Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Pure Art"

Something I hate about any creative industry is that many people have an instinctive hate of anyone who is a creator, yet stops "doing it for the art and sells out." Many people seem to have this vision of artists as people who are uncaring about money, who just want to create, who want to shape the world and that's all. In many cases this is absolutely correct, but you see, when you want to shape the world through a particular medium and that's all, it means that you either have to find a way to make money off of it, or become immortal and learn to spontaneously bring about the various materials consumed by your chosen medium.

Now don't get me wrong, there are people out there who stop doing something for the love of doing it and start doing it for the money, as well as people who never loved it and just do it for the money right from the start. Hacks like those shouldn't be tolerated, but at the same time it is hardly fair to begin attacking any artist who stops being "indie" and starts going "commercial". Creators need compensation for what they create, and they need more than just recognition, that recognition needs to translate into hard cash at some point or the person has to devote time to doing other things besides their art.

Take me for example. I make videogames, I'm, for all intensive purposes, an indie developer currently working on the game Mystic Empyrean: Rebuild as president and lead producer of Fancy Hat Studios. I could just release the game for free (actually no, I couldn't, due to contracts and legal licensing stuff I have with Brad Talton, the maker of Mystic Empyrean, but ignore that for the moment), but then I have to ask: "How am I supposed to keep running this game? How do I pay those helping me on it?" Obviously I could not, I need to start making money somewhere, and I need to make it in a steady amount rather than depending on charity (this people, is why the government diverts taxes into various good will projects rather than allowing charity to take over 100% like many libertarians wish to happen).

"Pure Art" is all well and good, but chances are that any one who complains about someone "selling out" is simply pissed off at having to actually start PAYING the guy for his creative works, or is pissed off that he hasn't managed to do the same. Harsh, but true never the less. Most often though, I think of these people as simply too stupid to actually put thought into what they're saying, because I'm a nice guy, and I prefer to think that people are stupid rather than malevolent.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Results to the ME3 Fiasco for the Industry

One of the biggest turning points coming up in the industry today is how Bioware and EA react to the outcry against the ending of ME3. I see a couple of possible ways they could do this, there's more than 3, but these are the basic break downs, so I think I'll just throw them out there in the format of the ending of ME3.

RENEGADE ENDING- EA releases a true ending to the game as a 15 dollar DLC, it's the last level, fighting harbinger, saving the galaxy. 

Result: If this isn't boycotted, then they turn a profit on this sleezy scheme. They do this again and again, and other publishers take it up. The worst possible use of DLC is attained rather than their original purpose of extra side content, bite sized expansion packs, and similar to pay for continued development by the Developer (Remember, developers rarely get royalties, instead they are paid by the milestone and this is why they have to fire so many employees after each project. DLC keeps the developer in cash while they're looking to move to their next project and also pays for any post-launch debugging, which is sometimes essential due to how hard publishers push developers to launch the projects at particular dates.). 

NEUTRAL ENDING- Bioware caves, and releases an entirely new ending for free. Losing both Bioware and EA so much money that Bioware inevitably liquidated and sold off by EA. 

 Result: Publisher Marketing groups have a field day. They get the biggest example for crushing the developer's ability to experiment and expand their game outside of normal player experiences they could have ever hoped for. Can you say Infinity + 1 FPS's for another decade? I can. 

PARAGON ENDING- Bioware sticks to their guns, they release a clarifying and expanding cut scenes and epilogue tracks that are reminiscent of DA1's ending in how they wrap up the lose ends and tell us how the game ends. No new interactive content, battles, or levels are added (they probably cannot afford to release something like that for free) They probably need to set aside the whole "is he indoctrinated or not" question and just outright answer it as "yes".

Result: Bioware still loses a fuck ton of money and user support. EA will still probably liquidate them unless the new baulder's gate is absolutely FANTASTIC and redeeming. But the Developer's right to control the narrative as they see it, to their vision, remains sacrosanct for the time being until something like this is pulled again. Considering Baulder's Gate is being handled by atari and not Bioware, this probably means they're still fucked, though considering they kinda got the credit for NWN2 and KotOR2, then if it does well who knows?

