Sunday, September 30, 2012

TGC : Be careful what you wish for...

... you may receive it.

Taken here.

I've been a dedicated follower of indie game maker thatgamecompany since their beginnings, and they've never disappointed with their releases. But things are about to really ramp up for them.

The Santa Monica-based company has just ended their game deal with PlayStation, and now they've raised $5.5 million from Benchmark Capital. Benchmark are the guys that funded Riot Games, makers of League of Legends, and more recently, Meteor Entertainment, the folks behind the awesome upcoming free-to-play title Hawken.

What to do with all that freedom and cash? Why not make more games for more platforms, reaching out to wider audiences? Founder Jenova Chen tells GamesBeat that he wants to "spread out" now, and that the funding will enable TGC to develop and release games independently.

"We got so many emails from fans saying they wished they could play our games on other platforms," Chen said. "We make games for human beings, not just gamers. Young, old, men, women, and from all countries. We want to change the concept of what a game is and show society what a game can be."

Chen confirmed that a new title is in the works, and it will definitely be a cross-platform game.

Oh boy no, you are not going to change what a game is. You certainly can't, for this is so above your abilities.
Your enterprise will fail.
Not only because anyone sane enough working in the video game industry will soon enough call you on the preposterous and pedantic bullshit you produce, and will properly militate so the debilitating heretics you are will never get the chance to confuse people about real gaming.

But also because you simply don't get what a game is.

Your "games" have constantly moved towards a movie-like experience (and a shallow one, at that), almost entirely passive, devoid of any challenging experience, so much that we honestly find more gaming in one second of Tetris than in the entirety of all your pretentious and pseudo games combined.

Try to get that once and for all: A game provides challenges, encourages players to try several strategies and makes sure said options are even, so as to be relevant and making sure that the game's rules are interesting, engaging and above all, not broken.

You and your female partner have been deceptively shy of coding any real game mechanics into your products (let's not call those games, they don't deserve that name).
You're just one notch above the shitfests of DragonVale and iOS abominations ever farted to life by Pocket Gems (mind you, the iOS platform is quite the perfect place for such shitty software).

Your heresies barely contain any meaningful choice to be made at all. You shun difficulty. You're limp and spineless and you want to disguise that pathetic weakness of yours as art. Your abortions solely sell on how nice and charming they look. But the truth is that they're all empty, and your entire rhetoric is pure pretense.
Your animated and barely interactive applications are not games.
They're fake.
You are fake.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Embrace DmC

Yo retarded bitches! Quit the whining about the nu Dante! Oh boy, what a bunch of pathetic crying sissies. Wah wah their boy looks different. Hey shitfaces, didn't you spot the difference between the Dantes of DMC3 and DMC4, the later in which Dante looked like Michael Douglas wearing a bleached wig?
Yeah so fuck off.
DMC has style, it has gusto, and it's Dante on full brit-punk mode, young and bull headed. Swallow it up petty dogs!

Got it thru ur brains? now STFU! (yup, it's Ninja Theory, but I have faith this time)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Day of Lolz

With a blog stuck into its most lethargic state to date, a new issue of them LOLz wasn't really due. I suppose it makes sense to launch one of those criticism missiles every once in a while, assuming my blogging activities are important. But they're not. I lost interest in blogging after realizing that it wasn't worth the time spent on it, since all that mattered was traffic built through tricks and social network pimping, not through the value of the content itself, which proved to be quite irrelevant. Add to that the fact the industry itself isn't as teasing as it once was. The next big thing could be brainwave-controlled games, but that's quite a mere gimmick in the domain of so called "interaction". As to the rest, what can I say? I fail to see anything truly exciting. The whole affair is most likely going in circles, and the most lively and challenging domain of games is about what I could call scholastic work.

