The Sunday Papers

By Jim Rossignol on February 19th, 2012 at 10:21 am.


Sundays are for wondering exactly what was in that black booze you were drinking last night, and marvelling at the peculiar things it seems to be doing to your brain and body this morning. Something about Bristol always makes me very thirsty. And did that girl really describe her job as “the nerd-facing part of the company”? Anyway, things are looking up: there’s sunshine outside and internet full of writings. Let’s take a look at those.

  • A few things bug me more than pompous types pissing on people’s enthusiasm for something, but this morning that really bugs me. I noticed a few people dismissing this gigantic essay on the Mass Effect universe, and it made me sad. I can, of course, understand why they’d sneer. It’s basically fan writing, it’s a bit clumsy, it’s trying to read deeper meaning into a commercial fiction. But the author cares, and has poured energy into thinking about something he enjoys. He’s committed to his idea and produced a tonne of words, a bunch of interesting observations, and some comments on what Mass Effect might mean the people who play it. Yeah, games can mean something even if that meaning is much deeper than the message of your average a Star Trek episode. Mass Effect is a huge slab of pop culture, and that’s worth considering. Hell, I generally shrug in the face of Bioware, and the central thesis here is a bit depressing if it’s true, but I’d rather read ten-thousand reams of this stuff than another Twitter comment trying to point out how something a guy wrote is over-analysing, pretentious, or however else you’d like to describe something in order to dismiss a writer’s enthusiasm.
  • From the “reality is better than fiction” file: “Martin Amis’ Guide to Classic Video Games“: “The British journalist Sam Leith recently opened a review of Richard Bradford’s Martin Amis: The Biography with the following question: “Where’s Invasion of the Space Invaders? That’s what I want to know.” The 418-page biography, which has been undergoing a sustained critical beatdown since its publication last year, contains no mention of a book Amis published in 1982, and which he has been avoiding talking about ever since. “Anything a writer disowns is of interest,” wrote Leith, “particularly if it’s a frivolous thing and particularly if, like Amis, you take seriousness seriously.” He’s got a point; any book so callously orphaned by its own creator has to be worth looking into. This is especially true if the book in question happens to be a guide to early 1980s arcade games.”
  • Are copycat games killing innovation? No more than usual, I suspect. But as this piece points out, it’s distilled to absurdity in the social gaming scene: “Every social game should have a lawyer as part of its design team, EA chief creative director Richard Hilleman explained during the SMU Game::Business::Law summit in Dallas, Texas. Yes, design. A lawyer should be there every step of the way, he argued – from the very beginning.”
  • A couple of Kotaku pieces caught my eye. First this one about Origin: “We felt the PC business was having a little bit of a renaissance … and we felt great opportunity with both Star Wars and Battlefield. Mass Effect to come. That this was the time to build out a true platform.”
  • The second was a article by Kirk Hamilton, called “Gameplay and Story Are Exactly Like Music and Lyrics“: “A story can be grafted clumsily onto a game just like lyrics can be clumsily grafted onto a piece of music. Look at, say, the difference between Braid and Limbo, two side-scrolling platforming games that I enjoyed quite a bit. Limbo is a story about vulnerability and childhood; Braid is a story about loss and the passage of time. Both games tell their stories through their mechanics—in Braid, you control time, and in Limbo you are incredibly vulnerable and die a lot. They also use more traditional storytelling methods. But Braid’s written story feels clumsy while Limbo’s environmental storytelling feels organic.”
  • It’s always interesting to read people who are “outside” the games world talk about the importance of games. This time it’s playwright Lucy Prebble. Her point about the ascension of the anti-heroic protagonist in games is interest: “…there has been a generational tendency to move the traditional villain towards the centre of the action. You see this in great art (The Sopranos) as well as more schlocky fare. There are many cultural arguments as to why this may be, including the maturing and souring of America as a global superpower and cultural hegemon and so in its self-representation, or the general, gradual decline in idealism that accompanied the end of the cold war. Whatever the reason, you’re more likely now to be playing the criminal than the law enforcer in games.”
  • How do MMOs bring people together? Perhaps more importantly, how do they fail to bring people together: “Take, for example, Rift, Trion’s first MMORPG. Trion has a strong community focus, ranging from the usual “letter from the producer” feedback to more personalized GM interventions to promote in-game camaraderie. Trion also works hard to get people playing with their friends. Its Ascend-a-Friend referral program, in addition to handing out a free trial, also automatically adds referrer and referee to each others’ friends lists, making it easier to find each other in-game, and giving them the ability to teleport to one another. But as Isabelle Parsley of MMORPG.com points out, this doesn’t actually let them play together, because new players start at level 1 and most referring players are at level 50.”
  • The excellent Shut Up & Sit Down continues here.
  • I’m not much of a fan of the Zelda games, but here’s someone who is, who wants to see the direction they have gone in change: “I remember the peerless original, its unfairly-maligned sequel, and those later elements that suggested the magic had not been completely exhausted, from Wind Waker’s exuberant charm and grace to little Midna’s boundless sass. Yet focusing on the series’ greatest moments won’t save Zelda. Its obsession with its own conventions and culture has resulted in an insular little kingdom, walled off from the rest of gaming. Zelda no longer has a vision of anything but itself, and the wrong parts at that. It is choking on its own tail.”

Today’s music is Leonard Cohen.

More soon.

.

177 Comments »

  1. equatorian says:

    That Zelda piece sounds like something Wizardry would’ve written if Wizardry played Zelda and prefers hardcore openworld actionning to statbuilding. It makes some good points and sounds very well thought out. In the same way, I agree with some of his points—-a little bit more mystery could be useful to the series—but I don’t think his suggestions are necessarily the way to go about them. As popular as the idea is with the hardcore these days, not every game has to be Demon’s Souls now, do they? I don’t really feel like it has to be more difficult, more open, more unforgiving in general, or more focused on fighting than puzzle-solving. Like it or not, that’s Zelda’s identity now, and it just seems more like a case of the series moving on without him and him wanting it to go back to where it was twenty years ago, contrary to the opinion of 90% series fans. It’s not so much walled up in itself as carved an old comfortable corner.

    Some of the signpostings can be a little bit less obvious. There could be a little more joy in Finding Things Out, instead of ‘okay, let’s go back to that hole in the ground that requires the hookshot’. Zelda usually has a good sense of discovery after giving you a new toy and letting you know that new nooks and crannies can now be explored if you so desired, but the ways these are used now can be so obvious as to cause boredom….but still, being more hardcore wouldn’t go right for Zelda.

    I still think that if Zelda isn’t for him, he should really move on from it, though. It’s kind of like saying you’re a fan of Obsidian RPGs and then ask them to be more actionny or asking Bethesda to write like Obsidian.

    • bill says:

      No time to read the full article, i’ll read it later, but it has seemed for years now that Zelda has been stuck in a kind of self-repeating limbo.

      I loved some of the older games, but I don’t feel that EVERY zelda game has to be the same as the old ones.
      they don’t need to make their games like other games, but they need to do something new from time to time – be that incorporating elements from other games that have appeared, or coming up with their own new innovations.

      I know nintendo games exist in their own timeless, storyless eternal void, but I don’t know how long they can keep that up.

    • equatorian says:

      I do agree that it has been stuck in the same design rut for a while now, yes.

      The point is, I don’t agree that what he said—which is to uproot the whole CONCEPT of the series and basically turn it into an openworld action game—is the way to go about it. There are ways to make it more compelling and refreshing without alienating your entire audience. Of course that audience is also tricky. Makes too many steps ala Wind Waker and it hates you. There’s Majora’s Mask (which he also likes, IIRC), and I certainly think some of the elements in that game could be cannibalized into a fresher experience.

      But not necessarily grimdark, just because Twilight Princess.

    • John Brindle says:

      Since I only very recently played a Zelda game (OoT) for the first time, it’s extremely strange to me to hear that it’s in any way considered to lack in wonder and mystery. Perhaps the problem here is that the conventions of the Zelda series have ossified and it’s now a bit like a rom-com or the Final Destination series – everyone and her dog knows the rules, and that’s why people return to it time after time. As someone completely unfamiliar with what a Hookshot is or what opportunities I can use it to exploit, OoT, I instead had the pleasure of discovering for the first time a new world.

    • Jumwa says:

      Uh oh, you dared state that Demon Souls isn’t what every game should be. Blasphemy! Last time I did that I got devoured alive, literally! Well not literally.

      And I think John Brindle has it down. The games are no less magical and amazing then they ever were, they just haven’t changed enough over time to keep old stalwart fans fascinated like they used to be. I’ve heard Skyward Sword has shaken up the formula quite a lot, but I’ve been too busy with other things to give it a go.

      The article reaches points of ridiculousness pretty early when it declares that, almost without exception, Zelda is getting worse with each iteration. Looking at them without nostalgia-goggles on, they’ve definitely been improving, even if I’ve long ago lost my Zelda obsession. (Wind Waker was the last time I could claim to have gotten 100% completion in every Zelda title out.)

      Gamer pieces rife with the blurring effect of nostalgia irk me terribly. You change over time, and you can’t expect something to be the same to you at 30 as it was at 13. And all things seemed far more wondrous in retrospect when we looked at them through the eyes of an unknowing child or clueless teenager. Add on the extra layer of nostalgia and its a cocktail for useless wanking rather than insightful analysis.

    • Koozer says:

      Exactly Mr. Bindle: Zelda games are marvellous in that way, and I’m sure everyone would feel the same about their first LoZ, but when you’ve already found the hookshot in the last 4 games it gets slightly predictable.

      I think it’s telling that my favourite LoZs are Oracle of Ages (my first), a Link to the Past, WInd Waker (watery!), and Four Swords (multiplayer LttP!).

    • InternetBatman says:

      I agree with you for the most part. The Zelda cycle is an annoying thing driven by fans that keep getting older while the target audience stays the same. Also, the games have never really been that open. They trick people with a big open field and two or three unnecessary dungeons and sidequests, but they’ve always been pretty gated.

      On a side note, Bethesda doesn’t have to write like Obsidian, but they should write better.

    • Premium User Badge AndrewC says:

      You have my sword Jumwa! Any culture that emphasises authenticity, or non-compromise, or idealism, or ‘staying true to your roots’ or whatever formulation, rarely incorporates the idea that *we* change over time. Such cultures get stuck in an adolescant phase where change from these first moments when you really started caring about something is a bad thing.

      Thus we get endless ‘music/film/games/politics ain’t the same as it used to be’.

      Beyond that, we *do* have stuff like Arkham Asylum or Dark Souls that takes a lot of Zelda-y ideas and does different, sometimes grimngritty things with them. Let Zelda stay for a younger crowd.

      That said, the underlying idea that game series are brands that will be iterated upon endlessly is kind of a sad, business-oriented worldview to accept. I still want that naive, idealistic band-career idea where they develop and change while remaining ‘the band’.

      So, you know, I totally have that slightly adolescant need the same as everyone else, but it’s good to know what that need is.

      Also games aren’t as good as they were.

    • bill says:

      Ok. I’ve read it now. And i find myself weirdly agreeing with half of it and disagreeing with the other half.

      I think Mr Brindle hit the nail on the head – your first zelda IS a wonderful experience… discovering all the things there are to find, and how it all fits together. But the author is right that these very “puzzle like elements” take a lot of the wonder out of later games.

      There’s almost zero emergent gameplay in a zelda game. Everything has a purpose. Every enemy has a pattern. Every thing works in one specific way and place. That makes things magical at first, and repetitive and controlled/contrived later.

      The lack of story & acting, and the way that items and dungeons are expected/required only emphasises this. Mixing up the locations and items, and adding in complex stories might at least mask it a little.

      I personally think OoT was the best, but as always that’s because it was my first. I’d rank it as one of the best games of all time, yet i never finished Windwaker or Majora as i got bored. That has to say something when they are essentially the same game.

      Demon Souls is really starting to annoy me, as i have no chance to play it, but everyone talks about it like it’s the second coming of games “because it’s hard”. No idea why it’s good though. But I disagree that zelda needs to be hard to become great again.

      I do think it needs to mix things up a bit, make them more organic/emergent rather than adding more prescribed elements… so i think he’s right on that. I think he’s right on the open world (to a point) as well… Ocarina at that time probably felt more like Skyrim feels now.
      But I’d take something like the original Portal as inspiration. Not the gameplay, but the way it gave you simple tools and physics and let you work out your own solutions to the puzzles.

    • Jumwa says:

      “So, you know, I totally have that slightly adolescant need the same as everyone else, but it’s good to know what that need is.”

      None of us are immune. When I say that Zelda hasn’t gotten worse, it’s me trying to look objectively at it, ignoring my gut feeling.

      I picked up Twilight Princess years after it came out (which is odd, because remembering back, since Link to the Past, I had every Zelda game instantly the moment I could afford it), and I have still never finished it. I blame the game for being too big and perhaps too padded with content. But likely it’s just the formula having worn off on me.

      But putting aside my own gut reactions, putting aside my feelings of nostalgia and a young fans devotion soured, I can look at it and see that this game has its shit together. It’s a great title. Looking at it with a detached rationale, I can see why it would grip and enthrall a new player. Just like how I can see why Ocarina of Time is raved about as the best game of all time, when to me Link to the Past is obviously superior.

      Sometimes we have feelings about something because we have some perceptive ability there that’s telling us to find some flaw or virtue in it to hate on or extoll. Sometimes it’s just bad gas left over from growing pains.

      I’m trying not to become one of those crotchety old wankers who hates everything new, unless it’s just like the old. I’m trying.

