Short Games of 2017

Game Informer notes that many excellent but long games were out in 2017, and there are shorter options out there. It’s funny how the value perception of game time has changed over the years. For some, anyway. Here are the “10 Under 10” according Joe Juba:

  • What Remains of Edith Finch
  • SteamWorld Dig 2
  • Night in the Woods
  • Tacoma
  • Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
  • Battle Chef Brigade
  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
  • Observer
  • Little Nightmares
  • Everything

There was a time when games (like, say, Metal Gear Solid) got dinged for short campaigns. Maybe it still is that way in the community. Let’s take a look at User Scores on Metacritic, shall we?

  • What Remains of Edith Finch (XONE) – 7.1 based on 64 Ratings
  • SteamWorld Dig 2 (Switch) – 8.8 based on 140 Ratings
  • Night in the Woods (PS4) – 7.1 based on 120 Ratings
  • Tacoma (PC) – 5.9 based on 62 Ratings
  • Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PS4) – 8.0 based on 670 Ratings
  • Battle Chef Brigade (Switch) – 8.6 based on 25 Ratings
  • Hellblade (PS4) – 8.2 based on 761 Ratings
  • Observer (PC) – 7.8 based on 131 Ratings
  • Little Nightmares (PS4) – 8.0 based on 123 Ratings
  • Everything (PS4) – 6.9 based on 38 Ratings

Just taking a quick glance at the Negative reviews, I see a common complaint about “walking simulators” but nothing overwhelming. It’s interesting to note that indie darlings like Tacoma and Night in the Woods seem to fair worse with users than with critics. That growing divide in opinion is noticeable everywhere these days.

That being said, it is nice to know we have some options these days with regard to commitment to a game. Some of you may recall that I spent a considerable amount of time sojourning on Gaea with Cloud and friends this past year. So short games in general can be a nice break. As long as they’re actually games. I’ll have some more to say about this trend in a coming post.

 

Thirty Under 30 in Games

Forbes released its 30 under 30 List for Games (2017), featuring the people “leading a technological and artistic revolution.” Here are the revolutionary twenty-somethings and teens:

  • Lishan AZ
  • Eric Barone
  • Zaquerl Black
  • Joe Brammer
  • Kitty Calis
  • Fablano Caruana
  • James Earl Cox III
  • Juan DeBledma
  • Andy Dinh
  • Natalie Gravier
  • Lisy Kane
  • Gennadly Korol
  • Jasmine Lawrence
  • Auguste Massonnat
  • Daniel Mullins
  • Jenny Qlan
  • Rachel Quirico
  • Khaled Abdel Rahman
  • Matt Salsamendl
  • Alex Schwartz
  • Tomber Su
  • Yuting Su
  • Max Temkin
  • Gabriel Toledo
  • Josh Watson
  • Noah Whinston
  • Zach Wigal
  • Liam Wong
  • Andrey Yanyuk
  • Olga Zinoveva

There were more Esports people than I had imagined. Including a chess grandmaster also seems like an inspired choice. Of the games listed I think Cards Against Humanity and Stardew Valley are probably the best known (from the perspective of its developer appearing on this list). And of course, League Of Legends, Pokémon GO, etc.

I’m not sure that community organizers deserve a spot on such a list, but hey, I’m not a Forbes journo, so.

Congrats to all these people and their innovative work. And hopefully they continue innovating in the future.

The Importance of Storytelling in Games

Michal Klekowicki doesn’t appreciate the storytelling in Dust: An Elysian Tale:

Well, because 5 hours in I didn’t have any emotional investment in the game, nor I had any curiosity towards the story’s development. What I had, was a lot of time to fixate on every negative aspect I could find. In the end, I had literally no reason to play it, and backtracking side quests combined with a redundant crafting system were only making the matter worse. The story destroyed the experience.

I’ll never forget the reviews in EGM when Metal Gear Solid 2 went head to head with the debuting Halo. One of the reviewers, perhaps Dan “Shoe” Hsu, wrote something to the effect that he simply liked the Halo’s story better than MGS2’s. Fair enough, but I never agreed with the idea that the review score should have been dinged for that (weren’t we just talking about this the other day?). Anyway, back to the piece at hand: it’s a strange dichotomy. If you like everything about a game, but are turned off by its art direction and its story, does that affect your enjoyment of the game?

It seems like an obvious question with an obvious answer. But perhaps not. I think that games – as a medium capable of telling a story – should be judged on how well it delivers that story. Note that this is not the same as not “liking the story.” If you read the linked article, clearly Klekowicki was turned off by the art style and the story. Or at least, one gets the impression that the gamer writers were very incompetent. But does that alone drive you to the point of disliking the entire game?

