Friday, January 08, 2010

Friday afternoon tidbits

Here's hoping 2010 is off to a good start for everyone. It would be great if this was the last New Year's Eve we'll have to suffer those idiotic novelty eyeglasses, but somehow I don't see that happening. Alas.

-Like "a game that will make players cry," one of those long-sought measures of cultural legitimacy has been "game reviews in the New York Times." What more could you need for a seal of approval than coverage in the paper of record? Unfortunately, Seth Schiesel still seems to feel the need to grovel to the Times' august readership. His review of Dragon Age buries some good observations under so much hyperbole that an IGN editor might call it excessive. He calls DA "perhaps the best electronic game yet made," which is not to be confused with The Beatles: Rock Band, which was merely "the most important game yet made."

Look, I get where he's coming from. Long ago, I noticed that the more highly I praised a game, the more likely my editors were to tease it on the paper's front page. Sometimes I have to resist the urge to overplay a positive review for that reason, and sometimes I feel the need to explain why a negative or middling review of a big game might still deserve promotion. I can only imagine what incentives Seth has to try to convince his editors, and his readers, that this column is worth their time. But while I don't doubt his sentiments about Dragon Age, he sounds like he doesn't trust his readers to get it without so many adjectives.

Put it another way: I don't get the same sense of desperation for acceptance when Manohla Dargis goes nuts for Avatar.

-One of the good ones, Gary Hodges, has returned to write for a new site called GeekWeek, kicking things off with a 2009 year in review. He's joined there by some former Joystick Division bros, from back before that site went to shit (and, it should be said, became massively more popular). I'll be keeping an eye out for this one.

-I'm still enjoying reading about Modern Warfare 2's single player campaign, especially because it combines so much deft execution with so many idiotic ideas. Tom Cross has a great essay on MW2 at his personal blog, who rightly excoriates everything to do with the dialogue, storyline, and characterizations. And it's not that anybody played this game for the characterizations, but Tom's trenchant observation is that the game does seem to assume that we cared about Soap and Price the first time around.

(To be fair, though, on HBO's Generation Kill, which I assumed to be fairly authentic in its depiction of wartime, they say "Oscar Mike" just as much as they do in this game.)

-We talked about it a bit on the Brainy Gamer podcast, and now you can read Tom Bissell's piece on difficulty in Demon's Souls at Crispy Gamer. It's obviously an exaggeration to say, as I did on the podcast, that games weren't fun when I was a kid, but it's very much true that once you knew how to beat them, most of them took about 20 minutes to get through. All the replay value came from how hard they were to get through. You just had to keep throwing yourself at them over and over, maybe for months.

(And nothing about Demon's Souls sounds fair to me, not remotely. No pause? A guy who kills all the merchants, rendering your in-game currency useless? Higher-level players who can come into your game at any time and kill you? What the hell would make this game unfair?)

-I broke down and bought tickets for PAX East before early-bird pricing ended (you can still buy three-day passes for $50 each), so I will probably see a bunch of you there. I've never been to something like that before. I don't really know what to expect. Since it's in my hometown, I've been flirting with the idea of throwing some kind of pre-show bash the night before, but I don't know. Does anybody even show up early for these things?

Before anyone asks: no, you can't sleep on my couch.

To the weekend!


Anonymous said...

Mitch! At the risk of seeming like Charlie Sheen's wife rushing to his defense. . . . Demon's Souls is fairer than I let on in the piece. Pause is impossible, they say, because of the online component (though why can I pause Gears of War 2 co-op? hmmm....), and the spell-merchant-murderer is avoidable in several different ways. The game warns you, just not very overtly, which is kind of cool, actually, given how spoon-fed we are by most games. Finally, people who are higher than ten levels above you cannot invade your game. Given how absolutely fucking devastating a single well timed attack is in the game world, you can mow down players much more advanced than you if you time your parries and dodging well. Since I am unable to fight in that way (what I do is give people the plague and then run like hell), I get killed a lot. But it's not the game's fault. The coolest thing about Demon's Souls is that the world is really worth exploring, because it's got stuff in it you desperately need. Not are curious about, not could use: *need*. That's also a novel feeling for me in video games: something I need that the game doesn't drop everything to make sure I find. I promise you: you won't regret a minute you spend with this game. I'm saying that even though I stopped playing it and will probably never pick it up again.
Tom (Bissell)

Gravey said...

