(blogs let others gawk)

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.

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.

August 22, 2014

My thoughts on P.T. (Silent Hills, Playable Teaser)

Filed under: General,Reviews,Video Games,Videogaming Rant — Tags: , , , , — Bryan @ 6:00 pm

Well I succumbed to the hype and pulled down P.T. for the PS4. It’s a free download, so why not? I’ll admit up front that I have not played any of the Silent Hill games (not sure why though), but I have played all of the Resident Evil titles and other games in the genre. Having the crap scared out of you while playing a game, for me, dates back to playing Doom in a dark room at 1 am in surround sound, creeping down a dark corridor and some demon noise makes you jump out of your skin. Good fun.

As a demonstration on just how scary and how many times you can be made to jump while doing nothing more than walking down 200 ft of hallway over and over, this demo unquestionably set the bar. One scare elicited yelps from everyone in the room and startled all the pets! Impressive to say the least. But unfortunately, that’s where the nice things I have to say about this demo comes to an end.

We did have some problems and hope they aren’t representative of what will be expected of the player in the full game. For instance, the key element for progressing the demo was completely non-obvious to me and everyone in the room watching. It wasn’t until about a dozen laps in when I had a flash of something on the screen (that we figured out later, was triggered by zooming) that forced me to finally gave up and look online to see what was going on. That’s when I learned about the puzzle. Sigh.

Also, play mechanics… It was quickly obvious that I had the ability to zoom my view, but it was not obvious what the point was. It didn’t actually zoom my view down the hallway, and only seemed to be effective as a way to add some closer focus on a nearby object, but even then it wasn’t much of a zoom/focus. It was more like an “I’m staring here” button. I stared at the clock, I stared at the radio, I stared at every blurry picture on the walls… hmmm. Why could I stare at things? Granted after I learned about the puzzle I quickly put the zoom to use in solving it. There were a few other times after this where you needed to stare at something but those later times were a little more obvious.

Next was the action button. The action button that apparently is only good for one action, and doesn’t work as an action button anyplace else in the demo. Open doors? You chest bump them. By the time it came time to use the action button, I had already pressed it dozens of times (along with all of the other buttons) and received absolutely no response so I had naturally inferred none of the buttons did anything other than the zoom. When my son finally looked online after I had been stuck for a few more laps, he told me to push the action button at this one location. I replied “what action button”? We worked it out but I wasn’t pleased.

On the one hand, I’m happy that the game wasn’t full of in your face hand holding (eg, Splinter Cell: Conviction or just watch Sequelitis: Mega Man Classic vs Mega Man X). On the other hand you have to give the player some kind of clues, even something as simple as a controller map in the options screen that showed that “X” was the action button would have made the experience that much more effective.

All of that aside though, the real killer for this demo and why I might simply skip Silent Hills out of fear that there will be more of this, is the ending of the demo. The “ending” (say it with air quotes) that is apparently so random that even the people who’ve gotten to it can’t tell you what they did. We let the demo sit for three hours after getting every other trigger fired in the end sequence and we never received the final event. What started out as fun, engaging and novel quickly turned into tedium, boredom and then just flat out irritation. Ultimate we turned off the system and nobody really cared. I had already seen the trailer on YouTube and asked if anyone wanted to see it… Nope, no interest. They were back off to play Kerbal Space Program or whatever else. Pretty much anything but deal with this demo anymore.

I don’t know about you but I’m not sure that was the take away feeling they were looking to deliver. Then again, this is Hideo Kojima we’re talking about. The guy who likes to complicate his characters with incest themes and loads up his stories with irritating, personal political rants. Yeah. I’m not sold. So much promise though 🙁

July 1, 2013

State of Decay

Filed under: Videogaming Rant — Bryan @ 2:56 pm

Ok, we’ve been playing the awesome new XBox Live game, State of Decay and it’s really an incredible game except for one major issue.

The game world persists while you are logged off!

Yes, you heard that right. You save and shut down and when you sign on a day or two later (maybe a week later). All hell has broken loose and your carefully groomed community is a disaster. People dead, ect…, etc…

It’s being touted as a persistent single player world. This is a fail in my mind. This is nothing more than the A.I. playing my game for me when I’m offline and has left many players resorting to old school NES style tactics of leaving their game Paused when they have to step away. Or worse, pulling the network cable and changing the system clock back to the time they logged out in order to keep the world stable.

Persistent worlds like this work in MMOs because you share the burden of holding down the fort with other players. If you don’t have a team, then you suffer the loss. At no point in time do I ever want the A.I. playing my game for me. This is like the embarrassment of the later parts of Gran Tourismo 5 where eventually you no longer get to play the game and just manage teams. Seriously? I buy a driving game to drive and a zombie survival game to test my survival skills. I really could give a rats ass about the A.I.’s skills in winning or loosing my game as this takes the control from the player.

In short this is a blatant case of the developers not respecting the players and really disappointing. People have lives. People have interruptions and they should never be penalized for not being able to sit and play your game for week straight without bathroom breaks!!!

You’ve been warned.

October 26, 2009

10 years later… has anything really changed?

Filed under: Videogaming Rant — Tags: — Bryan @ 4:10 am

I was talking with someone recently about the state of game development and it caused me to go back and read one of the tongue and cheek articles on the GZ web site titled How to Be a Good Game Developer. This was originally published in January of 2000… hence the 10 years later comment.

It’s still just as painful a read today as it was back then due to how on the mark it is about much of the core games industry. Things are clearly getting better with the onset of Casual Gaming and other genres but I wonder in ten more years where we’ll be.

My favorite quote is still:

“When Moms and dads and kids and girls wise up to how cool assault solidiers, sports cars, grotesque space mutants and women with big boobs really are, then maybe they’ll buy more games; but until then, you’d better rely on the teenage guys for opinions or you’ll never sell anything.”

True… true… LOL  :p

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