Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

I reviewed Ghost Recon: Future Soldier for Paste. It's a fine game, albeit a very familiar one. I couldn't  see recommending that somebody make an effort to play this game if they already have anything like it in their collection. On the other hand, if it dropped into your lap, as it did mine, it's not as though you'd be sitting there fantasizing about jabbing pencils into your thighs.

Often times I'll get sick of a certain type of game, before something is able to shake me out of it. I loved Battlefield 3, for instance, even though it was superficially similar to lots of other games. But even with a few minutes of playing a 64-player map, you could tell that something much more was happening, and that the game was dynamic and alive in a way that few games are, from any genre. So I'd like to think I didn't go into Ghost Recon ready to reject it for being too derivative. Sometimes a game is just like that, though. There's no spark. You spend most of your time saying, "Oh yeah, this part is just like that other game." It gives you everything except a reason to care.

This Onion article says it better than I could. Especially this part:
"Let us be clear: This sandwich is by no means bad," Forst said. "But we'd be lying if we said this was a great sandwich or a particularly original one. Though we have little doubt that a handful of people will love the Beef 'N' Bacon, for us to claim that we've come up with a groundbreaking new sandwich sensation would be absurd. Boasts of that measure would be foolhardy and deceptive, especially in light of the fact that Arby's has introduced much better sandwiches in the past." 
Are you hungry? Do you mind eating the same old thing? Let me assure you, then, that Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is something that exists, and will not poison you.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Diablo III

Above: My weak-ass dude, CaptainPower.

In an ideal world, Diablo III would be terrible. It is cruel of Blizzard to make a decent game whose name lends itself to so many putdowns:
  • Diablows
  • Diablah
  • Diabloh-no
Sadly, Diablo III is not terrible, and so I can't use any of those in good conscience. Still, as I play it, I find myself more bemused than anything, wondering, as I often do, why this is the game that sends so many otherwise rational people into fits of ecstasy. I'm sure I played one of the other Diablo games at least a little bit, but I have no equity in the series, and have come to it, for all intents and purposes, as a newcomer. My first takeaway: all these years, I thought people were joking about the clicking!

But click you do, over and over and over. On one hand, I'm blown away that it's possible to make a relatively complex game that is almost entirely mouse-driven. Your character's movement, your primary and secondary attacks, equipping items, dealing with merchants -- all performed with the mouse! Almost brings a tear to my eye. I'll gladly trade a little bit of precision for ease of use.

Sometimes, you trade more than a little bit of precision. One thing I've learned is not to get too carried away with the clicky-clicky, because it won't actually make my character move any faster. If anything, it makes him do things like wander in circles when he's supposed to be bludgeoning goat-men. It also took some patience to remember that the function of the mouse2 button changes on your inventory screen depending on who you're talking to, so if you try to equip an item you just bought from a merchant, you accidentally sell it back to him. Thank goodness for the buyback screen.

One thing you give up with all the clicking is a tactile sense of the combat. Playing Diablo III, I keep thinking back to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, a game that was structurally similar but that absolutely grounded me in its physical world. My character blocked attacks because I pressed the block button, and he dodged because I pressed the dodge button. When he failed at either, it was my fault. In Diablo, dodging and blocking are functions of your stats, and they're entirely based on probability. There may as well be little animated dice on the screen.

That's been my biggest surprise: the real "game" of Diablo is entirely in your character build. Everything that happens in the dungeons is a prelude to combining gear and powers in order to maximize your stats, which itself serves only to keep you alive long enough to find better gear. For veterans, I'm sure this is no surprise, but it took me a few hours of playing before I understood it, and it turned out to be the key to enjoying the game. I had thought that the point of picking up loot was the slot machine-like thrill of not knowing what you were going to get, but it turns out that browsing a merchant's wares, or leveling up your blacksmith, is just as important. Not so important: clicking on randomly spawning wasps and shit.

Speaking of random: I understand that it's supposed to be a selling point that all of the terrain in Diablo III is randomly generated, but playing through it I honestly can't see why. It's not as though there are puzzles and mazes and interesting things happening in the dungeons. They're just grids that get bigger and bigger as you progress through the game. They could be the same every time and I don't think you'd lose anything. Do I think the game suffers for this? Not at all. It's just one of those things that sounds really neat when somebody tells you about it, and then when you experience it turns out to be immaterial.

