Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday afternoon tidbits

Some thanks are in order. First, to everybody who suggested gaming blogs last week, thanks for some excellent suggestions, and some new reading material. And second, I'm really appreciative of the thread that developed on the Dragon Age post earlier in the week. I still can't say I like the game, but I understand it much better now, and can say that I have more respect for what it sets out to accomplish. (Undermining that statement in 3... 2... 1...)

-The best blog post I've read this year is 's three-part dissection of the interface problems in Mass Effect. In exacting detail, and with illustrative screenshots, Krystian pores over the numerous bad decisions, both large and small, that make playing Mass Effect such a trial. Upon reading this series, I realized two things:
  1. Dragon Age's interface is a marked improvement over Mass Effect's.
  2. Dragon Age's interface is still terrible.
BioWare seems to value neat-looking menus, status indicators, and icons over useful ones. And the fact that you will eventually learn what all these things mean, and how to use them, does not mean that they are done right in the first place, or that you are not wasting lots of time getting to that point. The menus are a special kind of hell, though I have to think they'd be much easier to navigate with a mouse. Obviously, many people can get past this and enjoy the high-level stuff that BioWare does so well. But an increased emphasis on interface design could only result in more people getting into these games. That would be better for everybody.

-The crew at Gamers with Jobs are such sharp and perceptive writers that when they go wrong, you can almost hear the needle scratching off the record. Sean "Elysium" Sands writes in "A Dirge for the Sinking Ship" that gamers are inadvertently hastening the demise of high-quality, original games by making stupid demands and engaging in silly boycotts. Elysium himself admits to an "unfocussed rage," which is something of an understatement. I think I understand his sentiment, but his logic is baffling.

The linchpin of his argument is that people who complain about day-one DLC in Dragon Age are shortsighted and greedy. Certainly nobody would argue that the game, as it shipped, is lacking content. That's part of why people are upset, I think. You just spent $60 on a new game, thinking you'll settle in for 50 hours or so, and within about 5 hours of play an NPC is hitting you up for actual money. I am not outraged by this, but I think gamers are well within their rights not to buy it, and to let the company know why. That's how the market is supposed to work.

Elysium's larger, self-defeating argument is that if we want to avoid a future with crippled retail products and day-one DLC, then we are obligated to... buy day-one DLC. Well, I don't buy that. Publishers aren't stupid. The way to ensure more games like Dragon Age is to buy Dragon Age. The way to ensure more DLC is to buy DLC. And for the dubious efficacy of things like boycotts -- especially half-hearted ones -- it does work when gamers make their voices heard. The infamous horse armor from Oblivion is the go-to example of stupid, overpriced DLC, and what happened there? There was an outcry, Bethesda responded, and future add-ons were more fairly priced and offered a greater value.

Nearly all of the examples Elysium points to as games we'll be missing out on in the future -- remember, the future after we haven't bought Dragon Age DLC -- are strange ones. Mirror's Edge was a fine idea but a bad game. Ghostbusters was all right, nothing special, and hardly an example of what I'd call a risky game. Brutal Legend was inspired, but a mess. The Riddick remake was great, but it was a remake of a commercially successful title, which tells me that they've already sheared that sheep as much as they're going to.

And then -- Dead Space? Uncharted 2? Fallout 3? Borderlands? We're afraid there won't be more games like these? These are all huge hits. They're all packed with great content on the disc, full experiences in themselves, with some optional DLC if you're into that sort of thing. I guarantee you that we will be seeing more games like these. And if the concern is that we'll only be seeing games like these, which is to say sequels to these games, well, some of them are sequels already. Besides which, these are all games that have come out in the past year, not long-forgotten relics of a more creative era.

There is something to the argument that the à la carte model prohibits systemic support for smaller and riskier projects -- there are so many niche cable television channels today because subscribers have so little choice in which ones we get, so we end up pooling our money for all of them. But a simple look at the state of independent games, especially through digital distribution platforms like Steam, would seem to put the lie to that, too. Anyway, I'd really recommend you read the piece and the top-notch comments thread that follows. Many great points have been made on both sides.

-This is making the rounds. And it is very funny.

Happy weekend!


Rich Clark said...

I would never say this about music, film or television, but the more successful developers in the video game industry seems to value its consumers enough that they seek out their opinions, and even analyze statistics, etc. in order to improve their game. I'm thinking of developers like Valve, Bethesda, Bioware, even Infinity Ward.

Because of this, I think the best thing to do is to buy the game if it's something you want to buy, while simultaneously using various means to communicate to the developers.

Nels Anderson said...

For what it's worth, Bioware's interfaces fare far better w/ a mouse and keyboard. I realize that means nothing to people who aren't playing on PC. And I'm not trying to pull "See? PC is so much better" snobbery here.

But as someone who's spent lots of time thinking how to create a good RPG interface for a gamepad, it's not an easy problem to solve at all. Before having to do it, I didn't realize what a thorny problem it can be.

Now that being said, with all the resources BioWare now has, they should be able to hit at least tolerable on the console controls.

Mitch Krpata said...

I can believe that. I've also read that the PC version of Dragon Age gives you the option to play with an isometric view, which seems like it'd be far preferable. I'd like to be able to see the whole battlefield all at once without having to change camera angles and re-orient myself.

Gary A. Lucero said...

I don't agree about Bioware's UIs. Mass Effect and Dragon Age both have some problems, as most games do, but they are pretty intuitive and function well.

There are some poorly functioning ones out there: Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid, Rock Band and Guitar Hero. They may not be terrible, but they are poor compared to Bioware's...


Gary A. Lucero said...

Mitch, the sad thing is next week you might be praising Modern Warfare 2 as the best game ever made. I personally don't like it and find very little redeeming value in the COD franchise.

Aren't video games weird?

One man's crappy game is another's amazing one...

Mitch Krpata said...

I don't see that happening.

Maybe L4D2, though!

Gary A. Lucero said...

So you're not a COD man? You definitely aren't into RPGs so I would have thought you'd like the shooters.

As far as I'm concerned, COD MW 2 is not very good. It is more of the same sensationalistic shooting the last game offered.

Why Infinity Ward left war out of the phrase "Warfare" and instead just rely on bit sized snippets of shock is beyond me.

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