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Six Reasons to Play MechWarrior Online

April 16, 2013 Leave a comment

For those of you not familiar with the MechWarrior franchise or the BattleTech universe, allow me to introduce you to MechWarrior Online, the latest installation in the series.

The basic premise of the BattleTech universe is as follows:

In the distant future humanity has broken free of the shackles of our solar system and begun settling the vast reaches of space.  Over time human nature rears its ugly head, leading to any number of wars over the period of a millennia.

At some point in time humans perfected the IndustrialMech—a (usually) bi-pedal humanoid machine capable of aiding humans in completing various work more quickly and easily.  As usual, the military applications of the technology become far more important and it isn’t long before the mechs become weaponized.  From that point on, mechs dominated the battlefield.

Inner Sphere Ca. 3050

The Inner Sphere (ca 3050) with colors denoting the various Successor States and their holdings. The center point at which all Successor States meet is Terra Firma (Earth).

MWO is set in the year 3050, long after the Star League—a government uniting almost all humans under one banner—fell and the various states that existed attempted to fill the vacuum left by the Star League in the most selfish manner of all.  These states—known as the Successor States—engaged in numerous wars leading up to 3050.  Currently, the MWO universe resides on the precipice of an impending disaster—one that will shake all of the Inner Sphere (the geographical domain of the Successor States).Until then, the various Houses in power are still engaging in their various squabbles and wars over land, power and resources. MWO is an amazing game, and if you aren’t already playing it I suggest that you begin to do so.  If you aren’t totally convinced, allow me to provide the following reasons to help sway you.

MWO Is Familiar…

MWO is, at its core, a first-person shooter.  The various objectives in the two game modes are reminiscent of the game modes available in the most popular FPS games.  There is, upon playing a match in MWO, a sense of familiarity to it all.

The familiarity is what makes MWO so welcoming to people who are not familiar with the franchise.

Atlas HUD

The HUD within your mech. Note that it is very similar to other HUDs in FPS games.

Matches in MWO are played in teams of 8 players, for 16 total in a match.  The matches themselves involve various capture points that each team can capture, though destruction of all enemy mechs is also a condition for victory.  At the end of a match players are awarded XP and c-bills (in-game currency) that can be used to advance your character and customize your mech.

If it all sounds very much like the COD or Battlefield series of FPSs, you’re right.

The control method is also similar enough that players who have yet to touch any MechWarrior games will not be totally lost in their first matches.  Nonetheless, the controls still have a learning curve to them.

So while MechWarrior games may be foreign to you, MWO is going to be familiar enough to be welcoming and easy to learn.

…But It Is Also Different

While at the most fundamental level MWO is an FPS that is similar to other FPSs, the game is true to the MechWarrior franchise and BattleTech universe, as various unique systems are introduced into MWO that will be familiar to experienced MW players. What separates MWO—and really all of the MechWarrior series—is that it is really the thinking person’s shooter.

I am not a big fan of the COD/Battlefield games.  For one, if I wanted to be yelled at by thirteen year olds who think it’s cool to shout racial slurs, I could have become a junior high teacher.  Since that is not the path I took, I want a game in which I don’t have to worry that some tween is going to lose his shit and/or teabag me.

But the real reason I never got into games like COD/Battlefield is the gameplay itself.  While the core basis of the game is not objectionable, the game itself feels like one must be on speed in order to actually play well, much less enjoy the game.

Consider the following gameplay from a COD game:

There is a lot going on in that game.  Players are falling left-and-right and the player recording even respawns at one point.  People walk around a corner only to be taken out with a single shot.  Movement is paramount, as stopping to time your shot is asking for a bullet to the face.

All-in-all, the COD/Battlefield games are twitchy FPSs that rely on instinct and lightning-fast response times in order to do well.  I do not deny that there are certain elements of strategy, but in general that strategy is limited to the following key points.

1)      Never stop moving.
2)      Always strafe.
3)      Fire your gun at the slightest provocation.
4)      If you die, it’s probably because you were too slow or stopped moving.
5)      Don’t stop moving.

Frantic games have a place in the hobby of gaming as a whole.  But the homogenization of the industry (to which I have previously devoted a post with no small amount of ire) means that almost every game plays this way, with the same elements.

Having a game that is familiar is nice, but I also think that it is about time we as gamers asked for a change of pace.  MWO is that change of pace.

Again, while the basic elements will be familiar, it is the rest of the game that is not.  For one, combat is slower and more deliberate.  Consider this video of MWO gameplay:

There is no shortage of excitement and even some very fast-paced action in MWO.  But for the most part, the game relies on your wits and coordination with the team.  If you are not cooperating with your teammates—even at the most fundamental level, which is sticking together as a group—you will watch your team get picked apart one-by-one.

