America Isn’t Nearly Angry Enough

Now I realize that this blog has always been – and will continue to be – about the much more interesting topics of games and interactive entertainment, but I have to pause.  Twitter just isn’t enough for me to express my feelings on this one and I have to… I MUST get this off of my chest…  It doesn’t happen often.. but I.. am.. pissed.

ReganI grew up in a Republican home, which is kind of funny because we were poor.  For as long as I can remember the Republican party has always represented a certain anti-government initiative.  On the surface that sounds great, “down with establishment” you might be thinking to yourself; and I’m sure many people did for a long time.  The heart of the issue there – something I did not discover until I was much older – is that the power, the influence is still there and it has to go somewhere.  If you don’t hand the power over to governments you hand it over to corporations and private industries instead.

When I was old enough to vote I started out Democrat, which you can imagine was a real punch in the gut to a somewhat naive Republican family.  Many years later I changed to Independent because I didn’t feel like Democrats nor Republicans understood me.  Here’s why..

citizens-unitedOn the other side of the fence we have a Democratic party that is becoming more and more Republican by the term.  They continue to accept Super PACs (large sums of money from private investors and corporations without ceilings), they campaign on a loose platform of giving “power to the people” when what they are really saying is, “power to the private sector”.  They’ve become a twisted web of people fighting for self interest over the interest of their people.  And it has finally all come to a boil.

This election was 20+ years in the making.  You have a Republican who is sure to drag our nation into another war.  You have a Democrat who’s name continues to appear in every conversation containing deep scandalous roots throughout the party.

Hillary always seems to be just around the corner, at arms reach, when secrets break out and the news isn’t good.  The Clintons are smart, they have their fingers in everything, and like some kind of Mafia crime boss they are just far enough to claim they didn’t know the corruption was there; over and over and over.  For as long as she and her family have been in politics, there’s always a story there; always.

Now…  The question is, what do we do about it now?  In short, the answer is nothing this time; there will be no re-vote, there will be no resignation.

The Social Justice Warrior

14kel3kI get upset when I hear men and women say that they voted and are going to vote for Hillary because she is a woman and how, “amazing” it would be to see a female President…  This is easily one of my most frustrating hang-ups with this election.  When I voted for Obama; twice, I did not vote for the guy because he was Black.  I voted for Obama because he was the best candidate for the job; I believed in his message and I felt that he pulled through on most of his biggest platforms.  I refuse to look at a candidate, and talk about how amazing it will be to have a female President when I can’t believe anything that comes out of her mouth..  Nothing.  I’m not even sure her name is Hillary; that is how much I don’t trust her.  And this has nothing to do with being a woman.  If you want me to vote for a woman, put Elizabeth Warren on the ballot.  It’s not about voting for ANY woman, it’s about voting for THE woman you can trust.

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Don’t get me wrong, Trump is the Devil; he may actually be THE Devil.  Or maybe he is just a racist idiot, but we already knew that.  He’s not even trying to hide it, or he’s not smart enough to hide it.  I’m not concerned about finding some deep dark secret about Trump, but I am very concerned about how deep Hillary’s story is.  I want to know what her real agenda is, but sadly that will follow her to the grave.  There is a story there too big for words, and enough selfish intent to send her to prison for life, but we’ll never know what that is.

Bernie or Bust

3a0Not voting is not the answer either, I’ve come to realize this.  For every Democrat that does not vote there’s a Republican who voted for Hillary because they can’t stand Trump.  There is strange sort of balance to the world, a supernatural instinct that results in a kind of Yin and Yang.  Not voting isn’t giving a vote to Trump or giving a vote to Hillary; it’s the absence of opinion.  People will vote how they want to vote, and not voting changes nothing, it says nothing.  But what about the lesser of two evils?

The Lesser of Evils

This mantra is trash.  Anyone who argues for the lesser of two evils doesn’t know what they are asking for.  Anyone who argues for the lesser of two evils can not produce a single term where the country was significantly better for it; they just slowed the downward spiral, deferred issues for another generation to worry about.  The lesser of two evils is what you say when you are tired of having ideals, when you’ve given up and said, “sure whatever, just let that guy be in charge.”  I’ve decided to vote, not for the lesser of two evils, but the greater of two evils.  And I’ll tell you exactly why…

360_gw_bush_disappoint_0112For all the suffering this nation has endured it clearly has not been enough.  Enough people haven’t died, enough famine and disease has not reached our borders, enough pain hasn’t been felt for this nation to wake up and stop making the popular choice and start making the hard choice.  As Americans, we need to be more than mildly irritated by the actions of our politicians, we need to be downright furious.  We need to have the top 1% stop making decisions for the rest of us.  We need people with power to be held to the same standards as any other person on the side of the road.  We need accountability when it is due.

