Thursday, August 27, 2009

Premeditated Neglect ~ Batman: Arkham Asylum


For someone like me, hearing the general praise of a singular thing inspires an almost instinctive will to muster up hatred for it. It's taken a bit of discipline to overcome that thirst for ignorant malice, but one of the many steps in contending with such an issue is first understanding it. I qualify a defining trait of misanthropy as an absolute refusal to submit to a consensus (that and I have a bit of a mean streak for Schadenfreude).

Over the past few days I've heard quite a few positive things about the newly released Batman: Arkham Asylum title. Through the various outlets I use, I was submitted to the acclaim it seems to be rightfully racking up for itself. At first I was ready to cast off a "meh" interest in it myself, but today I decided to do a bit of exploration on the matter, starting with watching a few YouTube clips of the game. I was at first curious because I wished to see how it functioned as a stealth game (a favorite genre of games for me) in order to get some handle on what it is. Then I read a few reviews and decided that may not have been the best idea on my part.



Watching this is more than enough of what I needed to see in order to avoid this game, both out of respect to it and myself. I'm too smart (or conceited, take your pick) for "must-buys" anymore.

Once I realized that all I required was a tangible perception for what the game is, I was fine with everything else. I even embraced the reality that it looks like an enjoyable game I may pick up sometime in the not-so-soon future. What I didn't like though was that urge to somehow know what the game was before I started watching YouTube clips. I honestly blame my past over-reliance in what things like previews serve as now. I stopped looking at upcoming games for this very reason and I'm just pissed off at the product of its remnants now. There's nobody I can really lay blame with there, but it is something that I now have a grasp on for myself. An act of responsibility here is not doing the preview thing anymore, perhaps it will pay off sometime in the future.

The way things intermingle, affect people's perceptions, and alter their opinion is both fascinating and disgustingly stupid...

At this point, I've embraced Arkham Asylum as something I'm jealous of, but do not really wish to play right now. I'm jealous of its fans because from what I've seen, it seems to be a porn-bucket of enjoyment for Batman fans---and therein lies the trouble:

I've never been a Batman fan...

The Christopher Nolan series have been one of the few actual instances where I've enjoyed the universe in which Gotham rests, and that was primarily due to the fact that I'm more of a fan to Nolan than I am of Batman. I still consider myself outside the popular take on The Dark Knight because while I do regard it as one of the best films I've seen in the 2000 block, I also think its overhyped; both in its rabid fans and the detractors (traitors to their cause by the way) who hate it SOLELY because everyone else likes it (sound familiar?).




The only licensed comic game I'd rush out to buy on release these days is something of Arkham Asylum's caliber set amongst the universe of Spiderman (and even that's a bit of a fucking stretch to say). Right now I'm methodically making my way through The Wire, which is as new to me as Arkham Asylum is to everyone else, and I am SO fucking proud of that.

I'll also be going back to Thief: Gold this weekend, so those will start up again next week hopefully.

~sLs~

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Beyond Annoyance and Pleasure

Yesterday, news started circulating on the state of Beyond Good and Evil 2’s status as a game. As of right now, the game has been officially put “on hold”. Late last month, Ubisoft’s North American president ominously stated that simply because the game was being developed doesn’t mean it will ever be released. He also acknowledges the franchise’s worth as an IP and something they did not want to abandon. With a little bit of questionable motive applied here on my part, I’d say that there’s definitely room to voice some back-peddling in his phrasing as well, which is what I’m responding to today.

In quite a few categories, gamers have the right to be annoyed with this news because it’s not the first time fans of a dedicated Ubisoft series have seen a sequel slow down in development significantly (see Splinter Cell: Conviction). There’s no use in Ubisoft trying to manipulate their fanbase’s perception of the game now. Releasing a teaser that basically confirmed the title may not have been the best idea, neither was the leaked footage of the running woman (yeah, that’s not all Ubi’s fault if it is indeed footage of the game, but it's still something they’re liable for in terms of responsibility).

What I basically see in this supposed ‘hold’ is Ubisoft trying to have their cake and eat it too. Professing at this point to keeping Jade in their back pocket is both neglectful and borderline abusive to not only the precious IP they don’t want to abandon, but the fans that kept the first game from being a total financial failure as well.

