Online communities need an outrageous outrage every once in a while to give the forum jockeys some opportunity to vent. The latest tempest in an A-cup is Blizzard's decision to give Diablo III an "always online" DRM system, meaning you need a live Internet connection to play the game. People were reacting to this with the kind of disbelief, betrayal, and fury usually reserved for something like Neville Chamberlain signing away Czechoslovakia.
No, wait: I love saying I told you so. Last year, in this space, I predicted that not only would the U.S. Supreme Court strike down the California law criminalizing the sale of the violent games to minors, but that it would draw on the United States vs. Stevens decision in doing so. Stevens, you may recall, was a ban on animal snuff films created for sexual fetishists, and the court ruled 8-1 that such films were protected under the First Amendment.
This summer's Supreme Court ruling may have protected the gaming industry's right to free speech, but was it a true "victory"? Read on to get the pros and cons!
Nothing is less edgy than someone trying really, really hard to be edgy. I can imagine the Duke Nukem Forever team working late into the night in Red Bull–fuelled sessions trying to come up with lists: lists of offensive things, lists of gross things, lists of old action movie quotes, lists of ways to objectify and degrade women, lists of boob and penis jokes.
Portal was something different. It was compact, flawlessly designed, witty, and unexpected. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on it. Sure, it was a puzzle game, but in the process of ushering you gently through the puzzles it gradually transformed into a wickedly funny piece of sci-fi storytelling. The genius was in the thrill of this discovery, as a puzzle game flowered into something amazing and unpredictable.
On April 15, thousands of professional Internet gamers were put out of work by the U.S. Justice Department.
You didn’t realize there were so many people who derived some or all of their income from online gaming? Well, if poker isn’t a game, then I’m not sure what it is. And thousands of people—many of them college students and the unemployed—played poker online to support themselves, right up until the Justice Department decided to pull the plug.
The influence and demands of console gaming weigh heavily on Dragon Age II. For PC gamers this is not a good thing. I feel like the word “streamlining” must have appeared in every design memo. You can almost hear BioWare thinking, “These kids today, they can’t be bothered to move their rogue behind a target in order to properly execute a backstab. Let’s do all that for them!”
Part of me gets it. Positioning party members can be a little fussy, so why not just cut that stuff out in order to get right down to the combat?
"Hey kids! Wanna cheese off Mom? Then play an M-rated video game!”
That’s the juvenile, completely irresponsible message of EA’s “Your Mom Hates This” advertising campaign for Dead Space 2, which was inexplicably approved by the ESRB. Whenever gaming begins to earn a modicum of mainstream acceptance and respectability, something remarkably stupid and pointless comes along to make us look like twits and make a farce of the ratings system.
It’s wonderful that even after 30-odd years as a gamer, there are still gaming moments that can surprise and delight me. Assassin’s Creed II (finally available for PC this month) absolutely knocked me cold within the first few minutes of the Florentine sequences.
It wasn’t the gameplay. Although the movement and combat are certainly strong (and a clear improvement over the original), we should expect that. It’s 2010: We’ve had so many quality exemplars of stealth and fighting systems that a developer has no excuse not to do it right.
It wasn’t the premise, which is dumber than a contestant on Conveyer Belt of Love. All the memories of all my ancestors are encoded in my DNA? Really? Right there between eye color and height is a base pair of nucleotides recording my 24th great-granduncle’s encounter with a hooker on January 24, 1472? And Veronica Mars is capable of extracting that memory and feeding it back into my brain as a simulation? That’s your premise?
The older I get, the more I appreciate elegance, simplicity, and concision in game design. Sure, there are still times I want a game that piles on the detail like a rococo basilica. It’s possible to just fall into a giant hunk of gaming like Hearts of Iron III or Fallout 3 and roll around like a pig in… well, you know.
But a game that takes the most appealing bits and distills them to their essence has a powerful draw. This is what’s so wonderful about Torchlight, which boils the Diablo experience down to its essentials and skims off all the fat. This is a brisk and entertaining bit of action RPG, with a light touch and a set of simple game mechanics that conceal hidden depths.
For a $20 title, the skill of the design is almost shocking, at least until you check the credits. Designer Travis Baldee gave us the strikingly similar Fate series, and codesigners Max and Erich Schaefer gave us… Diablo.
Do you want to know how long I’ve been doing this? So damn long that I covered the original Monkey Island games. Friends, back in my day, we had only two colors (black and not-black—and black’s not even a color!), and we liked it!
Actually, it kind of sucked, and one of the pleasures of covering games throughout the 1990s was watching sound and image improve to the point that spectacular graphics barely warrant a mention. If you can’t make a game look and sound good in 2009, you really should be making something other than games. Burgers, perhaps.
It’s illuminating to be able to play something you remember fondly from ye olde days, only with the ability to hotkey back and forth between the old game and a shiny new version. The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a gorgeous hand-painted version of the original game, with a slightly “improved” interface. This has been laid right on top of the old game, and the most fascinating thing is the ability to hotkey 19 years into the past with each new screen.