Context: Long story short, I had a phenomenal teacher during a rough patch in my youth, I heard he’s retiring, and I had to write him in order to thank him for his impact on me. I’ve decided to make this public in the hopes that other teachers will see it and remind them that in a thankless job they are appreciated, even if it’s not always said in a verbose manner such as this. I have sent this letter to his daughter in the hopes that his eyes see it.
Dear Mr. Clague,
I’m not sure if you remember me, you hopefully don’t even need to in order to read this letter and understand where I’m coming from. I entered your drama course in 1992 and graduated the year of 1993. I’ve had many fantastic teachers throughout my years of education but you were the one that went above and beyond and really had a significant impact on my life at the time, as well as for many years to come.
When I was 15 years old my father suddenly passed and I found myself, a New England native, suddenly being whisked off to Southern California to finish up high school and for our entire family to start anew. My mother had a sister over in Glendora, and in tough times such as one whereas you lose your father, it’s important to keep whatever family support network you have as close as possible. Since my mother was moving to La Verne the natural choice for finishing high school was Bonita High. I vividly remember going down to see my new school before we enrolled and being surprised by the fact that it was a campus. It was wide open, and why not, it hardly rains in Southern California, as opposed to New England where the weather is often terrible and the schools are entirely enclosed to stave off the elements.
When I first arrived at the school I had a hard time finding friends. I loved my video games, but I couldn’t really find anyone else who was as die hard as I was. (This was also at a transitional time for gaming whereas if you still played your Super Nintendo it was considered Kid Stuff, and if you played on your PC you were a dorky outlier, as opposed to now, whereas nearly everyone plays games and uses the internet.) I liked…hockey…so I wore a hockey shirt to school sometimes and made a couple of friends over that. I had forgotten my drama roots to some extent; I had dabbled back in North Andover a bit (lots in middle school, was Michael in Peter Pan in sixth grade) but really forgot how much I loved acting – and what it could do for me.
When I got involved in your drama plan it was the best possible thing for me in every way. You were teaching so many basic life lessons beyond simply how to act. It gave me confidence. It gave me friends and community when I desperately needed it. It gave me identity. It also taught me how to work with a myriad of unique unicorns and their personalities towards a goal – a deadline – without strangling one another.
To this day whenever I talk to a relative, or a friend, or an in-law who has kids I bang the drum of encouraging their children to get involved in the arts, in drama, in particular. And, inevitably, those who I do manage to convince come back with glowing things to say about how their child has “come out of their shell” or “seems so much more confident” or “has met all these new friends and is having a blast!”
I, myself, knew that I was only an average actor. (My Iambic Pentameter as Mercutio was laughable!) When I go back and take a peek at my senior yearbook I see an overwhelming trend in the signatures from my peers. The majority of the writings read “Good luck with the video game or acting thing!” By making video games for the last 20 years and being visible doing it – talking to the press, doing lectures, showing off products on stage – I’ve found a way to do both.
I hear that you’re retiring shortly. From what I’ve noticed about the Facebook group created in your name I’m clearly not the only one who has been impacted by you and your program. We live in a country where athletics are sadly valued much more than the arts, where teachers are not paid enough and spend their own earnings on supplies, and regardless of that you did something amazing. You chose to teach at a public school, you cared, and you made an enormous impact, and not a day goes by that I don’t thank the fact that I participated in your classes and your program. As you enjoy retirement you can rest easy knowing that you impacted hundreds if not more impressionable kids who went on to bigger and better things.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you, so very much.
First things first - I’ve been very open with the fact that I invested in Oculus at an early round. I stand to make a very sizable chunk of money from this acquisition. I stood in Mark Rein’s office with Brendan from Oculus, held the kitbashed first version to my face, and said “This is going to be huge, I want in.” Financially, I’m excited, but when that dust settles my heart says that I really, genuinely care about VR and I want to experience and enjoy it myself, and I have faith that it will still happen, and it will be better than ever.
Regarding Facebook. I use it every day, on one hand it’s a great way to keep in touch with friends. “Oh, I saw you went to Tuscany, the pictures were amazing!” However, at the same time I’ve been steadily removing personal data from my account. (Facebook starts getting REALLY needy when you do this. Log in and it’s “C’MON TELL ME WHAT CITY YOU GREW UP IN YOUR PROFILE IS ONLY 20% COMPLETE PLEEEEASSSE!) And then there’s this meme that I’ve always loved, because it’s spot on.
Speaking of memes, The Internet Outrage Machine loves to pile on something like this. Heck, some of the memes I retweeted because they were pretty funny. While amusing, these memes and animated gifs reek of shortsightedness. People are very rear window in their thinking online “Oh now we’re going to get Farmville VR.” Maybe Zuck sees what everyone else has seen - the future - and wants to make sure it’s more than just great games and saw that it would add value to his business?
Oculus was making great strides, but they were not out of the woods yet. Someone somewhere needs to come up with a proper control scheme for it. Looking around is only one part of the experience, how the device handles movement is another thing entirely. In the words of Brendan, their CEO “VR is like an onion, whenever we solve one thing we find something else that we need to crack.”
More importantly, they needed an ecosystem. IF their system is going to be (hopefully) a dedicated system instead of a (ugh) peripheral they need their version of whatever the app store would be. Your device is only as good as the store and community around it; if users can’t say shut up and take my money, if developers can’t post their work then the device will ultimately flounder. Facebook can assist with this sort of thing, as well as having a multi billion user reach.
That’s pretty damned important.
At the end of the day the fact that programming god John Carmack and up and coming tech god Palmer Luckey BOTH think this is a good fit SHOULD TELL YOU SOMETHING. Palmer is the classic example of the old adage of “do what you really love and the money will follow.” Know what? Palmer’s going to keep doing what he loves because he believes in VR. It’s his dream. Once the dust settles, and maybe he buys a nicer home, or an Italian sports car, guess what he’s going to do?
Get right back to work.
Making a social network that stays relevant is extremely difficult, as we’ve seen over the years. We’ve all wondered - where’s the next Facebook? Every time some sort of potential app or service comes along that challenges them in any sort of way Facebook flexes their financial muscle and snatches it up. Here’s the thing about kids and teens - when it comes to social networking and apps their departure is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. If your network is losing the kids, then the teens are next, followed by the adults, and then grandma has no one left to poke. By purchasing WhatsApp and Instagram Facebook has kept its head above water, and by purchasing Oculus they’ve shot back into hyper relevance. Worried Facebook is going to ruin Oculus? Check out Whatsapp and Instagram…turns out they’re working just fine since their acquisition.
Zuckerberg has said, himself, in the statement:
“Immersive gaming will be the first, and Oculus already has big plans here that won’t be changing and we hope to accelerate.”
When a company raises money from venture capitalists the end game IS acquisition. While it might have been interesting for a dedicated gaming company to purchase Oculus it might have ultimately limited their potential in regards to the myriad of things that the Rift is capable of. I want games, but I also want virtual tourism. PTSD treatment. End of life quality comfort care improvements. Treatment for a variety of fears. Architectural visualization. Pilot training. Scuba training. The list simply goes on, and on, and on. Start to imagine a VR experience that’s more social where you can sit, say, in a virtual IMAX with your best friends who all live in different cities and things start getting incredibly intriguing.
The final bit of outrage that I’m calling out is the fact that Oculus was Kickstartered and that some of those folks who donated are outraged. Apparently some folks don’t understand that donating to a Kickstarter gets you whatever reward you’re told when you donate, you don’t get equity, you don’t get to participate in the fruits of a sale of a company like that. (A fact that I’ve complained about myself in the past, if I put a bunch of money into funding something up front shouldn’t I get something big on the backend?!) Oculus crowdsourced traction from enthusiasts and then found the proper partner that can fund them and assist with bringing the platform of VR to the next level. Crowdfunding can only take you so far, especially when you’re doing something this ambitious. “I donated money to add value to a company that was eventually sold!” Well, that’s kind of how business works, folks, hate to be the bearer of bad news.
So, to conclude, now I’ll be watching the progress of Oculus as an enthusiast and as a consumer, as opposed to one who has a vested financial interest in it.
I am all about my emotionally vested interest now.
p.s. Notch, your cancelling Minecraft makes you look like a pouty kid who is taking his ball and going home. It’s a bratty and petty move and it saddens me greatly.
Today I’d like to talk to you about…yes, FOCUS GROUPS.
There was a time when I was at my former employer during the building of the Gears of War franchise that we leaned heavily on Microsoft’s internal testing labs. They had one way mirrors, for fuck’s sake, whole place looked like a police interrogation lab or R Kelly’s Bedroom. They’d bring in local “target demographic” (usually 18-35 year old males) and have them play a work in progress version of the game. We’d then get back an extensive report on what were the problematic areas, suggestions for improvements, and ratings on how fun each area was.
During the time this was useful…to an extent. At the end of the day we ultimately trusted our guts and used that to make a fair call on any given issue raised by focus groups. We shipped the games, usually to much fanfare and a good amount of acclaim and sales, and moved onto the next one. It was only after I’ve had the last year+ to reflect on the experience to realize that focus groups, when not used properly, are fundamentally a flawed way of looking at your game and I’m about to explain why.
Put simply: The party performing the focus group has asked these folks to come in and play the game. They already feel special, like VIPs, almost, entitled. “They want MY opinion? Wow, well then, I must be pretty darned cool!” They then sit down and play the game. Here’s the problem, though.
They don’t really play it.
Before I finish my point, let me fast forward to the present. I’m currently enjoying the hell out of “South Park: The Stick of Truth.” Last night I came to the Alien Spaceship Pilot and Co Pilot boss fight. As of this writing I’ve attempted this boss fight no less than 10 times, each time failing, and two times getting the pilot down to one health before he smites my poor little cartoon ass. I can skip the cutscene where the aliens get up from their chairs faster than you can say Unclefucker. I’ve yelled at the TV, tossed my controller, and generally scared the shit out of our dogs and prompted my wife next to me (who is still slogging through “The Bureau” for some godforsaken reason it’s like some alternate dimension Gears I think I saw fucking Tickers in there) to say “Wow. That looks hard.”
Know what I’m going to do as soon as I finish this blog post? I’m going to go back upstairs to our game room, fire up that damned game, and kick some alien ass. And I’ll tell you what, when I finally take out those two fuckers I’m going to be jumping up and down happily yelling “IN YOUR FACE YOU ASS PROBING MOO MOO MOTHERFUCKERS!” because…
THAT’S WHY WE PLAY VIDEOGAMES IN THE FIRST PLACE.
Disclaimer: Gears will always have a place in my heart, and again, I think Rod and co are going to knock it out of the park.
However, there has been some valid criticism over the last generation of games that they were:
Too hand holding with tutorials and puzzles
I remember sitting there with designers looking at videos of gamers getting lost in just the simplest of maps. A bare bones map, and they have no idea where to go. So, we’d make things a bit more linear. They can’t figure out how to perform a move? Force a tooltip on them! (no one reads that shit unless it’s on a loading screen anyways.)
The problem wasn’t the game. The problem wasn’t that it was hard or too difficult. The problem was that the folks in the focus group didn’t put down $60 of their OWN HARD EARNED MONEY to BUY THE GAME.
Their hearts aren’t in it. The first sign of something being a little tricky or confusing and they stop and write it down or it’s noted. It’d be as if someone who hadn’t run much in their life suddenly decided to go for a jog and found out it was too hard and was then denied the satisfaction of a completed run.
I get a good amount of shit for free. I didn’t get hooked up with South Park, I had to buy it myself with my own money. Now, I’ve been fortunate enough in my career that I can afford shit I want to buy, which is fucking amazing, but it doesn’t matter - that’s my sixty dollars that I worked hard for and I’m going to milk every bit of fun out of it, anal probes be damned.
People behave differently when they know they’re being watched. And, while data is good to a point, when you play too much to the data the tail winds up wagging the dog and you get watered down mushiness.
(Can you imagine if Dark Souls had gone through this ringer?! It would have been shit. “I died too much!” BOO HOO GO PLAY DANTE’S INFERNO YOU PRICK!)
On a side note, there’s a basic social interaction that comes out of asking someone what they think. If I was sitting at my favorite sandwich shop enjoying a pastrami on rye by myself and no one was watching me you can bet it’d be a far different experience than if someone was sitting across from me in a lab coat with a clipboard asking 500 questions about the sandwich. “How’s the crust?” “Well, normally I love it, but now that you’ve empowered me to act like a fucking expert I can tell you it could afford to be a little crunchier.”
Finally, if you ARE doing this and taking a survey, keep it AS SHORT AS POSSIBLE. Occasionally I’ll get an email from a company that is seeking feedback on something that I use, a service, or a product. And once in a while I go “fuck it” because I don’t have a job right now and I decide to take the survey. If I see it’s more than 10 questions, I say “nope” and go back to Twitter.
I’ll take a well managed and educated gut call over a million focus groups, any day of the week.
Many on Twitter have been asking about the specs on our new Digital Storm PC rigs, so hey, here we go:
Chassis Model: Special Deal Hot Seller - Hailstorm II Edition Exterior Finish: - Standard Factory Finish Trim Accents: - Standard Factory Finish Processor: Intel Core i7 4930K 3.4GHz (Unlocked CPU for Extreme Overclocking) (Six-Core) Motherboard: ASUS Rampage IV Extreme X79 (Intel X79 Chipset) (Features USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s) System Memory: 16GB DDR3 1866MHz Corsair Dominator Platinum DHX (Extreme-Performance) Power Supply: 1050W Corsair Pro Silver 1050HX (Dual/Triple/Quad SLI Compatible) Expansion Bay: - No Thanks Optical Drive: ASUS Blu-Ray Player/DVD Writer (Play Blu-Ray and Burn DVDs) (Model: BC-12B1ST) Storage Set 1: 1x (240GB Solid State (By: Corsair) (Model: Neutron GTX Series) (SATA 6Gbps) Storage Set 2: 1x (2TB Hitachi (7200 RPM) (32MB Cache) <b></b> Storage Set 3: 1x (2TB Hitachi (7200 RPM) (32MB Cache) <b></b> RAID Config: - No Thanks RAID Card: - No Thanks Internet Access: High Speed Network Port (Supports High-Speed Cable / DSL / Network Connections) Graphics Card(s): 1x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB (EVGA Superclocked ACX Cooler Edition) Sound Card: Integrated Motherboard Audio HPC Processor: - No Thanks Extreme Cooling: H20: HydroLux Level 1: Digital Storm Exotic Custom Cooling System (CPU + Chipset) H20 Tube Color:Red Tubing with High-Performance Fluid (UV Lighting Reactive) Chassis Fans: Upgrade Chassis With LED Performance Fans (Red) (Up to 6 Fans) Internal Lighting: Digital Storm HydroLux RGB LED Lighting System (Requires HydroLux Control Board & Software) Airflow Control: Digital Storm HydroLux Thermal Management Control Board & Software Chassis Mods: Hailstorm II: Bottom Baseplate Mod (Cleaner Wiring Look & DS Logo Branding) Noise Reduction: Noise Suppression Package Stage 2 (Optimized Airflow & Fan Speeds with Noise Dampening Material) LaserMark: - No Thanks Boost Processor: Stage 2: Overclock CPU 4.5GHz to 4.8GHz (Requires Pro/Deluxe/Sabertooth Motherboard) Boost Graphics Card(s): - No Thanks, Please do not overclock my video card(s) Boost Memory: - No Thanks, Please do not overclock my memory Boost OS: - No Thanks, Please do not tweak the services on the operating system Windows OS: Microsoft Windows 8.1 Professional (64-Bit Edition) Recovery Tools: Windows Recovery Toolkit (Bundled with Windows CD)
DISCLAIMER: I’m an investor in the Oculus Rift. I’m also a believer in the technology. I think it will be truly game changing, not only in games, but also in many, many other fields. I am NOT an official spokesperson for the technology and I consider many of the folks working on it to be friends, so please understand this is my personal opinion regarding the technology.
It seems like every time a good/great 3d game comes out one of the first things I almost always read on the Internet is
"OMG IMAGINE THIS ON THE OCULUS RIFT."
With the overwhelmingly positive response that Titanfall has gotten I’ve seen this train start up, once again.
It’s one of those things that drives me bonkers, kind of like when people refer to Lego as Legos. (Google it, dammit.)
You can’t just dump a game on the Oculus just like you can’t just throw a PC FPS on console without massive tuning. The pacing of the experience, the controls, everything needs to be re-tuned so much that you might as well just start from scratch for the Oculus.
A fast paced shooter simply doesn’t work well on the device. The device is so game changing that the experiences built for it need to be custom, unique and designed from the ground up FOR VIRTUAL REALITY. The experience needs to be much more like swimming through water or hopping around in low gravity as opposed to being an Olympic hurdler. Even horror games will need to be re-thought; instead of jump scares and intense “Outlast” experiences horror on the Rift will need to be the super subtle type otherwise your average person will only last 15 seconds in any given jump scare title before tearing the headset off.
Having seen the latest of what the tech has to offer (and I believe a myriad of experiences are going to continue to blossom for the emerging tech) there’s one sensation that I couldn’t get out of my head, and it’s the true feeling of flight. I have a recurring dream in which I’m being chased by a monster and if I concentrate hard enough I start flying up, up and away, gleefully flipping off whatever beast is in pursuit. In one of the recent demos, when I looked down, I had that very same sensation of flight and it was thrilling.
I have never, ever had that outside of a dream. Ever.
And for those of you who like to dismiss the tech saying “Oh it’s just like 3d, no one will want it” you obviously haven’t used it. When 3d is properly used in the theater for depth as opposed to a baseball coming at your face (See Avatar and Gravity for good uses) it is incredibly immersive. The problem is that most folks don’t really want it in their home. The effort of putting on the glasses isn’t worth the result in your average home setup outside of someone who has, well, an IMAX in their house.
The Rift is an IMAX in your house, and then some. The effort of putting on the headset leads to an overwhelmingly fantastic result. When you put on the latest demo and you crouch and lean around the new world around you your brain adapts, adjusts, and you’re there. I have memories of the places I visited in the latest demos. I felt like I could have reached out and touched things. It was the most magical experience I’ve had with technology since the first time I saw an Atari 2600 joystick manipulate pixels on my friend’s TV in their basement many, many years ago and decided then that I wanted to make games.
So, for the love of god, give the device more credit than just tossing random FPS games on it. It deserves much, much more. And you’re darned right I invested in it, because I’d like to think I know a good thing when I see it. :)
Waking up today I was drowning in a deluge of emails, tweets, direct messages and smoke signals.