Note the last event before death was “ammo explosion”. Which means this jackass was either running way too hot or got shot there, and either way didn’t have a CASE to contain the blast.

But the strategy goes beyond that.  Your torso twists separate from your legs, which means you can fire at enemies while retreating.  Your weapons also have maximum (and often minimum) effective ranges.  Selection of weapons for your mech depends upon what role you wish to fulfill, and in combat situations which weapon you use depends upon the range of engagement.  Finally, weapons generate heat, too much of which can cause damage to your mech or shut you down in the middle of a fight.  Heat management is a key to the game, both in terms of mech design and actual gameplay.

What all of the above translates to is the requirement that one think before doing in MWO.  Firing all of your weapons at once may do a lot of damage, but if it shuts you down— and you cannot move or fight back—then the damage will have been for nothing.  If you design a mech for long-range combat with no short-range solutions, you need to be aware of your surroundings and always keep away from the front lines.

I could, quite easily, go on for pages and pages about all the ways that MWO separates itself from the COD series and its clones.  But I will just repeat that MWO is a shooter for the thinking person.  Every action—in the mech lab or on the battlefield—has far reaching consequences.

Make no mistake, though, that the game is intense even if not as fast-paced as COD.  There is no lack of excitement, but rather it is just not as twitchy and reflexive as your typical FPS.

The Game is Free-to-Play—and it’s F2P Model Works

No, really.  You are actually required to pay nothing—as of right now—to enjoy every major benefit of the game.  This is a topic I am going to address in its own post, so the following information will have to do for today.

I have a lot of qualms about free-to-play games, mostly because I have a lot of issues with microtransactions.  If you didn’t read that article previously and you’re not going to click the link, I have two issues with real-money transactions in games:

  1. Often microtransactions are a means for companies to make quick money off people for content that should have been included in the first place or that is hardly worth the money
  2. The second use is to provide players with powerful in-game items without having to do any of the work to actually earn them.  In most games time is a kind of currency that can be exchanged for more powerful items.  There is a reason you don’t get the best weapon from the first moment of the game.  Real-money transactions allow people to skip this work and, in online games, can result in unfair advantages for players who are have the money to spare over those who do not.

So I was a bit hesitant to immediately buy into MWO (in the figurative sense), as I did not want to enjoy the game only to find out that I cannot buy the exact mech I want without dropping real money.

Image

This is the various subscription levels for Star Wars: The Old Republic in its new payment model. Left column is full payment, right column is free-to-play. You might see why I was a tad concerned to hear MWO was F2P.

Fortunately, my concerns were unfounded.  Real money purchases MechWarrior Credits (or MC) which can be used for the following services:

1. Premium time.  This basically earns you more money and experience from each match in which you compete.
2. New BattleMechs that you can use right away and begin customizing immediately.
3. Exchanging one type of XP for another, harder to earn type of XP
4. Mech camo specs, essentially visual customization of the interior as well as cockpit of your mech.

What this means is that given enough time you can purchase the mech you want, give it the loadout you want and play it as much as you want.  If you are determined not to support Piranha Games, then you will have to live without custom camo for your mech.  I think that is a fair trade.

As far as those who do drop money—sometimes lots of it—to get mechs within the game, I would tell you not to be too concerned.  In any game there will be people who are very far ahead of you in terms of progression and skill.  The thing is, none of what that person has (besides perhaps his camo spec) is not obtainable through in-game money.  So, given enough time, however, you can balance out with other players without dropping a dime into the game.

Seeing as there is inequality inherent to games anyway, I figure that PGI’s model for f2p not only works, but addresses quite well the inequality issues inherent to the f2p or microtransaction model.  It isn’t perfect, but there is incentive to play even if you never intend to spend money on it.

It Needs Your Help

MechWarrior Online is the retooled MW5 game, made into a multiplayer online game.  Currently MWO is in its open beta phase, with a planned release date of late summer this year.  Pirhana Games, the developer, decided to use a free-to-play model for the new MechWarrior game and make it multiplayer only.

Image

Uncle Atlas want’s YOU. He also doesn’t want to get scavenged for parts and end up in a box for twenty years. Do not anger him.

Gamers familiar with the model will probably recognize that moving a game to free-to-play status is often a last-ditch effort by the devs to bolster falling subscription rates.   Star Wars: The Old Republic moved toward a three-tier free-to-play model to, as BioWare put it, “expose [the] game to the widest audience possible, so [they are] allowing everyone to download the game for no charge, then play the level 1-to-50 game without having to purchase anything.”  That is corporate buzzword for “our subscription numbers were falling and we figure if people play they’ll get hooked”.

Needless to say, starting off as free-to-play is a bit risky.  We live in an age where people can hardly be bothered to pay for the movies they watch or the music to which they listen.  Offering a fully-functional game for free and hoping that people will be willing to drop real money on bonus features is hoping for the best from an audience—i.e. the internet—that has shown nothing but disdain for the very corporations upon which they depend for entertainment.