As for this always-on DRM thing, and the notion that the game is meant to be played with others, I dunno. I do find it pretty silly that I have died lagged-out deaths when playing by myself, and it's annoying that I can't pause the game for more than five minutes without my connection to the server getting cut. But I also can't get that exercised about it, probably because I've got mine and fuck all y'all what ain't got a big pipe.

The multiplayer I'm not so sure about. I've gone solo almost exclusively, and while there is something gratifying about having your brosephs and brosephinas fighting alongside you against Hell's minions, it also doesn't seem to affect the gameplay very much. There are some co-op tactics involved, and some characters have buffs and healing abilities for their allies, but it's not as though you combine powers into super attacks or anything. And there's nothing half as cool as the medic's healing bullets in Borderlands.

In the end, I feel like someone who listened to all the bands that the Beatles influenced before they ever heard anything by the Beatles. I recognize in Diablo a whole lot of things that I've enjoyed in other games, and here they seem somehow more primitive, because, in a sense, they are. Whether Diablo has been streamlined, modernized, dumbed down, whatever you want to call it -- it's still Diablo. This series has brought us many wonderful things, not the most important of which is Diablo III.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The middle

My favorite place to walk in Boston is across the Mass Ave bridge at night. You have a great view of Boston, Cambridge, and the Charles River, all at once. Despite the traffic, it feels quiet and peaceful out there, especially on a night when the moon is out. There's a funny thing about walking across that bridge. It's only about 4/10 of a mile long,* less than a ten minute walk, and yet every time I make the journey I experience the same strange sensation.

After a few minutes, the opposite riverbank seems no closer, but if I turn and look back the way I came, that side of the bridge appears equally distant. There's no way of telling if I'm closer to the beginning or the end. One step in either direction has no discernible effect on my position. I'm somewhere out in the middle.

The middle must be familiar to anybody who's ever taken on a creative project. When you start, you're fueled by enthusiasm. You haven't yet run into any tough decisions. Your first failure is still some ways off -- for all you know, it may never come! (It will.) You're high on possibility. This time, it's all going to work, and it's going to be even better than you could have imagined.

It might take days, weeks, or months, but eventually you find yourself in the middle. This is a place of self-doubt, where enthusiasm has given way to a feeling of obligation, more often of a responsibility that you are shirking. You feel no closer to the opposite shore. You can't even remember what it was like when you started. Every step you take feels like it's leading you nowhere. You're stuck.

This is where most people give up.

It's also where I find myself lately on my board game project, Honor Among Thieves. I continue to work on it, but each session is shorter, less joyful, and seemingly less productive. I've reached a point where I don't know what to do next. The initial burst of energy, with which I wrote out the bulk of the rules and most of the systems, has worn out. Whereas before, I was creating an entire world on blank pages, now it's about filling in the cracks. Not only is that inherently less fun, it's also harder and less rewarding. I still believe in the concept, I just don't have any idea where to go from here.

The insidious thing about the middle is that it hits you on a gut level. You know there is an endpoint, and if you're lucky enough, you've been through it a few times before. Even so, it's impossible to look at the far shore and see it getting any closer, no matter how fast you walk. You feel adrift.

The only way out is to keep walking, although with a creative project the path isn't so clear. Less like walking across a bridge at night, and more like muddling through a desert in a sandstorm. You have to grit your teeth and hope you'll make it out alive.

*Or 364.4 Smoots, give or take an ear.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Flow and transcendence and wheelies

Above: A rider reaches the fourth stage of enlightenment, sick-ass jumps.

Back when Journey was the hotness, I was reading a lot of things about it that didn't match up with my experiences. People talked about the way it felt to play Journey in a tactile sense, how it "aspires to move players not through moral choices or exploration, but through the art of locomotion itself."

