The Sunday Papers

By Kieron Gillen on November 29th, 2009 at 11:24 am.

God, I hate typing on this keyboard.

Sundays are for waking up in famously rich ex-pc-gamer ed Ross Atherton’s palace in Versailles – which is, perhaps inevitably, actually Versailles palace – sipping on fine tea and compiling a list of (mainly) games related writing from across the week for your delectation, while wrestling with Ross’ luxurious split-keyboard and trying not to include a link to some pop music delight hailing a much-missed journalist.

Failed.

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98 Comments »

  1. Heliocentric says:

    If this works, a tip to others, clear out your rps cookie. Its borking the site.

  2. Heliocentric says:

    Oh, it did. I’m not logged in and using opera mini to any techs who might be listening.

    May i add this is an excellent sunday papers. The article on reward psychology was excellent and has made me totally rethink not just which games to present to my son but also how to praise him. All too often i tell him he is clever or smart when really i should focus on his actual achievements.

    It also cemented that jrpg’s/mmo’s are evil.

  3. Baris says:

    Wow, I had no idea what was going in the Thor comic until the 5th page. I suppose I’d have to know the backstory to appreciate it.

    Read Chris Remo’s article earlier on in the week, some great discussion points in there. I wish he’d say something about the next episode of Idle Thumbs though, nothing else is filling that sweet spot for the perfect mix of comedy and critical analysis. Well, not in podcast form anyway.

  4. Some Guy says:

    that explaints why its working on fierfox and not IE as IE is my normal webbrowser.

  5. Heliocentric says:

    On the topic of human space flight, the human aspect is over exposed. Why not send up robots, have them deploy the infrastructure people need and then send people.

    Sending people up first is the cart before the horse surely?

  6. Torgen says:

    I used to own a HIgh Speed pinball machine, and loved it dearly. Everything worked, even the siren on top. Had to sell it after the company I worked for went under, and I still mourn the loss.

  7. Subjective Effect says:

    Doctor Professor makes some very good points and I think his discussion applies to many aspects of gaming, not just an RPG/Action split.

    I’ve been talking for a while now about player skill and character/simulated skill and how the junction of these two make an enjoyable game when done right. It is, I believe, the balance of these two aspects that makes a game engaging or not and (lets not get into a war over this now) it is also that balance defines a game as “consolised”.

    Take a beat-em up for example. I play Kilik, mostly, in MP Soul Caliber (sic) and thus have pretty good player skills with him. But his moves are the character skill and the balance between me and him is what makes playing him enjoyable. When the balance is in the character favour, which is almost always the case with RPGs, we get performance oriented play. Altair from Assassin’s Creed climbing walls for example, versus Garret from Thief’s mastery oriented climbing skills.

    Too many games, of all genres, tip the balance towards character skills and thus performance mastery

  8. Heliocentric says:

    A game where you can level up and the leveling makes you considerably more powerful is grindtastic poo.

    MW and BF2 are too games i adore which have leveling up. In BF2 a shiny new rifle doesn’t ace a tank, helicopter or even a jeep. But in MW a lesser player with more levels can dominate.

    Don’t praise EA/DICE because they clearly failed to understand this. Bad company has unlocks (some you can get faster by preordering) which have a pretty big effect on the vehicles.

    Although 2142 proves that unlocks don’t need to be on the vehicles to screw up the vehicle combat.

  9. Eli Just says:

    I really don’t like the writer of the Brenda Brathwaite article. He’s so stuck in the past with 10,000 times replayability it seems laughable that he would be encouraging and promoting forward thinking game design. Doesn’t he see the paradox in what he’s saying? The fact is what he defines a game as is part of the problem of why games aren’t moving forward. It like saying a painting in a gallery is less of a painting than Thomas Kinkade because there is only one in the gallery so it’s art, not a painting which should be able to be mass produced. It sounds ridiculous. You interact with Train by playing it, and the meaning comes from the interaction, not from the visual presentation. It doesn’t matter if you play it again and again, if you interact with it as a game, it is a game. I don’t see how there can be any question about whether it is a game or not.

    • Heliocentric says:

      Some of the best games i’ve ever played i have no intention of replaying. Often games which leak out the mechanics as you go. metroid fusion on the gba is a beautiful game everyone should play, but i am unwilling to be stuck unable to use abilities for 9 hours and then have to relearn them.

      Another different example is any lengthy linear rpg, the sense of discovery and freedom is ruined when you can see where you must go and you realise how little effect your choices have, curiously games like subquest fiends like elderscrolls or games which have interesting elements but undercut exploration such as finalfantasty tactics actually stand up to replaying. I guess what i’m trying to say is the genre isn’t the issuse, its the games individually.

    • dadioflex says:

      “In the kind of games I’m working on, if you can replay a game 10,000 times and find it interesting still, that’s a good sign. ”

      I have no problem with that statement whatsoever and I rarely replay a game. Would MW:2 MP be considered successful if you only wanted to try it once? I think there’s very much a need for games with massive re-playability, eg MP games or a lot of casual games. Not my own personal area of interest in gaming.

  10. Rinox says:

    I didn’t care for the article on performance/mastery at all. Read like academic noise: a verbose stating the obvious on a very abstract issue.

  11. Sagan says:

    I disagree with Doctor Professor’s piece. Because you ARE getting better when playing an RPG. As you advance through the levels you have to learn new skills like crowd control, countering and dispelling spells and keeping an overview over ever more complex battles. You also learn a lot about weighing different options against each other. Like is a 5% chance for critical damage better than 10 additional fire damage? When should I use expensive spells, when cheap ones? Should I attack one more round before healing myself?
    I don’t think I would want to play RPGs if they were as simple as Doctor Professor describes them.