However, I should have known that there's always something to laugh at these days, partly due to the overall mediocrity of professionals given so much attention that they think they can say anything stupid and not be called on it. And they aren't!
But I do shout. See, what I typed yesterday about the asinine Kotaku preview could have been worth a spot in a post about the silly shit that goes on in video game land. I prefer my LOLz to be about different topics, so focusing on just one bit wasn't worth a new entry in the series. But now that I have gone down a few links inside Kotaku and read some of their stuff, perhaps, after all, there yet was a time for another Day of Lolz.
So what is it about? Check it out: The Search For The Video Game Auteurs, by Brian Ashcraft.

The guy goes on a long tirade about the film industry's auteur theory, mostly picked from wikipedia in fact and a few other things you can find on internet in less than two clicks. When you think of it, the article is actually very poor in content, when you consider the time these people have on their hands. Nevertheless, Asscraft compares films and games to see how parallels can be drawn between both regarding said theory (which is pretty much a proven one and well considered a fact now). The auteur theory existed because it was felt that a particular director's style could be recognized throughout several movies he made, in opposition to the idea that there was no such style. Basically, if one were to transpose this concept from the director to a whole studio, and thus coin the term of studio theory, team theory, or as Asscraft put it, the studio auteur theory (sic), we would be considering the idea that a studio's style could be palatable throughout a series of games the studio worked on. This is not a given so it's a fair point to realize that some studios just generate games without any particular recurring trend of elements, while other studios clearly have something that makes their games recognizable.
But see, Asscraft doesn't get it that way.

In game development, because the studio is so important and because the team is so important and because there are so many variables, the auteur ends up being the studio itself. It's the, let's call it, the Studio Auteur Theory. More often than not, the studio heads or lead designer at the studio are driving the vision — not only for one title, but for all the titles the studio makes. They are setting the tone. That filters down through the rest of the studio. There are exceptions, of course, but look at Sam and Dan Houser at Rockstar. They have a clear vision and that vision becomes the vision of the entire company. Look at Shigeru Miyamoto and Nintendo. They are inseparable. It's inconceivable for Nintendo to make non Shigeru Miyamoto games and equally inconceivable for Miyamoto to make non Nintendo titles.

It's frankly stupid to claim that teams in video game development are "so important", as in opposition to movie teams, like if they didn't matter as much. How the heck does he think movie teams operate, for crissake?? Does he even think they're somehow more superfluous? It's a team, no matter the size, and it has a point.

Also, notice how he actually ends chasing his own tail. Silly boy. He claims that it's the studio that is the auteur, hence his awkward conflation manifesting as "studio auteur" (as alluded to above, an oxymoron, since the opposition is between an auteur and a team, aka the studio). Which is plain wrong, since in fact it is key people inside the studio (studio heads or lead designer) who matter.
So, Asscraft, call it the designer theory if you acknowledge that the vision is the fruit of one or a very few studio leaders, you dolt. But if he were to do that, he'd contradict himself in the span of two sentences.
In his mind, it is the studio, some kind of enigmatic hivemind entity, that upholds the vision as a whole, not key people inside it. Sure thing... Even the greatest propaganda doctrines are the fruit of a few minds. But now we're supposed to believe that a whole studio (preferably a large one considering the examples he picked), not key high-tier personnel, is the entity that builds and maintains the vision. Yeah, 25+ people have the same vision. What's that? Borg Collective? When do we laugh, again?

The real question is:

Who is responsible of the vision at the core of the studio?

That is all. Is it one "dictator" or is it the fruit of an agreement within that core?

Asscraft's understanding of the real working of a studio (try working inside one for a change mate) is so deplorable that it's not surprising he manages to miss the meaning of Truffaut's axiom. He ends saying something as doubly stupid as that:

The auteur theory is just that — a theory. The Studio Auteur theory is just that as well, but it encompasses more. It's bigger. There is room to breath and room for than one single author. Games are akin to encyclopedias. There might be a handful of editors, but there is a small army of writers filling each page. Even later in life, Truffaut acknowledged the collaborative nature of film production. "There are no good and bad films," Truffaut once stated, "only good and bad directors." And in video games, there are only good and bad developers.

Emphasis mine.
First, is that his grand theory? That there are good and bad developers?
I couldn't have figured it out myself. The term developer is so encompassing that it cannot drive any point through.