They talked about feeling a deep, unspoken bond with the other travelers they met on the way. "When One sat down in the shade of a giant pillar and crumbled into dust, I didn’t know what to do. No goodbye. Just oblivion. I looked at the spot where they had been for some time, dumbstruck and sorrow-stricken, waiting for them to come back. They didn’t."

Mostly, they called it transcendent. Unequivocally transcendental, in one case.

As you know, I was not on board with Journey. I've had a lot of conversations about it, and I better understand now what people responded to, but for myself I felt like I was mashing the thumbstick in one direction and feeling pressured to submit to the significance of the whole thing. Still felt like a lot of bullshit to me.

Something funny happened recently. I played a game that made me feel all the things people said they felt about Journey. I became one with the landscape. I pressed on, in the face of adversity, toward a clearly defined end point. I encountered people online who helped me along the way, but sometimes left me behind -- and who I sometimes left behind. And, ever so rarely, playing this game gave me a feeling of transcendence, as though I could see all of the invisible forces that tie together everything on this earth.

Yes, I'm talking about Trials Evolution, and just because this game also made me set a new landspeed record for F-bombs per minute doesn't mean all that other shit didn't happen too. Trials is a game about balance and momentum -- about centeredness. It is a game that requires you to remember where you've been and understand where you're going, but, above all, to be in the moment. If you lose your concentration after completing a tricky part, or too eagerly attack the next section, you will fail. But if you concentrate too hard, you'll tense up and never do anything right. At all times, you must be in perfect alignment, physically and mentally.

Whereas the landscapes of Journey felt like a pretty picture that I could admire as I lurched past, I've come to know every inch of ground in Trials, and how it might help or hinder me in my goals. It requires you to develop an intimate relationship with the terrain; the land is like a living being that will respond to your every touch, however rough or gentle. I can't pretend to have mastered it, but I do know that every minor grade, every steep ascent, and every yawning chasm asks something different of me. When I hit a flawless, unbroken sequence, catching a perfect arc across a gap and making a smooth landing on a downhill slope, I feel weightless.

(When I flip over backwards immediately upon accelerating off the starting line, I feel -- well, you know.)

The power of Trials' multiplayer component has surprised me more. I'm not talking about the four-player races, whose matchmaking that could charitably be described as "unreliable." Rather, the experience of starting a race for the first time and watching my friends' ghosts bob along the course ahead of me has been unexpectedly moving. When I'm unfamiliar with a track's layout, those grey dots provide inspiration and encouragement. I note how they ease off the throttle before a particular jump, or squeeze into a narrow pathway I might not have noticed myself. During those first few runs, when I'm bellyflopping all over the place, I appreciate how all of my friends' ghosts are waiting for me at the finish line. They won't leave until I get there.

With the few friends I have playing Trials (five of them, I think), I actually find it to be sad and lonely when I beat their scores, because their ghosts no longer appear on those runs. I'm racing by myself.

(Okay, not exactly by myself. I'm also eating Jason Killingsworth's dust when he immediately blasts off, never to be seen again until I limp over the finish line. Dude is unstoppable.)

That Trials bundles all of this stuff together in such an unpretentious package -- you are, after all, just kicking ass on a dirtbike -- only heightens the effect. This isn't a game that strains for relevance or prods you to feel a specific emotion. You regard it, as you would a mountain range or a waterfall, finding in it what meaning you will, even as it responds to you with complete disinterest. The whole experience feels almost miraculous. Hell, I'd call it unequivocally transcendental.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Honor Among Thieves: An overview

Above: From a higher angle this time!

When I decided to make a board game, I had one goal in mind above all else. I wanted to create tension between players' goals and their behavior. I was imagining a scenario in which players absolutely had to cooperate to have any hope of winning, but also had unique win conditions that required them to act selfishly. In other words, this game should require players to cooperate as it helps them achieve their objectives, and then shift allegiances the second it's convenient.What coalesced from that early vague notion turned out to be Honor Among Thieves.

The premise: a team of thieves, each with different skills, breaks into a heavily secured mansion to steal a priceless treasure. Players must ransack the mansion, find the keys to the vault, nab the treasure, and escape with their lives. Along the way, they'll have to deal with security guards, cameras, and the occasional booby trap. Fortunately, they can combine their powers to make these tasks easier. Unfortunately, two of them are traitors.