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Rise of Urban Fantasy

An interesting fact of game design is the sudden rise of prominence in
Urban Fantasy games. Not only in video-games, but in other forms of
media too. The Secret World is but one example from the
world of game design, but books such as the Dresden Files, and shows
such as Sanctuary both borrow heavily from the rise of Urban Fantasy.
I find it interesting and wonder how, and why, we are so interested in
such things.

Urban fantasy is the idea of the modern world with magic applied.
Light Urban Fantasy is usually the ground of such books as Tinker, the
world of magic and the modern world are peacefully linked together,
either they have always been so or it is a recent event, but the
creatures of the magical world are no more inclined to evil than
humans are, and just want to get along like fellow sapient beings.
Dark Urban Fantasy takes the other view, that there are hideous
predators stalking the night and seeking our dooms. H.P. Lovecraft
pioneered the earliest form of Dark Urban Fantasy, and Lovecraftian
Horror has long been embraced by the genre. Interestingly, Dark Urban
Fantasy is the primary form of Urban Fantasy, the World of Darkness
from Whitewolf is the most famous example, but The Secret World, the
MMO from Funcom is clocking in at a close second by now. There is
hardly a geek alive who has not heard of the Dresden Files, which fits
into a similar category.

I find it interesting that the rise of games, and the rise in
popularity of Urban Fantasy has risen almost in union. While Urban
Fantasy can find it's roots in Lovecraft's works, which itself grew
out of a reconstruction of gothic horror, it most certainly gained a
new level of popularity with the new millennium, especially with the
explosion of the internet in the early to mid '00s. I believe, on some
level, it is a natural reaction to the sudden availability of
information thrown at people. Previously, the world was a less dark
place, the good stood out because it was so easy to ignore the bad,
and further, humans tend to talk about bad stuff more than good stuff,
as if trying to warn others of our misfortune so they might avoid it.
The world has become a darker place by all appearances, and worse, it
seems as if the average human is losing control over their own lives.
In such circumstances, with an explosion of new views, new thoughts,
new modes of thinking even brought about by the internet and
interactivity revolutions, we have revived the old horrors of our
nightmares and given them form in our modern day world.

Most interestingly, Dark Urban Fantasy has taken this, and combined it
with the conspiracy theories, cabals, and secret organizations that
were once the purview of espionage fiction such as James Bond. Maybe
as a method of rationalization for how magic can stay hidden from the
normal world, and possibly also linking into the ideas that there are
unseen hands controlling our lives. Either way, Dark Urban Fantasy is
a world of secrets, horrors, magic, predators, and a universe that
ultimately does not care whether humanity lives or dies.

Magic and the unknown has always fascinated us, and games especially
have exploited this in their exploration factor, easter eggs and such,
is it little wonder that the mystery of cabals, conspiracies, and
similar things have wormed their way into recent games. Combined with
the fact that Urban Fantasy as a whole is a thoroughly postmodern
genre, a reconstruction of old ideas of fantasy to suit the modern
world, it is little wonder that it connects with us as far more
"realistic" fantasy than traditional Fantasy. Combine this yet again
with the fact that the games industry has played the Tolkien card over
and over again in almost every roleplaying game made for interactive
gaming systems, combine this once more with the fact that almost every
game now contains some rpg elements, and it quickly becomes apparent
why we are steadily seeing an increase in the Urban Fantasy game,
especially the Dark Urban Fantasy. We see these because just as Urban
Fantasy is a reconstruction of traditional Fantasy, the Urban Fantasy
game is a reconstruction of the Fantasy game.