My former employer has sold the Gears of War IP/franchise to Microsoft and my friend Rod Fergusson is going to be working on it.
To be honest, I don’t think the franchise could be in better hands. Heck, Rod’s Twitter handle, to this day, is “Gears Viking.” Gears is just as much Rod’s baby as it was mine. He’ll take good care of her. (Rod, I owe you a girly drink at GDC.)
Phil Spencer went out of his way to give me a phone call to inform me of the transaction last week. Phil, you didn’t have to do that, you’re a gentleman. I appreciate it; that goes a long way. 343 knocked it out of the park with Halo and I think Black Tusk will do a fantastic job with Gears.
I suppose this puts the nail in the coffin of the question “Will Gears ever come to Playstation?”
Safe to say that’s not likely to happen. (Besides, it gives me something to look forward to on Xbox One besides Titanfall and Project Spark…oh and more Halo, of course.)
Now that that’s out of the way…
I’m not going to move to Vancouver and work on it.
I’m not going to consult on it.
My headspace is in the future now, not the past. I have come to realize that until you give people something new to focus on they will obsess about the past. (good problem to have!)
To those of you who love Gears, I love you as well, and I appreciate your support through the years. The fandom, the cosplay, the tattoos, it all means more than any amount of money could ever mean.
These recent events have steeled my resolve to make something entirely new.
When I first moved to Raleigh in 1998 I was, for lack of a better term, a pretty standard 20-something American Consumer. I told myself “Hey, Raleigh can’t be bad, there’s a Burger King and a mall!” Growing up in the suburbs of Boston there wasn’t much to do as a teenager, hell, I wasn’t into sports and I didn’t drink or do drugs so it was pretty much school, videogames, and The Mall. Lather, rinse, repeat, and consume, and be a good little American Target Demographic.
This blog isn’t specifically about Raleigh, however, I’m going to use Raleigh and the local areas to make my point about my gaming industry fear and the trend that I’m seeing. I joked a while back that the future of shooters is going to be All Call of Duty, all the time, much like the famous scene in the old movie Demolition Man in which all restaurants are Taco Bell. (Capitalism is about many things, for example profit, giving the people what they think they want, and outspending The Other Guy in marketing. And hey, it’s free market, and people are going to vote with their dollars…right?)
As Raleigh evolved and Epic set up shop in the lovely neighboring suburb of Cary, NC, I found myself simply drinking the Kool Aid and going to the local chains. You know, the same ones that are pretty much everywhere. Chili’s. Olive Garden. Outback Steakhouse. A decent meal for a modest amount of money, and fuckin’ hey, unlimited salad and bread-sticks, amirite?
And then, in the early 2000’s, something started to happen on a national basis, and it started spilling over into our little neck of the woods. People started waking up to what they were eating, they started paying attention. Books like “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, “Salt Sugar Fat”, and documentaries like “Food Inc.” began to open people’s eyes to the fact that an industry driven by profit would do whatever it took to keep shareholders happy and the average American addicted to, well, Salt, Sugar, and Fat. Whole Foods realized this and began to explode nationwide. People began flocking to Farmers Markets, and the whole “Farm to Table” movement took over. Even in Raleigh, our “mini-Austin”, most indie restaurants list what local farms they acquired their ingredients from.
Why am I going on and on about food and capitalism and chains versus indie restaurants? Because I can see a similar thing happening in the video gaming space. My greatest fear right now is that in the triple A space, in the next 3-5 years, there are only going to be a handful of uber brands that are known entities. Just like in your average American town you get Taco Bell, Applebees, and all the other Same Exact Stuff, in gaming you’re going to see Assassin’s Creed 6, Call of Duty 9, Madden 2016, and Halo 6. And each progressive title is progressively going to take less risks than the previous one because of the sheer amount of development costs and marketing necessary to push these titles on an annual basis. (Shout out to Rockstar for NOT annualizing.) The fact that Watch Dogs even EXISTS as a new IP is a testament to some bold folks at Ubisoft on both the creative and business side having the tenacity and strength to push for something new, something fresh, something that should not exist in AAA.
When you go to most American suburbs (and many cities), you see the same restaurants, over and over because whomever “wins” is given the golden rubber stamp and then is able to spawn clones everywhere. I can see this happening in gaming right before our eyes, hell, even Activision’s marketing department knows it and they played into it this year with the “It’s Call of Duty Time!” ad campaign. (“Only in Battlefield” > “Call of Duty Time”, by the way.) I see an ad for a new Call of Duty and I have the exact same response whenever I see an ad for Applebees.
Sure, it’s there, it’s consistent, and it doesn’t really seem to take many risks. It can’t. When a franchise hits that level of success it runs into the classic sequel conundrum, the Innovator’s Dilemma. Change too much and you’ve “ruined” the franchise, change too little and you’re just a re-skin of the product. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, but as long as you make your minimum sold in, hey, time to annualize the product.
I don’t meant to slag AAA games, or the console business. There are thousands of developers who have worked themselves entirely too hard to bring these products to market. I’m merely calling out a trend that I’m seeing, a trend that’s easier to see now that I’m not in the thick of the console wars this time around.
This is why, as of late, I’m doing the majority of my gaming on PC and in mobile. There are risks being taken in this space that one seldom, if ever, sees in the disc based AAA market. These markets feel wild, unruly, a market where a mod like Day Z can take over, League of Legends can fill the Staples Center, or an experience like The Stanley Parable can happen. In mobile you see games that are high quality, free, and actual strategy titles that are cleaning up. The ecosystem is built for it, slightly gated by the likes of Valve or Apple, but less of a guarded wall than a console approval process. I want a space dogfighting simulation on my Oculus Rift.
I don’t want scripted sequences and quicktime events any more, because they yield only one Youtube video.
I do believe that the major console manufacturers do finally grasp the importance of indie games (Sony somewhat more than Microsoft) and things are starting to shift. The biggest challenge to having these unique experiences on the consoles will be the accessibility of these experiences and how visible they will be made to gamers. (Making them as cheaper digital downloads instead of $60 disc based experiences is one of the clear and obvious steps. I love to see more grassroots campaigns for unique games with lower budgets and more risk taken over bloated game and marketing budgets.)
At the end of the day I’m simply at the point in my gaming life cycle (as a lifelong GAMER) whereas I avoid the suburban chains and I seek out the locally owned unique eateries that will surprise me and provide a more pure experience over an extremely well laminated and produced menu that sells ad space between the pages.
(And yes, we’re getting both new consoles on launch day. I hear the controllers are pretty sweet.)
Butch Walker came through Raleigh last night and once again delivered an amazing show. If you don’t know who he is, look him up. He’s sometimes more known for producing acts like Avril Lavigne and Pink, but his original music is absolutely heartfelt and stellar. His fans are incredibly loyal and enthusiastic and every time I’m fortunate enough to see him live I make sure I don’t miss the show.
Needless to say, the show is a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me, because his music has been there for me during some of the best and worst moments of my adult life. Great things were happening for me, guess what, there’s a fun Butch song that goes with it. Heartache? Butch has you covered.
After reflecting on the show and recovering from the beer and the ringing ears and the hoarse voice that I have I remembered that there was a personal story that I meant to blog about for some time now. I’ve told it to many friends, and it’s always a fun one to hear. (It starts sad but later goes into a rather interesting place.)
Several years back my nephew Ben was suddenly killed in a car accident a month after his 20th birthday. He was my older brother’s first born, and he was really a great kid, and to this day I swear he’s haunting me on Facebook. (Weird thing, that is, when someone you known or love passes, and their profile remains as almost a digital memorial for them. I have this strange obsession with reading the last thing posted on these profiles.)
It was heartbreaking. I held this boy as a baby and watched him grow into a young man. In hindsight I wish I had visited him more, but regrets can eat you from the inside out, and it’s important to appreciate the time we get with someone while they’re around. Life can shatter or change in an instant. (Getting a phone call from a relative super late at night or super early in the morning scares the shit out of me now.)
I booked the flight up to Connecticut for the funeral. The whole experience was surreal and I think I watched myself in third person through a fog while there. My brother Tyler (Ben’s uncle) delivered an amazing eulogy and he ended it by quoting the Shawshank Redemption, which was their favorite movie to watch together:
"Sometimes it makes me sad, though, Andy being gone. I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright and when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice, but still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty now that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend."
I still to this day do not know how Tyler managed to deliver that without losing it. But he did, because my brother, as emotional as he can be, is an incredibly strong man. I wouldn’t be able to pull through it.
Cut to the barbecue afterwards in which the family and community came out to send their regards and to remember our beloved Ben when Tyler and I are talking to some of our other nieces and nephews, Alicia and Andrew. Their father is our brother Jeff. (Five boys in my family, and yes, I’m the baby.)
Alicia is 11 years old and precocious and sweet, and asks us what it was like growing up with her dad in that house filled with five boys.
I tell her:
"Well, Alicia, growing up with four brothers we were packed in fairly tight and we had to share a lot of things. For example if we wanted a soda my dad would make a pair of us split one. That sort of thing."
Alicia “What else did you share?”
Me “Well, we only had one bathroom for the boys. We had to share the shower, the sink, and the towels. Frequently we’d have to use one of the towels to dry off that one of our brothers had recently used.”
Alicia “That’s kind of gross.”
Me “I know. So one day I get out of the shower after your dad and I grab a towel and start drying off my face when suddenly I realize… it smells like poo.”
Alicia starts laughing hysterically at this.
Me “And then I pull my face away from the towel and happen to see brown streaks on it.”
Alicia is nearly in tears.
Me “Now you have to understand this is a failure on multiple levels. Not only did your dad forget to wipe his butt on the toilet, he also failed to wash it out in the shower.”
Alicia is rolling on the floor, literally.
Me “So, Alicia, what’s the moral of the story?”
The child looks at me, dead in the eyes, and deadpans:
Outstanding interview with Joss Whedon in this week’s EW that further reinforces his wit and creative genius and incredible insight.
"Every time somebody opens their mouth they have an opportunity to do one of two things - connect or divide."
"Subtlety is for little men."
"I took my first paycheck and I put it in the goddamn bank. Then I took my second paycheck and put it in the goddamn bank…I never wanted to take a job because I needed money, and I never have…The one thing a creator can bring to the table when everybody else has all the money and power is a centeredness and the ability to walk away. Never sit at a table you can’t walk away from."
"The Twilight thing, and a lot of these franchise attempts coming out, everything rests on what this girl will do, but she’s completely passive or not really knowing what the hell is going on. And that’s incredibly frustrating to me because a lot of what’s taken on in the oeuvre of Buffy is actually a reaction against it. Everything is there except for the Buffy. A lot of things aimed at the younger kids is just ‘Choosing Boyfriends: The Movie.’"
"You don’t go to see a movie about a guy who already knows he has a wonderful life. We used to call Sarah Michelle Gellar ‘Jimmy Stewart.’ We realized every time we turned the screws on Buffy, the show got better."
"Everything is a drug. Family, art, causes, new shoes…We’re just tweaking our chem to avoid the void."
I will watch anything this man touches for the rest of his career.
I finished Gone Home early this afternoon after playing it into the wee hours last night. I gushed on Twitter about it but I feel that the experience was much more profound than 140 characters will allow me to express how much this game hit me in the gut. I’ll attempt to put feelings into long blog format here, but again, remember I’m no Tom Bissell or Leigh Alexander. I blog from the heart in straightforward conversational style.
(And if you’re going to read this blog through the lens of “dudebro game creator guy who made brown games about buff guys” kindly close this window and go back to whatever cave you crawled out of, thank you. I may love entertainment that is often seen as “dudebro” but I also love musicals and I cried while playing not only Lunar but also during Phantasy Star 2. People can be dynamic and not simply one dimensional.)
Okay, now that that’s out of the way…some spoilers below, beware.
This game moved me in a way that I’ve never been moved by a game before. (Bioshock Infinite moved me, but I’m also in the camp that can get “the feels” from the ending of a game where you shoot 4000 people in the face, so it was a different kind of feeling.) In order to understand where I’m coming from, let’s get a bit personal.
I was born in 1975 and raised in the suburbs of Boston. Comfortable middle class; my dad worked for Polaroid. You know those holograms on your license? He was part of the team that helped prototype those. I remember seeing boards of them in the back of our wood paneled station wagon as he’d drive to the General Store to pick up his Malboros.
I’ve always been a big dreamer, and nearly every other night I dream of my childhood home. Some nights it’s a lot like the atmosphere of Gone Home, empty, dark, creepy, and dream-like. Other nights I’m on the rooftop fighting off wave after wave of cybernetic ninjas while my mother is in the kitchen cooking up potato pancakes. Regardless, I can picture every nook, cranny, wallpaper, piece of furniture from that place. At the end of the day your home is just some wood, concrete, and materials, but it’s what occurs in that space that makes it truly home. Family, and the family dynamic.
The house OOZES 90’s. I could identify with so much of the setting that I found myself outright laughing in parts. The I Want To Believe poster. The Magic Eye posters. When games are at their best they can act like a time machine of sorts, or a transportation device, and while the graphics weren’t exactly taxing my PC they were certainly good enough to give me that “My god I’m in someone’s house snooping around in the rain in 1995” feeling.
Impossible love is always a theme that I’ve found incredibly compelling. (Romeo and Juliet, anyone?) Halfway through the game when you realize what Sam is feeling and her obvious parent’s disapproval I immediately thought of Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures” which was confirmed to me via Twitter by one of the developers as a movie he’s a fan of. If you look at what’s happening in this world in 2013 and the gay rights movement it’s really astonishing that a game like this might cause a stir for all the wrong reasons had it come out in 2002. Not only did this game manage to make you care about a love story, it made you care about a love story between two young lesbian girls.
In a video game.
(I had chills and my eyes were watery when I was listening to the last bits of audio narrative.)
After playing this experience one of my favorite songs came to mind. For those of you who don’t know who Butch Walker is, look him up. As an artist he’s one of the most underrated rockers out there who has actually had more commercial success producing pop acts like Pink and Avril. His music has always spoken to me on many levels, but one track in particular has always resonated - Going Back, Going Home. Long story short Butch’s house burnt down a few years back and crafting this song was a sort of therapy for him. (look it up) I had this song in my head because the theme of going home has always resonated with me since I moved out of North Andover at 15.
Going back home for my high school reunion I swung by and saw my old childhood home for the first time in years. And as fondly as I’ll always think of that home (and remember/dream of it) I’ve accepted that it’s no longer truly home. Where I live with my wife in Raleigh is now my home, and I plan on keeping it that way. Yet somehow while playing Gone Home I had that feeling of going home, wrapped up in a tasty mystery of player driven narrative. It stuck with me, and I think it’s going to resonate for some time. (Not to mention the discussions Lauren and I will be having about what I found and what she found.)
I love that this game was crafted by former AAA traditional developers (look them up) who said “screw it, let’s make a game that no traditional publisher would ever want, make it personal, and put it out there.” Bravo to that.
I love the fact that you could burn through this experience in an hour, or spend three hours in it.
I love that through platforms like Steam a $20 experience like this could even be released and flourish due to word of mouth.
I love the lack of cutscenes, the “Sleep No More” game mechanics (look it up) and the fact that the “What Happened Here?” genre from games like Myst are coming back.
I love that the protagonist doesn’t have a lot of personality. Katie is mostly a blank slate for a reason. In first person games, especially, there’s a reason why the lead is often silent, or barely there. It makes it easier for you, the player, to slip into that person’s skin and inhabit their world. If your hero suddenly starts crying and you’re not feeling very emotional an immediate disconnect hits and you think “Uh why is my character feeling this when I’m not?!”
I enjoyed this game/experience more than many console games I’ve played in the last year.
Chew on that for a minute.
I wasn’t thinking about if the experience was padded, I wasn’t bombarded with a slick marketing campaign, I wasn’t sold microtransactions. I just…went with it.
Even though I’m running Windows 8 and the game was darned near entirely black due to a bug the entire time - it was still that compelling for me…So much for a graphics dominated world.
On a final note in this scatterbrained blog, I wanted to point out that a game like this is ideal for the Oculus Rift. Not Team Fortress 2, not Doom 3, but this. A game that you drive at your own pacing that is just as much about atmosphere as it is about exploration.
We’ve hung out a few times and enjoyed some beverages and rather animated conversations together. I don’t know you that well outside of those interactions. I found Fez to be refreshing in a chic retro way (you were doing that style before many others, which is a tiny bit hipster, sorry!) and the fact that you were so much of the project reminds me of myself in the Jazz Jackrabbit era. Waking up every day (or in some instances, the early afternoon) to sit right back down and stare at that PC as you paint your own mystery, pixel by pixel, line of code after line of code can wear you down. Not to mention the sheer magnitude of legal bullshit involved in running your own legitimate business as well as whatever the heck was going on with your old partner in Indie Game: The Movie.
I also know that, when it comes to any form of journalism, be it a profile piece or a reality TV show or documentary the viewer or consumer only sees what the author wants them to see, through their often very skewed lens. I’ve said before that I identified with your frustration at PAX showing off your baby for the first time. That pressure is only amplified when Pajot and crew are sticking a camera in your face. Any grown person might act strange under that pressure.
Right before the Beer-Twitter explosion I saw that you acquired your Oculus Rift and your tweets about it were extremely exciting. I could only imagine what talented, nutty Phil would craft for a device that I believe in so much that I put my own fucking money into it. (There’s your disclaimer.) I’d like to think that I know a good thing when I see it in life.
Read this fantastic article on Giant Bomb on your situation and the internet in general. I personally have been called every name in the book. Even back in, what, 1999 when I made a website about scanning cats on a flatbed scanner (look it up, folks, I exploited cats online before it was cool!) I got hate mail that was insane. Someone telling me that I should have “died in a gas chamber” (assuming my last name is of Polish/Jewish heritage; only half right.)
My first time being flamed online happened when I was 15 on a BBS the summer my father died suddenly from heart issues. I was learning how to code and I wrote a simple screen saver; one of those dancing multi colored lines programs. I released it to a BBS and someone anonymously posted “Your dead father could have coded something better.” I was furious, hurt, and I replied with an implied death threat. The website called my house and I got in trouble for the comment, but the damage was done. I went back to mowing my neighbor’s two acre lawn with his shitty push mower for ten bucks and Bionic Commando. ;)
My skin started to thicken, as did my resolve to do something with my life.