    • Tams80 says:

      I see people complaining that every Zelda is the same (I disagree with this, but that’s another discussion which I don’t wish to go into), yet if you just looks at the other sequels coming out, people seem to to go “but it’s too different!”. I suppose this could just be that few developers have found that perfect balance for a sequel to their game and because fans all have different expectations.

      With Zelda, I think that too much tinkering wouldn’t make it a Zelda game anymore. There’s something to the games more than just the characters that makes then ‘Zelda’ games. I can’t be bothered and don’t particularly want to investigate what is though.

      Personally (John, please don’t castrate me for disobeying rule 20) I don’t concern myself to much with how ‘samey’ a game is. If I enjoy it when I play it, then it;s good enough for me. I might see things that could have been better, or things that were downright annoying; but at the end of the day all I want is enjoyment and sometimes something thought provoking (not as much).

      I do get riled up at some comments that state “x is better than y because of z” that don;t agree with. You are wrong commenter; just accept it! =D

    • Universal Quitter says:

      Man, talk about missing the forest for the trees. Whether the author knew it going in or not, this is criticism that extends beyond Zelda nostalgia and can be easily applied to the industry as a whole, with a little mental effort.

      “Modern [games] do not offer worlds. They offer elaborate contraptions reskinned with a nature theme, a giant nest of interconnected locks. A lock is not only something opened with a silver key. A [roadblock/invisible wall/unkillable baddy] is a lock; a [quest reward] is the key…that wondrous array of items you collect is little more than a building manager’s jangly keyring.”

      I could sit here and do this with half the article (this probably wasn’t even the best paragraph for it, in retro), but that would just be sad. Your brain should be doing this as you read, well, anything. I’ll end this before I stray any further into condescension and pompousness.

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      “Difficult,” “challenging,” and “engaging” are three distinct concepts, but too many people–and apparently the author of the article–think that they are synonymous.

      I’ve been playing Kingdoms of Amalur recently, and–at least on the Hard setting–I think it hits a good balance between challenge and engagement. I almost always win a fight, but I have to keep an eye on my health, mana, enemy positioning, and so on to succeed, and the basic mechanics are more involved than just mashing the same buttons repeatedly. It’s not difficult, but I don’t feel like it’s spoon-feeding me either.

      On the flip-side, Dark Souls was a game that was just hard. Why should I have to memorize every last enemy position while running gauntlets over and over again? Why am I punished for taking even the slightest risk? It’s as bad as anything the author criticizes in modern Zelda (and he’s not wrong), because difficulty–as opposed to challenge–rewards conformity and risk-averse behavior as much as the “lock-and-key” approach.

      Difficult games lose challenge–because there’s never much sense that there are ways to succeed beyond an optimal, frequently developer-designed approach–as well as engagement–because regardless of how complex the gameplay may be, if there’s no variation in how I can approach things there’s not going to be much fun in going through the motions. Difficulty is fine for those who want it, but anyone with the slightest desire to make something more than a niche interest can’t rely solely on it.

      The only game that I can think of that strikes a good balance between all three is the Witcher 2. It’s difficult in the early going, and improvement comes slowly. As the player enters the end of Act I, however, he or she should have better equipment, more powerful spells and/or abilities, and some hard-won knowledge of the game systems. From that point on the game becomes considerably easier, but only so long as the player continues to properly utilize the skills he or she has invested in. There’s plenty of wiggle-room in how the player develops and uses Geralt, so the leveling system and combat remain engaging while the relative strength of the enemies ensure that it’s only easy if the player knows what he or she is doing.

    • Consumatopia says:

      On the one hand, yeah, it’s true that if I hadn’t played Link to the Past or Link’s Awakening back in the day, but only played one of them today after I had played Ocarina, Wind Waker, or Phanton Hourglass, then I probably wouldn’t like them so much. It’s not that those games were better, it’s that I’d gotten sick of the formula by later iterations. (Though those of us who prefer the pre-OOT games can at least make the excuse that we hate Z-targetting.)

      On the other hand, that doesn’t invalidate the criticism at all. I evaluate games in the context of when they were released and I first played them. So I would judge Skyward Sword in the context of the many Zelda games that came before it. After all, if Nintendo tomorrow released Zenith Sword that was exactly the same as Skyward Sword but with slightly altered textures and sound effects, of course we would judge it in the context of the already released Skyward Sword.

      I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that the first Mario or Metroid game you play is your favorite. Metroid strikes me as the more damning comparison here–it’s another action/adventure series with simple puzzles, but it manages to stay fresh. I couldn’t tell you whether original Metroid, Super Metroid, or Metroid Prime is my favorite–I love them all. That your first Zelda is automatically your favorite isn’t because of something wrong with you, it’s because of something wrong with Zelda that you only notice the second time around.

      It wouldn’t be necessary to change Zelda into Dark Souls or La Mulana (though, wow, I’d love to see Nintendo make a version of Dark Souls or La Mulana). It wouldn’t even be necessary to go back to the bomb-every-wall, burn-every-tree tedium of original LoZ or the grinding and super-hardness of the first sequel.

      You could take up a couple of Thompson’s suggestions–like letting the player go to parts of the overworld they aren’t ready for, fewer gimmicky items, less “simon-sez”-ish combat–and you would still have a game that’s fundamentally Zelda, and would, if anything, have more appeal to newcomers. I can think of other changes. Instead of making bombable walls visible, make them optional–they aren’t necessary to clear the dungeon, but they’ve got cool stuff behind them or open useful shortcuts and they’re fun to find as a surprise. In fact, that principle would work generally–the (fewer) required puzzles would still stay easy and hand-holdy as per modern Zelda practice, but weave in hints of optional, more obscure hidden mysteries and puzzles.

      Honestly, if they could just make a new Zelda game with slashy-action as satisfying as Metroid’s shooty-action, that’s pretty much all they’d have to do to “save” Zelda.

    • Baines says:

      InternetBatman said: “Also, the games have never really been that open. They trick people with a big open field and two or three unnecessary dungeons and sidequests, but they’ve always been pretty gated.

      Zelda was originally open. Part of the selling point of the original game was its openness. You had to beat all the dungeons, and there were some items required to access some areas, but it wasn’t heavily gated. You could explore most of the overworld from the start, assuming you could survive it. You could enter several of the dungeons out of order. Where later Zelda games would increasingly theme dungeons to their items, and increasingly require them for both completion of that dungeon as well as further overworld progress, many of the original items were not required at all. They were convenience items instead.

      People later complained about that openness, while Adventure of Link was rejected for becoming a different type of game, and Link to the Past put a heavier focus on storyline and gated progression. Ocarina of Time put Link to the Past in 3D, and the games that followed drew from either LttP or OoT as if they were some holy writs. (It arguably didn’t help that Zelda eventually fell under the control of a man who admits that he was never able to beat the original game, that instead he found it too hard and would always give up after a few tries. That I think is important when you consider that the original game wasn’t actually particularly hard.)

    • valentingalea says:

      I am so sick of people bemoaning “the good ol’ days” of Zelda. A small minority will always out-spoke the majority.

      I played all major Zelda games except 1, 2 and Link to the Past (plan on doing it this year) and loved them all equally. I welcome the new change in accessibility and more focus on exploration and puzzles.

      I cannot survive more than 2 screens in Zelda 1. I am the new generation of gamers, I didn’t grew up with Legend of Zelda or Link to the Past. My first Zelda was Phantom Hourglass which I played at 25, and it blew my goddamn mind.

      Games have changed, the people have changed. Nintendo wants the money of 1 million regular gamers rather than the money of 100 ultra hardcore dedicated players. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I think they are continually managing to strike the perfect balance between artistry and commercialism with the new Zelda’s.

    • Consumatopia says:

      No, it’s not about “good ol” Zelda or nostalgia at all. The other major Nintendo franchises like Mario, Metroid, Smash Brothers, Mario Kart and F-Zero all manage to keep releasing new games that are fun at both the casual and hardcore level. That’s what distinguishes Nintendo from most other developers, and why I used to be primarily a console gamer. Heck, even Pokemon is deeper than most console RPGs. For most of their big games, Nintendo proves that depth doesn’t require complexity, and this “causal”/”hardcore” distinction is bullshit.

      Zelda is the odd man out. The first two games are only suitable for hardcore players, all the rest…well, they aren’t bad, but there’s room for so much more. They’re popular and good, whereas some of the other series are popular and brilliant.

    • lasdyfdsa says:

      Whether it’s society reflecting culture or games reflecting culture, we’ve definitely lost our innocence and hope.http://www.ulinks.fr/gyr

    • Ritashi says:

      The beauty of the “new” brand of Zelda games is most definitely not their gameplay, for the most part. There are exceptions, there are cool little sections, intriguing puzzles, and challenging fights. There are secrets to be found tucked away in corners where most never venture. But, when it comes down to it, most of the gameplay isn’t particularly, well, good. That’s not to say it’s bad, and it’s definitely enough to hold me at least through long enough to get to the next really cool bit. But, if I’m going to be honest, everything that’s fun in Zelda games are the things that pull away from the standard gameplay, that put you to different challenges, that have you do things other than swing a sword or use an item or power to go to the next area. Out of all of the console games since OoT (not all of which I have completed, to be fair, although I have played significant portions of all of them) I can count on two hands the number of pieces of actual gameplay I remember fondly. And that’s considering I have played OoT, Skyward Sword, and large portions of Majora’s Mask within the last year. Instead, I remember stories. I remember plots. I don’t remember many characters (Zelda in SS will stick in my memory, I loved Midna, I came to be actually really interested in Groose’s story), but I remember the stories, the worlds, the settings, the emotions. I remember the grim horror of Majora’s Mask, where every kind deed I ever performed was erased within 72 hours, erased by me as I desperately denied the progress of time as I tried to save the world. I remember affectionately the Kokiri of Ocarina of Time; how their calm and peaceful home was ravaged by Ganondorf’s minions. I remember Zelda’s sacrifice in Twilight Princess, I remember when I began to really understand Midna’s heritage. I remember when I had gathered the power that should have let Midna defeat the , and it failed miserably. I remember how the passage of a mere seven years reshaped Hyrule. I remember more vaguely the themes of Wind Waker, I remember how I began to discover what had happened, how I began to figure out how the apocalyptic wreck I could see correlated to the Hyrule I knew and loved.

      All of that simply to say, that there are good things in the modern Zelda games, and things they have lost. They have lost any sense of wonder in the core gameplay. Progressing is easy, it is not engaging, it is even from time to time boring. It mostly consists of mentally checking every available course of action, starting with those that utilize the most recently gained ability, until one of them opens a path forward. That’s when the path forward isn’t immediately apparent, which it often is. The vast majority of all “secrets” require simply a strong map awareness, an ability to remember where you have and have not yet explored. Check the new areas, and any available secrets tend to be obvious. There can be a thrill from even that, to be sure, but it isn’t that strong, and it can rapidly grow tedious. These are things which can be fixed without fundamentally changing what Zelda is and what it means to its fans.

      The first thing which can be fixed, is the difficulty. Difficulty matters. Difficulty is what converts challenge into a risk of failure. Even if there is a high level of challenge, without appropriate difficulty (which, given appropriate levels of challenge, can easily be derived from the penalty for failing in the challenge) you cannot get a strong engagement (via gameplay. Engagement can be achieved through means other than gameplay as well). Skyward Sword’s Hero Mode is not for everyone. Far from it. But it is exactly the mode I want to play the game on. Don’t lock that mode behind beating the entire game first. By the time I have unlocked Hero Mode, I no longer face significant challenge, so the punishment for failure which would normally contribute strongly to the difficulty is irrelevant. Not everyone wants to be confronted with a significant risk of failure while playing Zelda, and for others the normal penalty for failure is enough to give them appropriate difficulty. I would have enjoyed SS far more had I been forced to deal with the harsh realities of Hero Mode while still learning the ins and outs of Skyward Sword’s battles. Let people choose their own difficulty, and make sure that that difficulty ranges from slightly easier than current Zelda up to and surpassing Hero Mode. Zelda doesn’t have to be hard to be good, but being difficult can add a sense of urgency and force the player into a higher state of awareness, which is great (so long as a player doesn’t get to a point where the game is just out of their league, which is why lower difficulties are available).

      Second, the rote gameplay needs to have more challenge. SS manages to add to the challenge, but in a way which for most enemies is repetitive and boring. Make enemies more than puzzles you solve once, and then repeat the solution every time a new copy of that enemy appears. Make enemies a puzzle that you have to figure out individually. Not every Bokoblin needs to fight just like all the others. Alternatively, or additionally, allow multiple layers of puzzle solving, in effect allowing an observant player to win much faster and more consistently. The Lizalfos in Skyward Sword are an excellent example of this; first you learn how to swing to counter their armguard, as well as how to read their attacks. Then you learn that a few tentative swings can bring them into a defensive stance. Then you start to learn how to read their stance to find the exact swing that will bring them directly into their defensive stance, ultimately turning one of the most challenging fights I faced early in SS into a quick bloodbath by the end of the game, purely because of my increase in skill. THAT is an example of excellent encounter design. Make more enemies like that, or require better timing and careful selection of attacks in general (though not in a hard and fast manner like SS did – have a looser system, such that there is a large range of variably suboptimal attacks in between a failure and a coup de grâce). Also, make more of the items you gather significantly useful in a variety of combat situations, particularly in situations where you could win without using the item. Make the effects obvious, logically flowing from the item, and worth the time it takes to use them, and the game will become far more interesting for old fans of the series and new blood alike.