It’s easier to boo and hiss, it’s easier to call your local news channel to complain, it’s easier to say a lot of things.  What’s really hard is doing; waiting for hours in a line to cast your vote, or forming groups to talk to your Congressman about issues that matter, and forming petitions to back your claims.  But if you don’t want to do the legwork, voting is the one opportunity you have every 4 years to say how you feel and you can’t piss on it with some, “life is unfair” speech you give yourself every morning.

Voting With Violence

Guess what; life is unfair.  If life was fair, Bernie Sanders would have had a level playing field against Hillary.  If life was fair, corporations wouldn’t have the ability to buy elections or “pay to win” access to politicians of great influence.  Life isn’t fair; we need to find ways to fight fire with fire and right now that fire is the political system not a semi-automatic rifle.  I’m telling you now, if you think you will make one bit of difference in this world by picking up a firearm and pointing it at the establishment you are bringing a gun to a political fight and politics are in another league.  There are more heads to that hydra than you have rounds in a clip and you’ll be throwing your life away just so another misguided politician can take the throne in their place.

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So no.. Violence is not going to fix this, but the lesser of two evils is not going to fix this either.  The lesser of two evils is not going to fund psychological training for better law enforcement.  The lesser of two evils is not going to enact true reform for young criminals, or create a business model that helps Americans help themselves.  The lesser of two evils will not stop the United States from starting another war we don’t belong in.  The lesser of two evils can and will endure longer than you ever could.

People are so absorbed with their own problems, they feel so defenseless, that they can’t see the opportunity to fix this is (was) right in front of them.  So… My conclusion is simple.  Before things can get better, they have to get worse, much much worse.  People need a reason to get out and vote and it can’t be to vote for someone because they are black or white or a woman or because their flagrant lies aren’t as bad as the other candidate.  People need to vote for someone because the system has failed them all, because nothing motivates like rock bottom.  That isn’t going to happen until it gets worse.  The best candidates with the best of intent will not win a Presidential race as long as America is complacent with their dissatisfaction.  This isn’t going to happen in 2016 but it needs to happen in 2020; it’s imperative that it happen.  America can not go on like this, with the hate crimes and the authority-figures of this country having the lion’s share of rights, and the underprivileged thinking the only way out is through violence and drugs.

The Greater of Two Evils

The lesser of two evils isn’t less when you compound on that frame of mind year after year after year until you are so far in moral debt that you don’t even realize how bad it has gotten.  We are all boiling frogs right now, but it’s time to turn up the heat.

For all of those reasons, I am regretfully going to vote for Trump.  I think he is the worst of the worst candidates and that’s exactly why he needs to win.  America needs a slap in the face and a kick in the ass.  They need to get angry, furious, hungry, and it’s not there yet.  American people need to have a drive and motivation that all the money and political power in the country can’t stop.  Americans need to join together as a single voice and agree that the entire system is rigged, and they have to WANT things to change.  American’s have to move beyond looking at the TV and thinking that it’s somebody else’s problem because it’s not in their town, not on their front door.  No..

America isn’t nearly angry enough; not yet.

If You Thought Video Games Were About Passion

If you thought video games were about passion, you’ve never made a tabletop game.  This is a lesson I recently learned while creating a 2-player card game about sword fighting.  But I’m not here to write about the game design process, I’m here to talk about the business side of tabletop.

When I first started playing games there was only retail, shelves upon shelves of boxes and cartridges.  The distinction between video games and tabletop games was a banner over which aisle to walk down.  A few years later id Software popularized shareware for my generation, but it was still very much a transitional time.  The Internet was mostly a process of dialing into servers – literally – we would place our phones onto weird cradle devices or plug our PCs into the wall using 9.6 Kbits/s modems.  The entire experience was kind of ridiculous but we endured.

everyone-can-be-super-and-when-everyones-super-no-one-will-beThe World Wide Web of today has made it possible for regular Joe’s to be like the id Software of that time.  And as much as this has been the reason for Internet hostility, it has also helped circumvent the biggest issue with selling certain products like video games.

Printing and shipping costs are the death of small business and creators using print-on-demand.  This is the reason why Target and Walmart can survive, because it gets a lot cheaper to ship 1000 towels or body sprays than it is to make and ship just 1.  In the world of video games we’ve cut out the middle men by developing the games ourselves and selling direct to the consumer; no print, no shipping.  But what about tabletop?  What do you do when you want to build a game around the tactile feel of a card in your hand or the sensation of game chips sifting through your fingers?  You do what everyone else has been doing, you make it for, “the love of the game”.