Never underestimate the intestinal fortitude of the anonymous loser hiding behind a monitor and his or her ability to sling vitriol at someone who willingly puts themselves out there. The fact of the matter, Phil, is that you were trending worldwide on Twitter. How many game developers can say that? Does no one realize that while you may seem somewhat unstable at times you also have Andy Kaufman as your Twitter AVI? (Kids, google Andy, and suddenly Phil might just make more sense to you. Or watch “Man On The Moon.”)
Never forget that the internet can be a fantastic thing, but it can also be fantastically dumb. Reddit is a wonderful community for finding out funny memes or random facts until they falsely accuse someone of being the Boston Bomber or go out of their way to protect the r/creepshots loser. And never forget that the Internet can be one big game of telephone amplified by anonymous myopic monkeys jamming on keyboards who are so angry about their meatball sandwich.
(How do you think I feel when my wife reads a tweet to her that says “come sit on my face” or “you are a bitch”?)
Someone on Twitter asked me how to deal with haters. I have some experience on the subject for well over 20 years now. Blow says you can’t ignore it because by the time you’ve read the words it’s too late. The key with the idiots is to outwit them because the idiot uses hate (and poor spelling/grammar) because the idiot does not know how to be witty. Watch what people like Ricky Gervais and Patton Oswalt do on Twitter. Heck, like him or not, even Piers Morgan is pretty good at fending them off.
Every idiot that you outwit wins you five times the fans and that much more respect.
The other key is to absorb all of that hate into one big fireball of motivation inside of your belly and then pour all of that energy into your work until you can unleash one big giant motherfucking HADOKEN upon the community that wins awards and sells millions and then the haters will truly be eating a giant bushel of dicks as you roll in a pile of money, acclaim, and community love.
You don’t owe a damned thing to any gaming journalist. We’ve seen the rise of many “Rush Limbaughs” in the gaming industry, people who do videos or podcasts digging a finger into an open wound that gets the gaming community going because, hits. You DO owe a great product to your community, something I hope you’ll resume doing some time in the near future. The industry needs people like you to speak with their hearts before their brains because I’m tired of hearing the PR approved appropriate response. I’m tired of games that feel like they’ve been developed by focus groups or clueless executives going “Hey that Call of Duty is big, we need one of those!”
Besides, at the end of the day, that cycle of community feedback and crafting that big fireball is entirely too addictive.
Come back, Phil. We miss you already. Maybe I’ll be right behind you, returning with Adamantium skin.
I don’t really even know where to start with this because I have so much personal feelings involved in my own fanboy reactions to this movie. I’ve kept it pretty light on spoilers, but there may be some minor ones in here, so heads up.
There’s no way I could write a better tribute than Harry Knowles did (SPOILERS) on Aintitcool, so this is just a smattering of feelings before dinner. Just got back from the premiere in LA and I’m actually thinking of going to see it with my Raleigh friends this weekend again just to share it with them.
Why do we go to the movies? There’s an obvious myriad of reasons but one of the primary reasons we go is to escape. Same reason we play games. Inherently the idea of a trans dimensional rift opening up with enormous monsters coming through to attack us and us building giant robots may seem really silly. So is Batman. But execution is everything.
Remember, at the core of it, what you’re watching. Robot versus Beast MMA on a grandiose scale. Some of the dialogue and interactions feel almost…retro, like an old war movie. That’s the point. Gypsy Danger could just has easily been the name of a B52 bomber. This movie is WORLD WAR KAIJU and I haven’t seen a spectacle film that embraces the international effort it would take to deal with a threat of this magnitude in years. (Which is smart, because overseas box office is growing.)
Charlie Hunnam is a stud. Every girl I know who watches Sons of Anarchy adores his tough bad boy persona and he crushes it in the movie. Rinko Kinkuchi seems sweet and demure one minute but then fierce and full of fight the next. (Michael Bay would have thrown a vapid model on screen.) Idris Elba brings some great touches and gravitas to what should just be a fun popcorn movie. And Charlie Day steals the show, as that’s what Charlie Day does. (Actually, Ron Perlman is great also.)
I grew up watching Force Five in Boston with robots like Gaiking. That was my Kaiju. (Not Neon Genesis; not Power Rangers; maybe a little Godzilla.) This movie brought me back to that feeling that I haven’t felt since I was a boy, sitting on the shag carpet with my brother watching these episodes and then play fighting to re-enact the combat we just saw. Never mind the toys…you could get a TWO FOOT TALL plastic one that had FISTS THAT SHOT OUT or there were smaller ones that were made of DIE CAST METAL which means those figures will outlast you.
I was fortunate enough to see an animatic a few years ago of an opening scene where the main characters have their basic armor and spinal bit applied and then the robot’s head goes down to join the body and I hoped and prayed that they’d pull it together. Six months ago my wife and I were able to see a rough cut (still some animatics, even) and my hopes rose ever more. Then the reviews started hitting. And then I saw it.
The weight of the fights; the scale, the spectacle, it’s unlike anything you’ve seen. I’m not going to try to trash Bay too much here but to be honest I’ve really grown to loathe his handling of Transformers. I mean, putting Hot Rod’s flames on Optimus Prime is kind of the ultimate dick move. The design of Bay’s transformers…just shredded metal. The action sequences are incredibly hard to follow. And the plots are just confusing and meandering. I won’t be seeing Transformers 4, and I’m the guy who just commissioned a 27 inch tall Optimus Prime statue for his house.
Although Rim does have that Kaiju DNA on it it is NOT an adaptation or a sequel, which is becoming a bigger and bigger threat to originality in gaming and at the box office. I hope it succeeds and encourages more risk taking at that level. If you’re worried if this is a Guillermo movie, rest assured, it is. He’s always loved monsters and you can see that as fierce as he made the Kaiju there’s a little bit of sadness in there when they get beaten senseless. When Charlie Day goes to the asian market it feels like Hellboy could be hanging out in the corner. When they’re handling the Kaiju fleas and analyzing Kaiju guts…The elephant trunk like appendage on the Kaiju part in the holding tank that touches the glass. You can see it. And it’s not only big, bold, and exhausting, it’s also quirky and fun. (The Newton’s Cradle shot KILLS ME it’s so great.)
The fact that this movie is going up against Grown Ups 2 this weekend feels like the ultimate Box Office Showdown of Us Geeks versus Those Idiots. Go vote with your dollars and spread the word. A giant robot movie that’s actually fun and has some heart deserves to crush it at the box office.
I could go on and on about the dreams we’ve all had where you’re being chased by a giant something or other and trying to hide, or how amazing the CG was, or how the jokes were timed perfectly, but hell, just go see the fucking movie already - and see it in the biggest, loudest 3d experience you can.
Before I get into this subject, I need to lay a few ground rules.
First off, making deep or well outlined arguments in 140 characters is nearly impossible, especially with a subject as complex as DRM and used games.
Second off, yes, I’ve done well over the years and I enjoy sharing my success with the community. I remember seeing pictures of Romero’s Ferrari as a teenager and it MOTIVATED me to make my own kick ass games. I hope that by having fun and sharing things with the community I may motivate someone out there to do the same. If you throw the fact that I like sharing pictures of my cars and what not close this blog right now and go back to whatever other site you were reading before this.
Third, I’m pro developer. I do, at the heart of it, believe that you can be profitable and pro-developer while being pro-consumer…if you’re careful with how you message things. I’ve been in the trenches for many years alongside brilliant peers and I’ve heard stories at conferences of talented people getting fucked out of money they deserve. Families lives put in peril due to layoffs. Families forced to move to a strange new city; kids who have to change schools and find entirely new sets of friends. (And don’t give me that First World Problem bullshit, because what I just mentioned sucks no matter who you are.)
Fourth, if you think this is back-peddling understand that I firmly stand by everything I’ve said. I’m writing this to give a surgical explanation behind some of my more…inflammatory posts on Twitter.
(And if you refer to Microsoft as M$, wow, you’re totally blowing my mind man. How creative of you.)
This console launch is the most unique in the business’ history. Even last time when we did have the internet it wasn’t as vocal or amplified as it is now. Giant Enemy Crab, anyone? (Sony’s terrible showing at that e3 proved to not really matter as the PS3 went on to do well in the long run.) What bothers me is the internet pitchfork mob who can only see 6 inches in front of their face without thoughtfully analyzing a situation. Any idiot can go to quickmeme.com. Try writing a fully thought out article on a subject, like the folks at Polygon, Giantbomb, Rock Paper Shotgun, or Kotaku do. (Sorry Gamespot, back of the bus.)
Microsoft tried to and ultimately couldn’t have it both ways. You can’t still have discs and then expect everyone to embrace digital. And, fundamentally, if you take something away that a consumer has been used to without some seriously smooth handling they’re naturally going to get upset.
I love community. I always have, going back to the Unreal/UT days. (Remember Ownage?) I used to love hanging out in the UT chatrooms late at night. My interest did wane a bit in the Gears days as I was frustrated with our mistakes that were made in that era and the negativity that came out of it. But now I see the positive aspects of places like Reddit and GAF (not the negative) and I recognize that community is the backbone of any entertainment experience in 2013 and beyond.
What I hate is the knee jerk dog-pile mob mentality that hit. I realized that not all Internet Memes are truthful or make full sense when I saw this one.
Ha ha, fuck the airlines, right? I mean how obvious is this. The plane can carry a FUCKING SPACE SHUTTLE and the mean anti-consumer airline wants to bill me on luggage fees?
Anyone who actually stops and thinks about this situation would realize that it’s about fuel costs. With Americans weighing more than ever and with fuel costs skyrocketing the airlines were forced to charge fees on overweight luggage so when you’re transporting your dumbells for vacation on muscle beach the cost is passed onto you. This is a business decision, albeit one that wasn’t handled the smoothly when it came to messaging, but my gut is telling me that running an airline is probably as hard as running a game development studio. Richard Branson, the ninja entrepreneur responsible for Virgin Airlines is famous for saying:
"If you want to be a Millionaire, start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline.”
Now, the other day I tweeted “I mean, I want developers to get money on every copy of their game over Gamestop fuck me right?”
There’s a story behind this. For years Gamestop was a good partner for retail and console games. And then they started looking at their numbers. (And don’t believe what they say about what % of their profit is new to used, believe how they ACT at every single store. Basic life lesson there folks.) And they realized that shit, we keep all of the money from giving someone five bucks on a game that they paid $60 for and we can then go and undercut NEW by reselling the used copy for $55 or so.
Profit. I’d then wager that an executive order came down to rewire every manager to push used whenever possible. And that’s part of the problem. They claim to developers and publishers to want to come to the store for new but when you’re there what is the staff taught to preach? Buy it used!
I’ve said it before, when I was younger and had $42 to my name I traded games all the time and would have bought the shit out of used. Just because I’m successful now doesn’t mean I’ll ever forget that feeling of not knowing how I was going to pay my bills or how wonderful Ramen tasted.
A few years ago Microsoft asked me to go to the Gamestop Manager’s show in Las Vegas. I was knee deep in development of Gears 3 and had already had a ton of press related travel, plus, I fucking hate Las Vegas. (You want to see anti consumer, hoo boy.) But my Microsoft marketing guy told me it would go a long way. He reminded me that it’s a big fun event for the managers who would love to press the flesh. So I flew out there, came on stage, shot a T-shirt gun at the crowd (so fun) met the managers, and did my best to not remind myself that I was in a city that I really don’t like.
Next up was the big exciting midnight launch for Gears 3. Exciting stuff; Big Sean played the event in NYC, the fans were stoked (sent over a few dozen pizzas to the fans in line as a goodwill and fun PR stunt!) and I got to show my future in-laws how amazing this business can be. Cut to flying home and people start sending me pictures of the extremely well put together finely printed leaflets at the Gears 3 launch that said “Trade in this game by November 6th and get more than you normally would on your trade in!”
Motherfucker. We had done a lot of work to keep the disc in tray, but those retail practices are deliberately set up to create a revolving door of game trade in. Folks say “Yeah, but Gamestop helps out a lot of games by pushing them!” to which I quote Chris Rock “Yeah, they’re like the uncle who paid for your college…but molested you.”
Capitalism? Sure. It’s a free market and they’ve got every right to do this. I accept that. However when I see studio after studio closing and the aforementioned alluded titles failing I know something’s got to change.
But Cars and Movies and Books haven’t had this problem, why are games different?
Watch this video, and then come back to this blog, please.
Now, I know only blaming used games really does come across as a whiny answer. There was a brilliant post on GAF that was quoted on Kotaku saying “We didn’t ask for increased budgets, or phoned in sequels, or tacked on multiplayer.” It was incredibly well worded (and I can’t find it in the mountain of e3 news now so someone link it to me and I’ll update this blog with the link.) It’s up to the developer and the publisher to find a way to solve these problems. (And yes, by voting with your dollars, the consumers have shaped where we’re at to some extent. In the AAA space there is a certain graphical fidelity required and rich feature set expected that are causing costs to skyrocket.) Add in the fact that there’s more things than ever in 2013 competing for your dollar and you have to have 8+ figure marketing budgets to run ads and what not.
So here’s what’s going to happen now that Microsoft has largely matched Sony’s (well played) move at E3. The shift to digital is still going to happen (FOR BOTH) but it’s going to be slow and subtle. Suddenly more DLC will be made available. More microstransactions will appear. And Day One Digital will (hopefully) be cheaper and will have so many added bells and whistles that consumers (with reliable enough bandwidth) will have a hard time refusing the tasty downloadable edition over the disc based one.
But you know, none of this shit matters if the GAMES AREN’T FUN AND FANTASTIC. And if they are? No one seems to mind throwing money at them. (Zynga, this is your problem now, btw.)
I’ve said before if I worked at Microsoft I would not only POSITIVELY motivate users to go digital but also offer their own trading system in which they give you MORE money for your game than Gamestop and sell the used games for LESS than Gamestop. Include a Netflix style mailing system and move along your merry way by engaging the customer as opposed to treating them like criminals.
Years from now college courses are going to be taught in propermessaging and they’re going to use Microsoft’s E3 delivery as a worst case scenario. I’ve known many of the folks over there for years, and folks, you know better. Before any presser you’re given a booklet that only says “Here’s what you should say if asked X.” They also brief you on the journalists you’re about to meet with “This is the guy from Giantbomb. He’s smart but has been good to work with in the past. He also likes Hot Pockets and long walks on the beach.” With the stakes this high those executives should have memorized that book and not have been rope-a-doped by savvy journalists who laid a trap for them to walk right the hell into. (Fuckin’ Keighley strikes again)
When users were complaining about changes to Gears’ multiplayer my (bad) answer was often “If you don’t like it, play the previous game you liked so much!” (Which is a thinly veiled Fuck You to the customer, honestly. Holy shit I just admitted I was wrong.)
Microsoft was trying to sell well lit houses that require a fully intact electrical grid to a world that doesn’t have that yet. Nothing made this more obvious than the fact that our servicemen and women of the armed forces are often in poorly connected places. Even Gears had a HUGE military following. And nothing looks worse than saying “forget the troops” because hey, your ass isn’t getting shot at or dealing with IEDs, are you?
I’ll admit, the once every 24 hour check was pretty silly. Customers can smell from a mile away when you’re treating them like children, peeking your head into their bedroom on a regular basis in an attempt to catch them doing something. Here’s the thing about Steam. It doesn’t FORCE you to be online. The ecosystem of Steam is so brilliant, from the community, to the summer sales, to the indie games, that you WANT to get online.
My money is on the PC, mobile and tablets for the near future. I wandered around E3 looking at (too many) fantastic games shaking my head and worrying about how many are going to be deemed a failure due to the fact that yes, it may have sold 4 million copies, but it cost too much to make and market, so it was a wash. (Do your homework, several very high profile games have had this issue and no, I’m not going to call them out here.)
At the end of the day I suppose it’s a beautiful thing that so many gamers actually give a shit and are willing to participate in the debate. Just remember one of the (positive) aspects of Capitalism is that it encourages competition. You don’t want one system to “win” because what happens is that the “winner” then becomes fat and lazy and the consumer has no choice. That choice is what often forces a business’ hand. (Look at the mess that is cable right now; many markets only have one choice so you could wind up fucked with Time Warner.)
By the way, Apple may be the ones who wind up “winning” this entire thing now.
I was raised on many 80’s pop culture staples, but my overall favorite was The Transformers. Generation one, in particular.
I don’t like many of Michael Bay’s designs, honestly. A friend of mine described them as:
“Bayformers are G.I. Joes dipped in glue and rolled around in crushed death star model greebles.”
When I grew up (::cough:: laugh ::cough::) in my 20’s I used to dream of going to toy stores and finding new Transformers that were made for me. And then, soon after that, the Masterpiece editions were introduced. I have nearly all of them (well, the ones that are issued in DIE CAST METAL) and they’re rather good.
Yet that wasn’t enough for me. I made a promise to myself when I was younger, hoping to become successful, that if and when I reached that level I wanted that I’d do some FUN and CRAZY SHIT that would make a 9 year old Cliff’s head EXPLODE. (Italian sports cars are one of those fantasies!)
So my friend Eric Holmes turned me on to www.frenzyrumble.com. I contacted him and commissioned him to make the FOREVER OPTIMUS PRIME statue for my new home. It would be prominently displayed with pride because, hey, Decepticons are fucking losers as we all know.
This scene still makes me misty.
It took Frenzy a while - over a year. There were times he’d go radio silent. I’d given him a solid deposit on good faith. (Besides, if he never delivered I’d put him on blast on social. :)) I thought it would never happen. Turns out he had a ton going on in his personal life as well as the fact that this was one of the most challenging builds he’s ever done.
At the end of the day we opted to not have Prime transform in order to have better poseability and articulation. (Besides, I’m almost 40, and figuring out that shit is kind of hard when you get older and I’d be afraid of breaking it.) It’s got a voice pack and the eyes blink along with the several voice phrases.
Freedom is the right of all sentient beings. Transform, and roll out.
Thanks, Mike, for all your hard work.
(27 inches tall…without the base. The coins are for scale!)
(Yes, that’s the classic little Bumblebee in his palm.)
Is that you down there, Spike?
THE MATRIX OF LEADERSHIP INCLUDED BABY! LIGHTS UP!
Mike’s not going to be thrilled i’m posting this shot as I think it’s a camera phone but I had to include the base because it’s gorgeous.
That’s all! Hope you enjoyed this peek. I’m sure he’ll post higher res ones and close-ups soon. I just hope shipping doesn’t destroy the damned thing.
Fascinating thing to try with “Monaco.” It’s almost like they’re taking Journey’s “you can only do positive things to each other” co-op nature and pushing it. Bravo.
