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Article of the Week: “Man Plays Civ II Game for 10 Years” or “A Vision For the Future”

June 13, 2012 1 comment

Reddit user Lycerius posted about his decade-long game of Civilization II, in the year 3991. Only three factions remain: the Americans, the Vikings and the Celtic, earth is a nuclear wasteland, humanity is malnourished and harrowed by the ravages of war, and perpetual conflict plagues the land along territorial boundaries.

This is simply one of the coolest stories I have come across in a long time, in part because I feel that with ever-dwindling resources, it may actually be a bleak window into the future. Nearly 200 thousand years from now, when we have drilled the last oil, and harvested the last mineral veins, and burnt the last coals, and wildlife, forests and related professions like ranging and agriculture are dead, what will we do then? Will we look to the stars for our salvation? Will we mine the Moon, or other planets and their satellites? Or, and this is highly unlikely, we realize early on that we are being colossal idiots with our finite resources, that we need to conserve and preserve, and be more prudent with our fuel efficiencies and resource management.

Article of the Week: “Anisotropic Filtering? Anti-Aliasing? Tessellation?” or “Here is What Those Terms Mean!”

July 20, 2011 Leave a comment

I came across this useful little post from the folks over at makeuseof.com a while back, and it had been rotting in my temporary bookmarks folder for some time.

If you have ever struggled with terms like anisotropic filtering, anti-aliasing or shader models while tweaking the graphical settings mid-game, this post is a great beginner’s guide to what these terms mean. In short:

Anisotropic Filtering

All modern games use mip-mapping, which renders textures farther away at lower resolutions to help frame-rates, anisotropic filtering helps reduce the blatancy of the visible between the hi-res texture close to you, and the lo-res texture further away.

Anti-Aliasing

Ever notice how slanted lines in graphics can seem jagged and pixelated. A higher multiplier in anti-aliasing helps reduce this jagged edge and renders a smoother line.

High Dynamic Range Lighting

HDR lighting increases the level of brightness rendered, so the game world presents it’s varying contrasts a bit better, as would occur naturally to the naked eye.

Shader Model

Shader model the shading language used to program shaders. It is constantly evolving and older cards may not support all the features of the shader model being used by the latest game.

Tessellation

Think of this as anisotropic filtering, but for polygons. Polygons closer to the player are rendered with high details (the count normally remains the same), whereas polygons much farther are rendered at a much lower detail-level.

Source: Five Important PC Gaming Terms Explained

Categories: Article of the Week

Article of the Day: “The Evolution of Gaming” or “Demands Evolution Complexity”

June 21, 2010 1 comment

The article of the day was this incredibly insightful look into the mind of John Riccitiello, CEO of one of the biggest powerhouse gaming companies of the contemporary gaming age: Electronic Arts. Add to that equation some very powerful writing by the great Stephen Tolito, and you got a fascinating read. The article is difficult to sum up because in typical Tolito style, it touches upon so many different points. But there are a two things that stand out, and I will try to summarize those here.

The most important point in the article is that fact that most gaming CEO’s actually don’t play video games at all. That is the practical equivalent of the President of World Bank utterly disinterested in global economies and the international monetary status quo, or if Micheal Dell was actually a cyberphobe. It makes little to no sense that someone who is responsible for a gaming behemoth have such little interest in playing said games himself, like when Activision’s Bobby Kotick told a gathering of developers that he doesn’t play video games. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, that is like if Steve Jobs kept promoting the iPhone, but used a BlackBerry instead. It’s retarded to realize that some of the biggest minds in the industry are merely driving the companies towards financial success, and they have no actual idea of what makes a game memorable, or, at the very least, fun.

Another point was somewhat along the lines of what Gordon said a couple of days ago about returning to some of his favorite MMOs, only to find them bland, almost prehistoric by today’s standards, and in some cases plain irritating:

“It’s not just Everquest that I’ve had this experience with either. Anarchy Online and Dark Age of Camelot were the same. I adored them when they first came out but when I briefly tried each of them again a couple of years ago, I just couldn’t get past how terrible they looked, how frustrating their UIs were and annoying the grind was.”