Secondly, what Truffaut said is that you have those directors who know how to drive a team and get the best out of its parts and the technology said team uses, while keeping a vision in sight and conforming to it (in more or less recent years, popular French examples would be Besson and Jeunet, whose movies are unmistakable), and those directors who don't know how to or don't care about any style at all.
Same goes with a studio. It doesn't matter if a few souls or half the team out of fifty or a hundred have understood the vision, because if there's no good project director to max them out as to obtain the product the studio's head or heads aim at, the game will be a failure. For anyone who has actually worked in large teams before going small, it's very obvious that the game is not a kind of egregious consensus that is the sum of all workers' opinions, miraculously adhering to some unique revelation. That's just bull, especially in larger teams. Many people are just skilled technicians and nothing else. Some are good programmers but suck in the arts department at large. Then there are the artists who have no mathematical logic or organization, and sometimes can get very enthusiastic about their work but need to be maintained on very specific tracks. All of these workers need a clever direction, and that direction comes from the core of the studio. Then, and only then, a studio may begin to produce games which are comfortably recognizable in their style, genre and themes.

Moving on. Here's an ad for a small video game about the crisis and the bankers pitted against humans.

Cookie to you if you if you can spot the major problem in this silly trailer.
Here's a clue: it's all about the phenotypes.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Asinine Kotaku preview

"I Have No Idea What’s Going On In This Game, But I’m Fascinated."

Geez, if there's a thing I hate with any game is when I don't get what's going on.
But this Kotaku chick (Tina Amini) is mesmerized because she doesn't understand anything of what's happening in Candle's trailer! Oh... that's the power of indie, of highbrow mysticism. It's unintelligible, but there's palpable profound meaning in it (winning keyword in game design circles), she can feel it. She supposes that the game is incredibly deep, full of said meaning and hinges on a powerful concept. She knows it can only be that good because it leaves her on her knees. In fact she already thinks it IS that good. The logical conclusion is that what she has witnessed is the work of art of a purely superior meta-smart mind. The Kotaku girl is most likely already too smart because she automatically likes this game - see the phenomenon of raising one-self's prestige by pedantically lauding what has to be a genuine gracious manifestation of the God of Games, of such pure obvious value, that there's no chance people would say it's shit without being called punks for not understanding how it clearly is a magnificent product, nevermind if all of us, the lowly ones, cannot get it, because the meaning is most necessarily impenetrable.
It is quite baffling that such an ego-driven alter-elitist would not want to play the pretense game and try to impress people about what is going on. But in this case the imbecile doesn't even try. In a way, it's so surprising and touching, perhaps even alarming, that you'd want to gently poke the girl with your elbow and tell her that she should really try to act as if she knew what she was dealing with.
But not this time. It's so honest, I'm disarmed.
She really doesn't grasp anything, but that surely must be the sign of a fascinating game!

I love a game that encourages exploration, particularly if it intends to freak you out while you do so. The creepy trailer raises some serious questions, though. Like what the hell is happening at the 1:03 time mark?!

Not overdoing it at all! Yeah, she really looooooves a game that encourages exploration. Like, you know, the vast majority of games do, even if it's the exploration of the mechanics, the story or the world.
And how the heck does it raise "serious questions"?
She doesn't even know what is the meaning of what she has seen (some kind of ninja fist fu**ing perhaps?), but she's already fascinated by the game???

I put "preview" in the title but it feels like it already was a review, the kind Leigh Alexander produces, you know : small, pompous and useless.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

Kellee Santiago, dreadful Avatar of VGA

I do have a sense of humour. I swear. Trouble is, I'm not sure it's twisted enough to fathom the magnitude of ludicrousness we've been exposed to.

It's a bit my fault. I took another look at the whole "games ain't art" affair, and noticed that our dear Kellee Santiago played some prime role in it. As far as I cared about what I initially considered a non-event, I hadn't noticed that Ebert had done more than replying to a few comments amongst the thousand that got posted in response so his bold statement.