Most players are henchmen. To win, they need only to escape the mansion with the treasure. Any henchmen who come with them will also win. They have every incentive to cooperate, except that they know they can't trust everyone else.

One player is an undercover agent, in the employ of the mansion's owner. This player's true objective is to prevent the treasure from leaving the house.

Another player is a backstabber, secretly working for another crime boss. This player's men are waiting in the bushes outside. If the backstabber escapes with the henchmen, they are ambushed and killed, and he alone is victorious

The easiest and most effective way to get the treasure out of the house is to team up with the other thieves. But you can't trust that the person standing next to you is on your side. And if you're one of the two traitors, you need to keep your identity hidden until the last possible moment. Reveal yourself too soon, and everyone else will gang up to kill you. My hope is that most games end with everybody killing one another in sight of the exit.

Every character has a different set of attributes across three categories: speed, cunning, and strength. All challenges in the game are resolved through skill checks against one of those attributes. Players have the option to combine their attributes for a turn -- for example, two players who are trying to lift something heavy can combine their strength attributes and check against the total. In this way, I'm trying to force cooperation, even when two players are convinced that their counterpart is trying to screw them. The question becomes who will blink first.

I'd say I'm about halfway to having a finished prototype. The pictures I've been running with these posts come from the first and only pilot test I've run. The board was less than half-finished, and I had about a dozen cards in each category (for example, when trying to unlock a door, you draw a Lock card to resolve, similar to Mansions of Madness). I had four people give the game a shot, guessing that we'd go for about half an hour before finding holes too big to climb out of. To my delight, that wasn't the case.

For sure, we were modifying rules on the fly, and addressing significant balance and rule issues from the get-go. But we spent more than two hours playing out the entire scenario as envisioned. The core idea seemed to work. The thieves picked locks, pillaged rooms, fought off security guards, and canceled alarms. They infiltrated the vault and snuck away with the treasure, almost immediately turning on one another. When only two players were left alive, and nearly to the exit, the undercover agent showed his hand and arrested the remaining henchman.

I was left with a pile of notes to address, and a sense that the game has real promise. With the information I had from that session, I was able to finish a complete draft of the rulebook, and make several important changes to the characters' skills. Next, I need to write more cards -- a lot more cards -- and settle on a finished board design. (That's the part I fear the most -- I'm no kind of a visual designer.) Then it'll be time for more rigorous testing.

After that, who knows? I don't really harbor hopes of publishing it, but it would be nice to have a finalized version that I could share with the world, even in PDF form. Either way, that's all in the future. Right now I still have a lot of work to do.

The most important thing I've learned so far is that making a game isn't a mystical endeavor that's open only to a select few. All you need is an idea and the inclination to pursue it. It's a lot of work, but it's worth it!

Monday, May 07, 2012

How hard can it be to make a board game?

Above: Pilot testing Honor Among Thieves.

Like Quintin Smith, recently I've found myself increasingly drawn to board games. It all started about a year ago, at PAX East, actually, when a friend of mine bought a copy of Arkham Horror. He'd heard great things! We barely knew of its reputation as the most complicated board game in existence.

Shortly thereafter, we found a time to get several people together and give it a go. Our first game took eight hours. We won, somehow. In the year since, we've played a few more times, understanding a little more each time. We still don't fully grasp it, I don't think. We joke that we'll know we get Arkham Horror when we finally lose a game.

Despite how cumbersome and complex Arkham is, I get something from it that I don't get from video games. I'm not even sure what that thing is. There's the communal aspect, for sure. And how purely the game focuses on mechanics, giving us a framework to fill in our own stories, free of cutscenes and tropes that I've long since grown tired of. But there's something else, something almost indefinable, what Robert Florence calls "the way the game lifts off the table and fills the room."

In an eight-hour session of Arkham (more recently whittled down to about four hours, as we've gotten more comfortable with it), I have a sense of total focus and involvement. My brain juggles dozens of pieces of information, plucking each bit out of the air as its needed. Since the game is cooperative, even during the long stretches where your character isn't doing anything directly, you're still involved. It is a wonderful experience.