    • Heliocentric says:

      I’d call you wrong, but your not. But i think the important point is one he never made well. Not that you are not improving but that you don’t need to improve.

      (J)RPG’s don’t need difficulty settings. Don’t understand the system if you get stuck, pick a bad party or are just crap the game will let you grind and them brute force a solution. There are exceptions, where enemy forces match your level, or grinding oppertunities are limited obviously.

    • dhex says:

      i think the key is that the doctor is playing and referring to jrpgs in particular. older school pc rpgs were indeed hard, often to the point of being unfair (wasteland comes to mind, as do many of those gold box games)

    • Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

      The concept of “crowd control” in an RPG is a relatively new one. I can honestly say that I haven’t had to worry about accidentally taking Lavos aggro off of the party tank. Granted, these are JRPGs, which are a whole ‘nother beast. Mostly on the SNES, judging by the cited examples in the post.

  12. undead dolphin hacker says:

    Ok, so I forgot to close my tag.

  13. saladin says:

    How come the alt-text on the papers image reads “God, I hate typing this on a keyboard”?

  14. Golden_Worm says:

    The performance orientated viewpoint is just as prevalent in other activities such as football or any team based sport. The time and emotion invested in a team of football players are excused by the fan by virtue of the vicarious victories that lead to the same feeling of fake achievement that’s described in the article.

    I personally tend to get bored and stop playing RPG’s once i’ve worked out the quickest route to virtual indistructablity. Either that or I just spend time pushing the boundries and working out the limits of the game making maxed out charaters and engaging in pure play, rather than competition.

    Not sure if the enjoyment I get from this is really mastery or just another fake achievement, as nothing is achieved except a feeling that I’ve experienced the game beyond the scope of the story.

    Skill based games are usually just as futile. They take the same achievement trigger which is abstracted to fit a physical input. The skill being rewarded is still removed from the actual goal being achieved, Mastery of this kind of game is akin to having to time the button pushes on the hyperthetical LOTR DVD example.

    • Lilliput King says:

      “Skill based games are usually just as futile. They take the same achievement trigger which is abstracted to fit a physical input. The skill being rewarded is still removed from the actual goal being achieved, Mastery of this kind of game is akin to having to time the button pushes on the hyperthetical LOTR DVD example.”

      Why is this relevant? Is it important that when I down-right-fierce, it’s Ryu who throws the fireball?

      No. There’s a degree of skill to Street Figher that makes it very difficult to master indeed, and a casual player will not stand a cat’s chance in hell against an experienced one. There’s a lot to learn, and it takes time. Like football, or whatever it is the kids do these days.

      I think you’re missing the point of this ‘fake achievement’ thing. It doesn’t mean playing games is a waste of time. After all, what actual good is it that winning at football does you? A more accurate term for what’s contained in that article is ‘false reinforcement’ – you don’t deserve the praise that’s been heaped upon you, because you’ve nothing to do with it. When you’re good at SF or football, you do deserve the praise.

    • Psychopomp says:

      You’re using a multiplayer game as an example over single player RPGs and strategy games

      I shouldn’t need to point out where that’s faulty.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Guh, fine, replace “against an” with “compared to” and pretend I’m playing against the fairly competent SF4 AI on maximum difficulty, and silence your pedantism with the knowledge that you have won, but that it makes no difference in this situation.

    • Psychopomp says:

      Before I continue on with this, I should probably make sure that I interpreted “When you’re good at SF or football, you do deserve the praise,” correctly.

      Are you implying that mastery of one type of game is more worthy of praise than another?

    • Baris says:

      I’d argue that mastery of one type of game is more worthy of praise than another. I’ve played a hell of a lot of games in my time and obviously everyone turns out being better at some and worse at others, but on a whole games with fast paced real-time mechanics (SF, DMC,Monster Hunter) are far more of an achievement to master than say CRPGS (Oblivion, The Witcher, Dragon Age) or TBS (Civ4, GalCiv2,Total War), mainly because you can substitute information for skill and use a particular build or set of rules to ‘win’ the game, feeling a false sense of pride.

      Then again, my argument could be full of shit. Please point it out if it is.

    • Taillefer says:

      One could argue you haven’t really improved your skill if it’s through conditioning. That is, you can do the speed runs in Sonic because you’ve essentially repeated it over and over… but if you can’t transfer that skill to another game then what have you really learnt?

    • Psychopomp says:

      “On a whole sports(Football, Soccer, Baseball) are far more of an achievement to master than say Mathematics (Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus) or the sciences (Biology, Chemistry), mainly because you can substitute information for skill and use a particular formula or set of rules to solve the problem, feeling a false sense of pride.”

    • Lilliput King says:

      @Psychopomp “Are you implying that mastery of one type of game is more worthy of praise than another?”

      Of course. Did you read the article we’re discussing? They’re worthy of more praise not due to any objective benefit to anybody, but due to the time and talent required, and hence, the difficulty involved.

      @Taillefer “…if it’s through conditioning… but if you can’t transfer that skill to another game then what have you really learnt?”

      I don’t think that’s enormously important, in this context. Learning (in particular in terms of transferable skills) isn’t important, but rather, that some games require more the player to work for success, and some don’t.