Something to think about as I ponder the game review question.

What about Game Reviews

Over at Gamasutra, Jeff Vogel posted a tongue-in-cheek article concerning video game reviews. From his blog:

One Last, Horrifying Truth About Game Reviews

I’m ancient, and even I don’t use them anymore. There’s no review that can tell me anything I can’t get by watching the game on Twitch.tv for ten seconds and checking the Steam reviews to make sure it’s not too buggy.

I’ve been in this category myself for about a decade, though I wouldn’t call myself “ancient” just yet. Practically speaking, I’ve been playing games for 30 years now. There’s very little a typical game review can tell me about a game. And with so much content out there for free, there’s no need to consult with the Sushi-X’s of the world anymore to find out if a game is worth my while.

But what if we want something more from our critics? Yes, Mr. Vogel’s sage advice to “read only what you want to read” and “everybody is entitled to their opinions” is useful. If you want to, say, create a personal echo chamber or avoid confrontation. Again, what if we want to, oh, I don’t know. Learn something useful from a critic?

We may be flat out of luck there when it comes to reading commercial game reviews. And by that I mean, reviews that appear in magazines or IGN’s of the world. We know from the GamerGate controversy that the widely-read critics tend to be ideologically incestuous, and their politics skew left. Nothing wrong with the latter, as far as it goes. But the first observation renders a large majority of their critical content useless in the scheme of things.

You can pick any color you want, as long as it’s red.

See the problem here?

I’ve avoided writing game reviews on this website, partly because I don’t desire to engage in affirmation-seeking types of readers, but mostly because I don’t have the time to write a proper review. Yeah I know. How convenient of me. And what’s a “proper” game review, anyhow?

I’ll answer that question when I’ve had time to think about it.

 

Game Design and 20 Atari Games

I finally got around to going through this 2008 article by John Harris, in which he discusses 20 Atari games and their impact on game design. Many of these are classics you’ve probably heard of before (Asteroids, Gauntlet, Marble Madness, etc.) whereas some are relatively obscure (Quantum, Qwak, Skull & Crossbones). The article is a treasure trove for budding game designers who may not be familiar with these older games, though Mr. Harris’ discussions about them can wander. Clicking through 23 pages is annoying, but I appreciate his logical divisions of the subject matter. The first three pages are his introduction and a bit of Atari history. The remainder covers one game per page, which are divided “pre Crash” and “post Crash,” meaning before and after the great 1983 game crash.

Atari’s History

As he mentioned in his intro, this piece is about Atari Games’ arcade efforts. If you’re at all familiar with the company brand, then you know it has a Byzantine history, with several ownership changes over several decades. So you won’t find any information about Atari’s many console or computer games here. (I wrote a brief post about the Atari 2600 if you’re interested in the home console. And of course, you can relieve those glory years with a Flashback console.)

Here is the list of games Harris discusses, linked to the appropriate page in the article:

“Pre Crash Games”

“Post Crash Games”

Commentary on the Article

Mr. Harris style is an unusual mixture of early games journalism (“I find this to be unspeakably awesome!”), hagiography (“And at its best, Atari Games seemed almost embarrassingly creative”), and nostalgia (“Times certainly have changed”). At the end of the article, there are some comments which are worth reading through. In particular, I was dubious about his claims regarding Asteroids, as was another reader, so Harris clarified what he meant. But these are minor complaints; the gameplay descriptions are worth reading unless you have access to these cabinets to try yourself.

There are various links in the article, in particular, check out the Atari history page. It contains pdfs of game design documents and other historical information about the company. There’s a broken link to David Theur’s interview on the Tempest page, so here it is retrieved via the Wayback Machine. And I took the liberty of finding as many gameplay videos on YouTube and embedding them here.

Sprint 

Asteroids (Game review)

Centipede (Cabinet Overview and Gameplay)

Tempest (Cabinet Overview and Gameplay)

Quantum 

Major Havoc

Qwak

I, Robot

Marble Madness

720 Degrees

Tetris

Klax

S.T.U.N. Runner

Paperboy

Vindicators

Skull & Crossbones

Gauntlet

Batman

Rampart

Gauntlet Legends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EA Battlefront 2 Fiasco

By now most of you have probably heard about the lootbox/pay2win/gouging fest planned for Battlefront 2 and the backlash that saw EA pull the plug on micro transactions. NPR posted a write up in its “must read” section a few days ago. Worth a read if you want to get up to speed on it all quickly. From the article:

Some players granted a preview of the company’s new Star Wars game unleashed a torrent of backlash online this week over extra charges to unlock more content — beyond the game’s $60-$80 retail price. While these types of in-game purchases aren’t new to the industry, it’s EA’s response that’s drawn the most ire from gamers.