That’s the risk: games cost a lot of money to develop and so Piranha and Infinite are putting down a lot of money for something that isn’t guaranteed to return that investment. There are discussions about certain future elements of the game requiring real money investment from players, but for the most part discussion is centered on the game still being fundamentally free.

That’s where you come in.  The more people who play the game, the more people there are that will enjoy it.  The more people that enjoy it the more people there are to feel the desire to pay for elements of the game to provide Piranha/Infinite with some money.  (While I currently can’t afford it, I will definitely support Piranha/Infinite in the future in this manner.)

The best part, though, is that the game really is absolutely free.  Like I said above, it is possible to play and enjoy the game without spending a dime.  You can pick it up, play it and—if you’re unimpressed—just uninstall it.  If you like it, you can still play without paying or you can choose to support the developers.  Regardless what option you choose, there is no risk to you. If it sounds like the kind of game you’d enjoy the least you can do is support the developers by giving it a shot and seeing where it takes you.

It’s Giant Walking Death Robots

Image

Except the ones in MWO have numerous weapons. Many, many weapons.

MechWarrior online is, really, just Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots for adults.

Do I really need to say anything more than that to get you interested?

It May Be the End for MechWarrior

As I stated above, PGI is working on MWO instead of MW5.  There was not enough interest in the game—especially without a PS3 version—and so PGI went this route.  It is a huge risk for them, but also for the fans of the BattleTech Universe.

From the release of MechWarrior 2 until the release of MW4: Mercenaries in 2001, the MechWarrior series was at least alive, if not moving in fits and starts.

Should MWO fail it may well mean no more MechWarrior games for a long time.  It took 9 years for MWO to come out after MW4.  In the meantime we saw some BattleTech video games, namely the MechAssault series.  But these games were not MechWarrior.  They played from a third person perspective and had none of the strategy required in previous MechWarrior installments.  These games are more in line with today’s FPS or games like Gears of War than with anything BattleTech.

Should MWO fail, it shows all the developers and publishers that gamers are only interested in clones of Gears of War, COD and Battlefield.

I am sick of those being the only games that anybody makes anymore, and I hope you are too.  They are insulting in so many ways (see my article about them, linked above) but most of all we need variety.  Even those who love COD/Battlefield no doubt need a break from those games from time-to-time.  MWO can be that break, and in doing so you help make sure that we continue to see quality MechWarrior titles in the future.

I have lived far too long without being able to build my own mech and unleash destruction on all who oppose me.  MWO has brought that dream back to me, and so I hope you’ll help keep MWO alive to keep the dream alive.

Yeah, I said it.

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Stop Killing Gaming Part 3: Nobody Takes Gamers Seriously

May 22, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve discussed a lot of parts of gaming.  I’ve talked about why I don’t think video games are art, why DLC (especially shitty DLC) is killing gaming, and why games like COD are destroying the medium.

You may notice that in many ways these are focused solely on the companies producing things that damage overall gaming.  I have, thus far, neglected to really accuse anybody but the companies for hurting gaming.  I guess I’ve been a little hard on gamers for buying into these things, but I don’t really blame them for buying what’s available.

Today I put an end to that by discussing the fact that nobody really takes gaming seriously.  I’ll be looking at video gamers themselves and video game media.

Gamers in the Public Eye

Something Awful, if you’re not familiar with it, is a (brilliant) humor website.  They frequently post the mistitled  (it’s hardly daily) “Awful Link of the Day”, a tradition that has existed for some time on the website.  Not too long ago they covered a particular ALOD that I was slightly put off by: GamerFood.

This proves so many of my points all at once.

Every ALOD gets a brief entry from one of the SA writers detailing what the link is about and why it’s so awful (although usually it’s pretty self-evident).  In the opening sentence of the GamerFood link Daryl “Fucking” Hall urges the reader to “[f]indme a more irritating ‘subculture’ than gamers, I dare you. [. . .] at least those dudes aren’t constantly griping about how their expensive toys aren’t considered art. Gamers seem insistent on constantly reminding the public that their toys are serious toys, deserving of respect”.

If that’s not a little disheartening to you, I’d imagine you don’t consider yourself a gamer.  If you are a gamer, then you’re probably reminded that, as is often the case with observational humor, the truth can sting just a little bit.

Gaming wasn’t always a part of the public eye.  It was, for some time, just considered the domain of nerds in their parents’ basements.  The very games I often deride—games like COD—are the games that have, to some extent, made it acceptable to be a gamer.

After all, the typical image of a gamer is some clueless nerd, and that nerd always has to be inept with women.  (Though I suppose that was implied by the use of the word “nerd”.)  Nonetheless, a lot of the people who play COD are the complete opposite of this subgroup, often fitting into a category most appropriately described as “total douchebags”.