The Secret World is the best example of this. It does away with
classes, now there are only skills. It does away with "faction
specific parties", now you can side with members of the opposite
faction to go adventuring with. It does away with traditional crafting
systems in MMOs, now everyone can craft and it uses a Minecraft-esque
crafting grid rather than a progress bar and materials list. Just as
Urban Fantasy literature deconstructs and reconstructs traditional
Fantasy literature, The Secret World is an Urban Fantasy
deconstruction and reconstruction of traditional Fantasy MMO tropes.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Sex Offender Online Game Ban

Sex Offenders, we can all agree, are fairly vile criminals, they violate one of the most intimate and important parts of human lives, the relationship and trust that is built into sexual intercourse between two people. A new operation put forward by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has had several game companies with online content shut down the accounts of registered sex offenders. Now, while this is all for the good some might say, I'd like to point out that not everyone who is registered as a sex offender is actually guilty of rape or child molestation, and the registry of sex offenders rarely makes a distinction between out right rape, child molestation, or statutory rape.

To give a seriousness of the allegations here, read this article here. In 2009 this case went to the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Fourteen year old boy with a trio of girls, 12 and 11. Even I find the concept distasteful, but the fact of the matter is that the boy would be registered, for life, as a sex offender, in his later years this would hamper his ability to get a job, to go to college, and any number of other things because the registry makes no distinction that the act was consensual between minors. Things like this are why simply putting down a blanket "registered sex offenders should be banned from online games because they could use them to prey on minors as online predators.

Now, even ignoring that people who don't deserve to have their basic liberties stripped from them are having them stripped because of what is, let's face it, a glorified error in the paper work, the idea that the government is nannying us in this manner is frankly, disturbing. Yes, the government should take steps to prevent online predators from being able to do what they do, but that should be through non invasive means, not that they should put the onus of this on the game companies, holding them responsible for removing and banning sex offenders. See, by making it the companies' job to ban these people, rather than by policing such elements themselves, they are effectively making the companies responsible for these people.

If the government wants to police these groups, there are far better and more efficient, and far far more ethical methods than simply stripping them of their rights, especially given the sticky and vague definition of "registered sex offender" that can be applied to perfectly innocent teenagers and strip them of large parts of their futures. If the government, federal or state level, wishes to police known sex offenders, then it can simply be utilized via a program they are required to put into their computers that monitors what they're looking and sends back logs of any key words or specific key stroke combinations that pop up on their machines. Flagging them for companies to keep an eye out for, in case they are accused of sexually inappropriate behavior on the company's website, is also a valid move. Simply blocking them off so that they cannot access content is wrong though.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Decline of Game Sales, but not of Games

Game sales have been steadily dropping over the past few years, or rather, it should be said that retail sales have been dropping. The social game and app markets are as strong, if not stronger, than they were when they first bloomed a little under half a decade ago now, but they are not directed at the hardcore gamer market. The lionshare of game making has always been the AAA title games, the 'God of War's the 'Grand Theft Auto's, the 'Warcraft's and 'Age of Empires' and 'Mario's of the game industry have always been the goal of all game makers. We want to tell stories and make vast sweeping games that give hours of enjoyment, not piddly little things that people play while on the bus or the toilet.

A rather interesting article came out yesterday from Daily Finance. The author gives some ideas on how one might produce results, and all of his ideas have pros and cons, but I think he's missing a fundamental point: The age of retail in video games has come and gone. It is a mockery, a false choice, an idiot's choice. Why would we ever want to pay for a physical object when the product is actually just bits of data that can be given to use over a line of copper and zinc and rubber. The online game market is where sales are happening now, where it is quick and easy and the purchase can be made right from the system you'll play it on, and a record is kept so that if you ever lose the data you can just download it again. You lose a disk? Your disk is lost, you have to buy a new one. Beyond this fact, he makes some very good points.

The game industry does need to lower it's prices, or more specifically, the retailers and publishers need to do so. So much of game sellers seem to forget that there are more poor people than rich people, and poor people are more likely to spend their money on things that will distract them from how hard life is, after all, their lives are usually harder than those of rich people, they need more distractions. I'm not saying drop the prices enormously, but dropping them to 30 or 40 dollars rather than 60 dollars is probably a good idea, you'll get more sales, and more sales means more investor confidence, and that'll help business all round, not to mention that you get yourself out there.

The next issue he brings up is a better kind of controller, and he might be right there, but at the same time putting in a new controller would alienate older players. I personally cannot stand many of the ways some games use touch screens, but there's no reason that they couldn't work. By using a small touch screen device that communicated with the game, one could alter the specifics of the control for the game.