– Gordon, The Point Of No Returning To MMOs

Riccitiello resonates these view in his own way:

“When I played games a decade ago or 15 years ago, I was a lot more forgiving,” he told me during our interview this month. “Part of it was, if you could sort of simulate [something] in software, almost anything, it was the first time you saw it. If you could just pull off the technology and engineering, you didn’t necessarily need the same artful insight, and you certainly didn’t need the polish. A lot of it, if you remember games going back to like GoldenEye on the N64, is that we remember them as a lot better than they are.

Stephen Tolito, The Unexpected Gamer Who Runs EA

Both viewpoints essentially cover the same debate. Video games have evolved in every facet, from gameplay, to technology, art direction, sound design, graphics and so on. The change has been so markedly drastic in the last decade, that if we were to go back to our favorite games from just ten years ago, we would be sorely disappointed because our sense of what makes a game memorable and fun and exciting has metamorphosed over the course of time.

I have one recent example. With the imminent release of StarCraft II, I decided to load up my StarCraft I Battlechest and replay the campaigns for the original game and its expansion, so I am fully in tune with the events leading up to the second game. What I found instead was a dated game with bland graphics, poor level design and cookie-cutter units with predictable gameplay. Bear in mind that the game was truly revolutionary when it first game out, so much so in fact that it is played competitively to this day. But I was turned off. After about an hour into the Terran campaign, I was typing in cheat codes to skip missions themselves just so I could relive the story without trudging through the trouble of actually playing the game.

The bottom line is that what was the norm yesterday is no longer true today. What once excited us about a game visually is no longer acceptable. If we see clipping errors or graphical glitches in a game like Crysis, which, until 15 years ago, was an unimaginable technological feat, we immediately feel turned off by the ‘lazy’ developers. We take things for granted. We nitpick. We comment on the most anal aspects of gaming, that until a few years ago, didn’t even exist. Are we being too harsh? Maybe, but that is the price of evolution.

We are at a stage in video gaming history where titles are visually richer, the stories are intricate and complicated, the gameplay is revolutionary and complex, and the bar is being perpetually raised higher. It is a time of great innovation and inevitable letdowns. And as the evolution shapes and morphs our experience and expectations, so must our criticisms evolve to better guide the ebb and flow of contemporary video game development.

Article of the Week: “Game-to-Movie Conversions” or “Chesty Jake Ain’t No Persian Prince”

June 8, 2010 Leave a comment

CNN.com had an editorial up today penned by Scott Steinberg, head of video game consulting firm TechSavvy Global, as well as the founder of GameExec magazine and Game Industry TV. He also recently penned a book, Get Rich Playing Games, and runs a not-so-modest-sounding blog called “The Video Game Expert“. [Sidenote: I can’t find a website for TechSavvy Global, GameExec magazine or Game Industry TV. Am I missing something here?]

The article is a candid look at the tumultuous and frangible relationship between the gaming industry and Hollywood, and why is it that no one can seem to bring a successful video gaming franchise to the silver screen without it seeming more like a retarded afterthought than an respectable adaptation. The article also explores some concepts without much proof to the support the arguments, such as juxtaposing ‘dense, layered, movies’ against ‘one-dimensional video games’, essentially painting a fairly categorical black & white picture of the two obviously different and unique genres.

It’s worth a read, just to get some additional perspective into what a self-proclaimed video game expert (the video game expert no less) believes the biggest problem with video game to movie adaptations. Take a few minutes to read it here if you’d like. If you are pressed for time, I have provided a short list of bullet points below for your convenience:

  • Movies based on video games stink.
  • Things often come down to money, as studios will green-light best-selling games for silver screen adaptation, instead of making the decision based on a franchise with the most cinematic potential
  • A compelling universe and a fascinating cast of characters are what most video game adaptations lack
  • Most game-makers give development preference to multiplayer modes or better graphics, than spinning a compelling yarn
  • Very few studios have writers working full-time
  • Plot serves as a device in video games to drive players from one action sequence to the next, and not necessarily to tell a compelling narrative
  • Most game-makers can’t capture the subtle nuances of films like ‘Juno’ or ‘Lost in Translation’
  • God of War III is a compelling narrative and a literate piece of work
  • Movies are complex, dense, layered; video games are one-dimensional
  • Movies are passive; video games are interactive
  • The gaming industry is slowly finding its roots by investing in storytelling again

