I watch the following TED talk by Eli Pariser a while ago and I’ve watched it a couple of times. Take a little over nine minutes and give it a listen.
In some ways this is very much related to a post I made over two years ago about newspapers. When I go to Facebook, it continually keeps showing me the Top News, and the first thing I do every time is click the link for Most Recent. To me, Most Recent is better because I go to Facebook fairly often and seeing month old news that I didn’t think was interesting enough to comment on a month ago is useless to me, even if 97 other people feel it is comment worthy. I use Most Recent and I read all the news back to my last visit. If something is interesting, I comment on it or Like it, and if I comment on something Facebook is kind enough to inform me if other people comment on it too so I can go back and continue to participate in the discussion no matter how old it is.
Over in the new world of Google+, Tom (yeah, that Tom, everybody’s friend from MySpace) has had lots of interesting things to say, but among them is this entry about how right now Google isn’t giving you control over how your content is filtered. Largely it’s time based, but popular topics do (or did) rise toward the top, so my feed was filled with people like Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day and Tom, people who post and then get hundreds of comments within minutes, and my actual friends were buried. They adjusted that, so I get less of a flood from popular people and see a more linear timeline, but sometimes I’ll see things out of order and I can’t tell why one item is considered more important than the other. And that, as the video above states, is the problem. At least, Google+ needs Facebook’s Top News and Most Recent options… at best, they’ll give the users a bunch of options and allow you to create your own custom feeds, and not just based on circles, but also based on circles. I’d like to be able to push to the top not only popular topics, but ones in which more of my circled people are participating. A topic with nine thousand comments by strangers may be important, but it’s not more important than a topic with fifty comments of which thirty-five are from people I have in circles.
I don’t mind if there are filters on content, but I want to be able to get at those filters and make adjustments, or sometimes remove them entirely and view them in a simple sorted order (like by date). The only issue is when, as I said in my post about newspapers, the content creators actually make the content in a way that doesn’t allow certain filters or sorts – if you update a news story rather than posting a second story, the original story isn’t available to be read anymore, depending on how you do your update.
Hopefully, the trend will swing back toward user control over the algorithms that filter our content. I don’t like the idea of other people (or worse, program code) decided what I should see.
After skipping a number of Gamer Banters, this month’s topic caught my attention: “What was your favorite game you played this year?”
I played a few games this year that I really enjoyed. Among them, Red Dead Redemption and Dead Rising 2 (and Case Zero) and Free Realms and Wizard 101 and a slew of others… but the standout, the one that has to be my favorite game of 2010 is the little indie that could, Minecraft.
The most amazing thing about it is that before and when I picked it up, I was in the LEGO Universe beta feeling like something was missing… and then I found Minecraft and knew what it was: absolute freedom. As a kid I really loved dumping out the giant box of LEGOs and building stuff, and I had wanted that from LEGO Universe, which ended up having too much traditional MMO in it. But in Minecraft I could run around and do pretty much anything that I wanted. Sure, the survival modes of Minecraft are fun, but being able to just run around and create awesome stuff is just incredible. Check out the map for this server that I play around on.
This month’s Gamer Banter topic didn’t inspire me. It was “Which game character do you identify yourself with most/least and why?” and I spent time thinking about it and the simple fact is that I don’t really even identify with video game characters at all. Sure, I like to follow along the story, and I might be immersed for the duration, but it rarely lingers. The characters that stick are the ones I create in MMOs. Even now, years after cancelling my EQ account, I still think about Ishiro Takagi, my human agnostic monk from Qeynos.
But after firing off an email to the Gamer Banter coordinator about how I wasn’t inspired to participate, I thought of a new angle on the topic.
The closest I even came to identifying with a character was Gordon Freeman in the Half-Life series. The reason was because Gordon is a shell in which I sit while I play. Gordon never speaks, and the game never has a 3rd person view cut scene. I am Gordon at all times. This makes Gordon more like my MMO characters than your traditional video game character because he has no personality unless I give it to him.