Perhaps it's just me, but there's something that I don't get. There's a broad range of more knowledgeable and experienced professionals on the topic of video games than Mrs. Santiago. Yet, for some reason, she retained Roger Ebert's attention. Perhaps because she approached him with a degree of assumed authority on the topic, as some sort of ambassador for the whole industry.

For the sake of being honest and complete, I did go through the video which supposedly got the upper hand on Ebert's initial bold claim. In a way, the dogma she shines into our optical sensors is nothing more than a mere continuation of what I highlighted some months ago, in thatgamecompany sucks at making games.
Let's not kid ourselves here. It's possible, initially, that Ebert didn't give a damn about Santiago, but since he may have been told to watch this video wherein this unknown chick started talking about his so erroneous initial reaction, he may have realized that in order to avoid looking passé and still be considered relevant by the young artsy plebe, he had to indulge Santiago's appetite for attention, even if at the price of conceding on a variety of points. Not wanting to be ostracized, he may have weighed the pros and cons and considered there was something to gain by abdicating a tad, even if it meant pushing forth someone he didn't know and probably didn't care about anyway, but may have thought to be seen as someone of importance in the video game industry. A disastrous assumption, for sure, if it were true.

The irony would be that next to Sony's money, Ebert's own move did propel Santiago to such heights of influence and importance.

The thing is, until recently, after having widely avoided the whole Roger Ebert shitstorm, I never noticed him almost entirely recanting from his former outburst against gaming in his article of July 1st, 2010, notably as a reaction to a video by K. Santiago (TEDxUSC - Kellee Santiago - 3/23/09).
I learned of that video and this sort of exchange thanks to an article she wrote after Ebert's own first reaction to her video, which he posted on the 16th of April 2010 (that was Ebert's second post in his trilogy if I recall correctly, the first article being his most famous statement against games being art).
Sorry, what?

If you're lost, don't bother. Just focus on the video, because this is another amazing thing, really. Another ballad in the sanitarium park, trying to keep pace with Santiago's incoherent and aimless wandering.
If you don't believe me, just get that video playing. Notice how she points out that immensely popular games such as North American football, chess, baseball and majong are appreciated, but are not art; a conclusion perhaps solely based on the *cough* analysis *cough* of their rules, or the observation of the mesmerized and cheerful crowds enjoying those games:

Truly baffling.
This is where we confirm that what she thinks defines art in a video game essentially has very little to do with the game part. She says that such games have elegant and rich mechanics and they surprise us (without complexity, the outcome is easily guessed and there's no gratifying pleasure).
Note that this is precisely why these games are still played and considered good. It is an odd thing that she doesn't realize that the games she helped create have very little of those pleasant and complex mechanics. As I said back in September, their games are poor.

Let's also consider that with the definition she picked from Wikipedia (sigh), she'd have no reason to keep aforementioned sports games out of the art category. Here is the definition as it appeared on Wikipedia's old page, from the 15th of March, 2009:

Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions.

So now you see that with that kind of definition, sports have no reason to be refused the status of art.
More dramatically, we can ask ourselves how the hell can anyone take her seriously after that?

What is going on right now is probably of a gravity not properly understood by the whole industry.
Time's ticking! In the United States, beacon of the somewhat crippled occidental world (for which Capcom recently reshaped its own spirit to better suit the "needs" of playdom as it is understood on the other side of the ocean), and with the support of Sony's money and prestige, you are possibly contemplating the birth of a new odd creature:

The Avatar of Video Game Artsism (VGA).

Honestly, I'd rather not be bothered by such petty matters, but it would be a considerable mistake for us not to focus our attention on such affairs with the highest seriousness possible, as there is nothing petty here, much to my own distress. On the contrary!
What still keeps me from really doubling efforts to challenge this rising doctrine with the full might of someone truly concerned about the safety of the industry to which he belongs, is that nagging question about if she's really understanding that what she and her pals are doing is wrong, and if she has really thought about it to begin with!
But, well, does it really matter if she didn't? What's done is done, and this theoretical stance seems assured to blossom. Until we do something about it, or until it collapses onto itself.
Can one adopt a different approach to a problem solely on the premise that one individual, who is progressively taking part in the shaping of a next generation of video games, is a fully conscious person or just another reckless artsy hipster?

