Category Archives: Gaming

Goodbye, EGM

I just read and confirmed from multiple sources that Electronic Gaming Monthly, a veteran gaming magazine published since 1989, has been canceled. It seems EGM’s parent company, 1Up, has been sold off to UGO and almost immediately, the decision was made to scrap EGM and lay off several senior staff members. The January 2009 issue will be EGM’s last.

I’ve read EGM on and off since the early 90s, back when gaming was just for us nerds and didn’t command near the popularity and respect that it does these days. I remember the bold sense of humor and no-nonsense reviews were traits that really made the magazine stand out from its competitors.

But alas, as video games have evolved and shifted into mainstream popular culture, so too has journalism evolved away from print media such as newspapers and magazines toward interactive, cheaply-distributed websites. Magazines and local newspapers are going to have some tough choices to make as the years go by. Even the ones that survive may not remain in the same forms we recognize today.

I knew the day was coming when most of my favorite print magazines would disappear in favor of an online presence, but I didn’t expect it to feel like suddenly losing several old friends. I hope all of the recently unemployed staffers find alternate work quickly. For all the laughs they have provided over the years, it’s the least I can hope for.

Lavatory Repository

Apparently following the example of the crate review system, someone has collected various game screenshots of… toilets? I’m not sure whether to laugh or be repulsed.1402278090014

There are gamers out there who claim that you can judge how interactive a game is based on it’s restrooms. It’s an interesting theory. Level designers can, after all, put in as much or as little thought and effort as they want to design a game restroom. After asking a few questions, it’s easy to see how restrooms could be used to measure the interactivity and realism of a game.

For example: Are there urinals in the men’s rooms (not found in every establishment, but most)? Can you flush the toilets and urinals? Can you open and close the stalls? Are there toilet paper dispensers? Can you run the faucets in the sinks? Is there a soap dispenser? Is there a hand dryer or paper towel dispenser you can use? Can you see yourself in the mirrors? Are there waste receptacles? Can you actually USE the toilet or urinal?

All of these things (with the exception of urinals) are required by law in most publicly accessible establishments, and people expect them to be there. And these are only the basics. What about condom machines and baby-changing tables? What about the “For a great time…” messages in the stalls? It just seems to me that game designers often overlook how seemingly trivial details can be so effective at maintaining the “suspension of disbelief” required for player immersion.

We all know it’s not uncommon to see “ultra-realistic” or something to that effect on the back of a game box. Isn’t it time we expected more from the games that make these kinds of claims?

I suppose this brings up an interesting question: How real is too real? We don’t, after all, want a susceptible gamer to lose a grip on his (or her! We are living in a new age of gaming!) own reality because the games he or she plays may very well be TOO realistic. I’ll save that digression for another post.we_could_be_living_in_virtual_reality

Unfortunately, though there are no limits on imagination, there are limits on resources. Who has the time and budget to model and texture all those little objects when it’s difficult enough to ship the game without them? This collection of toilets illustrates an important fact: In almost every game, someone is paid to design a toilet. How many object modelers spend valuable project time creating mundane objects like pay phones, desks, toilets, and other such things when their time could be better spend creating art for the proprietary elements of the game, such as the character models.

Is it too ambitious to think some talented modelers out there could create libraries of common object models that could be purchased for a nominal fee by game developers? Or perhaps I am just misinformed and it’s already been done. But if not, I think a decent modeler could make a good chunk of money by doing the grunt work of modeling common objects so that game artists can focus their creative talents on something more productive. It seems pointless to reinvent the wheel – or in this case, toilet.

*BTW, I would strongly advise you not to watch the lol.swf video in the parent directory. It’s quite offensive. Perhaps it serves as proof positive that the owner of this collection is not as eccentric as I first suspected, but simply disturbed. You have been warned.

Lament for an Addiction

This started as a comment and seems to have materialized into a post.

EverQuest gave meaning to the word ‘dedication.’ It wasn’t a game for the casual player, and probably still isn’t. It was almost like a job, requiring shifts of 8+ hours to make even just a little progress.