There are several points in here that one can readily agree with, such as the fact that movies are a passive activity, whereas video games demand interaction to be qualified as such. Or the fact that most game studios lack full-time writers, which makes little to no sense, considering literally every game is driven at its core, but some form of narrative. I also belong to the same camp which believed that Hollywood foolishly green-lights any franchise which has done moderately well for a silver screen version, without paying any heed to actual cinematic potential. Resident Evil is a great video gaming franchise, but translated to the silver screen it becomes two-dimensional, hollow, almost devoid of any personality or substance, overly-saturated with jaw-dropping stunts and rampant CGI. And somewhere along the process, you lose sense of what made Resident Evil so popular in the first place: survival horror. Couple that with the Matrix-style of the upcoming fourth adaptation, and you will start to see what a terrible idea this series of adaptations was.

Back to the editorial at hand.

Steinberg then starts spewing some conjectural arguments, pudding with no proof in it if you will, that I either completely disagree with it, or it infuriates me on a primal level, or both of the above. The most frustrating of these unfounded arguments was the statement that movies are complex beasts, providing the viewer with unprecedented depth and powerful narrative open to interpretation; whereas video games are largely one-dimensional, devices that focus less on central narrative and more on fringe elements such as multiplayer modes etc. Mr. Steinberg, with all due respect to the “one billion people” who have sought out your consultation services, that makes about as much sense as a squirrel in a cardboard suit playing Beethoven’s Fifth.

In his attempt to cement his argument with no factual basis and ample generic quotes from people in the video gaming industry, Steinberg forgets to consider one important element that may often lead to flopped video-game-to-movie-adaptations: a complex narrative to begin with.

Consider a game like Mass Effect. Aside from the central narrative of Commander Shepard representing the human race in a universe that is largely mistrustful of the species, against the backdrop of a rogue agent acting under the control of a powerful being of aliens spooling up for their newest galactic genocide mission, there are subtleties and side-stories and undiscovered nuances that set the game apart from its competition.

Take the Krogans just as an example. Here is a warrior race that mass-procreates and thrives on conflict. To combat their spread and inevitable conquering of other species (post-Rachni Wars of course), the Turians introduced the genophage, a genetic disorder that only allowed 1 in 1000 Krogan babies to survive. This forced the Krograns to become ever-protective of their species, eliminated their numerical advantage on the field of battle, and produced a new species from the ashes that was tougher, stronger and more resilient than their ancestors. This is but one, severely summarized version of a single side-story in Mass Effect.

Continuing the Mass Effect example, I clocked in close to 60 hours in the first game, and over 45 hours in the second game by the time I was done. That is over 100 hours of combined playtime in the Mass Effect universe. While I am curious to see what kind of an adaptation they come up with, I sincerely doubt it will be able to capture the essence of what makes the Mass Effect universe so special: an intricate, multi-faceted, multi-layered story with numerous inter-connected stories, all spooling into their own respective yarns. The series has already spawned two full-length novels, and a graphic novel.

So when Steinberg claims that movies are the complex genre, and the video game genre is what needs more than a single dimension, I have to vehemently disagree. I can agree with the fact that a lot of video games lack the central narrative that should serve as the backbone and not as a marginalized afterthought. However, this doesn’t change the fact that for games with incredibly powerful narratives, such as Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls, or World of Warcraft, the exact opposite is true. There is no silver screen adaptation that can capture the true essence of these worlds in a 90-minute movie laden with eye-popping special effects and record-shattering stunts.

The rule that applies to books, also applies to complex, narrative-drive video games here. I can’t really think of a book that was faithfully and compelling transformed onto a powerful story in Hollywood, save, maybe, Watchmen. (Don’t say Lord of the Rings, that wasn’t a 90-minute flick, it was a 11-hour-23-minute saga, and only then was Peter Jackson able to capture a fraction of Tolkein’s universe).

The bottom-line is that video games, although still suffering from an acute shortage of dedicated staff writers, is by no means a ‘one-dimensional’ interactive beast incapable of achieving the complexity modern cinema can produce. In a lot of cases, the contrary holds true, and Steinberg should recognize that.

“Preventing Desensitization Through Sensitization” or “GTA Continues to Drive Video Game Violence Dialogue”

April 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Why is it that every time you hear about violence in the context of video games, Grand Theft Auto manages to rear its head without fail. It is almost as if the internet gods have eternally linked the GTA franchise with the concept of violence as a result of video games.