What most people think of when they think gamer. I’m sorry to the poor guy who somehow ended up as the #1 result when you Google Image “video gamer”.

But even with this increased acceptance, gaming is something that people outside of the industry and the subculture rarely take seriously.

Cracked did an article that, oddly, managed to nail the issue almost perfectly.  In that article, David Wong (who is probably one of the only competent writers—besides DOB—on the Cracked staff) talks about all the issues that face gamers, even today.  I’d suggest reading it for no other reason than he talks about this issue in more detail than I will.  Also, it’s in list format for those of you who are put off by having to read things.

To summarize Wong’s points briefly: we’re still considered lonely virgins, the game manufacturers think we’re immature morons, games—after forty years—are still terrible at storytelling, the “technical novelty” (to use his words) still amazes us, and we’re extremely entitled.

Anyway, while he brings up good points, I think that the first two and the last one on that list are the most relevant to my points.

The World Thinks We’re Spoiled Teenagers

The world still thinks of video games as kids entertainment.  Should the world realize for even a moment that not all video gamers are teenagers, we get things like GamerFood.  You have to love the person who invented GamerFood.  I can only imagine that drinking an energy drink and making some Hot Pockets is too hard, so why not just make energy drinks in nut form?  Kill two birds with one stone.

Yeah, we totally deserve to be taken seriously.

Kind of witty, but still not the best way to speak your mind. Yet Google provides countless images and links with a similar means of expressing disapproval. Good job, guys!

Another point in case: I take the side of those who hated the ME3 ending, I have to admit that a lot of the outrage around it was poorly vocalized.  Rather than the masses of gamers talking about the reasons the ending sucked (lack of agency, that they are all the same, etc) we all basically whined nonstop.

The reasons we dislike the ending are legitimate, but all the rest of the world heard was “QQ QQ QQ QQQQQQQ” from us.  That is, assuming they thought in stupid gamer/internet slang.

I should clarify that David Wong’s idea—and by extension my discussion in this post—of entitlement is in terms of the fact that gamers are pirates and will always consider the price tags on games too high for the effort put in.  He does not suggest entitlement in the sense that I discussed it previously.

That is to say, where I think that the (well written) complaints about the ME3 ending are just pointing out that we were misled about the game, entitlement in this case refers to the fact that gamers always want more out of games and they want it for free.

Here are some other examples of how gamers are spoiled kids; examples that you could swear were cases of little kids throwing temper tantrums.  Oh, and youtube has no dearth of videos about spoiled gamers being pissed off.  No doubt some are fake, but then art imitates reality.

Honestly, it’s not all that surprising that nobody takes gamers seriously, because we don’t seem to take ourselves seriously.  Whenever something bad happens in video gaming, we respond like spoiled children and the world, realizing this, just treats us accordingly.

Reinforcing The Stereotype of the Nerdy Virgin Gamer

And, most of all, David Wong’s point about gamers being immature pricks in the eyes of the companies is hilarious.  He posts a number of pictures of various tits and asses from video games.

“I was going to become a supermodel, but then I realized by amazing body would be better used as cannon fodder against aliens.”

Let there be no mistake: video games objectify women in ways that would make Hugh Hefner and Larry Flint blush.  Every video game female in history has been ridiculously attractive.  Unless she’s evil. If a future society could judge ours based solely upon video games, I’m guessing that they’d be incredibly offended and consider us a society of misogynists.

You might try to argue that the game companies just turn female characters in games into anatomical bastardizations of the human body just to try to sell things on cheap sexuality.  Hell, the fighting game franchise Dead or Alive put out a goddamn Beach Volleyball game.  They sold a game entirely based upon the premise that there are virtual women with bouncy breasts.

And make no mistake that just like any other form of media, selling things is at the heart of this objectification of women.   For those of you women (if there are any) reading this post, please don’t mistake this part of the article as me pretending I have never bought into the shit video games pull on me.  I play a female character at almost every opportunity because I feel like it’s way cooler when she destroys everyone around her. I’m just as complicit as everybody else in this.

But I also only realized recently how bad this particular phenomenon was.

As I pointed out when I talked about entitlement, the video game companies are just companies, and they wouldn’t do something if it didn’t sell.  Ever wonder why every female character in every video game is hot, has huge breasts and a shapely ass?  Where are the curvy women?  Where are the women who aren’t supermodels?

At least Miranda has the excuse that her dad designer her body that way, for whatever creepy implications we might get from that. But how is that ridiculous bodysuit even feasible in combat?

They got left behind when video game companies realized that—even more than movies—people buying their games only want to see attractive women.  They want that because they are adolescents (or adults stuck in their adolescence, in the case of most COD players).  They put big breasts and tight asses in games because that is what sells to us, the gamers.