There would be days when players could spend that entire 8 hours grinding, and lose it all over something stupid, like typing the letter ‘a’ in front of an NPC before bringing up a chat window. There were days when I really should have not have even logged in, losing entire days of progress over a couple of stupid circumstances, and thankful that I at least recovered my corpse.

There was a curious mix of anticipation and self-loathing that washed over me each time I loaded the game and was greeted with its timeless loading screen and music:

Yet I still continued to pay and log in faithfully for nearly 3 years – committing myself to the game so much that my academic performance suffered. I essentially lost about 4 semesters of college to EQ, yet here I am, relentlessly tempted to go back to it or try out another MMOG such as World of Warcraft.

I must be a glutton for punishment – finding myself irrationally drawn back to a game that wielded terrible, destructive power over my life when coupled with my obsessive personality. And some would say I got off lucky. There are stories circulating of players who lost their jobs, families, and even their own lives over EQ addiction and frustration.

I’ve even tried several single player RPG games in an attempt to find something that might resemble a single-player EverQuest. Anything to fill the void. Morrowind even came close, but it still left me wanting.

I suppose I’m never going to find a comparable experience to EQ in a non-MMOG. Even as I insisted on being a solo player, it’s apparent to me now that I thrived on the player interaction that the game fostered.

Perhaps I should just stop searching for a replacement and swear off MMOGs until I have a CS degree in my hand and a steady job. At this point, it seems like it’s for the best.

The Crate Review System

Apparently a rating system was created years ago to judge First-Person Shooter (FPS) games based on how long you can play the game before you see a crate or barrel. Supposedly, the longer you can play the game without finding either, the better the game is.Old-Crate-241-Design-psd4933

Very funny article indeed, but the sad fact of the matter is that encountering a crate or barrel in any FPS game is not a matter of “if,” but “when.”

It seems that level designers can’t even place their unimaginative crates and barrels in a logical manner. In the real world, crates and barrels are needed for carrying things that are too heavy to for a cardboard box. Therefore, they are almost exclusively found on top of pallets, and require forklifts to move them around. How many games feature their crates on pallets? How many games even feature pallets? And for the grand prize: How in the heck do they get crates in those crazy places where a forklift wouldn’t even fit?

Katamari Lottafunna

[Editor’s note: For purposes of contextual coherence, it may be useful to know that this post originally appeared on the discontinued Myers Family Journal before being folded into this blog. -KM]

I mentioned on here before that I would probably be buying Katamari Damacy, and wouldn’t ya know, only about a week later, it was in my hands. I think it was that $20 price tag that made it so attractive, with the average Playstation 2 game going for about $50 anymore. I had already been looking for a good non-violent, easy-to-control game that I could teach Kristopher to play. I could have went with some type of edutainment game or something based off a children’s cartoon show, but bear in mind that in order for me to teach Kristopher to play, I needed to be able to stand the game for more than five minutes.katamari-damacy1

So far we’ve had a lot of fun with it. Who would have thought that a game whose core mechanic is to simply roll a ball around could be so addictive? Kristopher is still trying to develop the hand-eye coordination needed to control a video game, knowing how quickly he picks up on things, I know it won’t take much longer. Man I just can’t wait until ten years or so from now when he’s kicking my butt at StarCraft 5 or Unreal 2015 or whatever is out by then. Katamari Damacy is already such a hit that it looks like plans for a sequel are already in the works.

As of this writing, Spring 2005 classes are officially over, though I still have finals week to suffer through before summer can finally begin. It’s been an awesome semester and it feels great to finally be back on track to finishing my degree. This was definitely the morale boost that I needed.

The Genesis Effect

This is a continuation of the rant Ode to a Console.

After giving it some more thought, I think it’s finally dawned upon me why I’ve been so turned off by consoles as of late… It’s all the bloody sports games. With the notable exception of the Final Fantasy series, when I think of console games anymore it’s nearly synonymous with sports and racing games. The Playstation 2 has fallen victim to what I have dubbed “The Genesis Effect.”sega-genesis-game-console

You see, before the Playstation hit, there were only two major consoles on the market to choose from: the Sega Genesis and the Super NES. Choosing one (if you were the type who was confined to choosing only one) was easy then. If you enjoyed sports games to the exclusion of most else, you chose the Genesis. If you didn’t really care for sports games, you chose the SNES. It was as simple as that, really. This is an over-generalization, I know, but my mind views the world through strange eyes sometimes.