      Third, make secrets a lot more secret. Sure, I should be able to tell at a glance where I should aim my hookshot, what I should bomb, etc. in order to progress through a dungeon. But when I’m out in the world, a secret passage should be much harder to notice. Perhaps a weakness where I might find a cave could be indicated by nothing more than a thin fault line along the ground. Perhaps I could actually use that small gnarled knot on a tree as a hookshot target. Perhaps the only indication that a song on my harp could reveal a secret on the wall is an old, difficult riddle, possibly with alternate interpretations that may lead me astray or lead me to believe that it probably isn’t anything actually significant. Always give the player the tools to figure out a secret without resorting to random bombing, but the more obvious a secret the less powerful the rewards you can glean from it.

      Finally, just make sure that the player’s experience can actually form a cohesive story. A moving main plot is great and all, but if Link is constantly leaving his Princess in mortal danger to play games for a few rupees or a piece of heart, the narrative breaks for the player. Let the player’s narrative shine through, both in his mind and on the world around him. The player wants to help everyone he meets along his way, thereby making Hyrule not only safe but also a great place to live in? Respect that, and let it show through in the way he tends to get responses from villagers and in the way everyone tends to act without his interference. He wants to rush to do his duty, more concerned for the safety of his liege than the well-being of her citizens? Allow that too, and let it show in the way that even those areas he has rescued tend to not be quite so full of life. Even little changes, little changes that go beyond the specific people he has helped or not and have slight influences on others in the area, and even perhaps the rest of Hyrule, can make a world of difference. Lend the main plot some weight, but do not burden Link with tasks of great urgency that the player knows full well he is under no obligation to actually perform quickly. Let Link remain mostly a blank slate, but let him be a blank slate which can make choices. Let the side quests and main plot intertwine ever so slightly, so that completing a side quest is more than simply a transaction of services for rewards, but actually matters somewhat. Sure, Link can save the world no matter what he chooses – that’s his destiny. It’s the little things that are under his control, the little things which define who this incarnation of the Hero of Legend truly is.

      In summary: this post got way longer than I expected. Sorry! Just note that nothing I’ve suggested, with the possible exception of the last example, would significantly change the Zelda experience for your more casual gamer. They’ll have the game on Easy or Normal, they’ll swing their sword more or less at random, resort to their items generally when mechanics demand they do so, and complete a random smattering of sidequests as a break from dungeon crawling. They’ll pick up a few fewer free rupees and pieces of heart, but this can be made up for by lower difficulty settings. But these changes would revitalize the Zelda experience for many of its existing fans, and bring in new people who couldn’t get past the somewhat repetitive nature of the current set of games.

  2. JackShandy says:

    I agree with everything that Zelda chap wants from games, but I’m not sure why he thinks the Legend of Zelda series is the place to get it.

    The first Zelda was a game he enjoyed, ok, and it’s very different from modern Zelda’s, sure. But modern LOZ has been carefully designed to be the way it is by a whole heap of clever people, and it’s built up a massive fanbase because of it. I mean, it’s not like they accidentally took this offshoot once and people hated it, right? They’ve been going in this direction for a very long time, and a lot of people say that it’s resulted in the best game of all time. It’d be pretty silly to try and make a whole other type of game now. They’d be bad at it.

    There are other games that fulfil the Old Zelda urge. He mentions Dark Souls. I’d also recommend Yume Nikki, Thief, or honestly just play DnD. He’s just gotta accept that New Zelda is being made for an audience that doesn’t include him.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Zelda has been stale for years as he stated in his argument. They’ve not been taking Zelda in any direction for years and thats part of his point. There is a big fanbase that has grown up around it, but it’s as much to do with the brand as it is the games.

      Beyond Good and Evil was a great game like Zelda but betterer. Not got around to Dark Souls yet, but I found that an odd mention, doesn’t look anything like Zelda to me but I will soon find out.

    • Jumwa says:

      DrGonzo, everything gets compared to Dark Souls. Skyrim gets compared to it regularly, and I can’t for the life of me fathom why either.

      Also, I’ve never understood the obsession with Beyond Good and Evil. I played it, found myself annoyed by it on so many levels. The background chatter everywhere was irksome, the annoying pig guy bothered me, the controls seemed weirdly counter-intuitive. I mean, what was with using my camera to fling neon-goo at bosses? It was awkward and silly. (More of a silly critique here, it was so long ago I played it that I can hardly remember the details of the review I wrote on it at the time.)

      If Zelda’s a franchise I’ve grown tired of over time, BG&E was something that never ever took off for me. To each their own, but I never saw what drew so many people in about it.

    • JackShandy says:

      DrGonzo, he disagrees with the direction of every Zelda game from Ocarina of Time onward. Would you agree with that?

  3. iARDAs says:

    1-) I for one services like Steam and a better Origin will be the salvation of PC gaming. If it wasnt for steam I would still be gaming with my PS3. Also I can not understand people bashing Origin. it is still a beta to begin with and personally i never ever had an issue with it that drove me crazy. it was down 1 or 2 times but so has Steam. Origin lacks some features but will make up for it in the future i am sure.

    2-) I also want to tell you guys how much I love the Mass Effect Series. Honestly I can not think of any other space game that has been worth playing for the last few years.

    3-) About the MMOs. I honestly can not get into them. If i chose to play an MMORPG game I feel like it needs to be the only game I need to play. i can only game 2-3 hours per day in week days and few more hours in weekends, I can honestly say that i really do not have the time to play MMORPGs. I bought RIFT. It was a good game but I just cant see how i will play it. Perhaps I can get used to playing at work. Lol :)

    4-) I am not sure about how copycat games are killing innovation as although a game could be a copycat, a good developer still tries to do something interesting about it. But i do feel sad when activision decides to give us the exact same game with different scenarios for the last 5 years.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      There are multiple reasons for the exaggerated Origin hate. For one a lot of people just hate EA, either for closing their favorite studio years ago or for being “the man.” Then there are the people who love Steam and only shop on Steam and hate Origin for trying to break them of that. Then there are people who hate DRM and account-based ownership altogether. And the list goes on.

      In the end though consumers in every industry have shown that if you make a great game people are going to buy it no matter what. Steam was absolutely terrible and anti-consumer when it first started but people still bought Half Life 2 in droves. I doubt the impact of ditching Steam for BF3 and ME3 was even 10% and even that will weaken drastically over time.

      So… whole lot of nothin’, really.

    • Kadayi says:

      “In the end though consumers in every industry have shown that if you make a great game people are going to buy it no matter what.”

      ^This. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the personal boycotts brigade. Not buying a game from X publisher doesn’t send them a ‘message’ Vs actually writing their customer services an email tbh. If EA/Activision/Ubisoft can’t see that they’ve lost a sale through their actions, then it’s nothing more than self denial at the end of the day.

    • codename_bloodfist says:

      I’m very much with Kadayi on this one. Criticism is a great thing, while “voting with your wallet” alone, quite frankly isn’t. Just use the traditional methods like indeed writing them a formal email. Posting on public feedback forums will just enrage the fanboys of all flavours.

    • Schmitzkater says:

      Origin itself is not actually new though. The look and feel might be but it is pretty much a restyled EA Downloader, with much of the underlying programming being the same.

      It’s just a beta to help in the rebranding effort.

    • alundra says:

      @StingingVelvet

      How conveniently you left out the fact that last year they shut down multiplayer servers for several of their console and pc titles, what about the forum bans locking people out of their origin accounts??

      Yeah, they pretty much represent everything that is wrong with this industry,

    • Kadayi says:

      @codename_bloodfist

      I think some people like to get a bit too righteous and forthright about it also (‘look how principled I am everyone’). I was down with boycotting AC2 when it was ‘always on DRM’ for instance (it went from ‘day one purchase’ to ‘when it’s half price’), but now that’s been removed I’m bemused why there are people still refusing to buy it out of a broader principle over Ubisofts DRM policy. Refusing to buy doesn’t inform Ubisoft that removing the removal of the DRM improves the sales (ergo ‘should we have the DRM in the first place?’).

      @alundra

      Please tell us more about these server shutdowns. What games specifically were they for?

    • InternetBatman says:

      The reason people hate Origin is easy. EA is incredibly inconsistent. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad, but you can’t tell what they’re going to do. They also have absolutely shitty long-term support of their products. Valve has been running Steam for fiveish years, and most of their efforts have constantly made Steam better, and they show long-term support for their games.

      When you give up physical copies you give up a ton of ownership, and the only guarantee you have to accessing the games you bought is the stability of the platform you bought it from. EA can’t be trusted as an organization so you don’t want to buy their games directly from them, but they’re also not on the largest and most stable platform on the internet. So, for many people that means that the creation of Origin has introduced greater risk in the game market for absolutely no benefit to the consumer.

      That and their sales are terrible.

      @kadayi, the last round I can remember had Battle for Middle-Earth II. At this point though, developers should really be working on p2p matchmaking anyway. Central servers don’t make sense for anything but DRM.

    • Caiman says:

      Nearly everything on Origin is more expensive than it is on competing services like Gamersgate and Steam (I’m in Australia). Sorry EA, but until you can match or beat your competitors’ prices then I won’t be using your store.

    • Kadayi says:

      @InternetBatman

      I had a mooch around and it seems to be a case that EA tend to kill off the MP servers of games where in the party finished a long time ago (EA’s explanation is that games being shut down represent “fewer than 1% of all peak online players across all EA titles,” ). Certainly one could argue that EA should maintain them, but then again if there’s barely a dozen or so people still using them there’s a point where it’s really no longer financially viable to continue to subsidize dedicated server costs.

      Still they probably should make it possible for people to go P2P on those old titles.

      Still chortling about the circle jerk comment from earlier in the week btw ;)

    • Archonsod says:

      “they’re also not on the largest and most stable platform on the internet. So, for many people that means that the creation of Origin has introduced greater risk in the game market for absolutely no benefit to the consumer.”

      Given EA were formed in 1982 and are still going strong (in fact they’re the biggest publisher in the West), I’d say they were probably far less of a risk than any of the other distributors.

    • InternetBatman says:

      @Archonsod While EA has existed for a long time, but they’re not really reliable. It seems like they constantly shift focus as a company. Even Activision is more reliable; you can tell that everything they do will be in the ruthless short-sighted pursuit of profit. EA has some games that are genuinely lovingly crafted, some games where their influence has clearly made a game worse, and some shameless cash-ins. Even the Origin site shows their lack of direction, they’re trying to sell every EA game on all possible platforms.

      I’m not by any means saying that EA is bad, but they’re just not dependable.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      @ Alundra

      I didn’t mention a TON of things, I just wrote a sample of reasons.

      There are similar reasons to refuse almost any corporation’s products or services though. I know most people love Valve but they have done quite a lot of things that annoy me from pushing Steam on us before it was anywhere near acceptable to the recent DOTA mess.

      In the end though, if I want your game I will probably buy it. I just don’t care enough not to when it comes to most of these issues. I’m not picky enough to skip a Mass Effect game because of these things. The only exception so far is a persistent online connection being needed, I did reject those games and will reject them in the future, including Diablo 3.

    • Premium User Badge ffordesoon says:

      I hate Origin for three reasons, one of which is vastly more important than the others:

      1) It’s an unnecessary and silly attempt to siphon that last little bit of cash from EA’s customers, and to maintain that last little bit of control over them. Well within their rights, certainly, but that doesn’t make it good for anyone. Not even them, really, because it erodes consumer goodwill.

      2) It’s bad for consumers for lots of reasons, but mainly because it’s obtrusive and the games are overpriced compared to the market leader. Yes, Steam.

      3) Most importantly, it’s a poorly designed, clumsily implemented piece of shit. Steam has its problems, and a service that gave it a real fight would be good for everyone, because proper competition would make them get their shit together on certain stuff. Origin is not that service. It’s this dumb replica of Steam cobbled together out of twine to give the finger to Valve, without a single thought given to why Steam dominates the market. Origin would never in a million years host something like Steam Workshop, because the whole service, from the EULA on up, is designed as an EA money funnel. We the consumers are not supposed to be creative, because in EA’s view, our creativity could put them out of a job. Origin fails even at making EA’s own game demos easy to find; Steam regularly puts all new products on the front page, regardless of budget or who published it. Do you think EA would put something called “Scoregasm” on Origin’s front page, right next to BF3? Of course not, because they don’t want you to buy Scoregasm instead of BF3.

      Steam as it is today is the result of smart and careful adaptation to the needs and wants of the market it serves. Origin as it is today is the result of people in the same business looking at Steam and wondering how much of a percentage is in it for Valve, and how they can see some of that action. There’s very little thought given to the end user’s experience on Origin, because they don’t care about the end user except as a source of revenue. The attitudes behind each service are totally different, and it shows.

      And, to be clear, I use both Steam and Origin, along with Desura, Impulse, D2D, and GamersGate. I think Origin has a few interesting ideas that I wish Steam would adopt, just as Desura does. But Desura is designed to sell me games, not one publisher’s games in particular. So is Steam. That’s the difference.

    • Grygus says:

      People hate Origin because it is terrible compared to Steam, and simply because Steam exists. There is really no excuse for a service with the gaping holes that Origin has when a template is there to show you how it’s done. And now the damage is done; even if EA fixes those things, first impressions are very important. There are plenty of gamers who still have contempt for Steam based on its early problems (another lesson EA should have taken to heart.)

      To put it a bit touchy-feely: right now, Steam feels like Valve wants to be liked and Origin feels like EA doesn’t give one damn what you think. It’s pretty easy to see how one will engender more animosity than the other.

    • bill says:

      How did EA manage to re-brand their crappy old service that everyone rightly ignored and suddenly it’s big news?