Video games have their own unique set of problems, but they are relatively known problems.  You have piracy, the race to the bottom pricing schemes, and a markets that are flooded with poorly thought out ideas that are more about content than substance.  But the reason there is a race to the bottom and a glut of fluff games is because the barrier to tossing a couple dollars at a game you may not even play is just as easy.  You feel like you are supporting a developer and getting something; anything in return.  The game might be terrible, but it’s not even about enjoying the game, it’s about wish fulfillment.

In tabletop games you have many of the same problems, but different.  You have piracy; foreign print shops who’s job it is to rip assets and sell for 50% of the retail price, and cutting the international shipping rates (seriously $50 to send a poker deck to UK!?).  You have market saturation; large brands like Hasbro practically have a monopoly on the market (pun intended), and there is no shortage of indie creators trying their hand at making board games.  The barrier to making a physical game is even lower than making a video game, so you can imagine what that looks like.  The tools required are a notepad and a #2 pencil.  You have a race to the bottom price, but in a different way.  The cost of printing and shipping is a fixed cost outside of your control.  If the only 3 factors of a game’s price is printing, shipping, and profits, guess which one gets zeroed out.

It’s a tough market all around.  I wake up everyday wondering how anyone makes money without working for someone else.  I want to directly support creators and be directly supported as a tactile game’s designer but I’m realizing quickly that an indie creators’ job is not to profit, but to keep postal companies in business.  When a $70 card game costs $20 at-cost to print and $50 to ship it feels dirty; I did nothing to support that person and I can’t ask others to do the same of me.  I don’t have the answers, I can’t think of a way to give physical goods to a patron without asking them to pay magnitudes above the production cost.  I know it sounds defeatist but I sit on a bed of game designs because I’d rather not sell them out of remorse that someone is paying far too much for something I created…

So yeah… If you thought making video games was about passion, you haven’t tried making money from a tabletop game.

Console Wars and Conformity

conformity

Conformity.  It’s a relatively soothing word that rolls off of the tongue, as it should.  Conformity is this idea of fitting in by following a set of rules or guidelines that define what is normal and what is not.  Conformity is that innate voice in your head that see’s a pattern and feels a sense of awkwardness for not falling into place with that pattern.  We all do it, we are practically conditioned to do it.  It would only take a short trip down the Internet rabbit hole to find videos of people facing the wrong direction in an elevator because everyone else was doing it.  We’ve seen videos of people paying for VIP seats at a bus stop because the only time that it’s okay to break the mold of conformity it’s to rise to a new tier in the same social structure.  Why ,after all, would we conform to a peasants life when we can pay to live like a nobleman?

The interesting thing about conformity is that it plays a large role in our everyday lives.  Without getting too political right now, it effects how most people vote, or who they follow, or where they place their bets.  Time and time again we hear someone go against their better judgement simply because the majority of their circle has built momentum in a particular direction.  Many voters chose their candidate based on the statistical winner, not who they felt would be the best leader.  Who wants to show up to a party and tell their friends they voted for the other guy?  They are still your friends and colleagues but suddenly you might feel one step removed from the popular crowd, and many people take serious issue with that on a personal level.

dreamcastConsoles aren’t very different from the political race.  Consoles, in many ways, live and die by their ability to convert and conform buyers.  For as long as the console war has existed we have seen advertisements tell us which is the coolest and most popular console.  We’ve seen people making appearances on late night talk shows and CEO’s showing up in daily news segments to talk about the next console to take over Christmas this year and the next.  We are flooded with statements, quotes, and quips from industry veterans about where everyone will be and that we shouldn’t be left out.  For many people; most in fact, who aren’t fortunate enough to buy all consoles, there is no absolution from buying the wrong one, and there is no reset until the next generation.  This is a strong driving force in people’s buying decisions, but the Console War is about to get really muddy.

Consoles have been adopting the PC model more and more.  We are seeing consoles become more like PC and PC’s trying to create ecosystems that are more like consoles.  While Steam has done probably one of the best jobs of hearding PC gamers together, there is a strong sense of unity on the PC platform.  A weaker PC is still a PC, and while consoles continue to hold back the absolute peak potential for PC gaming they serve to unite PCs by keeping the requirements relatively sane for consumers.  It has allowed PC players to more easily conform.  This doesn’t mean the console war is over though.

Project-Scorpio-4k

Microsoft has recently announced Scorpio and Sony has unofficially announced Neo.  For the player who simply has to own every piece of hardware, this announcement will change nothing.  They will buy these consoles either way.  The confusion will come from the mob rule and the urge to conform. For game developers, conformity is a good thing.  It means that developers can focus on a small handful of platforms and build the best version of their game possible.  As the platforms increase, so do the demands.  Each platform has it’s quirks and features that make it unique and suddenly developers are on the hook to produce a product that feels like it was made for that platform.