The Guardian, which has suddenly become my top source for all manner of bizarre video game related news, reports that primary school children between the ages of nine and eleven are being shown images of a violent persuasion from the Grand Theft Auto series, in an effort to prevent them from turning violent. The objective is to prevent the prevent desensitization from violence.

The children have to categorize images into “good real life”, “bad real life” and “not real” categories. The goal here is to provide a disconnect from the violence they witness on TV and in video games and categorize them as detached from reality. Seems like an interesting concept, until you realize that these kids are being kept from getting desensitized by sensitizing them to images of violence, which, one might argue, is a tad counter-intuitive.

Love it or hate it, Grand Theft Auto inevitably continues to shape the dialogue around violence and freedom of expression in (R-rated) video games.

“Further Proof that Farmville is Evil!” or “No One Cares About Your Stupid Farm!”

April 8, 2010 2 comments

This just keeps getting better and better. UK’s The Guardian reports the story of a 12-year old boy who first spent £288 of his own money, and then rang up £625 on his mother’s credit card to buy virtual equipment for his digital farm in Farmville. Despicable!

£288 + £625 = £913.

That’s almost $1,400, spent in under two weeks. Once again we have a blatant example before us, categorically proving that Farmville is corrupting our youth, emptying out bank accounts and one of the Prime Evils.

Jokes aside, Zynga, creators of Farmville of course offered the unimaginably original and helpful suggestion of “why don’t you password protect your computer?”What stood out to me was the mother’s insistence that Facebook and Zynga should shoulder some of the responsibility, that if Facebook notices a 12 year old spending close to $1,400 on a social game that Facebook facilitates, some red flag should go up somewhere. That sounds logical enough, coming from a mother who allowed her son unsupervised and complete access to her credit card! You go girl!

But the true tragedy of the story is that Facebook banned the boy’s account. Not that the boy’s splurge could be seen in any positive light, but at least he could use the virtual items and money he had invested in. Furthermore, not only will the kid be stripped of the slightest semblance of any social life during most of his adolescent years, now he also won’t be able to ogle at the cute chicks from his school through the relative safety and anonymity of Facebook. The humanity!

In related news, GameSetWatch now allows you to express your inner hatred for all things Farmville in style!

“Se7en Most Annoying Individuals in MMORPGs” or “Been There, Done That”

April 2, 2010 Leave a comment

RetroHive had a really cool list of some of the most annoying types of people you can come across playing an MMORPG, and I have to admit, I can’t much disagree.

  • “G2G My mom needs to check her email…” child: Most definitely. In fact I have come across a few too many of these individuals. There even was a time when I had to fend off an angry mother for being an ‘unnatural influence’ on her innocent, pre-pubescent son.
  • The Beggar: Anyone even remotely exposed to WoW is all too familiar with this guy. The Law of IronForge Begging states that the amount of trade windows that open asking you to give “lil’ goldz plz kthxbai” is directly proportional to the amount of shiny stuff you don.
  • Guild “Looter”: Gotta love this douchebag. These guys join your guild with the promise of seeing you through thick and thin. They then get attuned to some particularly difficult instance, or they receive a plethora of loot to upgrade their gear and then leave for a higher-end guild because that is what it would have taken to get in. There is a special place in hell reserved for people like these. Not only do they disrupt you guild, they also take away valued manpower, severely hampering your progression.
  • The Girl: *sigh*. Not a word out of you. You know who you are.
  • The Alt Looter: If I had a penny for every time I had an aneurysm because a guild-mate logged onto an alt, forcing you to wait before that boss encounter, just so that his alt could get the Ceremonial Dagger of E-Peem, I would have well over 10 bucks.
  • The Know it All: No comment, I think I fall quite squarely into this category! Ahem. Moving on! Nothing to see here!
  • Wife Aggro: This is the one that irked me the most. Man what are you 12? Can’t you work out some sort of deal with your own wife? If it is causing that much trouble in your marital life, then quit the game, no game is worth that drama! But please, don’t for the love of God, scream “Wide aggro, gotta go!” in the middle of vent during the Sapphiron encounter… when you are the fucking tank!

Anyone else got any particularly annoying archetypes?

Categories: Article of the Week

“Proof that Farmville is Evil” or “Got Virtual Milk?”