      Anyhow, I personally hate Origin for what it could become. EA already use it (and always have) to lock down control of everything, to region restrict things more than humanly possible, and to raise prices to way above those charged by competitors. Imagine what they’ll do with it once it becomes the dominant platform.

      I for one would like to be able to buy games for a reasonable price, if at all. Therefore I want Origin to fail as hard as it possibly can.

    • Archonsod says:

      Origin has gaping holes? Let’s see, I get a far better and far more consistent download via it than I do with Steam. It doesn’t require I leave it running to play downloaded games, unlike Steam. On login it defaults to high privacy, unlike Steam. I can also add any EA game released since 2009 to my account no matter where I bought it from. And it has the same friend list, in game chat and the like that Steam has too. I’m not seeing where this is a worse design, in fact if anything it’s far better – I can choose whether I want it running or not when I play a game, I can add games bought elsewhere to my account without having to buy them again and it does everything the Steam client does to boot.

      It’s also no more expensive than Steam, at least over here. Mind you, even retail tends to beat Steam’s prices when it comes to new releases over here.

    • Vander says:

      Good reason to not buy on Origin? The way they ban people from their purchased solo games. Its just not acceptable. Steam do it also, and without giving a reason even, but far less often it seems. Anyway, i don’t use any of them. I buy my games on disk, and if the service(steam or Origin) is mandatory i crack it, it is legal in my country (if you pay the game of course).

      Plus the fact that EA acted like d**** numerous time in the past. And that Origin as not upside for the player(especially one who play 99% of the time solo like me). Steam has at least good sales…

    • StingingVelvet says:

      @ Grygus

      Sure, but honestly as a singleplayer gamer with no social networking desires the things Steam kills Origin at are things I never use and don’t care about. For downloading a game and then going into offline mode they both function identically… if anything Origin works a little better.

    • Mad Hamish says:

      They’re both shit. That’s that. I avoid them if necessary. I gave in an installed steam two years ago and I have about 20 indie games on it. I see the whole service as a big two fingers to the consumer so I try not to support them.

      There that ends that, as neither services are worth defending.

    • Shuck says:

      @ iARDAs: About the copycat game thing: they’re talking about game cloning as it occurs in the phone game and social game space, not the lack of innovation in AAA games. The game copying that’s occurring is pretty profound – in the worst cases, every single element of a game is copied exactly, with only the assets being replaced (but even then not thematically changed). This sort of thing went on the ’80s, but there’s two big differences now. One is that the time to create a clone and publish it is extremely short now (a matter of weeks). The second is that in the ’80s game copying was something done by small developers to ride the coat-tails of a large developer’s success with a game. Now it’s happening to small developers, sometimes by large developers like Zynga, which means they can come in and effectively steal the original game’s (potential, largely) audience before they have a chance to develop their player base or make any money off of it.

    • malkav11 says:

      @Kadayi:

      Assassin’s Creed 2′s DRM wasn’t removed, it was scaled back slightly. That’s fine and well and good (the reason I bought it at steep discount instead of refusing to touch it at all), but it’s a long way from the desired result.

    • Kadayi says:

      “It’s bad for consumers for lots of reasons, but mainly because it’s obtrusive and the games are overpriced compared to the market leader. Yes, Steam.”

      I got a better deal on Batman Arkham City through Origin than I did on Steam, and I don’t even need Origin to be running to in order to play it.

      @malkav11

      The thing people got their knickers in a twist about was purely the ‘always on’ aspect of the DRM where in the game would cut out if your internet went down. That was patched out a long time ago. You only need to be online when you initially register the game online once . You can set the Uplay launcher under options to ‘offline mode’ and you can play it through without the necessity to be online after that. Hardly the tyranny you seem to imply tbh, Vs say activating a Steamworks title or some such.

    • Shooop says:

      It’s simple really. Origin is spyware. It has a massive loophole in the license agreement that allows it to scan anything on your computer, not just the software it’s tied to.

      That’s really all there is to it.

    • newprince says:

      For me, the hate toward Origin is not the program itself, but how damned limited its scope is.

      Most people claim it is simply a way for EA to make its version of Steam. False. It is an EA-only platform.

      I remember not liking Steam when it first came out because I HAD to use it to play Half-Life 2. For a while there, Steam=Valve. Eventually, though, I realized I could play non-Valve games through Steam. How brilliant was this? What can EA possibly hope to do to expand its audience through Origin? What goodwill could it possibly hope to build with gamers who don’t play or outright hate EA? It can’t.

      To me it isn’t even in the same league as a “me too” service. Being worse than a me too service, I can’t possibly see how they hope to succeed beyond just making gamers log on once in a while to play an EA game. Rubbish.

    • Kadayi says:

      @Shooop

      I think most people realise that whole Spyware story was largely BS some time ago. Some German tech magazine monitored Origin and found that all it did was scan the windows system registry to determine what software you had installed.

      http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/forums/showthread.php?2318-According-to-CT-magazine-Origin-is-not-spyware

      Also you need to read the EULA in conjunction with the EA privacy policy, they go hand in hand.

    • MattM says:

      I dislike Origin because I dislike and distrust EA. In my experience EA refuses to maintain any long term support for its titles. They publish games in pretty good condition and will issue a patch or two to fix game stopping bugs. If there are documented reproducible bugs EA will not patch them. When providing services like online authentication of games and dlc EA thinks it is ok to have weeks of down time with no explanation and no communication to their support people who keep telling you to reinstall. This isn’t the kind of company that I am going to buy digital games from.

    • malkav11 says:

      @Kadayi:

      That was the worst part – the part that I will not buy into at all. But it was never my only problem with it. Server-based activation DRM ties the game to servers that won’t exist in the future. And I guess I’ll take your word for it that there’s a way to get ACII to not phone home on launch, but by default it still does.

    • Kadayi says:

      @malkav11

      I suppose one day Valve will just flip the switch and shut down Steam without warning and disappear into the ether as well without a buy your leave? It’s a wonder you even leave the house given how much there is to fear about what catastrophes might happen.

      Also there’s no need to take my word for it with regard to AC2. If you bought it you should be able to confirm it yourself. The reason it doesn’t go to offline by default is so it can check for updates and it can keep track of any Uplay points you earn through play. Think achievements but with some added value.

  4. bill says:

    I read that Lucy Prebble thing when someone posted it last week, and (while i don’t remember the specifics) i mostly agreed with her.

    Whether it’s society reflecting culture or games reflecting culture, we’ve definitely lost our innocence and hope.

    I have to go home now and watch the last episode of 24 and see if everyone is tortured to death in brutal ways, or just falls into depression. :-(

    • Skabooga says:

      No matter how many of them I read, I never get tired of “This is why gaming is special to me” pieces. Lucy Prebble’s article was a particular delight.

  5. Kollega says:

    In regards to the article that says there are more anti-heroes now than there were before: i read it some time ago and i do agree with it. I won’t pretend to know the reason why (although ones mentioned by the author are probable), but there are indeed more Jack Bauers than James Bonds (or, if you find Bond questionable, Luke Skywalkers) walking around these days. And it really, really grinds my gears. I know anti-heroes are “more realistic”, but it’s all fiction. It dosen’t have to be.

    And guy above me? I couldn’t agree with you more. You even mentioned the same series (24) as the prime example of our downfall. I salute you.

    • NathanH says:

      I read some film critic many years ago writing about two fictionlizations of someone’s life. He wrote something like “people will consider X the more realistic portrayal, because it is darker.” That struck me as a very profound insight into the way people think these days.

      I guess when it comes to anti-heroes, they are going to be popular because people like the idea of heroes and they also like the idea of breaking rules and social norms. Is that a modern thing? Perhaps we are all more rebellious and less respectful of authority these days.

    • JackShandy says:

      I refuse to believe that James Bond isn’t an anti-hero.

    • Kollega says:

      You might, and Bond might appear as an anti-hero on closer examination, but he wasn’t written as one. I thought of mentioning Luke Skywalker, but opted for James Bond instead because he is related to Jack Bauer via being in the same genre (spy fiction).

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s not a modern thing – Batman started in 1939 (and he was a damn sight more brutal back then). Though I expect she’d be broadly correct in that their popularity tends to wax and wane with societies mores.

      Although saying that I’m not sure it’s necessarily the reason for so many games based around anti-heroes. The problem there is setting – anti-heroes tend to offer more scope for gameplay precisely because they’re not bound by ‘the rules’.

    • Rii says:

      Yeah … 007 as the counter-example, what? Have you seen Goldeneye? That film in the wake of the Cold War (as with Quantum of Solace in the wake of Iraq a decade later) is all about re-examining the West/North=Good, East/South=Bad dichotomy previously a staple of the franchise.

    • Premium User Badge icarussc says:

      As a Christian, and as a person interested in stories (B being necessarily a part of A), I find the piece on anti-heroes to be frustratingly true. My life aspiration is to be truly heroic, though in small and pedestrian ways, and I would like to be able to emulate that aspiration in video games. It’s irritating how often I’m pushed in the other direction, even in games that purport to put you in control of the moral compass.

      I would really, deeply like to be able to *play* as good a character as I want to *be,* and I think the commonness with which it is assumed that I want to play someone lashing out at society reflects a profound sickness within society that reaches far beyond the decline of American power.

    • InternetBatman says:

      It’s because as a society we, America in my case, are better educated and have greater exchange of information than ever before. Society is not sicker and the people at the top are not more corrupt than they have ever been. We can just see this now because the tools of critical analysis are commonplace. The problem is that the trust of the public has been breached.

      People without the tools or intelligence for critical analysis are now finding out about the problems that have always existed, and now maintain a kind of reflexive cynicism. It’s easy to believe what people tell you. It’s easy to not believe what people tell you. It’s really easy to believe people who tell you that you are right but superior because of your reflexive cynicism, and that others just believe the lies that people tell them. It’s not easy to realize that most of the time people are telling you the truth as they believe it, but that might not be right and a lot of people still lie but all of this applies to you as well.

    • bill says:

      there is definitely a prevalent school of thought these days that simply being “dark” and anti-heroic makes the character more realistic, more grown up, more complex. Maybe it’s true, and I certainly used to think like that (yay dark batman! yay off-the-grid jack bauer! ) but it’s recently become so prevalent and extreme that it’s become rather predicable and depressing.

    • Bork Titflopsen says:

      The notion that the anti-hero is more prevalent now than it was before is absolutely rediculous.

      All the ‘always-do-good, never-do-bad’ characters that were so prevalent in America for a while were a direct result of propaganda disguised as patriotism by the media.

      Sure, it can be said that the anti-hero trope is used so much nowadays that it’s reaching the point of rediculousness and loses it’s effect entirely, but that happens with anything even mildly popular and is hardly a sign modern societies having become ‘more sick’.

    • Vander says:

      InternetBatman: “It’s because as a society we, America in my case, are better educated and have greater exchange of information than ever before. Society is not sicker and the people at the top are not more corrupt than they have ever been. We can just see this now because the tools of critical analysis are commonplace.”

      Better educated? Huuum, depend where you live. In America,i don’t think so, from my experience of Erasmus.
      Not more corrupt than before? Certainly not. Its just that bribing politicians is legal now in the USA, imho. (the term is corporate personhood, if my memory is good).
      I have seen the usa (and lets not fool ourselve for most games it is the main audience for wich the game is made for) shifting in moral values a big way since my childhood, and i am only 28.

      And the anti-hero of one, is the hero of another. The hero of 24 is seen as a true hero by a lot of people…

    • Shuck says:

      @ InternetBatman: As an American, I’d say your analysis is somewhat off. Though I suppose you’re right in that the bribing of politicians may not be “corruption,” technically, since it’s been legalized. We have one of the least informed citizenry of the last 50 years, thanks to the consolidation and economic devastation of the press, and the filtering effects of how people get their news now, which means that people only tend to see what reinforces their preconceptions (even when the information is not factually correct). More importantly, in the last 11 years we’ve seen the dissolution of the most fundamental rights of any citizen in a “free” country – the government now holds the power (and the supposed legal right) to kidnap, torture and/or murder any American citizen without the due process of law. Since this strikes against the most basic principles upon which the country was founded, and not once in its history has the government claimed all such powers, it’s obviously a worse situation than has ever occurred in the history of the nation.
      Within that social context, the anti-hero makes perfect sense – it’s inevitable, really.

    • Archonsod says:

      “All the ‘always-do-good, never-do-bad’ characters that were so prevalent in America for a while were a direct result of propaganda disguised as patriotism by the media.”

      It’s not just in America. You’ll see it pretty much anywhere – when the overall outlook is pessimistic anti-heroes become more popular; when the overall outlook is optimistic, then regular heroes tend to be more popular. At the close of the Victorian period in Britain there was a lot of anti-hero literature which displaced a more heroic style. Neither would be the result of propaganda, the mass media being limited to broadsheet newspapers at the time.

    • Bork Titflopsen says:

      @Archonsod

      I might’ve gotten off a bit strong with that sentence and could’ve worded my argument better, but the point I was trying to make was that the anti-hero is often treated like a strange new thing that suddenly sprang into popularity after the cold war, especially in America, which just isn’t the case.

      It’s the flood of two-dimensional characters and ‘real american heroes’ that came about as a counter-response to the hippie and flowerpower movements of the 60′s and early 70′s that lasted till the end of the cold war which is the anomaly in this case, and -seeing how the American media and entertainment industry still ideoligize and propegate the military and patriotism and knowing it was even worse before- I can see many characters of that period that were heavily influenced by, or specifically created as propaganda.

