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

curb-2-im-yelling-for-society-for-everybody-copy

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

White Heterosexual Power Fantasies

Game design is hard.  Sure, there are a number of easy routes to game design.  We could all say, “Like that other game but 10% more jazz hands..” and it we’d probably expect a certain level of success from that.  After all, who wouldn’t want 10% more of that other successful game that was fun to play and simple to understand?  We could also take the path of, “Like that other game but in space,” because.. ..come on, it’s freakin’ space man; who would say no to the future?  Not this believer of tomorrow.  But the easiest way to design a game is to ask yourself 3 simple questions.

  1. what is my character’s ultimate objective?
  2. what is stopping that objective from happening?
  3. what weapons of death does my character need to achieve this?

team america

Maybe there’s no way around it.  People want what they want and white heterosexual power fantasies are big business.  Call of Duty, GTA V, Fallout 4, DOOM, Uncharted 4, The Division, Dark Souls 3, Ratchet & Clank, Farcry Primal, and so on..  These are some of, if not the, top selling video games in 2016.  For the most part, all of them have one thing in common; we have a problem and the solution is that someone needs to die, preferably in a gruesome manor…  A little bloody-camera effect wouldn’t hurt either.

Don’t get me wrong those games are fine and I enjoy them just as much, but it’s definitely starting to feel like the easy choice.  Then again, maybe there are non-violent games out there that don’t get the attention.  Maybe this skewed perspective is a result of being exposed only to the squeakiest wheel; flashy AAA games.  I’m struggling to think of the last successful non-violent game that wasn’t a puzzle game.  Does such a thing exist?

For example, Uncharted 4.  That game is prominently an exploration game; it’s essentially a climbing simulator with simple puzzles and a deep story as the motivation to see it through.  Admittedly that is a hugely reductive description, but my question still stands.  Did Uncharted 4 really need gun fights, or did they need that violence only to be successful?  If the stop-and-pop segments of Uncharted 4 were completely omitted from the experience and the only weapons you ever saw were part of the cut-scenes, held only by NPCs, I wonder if that game would have been better or worse for it.  What if Drake didn’t have to choke everyone out to proceed; what if hiding or running away from an insane gang of bandits with machine guns and RPGs was the better decision?  Crazy thought right?!

With a game like Uncharted 4, we see the potential for a AAA non-violent game but I don’t know that it would ever happen.  I’d like to challenge large publishers and developers to consider the road less traveled.  Consider making an epic story where the lead character never raises his hand or picks up a weapon as the solution to his/her problem.  I’d like to make that challenge, but part of me knows that the market determines success and a AAA non-violent game would likely have a combat system “patched” into it after poor sales on launch day…

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The Digital Noise is Deafening

Paralyzing…  That’s probably the closest word that comes to mind whenever I think about video games these days.  I’m happy to have a mostly empty backlog of games, but it came at a huge price.  I basically took a 2 year sabbatical from buying video games.

Needless to say; I’m a little behind the times.  Dipping my toe back in is…  …well.  …paralyzing.  This got me thinking; have we reached a point of too much of a good thing?

I grew up in a physical world; PC games were snail-mailed by floppy disk and consoles were boasting about their 2k of RAM.  In a phrase; it was blissful ignorance.  I didn’t know enough to feel like I was missing out.  Word of mouth from classmates and the occasional enthusiast magazine was all I needed.  I felt like I could grapple with that reality.

These days none of that feels like enough.  Following the flood of games is overwhelming.  Curator sites have the difficult decision of picking who to promote while simultaneously shunning thousands of other entries.  Consumers are quick to spit on a game over the smallest of flaws, because they can.  We are seeing an unprecedented number of games released each day.  There are just as many games published per day as there were for the entire life cycle of the SNES.

Trying to be a gamer in today’s market is like drinking from a fire hose.  With so many platforms to choose from and an endless selection of games per platform releasing on a daily schedule, it doesn’t leave time to breathe, time to appreciate.  For me, the simple act of buying a video game or investing my time in a free game has become overstimulating.  There are no real curators anymore, only Let’s Play Taste Makers on YouTube and Twitch.  And let’s face it, I’m too old to have classmates who play games; I’m a dying species in my circle.  Being a lone gamer makes the stakes higher.  There is no trusted voice to tell you, “I played that game and it’s bad” or no one to trade with over the weekend.  Video games, for all of their multiplayer live streaming madness, has become an increasingly lonely experience.

The digital noise is deafening.  I can’t hear what’s good about any one game without a thousand voices screaming foul because they don’t like a particular mechanic of the game.  With so many choices it’s easy to hate everything, like staring at a buffet but wishing you were at a bistro with a limited menu of quality meals instead.

I know there is an overwhelming majority out there who would rather drink from the fire hose and spit fire on any game that isn’t more than perfect, but I’d be lying if I said I was okay with that.  I desperately miss the days when I would buy a game and learn to love it; warts and all.  There is something special about that type of experience that I don’t think will ever exist again, but Dumb Game Mondays from Easy Allies is the closest I’ve come in a long time.

Follow me on Twitter @Ben_Quintero