Arkham Horror was my gateway drug. Since then, I've played and enjoyed Mansions of Madness, with its innovative approach to storytelling and cooperative mechanics; The Resistance, a card game about distrust and deceit; Dominion, the game where the most useless items you acquire are the most important ones for victory; Battleship Galaxies, a welcome update to the classic that brings honest-to-god strategy to the table; and much more. And I've read as much as I've played, about Battlestar Galactica's Cylon traitors, King of Tokyo's dice-rolling hijinks, and Space Alert's time-sensitive zaniness. Board game designers seemed to be doing so many fascinating things.

After all this, it wasn't surprising when a little voice in my head piped up and said: "I want to do that, too."

The idea came to me, as most of my ideas do, when I was at the gym, where my only hope for sanity is to concentrate on something besides my workout or pray for a power outage. Pedaling furiously on the elliptical, I was thinking about everything I had responded so well to in the games I'd played. I loved the cooperation of Arkham Horror. The exploration and the traps of Mansions of Madness. The duplicity of The Resistance. And I started to think... what could I do to combine all of these things?

What if I could make a game that required you to cooperate with the other players to have any prayer of winning, but with the ever-present danger that they could stab you in the back? What if the setting weren't your standard sci-fi or horror world, but something closer to reality? What if I could pull all of these disparate elements together with humor and a true sense of narrative progression?

I don't know if I can do any of these things, but I can certainly try. And so I have been working on a board game I'm calling Honor Among Thieves, the game of cooperative backstabbing.

So far, the answer to the question that sits atop this post is: making a board game is hard, but not as hard as I thought. I've been making progress. Tomorrow, I'll share some of the details.

Friday, May 04, 2012

All the rage

My name is Mitch, and I have a problem. I rage at video games. For as long as I can remember, games have driven me to furious anger. I've broken controllers. I've screamed myself hoarse. I've hurt myself punching tables, chairs, walls. And I can't stop.

This may be news to people who know me, but haven't witnessed my fits firsthand. In the rest of my life, I'm mild-mannered and conflict-averse. I've never been in a fight. When spurred to anger at another person, I tend to walk away, cool off, and then come back with a level head. In other words, I act like an adult. Not with video games.

For people who have witnessed it, all I can say is that I'm surprised anybody is still willing to play with me. I have a solid core of friends who put up with my excitations. I don't know why. I wouldn't want to play with me. I blame them for everything that goes wrong, and have no sense of perspective when they make honest mistakes. They always seem to be in my way. They poach my kills. And they don't even care! They laugh and make jokes, and politely ignore the steady stream of howling profanity coming through the headset.

(My mistakes, of course, are the result of an unfair, rigged game, and not anything I might have done wrong.)

I'm afraid to share my Xbox Live username with other game writers because, if they have any respect for me on the basis of my work, I know they'd lose it after the fiftieth time I blurted "WHAT THE FUCK" about a minor setback -- or, honestly, after the first time. Online, I am neither racist, nor sexist, nor any other -ist, but my maturity level certainly is not any better than your average teenager's.

When I was younger, there were several occasions when I was almost kicked out of my friends' houses for flipping out about video games. My buddy Bob Dylan still tells the story of his dad pulling him aside at a LAN party and saying, "Your friend's got to cool it, or he's out of here." Is this embarrassing as hell, in the calm light of day? You bet it is. Did it matter to me one bit when I was raging at Quake 2? Of course not.

These days, I do most of my gaming in the solitary confines of my basement, but I'm still making everyone around me uncomfortable. My dog won't even come down to the basement with me anymore. All it takes from me is one stressed-out "Come on," and she slinks upstairs to the safety of her bed. My wife puts up with it only a little better. If I were her, I wouldn't be nearly as tolerant.

Every time, it follows the same pattern. When I begin a game, even a very difficult one, there's no problem. I have no idea what I'm doing, and no expectation that I should. Someone said that the enjoyment of a game is the process of learning, and when I start playing, that is often the case. Playing something like Trials, it's fun to mess around with the physics, and learn the basics of getting up hills and over obstacles. This period is rewarding, because I improve rapidly. The second run is always miles better than the first.