Rendering in 4K is not a huge deal for 3D games, as long as the GPU power is there, but this will have a momentous ripple effect on 2D games such as classic fighters or pixel art games.  Developing 2D games for the 4K generation won’t be as simple as rendering to a larger device context, it means all of the content created by those developers now needs to be 4x more detailed and may require 2x-4x the man-months to finish the art assets alone.  As the processing power increases in these mid-generation updates we are likely to see a splintering of the console demographic and a steep decline in classic experiences.

Conformity in the console space is not bad, it helps to build a stronger concentration of consumers who own one platform and reduces development risks.  Now we have a market that will balloon from 6 consoles – Xbox One, PS4, WiiU, 3DS, New 3DS, and Vita – to 9 consoles after adding Scorpio, Neo, and the NX.  Whatever Nintendo has planned for the NX, I hope they plan to merge their consumers because Microsoft and Sony seem hellbent on breaking us all apart.

Follow me @Ben_Quintero

I Am Not My Father

Today we get a little personal, but I hope you still find something worth remembering.

Though this post is not directly related to my father, a statement like, “I am not my father,” has certain implications.  When we saying something like that, perhaps we are trying to right a wrong, or maybe we are simply trying to live a life outside of that shadow.  Other times we might simply be trying to find a way to live that isn’t like it used to be when he was our age.

I’ve been programming for about 20 years, roughly 16 of those were “professional” years.  I use the word professional very lightly because I’ve found that many skills I use to this day were learned outside of my professional environment as well as lessons I’ve learned about better practices in readability and writing safer code.  I guess you could say I’ve seen a lot of things over the years.  One obstacle that I have yet to conquer is the dreaded career ladder.  Maybe that’s why the word “professional” feels like someone just turned the knife in my heart a little harder.  I used to love the ladder, it was a nice neat path and all I had to do was keep climbing with hard work and smart choices; done!  “This is great!” I thought to myself. …until I ran out of rungs and have to make hard choices with even higher stakes.

In a vast majority of businesses you have a relatively structured hierarchy of staff; those staff are broken into departments, then each department is tiered into levels of seniority.  Between the departments are trenches that feel more like broad rivers at times, connected by thin rope bridges of communication.  Engineers report to seniors who send it up to team leads who channel it to some sort of technical lead, and so on.  Eventually the information crosses over from engineering to management.  It works for a lot of companies but it also forces veterans to make a tough choice; do you remain an engineer or do you cross the bridge, never to return?

I recently had my annual employee review; in an especially trying time for the company.  Whenever I have these reviews it’s always an uncomfortable sensation.  I’ve been with my employer for a very long time, long enough that I’d probably have an executive seat if I cared enough for that sort of thing.  Sometimes I almost feel the subtle nudges from the old timers, as if to say, “it’s time…”  The real question is; do I really want that?  I mean, isn’t that supposed to be what we are all aiming for; to keep climbing that ladder?

We often associate promotions with pay raises.  You climbed from Junior to a Midlevel?  Congratulations here’s a pay bump.  You climbed again? Awesome here’s even more!  Eventually you start taking on roles for a pat on the back or a small bonus because they can’t afford to boost your salary.  Eventually the money isn’t all that different from promotion to promotion; everything starts to feel pretty lateral.  What’s even stranger is the fact that a lot of senior engineers are making more money than some of those people who have to come into work everyday with a suit and tie.  You could argue that making the leap from engineering to management is a smart decision if you have a 3 year plan to jump to a larger company where you start to see marginal gaps between management and engineering.  But again… Is this what you really want?  I don’t… ..at least I think I don’t.

The real pebble in my shoe is that money can often cloud our judgement, and prevent us from making rational decisions about our present state and where we expect ourselves to be in some years after today.  A younger me was so addicted to promotions, so addicted to the idea of winning, that not having them feels like I’m losing.  When you’ve reached a point in your career where pay raises come in the form of inflation adjustments it begs the question; should I be seeking greener pastures or change my expectations?  Would you give up coding or give up drawing as a career to become a department Director or VP?  Would you do it for a 5% raise?  How about 10% or 20%?  At what point are you willing to abandon your craft to make room for younger, cheaper labor to take your place in the trenches?  At what point would you be happier with the money and clear mind, not crowded by 1000 micro-processes running in your head, constantly solving yesterday’s problems?

I’ve struggled a long time with that question, and every day the answer is different…

You can follow me @Ben_Quinter0.

Has Nintendo NX Already Failed?

