would new instruments (I'm dying for some keyboards over here).

I'm afraid Harmonix might be applying an Activision-like squeeze to their property -- releasing a new game not because the world is ready for one, but because it's another calendar year and that's just what you do, dammit. Rock Band wasn't cheap, at about $170 for the game and all its controllers. Will the sequel also cost that much? What does that say to people who bought the game last year, expecting it to serve as a platform for years to come? Yes, I'm aware that both games will likely support future DLC. But by definition, Rock Band 2 will have to have exclusive new features, no?

Harmonix has earned the benefit of the doubt several times over. It's possible, even likely, that there are some terrific surprises in store. Still, one thing I never felt when the original Rock Band was announced was even a semblance of doubt. Rock Band 2 seems like too little, too soon.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Metal Gear Solid 4 in a nutshell

Joystick Division's Gary Hodges on MGS4:
Playing through MGS4 in all its extravagant glory, I can't help but think of it as something like a Tyrannosaurus rex: the biggest, most extreme, most fully realized example of something that's ultimately an evolutionary dead end.

Can't put it much better than that.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Old soldiers never die, they just talk a whole lot

Only about a month late, my Metal Gear Solid 4 review is up now at

MGS4 is currently sitting pretty with a Metacritic score of 95. It's a little too much of a coincidence for me that a "one of a kind masterpiece" would be released only about five weeks after the last game the enthusiast press was falling over itself to anoint the best game ever. To read the blurbs about MGS4 on that Metacritic page is like witnessing one of those revivalist worship services where people speak in tongues and collapse to the floor in the throes of religious ecstasy. It's scary and weird, and when I played the game I just didn't see it. Not at all.

The first half of the game was a blast to play -- we're agreed on that much. But as the ratio between gameplay and cutscenes tipped further and further before toppling into the abyss, all I could think was how backwards it all seemed. Gamespot says, "For anyone who appreciates games that rise above the simple act of pushing a few buttons and pulling a few triggers, Metal Gear Solid 4 is a stimulating ride that you won't soon forget." I could not agree less.

"Stimulating" is the last word I would use to describe hour-long stretches without player interaction. In fact, this game could have used many more simple acts of pushing buttons and pulling triggers, because for the most part you don't do anything at all. I like a good cutscene as much as the next guy, but I was hoping the notion of "interactive movies" as something to strive for had gone out with the Sega CD.

The whole thing has caused me to rethink my stance on the entire series. I loved the first Metal Gear Solid without reservation. I hated the second one, mostly because I didn't want to play as Raiden, but also because the story went so far off the rails that I had no idea what I was doing or why. I always assumed that Sons of Liberty was the aberration. But then I could never get into MGS3, again because it was so front-loaded with cutscenes that I was unable to get into the rhythm of it each time I tried to play. Now that MGS4 has similarly failed to work for me, I have to conclude that the original was the exception.

The data doesn't lie: I'm not a fan of the series. It feels like I just found out I was adopted.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Do readers want intelligent games criticism? Do writers?

Mike Walbridge interviewed me for his latest "Game Anthropologist" column over at GameSetWatch. I thank him for including my rambling, incoherent thoughts alongside insights from some heavy hitters, including N'Gai Croal from Newsweek, Kieron Gillen from Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and Shawn Elliott from The subject: The state of intelligent games criticism.

Without knowing how much was left on the cutting room floor, I get the impression that nobody is too sanguine about the state of the art. Of the writers interviewed, most contribute to fairly popular, mainstream paper-and-ink publications. Yet, to a man, it seems like we all see our blogs as the only place we can write about games the way we really want to.

N'Gai says all the interesting writing is being done online. Leigh says her blog is the outlet for her voice (which, presumably, means that Kotaku and Variety are not). Shawn says his blog is a place for him to try writing about games as it should be done (again, implying that Ziff-Davis publications aren't). I feel the same way. Although the quote wasn't used in the piece, I said as much to Mike -- that Insult Swordfighting is the place I can say what I actually want to say.

That's strange. Writing for publications as diverse as Kotaku, Newsweek, the Phoenix, and Games for Windows, and we all feel like -- what? Like we're not serving our readers as best we could? What's the implication here? Are we speaking the softest into the biggest megaphones? Do we think the larger audiences are somehow unready for the brilliance we're slinging on the side? If I didn't know better, I'd think this signaled contempt for the readership.

But that's not the case. If anything, this article makes it clear that most of us have faith that things are heading in the right direction, slowly but inexorably. For one thing, you do have to keep your audience in mind when you're writing for a magazine or a newspaper. You have to remember who you're working for. I see the typical Phoenix reader not as a career gamer, so it doesn't make sense to try to talk to them on that level. Instead, I try to talk put the game in a context they'd understand, focusing on things like story and theme when possible.

Am I sure that I've got this hypothetical reader pegged? No. It's a question of intuition more than anything else. But it's always at the forefront of my mind when I write for the Phoenix. Years from now, I think that reader will have much more of an intimate relationship with games, and the style of review will be different at the time. Still, on a blog, that question never comes up. You write what you want, and the readers either come or they don't. Usually, they don't.

You can't ignore the hard numbers. People want newsbites and they want review scores. Web users just don't want to read long, involved essays. As readers migrate from print to the Web, savvy publishers are going to continue to break their content down into easily digestable chunks of fast facts. I'm not suggesting that this indicates a dumbing down of the general population -- it may even be the opposite, as more and more people get online -- but writers and readers may be at odds as far as what they want criticism to look like. And in every case when such a conflict arises, the readers will win. (As they should!)

Of course, there is still an audience for this stuff. People do read The Brainy Gamer and Save the Robot -- just not in the numbers they read IGN or Gamespot. When 1up editors like Shawn Elliott and Jeremy Parish explore the studio space in their personal blogs, they're reaching readers, too. The level of discourse in games coverage is higher than it's ever been, even if you have to hunt for it a little bit. But even that is starting to change. Mike's article is evidence of that.

It won't happen overnight. If good writers are committed to improving the quality of all writing, then there's really no other choice but to keep at it and hope our efforts bubble up through our blogs and into the "real" publications. We have to do this. We're writers.