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January 28, 2016

Video game review scoring vs. movies, music, etc…

Filed under: General,Historical Rant,Perspective,Videogaming Rant — Bryan @ 6:00 pm

Today I ran across the question about why when searching through Metacritic there are more high scoring reviews on video games as opposed to other entertainment mediums. It’s a good question on face value, but there’s actually more to the answer then you might think.

Say that you are writing a review of a game on a scale of 1-10. In 1986 a game like Ulitma IV might have easily garnered a 9 or 10 because it was the pinnacle of that genre, remarkable as a video game in general and an overall exceptional game. It had many notable “new” features such as an exceptionally large game world, lots of NPC interactions for the time, a morality system of sorts, etc… It was also cutting edge in the use of audio technology (on the Apple it supported dual Mockingboards allowing 12 channel audio, which was simply unprecedented at the time as most games of this era might only use a computer’s built in speaker, if that to generate clicks and buzzes).

Ultima IV released exactly as it is today as a new game might only garner anywhere from a 5 to a 7 because while it is still a well done game it is now an overused concept and unoriginal by current standards and expectations.

In contrast, an exceptionally filmed movie from 1930 can still be just as visually compelling and artistically comparative to a contemporary film made now. Consider the movie Metropolis. Even today this movie is visually impressive and story wise, quite contemporary in its subjects of worker oppression, class elitism and surprisingly… A.I.. Granted, while the silent presentation and slower pacing may prove difficult for some to watch, it can be quite enjoyable for a modern viewer and it is easy to both acquire and watch without much trouble. The only options for variation in experiencing this movie are between watching in a theater or on a TV. Granted those experience differences can be significant they are typically not considered a factor in a review.

To carry our analogy, Ultima IV may be enjoyable for modern players but they must also endure the added burden of many significant technological barriers to overcome before they can even try to experience the game in a way that in the end almost certainly will not be the same as the experience of 30 years ago. You can still potentially go to a movie theater and watch Metropolis with a live pianist. Finding a complete, working Apple //e with Mockingboards and functional game media is more of a challenge, and that’s if you decided you want to try and play the Apple version and not the MSDOS-PC or Commodore-64 ports (most people these days only play the PC port via DOS emulation). Which takes us to our next topic…

Ratings in video games unlike any other medium are highly context sensitive to the technology used and moment in time they were written for which is why a review generated in 1986 for Ultima IV is more relevant than a review written for that same game today. The prevailing attitude in video gaming culture is that there is literally no way a contemporary reviewer could write a review with the same level of enthusiasm or appreciation and recognition as a period reviewer. To that end, “retro reviews” are typically considered of lower value than period reviews. Another aspect of retro reviews to keep in mind is that many of them now are performed under emulation using non-standard controllers which may effect the overall experience (eg, NES games played on a PC via an emulator using a PS2 style gamepad controller. This is simply not even the same experience.). Even things like up-scaled pixel resolutions or the lack of scan-lines on modern displays (an artifact of CRT based display technology) can effect the visual experience of a game when the designer incorporated something about that legacy viewing system into the visual aesthetics of a game’s art design.

Let’s consider another example… Stunt Race FX for the Super Nintendo. My magazine at the time gave this game a combined review score of 94.0/100 spread between four reviewers. I distinctly remember this game being visually impressive and I spent hours playing and enjoying the game.

Recently, based on those fond memories I dug out the SNES, dusted off the controller, loaded up the game cartridge and tried to play it. I found the game almost impossible to view let alone play. It was an incredibly jarring experience. If a game like that had been released right now on a modern platform and I was reviewing it, I probably would have tanked it.

As I eluded to above, video game scores take into consideration aspects such as the player interface as part of a review (eg, the responsiveness of the controller, the screen resolution of the video output, etc…). For the most part movie reviewers do not consider popcorn quality or sticky floors as a relevant element in a movie rating (granted, the quality of the camera and projection format may impact movie reviews but that’s generally the exception, not the norm), yet in video games, interface elements of the user experience are generally intrinsic to a reviewers scoring.

Lastly, you can’t look at gaming scores as a spread spectrum the same as other mediums. You really need to quantify your data, be it by era, platform, etc… as those extra parameters are just as relevant to the nature of the score beyond the raw play experience itself. I suppose movies and music have similar strata but the differences between eras in technologies aren’t typically as critical to the content as they are with video games.

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November 1, 2015

Saving old VHS gaming videos from tape-rot

Filed under: General — Tags: , , , , , , , — Bryan @ 8:22 pm

I’ve been digging through all the old archive materials I have in storage from Game Zero and realized I have quite a few VHS tapes from publishers with all kinds of content on them from the mid 1990’s. I did a cursory check and found that quite a few of these videos are not actually on-line. So if you’re interested, stop on by the Game Zero channel I’ve setup on YouTube and browse through the growing library.