"Ryan" posted this stellar comment in reply to the article:
This article makes me wonder why someone hasn’t found a better way to connect legit human beings together when it comes to gaming. I can’t stand admitting I’m a gamer because being one aligns you with these shit dick ass clowns, let alone the fact that they make multiplayer gaming a tremendous annoyance.
Multiplayer modes are excellent, computer AI blows in comparison. Nothing beats a game where you can legitimately outsmart someone as opposed to finding the non human “quirk” to defeat an AI. Yet, in this arena, you’re subjected to playing with absolute cretin’s who not only are total tremendous douchebro’s, but thrive off out douching each other at a rational person’s expense.
I wish developers were more involved in this arena, finding ways to segregate quality gamers from the mass of fuckwads out there. It ultimately turns people off gaming, thus future lost sales does it not? How does one simply find enjoyment in going online to listen to some (teammate) kid scream bloody racism in your ear, while teabagging your corpse because he’s hopped on on Rockstar and Mommy isn’t home.
I want an online experience, application, service, that is devoid of this shit. I can’t imagine I’m alone and I can’t imagine people wouldn’t mind paying for it either. I know these businesses look at money as money, and they don’t want to upset these wretched creatures…but they can still do something to help.
I wish there were more online co-op oriented games like Monaco, and I think there would be if this wasn’t such a huge problem in online gaming. Today 10:32am
Makes me wonder about the future of Xbox Live and other similar services. Look at Reddit. The ass clowns get voted down into oblivion every single time. The person who makes the most useful or insightful comment boils up to the top of the thread. Often the string of replies to that are an entertaining battle of banter and wit.
Could online gaming services learn important lessons from other online communities about how to better self police?
I’ve said it before that I think allowing anonymous voice chat by default on Xbox Live was one of its biggest limiting factors. It doesn’t matter how many fun interactions with random strangers you have because you’re going to have many more with people who see anonymity as a free pass to act like a bonobo slinging feces.
My old co-worker, @mrleeperry used to tell us stories about the time he spent in Alaska growing up. One story that always stood out to me was the one about the cafeterias they’d have and lunch hour. See, due to the extreme lengths of day/night in that part of the world the schools have very few, if any, windows.
Even in the cafeteria.
Occasionally the power would drop at these schools.
And, sometimes this would happen during lunch break.
You can guess what would happen next. Every. Single. Time.
When the lights would come on and 100 students were found to be covered in chocolate milk, jello, and stale pizza the only thing the teachers could really do was tell the kids how disappointed they all were in their behavior.
Now, you mean to tell me if you were one of those students and this opportunity presented itself to you you wouldn’t do the same?
Online anonymous gaming (and behavior) is the same thing. Sometimes it’s just fun to be an asshole. It’s one big cafeteria out there and it’s our job to make sure the lights stay on, or that there are community enforced rules that are built to encourage keeping that food on your plate.
Because when the lights go out there’s nothing the teachers can do to stop that age old urge to toss your pudding cup.
Yesterday reports that Adam Orth, the guy who somehow caused this shitstorm, is no longer at Microsoft.
Let’s pay attention to the wording here. Resigned. Not fired.
Now, beyond all of the use of the impact font and the “Haha let’s make an internet meme out of this guy we’ve never met” let’s also remember that what happened between Adam and his employer is now between the two of them. His comments may have exploded on the internet, but it’s actually quite possible that he was eyeing a departure, or he was getting bad reviews, or was tired of the perpetual overcast nature of the Pacific Northwest and timing may have been right for him to move on.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When someone leaves a company there’s what publicly is stated and there’s what really happened.
And you’re likely to never, ever know it.
I have never met Adam, but I have friends who know him and have told me first hand that he’s a good guy. Maybe he’s got a mortgage. Maybe he has kids. Bills to pay, just like you and I.
It’s awfully easy to sit on an anonymous forum or venue and sling mud at someone who has put themselves out there. Show me a person who hasn’t said something dumb or incorrect or yes, even cocky on the internet and he should cast the first stone.
We’ve all been there.
Let’s also keep in mind that Adam was not an official spokesperson for Microsoft.
But, Cliff, as an employee of a large company you should know better?
But if I departed from Epic every time I said something dumb I wouldn’t have made it the last 10 years there. (P.S. Mike Capps was right…the Wii was a virus after all.) People make mistakes and sometimes it’s hard to actually convey a proper emotion, intent or meaning in 140 characters. (Hell if I had a nickel for every email that was misinterpreted when I was at Epic.)
Now, I don’t know as much as you’d think I know about Microsoft’s future plans. Even if I did I wouldn’t go blogging about it like some sort of fool.
My gut is telling me that an always online future is probably coming. It’s coming fast, and possibly to the majority of the devices you enjoy. Adam’s analogies weren’t that far off; although the vacuum one was kind of weird. Sim City, with all of its’ troubles on launch, seems to be selling briskly. Diablo 3, the poster child of a messy launch, is estimated to be at 12 million units. (Remember the internet rage over the art style shift? I barely do. But it seemed so important at the time!) I would bet money that without the always online elements of Diablo 3 that it would have sold half of that.
"I’m so angry about this game treating me like a thief!" ::alt tabs over to bit torrent::
Remember when Microsoft made the decision to only allow broadband on Xbox Live? It was a bold move back then; broadband penetration wasn’t anywhere near what it is now. And yet the march of progress continued. Sooner or later our government, or Google, or any number of providers are going to get their shit together and we’ll have universally fast internet for the majority of the first world.
Or at least the ability to stream Dawson’s Creek on fucking Netflix at decent quality.
And here’s the thing. I’d be willing to say that any early adopter for any new piece of technology is probably going to have some sort of solid internet connection. Also, and I’ve stated this before, keeping that umbilical cord connected might not always require some sort of insane fat pipe. Sometimes just 3G might be enough.
Even then, it doesn’t matter. If you’re on a forum raging about Adam’s comments there’s a whole new generation of kids who are growing up always online who won’t really give a shit. And all that anger, all of that vitrol, all of that lynch mobbing that the internet seems to love to do lately will be for naught and forgotten.
My wife and I were discussing these issues this afternoon and she mentioned the example of “Hey what if I’m a gamer who wants to go to a cabin in the woods for a week and I don’t have online access there?” My response was “Unplugging entirely sometimes isn’t always a bad thing. And that’s the edge case…the week-long vacation to the cabin is only 30 hours of not playing a game or a device that’s built for much more.
Technology doesn’t advance by worrying about the edge case.
If a service is good then people don’t mind paying for it. My Ipad is always connected because I love browsing Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook. I love the ecosystem of Itunes and the App store. If the ecosystem of an always connected device is fantastic then suddenly people don’t really seem to notice any more. When electricity came along and people had to have meters attached to their house they didn’t mind because they loved the idea of light bulbs, electric ranges, and refrigeration.
If we don’t have devices that aren’t fully always online you can bet your ass that we’ll have devices that encourage you to return to the online ecosystem in order to “check in” and make sure everything on the system is legit. Could you hack/jailbreak such a device? Sure, but that crowd will almost always be the die hard/enthusiast crowd that’s not the average user and makes up a small percentage of the potential sales.
"Well that escalated quickly."
I find it disgusting that an online community would revel in the fact that they may have potentially contributed to a person losing their job. Even then, if they didn’t have anything to do with it at the end of the day, that they have the collective ego to think that they could do that. In a world of Indie-go-go and Kickstarter, where we can do great things in numbers, we should know better.
I’d rather live in a world where someone can slip up, say something that the world doesn’t agree with, and not have the collective internet lynch mob up their ass.
I seldom blog more than once about a game, if ever, but god dammit Bioshock Infinite won’t leave my head.
SPOILERS AGAIN AHEAD
I’m lucky in the fact that my wife is a die hard gamer. Even more so than I am sometimes. (We’re playing Bioshock Infinite on the Xbox right now because we haven’t gotten our home office finished yet and then we’re planning on getting a face melting PC rig, so back off, PC Master Race!) So when I sat down to grind through Columbia she sat in the other room doing other things with her headset on. Yes, we could have purchased a second copy, but I had a plan. I wanted to go through the game first and then watch her go through it herself, often live-tweeting it.
As I type this she’s battling Lady Comstock’s kinda-sorta-ghost-maybe-trans-dimensional being and is nearing the final act. I’ve read some fantastic articles summarizing the story, thoughts about the music, and the impact the game has had on even the most jaded journalists. I’ve also blocked a few trolls on my Twitter feed who say the game is overrated and called me a Faget for liking it.
Ken Levine is to games as Chris Nolan is to film. A dedicated visionary that is able to pull something off that few others can - an intelligent blockbuster. Are you shooting people in the face in this game and rescuing a girl? Yes. But are you also questioning who you’re fighting for and why while also unraveling a complex father daughter time loop puzzle? Indeed. You want a fantastic game? Take a defiant visionary, his or her stellar team, and give them money and GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE WAY.
Or you can fund another COD clone.
I haven’t had a game hit me this hard since Silent Hill 2. I’m addicted to reading the deconstruction of it on NeoGaf and in the various aforementioned articles. I also am fortunate enough to know Ken and his wife on a personal level, so the next time we’re able to all have dinner he’s going to be rolling his eyes at an epic level with all of my questions.
I wonder how much living in New England - outside of Boston, to be precise - influenced the universe. See, I grew up near there also, and for field trips we’d always go to these various patriotic stage shows and or museums. You can’t sling a baked bean in Boston and not find some cool aspect of the area’s history. Paul Revere. Boston Tea Party. The Battle of Bunker Hill (took place on Breed’s hill, look it up.) We had the history of this nation crammed down our throats from an early age. The mechanized patriots feel like they’ve been lifted out of some sort of Boston area Hall of Presidents.
We also had religion. I used to attend mass at St. Michael’s right there in North Andover. My father’s funeral was there. I’ve written off most organized religions in my adult life; I believe the best way to control any section of the populace is to claim to know what happens when you die and then use that to keep people having kids so you grow your ranks. (One of the reasons “Martyrs” is one of my favorite movies of all time.)
But I digress. How many game designers out there are even daring to touch these themes in games? Themes of race, religious tithes, babies sold for gambling debts, trans dimensional twins that might have been just one person at one time?
And then there are the moments, the little ones.
The time that I played through I didn’t find the guitar in the bar basement in Shantytown. Lauren did. The little tableau in which you strum as Elizabeth sings “will the circle be unbroken” and hands the orange to the frightened little boy…beautiful.
After learning that Comstock charges a 50% tithe hearing Booker say “I need to get into the prophet business.” After beating the game… well played, Ken.
When Elizabeth goes into the arcade and talks about that one game that “was delayed multiple times, I hope it’s good.”
Even then, one of the final shots after Elizabeth drowns you, closing the “loop” and you see the other versions of her vanish and then before we see if the remaining one vanished we go to black. Classic Nolan Inception Top Spinning Cut right there, folks.
And then, the after credits scene. Waking up in that damned room again, only to hear…Anna in her crib? A fresh start?
Behind me the Songbird just snatched Elizabeth and she reached out to Booker with her tear streamed face. My wife is about to hit the final stretch. Words cannot express how excited I am to go to dinner tonight, have some wine, and geek out with her about what it all meant. What moments moved her. And how darned good she was at capping those Handymen in the heart.
I finished Bioshock Infinite today and I’d like to burst out some thoughts while they’re still in my head.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
ARE YOU SERIOUS CLOSE THIS TAB AND GO BACK TO THE GAME
Okay, here we go.
I’ve always been vocal of my support of Bioshock and, yes, even Bioshock 2 was a solid experience even though it wasn’t the original team. One of my old blog posts on www.cliffyb.com was an extensive rant about what I loved about the first game. If you had told me that a game with a giant diving suit on the cover would go on to sell millions then I would have laughed at you. What we got was not only a critical success but, thankfully, a commercial hit. (Remember, this is a business, and if folks don’t buy games like this then we won’t see many more of them!)
So the credits have rolled, I’ve read the threads dissecting the narrative, I’ve seen Youtube videos praising and also attempting to shred the plot holes they perceive in the game. See, in this day and age it’s not enough to just enjoy an entertainment experience, you have to get online and share your two cents about it. I can’t count the number of movies I’ve seen opening weekend only to find that by Sunday there are a myriad of posts and videos tearing it apart. We now have “plot hole and continuity error discovery by way of crowd sourcing.”
Whether or not this is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen. On one hand this sourcing can make you think “Maybe I didn’t enjoy that game/movie as much as I originally thought” yet on one hand hey, any press is good press and you’d rather have people discussing your product than not, right? That’s part of the problem with the Internet. Everyone’s out to prove how fucking intelligent they are under the guise of anonymity.
Back to the game. I’m not going to do a study on the branching paths or what it all means. (Go here for that.) I’m going to talk about my experience as someone who loved the first one, followed the development of the sequel closely, and also happened to have made a few games in my day. Also, please keep in mind that I range from close personal friends to drinking buddies with a variety of members of the team that worked their asses off to make this game, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I’m going to gush, but I’m also going to nitpick, because hey, I’m also out to prove how fucking intelligent I am.
I’m just not afraid to attach my name to it.
First off, I love the world. For starters, the original Bioshock felt claustrophobic, dark, and oppressive. I felt buried in that game and, while it added to the atmosphere and world I can’t help but wonder if it steered a few people away from the world. The shift to a city in the sky is a brilliant move; hell, just gorgeous skyboxes and vistas are half of the battle. (Hello, Halo!) The vibrant colors. The sunny skies. It’s a world that I want to go off the tracks and live in.
Until you start to realize how very ugly it is. I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret as a white male. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s relevant to this article. There’s a certain type of white person that, when there are only white people around, pull the “You’re racist like me, right?” card. My response is always that I’ve met as many black and hispanic cool people as I’ve met assholes, and the same goes for white people. (This gets worse when you’re around a certain type of white person with money, but that’s another blog entirely.)
By the time I got to the infamous “throw the first ball” moment I had such conflicted feelings about the world. This is a country that has constantly been at odds with its own xenophobia. I’ve always loved this Family Guy clip; shame I can’t find a better quality one. I rarely talk about politics because I’m afraid that I’ll only reveal how ignorant I am about them. There’s always that one friend in the room who makes it his or her job to spend more time studying them that will one up you with their facts. (You can always find a study to support whatever it is you want to believe.)
So here’s the thing about the tension in this game between the white, upper crust society of Columbia and the largely immigrant working class Vox. In the hands of a lesser visionary and team the game would have simply been “Join the Vox and defeat Comstock!” Scene. But that wasn’t enough. Ken and Irrational then went on to show the uglier side of what happens whenever a regime changes. It’s not pretty. Sometimes the person who led the revolution ultimately proves to be just as bad if not worse than the original fool in charge of the other side.
Playing and beating this game I feel like I’ve gone through a tear and I’m in an alternate reality in which this game actually exists. It should not. From reading the turmoil that went over at Irrational, to my old Ninja producer friend Rod going over there to help ship it, it’s a miracle that it saw the light of day. The world itself…themes of racism, the violence, the sidekick aspects, hell a ROBOTIC GEORGE WASHINGTON are you KIDDING ME? I’ve been in publisher pitch meetings. The one where the marketing guy goes “Yeah, so it’s like Call of Duty meets Pac Man with a twist of BMX XXX, right? We haven’t seen that genre do well yet, so we’re not sure if we’re going to market it.” (Same thing from the numbers guy.)
I’m going to let you in on a little secret that Randy Pitchford and I were discussing. When your marketing guy and numbers guy and others are kind of confused about how to market and sell your game, double down on it. It means you have something unique. When you release a copy of a copy of a copy it’s going to feel faded and most customers will call bullshit and ignore it.
So, the guy that brought you a chainsaw gun would now like to get on his soap box about violence. Have fun judging me.
This is one of the few games that I’ve loved that I felt the violence actually detracted from the experience. The first time I dug my skyhook into someone I actually winced. I love shocking people in these games (it’s not called BioShootBeesAtThem) and I found that nearly every foe I zapped to death had their heads explode, Gallagher style. After the 400th head I was like “come on, already!”
Funny, right? That I’d say that? I know, it’s weird. Maybe it’s the fact that they did such a fantastic job of making this nuanced world that hitting you over the head with those moments felt out of place for me. From the initial “meet cute” with Elizabeth I fell for her. She is the first videogame Disney princess that I’ve ever seen or had the joy of getting to know. Towards the end when I heard her screaming for me it drove me mad; I had to get to her. Later when I heard her lamenting how I never came for her broke my heart; I had the same feeling when I watch this infamous scene.
With all of the discussion of misogyny in the industry lately, from sexual harassment, to “if you cosplay then you ask for it” mentality to the Tropes Vs. Women question of “Why’s it always the damsel in distress?” I’m dying to know what the women of the industry think of the depiction of Elizabeth. I actually wanted to see her “tear things up” in another way more often. (There’s that Whedon fanboy coming out in me again.) I was hoping for a moment similar to the end of Lunar. (High five if you get the reference.)
Still, the moment when the Songbird snagged her away from me, or when we were cowered behind the desk together, or when she put my hand on her throat and asked me to finish her if she was going to have to go back…I was moved. During the (incredible) ending I had chills. This is the mother of all videogame endings, the new standard by which all will be judged. This is some Looper, Memento, Source Code, Moon, Usual Suspects, Fight Club, M. Night Shyamalamadingdong stuff. Next level work that can only be brought to you by a talented team and one defiant visionary.
I’m especially glad that the game also dealt with the fact that Booker (and you, playing) are stone cold killers. And hey, it’s justified because they all shoot at you first! (Uncharted 2 did this at the end, which I loved.) Here’s a game that’s about the nuanced relationship between what is later revealed to be a father and daughter, trying to discover each other again, much like the most heart wrenching scenes in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (Yes one is father daughter, the other is former lovers, but similar “feels” happened for me.)
Overall, the combat and combat bowls were good, but to be honest, a tad “loose” in spots. This article actually summarizes my feelings rather well without having to re-type everything. There were moments when I went into a space and I could tell when the combat shit was going to hit the fan. I also could feel the pacing of enemies. Start with the fodder, introduce the heavier flame and rocket guys, then end with a Handyman or Motorized Patriot. As that article states rather well there were times when the combat just felt a bit too … busy… and I missed the clarity and smoothness of, say, a Halo experience.
