The Most Important Twitter Conversation Ever (for Gamers)

7 09 2009

(Update: Sigh. I should have known that a post with a picture of Catherine Bell would be incredibly highly trafficked. If you’re at all interested in videogames and game design, why not click on the essay HERE and take a look around. There might be some fun stuff!)

I just discovered this July 16th post on the personal blog of Soren Johnson, the designer of Civilization IV and one of my personal gaming gods. I know, shame on me for not checking his blog in a while because what Soren has is always worth reading. Still, if you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s the transcript of an amazing Twitter conversation had by some of the leading lights in game design about a talk given by Denis Dyack at the Develop 2009 conference.

In the conference, Dyack said the following (Quoting from the Gamasutra story about the conference):

“Gameplay is not everything,” said Silicon Knights (Eternal Darkness) founder and president Denis Dyack. “If you look at the most popular games today, they are far more narrative-focused.”

“If games are to follow the trajectory of films, then the dominance of gameplay will diminish in place of an increased focus and importance on gaming’s stories and the ways in which they are told,” he added.

This apparently triggered a Tweet from Johnson to Dyack in which he asked:

SorenJohnson: Hey Denis, if you put the narrative in front of the gameplay, you are no longer making a game. You’re making a movie. http://bit.ly/193Qdz

This is what led to the conversation about the boundaries and importance of narrative and gameplay (the whole conversation is collected here) It’s a little confusing with a lot of crosstalk (This was a real time Twitter conversation after all) but it’s well worth reading through.

It’s also the subject of this week’s Angry Bear column. I may be a bit late to the conversation, but that doesn’t meant I can’t put my two cents in. This is the Internet after all. I’ll post and update when the new column is done.

(Yeah, I’m late. We spent the day at our friend’s house for a Labor Day BBQ. In penance, may I offer this awesome picture of the lovely Catherine Bell in a bikini.)

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And The Latest Person Kicked From the Raid…

5 09 2009

Would be Van Jones, President Obama’s “green jobs” czar. As has been making the rounds in the right-wing blogosphere, it seems that Mr. Jones has shall we say — a somewhat sinister view of the events of 9/11 (H/T Five Feet of Fury’s Kathy Shaidle). Oh, it hasn’t happened yet and it still might not, but given Mr. Obama’s predilection for jettisoning “inconvenient” people the moment that they’re no longer of use to him, I’d say that Mr. Jones is probably being encouraged to “spend more time with his family” right about now.

It’s actually funny. As Stacy McCain points out:

And yet, somehow, despite all his success, this Ivy League-educated Fortunate Son sees nothing but misery and oppression everywhere. Am I the only one who finds this bizarre?

That would only be because Mr. McCain has never raided with someone like Van Jones. I have. To extend the whole Obama Administration as a bad raid metaphor, Van Jones is the kind of raider that whines and cries and fiddles with the DKP system to make sure he gets twice as many points as anybody else in the guild and then complains that “it’s not fair!” when the boss doesn’t drop any equipment for his class. No matter how close he is to the guild leader, eventually everyone else is gonna kick him out because every time he opens his mouth he runs down the guild’s reputation.

In honor of Mr. McCain’s Rule 5 and the bent of this blog, I am putting up a picture of a sexy Night Elf from World of Warcraft. Post continues after this.

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In more real-world terms, there’s a subsection of the left who have made their bones and fortunes using interest group grievances and get caught flat-footed when they’re suddenly thrust into a position where results actually matter. Actually strike that. He’s the “green jobs czar.” His results don’t matter but they will be measured which is roughly the same level of kryptonite. What’s happening to Jones is probably what would happen if Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton were forced to get a real job. Or a job.

Given that the Obama’s social circle seems to be filled with these sorts of people and their vetting process is less than stellar (and why haven’t those people been fired?) this is probably going to keep happening. So far, the only people who seem to be completely safe in the Obama Administration are Rahm Emanuel and Robert Gibbs. Gibbs is probably safe because he’s basically Renfield to Emanuel’s Count Dracula and Emanuel — well, because he’s Dracula.

And yes — this post was generated in shameless subservience to Rule 2.

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Instalanche!

31 08 2009

Woohoo! My first personal Instalanche! Thanks, Glenn!

If you’re new here, you might want to check out all the Angry Bear Columns as well as the first part of my series on the politics of Schoolhouse Rock.

And while this may seem a bit crass, I am a freelance wordsmith looking for new gigs, so why not click on my





The Turn of an Unfriendly Card

30 08 2009

Should my purchase of Shadow Complex turn on what I think of Orson Scott Card’s politics?

“Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” — Natalie Maines, The Dixie Chicks

“While we clearly need health-care reform, the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system.– John Mackey, “The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare”

“However emotionally bonded a pair of homosexual lovers may feel themselves to be, what they are doing is not marriage. Nor does society benefit in any way from treating it as if it were.” — Orson Scott Card, “Homosexual “Marriage” and Civilization”

I never really thought much about Orson Scott Card’s politics. Why should I? Card was the guy who wrote Ender’s Game, a science fiction classic with special relevance to gamers by the nature of its plotline (a genius child is run through a series of games to prepare him to become a military leader fighting off an alien invasion). I mean, I knew he was a devout Mormon — his five book Homecoming Saga was a deliberate sci-fi analogue of the Book of Mormon and it’s not too difficult to discern the Mormon strains in his Tales of Alvin Maker series — but I was OK with that. I loved the Alvin series and never got past the first book in the Homecoming series because I found it boring. In each case I made the decision based on whether Card’s writing entertained me, not on his status as a Mormon. Why should that matter?…

(My first independent Angry Bear column is all about Shadow Complex, Whole Foods and the morality and utility of boycotts. It’s really great to be writing these again — hopefully you agree with that sentiment even if you don’t agree with the point of view.)
 
Check out the rest of the new column here! 

And while you’re here, why not check out the rest of the Angry Bear Columns under the tab at the top of the page?

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Get Out of My Wallet, My Bedroom and My Videogames!

30 08 2009

You know, once upon a time, I thought that there was a real significant difference between the major political parties in this country. As I’ve gotten older however, I’ve learned that what unites them is far greater than what seperates them and what unites them is best summed up in the immortal words of River Tam in Serenity — they’re meddlers. The details of what they want to meddle in vary. Republicans seem to hate that people have sex, Democrats seem to hate that people have money and both of them do their level best to stop it from happening. Case in point: the FCC is considering imposing a single content rating system.

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The irony here is that the leader of this particular movement is a Democrat, though anyone paying attention really shouldn’t be surprised. For all their reputations as moral scolds and bluenoses, it’s been Democrats,not Republicans, who have led the crusades against gaming. Whether this is because the Democrats think they can pick up a few cheap “family values” points against a politically weak constituency or because Republicans are generally clueless when it comes to technology and the culture I’m not sure. If I had to hazard a guess I’d say it’s probably a bit of both.

The worst part about this is that this is exactly what the ESRB rating system and the ESA were founded to prevent — and man oh man, don’t we miss Doug Lowenstein! By all accounts, the ESRB system is fair, relatively well managed and pretty easily understood — though they could do a better job on outreach. For the chuckleheads at the FCC however, I guess that simply wasn’t good enough. I guess a bureaucrat’s hands get itchy unless they’re regulating everything in sight so now comes yet another ham-fisted government attempt to put safety rails around existence. That’s why I’ve reach the “pox on both your houses” stage with both major parties. When it comes to voting, I look for an “I” for “Incumbent” and then vote for their opponent.

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What’s that snarling sound?

22 08 2009

After a somewhat lengthy hiatus, I have managed to transfer over all 14 of the original “Angry Bear” columns from GameSpy here. If you’ve never read my original Angry Bear column, here’s a chance to catch up on what you missed. The good news is that I’m not just transferring these over to glory in my time at GameSpy. I loved writing the Angry Bear. It was a chance for me to opine on the gaming issues of the day and take a look at some of the deeper questions that game development brings up. So I’m happy to announce that I am bringing the Angry Bear back. I’m already working on my first independent column to be posted as soon as it’s complete and then every Friday thereafter. Hopefully people will like it enough that they’ll start sharing them with others and we can get a real conversation started.

In the mean, please feel free to click on the “Angry Bear” tab at the top of the page and look through the oriignal 14. You may want to start an argument there, too!

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360 Price Drop Coming Next Week?

20 08 2009

In one of those blindingly obvious statements that says “look at us, we’re analysts” more than anything substantive about the state of the industry, an analyst with EEDAR says that a price drop for the 360 is coming within the next week. Of course, this hasn’t been confirmed by Microsoft, so this is about as solid as an ice cube in the Gobi desert. Still, it’s not a real stretch to predict this sort of thing. It’s kind of a no-brainer for Microsoft who as a company is in a better financial position to counter the PS3 Slim than Sony is to take any serious financial hit. This does however, underscore my previous post about Sony’s ridiculous decision to not have backward compatibility in the PS3 Slim. Sony is in serious trouble. The game division is the only part of that company that’s even close to healthy. They need to invest in getting market share for the PS3 while they still have time.