The trouble comes when I begin to expect competence from myself. There's a point at which I feel like I do understand how the game works, and am unable to execute at the level I desire. Again, in Trials, this usually comes after I've earned a silver medal and am going for the gold. To earn a gold medal in Trials requires a no-fault run, which means that a single mistake sinks you.

A typical scenario: I am relaxed and have a good run, earning a silver medal with a single fault and a great time. "No problem," I think, "I'll go back and nail that gold medal. Easy as pie." But it's not easy. I get hung up on a single obstacle, and fail it over and over again. When I do get past a difficult part, I lose focus and biff it on something that has never given me a problem. Hitting the back button to re-start the race becomes reflexive, and sometimes I hit it without even intending to. I feel my blood pressure rising and my heartbeat quickening, and a small part of my brain is starting to warn me that I need to stop. A dominant part of my brain tells the small part to shut the fuck up.

Before I know it, the occasional frustrated utterance has given way to unbroken streams of profanity, sometimes in sentence form but usually not. And frustrated shakes of the head have given way to stomping around the room looking for something to break. If I'm lucky, I don't find anything.

The worst part is I always know it's about to happen, and I can't seem to do anything about it. I can tell myself to take a breath and relax, to put it in perspective, but nothing helps. The rage is coming. It's like watching a tidal wave roll in.

I don't know why I'm telling you this. It's embarrassing. Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, and I'm writing this for the same reason that I keep playing the games that turn me into the Incredible Hulk, minus the upper-body strength. Or maybe it's because I feel like I've been hiding a significant part of my game-playing identity for all these years. Could be that I want advice, or to know that other people have the same problem, but it doesn't really matter because I know I'll never change.

There are worse character flaws to have. I could be an addict, or a liar, or a thief. On the list of things that should disqualify you from participating in human civilization, "gets too mad at video games" is pretty low. But I hate it. I absolutely hate it.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

An impassioned plea for apathy

 Above: Geralt begins his quest to hunt down a guy who said something mean about him on the internet.

I can't take it anymore. Every day, it seems like people are all atwitter about another irrelevant nontroversy. Matters that a normal human being would dismiss as trivial are elevated, on the internet, to grand morality plays where nothing less than our fate as a species hangs in the balance. It is fucking ridiculous. If we could find a way to channel self-important outrage into kinetic energy, our dependence on foreign oil would be finished tomorrow. Instead, we're going to choke on it.

The latest? Some guy at Gamer Limit didn't like The Witcher 2. Now, you or I would hear about this and think, "Huh, someone has an opinion about a video game. I wonder what I should have for lunch." Witcher 2 fanboys hear about this and see a battle as pivotal as the invasion of Normandy. They regret that they have but one life to give for a game they enjoy.

It doesn't matter to them that reviews for the game are still almost uniformly positive. If anything, that's all the more reason to start wailing on the one guy who didn't like it. You let somebody step out of line just this once, and what happens the next time? We might have to start dealing with a real diversity of opinions, which would require us to engage with games critically, and with one another respectfully, and that just sounds too hard. Easier if everyone repeats one another.

I haven't played The Witcher 2, and I have no idea if I'd agree with Bobby Hunter's criticisms or not. But they sound fair to me. He talks about a tricky interface, cumbersome combat mechanics, and a storyline that didn't resonate with him. Not only does this sound reasonable, but I've read positive reviews of The Witcher 2 that make the same points! It's not as though he accidentally played some other game.*

Of course, there's a bigger issue here. The reason many people claim to be outraged -- the reason people think they are justified in firing whatever insults and accusations they can imagine at the writer and the site -- is because the Gamer Limit review dragged down the game's Metacritic score from 90 to 89. The horror!

We all know it's bullshit that developers have powerful, often unfair incentives to hit a certain Metacritic score. I was heartbroken to hear that the Fallout: New Vegas devs missed getting a bonus by one lousy Metacritic point, especially because I consider it to be nearly a masterpiece. But does the fault really lie with the reviewers of New Vegas, who accurately mentioned that it was buggier than a Victorian whorehouse?