I digress and I’m nitpicking now. Because overall the pacing of the game was excellent and I’m thinking about going through it as I type this. Pacing is extremely hard to get right in a 14 hour or so experience. There was one moment when I was starting to lose interest, however briefly…when I was getting the guns for the Vox. Right when I was on what felt like the Ultimate Fetch Quest the tables turned due to the tear and the game picked right up and smacked me square in the face.
We live in a world of ADD, whereas Twitter sometimes feels too long so we just browse Instagram and Pintrest. I’d wager many of my Twitter followers won’t read this blog. We live in the TL;DR world, as I’ve said before, the alt-tab nation. The fact that such a rich and deep experience exists gives me hope. Hell, I’m thankful that Game of Thrones can still do amazingly well in this world. Ken and co have made a game that you play, you finish, and you then go to pour over the discussions, the theories, and yes, the occasional plot hole or perceived problem with the ride.
Finally, I’d like to call out one element that I haven’t seen mentioned much. The use of music in the experience. I haven’t seen mood inducing music used this well since the recent Fallout games. The retro sounds of it…the barbershop quartet…the phonographs… it felt like there was a new song right around every corner. I tweeted earlier that I got a “O Brother Where Art Thou” vibe from it. Right at the start, when I’m going through the baptism area, I kept thinking about the Siren and baptism scenes from that film. It sets the scene in Infinite and brings it from a great experience into an amazing, transcendent one.
Right at the tail end of a console generation, when the PC is looking sweeter than ever, Ken and his folks have delivered a true classic for the ages. Bravo, bravo, bravo. Now go take a break someplace warm before starting the Next Big Thing. You’ve got one hell of an act to follow, and I can promise you that you’ve made one designer completely rethink what a video game can be.
I think I might have finally recovered from GDC this year. Not actually having to be at the Epic Booth by 10am allowed me to burn the midnight oil each night, imbibing with old friends, meeting new ones, and generally letting our hair down.
This about summarizes what the double dose of PAX and GDC did to my wife and I.
(Yes, we got upgraded with frequent flyer miles, no, I rarely pay for first class as it’s a waste of money.)
One thing about my life right now is that there’s no lack of well meaning people telling me what I should do next professionally. I’ve had several folks that I consider to be close friends suggest that I should dial back my activity on social media whereas every other person who came up to me thanked me for something I’ve said in the last six or so months. Business folks who applauded the EA blog. Gaming professionals who loved my defense of Tropes Vs. Women. And gamers who like my vulgar sense of humor and appreciate it.
This picture summarizes my unemployed GDC experience in one moment.
I’m like the Lazy College Senior of the industry right now. Right in the middle of the W lobby, playing a multi-arcade table top with my wife, Anchor Steam in full effect.
My favorite part of the show, besides catching up with everyone, is the indie game love that’s shown at the Moscone. I love checking out all of the titles and meeting with the younger developers who are getting started in this business. They’re fresh faced. They’re not burnt out.
They’re not jaded.
PAX was a blast in regards to fans recognizing us; it’s always great to meet gamers. (Some of them actually shake, I’ll never ever get used to that.) GDC is a different mix. One minute I’ll be talking with my first PR rep who I haven’t seen in years (Hi, Andrea!) and the next someone who is an aspiring developer will come up right when Yu Suzuki and Kojima-san go by with Mark Cerny.
I was at the indie games section and I saw a game that looked like some sort of Gunstar Heroes/Treasure type of experience.
INTRUSION 2! (I didn’t know there was a first!)
There were giant sprites scaling and flying everywhere. A scene when you’re in this giant box and a huge robot is trying to pry you out of it. It was pretty sweet. Turns out that the entire damned game was put together by one very young quiet (Russian, I believe) guy. I guess he recognized me because when he turned around and let us take the controls he wouldn’t make eye contact and was all jumpy and excited. I realized that this guy and I had more in common than most would think. I made my own platformer when I was roughly his age. (Granted, I had help.)
I came from Shareware.
The original Indie scene.
(Yes, I just made this on Quickmeme about myself and Epic. Unemployed Cliff means more meme time.)
I literally sold my first adventure game out of my bedroom when I was a teenager. I mailed every order out myself, copied the discs, all of it.
Now, I’m no Miyamoto, but to see this young developer getting all excited reminded me of the first time we showed Unreal at E3 many years ago. Miyamoto came over to check out the game and play it and I was starstruck beyond belief. This was a very similar situation, only played out in reverse after all these years.
(My god I need to return to this business in the near future.)
Moving on, something clicked in my head about GDC lately after I read this article in which the Leigh Alexander was quoted in and linked to:
(Leigh and I have the special kind of relationship when she can tell me that I’m full of shit or wrong about something and then cheers one another.)
There’s this wonderful, organic, beautiful movement going on in the indie game space. The buzz is intense and all of those developers who have struggled for years to make personal projects, projects that push the envelope in unique ways, projects that are outside the norm.
I liked Phil Fish before it was cool.
The thing about the indie scene is that there are two vibes I get from it. The first is the warm happy “we’re killing it, look how far we’ve come, we can do anything!” which I love.
Then there’s the complete and utter loathing and disdain for all things mainstream and triple A. It’s a weird and angry defensive hipster attitude that I don’t quite understand. Indie games are doing great and it doesn’t have to come at the expense of triple A titles. They can coexist. They’re not mutually exclusive of one another.
My copy of Bioshock Infinite is sitting right next to me. I’m going to finally dive into Columbia after a many year long wait. If indie games can do their thing and succeed and Bioshock Infinite can move me what’s the problem in that? When did it go from “Yay Indies” to “Fuck triple A?!”
So, guys, I guess what I’m asking is to ease up on the Triple Hate.
NOTE: As of the time I’ve written this my Storytime does not appear to be online yet. As soon as it’s up I’ll post the link, I promise.
I’ve only started attending the Penny Arcade Expos as of several years ago. Working in game development you learn to love and hate conferences. They’re a ton of fun, but that fun comes at an expense. You wind up physically and emotionally and mentally drained. Your feet throb, you don’t get enough sleep, and chances are there were entirely too many wine filled dinners and booze fueled late nights. Interview after interview and literally hundreds of social interactions drain your brain and your voice is often hoarse by the third day.
So when I set out to my first PAX I expected more of the same. What I’d find would be quite different.
PAX is a gamer’s mecca. Experiencing the show as a gamer is fun enough. Now, put yourselves in my shoes. See, I have the best kind of fame in the world. I only get noticed once a week when I’m not at a show. But at PAX it’s nonstop. And it’s not only fun, it’s hilarious.
Coming out of a pub one night I turned to my wife and said “I can see why some actors turn into raging alcoholics.” If you have “real” fame you can go into any bar virtually anywhere and everyone will know your name. To show your appreciation of the fans love of your work you’ll buy them a drink. They’ll buy you a drink. And for one fun, hazy night you can have the best single serving friends. You get a fun time and feel like Someone and they have a great story about how they met you and You Weren’t A Dick.
When the fellas at Penny Arcade asked me to do their “Storytime” keynote I wasn’t sure what I would speak of. Would I talk about microtransactions and free to play? My favorite classic games? Multiplayer lessons? Balancing weapons with artificial intelligence? I decided to get personal.
See, there’s something very freeing about being able to say what you really think about, well, anything. Since I departed Epic in October I’ve had a series of tweets and blog posts that are sometimes funny, outrageous, or downright vulgar. And sometimes I’ll actually make a solid point.
I was told that the livestream of the keynote ran around 20,000 concurrent users. There were 4000 live gamers who came to see me speak. I couldn’t let them down. No pressure! With the walls fallen I decided to get incredibly intimate with 24,000 people; the majority of whom I haven’t met and may very well never meet. I spoke about growing up in New England. Bullying. The death of my father. Finding the love of my life. And how videogames have all been a part of that.
There were moments in that auditorium when you could hear a pin drop. There were also moments of uproarious laughter. I felt like I was conducting a live orchestra of nerd love. And I feel like I was able to cut through all of the pre-scripted “on message” points that interviews require you to hit and say to everyone “hey, I’m just that gamer guy and I’m here because I love it.”
When I cut to the slide talking about marrying Lauren and they broke into spontaneous applause I got actual chills. It threw me off. I then realized walking around the show how many gamer couples there were. A generation of kids who were raised in gaming and never abandoned their hobby. (oh, and lots of girls with blue or pink or purple hair, which is totally cute.)
So when the show’s over and you’re watching the striking of the booths you can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness. It reminds me of when we’d finish a theater show when I was younger. For a brief period that set was your home away from home. PAX was my home away from home, with all sorts of new friends who were all thrilled to say hello, shake your hand, and sometimes get a picture together.
Funny thing about fame. I was on the second floor of my hotel when a statuesque blonde glided out of the elevator. Several things went through my head in a matter of seconds:
That woman is gorgeous.
Wow she’s pretty tall.
Is that an African American baby in her arms?
Holy shit that’s Charlize Theron.
Jeez she looks 25.
By then she was gone. One night she was running around the hotel with her LA entourage, doing god knows what. I smiled to myself and thought about what was going through her head in this hotel that had been taken over by the Gamer Nation. No one seemed to notice her. No one stopped her or asked for a picture.
The gamers were all there for each other, for the love of the game, and to occasionally press the flesh with folks like Ken Levine, Tim Schafer, and sometimes, myself.
SHOUT OUTS to:
The guy who DESTROYED me in Tetris Attack in the classic gaming room. (Walking in there to find the first Nintendo Power and pointing out my name was fun too!)
All Irrational folks I was able to hang out with. You guys are a blast.
Everyone who helped make my Storytime work from a logistical standpoint.
Everyone who works for Penny Arcade.
Enforcers. Y’all are some bad motherfuckers.
Jeff from Philly who we had drinks with.
Lenny and Dawn who weren’t there for the show but were more than happy to learn all about what the hell was going on in the hotel.
Ken and Mer. Go someplace warm.
Everyone who I harassed or got a picture with as Fruit Fucker. That was the most fun I had all week.
Pizza Regina employees. Call me about franchise opportunities please.
Uber. You make Boston a navigable place.
Oh, and my apologies to that Volition guy who thinks Sasha Grey is his friend and ran out of the bar angrily when I called her “filthy.” I meant it as a compliment.
Disclaimer: I was a key creative in what is often considered one of the more “dudebro” franchises out there, Gears of War. I’d also like to remind everyone out there that I went out of my way in working with our team, the writers, and Epic’s artists to make sure that female characters are represented well in that franchise. By the time we got around to Gears 3 the female soldiers were kicking butt right alongside the men in outfits that weren’t drastically different than the men’s, and with a restrained depiction of hair and makeup. (I was just tired of seeing stripper looking female game characters after all of those years…ironic, considering how exaggerated the men were.)
(I’m also not the best person to post about misogyny on the internet as I’ll be the first one to post a sexy picture of my wife or give young boys tips on how to flirt with girls.)
However, I can’t let this one slip, because there’s a deeper cancer plaguing our business.
The “Tropes Vs. Women” controversy caught my attention when I noticed, right on Anita’s main Kickstarter image for her campaign, that there was Anya, front and center. I was surprised and a bit confused by this. As I mentioned above, she wasn’t an object to “win” in the Gears franchise. She was far from helpless as the franchise matured. Even then the franchise was famous or characters such as fan favorite Bernie, who was an older woman who kicked plenty of enemy butt as well.
Once her first video launched, I found it to be smart, informative, and well put together. She clearly knows what she’s doing and, even if you knew a lot of the information she was sharing it’s worth watching for the nostalgia of how comedic the repetitive nature the business has been with the Damsel in Distress motif. After watching the video I went to my Twitter feed to see what the fuss was about … were there really people out there who were still so very angry at what this woman was doing?
As it turns out, yes, there were. I heard a variety of responses. Before we dive into some of the thinking behind them, let’s look at some of the Kickstarter numbers and break it down a bit.
Anita was asking for 6000$ for her campaign. News hit the internet of the campaign, and the Taliban of videogaming responded in droves. Who was this…this…woman who wanted to analyze women in video games? How dare she! An army of bold (and, naturally, largely anonymous) men…no, wait, boys, because even adult males that acted in this manner are boys – proceeded to give her a digital stoning. We saw a public display that mirrored the worst of what the anonymous internet male culture has to offer. That young guy who assumes that a girl playing an online game is fat, ugly or slutty now had a CAUSE to rally behind!
And then a funny thing happened. Anita shared some of the heinous virtual abuse – bullying, in fact – on her website and people rallied behind her to the tune of over 150K. Folks who responded to my Twitter query were enraged by this fact! How dare she ask for money and then get … well, a whole lot more money! One guy even made a flash game where you can beat her up. How much of a bored, hateful loser must you be to even consider doing something like that?!
I’d like to take this moment and remind everyone out there that my good friends at Doublefine, not so long ago, also killed it on Kickstarter. After asking for 400K on Kickstarter they wound up with a final tally of 3.3m. Now, I read the Kickstarter page about campaigns that succeed and I didn’t find a single line about doing too well at Kickstarter. As far as I can tell, if you put up a campaign where you ask for 500 bucks to artistically photograph your ham sandwich and it becomes a thing online you’re welcome to do whatever you need to with the difference as long as you fulfill your promises to each backer.
So let me get this straight. Doublefine can win Kickstarter but a woman who wants to analyze the treatment of her gender in our business is somehow…exempt from this?
What color is the sky in the world you trolls live in?
I’m assuming you can do a decent web series for a pretty low amount of money. $6,000 sounds like a healthy budget, even maybe a bit much for what the Anonymous Internet Boy Taliban thought was needed for the videos. Here’s the thing, though, boys. It’s not your call on how much the series should cost, or how much she should be allowed to make on Kickstarter. (The Boys were so enraged by this as they believed she “scammed” money out of people. One man’s “scammed” is another’s “shut up and take my money.”)
You know, maybe people were just happy to donate money to a project that should see the light of day because of irrational immature male fear on the internet. It’s called voting with your dollars.
So let’s assume that Anita fulfills the promises to all of her backers and is then left with $144,000.00. I’m gathering this project is a self employed gig, so she most likely has to pay self employment tax. Fulfilling everything to the donors also costs money. When you earn that amount of money you are also in a higher tax bracket and you make more, you pay more. I’m not an accountant, but I’d estimate that when all is said and done and this project takes her a year then she might actually be able to pay herself a (gasp) good salary for her year’s work.
How dare she!
Heaven forbid a woman actually take a magnifying glass to our beloved hobby and actually try to unravel and figure out why things are the way they are in the effort that somehow she might change things? Why aren’t there more female protagonists? Are you protecting Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider or are you empowering her? And god dammit, where’s my Buffy game?
Shame on all of you.
My wife and I had dinner with the always amazing Warren Spector and his brilliant (and sharp tongued) wife Caroline last night and this very subject came up. Caroline was rather eager to speak up about it. We went back and forth on the subject and, I’m paraphrasing, but the takeaway that she said to me (and I’m sure she’ll do a great talk or article about it) is that we’re not supposed to be this crowd.
We’re the gamers, the dorks. We’re the ones who were on our computers during prom. We’re the ones that were in the back of the lunch room who were playing D&D instead of tossing a football around on the quad. We were supposed to be the open, friendly ones, the ones who welcomed all into our wonderful geeky circle.
We’re not supposed to be a mob that’s storming the gates with our pitchforks and torches.
We’re not the bullies. And that’s what happened to Anita.
Recently at the DICE summit in Las Vegas David Cage called on the industry to “grow up.” In some ways, David, I agree… we can do better in many, many areas. We can make more mature and engaging plot lines and explore unique game mechanics beyond sawing someone in half. The reason we haven’t? It’s because it’s fucking hard and we’re looking at an industry that is ever more risk averse as more and more money is needed to craft product.
However if we’re going to grow up as an industry we’re going to need the consumer to grow up a bit as well. The latent racism, homophobia, and misogyny online are black marks on an otherwise great hobby. Anonymity is the gasoline on the fire of hate that flares up on forums, chat rooms, and Xbox Live on daily basis.
Why are there so many shooters? Because it’s easy to make a trace in code to see if you virtually “tagged” someone. Why were there so many princesses in need of rescue? Because it was easy, and for many years we didn’t have the tools or desire to try something else. Why did Mario have a moustache originally? Because they didn’t have the graphical fidelity to depict much more. The purpose of research is to encourage rational thought in areas where there may have not been much before. If, by watching Anita’s videos I, as a developer, can reconsider how I depict women in any future product of mine then her work may very well be worth it.
And maybe, as a result of this, years later we may see more and more girls who are comfortable playing games, online or off, or going to a conference …or joining the industry in a professional manner.
This is where change sometimes starts, merely by asking “Why?”
Had dinner with Julia and her military boyfriend Brian last night. Good dude. Not sure what division of the military he is in, but I always love hearing stories from these brave fellas…if they feel inclined.
While bored in Afghanastan apparently the fellas collect critters. Scorpions and yes, the dreaded Camel Spider. They even make them fight each other and bet on the results.
He told us the story about how the last time he was out his fellas got 100 bucks together in order to bribe their buddy to stick his penis in the jar with the camel spider in it.
He did, and narrowly escaped harm.
I told him they all would have been in shock if he got bit/stung and the next day the guy’s dick magically doubled in size.
The “GURL GAMER” debate is one that, seemingly, will never die.
EDIT: Chris Kohler pointed out that the article is calling out how silly those “rules” are. Cool. Still enjoyed talking about them. :)
Now, at a fundamental level I, as a man, it would seem as if I have no right to comment on this any more than the GOP has any right to comment on women’s health issues. (“What is real rape!?”, anyone? Ugh.)
I also learned that if you ever blog or have an opinion on any gender issue you’re bound to piss people off but hey, that’s the Internet.
However, there are a few touch points that are directly related to significant personal events in my life that I feel I can offer a bit of insight into. I know for a fact that my wife would have plenty to say on the subject, but she’s extremely busy questing in Guild Wars 2 right now and she doesn’t like blogging as much as I do, so I may speak for her a bit in this article.
And yes, I’m giving the original article traffic by linking to it, because the subject won’t die and I find the conflict within the female gamer community to be somewhat fascinating. (Plus it was kind of funny.)
A few points on the article and the subject.
1. This article basically calls Jessica Chobot a whore in a roundabout Fox News sort of way. Jess is a very good friend of ours and is a smart, tough woman who got to where she is with a lot of hard work and kicking and screaming. Jess used that infamous picture of her licking the PSP to gain internet infamy and then spent years proving that she’s the real deal. (It’s almost like people…came for the graphics and stayed for the gameplay!) That’s part of the problem, by the way, if you’re pretty and you play…you actually have to work EXTRA hard to prove your “nerd cred” to cynical guys.
