Facebook is the answer to a question no one asked: “How can I waste more of my time?” Compared to social network gaming, however, Facebook itself is as useful an invention as the cell phone.
Actually, I do like Facebook. I’ve used it to reconnect with dozens of people I used to know. Two of them are even people I like. A year after I first joined Facebook for the sole purpose of sharing pictures of a new puppy, I find myself updating my status, making comments, and listing things like the “Five TV Characters I Wish Were Real So We Could Hang.” (Dr. McCoy, Emma Peel, Hurley Reyes, Simon Templar, and Gomez Addams: another answer to a question no one ever asked sober or outside of a college dorm.)
I used Facebook for a year before I caved in and tried any social gaming. It held no appeal at all. I ignored the messages from friends asking me to join their Mafia, become part of their vampire clan, move in next door to their rutabaga farm, or contribute to efforts to elect Ron Paul president. (Oh, you mean they were serious about the Ron Paul thing?)
Like the other media industries, newspapers are having a hard time finding people that still want to give them money. Unlike music and film, newspapers aren’t selling to the customer so much as selling the consumer to the advertiser. But with circulations dropping and basically infinite new ad space becoming available on the Internet, advertisers aren’t signing up in droves. This being the news biz, there’s no lack of people to talk about why or what to do.
Some media pundits think readers who might pay are defecting to blogs. Others think Google News is being evil. Still others blame Craigslist.org for the death of classifieds.
Whatever the cause, my colleagues are running to the government for a bailout. Unlike car makers and banks, they aren’t asking for huge piles of money. They want a legislative bailout.
One thing I learned while attending art school was that anyone who thinks he or she is an Artist-with-a-capital-A, isn’t. Anyone who tries to produce Art—complete with layers of meaning and a message and prepackaged interpretations that they are just dying for some sensitive soul to uncover, is inevitably going to produce self-conscious garbage. It will probably be boring, almost certainly ugly, and without question, philosophically tendentious.
In any art, pure technique (honed by hard work and diligent practice) and pure instinct (some mystical combination of observation, perception, and interpretation, most of it subconscious) mingle to create something that speaks as “art.” You can’t fake it.
Thus, when I boot a pretentious art-house game like The Path, I know I’m in for instant seating at the crap buffet, complete with a tepid chaser of trite, high-school-level philosophy about MEANINGFUL THINGS. The Path is… words fail me.
Two years after dismissing, and even mocking, the Wii Remote, Microsoft has had a change of heart about motion control. Project Natal is an attempt to get rid of the controller altogether, replacing it with a tool that combines an “RGB camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone, and custom processor running proprietary software.”
All of this provides full-body 3D motion capture, facial recognition, and voice recognition, then converts that information into real-time game control. The figures onscreen respond to your movements and even react to emotions based on facial expressions.
You know Microsoft is serious when it wheels out the big guns to deliver the overstatement. Such as when Steven Spielberg was asked for his thoughts on Project Natal at this year’s E3: “This is a pivotal moment that will carry with it a wave of change, the ripples of which will reach far beyond video games.”
Long ago, I came to the conclusion that The Sims was designed for Someone Else. I don’t know who. Hottentots, perhaps.
I played through The Sims 3 with awe, respect…and profound boredom. It’s a brilliant piece of work, and if God is kind I’ll never have to play it again this side of Purgatory.
Meanwhile, I’ve been returning to Prototype. I like Prototype. I also liked it when it was called Spider-Man 2 and Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. If a game is worth playing once, it’s worth playing two more times with different character models.
Games are all about wish-fulfillment and power fantasies. Some people are content to wield their mighty power to get three gems in a row. Others would prefer to jump 10 stories in the air and punch a helicopter out of the sky. If you have the opportunity to do the latter, I have no idea why you’d choose to do the former, but people are strange.
Some gamers treat the mere idea of microtransactions with contempt.
“Pshaw!” they snort, “like I’d pay real money to buy horse armor in Oblivion….” And then they usually trail off into a semi-coherent rant about their rights as gamers and greedy corporate pigs.
But microtransactions—which allow you to spend a few dollars on things to enhance a game, such as extra weapons or spells—are here to stay, and gamers just need to come to terms with that.
My little epiphany came when I took my son to the local Games Workshop store for some Warhammer love. There, spread out before me on shelves crammed with figures, books, paints, and all the rest of the paraphernalia of the hobby, was the world of microtransactions writ large.
Trademark has been a way for creators to indicate the source of their work for hundreds of years. It makes sense—one of the reasons I don’t buy that email-pitched V1agra is that I’m not sure I can trust Pf1zer. Trademark is in the same class of property rights that give us copyrights and patents.
No one else can call their drug Viagra, it’s Pfizer’s property. Recently, trademark law has been used to get domain squatters off common brand names, which I like when it really pertains to domain squatters and feel weird about when it targets the unfortunately named Viagra family’s website.
Colleen Bell is an Austin roller derby girl who skates under the name Crackerjack, a word that means expert, but is more fun to say. She’s trying to trademark her handle for inclusion in an upcoming video game featuring roller derby girls, presumably beating the crap out of each other. Fun!
Empire: Total War and Stormrise are two radically different games with a common core. Developed by Creative Assembly, they give us a rare opportunity to see the stark contrast between what PC and console strategy games can and cannot do.
Empire is a refinement of a revered brand, featuring new elements set within a familiar context. Despite the bugs, it’s still a deep, detailed, and beautiful strategy game with a different texture from any other Total War game.
Stormrise severs the 3D tactical element from the Total War series and reconfigures it as a third-person real-time strategy game. The ground-level FPS/RTS hybrid is not the huge innovation trumpeted by Sega. Pandemic’s Battlezone II: Combat Commander attempted a similar RTS/FPS mélange 10 years ago, with pretty solid results. But memories are short and hype is powerful in the game world, allowing Stormrise to position itself as “The First Truly 3D RTS Game.”
PC gaming began on mainframes and research computers. It moved to personal computers when independent developers put their games on floppy disks, sealed them in Ziploc bags with Xeroxed art, and sold them in hobby stores. If it is going to have a future that is not yoked to console design paradigms, we are going to have to recapture those roots and start paying closer attention to the small developers who are designing with us, and not 14-year-old console gamers, as their primary market.
Ringu, the movie that kicked off the Japanese horror craze, scared me as much the third time I saw it as it did the first. It’s a moody, unsettling movie that still packs a punch and its signal image of Sadako, a creepy little girl with long dark hair and ashen skin, quickly entered the visual vernacular.
Monolith did a fair job of exploiting elements of J-Horror to create a genuinely creepy FPS experience with FEAR (2005). The developer understood that Ringu was successful because a) it used atmospheric, psychological horror to produce unease, and b) relied on fleeting images of horror, glimpsed as if in passing. This, coupled with the relative freshness of J-Horror and its stock images, made FEAR one of the few truly frightening PC games in recent memory.