Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday afternoon tidbits

Don't know what it's like for folks in the rest of the country and the world, but here in New England we're having a spell of winter-like weather. It even snowed a bit last night. People are weeping and wailing about it, but as the proud owner of a brand-new snowboard, I couldn't be happier. If you haven't been able to tell from my Twitter feed, I'm itching to hit the slopes. It's been 7 months at this point! No man should have to suffer so.

Let's get to some links.

-Ben Richardson wrote a great article about Tim Schafer in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and I'm not just saying that because he quoted me in it. Although I didn't like Brütal Legend, Schafer is an awesome guy with some fascinating insights and a real love for metal. In some ways, I'm happy to see the wide-ranging reactions to this game. I feel like truly interesting and inspiring games will divide people. They will challenge us to think about them, both while we're playing and afterwards. Brütal Legend seems to do that.

-The Boston Globe reports on new research that indicates that playing games may be good for your brain. In the same way that lifting weights and running laps can improve your body's physical abilities, the challenges of interpreting virtual space can help your brain with a variety of tasks: "Fast-paced, action-packed video games have been shown, in separate studies, to boost visual acuity, spatial perception, and the ability to pick out objects in a scene. Complex, strategy-based games can improve other cognitive skills, including working memory and reasoning." This won't surprise many gamers, nor does it put to rest arguments about the effects of violent games on kids, but it's heartening nonetheless.

By the way, Steven Johnson covered similar ground, more readably but less scientifically, in his book Everything Bad is Good for You.

-Shawn Elliott appears, Bigfoot-like, to share with us the one and only right review. It's an aggregation of all the inane, venomous comments that readers like to post on game reviews. I love this line in particular: "Now the credibility I never had is as good as gone. "

I've been fortunate not to have to deal too much with this stuff. It's always surprising the tone that such comments take when they do show up. Disagreement is a healthy thing, but often commenters will ignore the substance of the review entirely and just slam the reviewer. The commenter acts as though he is in possession of some divine truth, and therefore it's not even worth engaging actual arguments to the contrary. (Do reviewers sometimes do this to games? Probably.)

It's kind of like the abortion issue.

-Today, October 16, is National Bosses Day, so it's appropriate to once again revisit a feature that Ryan Stewart and I collaborated on for the Phoenix: The 20 Greatest Bosses in Video Game History. It's not a particularly surprising list, but I was happy with the blurbs we wrote about each boss. Reading them now, I still am.

We wrote this in 2006, and I wonder if anyone has shown up since then who deserves a spot. No one immediately springs to mind. Maybe GLaDOS, or maybe the Joker in Arkham Asylum. Not sure. Many of the best games I've played over the past few years have not been distinguished by their bosses. Many don't even have bosses as we used to know them.


Tim Mackie said...

This is probably old news to many of your readers, but I have to say that Metal Man's presence on that list completely made my day.

Dave said...

I don't think that the divisiveness of Brutal Legend is really all that interesting. The general consensus on the game strikes me as being that the art design and writing is quite engaging, but the actual gameplay bits are often kinda shitty. The divisiveness of the game stems from a disagreement over whether the strengths outweigh the weaknesses.

I guess I don't feel that an argument over whether shitty gameplay can/should be slogged through in order to get to the good bits of a game to be a new or interesting point of discussion. This has been an issue ever since videogames started to have plots/stories that aspired to be more than window dressings.

I guess the question I'm really curious about is why Doublefine felt it was a good idea to try and deliver an ultra ambitious RTS/Third-person-action/open-world-driving game when they hadn't been entire successful in delivering a fairly unambitious (gameplay wise) platformer.

Anonymous said...

GLADOS definitely deserves a spot - in fact, she should take SHODAN's spot. She presses all the same buttons while delivering the funniest lines in gaming history.

Lyndon said...

@ Dave: Perhaps the divisiveness is that some people like the gameplay. For example Tom Chick only had positive things to say about the game's RTS elements.

But yes the whole is it worth slogging through 2nd rate gameplay (I wouldn't go as far as saying Brutal Legend is shitty) in order to get to the first rate storytelling is ages old. Hell it basically gets brought up whenever Tim Schafer releases a new game.

You'd think we'd know what to expect by now.