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  1. #1
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    A criticism of Space Marine and game criticism

    Yes, you read the title right: a criticism of Space Marine, and of game criticism at once. But not by me, no. By the authors of this webcomic over at the Escapist. Go and read it before posting

    Read it? Good. Now tell me, and be honest: how many of you usually complain about brown-and-grey space marine shooters for being too samey and boring, yet bought the game the title of which actually is "Space Marine"? And on the contrary, how many of you have given it a pass because of it's "manly man shooting space-orcs with future-guns" aesthetic and plot even if you generally like third-person shooters?

    I understand that the main object of RPS readership's hate and derision - the Call of Duty series - is about actual marines rather than space marines and thus even more boring, but as far as i know, generic space marines aren't liked here that much either. So please, let's discuss this. Is it significant in any way that some people are willing to criticise games for their space-marine-ness and insist that all space marines are boring and uninspired, but will waive these criticisms as soon as space marines they actually like come along?

    Further yet, the commentary for the comic poses another criticism, and i think it's a fair one: we should not be allowed to treat basic game design elements like regenerating health or cover systems like they are anathema to good design. These systems are just tools: sure, they might bore us today when there are a lot of them on the market, but in the times of old-school shooters a Gears-style game would be treated like a pinnacle of innovation, on par with how, say, Plain Sight looks to us today. Similarly, regenerating health seems to work fine when it's actually a shield that protects your other, actual and non-regenerating health. And so on. Wanting cover systems, health regen, limited weapon storage, and so on to be gone forever is irrational: sure, they make for a more "gritty and down-to-earth" sort of game, and there are too much of these right now - but sometimes, a gritty and down-to-earth game is exactly what you need, as long as it's done well.

    So, let's discuss this all. And honestly... i do not know how we're going to keep two separate discussions in the same thread working, but let's try anyway.

  2. #2
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kollega View Post
    Read it? Good. Now tell me, and be honest: how many of you usually complain about brown-and-grey space marine shooters for being too samey and boring, yet bought the game the title of which actually is "Space Marine"?
    Because generic look-a-likes tend to rip liberally off of a very specific number of sources, and it's better just to go to the source. Fans squee for 40k while hating on Gears of War or Army of Two for the same reason WoW outlasted all the "like WoW but..." clones. We don't want them to just file the serial numbers off.

    Also, WH40k is a universe whose very purpose is to sell painted figurines. It's still controlled by the folks who originally did, and is already in so many genres over a variety of platforms that having one shift in direction will not pigeonhole or otherwise limit the franchise as a whole.

    That's quite different from a franchise that was invented on the computer as a genre staple, and is now taking its first steps out of that niche a decade later in a completely different genre by a completely different team.
    Last edited by Nalano; 19-09-2011 at 06:40 PM.
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    Because generic look-a-likes tend to rip liberally off of a very specific number of sources, and it's better just to go to the source. Fans squee for 40k while hating on Gears of War or Army of Two for the same reason WoW outlasted all the "like WoW but..." clones. We don't want them to just file the serial numbers off.
    Well, okay. So it's the Grandfather Clause then. Thought so. And i figured that if you can link to TV Tropes without it being strictly neccesary, so can i.

    I have to say, i doubt i'll get another type of answer to that, and it's not that important anyway. Do you think i should just delete the question and focus on the "game criticism" part instead?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    That's quite different from a franchise that was invented on the computer as a genre staple, and is now taking its first steps out of that niche a decade later in a completely different genre by a completely different team.
    Hey hey hey, i didn't say nothin' about X-Com or Syndicate! Nothin', i tell!

    Seriously. I didn't have them in mind when i wrote this.
    Last edited by Kollega; 19-09-2011 at 06:46 PM.

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    Criticizing a game and not liking it are two different things. The crux of the argument here seems to be that if you're a person who complains about modern shooters being too gray and brown and having the same kind of overused mechanics (such as regenerating health or quick time events) you're not allowed to enjoy or buy that kind of game. I think that's wrong. You CAN enjoy and consume something despite knowing and/or feeling that it has faults.

    I haven't really read all the reviews or pursued all the forum threads about Space Marine, but from what I've been able to gather no one is actually healing it a perfect, fantastic game. Rather, most people seem to be in agreement that it is a good game but a flawed one. And that those flaws are repetition and samey environments, mainly.

    I will fully admit to being one of those people who can complain about generic, grey-and-brown games. Yet I still bought, and enjoyed Space Marine. Because it's god damn fantastic to wade into a horde of Orks with chainsword swinging -- and I'm not even a WH40K fan. Yet I still criticize the game for being repetitive both in gameplay and environments -- and I do this because I want to game to be better. I do it because I don't enjoy those elements of it and would like them to be improved for the inevitable sequel.