March 26, 2010 2 comments

In the most ridiculous video game related piece of news I have come across all week, a Bulgarian official has been sacked, no I kid you not, for milking a virtual cow in Farmville. Of course the fact that he was filling his virtual bucket with milk during a government meeting probably didn’t help.

Dimitar Kerin, a city council member in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, had been warned three weeks prior for playing the game at work. In his defense, he said he was only level 40, whereas another colleague, who had gone unchecked, was level 46. What a douche!

Via Kotaku, the full new item can be found here.

“Captain Obvious in the Hizzouse” or “You Need a Study for That?”

March 17, 2010 5 comments

BoysStudy finds that video games distract young boys from schoolwork.

Another study finds that taking a huge dump is actually quite useful for clearing out your bowels.

Categories: Article of the Week

“Warning, You Might be Drowning” or “Live Disasters”

November 26, 2009 1 comment

I came across this interesting piece of news in InformationWeek.

New York state authorities may use gaming platforms such as the Xbox, PlayStation or Wii to inform citizens about natural or man-made catastrophes. State officials are currently testing the system on the Xbox 360, claiming that youth spend more time with gaming consoles these days than with television or radio. The later are the traditional mediums for disaster information dissemination.

On paper it seems like a sound strategy. I can’t help but wonder what is next in the incessant evolution of consoles: ‘Insert foot in this compartment for a pedicure’? ‘Place dirty laundry in the disc tray’?

Categories: Article of the Week

“14% Massive?” or “Online Surge”

November 17, 2009 Leave a comment

News item of the day:

According to the research firm The NPD Group, 76% of U.S. households have access to Internet connections. Whereas 14% of Americans now have one form of online gaming subscriptions or another.

Notice that ‘online subscriptions’ may include Xbox live subscriptions as well. That being said, it goes to show that ths genre will grow tremendously in the years to come.

You can read the full article here: 14% of Americans signed up to online gaming services.

Categories: Article of the Week

“Novelty vs. Nostalgia ” or “Innovation vs. Stagnation”

November 6, 2009 1 comment

Micheal Denny heads Sony’s Worldwide Studios Europe (yes, a Worldwide studio for Europe). Speaking at Develop Liverpool yesterday, he says new intellectual properties (IPs) are necessary for the gaming business to thrive and to counter stagnation. He talked about a ot of other things as well, and you can read the full article here. But we will work with just the statement above.

Novelty

It sounds like a fairly generic, obvious statement. Novelty and innovation go hand-in-hand with memorable experiences and awe-inspiring moments that challenge the very norms that define us as gamers.

But the truth of the matter goes deeper than that.

assassinscreed

There are several new IPs in the last few years that have redefined genres, challenged existing modus operandi, and experimented with pre-existing formulas that both surprised and entertained. Mirror’s Edge and Assassin’s Creed are two examples that capitalized on the parkour phenomenon and introduced it, albiet with varying degrees of success, into the gaming arena. Assassin’s Creed’s repetitiveness aside, no other game allowed you to race parkour-style across rooftops, weaving, dodging, jumping, climbing through densely populated cityscapes with the same satisfying fluidity.

l4dnotongue

Another example is Left 4 Dead. It capitalized on America’s necrotic (necro-erotic?) fascination with the undead, and elevated it to breathtaking heights. (Literally. Remember ‘No Mercy’?) At the most basic level, you find weapons, you shoot things, you heal, you get from point A to point B. But the whole experience was moulded in a way that fed our most primal instincts when faced with near-impossible odds, and structured to reward teamwork rather than the ever-present lone-wolf gameplay. In short, it was the first memorable and lasting IP to explore the zombie genre, and it did so with elegance and style.

borderlandsroids

Then there are games which mix and match pre-defined and functionally distinct elements of the the gaming macrocosm, and produce something that is simultaneously fresh, yet oddly familiar. Borderlands, a first person role playing shooter game, is a great such example. Although I have some reservations with the game, it has challenged industry norms and brought to life interesting, deviating ways of combining age-old gameplay elements to create a fresh, unique experience.

