New Games, New Audiences, New Genres

Well, well, guys, its been a while and a lot’s been happening. I’m pretty much going to ignore E3 in this post as there is already little that hasn’t already been said about so I’m just going to move on to the new stuff. First off, for those of you that don’t already know, Microsoft is running a 1 Month for $1 dollar promotion for Xbox Live. The deal looks to be worldwide as my friend in Australia has it available, as does my friend in England, where its 1 month for $1. Granted its not the ideal free online solution, but at $1 its not much of an obstacle, just remember to cancel the membership before it renews automatically at $8 a month. Anyways, for my month, I’ve pretty much been sticking to Gears of War 2 co-op and horde as well as Battlefield: Bad Company.

And now, moving on:

New Games

  • Barrow Hill: Curse of the Ancient Circle (PC)
  • Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts (360)
  • Scratches – Director’s Cut (PC)

Nothing much this week (or past few weeks). Barrow Hill and Scratches are more adventure game research and Banjo-Kazooie is technically a birthday present for my sister (got it at Target for $10), so its not technically mine, but I do have access to it.

Had I a job I’d be picking up a bunch of WiiWare games I’ve been eyeing, plus a bunch of major (and not so major) console releases, but I don’t have a job, so I’m not.

Other Goings On

If you’ve been following my blogs you might know a few things that have happened recently: 1, I recently graduated with a film degree, 2, I’ve been looking for work with little success, and to add to the list, I shall be returning to (a different) school on July 13th en route to a second bachelor’s degree. Times being the way they are, job hunting hasn’t been working out very well so I’ve decided to return to the relative safety of academia.
This time, I’ll be attending the Art Institute of California’s Game Art and Design program. The whole program is geared towards producing a working prototype in your final quarter which is presented at Sony Computer Entertainment. People from Sony also visit periodically and provide feedback on our works in progress and our portfolios and such. The school also has relationships with many of the game developers nearby, so in terms of job prospects after school, things will at least be better than they are now.

The program is typically three years, divided into quarters. I’m hoping that enough of my previous school work transfers over to shave off a few quarters, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The school will also help find me a part-time job while I’m attending, so that alone will help me out a lot.

Having lazied out for the past six months, it’ll be interesting to be back on a fixed schedule, so wish me luck guys!

Anyways, onto the content this week:

New Games, New Audiences, New Genres

 My mother recently picked up EA Sports Active on the Wii. Yes, another of those non-games that industry enthusiasts love to hate so much. Still, seeing it in action I was reminded of something else; fitness videos. Then that got me thinking about the whole fitness genre and the landscape of the industry today and that maybe the view of the enthusiast press may be a bit too wide.

What do I mean by that? Well, currently, video game sites cover and review just about everything being released for major platforms and handhelds. It makes sense after all since traditionally, everything released for consoles and platforms have been games. However, the recent influx of new ideas, technologies, and genres have changed the gaming landscape and expanded the functionality of our console machines beyond simply games.

As I stated above, products like EA Sports Active and Wii Fit remind me more of a fitness video than they do a proper game. Now, what if we extend that analogy further and begin to look at the video game industry in the way we look at film and video?

In this analogy, our traditional stable of games would fill the roles of movies. They’re the form of the medium that has been present the longest and has really set the standard for the way we look at the video game art form. The black and white era of this analogy could be our early video games; where we set the foundations of what this media could do and figured out how it would work. The jump to sound and color, similar to the jump to 3D where we our knowledge of the medium had to change and expand to encompass new technologies that change the way we can present our ideas and gave us new tools with which to express those ideas.

If those are our traditional games, then what are casual and non-games? My response would be that they are similar to television in relation to traditional games? How so? Television brought the audio/visual medium into the home and made it something that the whole family could gather around and enjoy together. A lot of new genres really emerged with the introduction of television: the game show, the talk show, and then we eventually began seeing fitness programs, self-improvement shows, and a whole myriad of programming that could be presented in an audio/visual format but may not have been worth committing to the more expensive medium of film.