Further, if CD Projekt, like Obsidian, does have the fate of their business riding on a 90+ Metacritic score, something I have not seen seriously suggested, then whose fault is that? I would suggest the blame should be apportioned in this order.
1. The executives who made a boneheaded deal.
2. Metacritic, which wields its influence like a cudgel.
3. Fans who, by giving a shit about Metacritic, grant it its influence.
5,000. Someone who wrote a bad review of The Witcher 2.
What do these people want, exactly? All critics to march in lockstep all the time? You hear so many complaints about how reviewers don't use the entirety of the 0-10 scale, but as soon as someone does, it's a bloodbath. Why, it's almost as though people want a validation of their own opinions, and nothing more.

What bugs me most about flare-ups like this are the accusations of bad faith. I don't doubt that there are people out there who are not interested in writing good, honest criticism, and see controversy as a shortcut to pageviews. But there is no evidence -- none -- that this is the case here. I happen to have right here a link to another review that Bobby Hunter wrote of an action-RPG called Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Let's see what kind of incendiary lying bullshit he made up about it just so Gamer Limit could get more hits.

Oh wait. He gave it a high score! Even weirder, his approach is consistent across both reviews. What he liked about Reckoning -- smooth combat, fast-paced action, and competent adherence to genre tropes -- he found lacking in The Witcher 2. Whether you agree with his conclusions is beside the point. Judging by his work (what a concept!), he's not somebody who flings shit at the wall to see what sticks.

The way so many people default to this line of attack tells me that they don't have anything substantive to say. They just want to gang up on someone. They want to elevate a simple disagreement into a clash of good versus evil -- with themselves radiating pure white light, of course, no matter what garbage they sling, because they are armed with the correct opinion about a video game. That's borne out by reading the comments on the piece. Not that I'm suggesting you read the comments, if you value your sanity. You could guess what they sound like, and you'd be right.

You know what the truth is? Writing a negative review sucks. It feels terrible. You know that a lot of dedicated people worked hard on something, and put a lot more hours into it than you did, and you're about to tell people that it's no good. And if you know that you're going against popular opinion, you have to live with the very real possibility that you're about to become ground zero for the next round of targeted fanboy fury. Many of the angry commenters suggest that Hunter should quit his gig as a game reviewer because he didn't get the same value from The Witcher 2 that so many of his peers did. I would suggest the opposite. The day that he pretends to find something in a game that isn't there, that's when he should quit.

Really, though, it's not this particular case that bothers me as much as the pattern. Whether it's a negative review of The Witcher 2, or the ending of Mass Effect 3, or somebody saying he felt weird at PAX, the story is the same every time. The mob moves, locust-like, from one controversy to the next, with no sense of perspective or decency. They'll pick Bobby Hunter's bones clean today, forget the whole thing within a month, and then swarm the next one who strays from the pack. Guaranteed.

People, I am begging you: the next time you read something on the internet that spurs you to anger, wait a goddamn minute before you react. Stand up. Walk out of the room. Pet your cat. Ask yourself what you're so pissed off about. Ask yourself if it matters to your life and your experiences. Ask yourself if your response is going to help.

If you're still mad after all that, okay. Go ahead and write a searing blog post.

*Read this, from Jim Rossignol's orgasmic review of the PC version:
It’s a peculiarly ill-judged baptism of fire (literally at some points). Where you’re expecting a game to teach you how it works and lead you by the hand, The Witcher 2 offers nothing but a few text-based tips boxes. If you don’t take time to figure out that you have to constantly dodge away with the spacebar, or use magic to buff your combat, you are going to struggle. And the game does not tell beginners this. The spells are barely mentioned, and you’ll need to stop and figure it out for yourself if you want to know what they do. While there are situations in which they /are/ introduced to you, at no point are you explicitly taught that it is a lot easier if you use the shield power to protect yourself in combat, for example
That's almost exactly the same thing that Hunter complained about. The difference is that Rossignol liked the game despite this, while Hunter didn't. Isn't that... good? Isn't that what we want from our writers? Different perspectives? When I read Rossignol's review, I thought to myself, "This does not sound like a game for me." It didn't make me want to string him up for liking it.