“We believe that the NX will recapture a lot of the lapsed Wii players,”
– Alain Corre (Ubisoft EMEA Executive Director)

“For us, it’s not about specs, it’s not about teraflops, it’s not about the horsepower of a particular system.  For us, it’s about the content,”
– Reggie Fils-Aime

No matter where you stand, either as a fan or opposer of Nintendo, I think it’s hard to argue with how painful these statements are.  We have an executive director who is making claims that the NX will bring back the Wii crowd, a group that was universally agreed upon by industry professionals and journalists to be long gone.  Those casual players were here and gone, having moved to other platforms like mobile or more adult consoles with 3rd party support like Xbox and Playstation.

In another interview Reggie Fils-Aime made a proud statement, placing his flag in the ground, and laying claim to the position of weakest console to come in the next generation.  A console that has not even shipped and is already lagging behind existing consoles, due to be replaced at the end of 2017 with Project Scorpio and PS4K.  Nintendo has yet again positioned themselves in a losing race.  As much as Nintendo would like to distance themselves from the crowd, they can’t.  Nintendo will always live in the shadow cast by Sony and Microsoft when it comes to processing power.  If they are hoping to gain the support of third party they are failing hard… again.

red-ocean-vs-blue-ocean-strategies

Reggie tried even harder to distance Nintendo by saying, “…whatever Microsoft and Sony are doing in terms of talking about new systems, that’s for them to fight out in that red ocean.”  Reggie was clearly making mention to the, Blue Ocean Strategy that Nintendo is popular for adopting.  It’s a strategy where one can seek out new blue oceans at a lower cost and gain higher profits rather than compete in a red ocean that is crowded with high stakes and marginal returns.  The risk with blue ocean is that if you create something that doesn’t feel new enough you become a small fish in the red ocean.  The Wii U was a perfect example of this.  It was a relatively slow and under-powered console that lacked any third party support.  It’s blue ocean concept was an expensive game pad that many people thought was an accessory to the Wii.  It was a scarcely blue ocean idea that was swallowed whole by Microsoft and Sony.  The Wii U has gone on to be the worst selling console in Nintendo’s career.  This is why I am so shocked to hear Nintendo trying the same strategy again.

4kYou might be thinking that Nintendo’s latest blue ocean is VR.. No, no, no; you would be mistaken.  Reggie has gone on record as saying that VR is not ready for the mainstream.  You might think that the NX is at least powerful enough to present 4K content, again you would be mistaken.  4K resolution is the new standard in high definition, but it is also a beast.  Rendering in 4K is like rendering to 4 1080p TVs at once per frame.  Currently the Wii U struggles to render 720p, and the NX on it’s best days is projected to be roughly as capable as a PS4.  Many PS4 games are rendering at 900p and up-scaling to 1080p, making the NX an unlikely candidate for the new HD standard.  This will follow the trend similar to the Wii only rendering at 480p when everyone else made the jump to 720p and later 1080p.

To put it bluntly, the NX is the best console to come out in 2013; but we’re still waiting for it.  As much as Nintendo would like to distance itself from the pack by searching for blue oceans, they may need to accept that game consoles are swimming in a pond and it’s getting harder and harder to find clear waters.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild

zelda

I’m going to come right out and say it, Zelda: Breath of the Wild gives me very mixed feelings.  It looks like an eastern game with western design, and because of that I feel like I’ll never get anywhere with this game.

If someone were to tell you they wanted to re-skin Skyrim with Zelda assets I think most fans would cry tears of joy.  In many ways that is exactly what Breath of the Wild is.  But after digging into this idea more I wonder if I would really enjoy myself.  I played GTA and never got further than spinning my tires on a prostitute or beating up a rich guy to steal his money then his car.  I played numerous open world games like Fallout and Elder Scrolls and my entire experience involved walking around, ignoring quests and eating poison berries.  My end-game for all open-world games boils down to reaching a point where I’ve broken the game so much that it just gives up on me.  Quests start dropping off of my list and NPCs don’t even want to talk to me anymore.  Many quest givers die off, either by my own hand or my choice to do nothing when they are in danger.  Maybe my real issue is that open world games are no place for a Chaotic Neutral alignment.

Maybe my other issue with this latest installment of Zelda is the graphics.  It might be shallow of me to say this, but Zelda: Breath of the Wild is not a breath-taking game.  It looks good… for an Xbox 360 game.  Sadly we are at the mid-point of a full generation ahead of where the Wii U is right now and Microsoft is already announcing their next console.  Sony has Project Neo waiting in the wings and I have to believe that Breath of the Wild has taken this long because they’ve been struggling to optimize this game on their ancient technology.  The game is getting a lot of passes for having the Zelda name on the cover but I genuinely thing it wouldn’t have a fraction of the love it’s getting if this was a game by any other name.  Some textures are muddy and the frame rate is inconsistent at times.  This game is a shining example of the extreme limits of the Wii U, and the graphical fidelity honestly does not compete on any level with the current generation of consoles.  The NX might improve this, but that is still highly questionable.  If Nintendo is pushing for a hybrid handheld console the NX might not have the power to raise the bar for Zelda.  There is chance that the NX may struggle just as hard to run this game.