      The article suggests that playing too many of these ‘easy’ games, especially in youth, is a harmful experience, a view that I gotta be honest, I don’t agree with. I only really posted because I don’t think Golden Worm grasped the meaning of the article, and we can’t have someone being wrong on the internet.

    • golden_worm says:

      In my original comment, the bit about sports wasn’t clear that I meant watching sports more than taking part. The Fan of a football team, for instance, invests time, and emotional connection with a team and co-opts their achievements as his/her own. This is equivalent (or worse because of the lack of any input from the fans side) to the success feeling and praise given to the RPGer who’s managed to beat the baddie and save the princess by grinding out levels, reinforcing a false sense of achievement. This much I agree with the article. Games can make you feel good for doing nothing. But then so do movies, sports, even music is enjoyed partly as a fantasy of being able to co-opt the creative process and sing along or air guitar.

      I believe it is also true of the “physical skill” involved with a skill based game, which is also removed from the reality of the achievement. Even for a sports game a skillful pro-evo player is never going to outperform a real football player on the pitch, obviously a completely different skill. But the reward for becoming good at the game is built around the same rewards, only scaled and specific to the game world.

      A skill is a skill, learning the SF combos or learning the optimum build for a torchlight character, it’s all skill. A skill is useful in its context. A reward can be earned or given as an incentive to continue. Either case successful application of the skill is only an achievement in the context of the game.

      So basing your ideas as to which mindset you are (and what RPG games may have done to affect it) on an assumption that skill based games are less performance based, isn’t the best way to look at the problem. You can approach a skill based game with a totally mastering mindset, but the performance is what is measured at the end of the level/game. whether you choose to continue or give up will be partly based on your sense of achievement. An achievement that only has meaning within the game.

      In a multiplayer setting such as SF, you do measure your ability against other players, giving a truer measure of winning than against a machine. But the achievement of “beating them in 1 on 1 single combat” is still a major factor in the heads of the participants. Their mastery mindset is also being encouraged by a performance focused component that gives “you are the best” messages at the end of a successful round. You can’t avoid it. Competition breeds it.

      So in all, what i’m trying to say is, don’t worry to much about it, ’cause its everywhere, especially in games. Very few games, if any, promote a solely masterly mindset. Activities such as programming would surely be a better way to lessen any performance based biases in thinking?

    • Taillefer says:

      @Lilliput King

      Well he was defining mastery as using the opportunity to learn, and decided to train himself by playing Sonic time trials. So I was trying to decide whether he’s actually learning simply by becoming familiar with it, or whether his actual skill is increasing… Or should they be considered the same thing (‘course, both could be happening). But is he just fooling himself once again?

  15. V. Tchitcherine. says:

    Twlight is the faecal Götterdämmerung of literature. But there has always been detestable popular shit, what is truly depressing is that at one time, university students read Anaïs Nin, now they read this garbage.

    As to Kyrgyzstan, it’s interesting that attention is called to it when right next door a far more dire, unknown and abysmal lot is suffered by the people of Uzbekistan, which I am presently researching for a novel. The nation is led by “our kind of guy” Islam Karimov who in 2002 received half a billion dollars in US funds, ninety-two milllion of which went into the national security apparatus and was exalted as an ally in the perpetual ‘war on terror’ in Washington.

    The aforementioned apparatus deemed worthy of support has a few blemishes; it arbitrarily murders people suspected of being in either the moderate Islamic democratic reform movement or the more militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, though even males whose beards are too long are at risk of being considered ‘too pious’. It tortures dissidents and also people in the US extraordinary rendition programme in sadistic ways including boiling people alive. It also massacres thousands of people involved in demonstrations, including one case in Andijan at which between 1, 800 – 5, 000 people were murdered.

    Of course none of what I write here is to be construed in any manner to marginalise the importance of struggling for gender equality in Kyrgyzstan, but in one urgent case there can -and must- be immediate actions taken right here in our privileged countries and lives to stop supporting atrocities whereas another case requires prolonged and consistent internal social pressure, organisation and education.

    • dhex says:

      like nin is any better than twilight. :)

    • Matzerath says:

      The real curse of Twilight is that it empowers Anne Rice fans to feel ‘literary’. Satan help us when the book that does that for Twilight fans comes out.

  16. Premium User Badge AndrewC says:

    Twilight! These arguments are pretty big on the Interwebs right now

    Anyone railing on the morally unpleasant undertones of Twilight needs to look at the moral undertones of any of their own genre entertainments. Action and horror movies, a mainstay of male geeks, are almost always fascistic or misogynistic but, you know, it’s OK because we don’t take them seriously – what we watch doesn’t define who we are. Yet those who watch Twilight are, according to these widespread articles and blog posts, and simply by dint of watching Twilight, psychologically unwell.

    Just as gamers are all dangerously unwell for playing violent games. Anyone hating on Twilight over moral concerns is engaging in Daily Mail style ‘ban this filth’ style nonsense.

    Even The Escapist piece chickens out of this position at the end by saying that Twilight is still utterly awful trash, without ackowledging the quality of the superhero comics he compares Twight too (or , for that matter, most of the horror and action movies male geeks eat up).

    P.S. Team Edward

    • Torgen says:

      I think this is a good indication of the over-wrought hysteria some people are having over these movies/books: Middle-aged housewives screaming like 13 year-olds over the male lead:

      http://21.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ktrvdv8TCO1qzpwi0o1_500.jpg

    • Premium User Badge AndrewC says:

      And how many men still dress up as Stormtroopers or Batman, how many happily ogle Megan Fox in Transformers.