We’re close friends with many visible women in gaming media and technology and the amount of shit they’ve had to endure online and in real life would fill up a dozen books. You really have no idea…even going back to Killcreek. (Not my story to tell it here, but needless to say, you’d be fucking mortified.)
2. The article says that girl gamers shouldn’t announce themselves as a gamer. I disagree with this, quite simply, because this is what led me to the love of my life - my wife! The fact that my now wife exploded on the internet as a gamer was what attracted me to her. (It didn’t hurt that I found her to be beautiful, so much to the point that I held off on contacting her for quite some time because I didn’t think I had a shot.)
Here’s the thing about us Gamer Guys. We love our hobby, more than anything.
I’m going to let you in on a secret from the videogame development community. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of developer wives. There are those that game with the husband and those that the husband, deep down, wishes some day he could make a game that his wife actually plays and enjoys. (Because she doesn’t game. Some marriages are just fine this way, of course.)
3. Here’s part of the problem, and this is one that drives Lauren BONKERS. There are plenty of great females *who happen to game* now, more than ever. That’s amazing! (and that Capitalist Pig side of me that I’ve been bold enough to have shared with you says “Yay, profits!”)
However, there’s a giant rash of Fake Nerd Gurlz who are using the fact that they played Mario Kart once at a friend’s house when they were 12 as an excuse to leverage nerd and gamer culture for internet and sometimes, very real, fame. Those of you who follow my Twitter know who I’m talking about here. One fake Gamer Nerd Gurl manages to get Comic Con wrapped around her finger and BOOM next thing you know she’s living the Hollywood dream has led to a rash of these fake nerds.
There’s a reason why, in our own wedding invitations, we used the phrase “Co-op buddies for life” because it’s not just in games that we overcome adversaries, it’s also in real life. One day we may be stomping Necromorphs together and the next we may be dealing with obnoxious travel delays. In a relationship it’s important to be yourself, but it’s also important to have things that you enjoy together.
It’s not that different than the football nut who finds a companion who loves Football together. Now, every Sunday, they can both sit down and enjoy their pastime together. That’s a beautiful thing and it can really help solidify the bond between a man and a woman. Growing up with a house full of brothers who loved football and a mother who eye-rolled it it’s encouraging to go to a sports bar on a Sunday and see the girlfriends and wives rooting right along with their spouses.
Those of you who are so enraged by the different representations of females who happen to also game please understand the following, from us guys who happen to game. For so long my generation (and the generation after mine) has yearned for a companion that will play with us.
It was the Great White Buffalo for decades. (I have a fun story in my upcoming PAX East keynote about this, by the way.)
Just know that if you’re a fake nerd we’ll know within 30 seconds of playing co-op or versus with you and you’re in the FPS looking at the ground the entire time.
4. Now, just for a minute, let’s forget the girls that don’t game and hold a controller over their bits or the ones that offer to play with guys while they have cyber sex on a per minute basis. There ARE girls out there who ARE real gamers who have CHOSEN to show themselves off, say, a bit more than others. Raychul comes to mind. You can Google her and find any number of PG-13 pictures that are borderline R/NSFW. It’s her choice to show herself off in the context of gaming because it’s her right to do so. And, while some may disagree with her choice, at least she PLAYS games and knows what she’s talking about. (Whether or not the sex-ification of gaming girls is a good thing or a bad thing I’m going to leave up for debate. I’d bet Leigh Alexander could write up an article worthy of the ages on this topic!)
5. In conclusion - just like any particular demographic, it seems like there’s no one type of “girl gamer.” (Forget the fake ones, as they don’t count, we’ve known all types.) I’m talking about the real ones.
The TV hosts who game. The aspiring actresses. The models. The comedians. And the quiet blogger or community manager, or the girl who doesn’t show her face or reveal her identity as female. That’s why this is such a complicated manner for everyone to digest and deal with. The human mind LOVES to sort people into tiny little buckets (this is why, sadly, racism will always be around…) and a “girl gamer” is seemingly now a whole lot of different types of women … who happen to love to game.
We as lonely guys are just excited to finally have the chance to find a spouse who will sit down and pop heads with us on the sofa now. A spouse that knows Valve related memes and will build a castle together with us in Minecraft. A spouse that will go to PAX with you and enthusiastically play every game and excitedly meet developers.
The couple that plays together, stays together.
p.s. All of you fuckers need to lay off of Team Unicorn. They’re legit.
This guy on Reddit makes an excellent analogy about always on DRM, basically framing that EA is acting like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld.
He’s largely right, however, to add to his analogy that without that DRM there’s a sous chef in the back who is siphoning off the soup and giving it away for free out of the back of the restaurant and more and more people are going out back because the lines are much shorter.
A work or invention that is the result of creativity, such as a manuscript or a design, to which one has rights and for which one may apply for a patent, copyright, trademark, etc.”
Otherwise known as “IP.”
In the creative world, this is often seen as one of the most valuable things one can own.
In the videogame world, this is Halo, Gears, Call of Duty, even more artsy and edgy titles like Journey are all IP. The characters, the weapons, the settings, all of it adds up to make that overall entity. Game mechanic can be carved out from what the IP/Universe is, but you didn’t come here to read a legal blog, you came here for the fire hose that is my brain.
I’ve blogged about the business and about sequels but there’s a consistent line there that runs through and this is that line – I love new worlds. When I watched the Sony Presser for PS4 I saw a very promising console with some exciting games. I also put myself in the various meetings between the developers, the marketing departments, and Sony representatives. I could picture the Guerrilla guys after the last Killzone going to lunch and thinking “Hey, I kind of want to do something new…” and perhaps Sony came back and said “But we can keep growing our Killzone brand!” I wonder if the Sucker Punch guys wanted to just make their game “Second Son” when someone convinced them to make it an “Infamous game” to reduce risk.
When you go to a potential investor and you say to them “I want to do another game. You can have Existing Brand X that’s had some good success or you can have New Scary Unknown behind Door Number 2” the majority of the time those with the money will go for the former, because it seems less risky. (See this blog for why what’s behind the door is scary.) The thing that people sometimes forget is that there’s a story out there that Assassin’s Creed may have started as a Prince of Persia game. Gears of War was “Unreal Warfare” at one point. And Jim Cameron sure as hell wouldn’t have made Titanic and Avatar if he had made more Terminator sequels.
Fundamentally “Good Business” would seem to dictate that you do whatever is possible to “mitigate risk.” When you buy stocks or invest your money they encourage a wide variety of places to put your money, because this is known as “diversification.” Any good game publisher will try to have a good stable of products. A shooter. A fantasty game. Driving? We’ve got that. Oh, a previously unsigned game by an outspoken genius designer? The Witness is coming to PS4! Can we get something like that Skylanders game, I hear that’s killing it! Kids love that shit!
When a new console comes out the first folks to line up to get it are known as the “Early Adopters.” (I’m not usually one of those folks, because I prefer to let other people suffer with the launch issues for any big tech release before the issues are ironed out.) I personally believe that upon Year One of a new console you can get away with more core games because those first folks are often the more hardcore enthusiasts. These games need to do two things. First, they need to be fun. (duh) Second, they need to show off what that console can do that the other guys can’t, and this is why you have to justify dropping the coin on Yet Another Box.
Marvel Comics is a juggernaut because of its IP stable. It’s hard to beat a well managed portfolio of some of the most loved comic book to screen characters ever crafted.
The power of a fictionalized world and myth have been used to teach lessons, to control the youth, and to, of course, profit. IP is fiercely debated between lawyers, business negotiators, and agents. You can get a marketing commitment, you can get funding, you can get development support, but most of the time the big fight occurs over this ownership.
This is a fight that our hero, the great Stan Lee, will probably be fighting until he dies. Keep this in mind if you’re an indie studio.
I’ve been a big proponent of artist/developer rights throughout my career. I hate seeing the little guy get fucked. I hate that an indie darling developer friend of mine is busy complaining on Facebook about legal issues or contract issues instead of talking about game design theory and making his next big thing.
Everyone wants to know what the perfect formula is for success in any entertainment medium. The thing is… you can’t predict it. You can’t acquire the Family Guy Plot Generator because manatees are protected animals. Who could have predicted Twilight (I know, I know) or Minecraft or the explosion of The Hunger Games? If I had pitched The Hunger Games to anyone that I know they would have shot it down with the same tired “It’s just Battle Royale” argument.
So where are these next big things? Games? Comic Books? Novels? YA books? They don’t seem to be coming out of risk-averse Hollywood as much. (“Hey, Alice worked! Let’s do Oz!” – Random Hollywood executive who finally realized what American McGee knew all along.) I know for a fact that many movie executives love graphic novels because they’re basically reading a storyboard for a film in their heads when they look at one. (I wonder how the fells I know who were eyeing the fantastic “Girls” graphic novel are going to adapt it…) There are incubation tanks for research, for game mechanics…are there these places for new universes, or does it require a lone badass like George R Martin to show us all how it is done?
I look forward to our all digital future in video games not only because of the direct pipeline to the consumer, or to the lack of losing discs. I’m hoping some games will be less expensive, even shorter, and perhaps the more open platforms (fingers crossed) will lead to more risk taking and more new IP. Because, as we knew before, the previous way that consoles existed failed the Minecraft test that I’ve linked to.
I just want to see new worlds because, well, that’s why I play games.
It’s a funny thing, this Western relationship we have with our dogs. In other parts of the world filthy dogs roam the streets in packs, and the insult “you lie down with dogs” is a common phrase. I remember also learning from my brother’s Mexican wife that, for them, culturally it’s pretty common to not even allow the dog in the house.
It’s weird how the internet is obsessed with cats, so I’d like to say a few words about dogs.
They’re our companion animals. Leave the house for ten minutes and they’re thrilled to see you upon returning. The Pack Leader is back, let’s greet him/her!
Unless you’re an elderly person or god forbid something tragic happens to you generally when you acquire a dog is that you’re entering into a relationship that you know isn’t going to end well. You’re going to either raise this dog from a puppy or, if it’s an older rescue, bring it into your loving home. A home that that dog might not have had yet and will be grateful for the things you provide for it.
I’m a sucker for dogs. I love all types of them, Huskies, Labs, Béarnaise Mountain Dogs, heck, even random mutts are often adorable as well. And yes, that Sarah McLaughlin commercial kills me too. I remember trying to watch “Shelter Dogs,” a documentary on the plight of strays, and I couldn’t get past the first 10 minutes when they’re putting down a dog that no one wanted or adopted.
Teddy is my Australian Shepherd who I have had for 8 years now. He was my “going through the difficult process of Gears 1/first pet after your difficult divorce.” I knew little about the breed when I acquired him. I simply picked him out because he had those little brown eyebrows that reminded me of a dog that I used to cuddle at a hockey shop in Andover, Mass (right across from the Cadillac dealer) while waiting for my brother to have his hockey skates sharpened.
On my worst nights when I was unsure of how well Gears would do, when I was living in that 500 dollar a month apartment and trying to move on from my life (with very little to my name at that point) he would always greet me with a shower of kisses when I came home after a long day crunching. He never trashed my place and he seldom had an accident after the first few months. My ex girlfriend, to be fair, helped do that stellar job raising him, but I’d like to think that I just lucked out with getting such a sweet, kind, and fun companion. No matter how frustrated any day may have been he was always there at the end of the bed, breathing quietly, his warmth making me feel loved.
I learned early on that he was smart. He would learn tricks easily, and my favorite, to this day, is that I can have him give me either paw on demand. “Brown paw, white paw” I call it. I also learned that there’s an inherent behavior with certain types of breeds. Labs are retrievers and water dogs. Aussies…well, they’re working dogs, I found out. Through a connection of mine I learned that there was someone an hour away who trains these working dogs and that she has sheep. For a small fee she’ll let your dog herd her sheep! Upon learning this I quickly set something up and, to this day, I still remember the sounds that my little bear made pulling up to that farm. He just…knew…what to do. It was a truly amazing moment and I felt a bit closer to my fuzzy friend.
Dog ownership is filled with so many funny or crazy “pet parent” moments. It’s that moment as a dog owner when you realize that you’re impervious to their feces because you’ve picked up so much of it in public with a doggie bag. It’s that other moment when the dog is choking on a rawhide and you, without missing a beat, leap up from the sofa and jam your hand down the animal’s throat to pull the thing out. It’s that time when the dog ate some string and their doo doo didn’t fall off properly and you’re standing there with a poo bag, slowly helping it pull out while the dog is flipping out.
I remember how, when we got our second dog Eevee, he hated her and sulked around the house for months, even ignoring her entirely. Lauren and I were genuinely worried that he would never become friends with her, and the days when they started to warm up to one another we were thrilled. Sometimes the best thing for an older dog is a younger dog. Instead of lying around a house or yard all day long they now have a companion. And I have a house that quickly fills up with multi colored furry tumbleweeds that blow by while we’re watching The Dog Whisperer.
Australian shepherds generally live a pretty long time, something like 12-14 years. (I couldn’t imagine having a Great Dane; it’s like getting into a super short contract of life with a creature like that.) I noticed a couple of years ago upon coming home that Teddy started to get some grey hair around his muzzle. That was the day that I was reminded that my little guy isn’t going to be with us forever, and ever since that day every single time I come home I immediately drop everything and sit down and give him some hugs. He (and now Eevee) always beat my wife to it when it comes to greeting me upon returning home. (Sitting on the floor with these two ecstatic fuzzy kids of yours is the ultimate dopamine overload.)
They say that when you have kids that this feeling of love for your dog is multiplied times a thousand. I can’t imagine that right now. I dread the day that I lose this dog because he has meant so much to me throughout the years. I’m having a hard time even typing this right now. He’s truly seen me at my best and my worst, both personally and professionally. He’s also made every single one of my friends who come to visit fall in love with him by just one butt scratch and a wiggle. I swear sometimes when I look into those eyes I see a sort of a soul that looks back at me with warmth and caring. I can only hope he has some sort of idea in that fuzzy head and heart of him how much I love him and what he means to me.
If that day ever comes when we decide to have kids, I hope to acquire a new dog that the kids can grow up with, learn to love and care for, and see how magical the love of a dog can be.
Okay, while at dinner I was informed via my feed that the below quote (now edited) about PR girls, taken the wrong way, looks horrid. And man, it does - read wrong it basically said PR girls like to sleep with gophers or something.
That is certainly not the implication. It was meant to say that they’re a ton of fun because the business of PR is a very social one. It requires knowing everyone and it often attracts extremely charismatic people who have been known to shut down bars and host fantastic dinners. They’re connectors who know EVERYONE and they can often lead you on awesome adventures in cities you’ve never been into. That’s what I meant by “down for fucking anything.” If I had meant the prior I would have said “down for fucking ANYONE.”
Big difference there.
And, if you interpreted it the previous way I’m sorry. Language is a tricky thing and interpreted the wrong way some things can cause an ugly shitstorm. (Especially in the world of the internet which is the ultimate game of telephone.) I’m deeply sorry if that came across the wrong way. I don’t want to get slapped at GDC by many of my awesome friends who work in PR.
I love failed relationships.
They teach me what I will and will not put up with in a relationship. I’m in a wonderful marriage but it wasn’t always this way in my life. I’ve had several failed long term relationships in my life and I’ve learned lots of key takeaways from them. This blog is a combination of dating advice, relationship advice, and single/bar scene advice I’ve learned over the years from my own experience as well as from male/female close friends. (I should sort this but I’m hungry and I want to go to dinner and get this posted.)
Also, this isn’t meant to be the authority on dating, relationships, or how to hit on girls. Just a few pearls that I’ve gestated on.
Remember when you were in Junior High and all of the girls wanted a High School boy? And then when you were in High School and they all dated the College guys? And then remember when you were in College and the girls were going for the established single guys with, like, careers?
It’s because, when it comes to being a Young Dude in America, you’re kind of an idiot.
It’s not your fault. It’s a combination of a lack of experience fueled by the insane hormonal urge to jam your penis into anything you can find.
Some of this advice is somewhat contradictory to the advice that I often give out to young and aspiring developers; to stay out of the bars. However, humans are humans, and everything in moderation.
First off, don’t wear Axe. Go to an actual store and get some cologne, or if you can’t afford the good stuff get the knockoffs. 2 puffs of that stuff too. And no, don’t get Drakkar or any of that ancient crap. Bond No 9 is great and worth the price.
If it has a fleur de lis on it as a fashion statement or rhinestones don’t wear it. Stay out of Buckle.
Stop wearing baseball hats everywhere. If you’re younger and you have a good head of hair, why are you covering that shit up? Us older guys value the hair on our head as we get older. Besides, the white hat kind of makes you look like a douche, and screams “I’M A LAZY MOTHERFUCKER.”
GROOM yourself. An actual quote from one of my dear girl friends “Those dirty unclipped fingernails are not getting anywhere near my goods.”
If you’re flirting with a girl the only places you’re allowed to touch her are her lower back and her elbow. Don’t play Ass Grabbing and DON’T touch her face. (Oh, and if she’s black, don’t touch her hair…and watch “Good Hair.” It’s stellar.) The hand is an entirely different thing. If you’re clicking with someone and you start linking fingers without anyone else around you seeing it it’s a hugely powerful thing. It’s like you’re a kid again kissing behind the backstops on a summer day.
Make her laugh. Find things that you have in common. Take her on a picnic. Kiss her on the beach and on her neck. Have stay at home movie or game nights mixed with dinners with friends and the occasional Epic Night Out. Surprise her. Nothing is more boring or less exciting than repetition and patterns. Also, random tickle tortures or play wrestling can go a long way when done right.
If a girl says “I don’t understand why all this drama finds me” the translation is “I’m a fucking drama queen who lives for this shit, bring it on!”
One thing I’ve learned in life is that many girls want sex to seem like some sort of happy accident whereas we as men want “The Sure Thing.” I don’t know how many girls I’ve been close friends with who tell me the story about how they went out and, like, met this guy who was really cool, and next thing they know they’re butt naked at his home. While she’s being entertained and woo’d we, as men, are thinking “Okay, I’m going to settle her tab and mine, snag that taxi that’s waiting outside, and kiss her in the elevator of my building. After that she’ll fall in love with my dog and we’ll look at my hipster record collection over a night cap and magic might happen.”
A polo shirt and khaki shorts with sandals and a visor (and croakies!) is like the Devastator Combiner of Douchebaggery…yes, even in The South.
Don’t get overly drunk. A guy in control of a situation is a sexy badass. A slobbering drunk only wants to get in your pants, which is unattractive.