      Hope that clears things up a bit on my end, I should really learn not to hastily shout things on the internet.

    • newprince says:

      Anti-heroes ARE more realistic. Look back to any figure you idolize, MLK, Ghandi, Caesar, Ben Franklin, Churchill. Can you honestly call them heroes and that’s all that is to be said of them? Did they not all have a side to them that, if not immoral, clashed with their altruistic actions, or was some kind of human failing?

      Almost no action on this Earth is a binary choice between good and evil, which makes the possibility of a pure hero simply impossible. If anything, the anti-hero is a different name for much older archetypes like the tragic hero (Oedipus), the Byronic hero, etc.

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      I think a big part of this trend is the ever-increasing tyranny of sympathy. The easy thing to say is that those in power are exploiting the system, because saying otherwise suggests that those with less power and/or wealth and/or whatever else are–to some degree–responsible for their current state, which is judgmental and unsympathetic and just not culturally acceptable. Terms like “at-risk youth” make it sound as if people are somehow forced to enter into lives of crime and debauchery, and that the burden of fixing them should fall upon the backs of those who are “more fortunate.” Never mind all of the people who fight and claw their ways to some sliver of success and happiness from the same kinds of background. Movements like Occupy Wall Street are praised by some segments of the population for merely being angry, regardless of their failure to offer anything in the way of coherent, workable solutions to any of the issues that concern them.

      To come back to videogames, think about Skyrim. How many people assumed at the start that the Stormcloaks would be the “good” option? They’re fighting against an oppressive empire that restricts their religion, of course they’re the good guys! Until you realize that they’re also a bunch of cultural supremacists. Or what about Human Revolution? How many people assumed that Sarif must be some kind of evil millionaire? Turns out he’s rich and powerful because he knows what he’s doing, he’s passionate about his work, and generally just worked hard to get where he is! He was willing to invest in America’s greatest urban failure–creating hundreds of jobs–and provides high-quality products to his customers. Sure, there are larger issues, but the game doesn’t just write him off as some kind of corporate leech, the culturally acceptable position to take towards the rich.

      We’ll see more traditional heroes when people stop believing that they have no power over their own lives, that none of their failures could possibly be self-originating. Until then, we’ll have a bunch of crooked bastards screwing everyone else over, or good-hearted bastards defying the (corrupt, exploitative) system.

    • Apples says:

      @Drinking With Skeletons: thing is that some people are ‘forced’ into unsatisfactory lives and those who put or keep them there (however unintentionally) should have a responsibility to ‘fix’ the situation or at least work against it as best they can, rather than accepting or embracing it because it advantages them. Smugly saying “well, it’s POSSIBLE to get out of that life” is ridiculous – what, it’s possible to claw your way painfully and slowly out of a deep trench, so nobody should help you if you fall in? Do you not realise that society is deeply biased against anyone seen as a minority (women, people of colour, the poor) and that makes it almost impossible to just ‘deal with it’ and magically succeed despite not having all the advantages and privileges of a rich white man? you just sound like you’re really advocating the just world fallacy and that is dumb as hell. Most people who are rich are NOT there because of their own doings, they are there because their fathers were rich before them, and their fathers were rich before them, and so on – and the opposite for those who are poor. Self-perpetuating levels of wealth.

      I wonder WHY most people immediately identify with the (usually disdvantaged) underdog and hate the rich man in a penthouse? Er.. hmm… could it be because that most closely reflects their experience of life being incredibly unfair?? HMMM no i think it’s cause they’re all lazy fuckers who don’t want to take responsbility and therefore resent anyone who has. yeah that sounds right *goes back to reading Atlas Shrugged*

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      @Apples:

      You are greatly exaggerating my stance. I’m certainly not saying that everyone is 100% control of their own lives. I’m gay, and I know all too well that society as a whole isn’t particularly interested in giving me equal opportunities and I know that it isn’t my fault. But my experience has shown me that many people just don’t give a shit, and we’ve gotten to point that, as a culture, we don’t really bother making the distinction anymore.

      I was a high school teacher for several years, straight out of college, enthusiastic and idealistic. It was awful. It was awful because of the students. I worked with so many caring professionals, I worked so many late nights, I woke every morning nauseous and ended every day with a headache, and I did everything I could to try to help my students learn something that they could use. And so many students said “I don’t care.” They didn’t listen, they weren’t polite, they weren’t interested in accepting help. Most–but not all–would be called “at-risk.” They chose to refuse help, repeatedly and vocally.

      Those students who did succeed mostly did so because they wanted to. They cooperated, did what was asked, and did so not because they were gaming the system or because they had advantages, but because they just did what they were expected to do. Hell, I fought to have the most awful, ignorant, do-nothing sacks of shit actually have to repeat courses, and that was an enormous battle, as if ensuring that the kids actually learned something wasn’t really our concern!

      Life isn’t as hard as people want to make it. You don’t have a high school diploma and can’t get even the most menial job because of it? Boo-fucking-hoo, I know how that system works, and you’d have been handed one if you just came to school and tried. Can’t afford a four-year institution? Did you look at scholarships or at technical schools? You get knocked up and can barely support yourself? Get an abortion or contact an adoption agency, but I’d prefer you not expect me to fork over more of my money in taxes to pay for your kid. You steal something because of how desperate you are? Who are you to decide that someone else deserves less than they have and you can just take it?

      My point is that bitching about those on top isn’t going to change everything. Not by a longshot. There’s a lot that would be better if some of the less-advantaged people in the world just began behaving in different ways, and waving away that suggestion as insensitive or culturally offensive doesn’t help.

      EDIT: As to why people identify with the underdog, it’s because nobody likes to admit that there are problems in their life that are caused by their own behaviors. Do you ever read advice columns? Ever notice how many of them have the advice giver saying that the advice seeker is actually in the wrong, and may need to change his or her behavior if he or she expects things to get better? People blame others for just about everything; it’s easier. It doesn’t mean it’s always right.

    • nootpingu86 says:

      Victimology makes for very boring storytelling these days. That’s really all there is to it. Especially when it’s a focus-tested entertainment product designed by and for a predominantly-white audience.

      There is a degree of moral/ethical ambiguity in society that the current dichotomous relationship between left-right refuses to account for. Both victim blaming (from the right) and elevating victims to martyr status (the left) both fuel a cycle of hatred and smug, self-righteous demagogues speaking for people they have no business speaking for.

      These people are often chronically offended, irritating, and loathsome individuals from privileged backgrounds themselves but just personally aggrieved enough by the status quo to have credibility, or they are white, cis males and go ahead with it anyway – hello sociology dept at just about any given American university!

      All too often white guilt is the other side of the coin of passive-aggressive racism, and often evolves into it pretty quickly. OWS had big issues with that in its dealings with Occupy the Hood and black activists in some cities for this very reason.

      Everyone has agency, and yet the lies that the cultural/economic elites spread about who has it and how much they may have all serve to create a petty, vicious, zero sum game of identity driven politics. Even if it’s masquerading as a class issue, it’s usually about 3-4 other things as well just based on the context.

    • newprince says:

      @Drinking with Skeletons: Um, I really think you, as many other posters here, are conflating politics with the task at hand, or else trying to infect the topic with the modern, American zeitgeist. Analogies to modern times and viewpoints is fine, but your theory on “the tyranny of sympathy”, besides being ridiculous on the face of it, doesn’t seem relevant to the issue of why anti-heroes are popular.

      Your populist rhetoric should appeal to some would-be Social Darwinists, though, for what it’s worth.

    • nootpingu86 says:

      I agree. People change throughout their lives and they have the capacity to make awful decisions as well as good ones. We live in a morally-neutral universe. Fiction sucks at portraying this because it’s a form of escapism or social commentary most of the time.

      Storytelling in video games barely ever touches on that, and it’s an inadequacy in a lot of our pop culture. The proliferation of the cultural figure biopic and the anti-hero driven movies like Nolan’s Batman sorta approach it but ultimately the consequences of the good things the characters do get over-emphasized because they are the heroes of a film that has to end on a high note.

      The biopics especially gloss over major parts of the individual’s personal history — usually the darkest or most agonizing ones — and all of a sudden they’ve bounced back, faced adversity and returned to glory. That’s not really ever the case when it happens in reality. Whitney Houston is a particularly salient example.

      I’d really like to see the backlash against Hollywood if they ever try to do a David Foster Wallace biopic.

      EDIT: I think storytellers go to great lengths to assure their audience that their characters (sometimes stand-ins for real human beings) aren’t the bad guys. Yet I’m sure the Chinese iPhone factory workers with CNS damage from hexane poisoning wouldn’t consider Steve Jobs the demigod he gets portrayed as in the US, or any other litany of evil things “great” people are responsible for.

      Intellectual honesty doesn’t lead to the type of fiction that people find comforting or easy to understand, and we’re talking about works of art that are as much a commercial product as anything else. There’s no tyranny here other than that of the almighty dollar.

  6. Cinnamon says:

    It’s fairly obvious that games are more like playing music than watching movies but both are still crutches to use when thinking about games. I can’t help but thinking of English language lecturers going on and on about how Bob Dylan is the best modern artist because he is a true modern poet. Whatever. He’s not bad, I suppose, I’ll listen to him.

    • PleasingFungus says:

      The analogy feels… useful – it’s not exactly true, of course, but it’s a reasonable jumping-off point for thinking about the subject. The worst part about that essay, though, was the part where he compared Limbo’s story favorably to Braid’s. I’d be the first one to applaud Limbo’s atmosphere – dark, spooky, captivating – but it did not actually have any story or narrative to speak of. You walk forward. You evade obstacles. You die a lot.

      The strongest hint of a story – “you’re on a quest to rescue your sister!” – only appears outside the game. That’s pretty weak!

    • Cinnamon says:

      Well exactly, it’s an amusing conceit for an article to compare a piece of music to a game but when you look closely it is disjointed. Hey everyone, I think that Shogun 2 is like Franz Shubert while Dear Esther is like Chopsticks. Why, because Shogun 2 has more gameplay depth than Dear Esther, silly.

  7. AlexV says:

    If Origin really want to succeed, they could try not pricing Mass Effect 3 so much higher than anyone else… €51? Don’t *think* so.

    • Premium User Badge Stellar Duck says:

      That only 1€ more than a new release on Steam. I fail to see how Origin are wrong in doing so. At least, if they are, then so are Steam.

  8. Premium User Badge Eleven says:

    Reading the EA article and comments, I can’t help noticing that everyone talks about Battlefield 3 and Mass Effect 3 as if they’re the killer apps, and I think that’s missing the point. The first thing I thought of when I saw Origin was that this is the next generation shop-slash-social-network for the inevitable new version of The Sims. Its audience is huge enough to keep Origin afloat all on it’s own, and I can totally see a huge community developing around it.

    Now there’s a thought: Origin might end up the favoured store for the non-traditional mostly female Sims audience, while all the gamer-boys cling jealously to Steam…

    • marcusfell says:

      Dang…I never thought of that…

    • InternetBatman says:

      I get how big Mass Effect is in certain circles, but I don’t know if it’ll be the killer app they think it will be. The Witcher 2 was easily as hyped as Mass Effect and released on a far more respected DD service DRM and region free, but they still saw three quarters of their sales on Steam.

      Of the likely scenarios, the best case is that they break even from the switch. They lose some customers who wanted Steam, but the customers that buy it from Origin give them 25% more money so they break even. I doubt it’ll even work that well, they’ll probably lose a ton of potential day one customers but still make a profit and call it a victory to shareholders.

      I totally agree with you about the Sims. Also, if they ever got their heads out of their asses they would make Spore II. It’s the kind of game that breeds its own community.

    • Archonsod says:

      Problem with that is The Witcher 2 isn’t exactly a huge game, unlike say Battlefield. And there’ll be a whole lot of people out there, particularly outside the core gamer demographic, who won’t touch Steam (if they’ve even heard of it) but would go with Origin simply because they recognise the EA brand name.

    • ulix says:

      On the Witcher 2, since I looked that up a while back:

      The Witcher 2 apparently had a budget of 15 million $. Sure, doesn’t sound like much in today
      s games industry.

      But when you factor in that the average IT-person in Poland only earns a third of his/her American equivalent, that would be a budget of around 50 million for an US studio.

      So I’d say that The Witcher 2 is definitely a “huge” game (if that was even what you meant), especially considering it’s PC only (up until now).

    • Tams80 says:

      @ InternetBatman

      Actually most of The Witcher 2 sales were retail.

      Most of the DD sales might have been from Steam, but GOG is far smaller and less well known. I’d also blame people’s laziness of not wanting to buy elsewhere because “I want it all in place”.

    • Archonsod says:

      “So I’d say that The Witcher 2 is definitely a “huge” game (if that was even what you meant), especially considering it’s PC only (up until now). ”

      I was talking in terms of sales. Witcher 2 is still small fry, particularly when you start comparing it to the likes of Mass Effect, Battlefield et al.

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      Also, if you are going to buy a DRM-free product–and that was a big selling point–why buy it from a DRM-provider? Buying it through Steam completely negates that advantage, now and forever.

  9. NathanH says:

    The Mass Effect piece is a bit over-the-top, but, although I disagree with quite a lot of it, it doesn’t deserve sneering at. I think the writer is reading far beyond what the Mass Effect writers intended, but that is actually a good thing. It shows that, as long as you put some thought into it, you can create something that means a lot to people without actually having to be deliberately point-making.

    Basically, I think that when people take meanings out of a work that were not really intended makes that work a lot more positive and worthy that when people take meanings that were intended

    • kommissarnicko says:

      I’d say the “over the top” ness of it comes from the way he couches his analysis in fandom. I think that by doing so, he encourages people to read on, if only to shit in his Wheaties.