    So what I'm trying to say, I guess, is that people are fully allowed to have positive feelings toward a game despite berating elements of it. Sort of like a parent being upset at their child slacking off in school -- it's criticism out of desire for improvement.

    As for people who, as a blanket statement say that *all* space marine games are boring and then go out and buy them anyway? That's just internet hyperbole at work. Sort of how all game companies would've gone under ages ago, if all the people who threaten with boycotts whenever a developer or publisher do something they perceive as a personal insult, actually went through with it.

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    RE: Space marines v. Space Marine

    Disclaimer: I don't have the game and have no interest in it.

    "Space marine" is a label used for generic action heroes, not military people in space. When people complain about space marines, they aren't complaining about that specifically, but rather about how boring generic characters/settings are.

    Take Mass Effect for example, where you are literally a space marine. Few complain, because the world is extremely well-developed, and the characters are strong and distinct. You're not a space marine, you're XXX Shepherd.

    Similarly, the world of WHMR40K is developed and interesting. You're not playing a generic action hero, but rather a very specific, and frankly sinister, superhuman fascistic soldier that's part of a mindbogglingly abusive empire that, for all its horror, is the reason the human race hasn't been destroyed.

    Lore matters.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tengblad View Post
    I will fully admit to being one of those people who can complain about generic, grey-and-brown games. Yet I still bought, and enjoyed Space Marine. Because it's god damn fantastic to wade into a horde of Orks with chainsword swinging -- and I'm not even a WH40K fan. Yet I still criticize the game for being repetitive both in gameplay and environments -- and I do this because I want to game to be better. I do it because I don't enjoy those elements of it and would like them to be improved for the inevitable sequel.

    So what I'm trying to say, I guess, is that people are fully allowed to have positive feelings toward a game despite berating elements of it. Sort of like a parent being upset at their child slacking off in school -- it's criticism out of desire for improvement.
    So your point is that you can buy and even enjoy space marine shooters, but still criticize them for their sameyness because you want them to do better? That's a fair point, but the hyperbole-ish-ness of the Angry Internet Men (which you have also so annoyingly tackled, making me clearly lose the argument - drat and double drat!) leads to them implying that they don't want any space marine games at all... then running out and buying them anyway because it's their favourite space marine game.

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    Lesser Hivemind Node Drinking with Skeletons's Avatar
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    I agree with the comic writer. The regenerating health issue in particular is an interesting case, in that it raises questions about how we should approach the core gameplay of a title. Many people seem to see regenerating health as being a drain on the challenge of a game. For me, it is a way to remove an unnecessary burden from the player. Except for the rare game which makes actual injuries--broken legs, for example--a core part of the experience, health bars are little more than an arbitrary resource to manage. Let health regenerate between fights and focus on making the encounters interesting in their own right rather than make me be an HP accountant. If a game can't be challenging or interesting without managing your health, then maybe there are bigger problems in play.

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    I agree with above, context matters.
    In things like GOW there isn't any context and it just seems puerile uber-macho and ridiculous.
    WH40K is in many of it's own ways ridiculous, but the context makes a difference. A Space Marine is a quite a nuanced and complex thing.
    Although admittedly Ultramarines are the most boring and "goody" version possible. A game that explored some of the Dark Angels or Blood Angels lore would be much more interesting.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kollega View Post
    So your point is that you can buy and even enjoy space marine shooters, but still criticize them for their sameyness because you want them to do better? That's a fair point, but the hyperbole-ish-ness of the Angry Internet Men (which you have also so annoyingly tackled, making me clearly lose the argument - drat and double drat!) leads to them implying that they don't want any space marine games at all... then running out and buying them anyway because it's their favourite space marine game.
    Yes, that's my point entirely. Disliking parts or elements of a game or genre does not mean you should not be allowed to enjoy games of that particular kind. The problem with that argument, of course, is that from a developer or publisher's point of view those games sell well and they might therefor believe that those kind of experiences are exactly what gamers want. And publishers in particular, as we all well known, are not creatures that are happy to embrace change once they've found a formula that seems to stick. These days I think that enough people inside the games industry follow Twitter and other social media enough to still get an accurate picture of what the players want. Bioware's recent attempts at smothering the fan rage-fuelled flames of the Dragon Age 2 drama being one example.

  10. #10
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kollega View Post
    Hey hey hey, i didn't say nothin' about X-Com or Syndicate! Nothin', i tell!

    Seriously. I didn't have them in mind when i wrote this.
    Well, you may not have, but the webcomic artist certainly had it in mind.

    Regardless, it's like base propaganda or idiot advertising: We keep seeing it because it works. We like the image of the space marine boldly going into the unknown and doing battle with eldritch horrors while looking like he's still in Vietnam 'cept with a couple high-tech doohickeys attached. This is why we have Doom and Quake and Aliens and Predator and Starship Troopers and Warhammer 40k and Halo and Starcraft and many, many others.