"Well, I didn't say there's definitely going to be another game. I said something had leaked, which means we've been working on some Beyond Good and Evil stuff, but whether there's going to be another game or not, that's something for the future."
---Laurent Detoc, North American president of Ubisoft

I guess it’s not exactly breaking news to see a large game publisher/developer submit to the business of the industry, but that doesn’t make things any easier to digest. At this point, the best we can hope for would be the game not being cancelled and simply delayed? Even that's being hopeful though...

~sLs~

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Autarkic Games Journalism Part III

Damned

Sites and writers that try to or attempt to say something meaningful for themselves often end up falling into a trap, which is what most other gamers tend to write off in whatever rational vibe is easiest to flee to. I won’t argue the fact that more and more writers are drawing successfully from their own subjective take on games, but there is a downside to this. That is the dissonance produced by ‘proxy voices’, which is an interesting a new development for a gaming's scribes. No other medium has had the displeasure of being so contingent on factors as influential as the internet has been for games. Now, I define a ‘proxy voice’ as an ideal someone refers to when they’re speaking about games, tweaked or slanted by subjective perspectives. When their ideas get gobbled up by the internet, one of two things will happen.

1 >>>>> Whatever they said gets heard, misinterpreted, or inspires some lone soul on the other side of Earth that will in turn take a sliver of the original author’s ideal and integrate it into their own matrix of what they classify as reality. The intent may bear no malice of course, but what happens when that idea or ‘voice’ runs far beyond its breaking ground? It’s just a slightly more subtle and nuanced game of ‘Telephone’.

2 >>>>> They’re not seen at all, which typically causes the writers to withdraw into some self-absorbed rationalization that their energies are better directed elsewhere. This totally disregards a common truth in lieu of embracing some idealistic notion that people are meant to see great ideas in their progenitor’s lifetime. The fact of the matter is most people with great things to say never lived to see how they were interpreted and applied.

So you see? I refer to it as a ‘proxy voice’ because it’s a digital counterpart of what the author indented to say in the first place. Even if what they wrote was grasped in exactly the way they meant it to be, the chances are rare that its development will see the same warm embrace. People abuse everything, which applies to the ideals they pedestalize and shamelessly adhere to.

Sourced

There’s also a still a tendency to exalt developers with praise they don’t deserve. I don’t mean that as a insult, but rather a compliment. Game developers rarely get treated as another person (with a varying degrees of recognizable talent). No, they suffer the same ego-meal that is doled out to celebrities, athletes, and just general talent that was simply in the right place at the right time. It’s not too unlike how people always whine, complain, and bitch about how a friend may have let them down.

The common social contract dictates we kiss each other’s ass and after a certain point, it just becomes an understandable, yet common instance of imbalance when one places too much faith in another human being. When one idealizes a friend---a fellow person, they’re almost literally asking to be let down. I could say that this same logic has been slightly apparent in some games journalists as well, showing how easy the more deplorable ideals of ours propagate across culture.

Another thing to lament is how artists and writers are rarely integrated into the process. A video-games development is still primarily recognized (at best) as a pure technical art. This mainly due to how, when, and where the 'more creative' minds are introduced into the design process. There is a valid argument for how a script must adhere to the game's mechanics and what not, but why has nobody genuinely addressed the inverse of that?


A visual analysis of my online persona, heh. You can click here if you're curious about your own.

Embraced

The diversity in which our community accustoms games to individually to fit their lifestyle, feed their own egos, chronicle their own thoughts---whatever, it all has a place. Tipping moral compasses and granting people more power than they deserve is something we can’t stop, but keep our contact with to a minimum. As much as I’d love see a radical paradigm shift, I’d be idiotic to actually expect it. As I'll attempt to do on this blog until I'm done with it, I'll be acknowledging the ideal that we must nurture a game's evolution if we want them to change for the better (as opposed to just crying about it when I play something that I don't like).

1~~~> When will gamers learn to respectfully disagree with something?

2~~~>When will they learn how to prioritize writing for themselves and not for those around them?