Don’t get me wrong, men in these games are invariably attractive too, so we have the same thing going on in video games as in movies.  Every guy is some musclebound, crew-cut adonis and every woman is a supermodel.  I get that movies, TV, magazines and everything else in our world do that.  So you might be wondering why I’m picking on video games in particular.

The answer is that video games can control this.  Hollywood has this unique problem where they need to find people who can act.  Tatum Channing may seem life proof otherwise, but your Joe Windrider off the street isn’t going to have the acting chops to make it in Hollywood.  Even then, there are plenty of average-looking actors out there, but Hollywood still has a smaller pool to draw from than usual.  In the end, mostly by Hollywood’s own doing, the people who aren’t attractive and who cannot act are going to get filtered out, so by time you get the head shots to the casting director’s desk, he’s got a homogenized pool of actors from which to draw.

Video games don’t have this convenient excuse.  Video game designers can create anybody they want, and so there is no reason that almost every woman should have a ridiculous body and be attractive.  No reason other than we, as people, are shallow.  But then, that’s a deeper social issue that I’m not going to discuss.

My point is just that even if we assumed that nobody wanted to see unattractive people in video games, they do NOT all have to have exaggerated breasts and asses.  Video game designers have a choice, but they know that gamers will be put off if their video games don’t double as masturbatory aids.

The Gaming Media Is a Joke…

When I think “cosplay” I think “take me seriously”.

I’m not going to just pick on gamers’ behavior in general.  The gaming media is just as complicit in this as anybody else.  The thing is, gaming media exists for two reasons: to talk about gaming and to do so in a manner that attracts readers.

I guess that’s why Kotaku has a goddamn cosplay subsection of their site.  It also explains why the vast majority of cosplay articles involve women, and often they are of the scantily clad variety.  It explains why somehow Jessica Chobot got put into Mass Effect 3 in one of the most ridiculous outfits any reporter has worn in history.  Sex sells, and this is apparently especially true for gamers.

But beyond that, one of the reasons that video game media is so damaging is because there is no reason to take it seriously.  Just like we have no reason to take gamers seriously, gaming media is tailored to gamers and written by gamers.  Thus, it is basically full of fluff that is of no consequence.

Once, as a kid, I remember reading in a video game magazine a full article about Lara Croft.  It was not about the Tomb Raider games, it was about Lara Croft.  It contained an interview.  Video game media is, at its heart, the damn swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated in every article.  It appeals to the lowest common denominator within all of us.

But there is another reason nobody can really take video game media seriously: it is one gigantic conflict of interest.  IGN had one of the major video personalities in Mass Effect 3 and yet reviewed it anyway.  Their review page for ME3 had an advertisement for ME3 on the very same page.  Recently when I went to the website to check on it, their entire website was one gigantic advertisement for Battleship.

Nothing wrong with this…nothing wrong AT ALL.  By the way, that’s the IGN front page.  I know, you’d think I accidentally went to battleship.com.

Game magazines—especially the official ones—are often under huge pressure from the manufacturer to make the console look good or else get funding pulled.  Game websites are typically based upon ad revenue—advertisements for the very products they are trying to sell.

If you were to read a movie review in the newspaper and noticed a full-page ad for the same movie on the opposite page, you might wonder at the integrity there.  Yet few give a second thought to that very conflict of interest when it comes to gaming outlets.

To sum this up: the gaming media takes itself super seriously, yet the seriousness with which they speak about topics is often undermined by the topic itself.  In addition to that, almost all gaming media outlets face some conflict of interest, usually because they’re based upon ad revenue.

…But the Gaming Media Is Also Too Serious

Yet in a mind-boggling contradiction, the gaming media simultaneously takes itself far too seriously.  I want the world to look at gamers in a fonder light, but I do not consider video games to be a totally serious subject.

I once got into an argument with a couple of the guys over at The Verdict about whether to side with the Stormcloaks or Imperials in Skyrim.  (The correct answer, by the way, is Imperials.  Ulfric Stormcloak is a bigot and a tyrant in the making.)  But while we were basically yelling at each other, we walked away laughing because it was a video game argument.  It just didn’t matter in the long run.

Kotaku Home Page

What’s wrong with this picture? If your answer is: “there are four articles complaining about video game baseball” you win.

Video game media sits around yelling about video games, but they never stop to realize how ridiculous their ferocity really is.

Kotaku (sorry if you like Kotaku, but honestly that site is trash), while I was doing research for this post, had a main page article (picture included in this article) titled “NBA Live Moves with a Purpose to Make You a Better Baller”.  Then it included three links to other articles about sports games, including “Will We Have Any Baseball Video Games on Xbox 360 Next Year?”