Thinking along this line, I drifted to a couple other games by Valve: Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2. Here, we don’t have Gordon-like shells. The four survivors in each game quip and banter, they call for help. Even when I play one, I’m not them, I’m just controlling them. However, because the game is light on cut scenes and outside the quips and banter the characters are player or AI controlled and not just standing around, these games have given me a group of friends to survive the zombie apocalypse with. And through them and their banter, I care about them. Ellis has told me so many stories about his buddy Keith that I want to know if Keith is out there surviving the onslaught of the undead too. (I secretly pray that Keith is one of the survivors in the inevitable Left 4 Dead 3.) In fact, since most of the time I play with my friends, the survivors are my friends.
These eight characters have come to define my view of zombie Armageddon. When the day comes, I want these people, or at least people like them, by my side. Even when I’m playing solo, I find myself rushing to their aid, not just to keep them alive but because I don’t want them to die. A subtle distinction, but an important one. Even when playing solo, I find myself talking to the other survivors, asking them what the hell they are doing, telling them to hurry up, even reminding them to cover me. It’s almost a little unnerving to realize that I do that, but there it is.
So yeah, the truth is that most of the time I don’t identify with characters, but in Valve’s Left 4 Dead series, they’ve added just enough to the shell I (and my friends, and the AI) inhabit to evoke a response.
This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part, please email him for details.
Welcome, welcome to the 7th installment of Blog Banter, the monthly blogging extravaganza headed by bs angel! Blog Banter involves our cozy community of enthusiastic gaming bloggers, a common topic, and a week to post articles pertaining to said topic. The results are quite entertaining and can range from deep insight to ROFLMAO. Any questions about Blog Banter should be directed here. Check out other Blog Banter articles at the bottom of this post!
Topic: Does every game need to be a grade-A blockbuster title? Would you be willing to play more average games or should every game shoot for the 10.0 rating?
The problem with aiming a game for a rating is that ratings are subjective. What one person, or one group, considers to be a 10 out of 10, another person, or group, might consider to be only a 7, or worse. As huge of a success that World of Warcraft is, there are in fact people who don’t play it. There are *gasp* people who don’t like WoW.
The main issue I think that shooting for “WoW numbers” causes is that it fails to properly manage expecations. (If you read my blog long enough, you’ll see that managing expectations is a common theme in most things I talk about.) If you have a game that is set in a genre that even given the “best” game it could possibly be is likely to only attract 200,000 users, if you spend money like its going to clear a million or more, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Personally, I like seeing a variety of games come to market rather than seeing one game or game style dominate. As Richard Bartle infamously said, “I’d close WoW.” or something to that effect. The question of this month’s topic is misleading. Would I be willing to play “more average games”? Who decides what is more average? I just want to play more games, to have more options. If companies dump all their cash into less games seeking WoW or GTA numbers, then no matter how “good” those games may be, I think the industry and gamers on the whole will suffer.
So, no, I don’t think every game needs to be a “top of the line” title. I think they need to approach each game as unique and manage accordingly, so that variety can flourish, because variety is better than dominance and stagnation.
I’m starting up a new category here at the blog: 30 Days of Game.
The topic of this category is going to be to review a game I have played for 30 days. The idea came to me quite some time ago, but to be honest the thought of buying a bunch of games, or even one a month, just to play and review them, no matter how much they sucked, was unappealing. So, until game companies are willing to send me 30 day free trials, I am going to stick to games that are free to play.
I want to start this in September, after I return from Dragon*Con, with my review coming in on the last day of the month. That said, I need some candidates, some recommendations.
Previously on this site I have reviewed Urban Dead and Mafia Matrix (a new review of that one is coming, since I am considering quitting), so those two are out, because I want to approach 30 Days of Game games as a new player. For right now, I do want to stick to free to play MMOs, so, if you know of one you think I should give a shot, post it here in the comments or email me at jason (at) probablynot (dot) com.
Always looking for sources of things to talk about, I’ve joined up with a group of other bloggers to do a monthly blog banter topic where we all post on the same subject.
Welcome, welcome to the 6th installment of Blog Banter, the monthly blogging extravaganza headed by bs angel! Blog Banter involves our cozy community of enthusiastic gaming bloggers, a common topic, and a week to post articles pertaining to said topic. The results are quite entertaining and can range from deep insight to ROFLMAO. Any questions about Blog Banter should be directed here. Check out other Blog Banter articles at the bottom of this post!
Topic: Digital distribution of games vs. buying physical boxes and discs, which do you prefer and why?