Open doors for her. Every where you go.
Embrace her family. They’re the reason she’s the person you love, so you should love them as well.
Buy her food and drink. Every time. Stop when she stops thanking you, however.
If you’re talking to a girl and you’re with a crew of people and there are some other guys there who are vying for her attention pick up everyone’s drink. It’s one easy way to out Alpha Male the other guys and also look like a cool, kind, generous guy.
Make memories together. No one remembers the Wednesday afternoon budget meeting but you can sure as hell know that she’ll remember the time you kissed her in Central Park.
Every positive interaction throughout the day is foreplay. A sweet text. A post it note. You can’t ignore your significant other the entire day and then grab her boob on the sofa. That triggers the “Oh. He wants sex” response.
Be random with sex. I’m not saying put on a ski mask and crawl through the bedroom window, I’m saying that if you get in a pattern you need to COMBO BREAK that and do it on the sofa, or in another city. (For some reason girls love nice hotel rooms; the change of scenery seems to have a strange effect on them.)
Make sure you’re sexually compatible with the person you’re with if you plan on sticking around with them. If you love nipple clamps and she doesn’t, well, you’ll be more likely to either cheat with someone who does or break up. If you’re a guy and there’s something you want that she refuses to do YOU WILL RESENT HER EVENTUALLY and will always desire to find someone who WILL do it.
Don’t text pictures of your penis to anyone.
Don’t marry the first girl you have sex with. You’ll be more likely to cheat later on when you finally learn how to talk to women. Date as much as humanly possible. Don’t get married before the age of 25. This, in turn, will build up your confidence, and you’ll find that you’re able to date smarter, more attractive, successful girls. And then you might just meet your wife. (Lauren was shocked when the first time I saw her in person I went right in for a kiss. It was the confidence I had built up over the years that led to that. A 17 year old Cliff would have been Friend Zoned INSTANTLY.)
Oh, and if you’re friend zoned DON’T STOP HANGING OUT WITH THAT GIRL. Be her friend. Chances are she knows OTHER GIRLS and can then do the girl thing of “girl vouching for you.”
Try to avoid becoming Eskimo buddies with your actual buddies. That’s just gross. And the kind of girl who will sleep with you and all of your friends is going to have a hard time finding a husband when the time comes.
Don’t be afraid of online dating. It’s no longer just Chris Hanson “I have some lemonade” any more. The problem with the world before the internet was that you basically had to put a string on a map and hope you can find someone within a 30 mile radius that you can put up with for the rest of your life! Good luck! Now, with the internet, you can potentially find the person that is truly your soul mate. (Solving the long distance problem…that’s another tricky story.)
Have as few secrets as possible. Be honest, because keeping track of lies is really, really hard. Trust the other person, but don’t be blind or stupid. If you suspect that they’re bored or cheating then there’s a pretty good change your assumptions are correct. If you want to stay true and faithful don’t allow yourself to get into a situation where you’re likely to screw up. If you’re in a committed relationship or married and you find yourself without your significant other at a party at 1:30am where the single girls are rearing to go…it’s probably a bad idea, and you should get the fuck out of there.
Listen to the subtext of what she says. When you ask what’s wrong and you get a rushed “nothing” that means SOMETHING IS UP. Women aren’t always as direct as men. They’re beautiful, mysterious, and complicated things, and your style of “Just say what’s up” doesn’t always fly.
PR girls are usually fun, charismatic folks who are often a blast.
Don’t treat the Strip Bar as your own personal Zoosk.com. Those girls are there to make as much money as humanly possible from as many guys as they want. Strip Clubs are a blast to go to with a group of friends who have the same expectations. And yes, some of them are thinly veiled brothels. (Next time you’re in Las Vegas ask a cab driver for his booklet. He’ll bust out a folder with cards of prostitutes and say “Any girl to your room 20 minutes!”) Also, don’t even think about it. Once you start paying for sex it can ruin you. You should earn it with a combination of charm, wit, and confidence.
Whenever possible, cut out or reduce interactions with any exes. And yes, that one girl you had sex with in the bathroom of El Torito on Cinco De Mayo counts as an ex. There’s a certain type of girl who likes to go after a guy just because he’s in a relationship and they want to see if they can steal you away. And the human mind is amazing at romanticizing the past. (Ever hear about those people who want to go back to “The Good Ol Days?” Yeah, they never really existed.)
Whenever possible, try to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time. The morning and evening rituals are an important co-op relationship test.
I’ve worked hard and traveled alone for much of my life and early in in my relationship with Lauren I made a rule that I wouldn’t go anywhere without her, and she wouldn’t go anywhere without me. We go everywhere together and have had very few nights apart during our relationship. I know this one isn’t possible for most people since I’ve had the success I’ve had, but you’d be surprised at how it’s kept us close … and added to those wonderful comic con memories.
Make a yearbook every year. Shutterfly.com makes it easier than ever. Every year Lauren takes a collection of the photos and experiences we’ve had throughout the year and puts a book together. It’s a chance to reflect on everything you’ve done together.
Watch everything Chris Rock related. He speaks so much truth about dating and relationships in all of his work. Plus, he’s utterly hilarious.
Cut back or stop with the fapping. I know it’s hard in your 20’s, because you can probably do it 20 times a day, but after a while it starts taking a toll on your relationship. And if you’re single some friends advise guys to fap before going out. Don’t. That’s a terrible idea. There’s a trigger that goes off in your head when you meet a nice, cute girl when out that keeps you motivated to get to know her, to be funny, and to maybe get her number and see where things go. Try looking at some porn but saving the actual act for your relationship. You’d be surprised at what that can do. “It doesn’t matter where he gets his appetite as long as he comes home for dinner.” (Also, girls, ease up on the Dilldozer use. No guy can compete with diesel powered devices.)
Besides, how can a real girl compete with INSTANT ON DEMAND hardcore pornography with girls that look like supermodels and will do pretty any much anything these days? She can’t. So dial that shit back or you’ll get desensitized.
I don’t really know how to wrap this one up, so I’ll just say that when you’re single don’t be an idiot; be confident. When in a relationship be patient and loving. When married … well, I’m still figuring that one out myself.
Okay, after my last two industry related posts about subjects that are quite taboo I want to talk about something else - non industry related - that drives me nuts.
Let’s start out with the way that our good nation has evolved. It used to be that there were basically two types of locations in America. Rural and Urban. You either were a farmer or you had a white collar job in the big city, or you maybe commuted to a blue collar job in the city. The idea of Suburbs really didn’t exist until later.
Ever notice that whenever you talk about drinking and you mention, like, almost every nationality at a party one person will always pipe up and say “Oh, THOSE FUCKERS CAN DRINK!”
Canadians. Germans. Mexicans. The British. Japanese. Koreans.
And, of course, the Irish.
I didn’t drink much, if at all, until the age of 25. When I was a boy my parents would host parties at the house – not really crazy events, just some friends and Budweisers. I remember sitting in the playroom enjoying Nintendo or playing Lego (It’s LEGO, not LEGOS, you fuckers) and, without doubt, after an hour or two one of my family’s younger 20-something friends would come into the room, sit down next to me, and be like:
“Hey little man. What’s up? How is it being a kid? Man I miss being a kid.”
Even when I was 9 I would give a giant eyeroll when I smelled booze on the person’s breath. To me, alcohol just took ordinary, good people, and turned them into giant idiots. This only got more amplified in high school. Kids would go get fucked up on the weekends and have their stories on Monday and I didn’t really care, as I was on my computer non stop during those years. (Remember those “cool kids” from an earlier blog who asked me in High School what I did for fun and I said “Make Money?” I remember hearing that that girl was at a party with the guy she liked and that he turned to the side, vomited in the lawn, and, without missing a beat, turned back and resumed making out with her.)
Those of you who know me IN MEATSPACE know that I do love to go out, and yes, I do love to enjoy alcohol. Some nights you can just sit outside on a patio and nurse some drafts and bond with friends. (PROTIP: If you’re opening a bar in the south HAVE OUTDOOR SEATING.) Other nights are more like The Hangover when you go to 47 bars and wake up with your home destroyed, bruised, scratched, and not quite sure what happened.
As my first marriage started to crumble I realized that I liked going out. I enjoyed the filthy sea of humanity, meeting new friends, finding new establishments, and just being ALIVE. I found that when you’re respectful of bar staff and tip them decently they give you outstanding service and that when they’re off and you find them out themselves they’re some of the most fun, cool folks to get drinks with. (Remember, when you and your friends are having fun they’re working their asses off.) So when I found out that I liked going out the first thing I did was move to a location that was walkable to bars and restaurants. A place where I could go out and, if need be, stumble home, or find a vomit scented cab to pay five bucks to lazily return home to walk the dogs.
Why? Because I’m not a fucking idiot. I know that my definition of drunk versus the Great State of North Carolina varies GREATLY and that when it comes to Downtown Raleigh the cops know this and they CAMP that location to help curb that very brand of stupidity. I have very dear friends who have been busted in this manner – smart, wonderful friends, who I have given carte blanche to stay over in one of my spare bedrooms if they’re ever out drinking who have STILL ignored the offer and gotten caught. (We have a paper here called “The Slammer” that prints out mugshots. Every week, without fail, you can buy it and find someone you know who got busted for a DUI.)
Plus, I’ve known enough people who have either been hurt or killed in car wrecks, drunk or not, and I’m not exactly excited about losing any more. (Or having a friend kill someone and wind up in jail for the rest of their lives.)
I knew that I didn’t want to get in trouble for driving under the influence. See, ever since America became the place of the Suburban Dream the idea of a Neighborhood Pub went “poof.” No self respecting mother of two would want any sort of watering hole anywhere near her house. When I got older and began to travel I found it fascinating that in most urban areas there’s this concept of “Mixed Use” in which you have retail and restaurants on the BOTTOM with people living ABOVE IT.
See, with the advent of the automobile in America and the “everyone gets a car, a house, and an acre” mentality came the vanishing of the local pub. And the funny thing was? People still felt the need to go out and imbibe. Sure, the booze is fun, but the other half of the feeling is just being in your community, running into folks that you know, hearing stories about what everyone is up to. It’s “Cheers,” really, you do want to go somewhere where everyone knows your name. (You can go to any suburban sports bar on a game night, or on Friday or Saturday and sit outside and watch car after car leave that’s driven by someone who clearly shouldn’t be behind the fucking wheel.)
And this is when we saw the massive rise in drunk driving incidents and deaths. MADD seemed to come out of nowhere because, frankly, too many parents lost their kids due to this stupidity. Few people seem to use designated drivers – have you ever been one? It’s the most agonizing experience ever, because drunk people when you’re drinking sure seem fun and interesting and entertaining, but as 9 year old Cliff knew they’re usually just giant dumb idiots. And when you’re the most sober person in the room you really don’t want to deal with it.
I sometimes think that alcoholics who have gone through the 12 steps or some sort of rehab don’t go out any more not because of the temptation to drink but because being the only sober person in the room is boring, frustrating, and a giant waste of time. Might as well go home and get on Reddit.
So here’s my advice to you, especially with Saint Patrick’s day coming up, and Spring Break, and all of this wonderful weather. Don’t be an idiot. Take a taxi, or figure out a place to crash, or just HAVE A PLAN. You know that, generally, on a Saturday night you’re going to have more than 2 beers (or whatever it is you enjoy) and just waiting 30 minutes and eating street meat isn’t going to be enough to sober you up for whatever authorities pull you over. A taxi is way cheaper than the legal issues you’ll have to deal with during the long run and, besides, if you’re a guy no girl ever really wants a visibly drunk guy to pick her up.
This sort of thing can ruin entire lives. Don’t be “that guy.”
And buy me a shot when you see me, you filthy bastards.
There have been lots of terms that have been tossed around in regards to the current generation of youth. “Millenials” is one that comes to mind. Pop psych books and articles attempt to dissect this generation, as every older generation does every so often. I remember Generation X. Generation Y/Y2K. (The Greatest Generation, who saved us from the Nazi Empire, still wins.)
I was in my 20’s when the Napster revolution came along. Even before that I remember piracy on newsgroups. During the crafting of the first Unreal I remember watching one of my peers downloading Hollywood movies in the background and then watching them on his giant, fat monitor. I remember at the time thinking “Hollywood’s going to shit when they see this.”
The music industry, as broken as it was, was torn to shreds like a family electronics store in the Los Angeles Riots. Only over the last few years has Apple manage to create hardware and an ecosystem that actually gets people to pay for music once again. Even then, have you noticed how much your favorite artist is actually on tour these days? And the high cost of tickets? That’s because they’re not selling anywhere near as much actual music as they used to in the past.
As someone who worked in software for 20+ years (and maybe I’ll return someday) I have often had a lot to say about piracy. There are many different arguments that have been bandied about over the years. The suits claim that it’s straight up theft. The users say it doesn’t impact sales, and, in fact, can help increase mindshare for a product. Then there’s those folks in the middle who, for some reason, buy the product AND pirate it.
(Fucking weird, that one.)
There’s an old image that went around a few years back, you might have seen it.
It points out the sheer amount of bullshit that the legitimate, paying user has to go through when he acquires a DVD/Blu Ray. It’s gotten better since then, but there are still plenty of instances of this lunacy. (This is why I just stream movies and TV on my Xbox, even though it’s pricier.)
I had dinner with a certain gaming executive a few months ago and one of the topics we discussed were sales and piracy. He told me he had the numbers of their recent release – a great game that got very good reviews and was enjoyed by many. He said they had stats on the PC version sales versus piracy and the numbers were staggering. It was something around 4-1 in regards to purchased copies versus torrented ones. And we wonder why Blizzard, who often can Do No Wrong, forced us to be online for Diablo 3.
Obviously no one liked what Blizzard pulled, but do you actually blame them for that? Do you think they would have gone through the headache and cost of having those servers up (usually, heh) along with the bad PR and the backlash from their biggest fans if they didn’t see piracy as a major problem with their products?! The results wind up hurting all of us; a group of people who illegally acquire something cause the rest of us, the legitimate customers, to suffer. This isn’t a new concept. If you have a few rule breakers at your office then everyone has to then adhere to whatever new red tape appears. (A few people not pulling their hours? Everyone has to have punch cards now!) Thanks for treating your loyal customers like thieves because of those other assholes!
The thing that I’m not sure Hollywood has even caught on to is how carefree the Millenials are about torrenting content. I’ve been around 20-something friends many times when they just wait and watch for the new episode of Game of Thrones to pop up on their feed, download it, and just fire away. (Yes, I’m that guy who somehow still has young friends, like the guy who hangs out in the High School parking lot with his Camaro after he’s graduated.)
A few years back another young friend posted on Facebook :
“Wow, The Lovely Bones was amazing, brought me to tears. Movie was outstanding.”
I replied “Whoa, it’s not even out yet, you get a screener?”
Her “No I torrented that shit!”
In addition, the entertainment industry cannot expect to fully educate or bully when it comes to this problem.
Whenever they have, it comes across as laughable or, well, comedy gold.
But let’s face it. If you’re a broke college guy and you want to be a part of the cultural zeitgeist you will torrent about as often as you fap, and not feel a single tinge of guilt about it because, hey, it’s HBO, a big, evil corporation, so fuck them! (Remember, fap in your room, not in the shared shower, you drain clogging frat boys.)
I enjoy quality entertainment. The few reality TV shows I actually enjoy are usually the ones about people with careers, like Restaurant Impossible or any Real Estate Porn. (Joe Schmo is amazing also, check that one out.) Similar to my post yesterday about the gaming business is the fact that TV executives LOVE pumping out reality TV because:
It’s cheap to shoot.
People eat that garbage up.
Everyone thinks they’re a fucking celebrity, and are willing to do anything to be on TV and to be paid dirt for it in the process.
Yes, my wife will be on Say Yes to The Dress. Show me a girl who wouldn’t kill to be on that show and I’ll show you someone who has given up.
I remember walking the Red Carpet a few years ago at the Spike Awards and Felicia Day was next to us and we got shoved out of the way by the cast of Jersey Shore. This was right when the show was hitting, mind you. Felicia turns to me and goes “What the heck just happened?” I turn to her and say “Don’t worry, Felicia, in a few years when you’re en route to be the next Tina Fey they’ll be in rehab.” I later heard stories about when The Situation had come to Raleigh he was paid to come to a club and that he was just doing rails of coke, right in the open, as girls lined up to make out with him.
We all know what happened to The Situation.
Anyways, back on topic. We’re in a golden era of scripted television.
I mean, the fact that Breaking Bad is even allowed to exist now blows my mind. The Walking Dead can be uneven but is enjoying a spectacular success. (I liked zombies before it was cool, dammit.)
(I always hear Tim Schafer singing that song with Jack Black in my head for some reason. You can’t unhear it.)
No, I haven’t read the books. I hear they’re spectacular, but this blog is about piracy and entertainment.
Season 3 is returning at the end of the month, and to be frank, my wife and I are BEYOND FUCKING STOKED.
Ever have a show that’s that good that even on demand or recorded on your DVR you still watch the opening credits as a way of getting hyped up for what’s coming? I used to do this with The Sopranos. I felt like I had to get eased into Tony’s Jersey underworld with the smooth sounds of A3.
When Season 1 of “Thrones” hit all of my awesome nerdy friends were gushing about it. “You HAVE to watch this. It’s amazing. Blah blah blah.” I tuned it out. I was down on any sort of sword fantasy epic at the time; it really wasn’t my cup of tea right then. Eventually after hearing all of the buzz about what happens at the end of Season 1 (I somehow managed to avoid that spoiler) Lauren and I sat down to watch the pilot.
20 minutes in our jaws were on the floor and we were hooked. Never mind the sounds we made at the end of the episode when the tower scene went down.
This was quality, epic television. It was layered, well written, and complex. It was violent, unpredictable, and filled with surprisingly human moments. Characters you rooted for and bad guys you hissed at. Darned near Shakespearean it was. Keeping up with all of the characters, the mythology, and the plotlines was work in and of itself. (We’re rooting for Daenerys, by the way.) In this digital, crowded world you actually want your show to be dense and layered and discussed, as it drives tweets, forum posts, and overall hype.