    That each iteration of the feed may not necessarily win us over entirely doesn't diminish our (sometimes unspoken) love of the genre overall. You could say that our deep resentment of specific examples stems mainly from the potential we see in our mind's eye.
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  11. #11
    Lesser Hivemind Node Flint's Avatar
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    In an amusing twist, I've always enjoyed the whole space marine setting in gaming (probably because I love scifi settings in gaming and SPACE MARINEZ always means it's going to be futuristic) but the WH40k marines have always left me completely cold.
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    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flint View Post
    In an amusing twist, I've always enjoyed the whole space marine setting in gaming (probably because I love scifi settings in gaming and SPACE MARINEZ always means it's going to be futuristic) but the WH40k marines have always left me completely cold.
    But that's why we have the Imperial Guard to lorehump.
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    I think the big point about the turn based criticisms is really to do with existing PC franchises (X-Com, Syndicate) with turn based combat being re-imagined in the 3PS/FPS mould rather than turn based war games per se. Not being a huge WH40K guy I'm not aware that there's a legacy of turn based PC games relating to the franchise (IIRC the dawn of war stuff is all RTS?).
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    The problem is when developers lean too much on a generic trope like space marines. WH40K is space marine done well, and thing with that license is that even if you don't explicitly put much backstory in the game, you're designing it to be congruent with a whole universe of backstory that gives it something more. So the characters feel a little developed.

    If you just take random space marines in your own fiction, we know enough that they're heavily armoured walking killing machines, but we don't know what other backstory elements you've lifted. Does it have the whole religious thing? How do they become marines? And so on.

    Halo may or may not be to your taste but it's another game featuring a space marine but it works because it's done well. It sets up its own world and story.

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    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kadayi View Post
    I think the big point about the turn based criticisms is really to do with existing PC franchises (X-Com, Syndicate) with turn based combat being re-imagined in the 3PS/FPS mould rather than turn based war games per se. Not being a huge WH40K guy I'm not aware that there's a legacy of turn based PC games relating to the franchise (IIRC the dawn of war stuff is all RTS?).
    I think the webcomic artist was attempting to conflate tabletop games with tactical PC games.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kadayi View Post
    I think the big point about the turn based criticisms is really to do with existing PC franchises (X-Com, Syndicate) with turn based combat being re-imagined in the 3PS/FPS mould rather than turn based war games per se. Not being a huge WH40K guy I'm not aware that there's a legacy of turn based PC games relating to the franchise (IIRC the dawn of war stuff is all RTS?).
    Also in this case, yes it's fine that Relic are making Space Marine and turning an RTS in to an FPS as we know they're working on Dawn of War 3 as well. Had EA announced Syndicate as a top-down RTS then announced they were also developing an FPS for the same property no-one would really mind.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    Well, you may not have, but the webcomic artist certainly had it in mind.
    Oh, wait, yes they did. Sorry, i totally ignored that. My bad.

    That each iteration of the feed may not necessarily win us over entirely doesn't diminish our (sometimes unspoken) love of the genre overall. You could say that our deep resentment of specific examples stems mainly from the potential we see in our mind's eye.
    Well, i never liked the "space marine" genre as-defined-by-Aliens. Retrofuture like steam- or dieselpunk, or actual future with brain uploading and nanoweapons, now that's something more interesting!

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    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Kadayi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    I think the webcomic artist was attempting to conflate tabletop games with tactical PC games.
    Yeah but the point is, that's not what people were getting irate about with X-Com or Syndicate. I'm not agreeing with the OP. Just pointing out the differential between to the two states.

    Also in this case, yes it's fine that Relic are making Space Marine and turning an RTS in to an FPS as we know they're working on Dawn of War 3 as well. Had EA announced Syndicate as a top-down RTS then announced they were also developing an FPS for the same property no-one would really mind.
    TBH the only thing people mind is the use of the names. 4 person co-op cyberpunk action game? Sign me up!! Syndicate? Die in a fire!!
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    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kollega View Post
    Well, i never liked the "space marine" genre as-defined-by-Aliens. Retrofuture like steam- or dieselpunk, or actual future with brain uploading and nanoweapons, now that's something more interesting!
    I never liked the Might & Magic genre of games, which is exactly why I never raged against them. As they say, the opposite of love isn't hate; it's indifference.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kadayi View Post
    TBH the only thing people mind is the use of the names. 4 person co-op cyberpunk action game? Sign me up!! Syndicate? Die in a fire!!
    You wanna see a forum blow up?

    Calvin and Hobbes: The animated series.
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  20. #20
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Kadayi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    Calvin and Hobbes: The animated series.
    Would Bill Murray be Hobbes though? Or does him being Garfield preclude him?
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