    • V. Tchitcherine. says:

      Reply to Mr. AndrewC’s post on November the 29th, 2009 at 8:19 pm.

      It’s because the prose, the writing, the placement of words one after the other, the coalescing of conscious or subconscious thought into beautiful, interesting, insightful, profound or imaginative text and imagery is utterly void and absent in Stephenie Meyer’s being. She cannot write and she does not have a single original or profound thought in her head, if she does it is only due to her sheer paucity of ability.

      Secondly what is the point of your equivalency? It’s wrong in the circumstances you mention and it’s wrong in the commodification, marketing and fetishism of stupidity that is the Twlight-capitalist-complex. Does the argument have less merit due to hypocrisy by the author? (Hint: it’s a logical fallacy.) Then let me rail against for I detest action and horror genre pictures and if that is not adequate, let an oppressed peasant farmer in Columbia utilise similar arguments on my behalf.

      I don’t particularly care about the sexualisation of the male form in marketing a shallow adaptation of a shallow book, as a point of fact it’s irrelevant but I care that there is no substance behind it and fundamentally the entire success of the book is a marketing triumph rather than a literary one. To elaborate on the former point; Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer is a virtually peerless masterpiece, unprecedented and still unmatched (allowing for statistical error of course, there are perhaps a handful of books that surpass it) in the beauty, insight, sexuality, humour, audacity and originality of his prose (it inspired the adumbrated and famous On The Road by Kerouac) though the main character could be considered a misogynist of a high order; my own thought is that he is just a cunning man who loves fucking.

      Tacitus once said that crime once exposed has no refuge save in audacity, I believe that applies to the writing of Stephenie Meyer.

    • Muzman says:

      You’re dead right AC. But as someone pointed out to me once; why (back when it was popular) do so many feel the need to speak out against Pro Wrestling and denounce its fakery and not the myriad other kinds of fakery and theatre in the world? Because plenty of people seem to take it so very seriously.
      Likewise Twilight is a little scary in this regard, and nothing else shares its huge and peculiar fandom, so people feel the need to get in the way. (and it’s not as though it simply united female geeks or something. It’s creating new ones, of advanced age who wouldn’t otherwise bother. That’s always going to be scruitinised. How did this draw them out so?)

      Anyway, the Escapist guy while generally correct makes a mistake in focussing on the physical. Sure it’s part of it, but it’s mostly icing. There’s plenty of places the ladies can go to find buff stuff. But Matthew McConoughey’s personal war on shirts and other such things couldn’t bring the crowds like this can. It’s all about what they say (and say they’ll do, I guess). That’s where the porn lies. So it’s completely different to giant boobs on every comic female in that sense.

    • Premium User Badge AndrewC says:

      V. Tchitcherine: Yes, it’s terrible, but why is it singled out as terrible amongst so much other terrible genre tat? I’m putting forward the argument that it is the same thing that paints a promiscuous woman a slut but a promiscuous man a stud – a gender based double standard, based in male fear and ignorance of the female. It’s everywhere in this culture.

      My equivalancy is about one group (the Twilight fans) being defined by its lunatic fringe while others (male geeks in general. We are, presumably, all PC gamers here) are not. Of course, Us lot ARE defined as anti-social basement dwellers by, for example, tabloid journalists, and we get offended by that for it is not true. And yet here we are doing exactly the same thing to another group (Twilight fans). This is an hypocrisy, and is why I point out the equivalancy.

      If you yourself are above such grotty genre tat as action, horror and superhero fiction then congratulations. You are not like the vast majority of people making these accusations against Twilight fans.

      I’m afraid I don’t understand your qualified defence of the misogyny of the horror genre because a character in a good book is a misogynist, though. It doesn’t seem to be comparing like for like. Could you rephrase?

      Muzman: all fandoms have people that take things too far so, again, why make the minority representative of the whole in this case, and not others? Equally you say Twilight is worse because of more than just the physical objectification – and therefore is different from comics’ giant boobs – but giant boobs are just the physical side of the horrible things in comics: the totalitarian might is right philosophies, the glorification of de-socialised personality-types like Batman, and so on. That’s where the ‘porn’ is in comics.

    • Muzman says:

      I don’t think Twilight fandom is making an obsessive minority into the representitive. I think it’s a fandom more notably based on, and characterised by, obsession than others. And I think even majority of fans who are likely detatched and treat it as a bit of fun are obsessing as well, for fun.
      That’s all debatable I guess and I’m not sure what I think about the plusses and minuses of that, I’m not that worried for feminism or civilisation at its hands. But as a huge book series that crosses over many age groups it stands out and will remain a curiosity for a while..

      I also don’t say it’s worse than the physical objectification of women in comics et al, I say it’s significantly different from them (and in certain slim respects, better). Edward and Jacob were swoonworthily handsome and were responded to as such before any picture of them existed. Sure they were described in fantastical objectifying terms, but let’s just say erotic literature aimed at males isn’t all that popular. Thus, this is is not the same as why comic women all have model figures and DD breasts or what that means.

      So while I gree that male fandom is stupid and shortsighted to think its ultimately any different to Twilight, the details are where the curiosity lies.

    • invisiblejesus says:

      Here’s hoping the reply function works for me this time….