Those of you who know me know my cable conundrum. We have Time Warner cable and their horrible DVR box along with HBO/Shotime on demand. And, as much as I hate it, I’m not ready to cut the cord. I don’t torrent, so finding every show that I enjoy watching is a comedic shuffle between inputs. Sometimes we’ll use our Apple TV, or Amazon Video, or cable, or Xbox. (We’d use Netflix, but there’s seldom anything actually streaming on it.) My cable box likes to randomly not record shows, or misses them, or just stutters, or cut off the ends of the shows…it’s a nonstop fight that’s probably going to end with us going Office Space on the fucking thing one of these days. (I swear the thing is like TiVo’s retarded little brother from 2003.)
So we then tried alternate ways to get “Thrones” and had this experience.
Since I’m such a name dropping fool on this one particular blog, I’d like to introduce one of the folks in business that I’ve gotten to know: Kevin Tsujihara.
Kevin was previously responsible for Warner Brother’s home entertainment and now is running the whole place. (I sent him that Oatmeal article, he got a chuckle out of it.) He’s one of those Hollywood guys who really isn’t at all what you’d think a Hollywood guy would be. He’s genuine, funny, and affable. He’s a guy you’d like to have a beer with. The first time I met him the first thing out of my mouth was “Why isn’t ‘Thrones’ on Itunes?” He told me to check out HBO GO, which we now use on our Xbox. It’s actually an enjoyable setup, but the process of configuring it was a gong show. (I’m the kind of person that, after 4-5 annoying steps for signing up for something will often just walk away.)
A peer of mine and I got into a heated argument in his office about this very subject. I told him that HBO should sell their shows A La Carte. I told him my suspicion that every day goes by from when the show airs to when the DVDs/Blu Rays come out is a day where thousands of folks who might have bought them to watch the show have just torrented the damned thing. His response was that it’s HBO’s freedom to sell their products however they see fit, and that they’ve chosen the subscription model. There have been news stories that have said that that model is what allows for this quality, more expensive to produce television to see the light of day.
Ultimately what gets me about all of this, and the point that I’m getting at, is that while I know we can’t educate people about piracy, I can’t help but think that, as a paying HBO subscriber, I’m paying for the show that other people are illegally acquiring.
It feels like some sort of…”Entertainment Welfare” to me.
And then I start thinking about the cast. I think about the harsh filming locations that they have to endure for months. I think about the CG house that’s been contracted to bring this world to life. I think about the cameramen who are uprooted from their families to film in other countries, the writers, hell, finally George R Martin himself who busted his ass to bring us this incredible world.
And I can’t help but think… if you pirate my favorite TV show of all time…
You’re kind of a dick.
Just like with used games, if everyone torrented all quality entertainment then it would, in fact, go away.
Then we’d have to just sit at home watching fucking Harlem Shake videos.
(EDIT: Some have mentioned the issues with region limiting. That, just like waiting to ship the DVD/Blu Ray set, they’re just baiting people to torrent. I’m sure they do it for a reason…it doesn’t make it suck any less.)
Which means that it exists in a capitalistic world. You know, a free market. A place where you’re welcome to spend your money on whatever you please… or to refrain from spending that money.
Those companies that put these products out? They’re for profit businesses. They exist to produce, market, and ship great games ultimately for one purpose. First, for money, then, for acclaim.
And when those companies are publicly traded on the stock market they’re forced to answer to their shareholders. This means that they need to make a lot of money in order to increase the value of the shareholder’s stock. Every quarter.
Adjusted for inflation, your average video game is actually cheaper than it ever has been. Never mind the ratio of the hours of joy you get from a game per dollar compared to film.
To produce a high quality game it takes tens of millions of dollars, and when you add in marketing that can get up to 100+ million. In the AAA console market you need to spend a ton of cash on television ads alone, never mind other marketing stunts, launch events, swag, and the hip marketing agency that costs a boatload in your attempts to “go viral” with something. Not only is the market more crowded than ever but your average consumer has many more entertainment options than ever before in the history of humanity. (Hell, when levels are loading in our games my wife and I read Twitter and Reddit.)
Another factor to consider is the fact that many game development studios are in places like the San Francisco bay area, where the cost of living is extraordinarily high. (Even Seattle is pretty pricey these days.) Those talented artists, programmers, designers, and producers that spent their time building the game you love? They need to eat and feed their families. (Something that the hipster/boomerang kid generation seems to forget all too often.)
I’ve seen a lot of comments online about microtransactions. They’re a dirty word lately, it seems. Gamers are upset that publishers/developers are “nickel and diming them.” They’re raging at “big and evil corporations who are clueless and trying to steal their money.”
I’m going to come right out and say it. I’m tired of EA being seen as “the bad guy.” I think it’s bullshit that EA has the “scumbag EA” memes on Reddit and that Good Guy Valve can Do No Wrong.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge fan of Gabe and co most everything they do. (Remember, I bought that custom portal turret that took over the internet a while back and I have friends over there.) However, it blows my mind that somehow gamers don’t seem to get that Valve is a business, just like any other, and when Valve charges 100$ for an engagement ring in Team Fortress 2 it’s somehow “cool” yet when EA wants to sell something similar it’s seen as “evil.” Yes, guys, I hate to break it to you, as awesome as Valve is they’re also a company that seeks to make as much money as possible.
They’re just way better at their image control.
Making money and running a business is not inherently evil. It creates jobs and growth and puts food on the table. This country was built on entrepreneurship. Yes, there are obvious issues around basic business ethics (Google “Pinto Fires”) and the need for a company to give back to its’ community, but that’s not what this blog is about right now.
People love to beat up on Origin, but they forget that, for a good amount of time, Steam sucked. No one took it seriously for the first while. When Gabe pitched it at GDC to my former co-workers years ago they came back with eye rolls. (Who’s laughing now? All of Valve.) It took Valve years to bang their service into the stellar shape that it is in these days. Yet somehow everyone online forgets this, and they give EA crap about trying to create their own online services. Heaven forbid they see our digital roadmap for the future and try to get on board the “games as services” movement.
I remember when the rage was pointed at Epic when we allowed users to purchase weapon skins in Gears 3. I replied to an enraged fan on Twitter that “You’re more than welcome to not buy the optional cosmetic weapon skins that will make you more visible to the enemy.” And you know what? In spite of the uproar, people still bought plenty of them. (I’ve seen the numbers.)
If you don’t like EA, don’t buy their games. If you don’t like their microtransactions, don’t spend money on them. It’s that simple. EA has many smart people working for them (Hi, Frank, JR, and Patrick!) and they wouldn’t attempt these things if they didn’t work. Turns out, they do. I assure you there are teams of analysts studying the numbers behind consumer behavior over there that are studying how you, the gamer, spends his hard earned cash.
If you’re currently raging about this on GAF, or on the IGN forums, or on Gamespot, guess what? You’re the vocal minority. Your average guy that buys just Madden and GTA every year doesn’t know, nor does he care. He has no problem throwing a few bucks more at a game because, hey, why not?
The market as I have previously stated is in such a sense of turmoil that the old business model is either evolving, growing, or dying. No one really knows. “Free to play” aka “Free to spend 4 grand on it” is here to stay, like it or not. Everyone gets a Smurfberry! Every single developer out there is trying to solve the mystery of this new model. Every console game MUST have a steady stream of DLC because, otherwise, guess what? It becomes traded in, or it’s just rented. In the console space you need to do anything to make sure that that disc stays in the tray. I used to be offended by Gamestop’s business practices but let’s be honest…they’re the next Tower Records or Sam Goody. It’s only a matter of time.
Remember, if everyone bought their games used there would be no more games. I don’t mean to knock you if you’re cash strapped – hell, when I was a kid and I had my paper route I would have bought the hell out of used games. But understand that when faced with this issue those that fund and produce those games you love have to come up with all sorts of creative ways for the business to remain viable and yes, profitable.
Saying a game has microtransactions is a giant generalization, really, it is an open ended comment. What can you buy? Can you buy a cosmetic hat? Or can I spend a buck to go to the top of the leaderboard? Can I buy a bigger gun? What about gambling? (It’s like saying a game is open world; that could mean GTA, Assassin’s Creed, or heck, even Borderlands.) Which one do you actually mean? Do Zynga’s practices often feel sleazy? Sure. Don’t like it? Don’t play it. Don’t like pay to win? You have the freedom to opt out and not even touch the product.
If you truly love a product, you’ll throw money at it.
No one seemed too upset at Blizzard when you could buy a pet in World of Warcraft – a game that you had to buy that was charging a monthly fee. (How dare console games have steady cycles of buyable DLC!) When I was a child and the Ultimate Nintendo Fanboy I spent every time I earned from my paper route on anything Nintendo. Nintendo Cereal. Action figures. Posters. Nintendo Power. Why? Because I loved what Nintendo meant to me and I wanted them to keep bringing me more of this magic.
People like to act like we should go back to “the good ol’ days” before microtransactions but they forget that arcades were the original change munchers. Those games were designed to make you lose so that you had to keep spending money on them. Ask any of the old Midway vets about their design techniques. The second to last boss in Mortal Kombat 2 was harder than the last boss, because when you see the last boss that’s sometimes enough for a gamer. The Pleasure Dome didn’t really exist in the original Total Carnage. Donkey Kong was hard as hell on purpose. (“Kill screen coming up!”)
I’ve been transparent with most folks I’ve worked with in my career as to why I got into this business. First, to make amazing products – because I love the medium more than any. Second, to be visible. I enjoy the notoriety that I’ve managed to stir up. And finally, yes, to make money. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure is a nice lubricant when you can take that trip you’ve always wanted or feed your family or pay your bills on time.
And that brings me full circle to my main point. If you don’t like the games, or the sales techniques, don’t spend your money on them.
When my eldest brother, Greg, graduated High School and later went on to get accepted to West Point on a hockey scholarship (“East Barricade Academy” making sense yet?) my parents, for the last summer he had at home, got him a VCR. You know, those old things that played giant plastic bricks, gave rise to Blockbuster video, “Be Kind, Rewind,” and also got a generation of wanking husbands caught because they left the porn tape IN THE VCR.
Anyways, this began the start of Family Movie Night. We’d go out to “West Coast Video” which was a real chain in the late 80’s. You know, because generally, most of those who don’t live in LA have this weird obsession with it. (Something about sunshine, vajazzeling, and a starter house being 850 grand.) My father would rent pretty hardcore shit for my 12 year old eyes at the time. Robocop. Altered States. The Accused. Aliens. Predator. You haven’t been a teenaged boy unless you’ve gone through the horrible experience of hiding your boner during the sex scene in Top Gun with a pillow. (I’d wager young gay dudes had the same problem with the volleyball scene, but I digress.)
I loved sci-fi, action… I loved John Hughs’ films, I ached for every glimpse of boobs I could get. (This was before you could get gaping on your cel phone…good luck, digital generation!) I also found out that I LOVED horror. And the movie that mentally fucked up a generation was…
I could write an entire blog about that film, but long story short Spielberg and Tobe Hooper did such a fantastic job of depicting your average American Nuclear Family in the first act and systematically terrifying them for the last two that it ruined sleep for weeks for the majority of my generation. A scary clown, a corpse filled pool, an evil tree, and a guy TEARING HIS OWN FUCKING FACE OFF were just overload for our young heads.
As Stephen King says… we were hooked, like addicts.
I’ve seen almost all of them. The good (“The Exorcist”) the Bad (“The Stuff”) and the Ugly (“Martyrs.”) Each offers some unique twist on some common fear. This twist ultimately reflects the feelings of society at that time, or it has something to say about life, longevity, family, or any number of themes.
Hollywood loves to produce horror movies. Why? Because, more often than not, the bean counters point to horror flicks as lower budget, low risk movies that can potentially yield huge profits…or, even better…
A FRANCHISE. (Which, more often than not, the original creators depart from and then becomes exponentially worse over the years. Ever copy a copy of a copy of a copy? That shit fades.) I still mourn the loss of Freddy and Jason as scary, cool villains and their horrid transformations into wise cracking action figures.
So here’s my point, and it’s a point I started to realize right around the time the Halle Berry “Gothika” movie came about. I don’t want my horror to be high budget, or with recognizable actors. I don’t want it to be well lit, or heavy in CG.
I don’t want to see the fucking monster.
Fear, like attraction (and sex,) is all in the brain. I often quote yet another Stephen King saying in that “When the lightning crashes and the door opens and you see a 20 foot bug part of you sighs because you were expecting a 40 foot bug.” Even in my mid 20’s I knew this, which was why in Unreal 1 I made sure you saw as little of the Skaarj alien as long as possible before locking you in a dark room and unleashing him upon you.
Alien knew this. (Hell, even Cloverfield knew this, as much as the casting of those Real World looking motherfuckers distracted us all.)
I’ve joked with friends before in development that this is called “Monster Foreplay.” You tease it as long as possible. (A stripper doesn’t suddenly show up naked, she comes out and takes off her clothes as slow as possible to Alice in Chains.) The exception to this is, of course, the occasional jump scare. The dog in RE1 worked. But that’s not what this blog is about.
You can say what you want about the genre of Found Footage, but when done right, it largely works. I know the gimmick…but I’m more than willing to go along with it. Paranormal Activity 1-3 mostly just…work…because it feels like IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU. (This is why we’ve seen a rise in Gonzo porn…it seems like just a couple of guys in a van who find a random girl on the street who just so happens to know how to enjoy double penetration.) I don’t want my horror over produced. I want it like I want my Five Guys burgers. I want it greasy, raw, and soaking through a brown paper bag. I walk away from a Five Guys burgers like I just bought a 40 ounce Colt 45 from the corner store…a mixture of pride and guilt.
I’ve mentioned it before, but one of the rare exceptions from the last few years was James Wan’s “Insidious.” This movie was one of the rare studio exceptions that felt somewhat slick, with recognizable actors that actually worked. (Patrick Wilson…the suburban go to guy for unhappy marriages…even Lena Dunham picked up on this.) I sometimes wonder if James was a fan of The Mothman Prophecies, because that movie was a stellar studio flick that had great scares and it didn’t always BEAT YOU OVER THE HEAD with it. (The Mirror scene is a classic…I couldn’t find it on Youtube, but those of you who have scene the movie know what I’m talking about.) The opening credits of Insidious are filled with things that are just “off” and it’s Wan’s way of saying “Hey…you…pay attention…the scares in this movie are going to often be subtle and creeping…”
The credits were a TUTORIAL FOR THE MOVIE.
High work for the guy who brought us the not so subtle Saw franchise.
(Man, I can’t wait for Insidious 2.)
The key in this over saturated Youtube nation isn’t bigger, better, and grosser. Less is more. It’s all about the director that can master subtlety. Again, the biggest scare in “Signs” was the news footage scene of the alien. It’s just a CG alien walking by. But the buildup is long, a slow burn, and the shaky cam nature of the shot only adds to the moment. (Bonus favorite M. Night scene here. People forget that the Sixth Sense had scares and heart, btw.)
The “Signs” scene is also helped along by the fact that, apparently, the kids are speaking Spanish. This is one of the reasons why I often find foreign horror to be extremely effective. Watch it in the original language and read the subtitles, you ignorant fucks. The original “Let the Right One In” was incredibly powerful because, as an American, the stark and cold Swedish apartment complex felt so real and alien. (“The Citadel,” a solid recent thriller, benefited from this as well.) “Martyrs” works on another level because of this as well.
I’ll have to save another blog post for why “Martyrs,” in all its’ heinous horror, is one of my favorite films of all time.
Here’s the problem with video game sequels, as opposed to linear/film ones.
In a game, the users are used to the cadence of the experience. However airtight each game mechanic is. They are, quite literally, learning a new “language” with each new game that they’ve never laid their hands on before. (Case in point: From Gears 1 to Gears 2 we changed the firing speed of the shotgun by 50ms. Barely the blink of an eye for most people. However the die hard fans who loved that weapon felt it immediately. You can’t fool them. Muscle memory is a powerful thing.)
In a sense, if they like the game, they’re experiencing what is most likely the mental equivalent of falling in love while under duress. They’re discovering a whole new world of mechanics, characters, sounds, musical themes. If they love what they’re interacting with then that love runs EXTREMELY deep and is a very powerful thing. Think about your first visit to Rapture, or the Mushroom Kingdom, or Hyrule.
Now, remember, that a great video game often takes years to produce. So the time between your first experience with the original and the long awaited sequel can feel like forever. You read every preview. You salivate over every screenshot. You hear scary rumors, about how character X may die, or weapon Y may fire differently, but you attempt to have faith in the developer. (Now, imagine the pressure that the folks at 343 had taking over the reigns of the Halo franchise from Bungie…no pressure.)
I like to cite the example from the TV show “The Sopranos” now about Tony’s mother and her relationship with Tony’s dad. By all accounts, Tony’s father was a bad man, a criminal who, like Tony, wasn’t a very good husband and father. However, upon watching the first two seasons of that show you see Tony’s mother Livia as she recalls her relationship with the guy as if he was perfect. “He was a saint.”
No, he wasn’t a saint, you’re just remembering the highs. It’s the same reason why one of the most powerful spam/malware attractors on the Internet are “What’s your ex doing now?” Because when you break up with someone you romanticize the highs, the sweet sweet moments when you fell for that person, not the lows, the horrid moments when you knew this person wasn’t right for you.
Now, by all accounts, a sequel is usually a more refined experience. I’m going to let you in on a little development secret. The first features to often go into a sequel are the ones that we cut out of the first one. Shocking, I know, but towards the end of a development cycle a good producer knows to keep cutting in order to get the core of the title out the door. (Remember, this is a business.)
However, a refined experience isn’t always what the user wants. Sometimes they loved everything about that first game, the warts and all. Halo fans loved their overpowered pistol. Smoothing that out seemed to enrage them. Gears fans loved their overpowered shotgun. Quake 1 fans loved the One Rocket Launcher to Rule Them All. Then, in the sequel, when you take the balance to the virtual forge and iron out the impurities something can be lost.
Then, we ultimately get to the sequel conundrum that I’ve mentioned in interviews before.
HARDCORE USERS claim they want the SAME EXACT GAME, only with upgraded graphics. Never mind the fact that one of the things they loved about the original was the clarity of experience, the clean, simple lines, the lack of business in the environment. Ignore the fact that you could have done that with some more DLC to keep their experience new and fresh. (That’s “nickel and diming” them.)
THE PRESS’s #1 question to any developer? “What’s new?” Their #2 question? “What’s changed?” And wait for it, because #3 is coming “How are you going to keep fans of the original happy?”
By and large these are conflicting goals. Making a sequel is an attempt to balance all of that.
But if you give the hardcore what they claim to want then the press respond “It’s just Game 1.5”
And then if you change it too much the hardcore will claim “you ruined it!" while the press might just give you accolades for a bold, fresh take.