Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Fine Line Between Passion and Abuse

I love being a gamer. It’s one of the few things in my life that I love to do and that I’m actually good at. But the games aren't the only reason I love being a gamer. There are millions of people just like me all across the globe who share this passion. Retro gamers, PC and console gamers, RPG lovers, shooter fanatics, MMO enthusiasts and live streamers: they all lend their voices to the gaming community at large. It’s this same community that I've come to appreciate through the dedicated and fervent gamers I've met on Twitter and the gaming blogs I read regularly. So why is it that gamers from the same community I laud are frequently seen as spoiled, mean-spirited, and full of vitriol by not only fellow gamers, but by the developers of the very games they love?

Phil Fish is perhaps the most polarizing figure in gaming, if not historically then most certainly within recent memory. While his highly successful indie game Fez drew near unanimous praise from critics and fans, the man behind the game seemed to attract nothing but controversy. First drawing ire for the constant delaying of Fez in 2010/11, things haven’t improved for Fish. He’s evolved from gifted developer and symbol of the indie game industry to Twitter rage-quitter to punchline on level with Half-Life 3. If you've followed the chronicles of Mr. Fish (especially on Twitter), then you know that he doesn't do himself any favors with his often brash way of communicating with people and his almost poetic way of feeding trolls. And while it may be easy to just shrug off Phil Fish as a developer who couldn't handle the pressure or who didn't appreciate what he had, I think we as a gaming community need to seriously consider our role in events such as these.

Gamer entitlement is a real thing, but is it wrong? Is it a problem?

Fish may be in the spotlight for lashing out at gamers and the industry at large, but he’s far from alone in his feelings. Indie company Puppy Games recently wrote on their blog about the PR quagmire that all game developers must muck through and its many pitfalls. The post talks a lot about how the gaming community is like a mob and how there’s very little companies can say that won’t excite that mob to turn on them. They go on to speak about the danger of trolls (no surprise here, especially if you’re Phil Fish), but the most telling passage is below (emphasis theirs):

“Firstly, gamers aren't very nice people. Yes, you. You are not a very nice person. Statistically speaking. By which I mean, independent game developers get more nasty shit from gamers than they get praise. Right now you are preparing to lecture me about how I talk to customers, or how I deserve to be broke and unsucessful [sic]. If you’re feeling particularly sanctimonious you’ll tell me you’re never going to buy any of our games again. If you’re especially spiteful you’ll also tell me that you were about to buy one of our games (for a dollar! ho ho), but now you’re not going to. 
No matter. What does matter is you’re not allowed to point out when someone is just being a shithead to you because they can. Don’t do that. The internet hates you.”

Perhaps you could view the opinions of Phil Fish and Puppy Games as disgruntled game developers whining about how they are not praised enough, and maybe you’re right. But stories like these just keep popping up, and they’re simply the tamest of examples. Consider the case of Zoe Quinn, a game developer who has recently come under attack due to a bitter ex-boyfriend’s crusade to make her life a living hell.  He rallied the darkest corners of 4chan to his cause and before you could bat an eyelash Ms. Quinn was receiving threatening messages and calls, had private photos of herself ripped and posted publicly, and people (most of whom identify themselves as gamers) spewing all sorts of vile things about her personal and sexual life online. 

Zoe Quinn has a point. A very good, and crucial point in this saga.

Let that sink in for a moment: a woman who has done nothing but create games for a living and break up with an ex-boyfriend is coming under attack from people who think she deserves this because…why? Because she’s a woman? Because she doesn't belong? Because she asked for it by working in a “man’s industry”? Because if she can’t handle it she needs to get out of the business? All of these reasons have been put forth by the attackers who think it’s okay to send death and rape threats to someone from behind the safety of their computer screen. It’s terrifying and angering all at the same time.

So why is it that people in the gaming community, my supposed colleagues in the world because of a shared hobby, feel it’s okay for them to personally attack someone? Is it okay to publicly humiliate another person simply because they’re “internet famous” or work for a gaming company? Do these people honestly believe they’re entitled to drag others down with them to the lowest depths of humanity because they didn't like their game, or don’t like that a woman is finding success in an industry “meant for men”? It’s simply disgusting and if at this point you aren't outraged that this happens ON A DAILY BASIS then please consider yourself part of the problem.

Look, I know that gamers are some of the most passionate people around. I myself defend gaming fervently to people who view it as a waste of time or a cause of society’s major issues. There’s often a thin line between fans being passionate and abusive, and when people believe that as a consumer or a member of the community they have the right to personally attack someone, online and/or in real life, then they've crossed that line. Let me make this perfectly clear: nobody, and I mean nobody, deserves to have their personal life a matter of public debate, and nobody deserves to be threatened for just doing their job or living their life as they please.

Looks like I'm not the only one who thinks that devs are also human.

We as a gaming community have a lot of power, it’s true. We have buying power that can make or break smaller companies, and can determine the route larger companies take with their development of current and future gaming titles. But we should never use this power as an excuse to take another gamer, another human being, and make them feel unsafe because they changed a small aspect of a beloved game or simply don’t agree with you. Again, perhaps Phil Fish didn't do himself any favors when he fed the trolls, but maybe we played angry mob to his Frankenstein’s Monster and made him the person he is today. In any case, we certainly didn't help the matter. And maybe it’s true that Puppy Games isn't helping their case by addressing this elephant in the room, but guess what: we’re the ones who created the elephant and need to take responsibility. And in the case of Zoe Quinn, there are no excuses for the way people are treating her and her family. If we as a gaming community don’t start standing up for the victims and against the dregs of society who attack them, then the cycle will continue and people will stop caring what we think, and will only fear what we’ll potentially do.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Graduation Day - Mass Effect 3 (Xbox 360)


The Good: Like its predecessors, Mass Effect 3 does a great job of combining RPG and action elements with the ever enjoyable paragon/rebel decision system to create an amazing journey through this very climactic end of the best video game trilogy in recent memory.