Casual and non-games bring that same opportunity that television brought into the realm of video games. A traditional game requires a lot of time and a lot of money and you would never really think of committing those kinds of resources to something as mundane as say, learning to paint, or get in shape. A more reasonable option could be to incorporate those types of elements and information into a traditional product but then you run the risk of confusing your audience as to the purpose of your product. I’m not saying it cannot be done, but if you really want to commit those kinds of resources into a project, you want to see an artistic vision on the canvas and that rarely includes teaching your audience good balance or improve their math skills.

Casual and non-games typically have smaller budgets because they simply do not require the same resources to create a great exercise or language application than it takes to make a great traditional video game, in the same way a great fitness video only require the fraction of the budget that a great movie would. How would a math tutor benefit from an expensive graphics engine or how would an exercise game benefit from high dramatic range lighting? It may increase production values but are not really contributing to the game’s ultimate goal. On the contrary, some of the elements we expect from high profile, blockbuster games may even hinder the application in its intended goal.
Now that we’ve established the analogy, what are the greater implications of it? Well, one thing you’ll notice is that Hollywood movies and exercise videos aren’t really part of the same industry. Yes, they are both audio/visual mediums, but their purpose and the creative process behind each one is entirely different. I think this is the crossroads we’ve really come to in gaming. We are now seeing a lot of product that, while being an interactive medium running on a console, has a purpose completely separate from what we expect of the medium.

I’m sure a lot of people have recognized this divide in the purpose of games, but I think fewer have really questioned the way the gaming press has received them. It really only makes sense that if it comes out on a game system that it should be covered by the press that covers games. Still, all audio/visual media isn’t covered by the same people. Movies have their critics, television has their critics, and fitness videos are covered by fitness press. I’m not saying game journalists are incapable of covering a wider range of subjects; most of the EA Sports Active reviews are very well done, but most are also written by people who know games. In this case, the product they are reviewing is concerned less about being a game than it is being a fitness program. In that context perhaps the game is better reviewed by the fitness community.

The idea of looking beyond the enthusiast press seems to be gaining some ground. IGN recently launched Green Pixels, an outlet geared more towards the new audience as opposed to the enthusiast. Their editorial staff is also made up largely of experienced female journalists in contrast to the male-dominated staff most websites support. Also, EA sports recently stated that for effective feedback on their Wii titles, they’re looking more at Amazon’s user reviews and women’s magazines than they are Metacritic, the aggregate review website of choice for the enthusiast.
My point in all of this is that video games are now a medium as opposed to a specific art form. After all, movies, television, fitness videos, and commercials are all art forms in the audio/visual medium, in the same way that a fine oil paintings and advertisements are both art forms in the two-dimensional visual medium; their presentation is similar, but their purpose and the creative process behind them are completely different.

Right now, the gaming press is trying to cover every form in the interactive media (video game) world, when maybe they should be relinquishing portions of it to other outlets. After all, movie critics review films and not television or instructional videos, because each form has its own conventions, expectations, and audiences and it seems unreasonable to have a group of similarly-minded individuals trying to cover all of that product with the attention and the familiarity of the material required to do it all justice.

GameObserver

 Nothing really new on GameObserver from me this week. The article above can be found here with a couple of nifty pictures. My short Random-Dungeon article from my last blog entry can be found here. Both articles are pretty much unchanged. The review for Baroque under the next titlehead will be spruced up and submitted to GameObserver in the near future, so I guess you have that to look forward to 😛
 

Baroque Review

 Follow the link in the title above to read my full review.

To summarize, Baroque is an interesting game because there are simply not many, if any, other games like it. People come to the game expecting an action-rpg, which right away puts them in the wrong frame of mind to enjoy the game. Yes there is HP and EXP and levels to gain, but the point of the game is not progression, its survival. Think of this game, instead, like a game of Horde in Gears of War 2. You are trying to reach a certain floor of the dungeon, but if you die, you start right back at square one, at floor one, at level one.

