Trouble Thinking

September 30, 2011

Addictiveness Will Kill Games

So hey! Gaming! Oh man, isn’t it cool how everyone basically plays games now? Even Grandma knows the Book of a Thousand Faces has some jingly-jangly things on it you can entertain yourself with. It’s like your hobby has “gone viral” or “mainstream” or “maybe now people will listen to my Starcraft stories”.

And it’s really a good thing. I’m a fan of it! It’s a form of entertainment with a lot to give and not enough people treated it seriously. If only 5% of the population watched films, we’d be poorer for it. So yes! Everyone should get their hands on a game and give it a shot. And, also, I’d love it if each and every game they tried playing weren’t a payload specifically designed to destroy their life and finances, finally leeching the calcium from their bones and rolling back, bloated with the life-force of what used to be a human being, to sinister men who make their beds in the acute angles of reality.

There is a focus, unambiguous and unashamed, on making games “addictive”. It’s used as metaphor, a buzzword because hahaha games aren’t a real drug wiiiiink get it we just mean make it like it’s a horrible destructive worthless thing designed to promote self-harm. And to an extent, that’s true. Chemical addiction hits harder and more often. But that doesn’t mean that non-physical addictions don’t exist. Ask someone who lost their kid’s college fund gambling if they felt fully cognizant at the time. The point is, as terribly fearmongering as “mom leaves kid in car to play WoW” and the like are, it’s fundamentally a bad thing to be focused more on exploiting customers via addiction than producing a fine product.

And that’s where we are. Zynga is a success. It’s not the devil, no. Their shitty facebook games aren’t hurting people. But then, they aren’t supposed to. They’re supposed to exploit well-studied psychological triggers in order to transfer money from people to Zynga.

Other people have followed eagerly, including major established developers. The actual game has been identified as a barely-necessary middleman, something to be created in as spare a manner as possible, in order that people get hooked on the transference of money out of their pockets. Many modern game developers have stated implicitly that they would be delighted if they could simply avoid the messy business of actually crafting a game, and get on with tapping into the spines of unwary consumers. If “Dragon Age Legends” sold more copies than Dragon Age 2, you’d never see a full game from EA again.

Yes, it’s nice that people are playing games, and it’s nice that games are breaking into previously untapped demographics. Yay for a broader culture, maybe we’ll all learn something.

But for fucks sake, people playing Farmville shouldn’t be playing that when something like Anno 1404 is on the market. I know I know, it isn’t browser based, it’s not free, there’s a learning curve… all valid issues. But the thing is they shouldn’t be playing something more substantial in order to receive some sort of cultural cachet from me. They should be playing something more substantial because at least the people who created that tried to give them something. It’s not the difference between seeing Rashomon and seeing Transformers so much as it is the difference between seeing Rashomon and getting shanked in the ankle.

The people making these shit little money-sinks do not like you. Yes, you can still find their products fun. But that is an accident, one they hope to correct in the future.

God damn I hope no one paid $99 for that fucking Dragon Age Facebook game.

Here’s an interesting piece from an industry insider that spurred this post to a large extent. He does get a little bit wanky and verbose, so feel free to skip everything after the first page.

September 28, 2011

It’s Expensive to Live in Hollywood

Filed under: Music — Tags: , , — Durandal @ 11:41 pm

So this is a piece of music I expected to hate: It’s a self-indulgent song about the place every musician thinks is interesting!

But, no it’s actually a pretty good bit of a thing, have a listen to it.

I am going to check out his other stuff. Won’t you?

September 22, 2011

Why Can’t Games Scare Us?

More silly than terrifying. Especially the 40th time.

Horror games are pretty tense right? You’re sprinting through the ruin pursued by Elder Things that are nipping at your heels  if the portal closes the world will be plunged into a dark only the Old Things survive, and they will sup on our souls for eternity! Super freaky.