The last point is the most important. Games need to change. They need to change and transform to be better for casual audiences, without losing their hardercore audiences. Games such as Mass Effect 3 with radically different player modes (narrative, rpg, shooter, plus the normal difficulty level system). Similar tactics will be necessary to keep games nice for both casual and hardcore players.

The point is that games are changing, our audience is changing, our methods of sale need to change. The way we think about and use and make games all need to change, but most of all, to change how we sell and distribute game. If we can handle that change, we will bounce back from this small dip in game sales and profits from retail.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Romney's Latest Comment

For god's sake, just when I think the far right can't get any more racist, Mitt Romney Spits out a comment like this: "In fact, I can relate to black people very well indeed. My ancestors once owned slaves, ..." I mean, it takes a SPECIAL level of stupidity or racism to spit out a comment like this and then think you've done well. In my experience, a lot of what we typically see as racism is actually just classism, I've had personal experiences in that respect where you end up with people being perfectly friendly despite race when they realize the person of the race they thought they hated, were scared of, etc.etc. is actually intelligent, middle or higher class, and isn't a crook. Then there's stuff like this absolute gem.

I'm serious, where the hell can someone get off thinking that saying something like this is a good idea? Is Romney just THAT oblivious? Is he stupid? Does he not think that dredging up wounds that -still- tear into our nation is a good idea? I mean for god's sake, sure, my family once owned slaves, I'm from an old plantation family in southern Louisiana,  but I don't choose that as my basis for being able to relate to African Americans! Note that he doesn't claim to have any African American friends, he doesn't claim to speak for them, he doesn't even claim to be sympathetic or even empathetic towards the general treatment and conditions that most of the Black Community in our nation live in today, no, he somehow convinced himself that the best thing to say was that his family once owned slaves, and that somehow made him able to relate to African Americans.

Am I the only one who is floored that ANYONE would think that is an okay comment to make even off hand? Let alone at a political rally where he almost certainly has had someone going over his speech before hand? That no one caught that? I can't tell whether it's racist that they think "well we're over the whole slavery thing, they should be too right?" or just ignorant to the point of

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Social Society

We live in an increasingly social society, even as there are those who defame the internet as decreasing social behavior amongst human beings. The truth is though that we are discovering new ways to be social. In American Society, introversion is treated as if it were some kind of disease, some kind of failing that needs to be stamped out. Introverts now have a method of being social that does not involve physical contact or presence, and the internet is simply how they express that. The internet does not discourage social behavior, it simply gives new options for such behavior for those who prefer different methods of social interaction, ones that are less draining for their personality type.

Internet chat rooms, e-mail, and forums are just one method of this. New games, such as The Way, and Journey, as well as games such as Dark Souls have interesting ways of communicating, often by the complete LACK of normal communication methods. In none of the above games can a person voice chat, or use text to speak with other players directly. In The Way and Journey, both are completely lacking, with only a limited selection of in game gestures and emoticons permitted for the use of the player to communicate. In doing so, we have an entirely new way of socilizing, one that I feel, goes deeper than the normal spoken and written communications. When playing The Way, for example, I was surprised and frustrated by how quickly or slowly different players picked up on my gestures to guide them along invisible obstacle courses that I could see, but they were unable to. We communicated without using words, without using symbols, only gestures our characters could make. "Happy" "Angry" "Confused" pointing in various directions, both arms up, or both arms crossed, with this limited set of communications, we could engage in a meaningful dialogue.

This, to me, goes far beyond "Social Games" like Facebook's Farmville. In those games, you use an existing network of friends, rarely ever communicating with them through the game at -all- you use facebook to communicate, and they occasionally pop into your game to assist with various chores and such. It is beyond comprehension to me that these be called social games because they have no social interaction in any meaningful sense. There is NETWORKING, there is COOPERATION, in a limited sense, but nothing SOCIAL about them really. No, these games are networking games, not social games. Dark Souls has more meaningful social interaction, with the Casandraic warnings left etched into the walls by other players in their own games, and the ghosts of other players invading and helping you in your own world when you call upon them.