daochoppa

Innovation even applies to taking the same old concept and applying a fresh twist to it, be it story, gameplay, control or any other aspect that defines the game for what it is. Dragon Age: Origins released three days ago in the U.S. It unlocks for me today (about bloody time). Although I have not played the game yet myself (not that it stops me from shamelessly singing praises about the it), I rest assured because industry veterans, reviewers, bloggers and players are awash with praise. Although BioWare is weaving a tale that the fantasy RPG genre is over-saturated with, Dragon Age: Origins’ “story is rich and engaging, the characters are memorable, and the journey is one that pulls you in, captivates you and compels you to move forward toward the conclusion.” In other words, despite utilizing a familiar setting, the game is designed to surprise fanss of the genre and throw elements into the mix that are both unexpected and against the grain.

braidawkward

Then there are games that innovate and surprise you in ways you never thought possible. Because prior to these games, the genre to which they belong simply didn’t exist. I am talking about Braid. There were moments where I just stopped, and stared at the screen in awe at how much love and energy and effort they had put into something so elementary and simple. A straight-forward platformer was transformed into a cerebral masterpiece that enthralled, amazed, and made you stop dead in your tracks.

loveandlies

And for any fan of Valve, the cake always was, and always will be, a lie. Can you think of any other game that made you fall in love with an inanimate cube?

There are countless other examples, but the bottom line is that innovation is what drives the industry forward, gives us novel, unexpected, at times mind-bending IPs to play, and justifies Micheal Denny’s statement. Mr. Denny may be striving for the Captain Obvious title, but he certainly drives the point home. However, that is only part of the story.

Nostalgia

On the contrary, nostalgia plays a big factor in attracting an already dedicated fan base to a new iteration of an old IP. Warcraft, Command and Conquer, Metal Gear Solid, Diablo, Splinter Cell, Max Payne, Grand Theft Auto, Halo (and many, many more) are all examples of great games that relied on nostalgia and the success of the inaugural titles to attract additional revenue.

potus

Click to enlarge. Courtesy of Bad Pie Bakery.

World of Warcraft is a global phenomenon. With the entire population of Earth, Vulcan, Tattoine and Caprica (that hurt your head?) acquired as the player base of the ever-popular MMO, Blizzard has created a behemoth that is practically impossible to dethrone. ‘The next WoW’ has been applied to countless MMOs released since, and none have achieved the success (at least in numbers and subscriptions) that WoW enjoys to this very day. I can’t help but wonder if the game would have been this successful if prior Warcraft titles had not existed. Would it be laughed upon? Would it be degraded as a shameless clone (I am looking at you Alganon!)? Would it never take off the ground? Or would everything remain the same? Regardless of the level of success WoW would enjoy in this alternate reality, my patented sixth sense tells me it would be nowhere near the level of success WoW is today, had it not been for the millions of avid followers of the IP.

mwsoapshower

The Call of Duty series is an interesting case study because it applies to both the novelty and the nostalgia sides of the argument. On the one hand, the series has capitalized on a massive base of rabid followers ever since the first Call of Duty hit the market. On the other hand, the series was redefined with Modern Warfare, a title that needs little introduction and speaks volumes about the level of innovation and effort that went into redefining this classic series on a whole new level.

maxpayneyears

The third rendition Max Payne, for the lack of a better word, looks weird. Max is fat, balding, in South America, and a mercenary for hire. It is almost as if someone designed a new game, and someone else stamped it with the Max Payne IP and course-corrected everything accordingly. But as a fan of the original Max Payne and it’s fantastic sequel, I know for a fact I will buy and play this game. I will not care what the reviews say, or what the screenshots look like, or how far removed Max will be from the familiar New-York-world-weary-cop setting. I will play this game with all the enthusiasm and wonder that I played the first two games with. I will remain loyal to this IP regardless of the vicissitudes of passing years or changing studios.

torlightsabers

But the nostalgia factor isn’t limited to rehashing old game IPs in a new light. It also applies to leveraging a tried and true formula, rather than an IP. Consider Knights of the Old Republic. The game took the RPG formula BioWare has essentially and effectively perfected, and combined it with the nostalgic fan base of the Star Wars universe. Yes it was a pre-existing IP, but one that was not leveraged in the RPG gaming industry as such. The result was a product that won grand slam titles, scored high in every category, provided a fresh setting and gameplay, and secured its place as a classic for some time to come.