EA’s response was nothing if not predictable. It’s true that the industry has long come up with clever ways around that $60 price tag. This is what happens when development costs rocket up over a decade. But I find the characterization here that gamers mostly complained because of their poor community management. Most showed ire over the barefaced, outrageous fleecing that the game’s leveling system characterized.

I bought the first Battlefront and found it to be fairly average. I far more enjoyed Pandemic’s original Battlefront series. And even that wasn’t as great as it could have been. The Star Wars license still seems like a license to print money, leave it to EA to fumble that badly.

The fact is, Disney had to step in and tell EA to turn off micro transactions for now. That should tell you all you need to know about EA management.

EA Hesitant about the Nintendo Switch

Over at Trusted Reviews, Ronald Moore-Coyler reports that EA is reluctant to bet big on the Nintendo Switch, despite the momentum the Big N has achieved so far. From the article:

EA has said it needs to “fully understand” what the demand is for third-party Switch titles, regardless of the success the Switch version of EA’s FIFA 2018 has appeared to have enjoyed, according to The Wall Street Journal.

One can forgive EA’s hesitation. After all, the ballyhooed WiiU enjoyed a relatively strong start, before tapering off to a dismal finish by 2017 with 13 and  a half million units sold. That’s below GameCube territory. I suspect that Nintendo still “enjoys” the reputation of being a first-party only system, and right now the system is riding high on two extraordinary flagship IPs: Zelda and Mario.

Still, I would think that Bethesda’s strong support for the system and Nintendo’s reported desire to cast off the “family-friendly” aspect would be a factor in EA coming back strong to the Nintendo brand.

Sanglard’s Doom Source Code Reviews

Years ago I was diving into game development and came across a site that I found to be far more valuable than most books and courses on the topic. Fabien Sanglard’s site is a treasure trove of engine reviews, particular idTech. Since we talked about Doom comparisons yesterday, I thought it would be fun to revisit his Doom source code reviews.

Doom Source Code Review

A great overview, with plenty of illustrations and videos, of how Doom engine renders.

Doom3 Source Code Review

About as in-depth as you could possibly get into Doom3. The link above is to the first of six parts, which includes explanations of the mapping, rendering, scripting, and an interview conducted by Sanglard with John Carmack. I highly recommend developers, would-be or not, read this whole series.

Doom3 BFG Source Code Review

A four part series (part one linked above) in which Sanglard details many of the updates and clean ups made in Doom3 BFG edition.

As I said, Sanglard’s entire website is a gem for game developers who are serious about their craft. Loads of book recommendations too.

Games and Far Transfer

I came across this intriguing article “Does Far Transfer Exist? Negative Evidence from Chess, Music, and Working Memory Training” by Giovanni Sala and Fernand Gobet. From the abstract:

We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these findings; extend the debate to other types of training such as spatial training, brain training, and video games; and conclude that far transfer of learning rarely occurs.

I’m taking a different tack on the blog today. For the last 490 days or so, I’ve played Nintendo’s “Brain Age” 2012 3DS title. It’s full of brain training exercises, working memory exercises, and of course the “devilish training” designed to increase your mental focus. The implications of this paper is that it’s largely a fruitless exercise, since there was not much evidence that the training is really effective.

I had planned to do a write up about Brain Age when I passed the 500 day mark. I still feel some value in doing what has essentially become a 15 minute morning routine for me. But the authors are probably onto something.

Xbox Boss on Crossplay

Gamespot has a wide ranging interview with Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, which included some remarks about cross platform play. He talks about Minecraft, and Sony’s unwillingness to play ball with Microsoft. I found this quote insightful:

“I think people look at [cross-play] and say is it better for gamers. If it’s better for gamers, I have a hard time thinking why we shouldn’t go do this, especially when you’re trying to make the gaming business a bigger business; grow it, get more games, create more opportunity,” he said. “Especially in the indie space, actually. If you’re creating an online indie game and you’re going to create five [shards] of your game–the Steam version, Xbox Live on PC, Xbox version, the PlayStation version, the Switch version creates hard matchmaking scenarios. We should help developers, not make their lives more difficult.”

At least the Xbox boss understands the fragmentation of the ecosystem. I used to think that crossplay was something of a Utopian dream. Why would any console maker willingly erode their brand strength? But that sort of thinking may be very last gen.