If you had asked me this question years ago, my answer would have been physical boxes with no hesitation, as my closet full of game boxes will attest. But then again, years ago, digital downloading could be iffy. Downloading a game once from some random website wouldn’t guarantee that you could get the game again later if you needed to.
That’s the main reason I always went for the physical box. Once I have the box, as long as I don’t lose it, I can install and play that game whenever I want. Every once in a while, I’ll pull out one of those boxes even now and throw down with an hour or two of Myst or Evil Genius or some other game you may not be able to find in stores anymore.
Of course, many of those games I own boxes for are available on GameTap now, so I don’t need my box, I just need to keep my $59.95 a year subscription active and I can play any of their 1000+ games whenever I want, on any machine I install the GameTap client on. I’m a proud user of Steam, where I get my occasional fix of Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2 (games I don’t own boxes for) among others. And with my Xbox360, well, I don’t fear Microsoft going out of business anytime soon, so I buy downloadable content through them, which I can always redownload.
But back to that main reason… being able to install and play any time I want. If EA has their way, that’ll be a thing of the past. SecuROM is actually going to make me not purchase Spore, a game I have been dying to play, because its some of the most idiotic copy protection I have ever heard about. Similar problems crept up when Bioshock was released, the copy protection invalidating the game, which could be avoided by either getting the console version or by going through Steam.
I guess in the end, what I am saying it… assuming the source for the digital distribution will stick around, or that I can burn my own copy of the download for safe keeping, I don’t mind not getting a physical box anymore.
So I have decided to make an effort to get into better shape. I contemplated making a new category for the blog, but realized that making a category would make it feel like an obligation to write, at which point I would feel less like writing on the topic. I’ll just try to write about it as I feel the need and shove it into the Random Thoughts category…
In any event, part of my getting into better shape is being more conscious of what I eat and how much. So the other day I decided to read the label on my cereal box. I ran through the nutrients and it all looked pretty good, perhaps I could do without the sugar, but every time I tried a cereal that wasn’t a sugary kids cereal it tasted like cardboard. While eating things that taste like cardboard may, in fact, be healthier, putting up with the cardboard taste isn’t worth it. So anyway, I also notice that the serving size of all this morning sugary goodness is “1 cup”. I looked at my cereal bowl and wondered if it was a cup… so I got out a measuring cup.
One cup of cereal is a lot smaller than I thought it would be. It turns out my usual breakfast is actually about two and a half cups, sometimes three. So I poured myself a cup of cereal and a half glass of orange juice.
It seems until my body gets used to it, I’m going to be hungry a lot.
Unfortunately, the common cry when trying to discuss a topic like this is, “but, we want games that are entertaining!” It’s that dreaded “art” issue again, where people who talk about literature want to make games that aren’t fun for some stupid academic reason like “evaluating man’s inhumanity to man.” But, some people may want more.
What do you think? Is tragedy an appropriate topic for a game? If so, how would you implement it in to a game? What about into an MMO?
Back before the dawn of time… okay, so it was like 1980-something… when I got my first computer, one of the first games I played (and also one of the first games I actually looked at the code for) was a little thing called Hamurabi. If you are unfamiliar with the game, essentially you have land, grain, and people. You must feed the people and make them work the land. If you rule well, your people thrive. If you rule poorly, your people starve to death (among other things). It is a very simple game, and yet as a kid with an incredibly overactive imagination it was tragic for me to play. I would get so very upset when I couldn’t manage to keep my people alive. And not “smashing a fist on the table” upset, but like torn up with worry upset. My people, my poor starving people!
Later games, like Civilization or even SimCity would follow some of the same themes. Of course, in today’s gaming space, like any industry on the rise, the focus seems to be on profits, and while tragedy is good, and can even be fun, in the marketplace people are more willing to buy action and adventure over tragedy. However, I absolutely think that a “tragic” game can work, but as with anything you have to be willing to manage your expectations. And I mean that as a developer. If you make a game that isn’t your typical “fun” (blowing things up, crafting items, killing hookers, eating power pellets, etc) you’d best make sure to not spend too much money on it unless you really want to lose money.