      That said, I’d say the piece is an literary discussion of Mass Effect, which is pretty compelling. Particularly I think his thoughts on the game’s representation of humans as second-class citizens were astute. I definitely felt the notion that Shepard’s comportment was representing humanity, and that lent gravitas to my decisions, and built sympathy for races like the rachni or the volus or the krogan, who normally would be faceless or annoying baddies to be gunned down.

    • Kdansky says:

      I think the piece reads like fan-fiction. Someone deeply in love with a product, and identifying himself with it, and will defend it no matter the arguments. And since ME is highly overrated and hyped to begin with, I can hardly stomach that text. People always shit on DA2 for being bad, but ME2 isn’t the tiniest bit better. Instead of silly map reuse, you get plot-hole galore, and instead of “press button for awesome” gameplay you get whack-a-mole.

      As for the actual content: Yes, ME offers a few interesting points, but it’s usually not so subtle as to be worthy of pointing out. Example about the complex question of “How do we handle war/violence?” They throw out the Genophage! Genocyde on an intergalactic scale! Sure, it gets the point across, but you can’t get less ham-fisted than that.

    • Bob says:

      Genocide? Wasn’t the Genophage designed to keep the Krogan population down, not to kill all of them.
      The author has put more thought into Mass Effect than I did.

      This by kommissarnicko pretty much sums up my feelings: “I definitely felt the notion that Shepard’s comportment was representing humanity, and that lent gravitas to my decisions, and built sympathy for races like the rachni or the volus or the krogan”

    • DrGonzo says:

      It annoyed me quite a bit. Because Stargate isn’t acknowledged in there. They are the same universe pretty much. The entire plot is taken from it. That city in space is Atlantis. The main characters in both of them are called John Shephard for gods sake. It’s certainly not accidental.

      Now I’m not complaining that it ripped it off. It didn’t, it’s changed enough stuff. But it is very, very similar and takes a lot of inspiration from it, it’s also on the same level of entertainment as it. It can’t really be compared to Star Trek. For however campy and silly Star Trek is it’s trying to say something about something.

    • Grygus says:

      My problem with the essay is that sometimes I wonder whether we played the same Mass Effect.

      The one I played was not questioning human exceptionalism; it was celebrating it in huge neon letters. The other races didn’t buy into human exceptionalism, but they were all wrong. Shepard can’t be anything but human, and Shepard makes it all happen, often despite aliens who should be on his/her side. Even your companions can’t reach their full potential until Shepard leads them (and most likely solves a personal problem for each one, even though reasonably some aliens should have problems that are impenetrable to a human commander.)

      Cerberus are said to be mad fanatics but their most dearly held beliefs are also shown to be essentially correct; they see conspiracy theories and humans being left out in the cold, and they are explicitly shown to be right! A game not about human exceptionalism would have left Cerberus with objectively batshit insane ideas, just to counter Shepard’s perfection. The closest we get is being unable to quite commit to their ideas with the same zeal, but we still see their cause as essentially just, even necessary.

      I am also annoyed by the repetition of the idea that Hale’s voice acting is noticeably better than Meer’s. If you listen to them one after the other, they obviously receive the exact same direction and deliver lines in almost identical fashion. I believe that whole notion is led by people who want to play a female character trying to find some objective justification, as though they need one. Saying that you like Hale’s voice acting is perfectly reasonable, she does fine work, but pretending that she’s on another level is preposterous.

      That said, it’s a long-ass article and I read the whole thing. I suppose that counts for something.

    • InternetBatman says:

      @Dr. Gonzo he probably just never saw it. I like Stargate much, much better than Mass Effect and think that they hit on several ideas that Mass Effect just doesn’t. The Nox is the best example of where Mass Effect could go, but doesn’t.

      Then again, Stargate is pretty human-centric too. All of the worlds look like British Columbia.

    • Christian O. says:

      I think the writing is verbose and I disagree with quite a few of the points, but I think it’s a decent piece on some of the ideas in Mass Effect. And in regards to authorial intent: it’s just one way of reading and interpretation, and I don’t really care about what Bioware intended to put in it, as much as what I can get out of it.

      As someone else pointed out, the cosmicistic argument isn’t that strong, because it collides with video games’ emphasis on player importance and agency, and because there’s nothing in it that seems to suggest that humanity should be considered inferior to other alien races, as much as equal to them. The story isn’t about humans being worse or better than Turians or Asarians, it’s about all the races basically being variations on the same thing, sentient life. That’s why Mass Effect as a game has an emphasis on depicting all the races with dignity, compassion and respect whether it’s the unindoctrinated Geth, the Volus or the Rachni.

      Anyway, TL:DR it’s about other people or cultures not being that different.

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      @Grygus:

      Mostly agree with you, except about Hale. I played Male Shep my first two times through ME, but I decided to try FemShep for my ME2 save to see if all the praise was accurate. And it was!

      To me, the biggest difference is that Hale is better at altering her tone than Meer. He always sounded basically the same, which created a Dexter-like effect that made him rather cold and detached. Hale actually managed to vary her performance enough that she could seem genuinely pissed off or sympathetic or whatever else, rather than just reciting the lines in the same manner like a weatherman who can’t quite turn off his cheer.

  10. Werewolf2000ad says:

    The second was a article by Kirk Hamilton, called “Gameplay and Story Are Exactly Like Music and Lyrics“: “A story can be grafted clumsily onto a game just like lyrics can be clumsily grafted onto a piece of music. Look at, say, the difference between Braid and Limbo, two side-scrolling platforming games that I enjoyed quite a bit. Limbo is a story about vulnerability and childhood; Braid is a story about loss and the passage of time. Both games tell their stories through their mechanics—in Braid, you control time, and in Limbo you are incredibly vulnerable and die a lot. They also use more traditional storytelling methods. But Braid’s written story feels clumsy while Limbo’s environmental storytelling feels organic.”

    “Perhaps the simplest way to understand it is to think of a game as a jam roly poly, with the gameplay being the sponge, obviously, which is rolled up neatly to contain the jam, or story. It would be perfectly possible to unroll the sponge and scrape out the jam, which might be strawberry or raspberry, and to replace it with different jam taken from a second roly poly, perhaps a summer fruit compote or even orange marmalade (although obviously you wouldn’t want to use a thick cut variety as that would have lumps of peel poking out through the sponge).

    But please don’t get bogged down on fruit preserves, the type isn’t important, what you should be concentrating on is the state of the sponge pudding that’s been unrolled. It will doubtless be damaged and possibly broken in places as a result of the unrolling and scraping. So where does a useless old pudding come into this? At the piano we have Peter Molyneux.”

    • NathanH says:

      Now I definitely want to play “one game to the story of another game”.

    • JackShandy says:

      Oh god yes. Quick, someone make a half-life 2 mod that swaps all the voice files out for Skyrim’s.

    • Unaco says:

      Now I want to eat Jam Roly Poly. And Custard.

      I don’t think that article is entirely accurate. It’s a nice analogy… but to say that gameplay:story::music:lyrics, and that they’re exactly alike, is wrong.

    • Caiman says:

      Despite the fact that Limbo tells its story better than Braid does, it doesn’t make it a better game. Far from it. Braid is an excellent example of why we play games, the story is almost incidental. It could be absent completely and not affect the quality of the game one bit. Complaining about the way it delivers its story seems moot.

    • Hordriss says:

      I also want some form of sponge pudding and custard. And a nice game of Mornington Crescent.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I’d like to play Command and Conquer Renegade to the story of VtMB.

  11. Persus-9 says:

    Jim’s paragraph on the Mass Effect thing calls to mind the wise words of a Sluggite posted on the Sluggy Freelance webcomic forum: “Dude, stop not overthinking it.” because really the fun is in overthinking things and being dismissive of such overthinking just makes you a killjoy.

  12. Premium User Badge bear912 says:

    I take issue with the article stating that “Gameplay and Story Are Exactly Like Music and Lyrics”. Most importantly, it is built on the premise that games must be songs, which is not only a crutch, but just as bullshit as any other premise or analogy used when talking about Gameplay versus Story. It is built on the insinuation (conscious or not) that a song is simply greater than a poem or a tale. No, gameplay and story are not “exactly like music and lyrics” any more than a game is exactly like a song. The author implies that games are like songs, yet this is just ludicrous as any of the assumptions made by the positions he is attempting to counter or reconcile. What about literature, poetry, sculpture, or oil paintings? What about choose-your-own-adventures? What about architecture, ballet, and culinary art? What of theatre? What if I say that video games are exactly like theatrical performance?

    What of oral storytelling?

    Oral storytelling is perhaps the most direct step across the spectrum from purely instrumental music, through lyrical pop music, through rap and spoken word. Oral storytelling, I think, would be the other end of the rule, pure word, without explicit rhythm and melody. It is as old as music–perhaps even older–yet the author dismisses it:
    “… they’re just poetry, or storytelling.”
    I would go so far as to say that someone who does not understand the importance of oral tradition has no place writing about story at all. A man or women who lacks this understanding is necessarily missing one of the most fundamental and powerful of human exchanges. Music can enrich it, just as lyricism can enrich music, but it remains a pillar of human encounter, every bit as compelling and enjoyable as music and song, and with every bit the power to move, to shape, and to entertain.

    Why not, then, cannot videogames just as easily be exactly like oral storytelling?

  13. Shadrach says:

    Shut up and Sit Down is excellent, downloading now to watch in the evening…

    But Cohen… are you a 55-year-old tea sipping cat lady Mr Rossignol?

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      I sure am. Wanna fight about it?

    • Rii says:

      Cohen has some great songs, although I can’t say I found anything remarkable in his latest album.

    • Apples says:

      Do 55-year-old cat ladies like Cohen? I mean he usually talks rather explicitly about sexy ladies in his songs, is that something that 55-year-old women like to listen to on average?

    • Premium User Badge AndrewC says:

      I really want to know where this idea of Cohen fans come from. Please tell me.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Yeah, I’ve never heard that stereotype either.

      I mean, the stereotype for me is more coined by Pump Up The Volume.

      KG

    • MCM says:

      Shadrach is right. If you disagree, you’ve clearly never been to a Leonard Cohen concert.

      The implication that 55-year old women don’t want to hear an ancient Jewish man crooning about sexy ladies is also sexist and ignorant.

      Cohen got most famous with his 2nd album back in 1969. So those 50-something ladies were teenagers back then. Most Cohen fans are there to hear Songs from a Room and his other early stuff.

      As a 29-year old at a Leonard Cohen concert, I was absolutely in a tiny minority.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      MCM: Er… doesn’t that you’re supporting the argument that Cohen fans are the archetypal crazy cat ladies sort of sacrifices your right to call anyone sexist on this?

      That aside, INTERESTINK. I mean, I would expect anyone to be at a Cohen gig to be pretty fucking old, but he’s a songwriter’s songwriter who gets picked over in a classical-Mojo-reader-esque way*. When he’s covered culturally, it’s not in the teen-girl-crush-soured-to-old-age way, but as a major talent who we should feel blessed whenever he bothers to do an album every decade or so. He’s in that file-with-Nick-Cave-Tom-Waits category that every serious young man seems to have a crush on.

      I’m with Jim on the new album, actually. It’s good stuff.

      KG

      *While still getting cred from the – sigggggh – cooler schools of music writing.

    • Shadrach says:

      Well, since Jim’s acknowledged he is indeed in the target demographic for Mr Cohen’s music he is perfectly validated in posting it. I applaud the age employment policies of RPS!

    • MCM says:

      I don’t think there’s anything sexist about the notion of “55-year old tea-sipping cat ladies.” Certainly those people exist. What was sexist is Apples’ notion that:

      “Do 55-year-old cat ladies like Cohen? I mean he usually talks rather explicitly about sexy ladies in his songs, is that something that 55-year-old women like to listen to on average? ”

      That 55-year old women are somehow not sexual entities – regardless of tea-drinking and cat ownership – is itself sexist. It perpetuates an outdated and ignorant notion that sex is the province of the young, and older men, but not older women.

      There are 55-year old tea-sipping cat ladies, and they like Leonard Cohen, because, like many people, they are interested in music about sexuality, romance, etc. That’s why I found Apples’ comment objectionable, but not Shadrach’s.

    • Premium User Badge AndrewC says:

      Quite a lot of 30-somethings are into him because Jeff Buckley covered Hallelujah, or because he was all over the soundtrack for Natural Born Killers. The young-uns are finding him through that x-factor cover.

      He keeps coming back, because people keep playing his songs.

      And his new album is tops!

    • MCM says:

      I have to admit, I first encountered Cohen on the Natural Born Killer soundtrack (I was a precocious 12). But when I told friends I was going to a Cohen concert, the universal reaction was “HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA YOURE AN OLD WOMAN”

    • Premium User Badge AndrewC says:

      Yeah, friends.

      Also, I hope you didn’t watch the film until you were 18. It’s very violent!

    • JackShandy says:

      I only know about cohen from my mum, who’s a fifty-something lady. Still, he’s pretty great.

    • Apples says:

      Oh come on, are you really trying to pull a “you’re the REAL bigot!!” on me? Exactly what did you mean by “cat lady” if not the stereotype of the lonely desexualised spinster? You’re the one that brought sexuality into it in the first place. You can’t bring up an obvious stereotype and then say “oh, you thought I meant that stereotype? God, how sexist and ageist you must be! I, of course, was talking literally about people who are 55, own cats and drink tea.”