I realize that plenty of gamers out there are going to lose themselves in this open world, but every time I see more of this game I am less impressed and less excited to play.  Open world games are an overwhelming experience that lead me to want to rebel against all rules of that game.  For that reason, Zelda: Breath of the Wild has fallen off of my radar.  Because of it’s appearance on the NX I may come back to Zelda, I may give it another chance; but right now I don’t have the time Zelda wants me to commit.  And for a game that hasn’t even released yet, the graphical fidelity is feeling a tad dated.

 

Developers Are Being Misdirected

According to Wikipedia Misdirection is a form of deception in which the attention of an audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another.

keeprightOur industry has a relatively persistent history of being enamored by peripherals, gadgets, gimmicks, and the like.  We have closets filled with old flight sticks, arcade sticks, Rock Band guitars and drum sets.  We have Wii balance boards, Virtual Boys, and boxes filled with random nick knacks of last years biggest things.  It’s difficult to say when it all started, but I’d imagine it was always there for many people.  We want to be amazed and hardware feels like the quickest path to instant gratification.  We slap some device around our wrist or strap a screen onto our face because we want to believe that it will change everything for us.  But what if the industry has been too focused on the short game?  What if this entire industry has been so fixated on the “instant gratification” that we’ve lost sight of the goal?

If you follow me on Twitter you know that I’m a pretty unabashed fan of EasyAllies.  They have a cast with a wide array of genuine personalities ranging from a child-like enthusiasm to edgelords and everything in between.  Somehow the chemistry works.  The reason I mention them is because they’ve inspired this article, particularly one of their shows titled Tabletop Escapades.

this_is_fine

The show appears at first to be a standard D&D group, huddled around a table, and preparing to embark on a scripted journey set out by their Dungeon Master, Ben Moore.  What unfolds is pure comedy as the ragtag group of adventurers completely derail everything set in their path.  What’s more important here is that the DM allows it.  He could have easily injected invisible walls, deus ex machina, unreasonably high saving throws, or divine intervention to force the team back onto the storied path or risk death by DM.  Instead, the DM rolls with the punches.  In spite of the painful expressions on his face, a grin that can only be explained by the “this is fine” meme, he watches his many hours of writing be flushed by a single phrase like, “burn them all,” and listens to the cackles of his players.  He allows it and carves a new path for them to then blindside two episodes later with outlandish ideas and impromptu lore that never existed until 10 seconds ago.  It’s the kind of moments you simply can not script, which leads me to my point; game developers are being misdirected by the next cool instantly gratifying shiny object when we should be chasing after the sweeter fruit.

jones_vrI feel like VR has pushed this industry in the wrong direction.  We are seeing numerous games being released today that boil down to the same old experiences we’ve always had, but with a slightly more free camera and input that is so dissonant from your in-game actions that it serves as a constant reminder that this is just a game.  We’ve seen some developers take advantage of VR using what are sure to become the cliche gimmicks of this peripheral; like a bad horror movie with only jump scares.  At the end of the day, the games we are experiencing are the same.  Selling VR by wrapping it around common knowledge ideas that have existed for as long as the medium is going to be an uphill climb.  When we’ve finally figured it out, I’d be surprised if anyone cared about VR anymore.

I once heard someone anecdotally say, “Minority Report has set User Interface development back at least 10 years,” implying all of the money and research into motion controls and gesture recognition would have been better spent on something less flashy but more practical and far more useful.  Instead we were so enamored by the idea of pinching our fingers in the midair or making swimming gestures to open a folder that we didn’t ask, “why?”  VR is admittedly a somewhat cool thing on the surface, but I don’t think we have yet answered that question; I don’t know that we ever will.  It has a very strong chance of ending up in the closet with our Rock Band guitars and Wii balance boards.  In fact, I’m almost certain of it.

So what if we stopped chasing that flashy peripheral for the next 10 years and focused on the Tabletop Escapades experience?  What if we focus this massive computing power to create a digital DM for our game experiences?  Historically, games are driven by fixed scenarios, governed by fixed rules, and regulated by invisible walls and borders.  We put so much effort into crafting the illusion of choice that games like Bioshock practically mock the player in reference to it.  We are so afraid to create content that the a player may never see, that we sometimes forget to ask if they should see it, or need to see it.

bioshock

I watch that series of D&D episodes, many of them never picking up a sword or initiating combat, and I am still completely entertained.  The dynamic story-telling, the ability for players to inject lore and have that lore absorbed and incorporated, the ability for the DM to adapt to the ever-changing dynamics of 4 varied personalities.  When a player acts out of character, there is no invisible wall, only a side quest that spawns from that action.  This is the type of experience that I would like to see evolve out of video games.  Strapping a TV to my face has not given me a fraction of the joy I’ve experienced from watching a series like this, and I’ve felt more emotion from a 30 second Hallmark commercial than I have from any video game story ever told.  This is not hyperbolic, this is truth.  It is a jagged pill we need to accept.