      Gotta go with AndrewC on this one. Sure, Twilight is crap. So? Jeph Loeb’s Hulk comic is crap. The 2nd and 3rd Highlander movies are crap. Lots of things are crap. Why is Twilight special in this regard? And why should we single out the screaming crazies who like it over their equivalents in other corners of fandom? The Columbine shooters were PC gamers and industrial music fans, but we quite rightly argue that they don’t represent either of those groups. Why is that different?

      Having said that, it’s fair to point out that Twilight seems to be the most popular vampire story pretty much since Dracula, and it’s natural for fans of horror and gothy stories to feel like they’ve been co-opted.

    • Psychopomp says:

      Vampires don’t sparkle.

    • Stupoider says:

      I’m with Psychopomp on this one. Meyer has butchered what was once an awesome fantasy being. :(

    • RobF says:

      Has she ‘eck.

      It’s classic romantic fiction tropes via horror/fantasy. Replace the dashing but edgy duke or gentryman with a vampire or other fictional construct and you’ve got Twilight. A big bag of romantic silly. Tis all.

      No better nor worse than a lot of teenage fiction and heck, y’know, it’s not for you. Or me for that matter, but hey ho.

      I really don’t see why anyone gets up in arms about it.

    • V. Tchitcherine. says:

      In reply to AndrewC on November the 29th 2009 at 9:46 pm.

      If it is singled out, it is because it is popular, hence discussed and therefore commented on, I mean we could discuss the travesty of writing that is the corpus of work by Jimmy Spillane however his currency has somewhat waned in popular consciousness. Nothing that I said precludes just criticism of other books and it is a strange form of special-pleading to say Twilight is uniquely vilified.

      As for my example of Tropic of Cancer, it was merely to reinforce that I have no concern of the perceived sexism (though in Miller’s case it was intentional for thematic effect) in the books and the entire thrust of my criticism is on a purely literary analysis of Stephenie Meyer’s ‘writing’, it was not at all in any manner to defend the misogyny of the horror genre which I personally cannot stand. It’s also a demonstrative example that there be no tension between sexuality and ‘art’, when it was released it was banned in America due to the belief there was such a contradiction. Actually if I have any concern of sexism regarding Twilight is that there is a projection of a kind of Hobbesian power relation that is insultingly anti-feminist.

      I agree with you that there is mind-numbing, shallow and derivative shit uniquely liked by people largely of respective gender, I do not see how criticism of one popular trend must entail a kind of ingratiating genuflection of universality, especially if one already holds such views. We are all imperfect vessels to voice criticism, that is, everyone. To the degree that group of fans of whatever poison you pick has hypocrisy that is a matter for self-reflection and criticism not an invalidation of their argument, it does warrant a counter-argument questioning the impetus of that argument if it is not universally applied. From this reasoning you should also deduce that I wholly agree with you about the double-standard of sexual promiscuity by gender.

      To summarise, even if we eliminate this rather superfluous argument about sexual objectification around Twilight in part because of its applicability to most commercial products in society and in part because it’s not inherently a barrier to sophistication, insight or beauty (Is Manet’s Olympia objectified or elevated or both?), you’re still left with a Vietnam-moonscape of imagination devoid of any writing ability.

    • RobF says:

      I bet you don’t like pop music either, do you?

  17. Stupoider says:

    I’ve only seen/read Twilight in order to understand for myself how terrible it is. :)

  18. Rinox says:

    Anyone who has ever read the first Twilight novel knows what an utter, talentless, shoddily written POS that thing is. It’s awful, in any conceivable way.

    The second book and the movie adaptions are decent for what they want to achieve. But I’ll never know how the first book got published.

  19. Some Guy says:

    There are a couple of RPGs that are skill not stat based such as the excelent monster hunter games.

  20. Vinraith says:

    I find it terribly sad and funny that “Doctor Professor” thinks skill = twitch ability. I’ll take an intellectual challenge over a reflex one any day, and claiming that RPG’s never represent an intellectual challenge is flatly dishonest. Then again, he does primarily seem to be talking about console RPG’s, ie JRPG’s, and it may be more of a problem there (I wouldn’t know, I can’t stand the things).

    • Vinraith says:

      Similarly, it’s more than a little tragic that he’d stop playing games he finds fun to “force” himself to persevere in games he doesn’t enjoy. Talk about “fake success,” whether prevailing through time spent or twitch ability, it’s all still a game. It’s something you should be doing because you enjoy it, not out of some demented self-improvement regimen. If you back down from a real challenge too easily, you’re better off pursuing some challenges in real life than you are forcing yourself to play Sonic games.

    • Senethro says:

      Ok, I guess I’ll bite.

      When was the last time that an RPG was an intellectual challenge on anything but a spreadsheeting, min/maxing type way? I thought the same (when I was 15) but have since realised that RPGs can be solved with a calculator and other supposedly “deep” games like 4X/TBS/Civilization are usually about applying a bunch of rules of thumb with no introspection required.

      Currently I find FPSs much more interesting as they require awareness, improvisation and keeping your wits about you which are intellectual skills as well.

      You’re missing the point in that his reaction to the games was to do with who he was and his history with games. He thought the habits he picked up were unhealthy. I’m sure he enjoys Sonic as well, its just that he became unable to enjoy jRPGs because achievements in them were inauthentic. At least Sonic game him some subjective reward for perserverence and improving his ability to learn new skills.

    • Senethro says:

      Should re-read more before hitting reply. Ok, improvisation etc are not “intellectual” skills but they’re things that you do with the thinky-brain wot have been of interest to me. The reason being, anyone can reach an optimal decision with enough time, but can you make a good enough decision right now?