I feel for the baseball fans who want to play baseball on the 360, but is that seriously important?  I mean, can’t you just play last year’s game?  I know the new rosters are included, but that’s about the only difference and I think you’ll live if your team isn’t perfectly in sync with the current team.

Do not think that I am dismissing anybody who takes gaming seriously.  I consider myself a gamer, and I care about games.  I am writing about games.  But I think that at the end of the day I am able to walk away—even when I’ve written about a game and seem to have gotten upset, as in the case of Kai Leng being goddamn stupid—and know that it doesn’t really matter in the long term.

Reviews and previews of video games fall into the “too serious” category.  Reviewing anything is going to be subjective, but reviewing video games is almost more so.  I think any gamer can agree that we all know when a game is really bad.  But look at the metacritic user reviews for any of the major (and well reviewed by media outlets) games to come out this year so far. You’ll find that gamers can never seem to agree with each other as to what a good game is.

Just read the start of that review. You’d think you’re reading a a book review from School Library Journal, not an IGN article. (Also, absorb the hilarity of a paid advertisement for the game they’re reviewing on the same page.)

Part of that is because gaming genres are subjective, and also that they’re blending.  It used to be if you wanted a strategy game, you got that.  RPGs were straight-up RPGs.  And yet now we see genres blending and changing in odd ways.  I’m not a huge fan of traditional RPGs, but gamse like Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect 1 are incredibly enjoyable for me.

Beyond all of this, though, you have to consider that reviewers often consider things like graphics, story, sound and gameplay and then compile an overall score.  Personally, if the graphics are a tad behind but the game is otherwise spectacular I have no problem with it.  Yet you frequently see games get lower scores because they were in development for so long that their graphics aren’t as great.

In the end, the websites and magazines providing these articles act like there is somehow an objective way to review games and ride that premise out.  This falls into the “taking things too seriously” because in the end its a game.  If you enjoyed it but the graphics weren’t fantastic, should that really matter?

What Should Game Media Do to Fix This?

Like in all my other posts, I’ll conclude with some suggestions to help fix this and, more than that, some hope that things will change.

Kotaku seems to be ahead of the curve, having already (subtly) admitted they’re a joke.

I’ll start by suggesting that the video game media needs to get its act together and start writing on topics of substance.  (I’d like to think I fall into that category.)  If you’re going to speak authoritatively and seriously about gaming, you need to say something unique about it.

The current topics of these media outlets run the gamut from reviews to full previews of new games.  We often see articles about the technical advances of the medium.  What you rarely see are people thinking of the larger implications of trends within gaming.

If gaming is ever to be universally considered an art form, then we need to start treating it that way.  Rather than talking about what the hottest new brush techniques are, we should be talking about the meaning and impact of games.  I’d like to think that I am contributing to this, as I never just look at a game and talk about it, but rather talk about what it means in some larger societal context.

This is, to me, the key to changing the face of game media.

If that fails and we still insist on covering the same fluff topics, then perhaps the media outlets just need to change their tone and realize they’re talking about video games, not the presidential election.  Lighten the tone up some.

How Do We Fix Perceptions of Gamers?

Suggesting how gamers as a whole can change perceptions is a lot harder.  There are already social concepts of gamers that we may not be able to break easily, if at all.

Mountain Dew Game Fuel: when your drink isn’t extreme enough for skateboarding, just put an orc on it and sell it to gamers.

But I do think that we, as gamers, need to start somewhere.  When a company decides to release something like GamerFood, I think that we—as gamers—need to stand up and tell them how insulting that really is.

And guys, these things really are insulting. It’s insulting to assume that all gamers are so lazy or easily distracted by games that they would rather eat some foul-tasting mixture of Red Bull and mixed nuts than get up and microwave some damn pizza rolls.

When a website features an article about the hottest video game women, we need to stand up and—like actual human beings who have met women—point out how insulting that truly is.

And it’s insulting that women, who already have to live up to the ridiculous standards set by Hollywood and magazines like Cosmo, have to feel that same pressure coming from video games.

It’s also insulting to us, the gamers.  We may think it’s cool that the breast physics are modeled better than a dead bad guy’s rag doll. Just consider that when a developer sexualizes a video game character they are basically implying that we, the gamers, are the lonely virgins in their mom’s basements.  And we eat that shit up, all too happy to give them our money and prove them right.

We’ve Earned This.

We’ve all heard a friend tell a tasteless, racist joke based upon some stupid stereotype that isn’t even close to true.  I’m sure we’ve all heard the defense that “stereotypes are based in fact”, as though saying that somehow makes that person look less ignorant.  That excuse is the lamest reason to judge an entire group.