I’d like to think that “story” is the new horizon for video games, not another peripheral destined to sit in my graveyard of dated and forgotten hardware.  And not the kind of “story” that we find in Hollywood or our current AAA video games, which only serve to mimic Hollywood.  I know that the power exists now.  I know that it is possible, but it won’t happen without the distributed effort of an industry at least trying to push forward instead of follow the Hollywood formula.  We can’t follow the formula and then make every effort to funnel the content down the user’s throat because we know what’s best for them.  If we are stuck in the loop of waiting for the next piece of hardware that will save video games we’ll miss the real savior which is to create better software, and create games that shape themselves to the player rather than asking the player to bend to our vision.  I’d like to see a game where I walk the opposite direction of the target I’m supposed to follow and be rewarded for it, not punished.

baby-writerVideo game software is adolescent at best; it has so far to grow as a creative medium and we are stuck right now, asking others to dig us out of the hole we’ve created.  I challenge developers to find their shovel and create software that is ever evolving, thinking, crafting experiences on it’s own.  We need games that can think for themselves rather than read from a script.  When this happens, we’ll reach a level of immersion that VR will only hope to achieve on it’s own, and we will have done it without resting our hopes on another person’s shoulders.

 

Our Nation Can’t Handle The Truth

the truth

The United States is crumbling beneath our feet and we are letting it happen.  This isn’t some doomsday summons or a soapbox for me to tell you that you are going to Hell.  This is quite simply an observation of the facts.

Our nation has seen a boom of growth.  Some of the largest growth happened around the mass commercialization of motor vehicles.  We built roadways and expanded further and further.  Over time we have managed to breed and adopt others into this country so fast that we have covered ever inch of it.  Every state, county, city, and tract of land belongs to someone.  It was a pretty glorious time I’m sure; I wasn’t even born yet.

Now, roads are crumbling, old gas lines are rupturing, and we are forced to eat GMO foods because those crops aren’t naturally equipped to feed all of the mouths here.  The government steps in with subsidies for businesses and it has only served to fatten already deep pocket.  We have old power lines and phone lines, and worst of all we have a broadband service that ranks second to other third world countries.  To add salt to these wounds, companies like Google have created virtual identities that make it impossible for authorities to track common criminal activity in this soon-to-be overpopulated nation.  After having dealt with fraud from scammers attempting to “rent out” my home using Google Voice phone numbers I reported all of my findings to the FTC and FBI, and I can tell you that our government is ill-equipped to do anything.  I was sent a hyper link on “how to avoid fraud” rather than a response that insists they are on the case.

Somehow all of this is happening and I feel like nobody cares.  We shrug our shoulders and lay the blame on someone else.  Things are not great, they aren’t even good.  I’d say things are pretty bad for the United States and 2017 will be worse.

bernie

Breaking The Game

Dear Game Developers,

I don’t play online games of any kind.  The last online game I played was Quake 3, and primarily because this game saw very few changes after launch.  It was also a game that spawned off of my bread and butter; single-player offline experiences.  Quake 2 was a flawed game in many ways, but that is exactly why I loved it so much.  The physics in the game was a particularly interesting topic of discussion.  Most of the Quake games had a long-standing bug in their movement that allowed players to perform feats not originally intended by the designers.  These physics flaws lead to insane Quake speed runs.  Quake 3 had an opportunity to purge the bug but they embraced it, enhanced and refined it.  It became a staple of the core mechanics in the game.  I appreciated this, and it was one of the primary reasons I was drawn to that game.

Today I feel like these bugs, these beautifully flawed kinks in the outer shell of many online games today are eventually patched out of existence.  The experience is smoothed and filled and rounded for so long that it almost loses it’s identity.  I know this sounds absolutely crazy, but a game without bugs is a game I don’t want to play.  In the same way that people will clad a wall in their home with old barn wood, weathered and filled with beetle kill holes, I like to a see a game embrace what makes it feel human.  Too often we fall into a rut where we chase perfection and we lose all chance for posterity of the original product.  We’ve already seen a similar backlash to this with players trying to “relive the glory” of the original vanilla World of Warcraft before that effort was smothered.