3~~~>When will they recognize that subjectivity is a goal and objectivity is a tool we’re meant to use and not abuse/pervert?

4~~~>When will more begin to notice that the action of playing a game can be more than a one-sided input process?

5~~~>*cough* When will I not want to step on the foot of every person I meet in life (if for no other reason than to see how they react)?

I consider the answer to all of those a beautiful ‘never’. You’re sweet and cute for believing otherwise, but that’s about all I can grant you as a compliment. =)

~sLs~

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Autarkic Games Journalism Part II

[Yesterday, I mused a bit about the state of self-sufficient games writing. I didn't really go anywhere with it, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Today however, I do want to pose a few questions with a more subversive purpose.]

The Payback? ~ ['fork in the toaster' by M.H. Mason]

1: Hmmm, what do you write for?
2: What do you write about?
3: Just how do you expect your audience to react to it?


...Seriously, answer those in the comments if you feel obliged to. If you can't answer them for yourself however, you have a bigger problem than I thought.

Those are just a few of the fundamental questions off the top of my head. Matt Mason pointed out yesterday that there is a difference between those of 'us' who get paid and those that don't. The broke(er) of us tend to yank videogames on to our playground of perception, to judge them under the flag of what we would or wouldn't deem as fair on our part. The cash-checkers however have a much more difficult task at hand though. They've been formally integrated into the system that they're writing about. Trying to change things from the inside would cause a lot of unnecessary trouble for all parties involved. I imagine that this is why you won't see too many rebels inside that bubble; just decent people advocating decent writing (at the very worst). Now I'm not saying they aren't fuckups on both sides of the fence (or bubble) here, but we do have a tendency to whimsically demonize things we don't like. To what end do those crusades go though? If we dethroned every voice in the industry that we found unnecessary, what would that do for us in the end? Whether you're primarily after comments, money, or even self-satiation from being seen is irrelevant. The trick is to truly know where you stand and act accordingly. I guess that's harder for some than most because the list of different answers for those questions above can be answered in all sorts of ways.

The Internet ~ ['fork in the toaster' by M.H. Mason & Ben Abraham]

The net was like an explosion of power for how people relate games to one another, so it's no surprise that it suffered the mandatory abuse people are so adept at doling out (I now annoit this 'The Digital Apocalypse'). There's simply so much freedom in cyberspace now, that I'd relate it to the Capital Wasteland on an infinitely larger scale. We're all wandering around in a decayed setting of what could and should be, but that will never change what is. Occasionally our quests will take us across the paths of people we can side with to some extent, but those are often short lived and not meant to last. This is all while oppresive and nigh-propagandist establishments attempt delegate a futile attempt of control. Those cliques I referred to yesterday? Well they have their place here too. What would the landscape for things be without the existence of Megaton, Rivet City, and yes...even the Republic of fucking Dave.

Cognitive Dissonance ~ ['fork in the toaster' by Ben Abraham and Michael Abbot]

With all the diversity and opinions flaring up left and right, we have to question this as well. What falls to the wind is any possibility of true objectivity. Ben proposed yesterday that more people are aware of this than I'm willing to give credit for. While I still don't think many people know this, I can follow the track of logic here because it leads to the same place. That place is the productive nature of how we relate our experiences, period. With all those voices yelling things, the prospect of choice begins to become a resource to which we must utilize to the best of our ability. See the irony there? The entire thing becomes a circular argument because then we have to choose what town or clique we want to live within from that point on. It's just not possible to internalize everyone's viewpoint on any matter and games are no different.

To close this one, I'll ask three more questions...

~> For Mason's Fork: Where does 'independence' disappear, is it simply with just money (even as a catalyst) or a more complicated reason?

~> For Masons and Abraham's Fork: How to we 'rebuild Washington D.C.?'

~> For Abraham and Abbot's Fork: How do we kill the Ouroboros? Should we?