And yet in the case of gamers, I look at us as a whole and think that we really have made caricatures of ourselves in every way possible. We seem all too content to whine—with mouths full of GamerFood—that nobody takes our powerful computers and super awesome games seriously. We do this while insisting that the protagonist of our game have DD breasts and an ass that requires more computing power to render than the Apollo 11 moon landing.

I think it’s time to look at ourselves, think really hard, and act the way we want people to perceive us.

Hey Gamers: Can We Stop Playing COD and Save Gaming?

April 18, 2012 5 comments

Alright readers, I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I’m working on pretty grand discussion of religion and autism.  I’m still hammering away at that, but it entails a lot of research and reading.  It will also, I’m thinking, end up as a multi-part series.  With that said, I’m hoping to have that ready to go for tomorrow and Friday’s updates.

In the meantime, a return to the original form of this blog: talking about pop culture-y type stuff.  With Bethesda’s announcement of The Elder Scrolls: Steampunk, I think this update is pretty perfect.

I’m a big fan of video games.  I still play them to an extent (what’s up Skyrim?  You going to destroy another 100 hours of my life?), but nowhere near as hardcore as I used to.  At one point I played World of Warcraft and sank over 400 days of play time into my characters between 2006 and 2011.

But there’s been this incredible trend in video games of late.  I think I can sum it up in one two words: they’re dying. You might argue with that assumption based upon the fact that the video games still seem to be going strong, but I suppose I could tack on two other words to make the difference: in spirit.

Gameplay > Story > Graphics

I’m sure there are plenty of people who would argue with me to no end about my prioritization of the major parts of a game, but I stand by this.

Gameplay is, far and away, the most important part of the game.  Back before video games became monstrous, big-budget affairs boasting X hours of game time, slapping together cut scenes in the 30 minute mark (Metal Gear, I’m looking at you) there was only one thing that made you play the game: the actual gameplay.

Did you really care why the hell Mario ate mushrooms, used fire flowers and jumped on Goombas?  The motivation there was “that guy is bad, the game told me so, and thus I am to destroy him.”  You don’t need more than that.  People didn’t play Pac-Man in the arcades because the graphics and story rocked, they played it because it was fun.

Crysis

Proving once again that if the graphics are good enough, people won't notice you forgot the AI.

Point being made, game play should be intuitive but not lack depth.  Games should present you with multiple options toward the same goal.  Deus Ex is probably the perfect example of this.  You had to specialize your physical enhancements as well as your skills, and in doing so you created a character who solved problems the way you wanted.  If your JD Denton was stealthy, he’d sneak through the ubiquitous man-sized air ducts that populated every part of the game.  If you wanted to run and gun, you probably died a lot more but you could do it.

On the other end of the spectrum you have a game like, say, Crysis.  Crysis was touted as the big thing in gaming for no other reason than the graphics.  In the early days you’d hear how amazing the AI was and that it would change gaming.  Then you get things like this: Good AI .

Crysis was by no means a failure (which is its own commentary on video game audiences), but it wasn’t the earth-shattering game-changer it was supposed to be.

As far as story, I don’t know that there is much to say here.  Video games aren’t like Pac-Man anymore, and as such they need to have a story.  People, spoiled by the fact that video games have been moving toward being an art form, now want some more motivation as to why someone has to die than “he’s bad”.  That’s how you get monstrous story-driven games like the Metal Gear series on the extreme end of that spectrum.

Femshep, pictured here, shocked at how shitty the ME3 ending was.

Despite the issues with gameplay in the Mass Effect games (about which I could write a series of posts), the story was so engrossing that you couldn’t help but want to play the next installment.  Look at the outrage around the ending of Mass Effect 3 (that is looking to involve the Better Business Bureau) and tell me that people aren’t invested in those games.

A good story and good gameplay can make you look past the other shortcomings.  Graphics mean nothing, but to say something about them anyway: Crysis was built almost entirely on graphics and that game was kind of a letdown.  ‘Nuff said.

Multiplayer Games—I’m Looking At You, Modern Warfare—Will Kill Gaming

When I was a kid I’d sleep over at a friends house where we would play Goldeneye or Perfect Dark for hours.  Somehow this came back in college in the form of both Goldeneye and the original Smash Brothers.  At either point in time, youth or college, we’d play those games until we couldn’t keep our eyes open.  Then we’d play more the next day.

Goldeneye

Modern gamers are no doubt scratching their heads at how anybody could play a game without anisotropy and dynamic shadows.

The thing is, as I get older I face the sad realization that I am (kind of) an adult.  I’m also realizing that it’s becoming harder and harder to get four of my friends in one place to enjoy some split-screen gaming.  So consider this my disclaimer that I do understand partially why split-screen gaming has gone away.

But then you have to consider the video game companies and their greed.  After all, four people playing the same game at someone’s house is $50.  Four people playing the same game at their own house?  Two hundred.  So yah, there’s the motivation of greed.