      What I meant was to question was why you’d come up with this bizarre idea of Cohen fans being middle-aged “cat ladies” when the songs themselves are the complete opposite of anything that type of person would stereotypically enjoy (stereotypically, because “55-year-old tea-sipping cat lady” IS a stereotype) and have topics that are much more stereotypically the domain of the young, except that an older man is now singing them.

      I am now of course incredibly offended that you’re marginalising me as a 21-year-old cat lady by saying that only 55-year-olds like his music. You bloody ageist!

    • Shadrach says:

      Relax Apples, it’s a generational thing. If you had parents who listened to all that stuff and constantly insist the only good music was made in the 60s you would understand :)

      If you are able to listen without that prejudice then the more respect to you :)
      And yes the “cat lady” thing is just a stereotype – because stereotypes are essential in humor, right. Right?

    • Apples says:

      I wasn’t serious about being offended ;) I am p annoyed that someone would call me a sexist in some cheap trick way though, considering I spend about half my time arguing against misogyny, but whatever

    • NathanH says:

      Apples is definitely sexist. After all, white men are the most discriminated-against group in the country. I know it’s true, because some bloke in the pub said it.

  14. Dinger says:

    Sure, A 140-character dismissal misses the point. The piece does make me want to write a painfully long rebuttal, keeping it purely internal (=no summary dismissal of the space opera genre as ridiculous).
    The core problem is that the human race is not seen as insignificant. The trilogy is clearly about the humans’ rise to dominance in the universe, based upon an inherent superiority over other races, which lies, precisely, in their diversity. ME2 even points this out specifically: we can call Salarians nerds, Krogans meatheads, Asaris whores, and so on, precisely because they don’t have the genetic range we do. So the game has built in an easy way to justify the facile stereotyping that makes up the characters in this overgrown choose-your-own-adventure.

    And the narrative/gameplay piece makes we want to listen to Guided by Voices and Neil Young.

    • Henson says:

      “The core problem is that the human race is not seen as insignificant.”

      Exactly. The narrative of Mass Effect is one that pushes against the assumption of insignificance.

      As you say, Jim, I’m sure that many people dismiss this article without putting any thought into their objections. I’m also sure that many dismiss the article for a plethora of well-formed, intelligent reasons, because the article really does have a lot of problems, both in terms of argument and construction. The main ideas are interesting, but many of the details and actual words are poorly chosen. (I wrote my own rebuttal on io9′s comments…still waiting for it to be published. Sigh.).

      It sucks to have people reject something that you are passionate about, but putting your work out into the public sphere (e.g. the internet) invites criticism, good and bad. If your writing is not well formed, you have to deal with all the comments that point this out. To use an extreme example: I’m sure that Michael Bay puts a lot of effort into movies he’s clearly excited about, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about why they’re trash.

    • InternetBatman says:

      This is a great rebuttal to that piece. The piece also ignores the jingoism of Mass Effect. In the Mass Effect universe, the primary organization / character we use to interact with the other races is the military. That is very problematic.

    • fuggles says:

      It gets tedious to mention it but VtMB plays a lot differently depending on which character you have created, but then what a great game that is.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      As Shepard, a human:
      Be the 1st ever human spectre, survive that damaged prothean beacon, defeat a reaper, get resurrected by terrorist Cerebus at huge cost because you’re so important, do a lot of stuff, be amazing, piss off the reapers so they specifically target Earth/humans as their most dangerous opponent, be let back into the Alliance, and unless the Reapers win at the end of ME3, basically defeat a eternal loop of galaxy-wide annihilation.

    • Dante says:

      As Shepard and his team, whcih has always consisted of a variety of races working together.

      I’ve always Mass Effect to have the message of ‘together we are stronger’. Shepard might be the hero, but he needs Garrus/Tali/Wrex/Liara etc by his side to save the galaxy.

      I think it’s particularly important that, as far as I know, the previous species that were anihillated were always mono-cultures, or a single dominant empire. If the Mass Effect generation survives it will be because of it’s cosmapolitan co-operation.

  15. Premium User Badge Some_Guy says:

    That mass effect peice is brilliant.

  16. Electric Dragon says:

    “A story can be grafted clumsily onto a game just like lyrics can be clumsily grafted onto a piece of music.”
    But, I hear you cry, where does that leave Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, a game characterised by repetitively hitting keys as fast as possible with apparently no skill whatsoever? At the piano is Colin Sell.

  17. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    In all fairness though, “pretentious” can be a perfectly valid criticism of certain articles. I’ve seen indepth analysis that isn’t pretentious and indepth analysis that quite clearly is. There are shades of grey – it’s not a one-size-fits-all free pass to reel off any old nonsense as long as you’re enthusiastic.

    But….I agree the word does get bandied about too often.

  18. Jesus H. Christ says:

    I stopped reading the masseffect article after this gem:

    “Science fiction is one of the best forms of social satire and critique. Want to sneak in some absolutely scandalous social more, like, say, oh, I don’t know, a black woman into a position of power in the ‘60s? Put her on a starship command deck.”

    Yeah, as a secretary/operator in a miniskirt.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Okay, that much is true, but they did have that one episode with the half-black half-white people fighting the half-white half-black people. Generally though, I’d say mainstream television scifi has gotten more androcentric, martial, and xenophobic in recent years.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      And in ST:Enterprise they had… an asian woman secretary, an alien woman, and a black guy… oh, and a dog.

      But I’m not sure Mass Effect really gets this much… mostly marketed as “white male heterosexual”, I’m not sure the “option” in character creation allowing you to not be that really mean anything. Fallout 3, Baldur’s Gate, basically any game with character creation, Skyrim allows you to be a cat… and it usually gets completely ignored once into the game.

    • The Tupper says:

      Very slightly off-topic, but I find Star Trek to be profoundly racist in a fundamental and insidious way. While trumpeting its self-proclaimed let’s-all-get-along philosophy, the show simultaneously portrays pretty much all alien races as being in need of alignment to its own narrow 60s West Coast USA ethos.

      As voiced by more than one character throughout the show’s history, the ‘human thing to do’ is, in actuality, merely a liberal, soft-progressive aspirationalism that (disguised with pointy ears or ridged foreheads) serves to caricature other (human) cultural behaviours.

    • iucounu says:

      Martin Luther King Jr thought Uhura was significant
      – he convinced Nichelle Nicholls, who was thinking of leaving the show, to stay.

      “”He was telling me why I could not [resign],” she recalls. “He said I had the first nonstereotypical role, I had a role with honor, dignity and intelligence. He said, ‘You simply cannot abdicate, this is an important role. This is why we are marching. We never thought we’d see this on TV.’”

      Nicholls kiss with Shatner later in the series is often cited as the first interracial kiss on US television. There’s no doubt that her role was pioneering, important, and brave, and the fact that she was appearing in a genre show probably helped to enable that. (Greg Morris in Mission: Impossible springs to mind, as well.)

    • The Tupper says:

      Having people of colour prominently on-screen was indeed laudable but, as has been pointed out elsewhere, Uhura is basically the telephone receptionist. Also, the kiss that you refer to was portrayed as being under extreme duress, as I recall, and hardly the stuff of taboo-busting.

      That’s all somewhat irrelevant to my point, however: whether the crew of the Enterprise included people of different skin colour, the ethos behind the show is one of monolithic cultural snobbery. With vanishingly few exceptions, the aliens in Trek aren’t alien at all, but ciphers for aspects of human cultures that are incompatible with the groovy modernist outlook in the ascendant when the show was conceived. Instead of critiquing aspects of other human cultures directly, Star Trek tries to have its cake and eat it – on the one hand being (at best) patronising to cultures that don’t share that grooviness while claiming to be open and even-handed about the differences which make up humanity.

      Basically, you can have any kind of humanity you like as long as it’s late-60′s West Coast USA.

    • Archonsod says:

      “There’s no doubt that her role was pioneering, important, and brave, and the fact that she was appearing in a genre show probably helped to enable that”

      Indeed. In fact it’s easy to be dismissive now, but when Star Trek first aired having black people cast in *any* role, let alone part of the main cast, was unusual.

    • iucounu says:

      @TheTupper

      With the greatest respect, I’m more inclined to accept Martin Luther King, Jr’s assessment of the cultural impact of Nicholls’ role than yours – or, indeed, hers, at the time she was thinking of quitting Star Trek. She described Uhura as ‘a glorified telephone operator in space’. MLK convinced her that having her on screen at all was important, at that particular point in human history. Her role was one of the first for a black woman on US television that wasn’t a black stereotype – a maid, a housekeeper, etc. It was a role that could just as easily have been given to a white person.

      The kiss was under duress, yes, in terms of the story, and NBC still apparently put pressure on the actors to turn their heads away from the camera, fearing the reactions of viewers in the southern US. This was only one year after miscegenation laws had been struck down by the US Supreme Court, so there were plenty of places in the USA where it had only recently become legal for a black woman to marry a white man. If Shatner and Nicholls were indeed asked to downplay it, it’s to their credit that they didn’t; and I maintain that it was an important, taboo-breaking moment in US popular culture. (It remains difficult to give a black man a white girlfriend on TV, oddly.)

      I think you have to look at the politics of the show through a historical lens. I think at the time, with Jim Crow laws so fresh in the memory, and the Cold War raging, the post-conflict, post-racial, post-scarcity human race presented in the show is the most inclusive and optimistic political statement that it could possibly have made. We’re supposed to triumph over our instinct to be aggressive or manipulative or greedy and to work together for the betterment of all, without losing our essential humanity; in the show, that’s the perspective the characters have on their history, with the 20th century being a kind of nightmare we finally pulled themselves out of before destroying ourselves. It’s also the way the show plays out in overt terms – we triumph over Klingons, Romulans, Ferengi, without becoming robots or Vulcans.

      Sure, when I say ‘we’ or ‘humanity’, above I really mean ‘late-sixties groovy Americans’, as you suggest, but it’s 1968 – we’re not going to get The Wire.

    • Sarlix says:

      The Tupper!!!

      >_<

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      @ The Tupper: you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Your underlying complaint about Star Trek seems to be that it was a liberal propaganda piece.

      Would you have preferred a version of Star Trek based on late-60s Southern Conservative values?

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      iucounu: You covered what I would have, including some of the same phrases.

      KG

    • The Tupper says:

      I actually enjoy the show (as well as its TNG reincarnation) and my calling the franchise out for what I see as a strong vein of hypocrisy doesn’t imply a preference for some kind of Robert A. Heinlein jackbooted Team America in space as an alternative. My point has nothing whatsoever to do with the racial profile of its cast – it’s simply that Trek talks in an anti-imperialist way while its perennial subtext is in stark opposition. It’s a dishonest way of telling a story.

      Addition: bringing in Dr King is something of a red herring here – as I said before my criticism of Star Trek is for the hypocrisy of its politics: I’m not talking about Nichelle Nichols or any other individual. The racial profile of the cast has nothing to do with my main point.

    • The Tupper says:

      Ah, Mr Sarlix…my erstwhile nemesis.

      I see my prior threat to unleash the whip hasn’t had the desired effect and you once again darken my metaphorical doorstep.

      TT

    • Sarlix says:

      Curse you and your metaphorical doorstep, Tupper!

      You have not heard the last of this!!

      SS

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      @Skittle-Diddler:

      You’re essentially justifying Tupper’s POV, not refuting it, by bringing up a widely-loathed cultural viewpoint to decry it. His point–and I agree–isn’t that Star Trek’s philosophy is “wrong,” but that it completely dismisses other viewpoints rather than engaging with them.

      I’m gay, and it is not at all uncommon to have to deal with people who flatly refuse to accept that I should be treated with any kind of equality. While I could just say those people are wrong and leave it at that, it isn’t much of an argument. A better approach is to refute more “reasonable” contentions, such as the belief (held by many) that gay couples are unable to raise well-adjusted children, through the use of actual data and research. A poor–or at least shallow–approach would be to create a scenario in which gay people with wonderful kids are compared to mean-spirited space hillbillies with dysfunctional (by their own standards) families, which is absolutely what Star Trek would do.

    • Dante says:

      Regarding the ‘secretary in a miniskirt’ thing. That’s not how the role was originally envisioned, that is how it ended up after a huge amount of fighting between the creators and the executives, who would rather have cut her out entirely.

      Without interference, she would likely have had a far bigger part to play, akin to Geordie in The Next Generation. For instance, the original pilot for Star Trek had a female first officer, but Roddenberry was forced to cut her to get the show made. In the case of the kiss others mention above, panicking executives ordered the shooting of a second ‘non-kiss’ take of the scene, which Shatner intentially ruined by crossing his eyes during the shot.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      @ Drinking With Skeletons: I am justifying nothing, nor am I attempting to refute anything The Tupper wrote.

      If I were you, I’d choose my wording more carefully when accusing someone else of baiting those who may (or may not) have batshit opinions on politics and culture.

      It’s pretty obvious that The Tupper has a loathing for a particular style of liberal politics. I brought it up because it seems to be coloring his opinion of the larger matter at hand – race relations represented on television in the late 1960s.

  19. DiamondDog says:

    Yeah but the alternative would’ve been wearing those ridiculous trousers.

  20. Robin says:

    As a person who slagged off the Mass Effect article on twitter, to clarify:

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with discussing a game in depth, obviously. I was just laughing at the absurd hyperbole that they were using. Mass Effect owes its existence to Star Trek TNG, Star Wars (KOTOR perfectly illustrates that Mass Effect could have the Star Wars logo slapped on the box without changing any of the content), and the flood of sci-fi soaps that started emerging around the time of ST:DS9. It’s beyond derivative and hermetically sealed against the interest of people who aren’t invested in it.