So not long ago, fighting an uphill battle against the rising popularity of the Playstation and Playstation 2, Sega pulled out of the console war. Who now would publish all the sports games? That’s night – Sony. The available Playstation library is now polluted by games featuring ATVs, bikes, race cars, monster trucks, deer hunting, wrestlers, skaters… and let’s not even mention all the garbage EA puts out. The Playstation 2 has become the Genesis of our time, and from me, that’s not a compliment. Yes, I know other consoles suffer from these same afflictions, but none currently like the PS2.

My distaste for sports games is probably rooted in my overall contempt for professional sports in general, but I digress. I’ll save that rant for another day. Even so, I admit that I still own NBA Jam and Gran Turismo 3, though I can’t say that I ever managed to extract any measurable amount of fun from either. Now I simply can’t see myself purchasing another sports or racing game ever again.

My penchant in games and literature is nearly parallel. I am of the opinion that games should be an escape from reality, not a mirror of reality. In the same way I tend more toward sci-fi and fantasy novels than fiction novels and non-fiction literature. Like I hinted at above, my allegiance to the Final Fantasy series weighed heavily in my decision to purchase a PS2 in the first place. The knowledge that Squaresoft would be publishing on the PS2, coupled with DVD functionality and backward compatibility with the already huge PS1 library, pretty well sealed the deal for me.

So here I sit with a gaming machine that still holds a great deal of prominence today, unable to love it as I feel I should. I’ve even considered selling it a couple of times, but as a gamer I just can’t see myself parting with it. I continue to hold on the hope that one day I’ll dust it off and find out just how much I’ve under-appreciated it all this time. Until then, I’ll stick with my PC games.

Ode to a Console

I’ve been a gamer for as long as I can remember. From the board games of my tender youth, to the Atari, to the Commodore, to the GameBoy (old skool, mind you), to the Super NES – games have always been the source of my great power. It used to be that console games were my passion. Absolutely nothing could replace the feeling of holding that controller in my hand, which functioned more as an extension of my physical self than a piece of technology.

Sometime between then and now, though, something changed.

You see, I’ve owned a Playstation 2 pretty much since the day it was released. You may remember that it was nigh impossible to buy a PS2 within the first three months of its release, so it went without saying that anyone who owned a PS2 at that time went through great pains to obtain it. It’s almost as if gamers were required to endure tests and trials of epic proportions in order to prove they were indeed worthy of being blessed with a PS2. Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a bit.

Anyway, to get back to where I’m going with all this: I used my PS2 more as a DVD player than a game console. Here I was with a powerful new machine with an extensive game library already available, and I just wasn’t interested in it. Like I said, something changed in between my SNES days and my purchase of the PS2.

Here we sit now on verge of the dawn of a new generation of consoles, and I don’t even have 10 games for my PS2. The only reason I have more than 5 right now is because 4 of my games were given to me. It’s almost embarrassing, but that last game I purchased for it was Gran Turismo 3.

This is why I found myself startled to suddenly be pulled back in by such a silly little game as Katamari Damacy – a game I’m seriously considering purchasing now. Released last September, it slipped under my radar of awareness until its designer, Keita Takahashi, showed up with a keynote speech at the 2005 Game Developer Conference. This article from GameSpot regarding the talk is the source of one of the most provocative comments I’ve ever heard from a game designer: “Children would be better off playing outside.”

I’m still searching for a good English transcript of the speech, which is proving difficult because it was delivered in Japanese. From the pieces of it I’ve gathered, though, he is one of the few game designers out there who realizes that better technology does not automatically produce better games.

The deep wisdom of this is present in every good game that comes to immediate memory. Space Invaders, Asteroids, Frogger, Legend of Zelda, Super Metroid, Super Mario Brothers. Street Fighter 2, Sonic the Hedgehog, ad nauseam. Do you think people still play these games today because of the cutting edge graphics? It’s all about the gameplay, with an efficient interface being a close second. Look and feel may run a distant third.