Whatever combination of factors drove gaming toward the online multiplayer sensation we see today, that is the same trend that will destroy gaming as you know it.

I realize that’s a pretty big claim, but let’s look at why.

Modern Warfare.  I fucking hate those games.  I’ve played them like twice and couldn’t stand it.  If I wanted thirteen year old kids calling me gay and using racial slurs that would make the Klan blush I would have become a teacher.  The idea is that gaming should be fun, and games like Call of Duty—for many of us, at least—are not fun.

Before I talk about online multiplayer and how wrong it is, let me acknowledge what is right about it.  First, it is hard to get four adults with their own, separate lives in a room together.  Since the target audience of console games has gone beyond the teenage demographic, it is understandable that games now offer something for those of us who have physical distances between friends that we cannot always bridge.  I get that.

Also, clearly people play these games, as instanced by how many people were ready to rush out to buy Black Ops, then a short time later MW3.  First-person shooters are popular because you can get into a game and a short time later walk away.  Try doing that with Mass Effect, an Elder Scrolls game, etc.

But I think that’s where it ends.  The Call of Duty games are the ultimate exploitation of the gamer.  Most of them contain a shitty single-player that the gamer will go through once to justify the $60 price tag, followed by hopping onto the internet to yell racial slurs at people better than them.

But consider that Modern Warfare 3 for the 360 got an 88 on metacritic.  Many of those scores were 100.  How does a game that exists almost solely to deliver a slightly altered multiplayer experience get a perfect score?  Seriously.  Let’s play a game called spot which one is Modern Warfare 3:

Trick question! Nobody can tell!

Graphically, almost all of the COD games look almost identical.  I couldn’t tell you about the story of any of the games because, having asked numerous players what the story is, they basically showered me in racial slurs and told me there is no story.

Well that’s a lie, there is.  But they played it once and never went back to it.  Estimates of how much game time you get out of the single-player campaigns are usually in the 10 hour mark.  Hours of gameplay can be misleading, but when your game boasts ten hours of single-player, you’ve probably got something to think long and hard about.

And that is, after all, the problem with the Call of Duty series.  All of the above reasons still stand for games like this

Pictured: bridging the geographical distance--with racial slurs and seething hatred.

making sense. But what I said about the priorities of gaming stands as well: the medium has progressed so much from its youth and is capable of telling great stories, providing unique and engrossing gameplay and instead of using that to its fullest, we’re pumping out new installments of the Call of Duty series on a yearly basis, slapping slightly new features into the same game, changing the number to three and bringing the price back up to $60.

The reason this is killing gaming, in case you find yourself asking that question, is because these games are safe.  Look at any other medium of art and ask yourself this question: has playing it safe ever been good for that medium.  Consider network television.  Those channels cannot put out a decent show for the life of them, and the networks putting out shows that aren’t repetitive are the ones who are willing to take chances, networks like AMC, HBO, and shit, even USA.

The music industry right now is in this weird flux between the indie bands trying to actually do something unique (hint: they’re not.  Sorry hipsters, but your music still all sounds the same) and the overly homogenized pop where you can barely tell two artists apart.

Innovation drives art and innovation will drive this medium forward.  Modern Warfare 3 contains barely any innovation—if any at all—over its predecessors.  It adds a splash more milk to the mac and cheese and calls it a new dish.  All because we, the fans, apparently lap this shit up like catnip and the studios will not stop while we do this.

I have used Mass Effect as an example of what gaming is capable of, but believe me when I say that even that game is held back and limited by what it was too afraid to do.  The original Mass Effect had an interesting gameplay that was rich in RPG elements but still quite action-packed.  Scared that too many games would be confused by things like “numbers” and “leveling up”, Mass Effect 2 turned the gameplay into the most vanilla, cover-based shooter they could.

In case you’re wondering why I’m blaming multiplayer gaming (still), let me recap:

Innovation drives the medium.  Multiplayer gaming uses the same concepts that it always has to create the illusion of entertainment.  Worse than that, though, people do not expect massive innovation from multiplayer.  As a result, we’re just going to keep seeing numbers added on to the Call of Duty franchise until the gamers realize they dropped the soap a long time ago and the studios were just too sneaky for you to realize what was happening.

Wait, so its a Bethesda game where you start as a prisoner? Originality.

What Can Save the Medium

Instead of buying that Taco Bell or those energy drinks, save your money and buy an indie game.  You’d be amazed at the quality of the indie games on Steam (fuck Origin, don’t use that) that you can get for between $5-$25.  Supporting these small developers shows that you want more out of gaming.  We can continue to have multiplayer games like the COD series—they do not have to go away.  We just cannot, as gamers, be so single-mindedly obsessed with these games that we lose sight of the things that have made gaming so important as a medium: living through deep, interactive stories that could not be told well any other way.