Thursday, June 26, 2008

Deluxe Update, Mountain Edition

So I've been back for about a week, but the whole going out of town thing put me behind on the most ambitious thing I've done to date. Word to the wise: an interview is not as easy as it looks, and if you do 7 of them for a column that is only supposed to be about 1,500 words, you will be overwhelmed.

I actually had the stupidity to just write about each of the 7 of them in order and think I could fit it in. I got through N'Gai and Kieron and was at about 1,100 words. It was then 10 in the evening and I realized that I had to start over. It was definitely time to play some TF 2.

By the end of today I will have completed it with a different approach that covers all 7 as a group instead of paying attention to each of them individually. However, all of these people I interviewed had some very interesting things to say, and the story of how it all went for me is one I still wish to tell, even if only to myself.

So what am I going to do? I'm going to post what they said on this blog. But not all in one post, because man, longest post evar. Also, I'm going to summarize my thoughts on the journey I took. I talked to them across a period of about 3 weeks. It's been a long 3 weeks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I'm mostly out of town and mostly not connected to the Internet for the rest of this week and the next.

Self-abuse in game playing

What unhealthy things does someone who works in games do when he is messed, stressed, or depressed? Sex? Alcohol? Caffeine? Some other drug?

For me at least, it's play video games. Ironic, because I've been talking or writing about games all day, probably on a monitor, and and I take a break by staying on a computer and playing a game? The lines between work and play are confusing, and even more so for games. Not old news. So when do I get a break? Isn't there some sort of Sabbath or sabbatical, a day of rest, if you will?

How can we rest from video games? Perhaps the only way is if there is something else in your life that is also important. If there isn't, or if what is temporarily loses its hold, perhaps they can have too strong a hold.

My first piece for the Game Anthropologist was about DoTA. It's a great game. I was unhappy with the results of the article, though. After a temporary increase in DOTA playing, I remembered one reason why I got involved with other games, and that is that the text-based denizens of are one of the most savage breed of jackasses ever encountered.

Let me explain this a bit more. In an MMO, you can /ignore someone. On XBox Live or PSN, you can mute them. In most shooters, you can mute, and there's little time for text. Tactical, long-respawn shooters (Counter Strike, Call of Duty's search and destroy mode) can also reveal gaming's mire, but sometimes the team is coordinating. Sometimes there is commentary on the existing players. The round will end, and all who are dead and alive will be together again. And anyway, the dead and living can't communicate.

In, you can squelch, but many use tricky names. And for some reason, in DoTA, when you squelch, it doesn't always work (or stay working). If you check the chat log for anything you missed, squelched chat occurs.In DoTa, when you die, your respawn time is anything from 5 to 90 seconds, leaving time for players to do nothing but say whatever they want. The living communicate with the dead. Observe these two:

Open closer inspection it is not shit-talking, "I'm gonna own u" rhetoric we are hearing (though I also have a shot of that same orange guy saying that). It is teammates being unhappy with each other. While dead. And talking to the other team (which I was on).

I've been discouraged for a number of personal reasons and it's been impairing my ability to work and be happy. One of these is that my video card finally burnt out and I had to use a spare. The spare is not as good, and Team Fortress 2, the place I could go and play play instead of work play, was not so relaxing, as the card is struggling to handle it. I also didn't get to interact much with anyone of quality, the way you can in WoW or TF 2. I didn't even get to interview Icefrog, DOTA's current head of state, one of the few people involved who is a decent human being.

So I've been playing more public, non-TDA DOTA matches, which the card can handle. And it's discouraged me. It's made me lazy and more hateful of games while enslaving me. I'm not sure how this happened, but it's fascinating to me. I didn't realize until a week later, after I was bitter.

We talk about games being therapeutic, educational, beautiful, aesthetic, or enlightening. We also talk of them as being cheap, derivative, or boring. But it occurred to me in the last two weeks that sometimes they can be devastating, depressing, destructive and discouraging.

It doesn't matter how good a game is--if the people there make you feel worse than you did when you started playing, don't keep hoping it will get better.

This guy is right, even if he is ironically unaware as he uses his ally's IRL name. I don't deny that "IRL" is more real than it is online, but I have to insist that what we do together digitally is more real than we often give it credit for.

The truth about platforms

You know, this is the new best description of the current situation. I couldn't have done it better myself.

And no, I'm not kidding.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Achievements: telling us how to play and why

First Valve and TF 2, now somewhere else that is...big. It seems that the lasting legacy that Microsoft brings is not going to be Halo or its spawned ilk, not some other game or franchise, and not any new technology or innovative hardware or gameplay.

View it and weep.

(I heard this was from the World of Raids forums, but I can't see it in there anywhere. Someone typed in " /achievements " in the Wrath of the Lich King alpha server. Oy vey.)

The crazy thing to me is that much of this is already trackable, before they had the achievements.

Friday, June 06, 2008

A safer review system

And by safer, I mean for both readers and producers of content. There have been complaints by readers regarding the completion of games--they think every reviewed game should be completed. Such a demand is ridiculous and doesn't show much forethought.

What's also causing some head-scratching, a month after GTA IV's release, is that it's not quite the game we thought it was. That's not to say it's bad, or we're upset we got excited for's just that we all wrote about it without getting to understand it as well as we've liked, and now there's a crop of followup-writing that essentially says "Now that it's been out a month and I've played a lot further through it, I have mixed feelings."

So, perhaps "we write what we see" is something that shouldn't only apply to pre-release, but to release and post-release as well. Some games age well, like wine. Others don't, even if they're great for the first two weeks. I did the main story for Mass Effect in 20 hours--after I beat it, I took it in for credit and haven't missed it since. I'm glad I played it; but I don't need more time with it. And it gives me little nostalgia.

Oblivion, on the other hand, was a game I highly regretted selling and had to repurchase. And it holds a larger portion of my memories and heart.

Maybe I'll discuss that more later.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Valve: "There's nothing wrong with the PC as a platform. Also, can someone else please do a good job of saying this?"

I'm a huge TF 2 fan, so it of course follows I'm part of the Steam and Valve legion. Last week Valve held a small press event in which Gabe Newell and others spoke on the PC as a gaming platform. The contents of this meeting reveal Valve's atypical view of responsibility to gaming as an industry and medium, rather than just simply their investors.

You'll of course need to read the whole thing; I'm not here to tell you the only important parts. I hate secondary news writing that consists of a writer condensing a writer's condensing of an event. What's that? Press releases? Digital news can't possibly be done that way?

Okay, so the best part is how Valve has admitted that they have become the unofficial champions of PC gaming. They did not ask for it, and they say so. They could be cocky about it, and yet, in this cock-driven industry where there is a rare opportunity for justified cockiness, they take the responsible route. Instead of saying "we shouldn't be the champions, don't stick this on us" or "okay, we're awesome, put more games on Steam!", they say "Well, we're part of it, and intend to keep championing PC gaming, but there are other people who should be here with us."

Way to take the true high road, Valve--not deferring responsibility nor taking all glory, but taking some of both when expected to and inviting others to do the same. The industry could use more of this.