In an Internet age, we are seeing even single-player games fall under the wrath of online patches, but at least those patches are optional.  A user can choose to install the patch or not.

I’m not advocating to keep “show stopping” bugs in our games.  Crashes are frustrating and should be resolved, but the idea of games turning from a product to a service is a movement that I’ve pushed against from the beginning.  I don’t want my games to linger on, far beyond their years, and eventually die a quiet and lonely death when some publisher realizes they can’t bleed the rock any longer.  I want my games to shine as a brilliant memorable experience for me to look back on and to relive whenever I choose to install that game again.

I want to exploit the AI, find ways to take advantage of poorly designed barriers, and find combinations of items or weapons or physics behaviors that allow me to break the game.  I want to feel like Neo inside the game, where I see an enemy approaching and I can practically read the code; like I was reading it’s mind.  That is what makes me as a gamer feel like the master of my virtual experience.  I don’t want to suddenly log in to my game to find the thing that brought me joy suddenly gone.  Taking away the imperfections means you’ve taken away my reason to play your game.

It’s okay if your game is broken.  Perfection is a blonde haired unicorn named Sally waiting at the end of that rainbow, and she bites.  Embrace the users who stayed with your game for what it is, not for what it could be after you polish the character out of it.

 

Curb Your Enthusiasm

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Admittedly, after typing the subject of this post my mind suddenly went to a different place.  I was reminded of an old show of the same name, but something about that TV series still feels relevant to what I am about to say.  What I am saying is… well…  Curb your enthusiasm!

A lot of stuff has gone down lately; most of it frankly is par for the course when it comes to the Internet, but it doesn’t mean we should accept it or blow it off.  We’ve seen angry screaming and even death threats to game developers because their game was delayed TO MAKE IT BETTER.  We’ve seen these same actions taken against members of the gaming press for simply letting us know about it.  I understand how upsetting it may be.  I realize that we may have planned our vacations around release dates.  I’ve lived long enough to have the sinking feeling of loss in my gut more times than I’d care to remember.  I also get very frustrated when promises are continually broken and my favorite industry giants make business decisions that sound like a toss at the “bad choices” dart board.

When these things happen to me, I often write a blog about it, or talk it out with friends on Facebook or Twitter, or go down-vote a crappy Metal Gear pachinko video.  But do you know what I don’t do?  I don’t name-call and threaten people’s lives, because I know that it is the one thing that requires the least amount of effort to garner attention.  I also know that it’s the quickest way to get banned or blocked and never have a voice in that conversation ever again.

As a society, we can’t continue to make bad life choices and then blame others for the consequences that follow.  Getting banned for cheating or threatening someone’s life?  It wasn’t the game’s fault, it was yours.  Getting blocked on Twitter for calling someone a racial slur, because you thought it would get their attention?  That’s on you.  We can’t then turn around and be angry at someone for not responding to our initial irrational anger.  Let’s face it, video games are important to us but we need to put them in their place.

Video games are entertainment; a fantastic and imaginative piece of entertainment, but entertainment none-the-less.  If we were to erase them from history, something else would have taken it’s place.  The individuals working on these games would have gone on to be fantastic traditional artists, and engineers, and carpenters or whatever other passion they would have developed without the existence of this entertainment.  We have to accept that the world still turns outside of the 4 corners of our digital screen.  It’s important to learn how not to cry over spilled milk.

I realize that some of you out there are probably, “becoming a man” right now.  Hormones are raging, and you are telling yourself that those few strands of hair on your one fallen testicle have nothing to do with what you are feeling about your favorite game of any given year.  I am here to tell you that you are sorely mistaken my friend.  The tumultuous social life, the angry outbursts, the sudden urge to break something, the ability to make choices that you only regret after the deed is done; you are very much not in control of your life.  I’ve been there, but it doesn’t mean you can’t work to channel that energy in other ways.  Take up hobbies, sports, cooking, art, or some social activity that doesn’t revolve around staring at this screen and you’ll find that video games will become simply one of many strong pillars in your life rather than being the only thing that defines you.  If you are at a party, or with a group of people; friends or strangers, and the only ice breakers that come to mind are video game topics you need more diversity in your life.

Having a deep and diverse life is a powerful tool in curbing your enthusiasm.  When you haven’t bet the farm on a single hobby or video game you’ll find that it’s still important to you, but it won’t consume you.  When you’ve taken control of your enthusiasm for video games you’ve taken control of a big part of your life.  When the bad news comes about your favorite video game or franchise; and the bad news will come, you’ll feel less need to express your deep and utter frustration in the form of irrational screaming and idle threats online.  You’ll find yourself having more intelligent and thoughtful discussions.  You’ll start to feel like the best version of yourself; and that is the place we all should strive to reach.

Follow me @Ben_Quintero