I think Santiago is of the second breed. See how Jenova Chen almost has taken a back seat. His biggest problems probably being that he's Asian and not so fluent when it comes to speaking in front of the cameras.
But let's not digress too much on him. After all, he's not going to have much of the impact I foresee Santiago having on the industry. Eventually, Chen is going to remember what made him love video games when he was a kid. Plus he's not looking as concerned about feeding his ego as much as Santiago is. Especially since she's been given (probably unwittingly in some respects) the required attention-ramp-boost.

Now let's get back to that video, shall we?

Don't lose time with that Waco Resurrection "game". It's obviously a bad one. You can skip that part.
Fast forward to the moment when she speaks about Braid, a much hyped game on the indie scene. Why?
Honestly, the mechanics are rather limited. The time reversal function feels gimmicky after a while and does a so-so job at masking the rest of the game's lack of substance, which aside from poor platforming design, seems hellbent on spoon feeding you with shit and moral nonsense like some drunk monk shouting from the top of some mighty horses.
Who really cares about the "message"?

So we move on. Then there's some self pimping. Flower is a boring game, thank you. By Santiago's own admission, it wasn't even conceived as a game, and its useless interactivity wasn't even part of the concept's core.

But really, the worst is to come.
At 9 minutes 4 seconds, precisely.

The lady doesn't realize that the evolution of video gaming akin to what cinema has experienced has already happened. In her world, the games before the Braids and Flows were primitive, necessary steps towards greater video games. With barely veiled derision, an entire golden era of talent and genuine creativity is nonchalantly dumped into a mass grave, as a collection of derelict material comparable to the clumsy and early reels from the documentarian era of a medium in its infancy, an age of rushed works and cuts: something you only look at with a kind eye while demonstrating as much respect as humanly possible towards embarrassingly raw pieces belonging to protohistory.
Transcription, verbatim:

[...] As the medium of film and its audiences grew, audiences' expectations also grew and shifted as well. And then more films beca... err... were made that then filled in the... the emotional spectrum of the medium. And when it comes to games, our emotions don't change. The same kind of games we played when we were children just don't work for us anymore and now we have a generation of gamers who're grown ups themselves... and starting to wonder if there's something more to games. Could our games be more serious? Could they reach higher levels of joy, to ecstasy? Could they reach deeper levels of sadness, to catharsis? And we're seeing now these games as exploration into other parts of the emotional spectrum, and then these games are being rewarded by audiences in high sales figures and critical acclaim.

And then she goes on talking about how the medium of interactivity can be very powerful. Isn't it just lovely, coming from someone who precisely worked on projects where art, as vague as it was, took complete precedence over interactivity? And not just interactivity in the general sense, but a specific one, which allows people to respond to rules of games?

Now, remember the bit about how sports games, even those clearly less intense on the muscular side of things like chess and majong; they are not art. That one was quite funny because she didn't really explain why, nor what she understood as art. Right, she did, with a laughable Wikipedia quotation.

Can you see why I just can't stand what she believes in? It's not the person who rebuts me, but what's in her head, and the fact that she rose to such a position of importance despite deeply nonsensical opinions about the industry she works in.
The TED's motto seems to be "let's hand a mike to people who rarely get that chance, so they may express their opinions on varied topics and eventually reach more people than they naturally would if left alone."
Sure. Now think of all the missed opportunities... of never having to hear her asinine and pompous claims.

I'm not too concerned about the concept of art. Defining it might be as hard as defining matter. What I won't tolerate is any piece of silliness used to support either side.
It's just too sick to consider that chess may become art if only someone were to disrupt the power and efficiency of the game's mechanics by adding a whole range of animated colours and decorative sets all around the board, starting with some touchscreen for one, with every move followed by a melody, modified by the way each player would lift, transport and deposit the next pawn, tracked by some motion sensor.
Can you imagine? Can you?