I’ve already posted a couple of things that turned out to be of interest to people. One of them was an video recording I made back in 1995 of an hour-and-a-half of gameplay of a beta release of Biohazard (Resident Evil).

I also discovered in one of the media b-rolls from Sega is a snippet of footage from SegaCD release Virtual VCR: Prince and the N.P.G. – Diamonds and Pearls… which to the best of my knowledge has no known footage on-line for it. I have even read speculation that it didn’t actually exist. Well, I can assure you it existed enough to be in this preview reel recorded for distribution at the 1993 Winter CES. I can only imagine the title was scrapped due to the feud with Warner Bros which led to him changing his name that very year.

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May 8, 2015

Maps from the past

Filed under: General,T-Files — Tags: , , , , , — Bryan @ 8:00 am

I was trying to clean up my Inbox and found an e-mail from a month ago that I had somehow missed previously. I’m really glad I didn’t delete it as it contained a surprise that put a smile on my face. It’s in relation to some video game maps I made back in the 80’s. I’ll just reprint the e-mail below:

Hi there,

I just wanted to share with you a picture of something I’ve kept for nearly 30 years.  My brother and I played Ultima IV back in ’86, and your map files were given to me by a friend in high school.  Well, I printed them on our dot-matrix printer and spent several days actually coloring each character (you can see I kind of gave up being accurate on the ocean tiles).

Over the years I’ve googled The Red Pirate without success, just to see if I could find who made those, and I finally discovered your page last week.  I pulled my map out of storage, laid it out on the floor and took a picture of it for you to enjoy.

Thanks for the memories!

Ken

20150508-kens-map

Thank you for writing and sending the photo, it was really fun to see.

Anyone else still have your printouts stashed away? E-mail me your story and a photo and you might see it here on my blog.

Cheers!

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March 10, 2015

Smallpox as an example of a multi-species virus?

Filed under: General,Perspective — Tags: , , , — Bryan @ 5:35 pm

Years ago, researchers decoded the complete genetic sequence of Smallpox. Since then labs have decoded other variants but for this thought exercise let’s talk about “Variola virus strain Bangladesh 1975 v75-550 Banu”, for which a complete genome decoding was submitted to the CDC in 2006 and is currently available to the public from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website. Yes, you read that correctly. You can download the entire genetic sequence for Smallpox from a public web page and have been able to for some time now. As of 2014, complete DNA sequences of roughly 50 smallpox samples are available to the general public.

Granted this availability of the data (even when it was only printed in journals) has been a point of concern and debate in some communities. The common discussion carries around concerns of someone recreating a synthetic Smallpox virus to infect people. This was even discussed as a key concern for why the last strains should not be destroyed just last year in 2014.

What I’m more fascinated in though, and something my wife pointed out recently, is that by carrying the complete genome of Smallpox into a digital form and putting it in a public space the virus has in effect jumped hosts/species.

Countless web crawlers, archivers, and random web users (of all intents) have made copies of the web page holding this code. I’m sure there are even pages that duplicate the content and those too have been crawled, archived, etc…

Even if humanity destroyed all living strains of the virus, this digital version has the potential to persist indefinitely at this point (or at the least, indefinitely from the perspective of you and I). Where the virus goes from here is really anyone’s guess, but for now it is actively replicating and being transmitted globally and automatically by it’s new digital host, the Internet.

And no, I’m not linking to the virus… go ask Google.

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February 13, 2015

Random thoughts on actor Raúl Juliá

Filed under: Perspective,Videogaming Rant — Tags: , , , , — Bryan @ 6:27 pm

I was recently watching a video review on YouTube and in the running commentary one of the speakers made a reference about The Street Fighter movie and how sad it was that it was such a crappy movie and how it was such a waste that it was Raúl Juliá’s last movie he ever made before he died.

I’ve heard this comment trope before and frankly it’s irritating. Regardless of the quality of the film, he chose to work on that project as an act of love for his children. Can you imagine how it would feel to have your father spoken about 20 years later in statements of pitty? Can you also imagine how excited his kids were when he took that role and how amazing it was for them to see their dad doing something so cool and being involved in something that they were personally invested in only to have the world piss all over it? Can you imagine a father’s last major work before he died being an act of love for his kids?

No, you probably can’t. You probably never even considered this aspect of the story until this very moment.

As a father and a gamer, The Street Fighter movie and Raúl Juliá’s part in it represents to me an amazing statement about what an awesome dad he must have been, in addition to being a fantastic actor. And 20 years later his acting is still amazing and keeps his spirit with us. Even if there are only a few people in the world that enjoy The Street Fighter movie, I hope his kids are in that select few as it’s a pretty special thing.

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