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Pride Goeth Before Sony’s PS3 Fall

20 08 2009

There’s all kinds of stupid in the world, but there’s a special place in my heart for the kind that comes out when stupidity mixes with hubris. Case in point: Sony’s genius decision to not allow backwards compatibility on the PS3 Slim. Seriously, what’s the thought process that’s going on here? “Well we’ve got a really expensive console here with a slim software library that getting it’s ass kicked by the Wii, the 360 and our own PS2. Why don’t we put out a cheaper version of the PS3 that doesn’t bother to leverage our single-greatest asset, the PS2’s back catalog? That’s the way back to market dominance!”

It seems to me that Sony’s biggest problem is that it took a couple of stupid competetive decisions and fortuitous timing in the last console generations as an indication that Sony was filled with infallible geniuses and would be the dominant gaming platform forever. The original PlayStation leveraged the favorable economics of the then new format of CD-ROM into a gaming powerhouse. They faced off against the Nintendo 64 which was dealing with the massive cost-of-goods mistake that was sticking with the cartridge format and Sega’s 32X decision not to cut the Genesis off at the knees. The PS2, on the other hand, was a great piece of hardware, but it was also launched at precisely the right time into a gaming drought, becoming the defacto platform of choice against a weakened Sega and a Nintendo who, as always, operate in their own little pocket dimension.

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Things have changed. It’s now Microsoft’s 360 that holds the dominance amongst the hard-core and Nintendo who is blazing a new trail amongst casual gamers. That leaves Sony with a firm grip on exactly one asset — the past. Specifically the absolutely enormous PS2 back catalog. Perversely, that’s actually not a bad place to be. The PS2 is a pure profit engine at this point and the fact that new games continue to come out for it every month means the the PS2 is hardly a dead platform. A PS3 with backwards compatility provides a clear upgrade path for people who don’t want to lose the investment in their PS2 games and create an instant (and cheap) gaming library for people who want to take the plunge at the lower price point.

Heck, if it were me, I’d take a few lessons from Microsoft’s Arcade at this point and start investing in re-issuing some of the classic PS2 titles revamped with new downloadable content and whatever the Home equivalent of Achievements are. What exactly is the rationale for not leveraging the huge marketshare that the PS2 continues to command? We’re in a worldwide recession and the huge PS2 library looks like an awfully good bargain these days. If I can get that plus new PS3 games plus a Blu-Ray player, suddenly the PS3 looks a lot more competetive against a 360.

As it stands now, I have a 360, a Wii and a PS2 and a PC and all my gaming needs are met for the forseeable future. There simply aren’t enough compelling reasons to buy a PS3 when I can get a cheap Blu-Ray for about $100 less than a PS3. No, the PS2 catalog isn’t the way forward, but it’d be enough to make the PS3 viable until they figure out what to do. This decision basically throws away one of the few weapons Sony still has. Like I said — hubris. Sony’s not the king of the world anymore. It’s time they started acting like it.

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The Bitch is Back

14 08 2009

So this is interesting. Apparently Onyxia is making a comeback in World of WarCraft. As a causual-by-lifestyle-rather-than-choice MMO player, one of the interesting phenomena in any MMO is the social pressure to complete content. This happens because as the game ages and more and more of the player base completes end-game stories, raids and collects whaatever the current bleeding-edge loot there is to be had, it necessarily begins to create a bifurcation between those with the time to put in to the game and those who don’t. Put simply, no matter how nice the guild you’re in, it’s never easy to ask members to put their own character’s advancement on hold while they run you through a dungeon that has nothing to offer them. That leaves pick-up-groups with all of their attendent problems — and even these begin to dry up as new content comes in to the game.

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I’m facing this problem myself as I try to get my Loremaster in The Lord of the Rings Online to finish up some of the Book I epic quests. With Book II nearly completed and my play times so erratic, it makes doing so enormnously complicated. My guild is great and if I made an appointment, I’m sure they would help me out, but how many of those can you miss before they won’t trust you any more. That’s why I won’t do it.

From a business perspective though, it becomes even more problematic. It makes it ever more unlikely that once a player leaves, they’ll be able to come back. The longer the time between log-ins, the more catch-up the player has to do and the less likely they’ll be able to do it because of a lack of players at their level. World of Warcraft drives me crazy because of this. I loved the original game and it continually frustrates me how they basically abandon old content. I’d like to believe that this Onyxia re-vamp represents then perhaps re-visiting some this old stuff, but I doubt it. It seems like a promotional gimmick more than anything else. What I’d love to see is companies gradually lower the difficulty on old content until after a certain period of time, they become solo-able (with a commensurate drop in loot, of course). That would allow the entire player base to eventually experience all the content the game has to offer without alienting hard-core raiders.

Is this a problem that can be solved? Is this even a problem at all? I’ve heard MMO gaming likened to being on a bowling team. If you can’t make the time committment, don’t play. That does hurt considering how much I love this type of game, though.

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