    • Lilliput King says:

      I guess I agree with Senethro, Vin.

      I’m not sure I’ve ever played an RPG that’s really an intellectual challenge. Games have more of a history of providing challenge through twitch control than demanding conundrums.

      Every now and again I’ve had to really think about my next move in, say, GalCiv, but RPGs tend to be simple fare.

    • Psychopomp says:

      And twitch based games that can’t be beaten by a trained monkey are rare, as well.

    • Tim says:

      It’s silly to say action games are just about “twitch ability”. Skills involved in your average action game include coordination, accuracy, reflexes and tactics.

      Regarding RPGs, there is a challenge involved. It’s an analytical challenge which involves figuring out the game’s system. This is also true of strategy games. The problem is that these systems tend to be very much the same across the genre. Once you’ve mastered one, you have a significant leg up in mastering the next one and so on. Is it any wonder he finds no challenge in RPGs if he spend his entire childhood playing them?

      As a predominantly strategy gamer I find figuring out the mechanics behind a strategy game a pretty trivial task, to the extent I barely notice I am doing so. This is a function of experience, not the because doing so is really easy. I sat down in front of Empire: Total War for the first time, and I had plenty of references points, not just from previous Total War titles but from all across the strategy genre, turn based and real time, and I could say things like “the region system is a bit like Imperialism”, “research is a mix of a civilization tech tree and Blizzard style tech buildings” and “this game doesn’t have an AI at all, yet everyone in the gaming press gave it 90+ scores, I wonder how much they got paid”. Similarly, with a FPS you will learn to recognize the difference between finesse weapons (archetype being the railgun) and spray and pray type weapons (machine gun), and the various types of situations and enemies you tend to encounter and how to deal with them.

      If Doctor Professor had spend his childhood playing reflex oriented games, he’d probably have the same view of action games and want to “cure himself of [imaginary] bad habits” by playing an RPG or RTS.

      This post reduced to two clichés: familiarity breads contempt and the grass is always greener.

    • Heliocentric says:

      Train a monkey to win at multiplayer and I’ll let my land lord’s rule on no pets go to hell.

      Street fighter, Company of Heroes, Battlefield, Advance Wars or Tetris. Pick your genre, only multiplayer ever gives me a sense of “That’ll do pig, that’ll do”.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Tim
      “It’s silly to say action games are just about “twitch ability”. Skills involved in your average action game include coordination, accuracy, reflexes and tactics.”
      _
      In fairness, I consider “twitch” to encompass coordination, accuracy, and reflexes. I’m not using the term as an insult, either. There most certainly IS skill involved in those things, but it’s only a very specific subset of “skill” and I find it odd that the author limits his definition of “skill” to that subset.
      _
      As to tactics, that depends vastly on the game. Action games that are truly tactical are, IMO, more than simply action games. I certainly wouldn’t undervalue the intellectual challenge of a game like Brothers in Arms, and I couldn’t completely dismiss the level of thought necessary to challenging a given set piece in Crysis or even Half Life 2, where there are multiple approaches and it’s necessary to work out the best avenues of attack.
      _
      As to the rest of your post, I pretty much agree completely. I’d argue there’s a somewhat greater diversity to the systems involved in strategy games than you imply, however, simply because of how diversified and broad the genre is.

    • Tim says:

      By tactics, I mean shit like: your movement pattern, target priorities, weapon selection etc. These are issues in even the dumbest of dumb shooters.

      It doesn’t mean it’s not tactics just because it’s not very deep tactics. Firstly, they just seem that way because almost any gamer will develop an ingrained tactical sense and understands these things instinctively, and secondly because you have to develop the ability to assess the situation and come up with an appropriate response very, very quickly.

    • Taillefer says:

      I found his article a bit confused. If he says performance-orientation likes things easy, then surely he’s playing games he finds easy because he’s performance oriented?

      He even goes on to state he received the “wrong” kind of praise at school which can influence people to be that way. But, concludes he’s receiving that praise because games made him that way first. It’s as though he’s looking to blame computer games for some unknown reason (it’s obviously not out of hatred of them).

  21. invisiblejesus says:

    “Wow, I had no idea what was going in the Thor comic until the 5th page. I suppose I’d have to know the backstory to appreciate it.”

    Believe me, it’s worth picking up the JMS stuff to learn that backstory. It’s flippin’ brilliant. JMS can be a little off sometimes, when when he’s on he’s on.

  22. Guy says:

    Ptah! to the Brenda Braithwaite/Art connection. ‘Trains’ isn’t art. Art is about informative beauty. Writing on a Nazi typewriter means nothing. If Brenda had never told anyone then nobody would ever have realised. Its an idea, a gimmick, a falsity. ‘Band of Brothers’ used real WW2 uniforms but its hardly Art. Authenticity is meaningless to all but the expert but beauty is obvious to all and Art is, or should be, beautiful. ‘Trains’ is an interesting concept, a useful game for helping people to come closer to understanding. Not art.

    • Sagan says:

      That article about Train really is a very bad place to start reading about the game. The article starts off well, but then he focuses on the completely wrong things. What convinced me of the brilliance of train was this Gamasutra article, which focuses much more on the actual experience. Maybe that article can convince you that the game is indeed art.

  23. Meticulous says:

    Spelled Brenda’s last name wrong. Also, I liked her Sir-Tech stuff better than her current things. :(

  24. CdrJameson says:

    The Economics of Videogame Pinball:

    Download services make it economically viable again.