~sLs~

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Autarkic Games Journalism

Quite a few people that I usually read writings from when it comes to games (see right-hand blogroll) have grown increasingly disillusioned with the process of games and their journalism. In plenty of cases, this is an understandable process, but also a dangerous one. To clarify a bit, I'm not simply talking about the average burnout or break that people cite taking from games every few months (or just how 'the system' functions). No, I'm referring to a deteriorating attachment to the medium itself. Any gamer with any kind with a productive drive will want to write about games at some point, its nearly unavoidable. However, the extent and debate that has been raised in the past years stem from some sense of broken structure that videogames journalism just can't seem to live up to.

Why? Well because the audience is a bunch of ungrateful, ignorant, and digital bigots. It's really just that simple. The plus to take from this is that the ideals that bigotry (or any bigotry for that matter) stems from is fueled by passion. Passion dictates what we attach meaning to in our lives. This of course, is in line with my theory that everyone I meet is individually selfish to their own ends. Don't get me wrong, sometimes we can band together and get a bit more accomplished than we could alone, but at the end of the day those gathered acumens only serve the same purpose as 'one really big person' (not the genuine collection of individual wills as usually professed).

When I look at a news story these days, I don't look for inspiring bits of insight meant to shape some new corner of my head, I look for the fundamental facts. If I happen to enjoy the writing from a particular person, yeah that's more in my favor. However, I don't consider myself above reading someone I generally avoid because their 'voice' irritates me, that's just not how I operate. Hell, I'll even read someone with typos and grammatical errors running rampant throughout their article if some semblance of a message is still there for me. That's also why you won't catch me paying excruciating detail to any of my ramblings here. With perverted 'purple prose' and mistakes I've seen but am too proud to fix, I am more than a little enamored with myself for these things than I should be (I even once tricked a certain young man into reading a post of mine by demanding he fix all my grammatical errors *coughCodycough*). I remain smitten with myself because these subsystems of writing work flawlessly as intended, a filter to keep me under the water.

I've always liked being there because I enjoy the term "independent" (anybody who really knows me will see some irony there as well). Most of the actual writing I do is at two 'o clock in the morning when I could be considered legally drunk. In my spare day hours, I spend them mostly editing that stuff down to what I would consider to be an ideal piece of work on my part. This blog and any post I've made about on games however, has always been creative exhaust. Stuff I'm spewing out of the crack of my metaphorical ass while I chug along doing things I find much more rewarding (and if I have my way, things which will never see the light of day).

"People who have a problem with boxes are people who don't fit in them."
-Eric Foreman, House M.D.
Season 4, Episode 12, "Don't Ever Change"


What I see as a huge plus these days are just genuine people from all walks who are willing to write thought-provoking and insightful pieces for little to no cost at all. They are doing this with controlled and productive bursts of their own passion and also because they have comfortable distances from what they're writing about, games. Even if their actual profession remains games related, some spell out almost subconsciously how their own personal lines have been drawn amongst themselves (when some realize this difference, the shift is absolute).

Consider Rob Zacny, who runs around cooking with a significant other, formally studied and & well-versed in history and classics. Now, go wander around The Escapist and 1UP.com.

Consider Jeff Grubb, local delivery guy who once got screwed over for a carding error. Now, go wander around GameTopius, 1UP.com, and Kombo.

Consider Leigh Alexander, who probably has more of a problem with music than she ever will with games. Now, go wander around Gamasutra.

Consider Nick, a sociological grad student who wastes his time quipping after my tweets. Now, go wander around B4GD.

Consider L.B. Jeffries, a law school student who will either turn out very depressed or really neutral in a few years. Now, go wander around PopMatters.

Consider Sarah Kelly, a biochem. student that probably spends way too much time with her head in a book. Now, go wander around 1UP.com.

Consider Michael Abbott, a theatre professor with a penchant for being way too nice. Now, go look at The Brainy Gamer.

Consider everybody on my god damn blog roll if you're ambitious enough. Certainly some aren't in a condition to have this kind of soothing distance, but its worth noting nonetheless. What the above examples are really meant to illustrate are simply the diversity amongst gamers and nothing more. Rather than having those differences affect the games industry's interior from the outside, most have lazily opted for some half-jacked Matrix ripoff, trying to offer 'pseudo objective insight' (that's just a paradoxical phrase to me), and provide false grounds free of bias for themselves to stand on.