Generation Kill uses "oscar mike" (a lot) because "oscar mike" is used in the military. Modern Warfare 2 uses "oscar mike" a lot because it's used in Generation Kill.

If the Modern Warfare games were really well-researched examples of American military operation, "oscar mike" would have been used in COD4 (2007) since we know it's been in use since at least the actual events behind GK (2003). But instead the phrase only pops up in MW2 (2009) after, presumably, the IW team watched GK (2008). That's insultingly elementary research, like the book report based on the movie adaptation.

Not that anyone should be fooling themselves into thinking the Modern Warfare games are respectable representations of, well, modern warfare. But maybe the hints of brilliance that popped up in COD4 might have given some people hope (like myself). MW2 shows those hopes are oscar mike.

Unknown said...

Yes. People show up for PAX (west) early all the time. I went two years ago and came into town a day early. Met some grand folk going to the show. Saw MC Frontalot play an early show in a bar outside of downtown. Good Times.

Unknown said...

Mitch - I agree with Tom, Demons Souls is actually very fair. Most of what happens, happens for a reason, and all of the environmental threats repeat the same way every time, so you have a chance to devise a strategy for each world and see it through. And the game never wastes your time: maps are concise and there's very little inventory (compared to say, a BioWare game), so you aren't wading through a lot of clutter. A game like Dragon Age seems really sloppy and cumbersome in comparison, Seth's review notwithstanding. ;)

And I'll definitely be at PAX East, I'm right up the road. And folks can't sleep on my couch either, heh heh.

Mike said...

Next time there's a PAX East and I my wife hasn't just had a baby, I'm so there.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, interesting comments about Demon's Souls in here. I think a lot of players, like me, are not going to play the game because it looks like a very frustrating experience. But on the other hand, those who love the game try to persuade me with stories about its fairness (what is the opposite of frustration in my book). The funny thing is that both sides in the discussion seem to point at the same qualities of the game to make up their argument. If I had more time and money I would definitely try this game. For the reason that this is one of those few games that appear to touch the core of game criticism in a very direct manner. What makes a game fun? And how much of this process is directed by the game vs the player?

Gary Hodges said...

This is nitpicking, but in regards to this line from Schiesel's review:

"perhaps the best electronic game yet made"

"Electronic game"? It sounds like a word my grandpa would use to describe videogames. When I hear "electronic games", I think of things like Operation.

Kirk Hamilton said...

I've really been enjoying doing the will-I or won't-I dance with Demon Souls. It's not just because of all the things I've read and heard about it, but because the game itself just seems... other.

I hadn't even heard of it until like RIGHT when it came out, and even months later, it still sorta feels like the VHS tape in The Ring. Forged by unholy means and sprung into the world fully-formed.

Obviously, I'm being fanciful - I'm sure that there is a really nice, interesting, and thoughtful team who worked on the game, but for me, at the moment, the entire development and philosophy behind the game is so opaque that I can't help but be intrigued.

And it sounds like that doesn't change when you're actually playing - this NPC I've heard so much about, the one who kills your vendors with almost no warning... rather than the thought-out and tested idea of a game designer, I'd imagine that would feel like a dick move from some malevolent god. The game itself out to get you.

When Gears 2 came out, I'd seen Cliffy B. holding forth for months on end, demoing all the new tech, talking about their vision for the game... when I actually played it, I couldn't help but see him everywhere I looked.

In contrast, the otherness of Demon's Souls has my interest super-piqued. I'm looking forward to playing a game that seems to have come from nowhere.

A dark nowhere.

David Carlton said...

I'm not at that bit of the podcast yet, so I'm missing context, but: games sure didn't take 20 minutes to get through when I was a kid. I can't imagine completing the Ultima games or Wizardry in that sort of time, I can barely imagine doing that with an Infocom game but only after sinking hours and hours into it understanding it, Lode Runner came with 150 levels, etc. (And yes, I had lots of fun playing through all of those.)

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SMS said...

For what it's worth, my Army friend really likes MW2. He even said that the opening training scene was dead accurate, down to the little details.

And having lived in DC, the fighting in that area was more un-nerving than I care to admit.

But anyway, I've got 6-8 people coming up from the Philly area to PAX. It should be a good party.