    RPGs:

    Always have relied too heavily on the zero-to-hero, high fantasy model. I blame D&D.
    I keep having to up the difficulty in Fallout 3 so that I can stay a lone, human wanderer and not a one man army.

  25. Subjective Effect says:

    @Rinox – “a verbose stating the obvious on a very abstract issue.”

    I beg to differ. Its a very important point because, as I’ve said, getting the balance right/wrong can make/break a game.

    @Sagan -”I disagree with Doctor Professor’s piece. Because you ARE getting better when playing an RPG. As you advance through the levels you have to learn new skills like crowd control, countering and dispelling spells and keeping an overview over ever more complex battles.”

    I don’t think he means to say every RPG is the same, but the general idea is correct in that this sort of gameplay is more likely in an RPG. A well designed RPG will of course require increased player skill as well as character skills, in the way you’ve stated. But because RPGs are so stats heavy they are the main type of game that can suffer from the poor design Dr Prof has mentioned,

  26. Stu says:

    I first heard The Boiler a couple of years ago and can indeed confirm that I have no desire to listen to it a second time. Although after clicking that link through grim curiosity, I was surprised to see it was a live performance on telly; you wouldn’t get that on Jools Holland these days.

  27. Dominic White says:

    The problem with RPGs is that it’s a genre so tied into traditions and cliches now, that people get upset if challenge rises over the course of gameplay, or if you can’t grind your way out of a bad situation.

    People bitch about RPGs having stupid gameplay, but when one tries to break the mold, they get torn apart by critics. The Last Remnant, by Square (of Final Fantasy fame) has a remarkably complex combat engine, and the entire game is level-scaled, so that if you grind long enough in one area without making progress, you can actually make the game nigh-unwinnable for yourself. You need to focus on fighting smart, and using everything you have to hand. Some of the later battles are absolutely huge, sending your large force of heroes (18 characters on the field at once) against wave after wave of enemies, and bosses that just keep upping the ante, and victory is immensely satisfying because you HAVE to be good, make the right decisions, and have gone into the fight with a plan.

    Reviewers and RPG fans alike hated it, because it’s complex and you can’t grind your way out of a tough battle. Change your tactics? Reorganize your party? Nah, people would rather walk in circles and bash critters until their numbers are bigger.

    It has a small but loyal following, though, amongst gamers who actually want a strategic/tactical challenge.

    • Heliocentric says:

      I heard talk about last remnant to that effect. You’ve got my attention, its on my to buy list.

    • Dominic White says:

      Last I saw, it was £10 on Play.com. The PC version is so much better than the 360 release it’s not even funny. The 360 version is an unfinished beta, effectively. Horrible technical/performance issues, poor balance, load-times go on forever (even if you’ve installed) and worse.

      All fixed on the PC, along with a bunch of new sidequests and all the DLC worked into the main game.

    • Vinraith says:

      Interesting. Would you recommend Last Remnant for someone that generally dislikes JRPG’s, then? How cinematics-driven is it?

    • Psychopomp says:

      I believe there’s a demo actually.

      “People bitch about RPGs having stupid gameplay, but when one tries to break the mold, they get torn apart by critics.”

      You are so fucking right, it’s silly. JRPG fans are what’s keeping the genre stagnant, as their aversion to change is the single worst in the entire industry.

    • Psychopomp says:

      Yurp. http://store.steampowered.com/app/23330/

      I’ve not actually played it myself, but I should probably stress that JRPG’s universally seem to start out dreadfully slow, so I’ve no idea how well that demo represents the game as a whole.

    • Dominic White says:

      The core story arc is the usual ‘go somewhere, fight something, watch cutscene, repeat’, but the game-world is pretty gigantic. I’d say that you only see about half of the total areas if you’re just doing the main quest. There are a LOT of sidequests, and they’ll take you very far from the main story arc. There’s a lot to see and explore. I think one estimate I read was about 25-30 hours if you just did the main plot, 90+ easily if you’re trying to do every quest.

      TLR is considered part of the SaGa series, which is Squares ‘experimental’ JRPG family where they try out new gameplay mechanics and storytelling approaches. You’d be surprised at how much weird and highly original stuff they’ve made over the years. Not many people hear about it, though.

      Gamespot gave the PC version a really good score, actually:
      http://www.gamespot.com/pc/rpg/thelastremnant/review.html – their two technical complaints about screen-tearing and texture pop-in can be fixed by forcing VSync and making an ini tweak, too. They’re right that some elements can seem obtuse at times, but there’s a really good wiki that’ll fill in any blanks you might have.

      http://lastremnant.wikia.com/

      Funnily, there was a Japanese-only strategy guide, as thick as a phonebook, and it STILL didn’t have all the answers. There’s a lot to it.

    • Dominic White says:

      I’d also warn people that this is probably one of those games that demos badly. I never played the demo myself, but if it’s just the start, then you’re not going to see much complexity, and if it throws you in at the deep end, it’ll be horribly bewildering. I’d say that the first 4-6 hours alone count as the tutorial, and the complexity keeps ramping up for another dozen hours after that.

    • Vinraith says:

      I’ll give the demo a try (thanks Psychopomp) but try to keep in mind that it may be poorly representative of the game as a whole. I’ve got no business buying anything new until the new year anyway, but it’s always nice to have wishlist items.

    • Vinraith says:

      The demo, at least, won’t display a mouse cursor. Not on the menus, not in game. I can click on things, but it’s blind since I can’t see a cursor. It also started windowed for some odd reason, though that was easy enough to fix.