Until you die. Or get stuck. The moment you hit “escape”, load a previous save, or are thrown back to a checkpoint. Even games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which recommend special care be taken to enjoy them in the proper spooky environment (lights dimmed, headphones, etc.) are palpably straining not to kill the player. Because the moment you die that atmospheric scramble through the ancient ruin becomes an exercise in getting from A to B.

Scary games have a unique advantage: interactivity. Other media has to collapse possibility into a single event quickly. The chase scene begins, and with each second it becomes more definite that this will not be the death of the protagonist. A game allows you to shoulder that burden and removes the feeling of certainty. Maybe this is how it ends.

Games also come with a unique disadvantage: gameplay. The fact is, there’s nothing inherently terrifying about interacting with a computer. No matter how effective the setting, you’re still interacting in an understandable, even comforting manner. Death loses the power to frighten when you consider something “a game”. You die dozens of times in Mario and manage to soldier on without wetting your pants. As a gamer, your inclination is to figure out what’s best and do it. Games, even bleak ones, still offer you this comforting goal. Kill the zombies, escape the city.

So how do we maximize the terror that comes from interactivity while minimizing the comfort factor? Focus less on scary settings and more on scary, unfamiliar gameplay elements. Failure needs to be more than a quick trip across the Styx. And yet, only a few games explore the idea of drawing terror out of gameplay.

The Void is a scary game not because of how difficult it is to survive, but because of how impossible it is to do right. What’s brilliant about Void  is instead of placing you in a comfortably deadly situation with simple goals, it threatens you with being unable to ever understand the world well enough to make things better. You watch as every decision you make ruins another corner of the world because you are simply unable to put a puzzle together correctly.

Eversion takes a different tack. The gameplay is simple sidescrolling. But it introduces slipping into different dimensions or “Everting” to solve puzzles. As you progress through the game, “Everting” takes you to more discomfiting places. It uses your drive to finish the game as a way of forcing you to open that creepy door to the basement, so to speak.

Games shouldn’t scare us by aping movies. They should scare us in ways that only they can, because they can do it better.

September 20, 2011

Hey. What’s Up With That Hawken Game?

Filed under: Game Engines, Game News — Tags: , , , , , , — Durandal @ 10:26 pm

Hawken! You know it, you love it you goddamnit you don’t remember a fucking thing about Hawken do you.

This is how it always is. I leave for a minute or two weeks and you start forgetting about the things that Matter. Things like an awesome independent developer Unreal Development Kit game that looks amazingly, almost rudely great. It’s a multiplayer-focused first person shooter that puts you in the seat of a giant man-shaped robot bristling with weaponry.

From what I’ve been able to gather from trailers and the website, it’s looking to be less of a stolid, engineering-focused MechWarrior, and more like something out of the Japanese quick-jumping mech variety, just from a first person perspective. Which is great! Because I loved the unfortunately named S.L.A.I for the PS2, a game to which Hawken is looking pretty intensely similar. Quick matches of simple but interesting mechs composed of a moderately varied pool of parts.

On display in the video are a few very neat weapon layouts, with the standard many-missles, one-missle, strong-gun, weak-fast-gun, and so on. It also shows what looks like a call-in/kill-streak mechanic of some sort, with a massive flying fortress dropping some pain on a few players. If you’ve got a quick eye, you may notice the “cloak” mechanic, when the video’s protagonist shuts down all inessential systems and drops off the map in order to confuse another player as well as avoid some heat-seeking missiles.

So far, almost nothing is know about this game except that they are using dark rituals to make fucking amazing environment detail with nothing but two people working on the game. Check out the video and begin salivating procedures!

September 11, 2011

You Can Ask Captain America Stuff

Filed under: Comics, The Internet — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 7:37 pm

Good news! You can ask the Sentinel of Liberty about just any dang thing you please!

But really, mostly you can make the same tired fucking gay jokes the internet loves to make about everything. Hahaha [fictional character] and [fictional character] getting together would be soooo cute hahaha gay people woah.

Anyways! That shouldn’t detract that the artist is amazing and the pictures tend to be pretty witty while maintaining the character fiction. Really, I’m amazed there aren’t official Marvel/DC things like this.

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