A by-product of this reality are the cliques some writers tend to adhere to. Now that's not meant to be as much of a slight as it comes off as, just an abrasive attempt on my part to have people realize their place in the puzzle. The academics mainly stick with the academics, the fun-junkies with their lot, and the bohemian crowds and so on. They stay inside their little ponds, leaking whatever "truth" suits them into the growing cesspool of society at large. The different cardinal truths neither clash nor mesh. No one is invalidated, but nobody is right. If I had one wish I'd ask for every single major game reporting site to go ice-cold for a one week, it would confirm my point at the very least. If the internet has given one gift to everyone, it's the power to be heard when you have no reason to be yelling in the first place.

~sLs~

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Making Love To The Machine

[This is more of a subset to a post that's now up on GameTopius.]

In a very dry commentary involving the Hal 9000, I was brought back to an idea I've already skipped around before, which is how AI is appears to the world of video-games at large. My problem with the general reality here is how it's specifically meant to be applied to the video-game realm.

Last night, during a game of StarCraft, I was reminded how the presence of bots and such has dwindled to a very sparse existence in games. Yeah, it should come as no surprise here that I would rather spend a night in a multiplayer game with rudimentary AI than people. The problem with that is how slowly and distorted Moore's Law applies when it crosses the border for our culture. Speaking within reason, it's not exactly realistic to expect true, strong, or advanced AI in a game (not in the near future anyway). Now maybe the the landscape will change in about twenty or so years, but even that is only if "things' go according to plan (which they of course, never do).

I don't know the intricacies of pathing and scripting, but I am interested in it and would be willing to accept input from anyone who has further knowledge on the matter. I also made a long rambling rant on how vital AI is for the stealth genre in my Metal Gear posts a few months ago.

Photobucket

My primary intrigue/speculation for this comes accompanied by my desire to actually witness the application in video-games, because we haven't gotten it yet. To be fair though, I know that this probably won't happen and the most that gamers will ever get out of the equation are strictly illusory constructs; robots or machines that are designed to simulate intelligence without having an ounce of it. Anybody doesn't think that the realm of the consciousness and mind can be applied to a machine really disappoints me; as we're not as complicated as we'd love to believe. With the way machines are advancing, just the sheer math of our organic chemistry and makeup will be surpassed infinitely in its basest form (on some grounds, even that is already being threatened). Along with the playground of games comes an amazing paradigm that I've seen no attempt to gain access to. That playground is how games can be used to advance AI and vice-versa.

AI has advanced to where we have perception systems running and machines capable of deductive reasoning to an extent, even to the point of being able to play classic games like chess with the most intelligent of men. However, those countless algorithms are based upon so much control and exhaustive regimen, that it's no wonder the entire picture is advancing so slowly. With a game, you can setup specific systems for an audience to interact with, both as a game and as an experiment. Of course design will have to find some way to realistically chart around the attempts of the AI constructs, but the goal can be gratifying on dual fronts. As a game it would be a noteworthy experiment, while as a scientific goal, it would be like mass trials to richly test human-machine interactions.

My nirvana here is to bear witness to the day when it will be illegal to put an AI in a game or at least illegal to the point where law could accompany the application (grand and improbable dream? you decide). This is because once 'strong AI' begins to surface globally, the entire notion of ethics and philosophy will have to be altered significantly to accompany it (and I'd love to see humanity begin to sort out that bitch of a mess myself). It's important in the here-and-now because the technological singularity HASN'T happened yet, and it may not even happen for another century (the model I looked at shows a singularity happening around 2080 sometime). These 'creative tests' can be accomplished now, while the systems don't have of anything resembling "true sentience" or the boundaries we currently define as life.

These possibilities fascinate me because this destroys (or at least knocks the wind of out of) what it means to be human by having humans create life on their own grounds. I'd just love to see video-games play a significant part in that.

On a slightly related note, I'd also adore seeing how far BCI systems (Brain-Computer Interface) will develop over the next twenty years. I've never been much for the tattoos and piercings, but if I see any attainable openings for replacing my own flesh for machine parts, I'm taking it. That sounds like something I could really get into as far "trivial interests" go. =p

~sLs~