    • Psychopomp says:

      Downloaded the demo myself, and the game seems to assume that you’re using a 360 controller by default. In the options somewhere, there were a bunch of settings to fix that.

  28. Meticulous says:

    This guy wrote pretty much what I was going to say regarding tactical complexity and challenge using ToEE as an example:

    http://expensiveplanetarium.blogspot.com/2008/11/complexity-and-challenge.html

  29. Santiago says:

    Hey, that first article about achievement made a difference on me. Thank you!!

  30. manveruppd says:

    Nice find, Meticullous, that’s kinda what I was thinking as well: only badly-designed RPGs will just let you grind levels until the end boss as threatening as an overripe papaya. The good ones will just adjust the hardness of the baddies as you level up and force you to use a range of tactical options to survive.

    Unfortunately it’s pretty hard to do that sort of thing in RPGs where you only control a single person because there’s only so much tactical variation as you can have with a single character. Here’s hoping Dragon Age will prod some more devs into making some party RPGs.

    • Vinraith says:

      Much as I adore single-character open world RPG’s like Morrowind and Fallout 3, it does seem like the party-based RPG has been woefully underserved in recent years. Let Bethesda be Bethesda, everyone else try and be Black Isle, would you?

  31. Luis Sopelana says:

    Pedant mode ON: Brenda Brathwaite and Gabriel Bá. :)

  32. nuno says:

    “God, I hate typing on this keyboard.” it’s fun to see RPS without pics :))

  33. Phlebas says:

    Goodness, that glowing article on Fahrenheit makes me like it less. It’s a wonderful game because it’s as close as possible to being a movie, the designer would be better titled director and it makes liberal use of extended quick-time events so as not to let the gameplay interfere with the cinematic glory?

  34. Cooper says:

    I adored fahrenheit. For many of the same reasons. It was incredibly well observed, for a game. If only other games could take it on board that characters need to do more than just stand face to face and begin generic animations during a conversation. It was incredibly subtle and full of minor details.

    Shame the QTEs were a bit immersion breaking and that it went total ape shit half way through so much so that it lost all credibility.

    • plugmonkey says:

      Indeed. I would say if Gillen got at least halfway through, he’d probably best leave it there rather than go back to it.

      The first half was one of my favourite games ever. The last half was one of my most hated games ever.

    • Wilson says:

      I also liked Fahrenheit, but the points made in the article didn’t ring true to me, for the most part. I certainly wouldn’t say the rhythm game type sequences were better than the exploratory adventury parts (some were very good, some less so). The game was good because it was a bit different, at least that’s how it felt to me.

  35. Baboonanza says:

    “On a whole sports(Football, Soccer, Baseball) are far more of an achievement to master than say Mathematics (Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus) or the sciences (Biology, Chemistry), mainly because you can substitute information for skill and use a particular formula or set of rules to solve the problem, feeling a false sense of pride.”
    Indeed.

    The skills are completely different, and I think it would actually be easier to argue to opposite point of view.

    Twitch games like fighters essentially require the training of muscle memory and developing a mental state that connects your senses to your hands with the minimum of mental processing and intellectual intervention. The ‘zone’ always feels like a zen-like state without concious mental processes for this very reason (IMO anyway).

    TBS games particularly are the exact opposite in that they involve complex problem solving, result prediction and information recall. These are all skills that are quite transferrable to real life. Your ability to sequence 12 accuratly timed button presses is utterly useless IRL.

    I don’t think there is any difference in merit however. Both examples are either praseworthy or completely pointless, depending on your point of view. I would however argue that playing a JPRG is entirely pointless since there is no skill, intellectual stimulation or interesting story to give the experience any value whatesoever. But then we all have our biases :)

    • Taillefer says:

      Right. A professional tennis player doesn’t have quicker reflexes than you, but he can still return a serve more often because he’s been conditioned to do so. In a different test of reflexes, and they will fair no better than you.

    • Taillefer says:

      (or she!)

  36. Owen says:

    Good to see that jokes regarding the incredible wealth of Ross continue even after he’s left PCG.

    It’s like some kind of constant in the universe.

  37. Nick says:

    Ross is rich.. ahhh.. memories.

    Is Loughborough next?

  38. Nickiepoo says:

    TLR is pretty much the only JRPG I would recommend to people who don’t give a crap about the genre as a whole.

    One note is that the PC version also has an option to speed up battle animations by 5X (I think, i’ve only played the 360 version) and the game isn’t plagued by any ‘uber powerful super saian mega attack with 5 minutes of light effects’.

    • Dominic White says:

      The PC version is so much better than the 360 release, it’s not even funny. They rebalanced everything, they integrated the DLC into the campaign, there’s more quests, more characters, and you now don’t need to pad out your ranks with faceless grunts – there’s no limit to the number of Hero characters you can use, and things are balanced with that in mind.

      Like I said above, it may not have the name, but The Last Remnant is effectively part of Squares long-running SaGa series, a few of which have gotten US releases, including one not too long ago (about a year, now?) on the PS2. They’re always inventive and original stuff, with an emphasis on tactics, rather than stat-grinding.

      Personally, I think one of the best things and RPG engine can allow is complex enough play mechanics for a smart player to beat a challenge they’re notably under-levelled for. For this reason, I actually kinda like the core campaigns (Rather than the random bonus dungeons) of the Disgaea series, as there’s so many crazy play mechanics at play that you can often think your way to victory, no matter how much the game may encourage just grinding on easy enemies for hours.