- Hey Frank, you know what? I'm done with that game. I've grown tired of chess. Been there done that. It's boring these days. Boring and too crude, if I may say.
- But I thought you loved chess.
- I do. Well, kinda. I should say I did. But I also grew up. We need to set this game above this stagnating cesspool of primitiveness we've been used to for far too long.
- I'm not sure I'm following you...
- It's very simple. We're adults, we've played this game for ages, but as humans, we need to diversify our experiences, explore wider ranges of emotions. Right now, this game is not artistic.
- I beg to differ. I think your silver and ivory model is a rather fine piece of...
- You didn't listen to me. This is not art. You're focusing on some irrelevant makeup. This game has to evolve. It's unbelievable it hasn't yet! It's an absolute shame. We can't take it for what it is anymore.
- Why?
- Because it's not serious and deep enough, and we're better than that! As adults, we cannot accept to play the limited version we have before our eyes.
- Huh. Assuming that you do know what you're talking about, just how do you plan making that happen?
- Think! It's simple! See, for example... pick that queen of yours. Now, instead of merely changing its position from this square to... that one over there... why not take this opportunity to enhance this displacement and move the piece around by making graceful loops in the air? These artistic and deeply meaningful moves could symbolize the eternal cycle of death and reincarnation, as posited in Buddhism.
- Oh I see. That is definitely more artistic than I thought.
- It is, isn't it?
- I'm starting to get your point.
- Thank you.
- However there's a caveat. A typical game would stretch in length because of this added density of... err... beauty, sense and depth. I know chess isn't the fastest game in the world, but do we need to make it even slower?
- I understand your concerns. It's absolutely clear that if we want to cross a boundary, we do have to be bold. We may have to tweak rules, otherwise we'd have little chance of getting the attention of real art connoisseurs. Besides, we're trying to make this game less boring, not more soporific.
- I think I see where you're going. So you believe we should simplify the rules?
- Yes. In fact, we may have to rethink the board itself! Too many squares and too many pieces means too many permutations. We're talking about relaxing, enjoying the moment, after all. From that perspective, thinking hard isn't good. It's a form of effort, which is another term for soft torture, really. Quite the antithesis of what we seek to achieve there.
- That makes sense. May I suggest something? While we're at it, shouldn't we remove that timer?
- Oh yes, absolutely! We don't need tension.
- Tension would certainly ruin the experience.
- Indeed, it would.
- And... do you have a name in mind yet?
- No. But I know that we need something that sounds inviting, smooth and smart.
- Ah. Let's try... Flying Pieces!
- Mmm... no, too obvious. Besides it sounds like this is about throwing stuff across the room. But I like the idea of flying the pieces above the black and white board in some stylized fashion, like if the pieces were extensions of our souls carried over those dichromatic fields, as part of an uttermost transcendental experience. Let me think... Magpawns!
- Mag-what? You're sure of that one?
- Absolutely! It's a conflation of magpies, for the colours and the flying, and pawns, for the game.
- Of course! That's wonderful! You're quite the bright man when it comes to playful things!

Superb dystopia, don't you think?
The worst part of it is that I can't even guarantee that we will always be spared that kind of stupidity.
In essence, this is exactly what Kellee Santiago is aiming at, and I can only hope that her opinions will never prove influential.

Anyway, I think she really can praise Ebert's name every goddamn day with abandon, now that she has gotten more attention than she deserves.
I wouldn't be surprised of hearing about how she printed and pinned Ebert's article to her bedroom's wall. One of the most prized trophies of all times, for those who have a misplaced hard-on for blathering about games being art.
After all, as she put it with all the necessary emphasis (not mine, word):

April 16, 2010 unexpectedly became a new watermark in my career as a game maker – Roger Ebert wrote an article about me.


She, who can't even explain why Flower is a game, pretends being qualified for lecturing Ebert on why games are art.
One word: pathetic.

Perhaps Ebert failed at describing art, but Santiago certainly failed at describing games. So let's call it a tie.

Oh, I almost forgot: Santiago. Just shut up, will ya?