    Star Trek TNG invented or popularised scifi concepts that are still used as shorthand to describe things in mainstream culture 25 years later. It’s a fairly big cultural blip, and the works of HG Wells, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Phil Dick etc. are bigger ones still.

    I don’t think anyone outside of Mass Effect’s ‘fanbase’ could tell you anything about it, beyond the fact that players sometimes bicker about something called “Shep”. And thanks to the market and branch of the medium it exists in, it’s never going to become any more widely recognised than it currently is.

    • Apples says:

      But so what? There’s a difference between it being IMPORTANT or good, and being POPULAR and widely-known. Almost everyone on the internet knows what My Little Pony is, but is MLP important to the internet? Not really. Mass Effect’s universe is not widely known because video games are not (although they are becoming) very mainstream, but the author isn’t trying to argue that it’s popular, they’re trying to say it’s important.

      Obviously ME owns tons to Star Trek etc. If it stands on the shoulders of giants, why is that to its detriment?

      I don’t agree whole-heartedly with the article but I think it’s simplistic to say that it’s simply Star Trek with some new paint on it. It does do things different from ST and the role of humanity in ME does feel very different from that in most sci-fi media.

    • Robin says:

      I would posit that My Little Pony is more “important” than Mass Effect, certainly.

    • Apples says:

      Haha! Please elaborate, I would love to hear that argument. I think ME is not, by any means, as important as the author believes, and that it has many problematic issues especially from a feminist perspective; but I have definitely been made to think more by ME’s decisions (admittedly, partially about things they deliberately skirt around, like the obvious problems being in a relationship with someone who is literally under your command) than MLP’s fairly insipid friendship messages.

      Or do you mean in a cultural analysis way, as in what it shows about prevailing internet culture? In which case I might agree to be honest.

    • InternetBatman says:

      By virtue of quantity of porn made on a topic, My Little Pony is much more culturally significant than Mass Effect. Also, human beings are scum.

    • nootpingu86 says:

      I think it’s just that Mass Effect addresses the issues Muttnick brings up poorly because it’s pulp sci fi bolted onto a video game. The haters don’t think it’s deserving of soaring praise because they actually understand where other mediums have gone and how that relates to gaming.

      Just addressing something or allowing the player to make a choice doesn’t mean it’s well-implemented or executed in the story. Mass Effect 2 is an object lesson for this especially. Also everything you do in Mass Effect games affects your renegade/paragon stats more than the actual story itself. It also inconsistently telegraphs which choice is actually renegade or paragon and shuts the player’s own views on their actions in-game out of the picture.

  21. Craig Stern says:

    I agree with Mr. Hamilton; it’s nice to see someone approaching the issue from a nuanced position.

  22. eveningstar2 says:

    Jim,

    I’ve been reading RPS for a long time; this is my first comment.

    Thank you for sticking up for Mr. Munkittrick’s analysis of Mass Effect. As someone who loves games and loves trying to analyze them in my own writing, I know firsthand how humiliating it is to be dismissed as pretentious or arrogant. You are one of my favorite game journalists, so it means a lot to see you stand up for some of us scribbling away in our own corners of WordPress. :)

  23. brog says:

    As a maker-of-games, I definitely use words like music uses lyrics. Not to tell a story, but in semi-nonsensical ways to evoke imagery and subdue reason.

  24. MadMatty says:

    I´ve played through Mass Effect 1 & 2 , and all i can say is thats its an uninspired piece of pulp-fiction, Mass Effect 1 just pulling thru. The stories seem to degrade a lot in the 2.

    Why did i play it then? I sure as hell didn´t read a book.

    For me it was about the grandeur of the spectacle- the shooty gameplay was ok, i enjoy shooting shit- particulary in such luxurious settings as that in ME.
    Characters look good, a few voice actors even manage to cope with the (at best) mediocre script, like Jennifer Hale.
    All in all, a few hours of Mass Effect plays like a ok episode of startrek, but with interaction- which is good enough for me.

    But to see someone write a huge writeup/essay/analysis of the plot……. simply lets me know that the author hasn´t read or seen ANYTHING more worthy of note, and that makes me conclude they haven´t really been reading books, or watching movies that were any better, which are pretty easy to come by.

    Shame really

  25. MadMatty says:

    The thing about writing for action based games, as with action based films, is that the plot is usually quite non-sensical, but that is irrelevant, because (and this shows best if you watch a Jackie Chan movie, tho all Hollywood pop films are like this):

    The Plot is simply an Excuse to set up an action scene.
    Thats right, thats how it works.

    The Deeper meaning of the story is often left as a 2nd priority to pulling unreal (epic) stunts, which is fine by me- but i never did see anything remotely “deep” or something warranting an analysis, because, theres is not much to analyze.

    The Haphazard scatterings of clichéd stories from yesteryears Hollywood productions, especially in the 2, seemed tired, and sometimes made me facepalm for a bit…then later, again.
    This was ok though, because there was action, and some genuinly above average moments here and there. The ending in the 1 was epicness itself- a marvel in every sense, it didn´t even bother me how many overused clichés and old hollywood feelgood nostalgia it would throw at me.
    Mass Effect is often a great success and a joy to play- Despite its writing.

    The book Dune by Frank Herbert for instance, managed to be fairly deep, and also a bit artsy, mixing LSD ephiphanys with Oil politics (after all, LSD+Oil=The Spice), and the characters are a step up from the cardboard characters of the USA.

    Philip K. Dick also wrote a lot of good stories and short stories, many which, i would say, could, and have, warrented some analysis and essays.

    What Hollywood Sci-Fi writers usually do is that they copy Herbert and Dick….. forever, until they die and such.

    And they make a living, coz people don´t read books anymore (or what?).

  26. Skabooga says:

    With regards to the copycat-syndrome in social games, I don’t always agree with the people of EA and their ethos, but this one from EA chief creative director Richard Hilleman strikes a particular chord with me:

    “Social games are a business first and a game second. Design around that and accept all those business responsibilities first. You cannot retrofit the business in later. Social games are almost completely backward in every way,” he stated candidly of an approach that’s given rise to strategies like buyable items that decay over the course of days, which keeps monetary “churn” constant.

    I would argue that the part I emphasized is true, and I may be reading too far into this, but Hilleman seems as disgusted with social games as I am.

  27. Skabooga says:

    Despite having no previous knowledge of Martin Amis or his illustrious career, that article made me want a copy of his Guide to Classic Video Games.

  28. Penthar says:

    How well has the first mass effect held up? I kind of avoided it but that article makes me want to play through the series.

    • NathanH says:

      I played it for the first time last year, there were lots of annoying little things after having played the sequel first but basically it is good.

    • eEK says:

      I’d also say Mass Effect is worth playing. It starts kind of wonky as it has a prominent cover mechanic that isn’t well implemented and the dreaded ‘shooter rpg terrible aim at low levels syndrome’, but once you’ve leveled a bit you just start killing robots with space magic and blocking rockets with your face (also involves space magic) you can forget about the cover and it becomes a much better game.

    • Furtled says:

      Only started playing them late last year and both games held up well for me; the first one can feel a bit direction-less at the start but it gets into gear quickly enough, the second one has the dread planet scanning, but if you’re on a PC you can always by-pass that with a save editor (or stick a good DVD in and turn the game sound down).

      Don’t generally play shooters though so couldn’t give you a reliable opinion on that part of things, for a newbie like me it was sometimes fiddly but fun enough.

  29. E_FD says:

    RE: The Mass Effect Essay

    The text is flawed in its entire conception, because the idea of debating which science fiction universes are “better” than one another feels like a nonsensical, futile exercise in fanboy-pandering. Hell, by virtue of being fictional, these “science fiction universes” themselves are empty shells that are completely malleable to whatever stories the creators feel like telling at the moment.

    And that’s without even discussing the merits of the Mass Effect setting itself. I’ve only played the first game, so I’m no authority on this, but the impression I got was that the whole thing was a soulless, committee-created Frankenstein cobbled together from the most marketable parts of other sci-fi franchises, designed by a bunch of guys who’d made a bunch of money making video games based on Star Wars and D&D who decided they’d make even more money if they owned the intellectual property they were pimping.

    • Pontifus says:

      Was about to say something similar.

      I absolutely agree that “over-analyzing” is a weak complaint leveled all too often by commenters who simply refuse to try hard enough to articulate what they don’t like about the article in question. I also don’t believe there’s any such thing as over-analyzing, but YMMV.

      And yet, this time, the article in question is just bad criticism. Its title attests to that. Very little of use comes out of the thesis, “My franchise is better/more important than your franchise,” and any half-decent academic would probably laugh at you if you tried to pawn off such a thing as reasoned analysis rather than the fanboyism, the mistaking subjective preference for objective truth, that it clearly is. (Added bonus: the remarkable failure to research implied by statements such as “Mass Effect is the first blockbuster franchise in the postmodern era to directly confront a godless, meaningless universe indifferent to humanity.” Er, no.)

      People have a right to like what they like vocally, but the article doesn’t seem to belong on a site called “Pop Bioethics” that’s dedicated to “study[ing] the ethics of the continuing evolution of the human species via the lens of pop culture.”

  30. thestage says:

    The Mass Effect essay is not only awful, amateur, and a summation of all that is wrong with video games, video game criticism, and (pop) literary theory–but the laughable idea that this is a “gigantic” piece of writing, or that it contains “tonnes of words,” “interesting observations,” a commitment to a given idea, or anything else of merit is ludicrous. I mean, I suppose someone that considers 4000 words a massive effort rather than a day or two of half heated work would find this thing revolutionary, but the sheer fact that Jim has already framed his discussion of it under the weight of assumed blowback is evidence enough that even he isn’t buying what he’s selling. “Enthusiasm,” great–if he were a pre-teen I’d give him a trophy and send him on his way; but gold-star-for-effort doesn’t fly in the realm of ideas, and it certainly doesn’t work if you’re trying to defend this miasmic slough of trash we call the entire enterprise of video game criticism. Just as Mass Effect plain isn’t good enough for the embarrassing amount of not just praise, but “this is the FUTURE OF THE MEDIUM” self-important hyperbole that it gets heaped on it, this piece is plain not good enough to point to in any capacity.

  31. Contrafibularity says:

    Nice article on Mass Effect, too bad it turns sour fairly quickly, even trying to sneak a creator in by way of agnosticism: “Like Descartes’ mischievous demon or Hume’s apathetic creator, the universe is indeed the product of an intelligence, but a negligent one at best, a malicious one at worst.” Thank you, but I prefer my Mass Effect in high detail, high resolution atheism. Or rather, I don’t think theistic-agnostic Cosmicism is the defining ideology behind the game’s writing, and on top of that I would say it’s up to the player to enjoy, experience and interpret it (or else, what are games for?).

    Put very simply, if this is a defining philosophy of Mass Effect, I don’t want to play part 3. It would’ve been better to observe that while there’s no intrinsic meaning in the universe, life forms such as humans have a built-in need to give meaning to things. Any one who thinks the universe’s cosmology displays signs of a creator-intelligence is looking at it the wrong way around, it’s not that order hints at intelligence, it’s that order and chaos are two sides of the same coin, and life is a natural consequence of that. Life which then goes on to invent concepts such as meaning, and so saying the universe is meaningless is about as unhelpful as observing that the universe has features.

    • Apples says:

      Er… just because you don’t LIKE something in a piece of work, you can’t say “I don’t like it, therefore it doesn’t exist and anyone who talks about it is a fool who is trying to push their beliefs on me!” Even as an atheist you must be able to see the obvious parallels between the Reapers (even the name is biblical) and a malicious god-like creator. In this real universe it is probably not the case that the universe was designed, and nobody is trying to argue that it is; but in ME’s universe that is the literal truth – that malicious entities intelligently designed the universe’s structure to entrap us. If you wish to rail against that, then you can’t describe it as a failing of the article for pointing it out, only something you don’t like about the game. ME is not positing something it believes about real life and trying to force you to believe it, it is creating a scenario like that in order to explore it. I think you are mistaking the framework of the game and that exploratory scenario as a belief that the game is trying to endorse.

      P.S. you will miss out on a lot of good media and a lot of media criticism (in fact, most media in general) if you demand that nothing you see or talk about touches on points of religion or spirituality. Like it or not, the themes of those saturate almost everything made by humanity, and you should be (perhaps especially as an atheist) willing to talk about and critique media in terms of that rather than going “NOPE DON’T LIKE IT”

  32. mda says:

    I love shut up and sit down :D

  33. Furtled says:

    Always thought City of Heroes solved the MMO friend problem best with it’s sidekick/lackey system (they also have the friendliest player-base I’ve ever encountered in MMOs), really surprised more games don’t do something similar as it’s a great way of dragging new players into the game with a ready-made social group.

    And I don’t get the hate-on for the Mass Effect essay, it raises a few interesting points, the guy’s not screaming at people to agree with him, and it adds a bit more to the ME Universe for people who do want to consider the philosophical ramifications of being able to bring people back from the the dead etc. Is it because he mentioned Star Trek??

  34. Jinnigan says:

    Jim, you say “I’d rather read ten-thousand reams of this stuff than another Twitter comment trying to point out how something a guy wrote is over-analysing, pretentious, or however else you’d like to describe something in order to dismiss a writer’s enthusiasm.” I’m wondering where you are seeing these kinds of comments? I scrolled around a bit on twitter, reddit, and a couple of gaming sites and can’t seem to find that type of comment. I do find a lot of comments criticizing his analysis, but I think that’s a different category than what you’re referring to (if I am understanding you right).