As for how I would implement it… lets just skip right to the MMO. In order to get the “tragic” elements properly, the game would need to be huge in scope, and in fact would be more than one game working together. I’d build a game with a “ground level” which would be a first person shooter or traditional MMO style game. You could be a soldier and participate in conflict battlegrounds, or you can take a job in the city playing mini-games to craft items and fill orders or work at the bar or whatever. A step up would be people playing an RTS like game. In the city they’d be commissioning buildings and setting up businesses, the jobs that other people are working, or on the military side they’d be designating battle zones and rules of engagement. A step up from that would be a similar RTS but with more “empire building” elements, setting up trade agreements with other empires, giving direction to the city planners and the military, resource management at a higher level. From the top down, your empire builder would say he needs more people, the city planners would determine that certain businesses are needed, contractors would bid construction, once accepted players would play games to facilitate the construction, they would also play games to run the businesses and they would partake of the “goods” the businesses provide. In the other silo, building a larger city means you might need more land, so the city planners put in a directive that land is needed, the military higher-ups would select the desired land and ask for surveys, which bottom level players would do, once surveyed if determined hostile a battleground would be set up and players would play FPS/RTS style fights, and over a given period the side that wins the “map” the most is awarded the victory, opening the land for use by the city planners of their side. All players would be allowed to “defect” to another empire if they become unhappy with the current regime.
Essentially, the game would have to have many levels and be very complex, because in order for a player to be in and understand their place in the world there needs to be places in the world for them to be. In a way, these elements already exist in some games, though they are mostly web games like MafiaMatrix, and mostly very simplistic. The best part about it, in my opinion, is the amount of social interaction it encourages. A single player can do some elements of the game alone, but they can’t do everything themselves and in order to advance or move around in the social structure one must, in fact, be social.
I have decided that is I ever feel the burning need to write a manifesto, one of those long documents decrying the injustices of the universe to explain my forthcoming or preceding actions, I will spare no expense to hire Prokofy Neva. Truly, he has a dizzying intellect. I do mean that as a compliment. He often has a point, but the near “wall of text” style of writing spirals you around the topic so many times that by the end you aren’t quite sure what you read, but you know there was something important in there somewhere, if only you can find it.
Our work together would be puzzled over and studied and followed… forever.
Day Three always seems to start late, perhaps its because of the long day that day two always is. So, I’m pretty sure I always miss the 10 a.m. panels on day three. This year is no different.
But I did make it down for the 11:30 panel on the Future of the Game Industry in Atlanta. Pretty much as I expect the answer to “how is it?” is “how is what?” Atlanta has White Wolf, which owns CCP now and is making an MMO. There is also GameTap and the stuff the Cartoon Network is working on. Outside that it is little shops doing either gambling sites or no-budget games. Currently the best bet for anyone in the Atlanta area who wants to work in games lies in leaving Atlanta. But, that might change in the next few years. The Georgia Commerce Department recently created a division to look into drawing more entertainment ventures to Georgia. Movies, TV, games and other things are in their sites, and they really want to try to ramp up Atlanta as another entertainment hub for the US. We’ll have to wait and see.
Then I went and saw some comedy short films, a panel on Eureka (I love the show, the fans… not so much), a panel on Apocalyptic themes in media, and then some apocalyptic short films. All the short film stuff is great… okay, not all of it, but most of it, some of the shorts I have to only applaud the effort put into making the film and the determination to get it done because the writing and/or acting was horrid.
But lets take a half step back and revisit the Eureka panel. I think the only thing that prevents me from going to more TV show based panels is the fans. In the case of Eureka one of the earliest topics of discussion was the character of Carter not really being dumb, but just not being book smart and college educated, that he is actually smart but in a more intuitive manner. Yes, score one for the people who watch the show, because every single episode in some way involves Carter solving a problem other “smart” people can’t. So the next topic is… Carter not really being dumb. Fine, I hear you started your comment with “I really don’t think Carter is dumb…” but we’ve covered this. On to the next topic… Carter is apparently not dumb. Whatever, we agree. Moving on… Carter’s daughter isn’t dumb either. Cool, kind of some new ground here… except that now we are talking about Carter not being dumb either. Check, not dumb, got it. Allison is a good leader for Global, oh and someone interjects that Carter is not, in fact, dumb. Oh. My. God. Carter might not be dumb, but I think many of the fans are. Either that or they just don’t listen… ugh.
In any event, after the Apocalypse short films we had dinner and then hooked up for people for partying, drinking, talking and people watching. Another day at Dragon*Con ends… time to hit the sack.