The most recent of these examples is Torchlight. The graphics looks cartoonish and severely dated. There are only three classes. And it ends too quickly. But it is an incredible experience, offers smooth gameplay and feeds on the far-reaching and widespread Diablo nostalgia that the gaming media has made no effort to hide.

Conclusion

One step forward, two steps back. Two steps forward, one step back.

What started as a ‘Thought of the Day’ post has turned into a 1,500 word piece juxtaposing novelty against nostalgia in contemporary gaming. In the end, I suppose I agree with Mr. Denny, but only in that his statement paints just part of the picture. Nostalgic experiences and revisited IPs are just as important to the genre as novelty and innovation. And in select cases, they can work hand-in-hand to create an unforgettable masterpiece.

Do you guys agree? Which side of the fence are you on? Can you think of some other examples that apply to the two dismetric opposites above?

Article of the Week: “Tetris Triangulated” or “Anti-social Butterfly”

October 13, 2009 Leave a comment

There are some questions in life that have no clear-cut answers. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Can god make a sandwich so big, he himself can’t eat it? If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone give a crap? Where do the people offering to enhance my breasts without surgery look up their goddamn information?

"That's probably just ketchup!" or "Christian Bale eats video game haters."

With the advent of video games in the mainstream market in the last two decades, a new question has emerged. Do video games produce and/or enhance violent, anti-social and sociopath behavior? If you ask me, the obvious answer is no. But people who lobby it as irrefutable fact do make me want to kill bitches. Oh no, look at the violence that just poured out me of there. Idiots.

A recent article in the Boston Globe caught my attention. It provides a much needed and well-articulated retort beyond the standard, “j00 suxorz noob, gamez r roxor$!” Quoting prominent researchers from the field of neuroscience, psychology, sociology and education, and citing studies that provide some degree of empirical evidence to the contrary, the article sheds some much needed light on the positive effects of video games.

“Richard Haier, a pediatric neurologist and professor emeritus at the School of Medicine at the University of California at Irvine, has shown in a pair of studies that the classic game Tetris … alters the brain. In a paper published last month, Haier and his colleagues showed that after three months of Tetris practice, teenage girls not only played the game better, their brains became more efficient.”
– Emily Anthes: “How video games are good for the brain”

The cynic in me wanted to mock the aforementioned. Tetris, beyond Pac Man and Frogger, is the quintessential classic video game. But the C’thun-fighting, hero-ability-balancing, 100-person-guild-leading, massive-army-building side of my brain argues that it is elementary at best, and perhaps not the best subject for a study on whether video games improve cognitive skills. But then I realized that I have yet to beat the last level of any Tetris clone I have ever played. My brain has never been able to process the blocks falling at those impossible end-game speeds, and as such I have never been able to claim the Tetris throne. It dawned upon me that perhaps my mental capacity for advanced processing isn’t as developed as glossy, contemporary gaming makes it out to be. And just maybe Tetris isn’t the worst game with which to measure subtle differences in brain efficiency.

And then, there’s this:

“In one promising 2008 study … senior citizens who started playing Rise of Nations … improved on a wide range of cognitive abilities, performing better on subsequent tests of memory, reasoning, and multitasking.”
– Emily Anthes: “How video games are good for the brain”

More importantly, it actually touches upon one aspect of video games that has often come under fire. And that is the notion that video games make people inherently anti-social. The later part of the article sheds some light on this misnomer and provides some empirical evidence to the contrary. The term ‘prosocial’ is introduced as the antithesis, in some ways, of anti-social. The article claims that middle students in Japan who played games that promoted social infrastructure and mutual affection for other players, showed affectionate behavior themselves.

This is where the piece and I are essentially at odds. Let’s face it. It’s easy to find (questionable) links between docile, ‘affection-inducing’ video games and similar behavior in the players’ lives. By extension, another study should be able to find a link between highly violent games and morose, agitated or angry behavior. It seems foolhardy to me to conduct a study from a very finite and minimal set within the gaming genre, and imply that the results can be extrapolated to apply across the length and breadth of the entire spectrum. It’s like watching Rush Limbaugh talk about, well, anything, and claiming that all Americans are equally retarded.

To sum it up, the article does not categorically solve any debates, nor does it provide a clear-cut response to the validity of video games as a legitimate learning or socializing tool. But it does make a good case, and makes for an interesting read. You can find the original article in the links above or by clicking here, noob.