Its not exactly square one, of course, as there is a mechanic that allows you to transfer a limited number of items to your next run through, and when you die more of the vague storyline is revealed to you. Speaking of the story, don’t expect one, at least not in the traditional sense. The ‘story’, if it can be called that, is about the discovery of your recent past, but it is not delivered in a linear fashion, hell, what there is to tell isn’t linear itself.

On a basic level, gameplay, graphics, etc, the game is incredibly dated. The game is a remake/port of a Sega Saturn game and the game mechanics certainly feel as if they are from that era. Still, on this basic level, the game at least works and if you can accept that on that level its functional but not great, you’ll be free to appreciate the unique aspects of the game.

Battlefield: Bad Company Gold Edition

 bad company gold


I’m reviewing the Xbox 360 verison but the two versions are identical.

  • Battlefield: Bad Company Gold Edition
  • Poster
  • Slipcase

Battlefield: Bad Company Gold Edition: This game is like the Doom 3 Limited Edition in that, instead of including an off the shelf copy of the game and adding the extras on a bonus disc, this Gold Edition is actually a unique disc. Bonus features on this disc include a tutorial video for the (then only) online mode, Gold Rush, as well as a strategy video for each of the on-disc maps. There is also a fairly interesting ‘Making of’ video where the developers show you not only their original target render, but also even earlier pre-visualizations, including one made out of LEGO. A unique aspect of this disc compared to other LEs is the way it handles in-game bonuses. When most LEs give you bonus in-game items, its typically done via download code such as Gears of War 2’s Gold Lancer and Fable 2’s Master Chief armor. Bad Company gives you a set of five weapons, one per multiplayer class, but does so straight off the disc. Oh, and the box art is slightly different.

Poster: A decent-sized poster featuring the game’s original box art.

Slipcase: A golden-colored cardboard slipcase.

This edition’s original retail price was $10 over the standard edition. At that price, it’d be worth it if you were really into the multiplayer aspect of the game, which I’d assume you were as it is a Battlefield game. The weapons you get in-game aren’t exclusive (negative fan reaction saw to that) but they would still require you to reach the multiplayer mode’s highest level to unlock, so if you measured those $10 in terms of hours required to unlock, you’re getting a great deal.

Still, the video bonuses included are also interesting, especially if you’re in this game for the multiplayer. The tutorial video is nice but the strategy videos are fairly interesting as they clue you in on ambush points or plans of attack that could help you out if you’re just getting started. As I mentioned above, the included ‘Making of’ video is fairly interesting as far as ‘Making of’ videos go. Few documentaries really talk about the pre-production phase of a game in this detail and seeing the game’s early forms was a nice treat.

As you might have guessed, the poster isn’t anything all that interesting, but its something. The slipcase adds to the presentation, but that’s about it.

I was able to nab this game in sealed condition on ebay for about $20 but prices on this seem to vary wildly. You have auctions for $20 and people trying to sell it for $60, even $70 at places. On Amazon, the game is still priced at $56.99. For some reason the price for this edition hasn’t dropped universally. I wonder if its the multiplayer community that’s holding it up or just ignorant sellers. Still, you can find a cheap copy if you’re looking for one and if you’re in it for the multiplayer, this is a good recommendation.

And that’s it for this week. I vaguely remember saying I’d review Tales of Vesperia’s Limited Edition when Namco finally made good on their bonus item promise. I bought the game in August 2008, the bonus was announced in April and was supposed to be delivered in 6-8 weeks, an incredibly long time by today’s standards and one I suspected they simply used to cover themselves. I’ve been waiting for 10 weeks and still nothing. Still, the first Blog after I get the bonus I’ll post the review.

I don’t believe I have much else except to mention that I’ve been working with the Mingei International Museum to host a three-film series of classic films that incorporate mid-century modernism in their set design. The first film, showing next Thursday, is Pillow Talk, followed the week after by the Bond spoof, Our Man Flint, and ending a week later with Petter Sellers’ The Party. Each film is preceeded by a mixer with cocktails and what-not so it should be a lot of fun. I can’t make the first one, unfortunately, as I have to be at the Art Institute finalizing all my enrollment stuff.

Oh well. Until Next time!