The Bad: With a game this big there are bound to be a few bugs such as collision physics issues. The multiplayer feature seems forced and gets old very fast due to its repetitive nature.

The Glitchy: Having played through the entire trilogy as my male Shepard, the decisions you made even as far back as the original have an effect on this final installment, which is a great feature for loyal gamers of the franchise. Also, the decisions in Mass Effect 3 are much, much heavier than the last two combined, especially at the end of it all.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Graduation Day - King's Knight (NES)

If you were to ask me what game companies I associate with quality, Squaresoft would be at the top of my list. Sure, they’ve merged and now go by Square-Enix (Squenix, for short), and perhaps their quality of games has waned a bit since the PS1 days (my opinion…but also fact), but when I was a kid, Squaresoft’s talent rivaled that of the good folks over at Nintendo. I mean, Squaresoft was behind some of my favorite RPGs of all time, like Final Fantasy 9 and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.

So you can imagine my excitement when I snagged a small lot of NES games to find a game from Squaresoft I’d never heard of before, King’s Knight. Surely I had found an old-school RPG gem from the 8-bit days! Forgive my naivety at the time – my main experience with RPGs comes from the 16-bit era and beyond – but I truly couldn’t fathom a game from the days of Squaresoft could be bad. How wrong I was…

The Good: The box/label art is awesome. All in one place you’ve got a pink-haired princess being protected by a knight in golden armor, and a dragon carrying a wizard and some prehistoric-looking child on his back. Not to mention it’s got that old-school anime look going for it so bonus points.

The Bad: There’s no direction whatsoever, no motivation to care, random characters, nameless and faceless enemies, an apathetic soundtrack, and to top it all off, the difficulty is brutal. Plus, I’m not even sure this should be classified as action or adventure as the game states.

The Glitchy: You lose health by getting hit by enemies, but in a bizarre twist of gameplay mechanics, also by collecting “down arrows” that can somehow litter the screen when you destroy the environment.

First Impressions: Well, thing’s started out innocent enough with the title screen. Then all of a sudden I was transported to some forest where my guy was scrolling upwards towards enemies and I had no idea what to do. No intro, no text, and not the slightest hint at what the hell I’m trying to do. It just wasn’t a great start at all, especially for me because I promptly died about 10 seconds in. I’m not one to shy away from difficult games, but this is just brutal.

Graphics: Look, it’s an NES game. I can barely remember my time playing TMNT or Mario on the NES as a kid so it’s hard for me to compare it to anything except later generations. I will say that I recall TMNT and Mario having a bit more detail, even when TMNT when to a top-down look (which is all King’s Knight utilizes). But, the game came out in 1989, before Squaresoft pulled itself from the brink with their Final Fantasy franchise so I’ll give the graphics an…average?

Trust me, the cart is more interesting than any game screens.

Sound: Not great. There are very basic sound effects for shooting your weapons…or whatever, and for when you destroy things and get hurt. There’s also a little riff going on in the background, but it all seemed just very unaware that there was a game going on. Sure the sounds matched up with their respective events, but if you’re asking me to hum this tune from memory, forget it.

Controls: Again, this is an NES game: D-pad for movement in all directions, and use of a single button for firing your weapon. Pretty simple stuff, I guess, and it’s responsive so things are par for the course in this category. Nothing more to see here, move along.

Gameplay: It must have been freeing to develop games “back in the day” (in this case, the 80s), because there wasn’t a lot of pressure to fit your game to a formula that had proven successful yet. Sure there were popular games, but there wasn’t that air of “Simpson’s did it!” in the industry. Because there was still so much uncharted territory, companies were free to try new things out.

Unfortunately for King’s Knight, this culminated in some odd concepts. First off, you shot projectiles/energy up the screen to destroy parts of the environment and enemies. This wasn’t a foreign concept in 1989, but then again your characters weren’t planes or spaceships – they were people (or in one case, a monster/dinosaur thing…more on that later). It just didn’t fit when a knight or a thief could shoot projectiles. A wizard, sure, but come on Squaresoft – I only have so much reality I can suspend for one game.

Second, your character could lose life by being hit by enemies or their weapons, but also from random down-arrows that appeared on screen from destroying things around you like trees or rocks. This is very confusing at first because of the lack of explanation, and I initially thought these arrows controlled the screen’s scroll speed. Needless to say, this is why I died quickly on my first playthough.

But the oddest thing is how you’re supposed to “beat” the game. This isn’t anything I figured out on my own because I never even got close: I had to look it up. Apparently you play as 4 warriors tasked with saving a princess or save the world or something. But since they don’t bother to explain this ever, it doesn’t really matter, now does it? You have the knight, the wizard, the monster, and the thief, and each has to collect certain items and then enter a dungeon of sorts to defeat a mini-boss, then at the end each character fights the main boss and things happen.

That last sentence is so boring I almost fell asleep writing it, and that’s about how much you’ll care about this in a game that is not only brutally difficult but has given you direction or clue as to what you need to do whatsoever. Plus, when you need to fulfill a series of tasks or events in order to beat a game and there’s no way of you knowing what those are, that game will soon be finding its way to the bottom of a trash can.

Story: I gave this away above multiple times, but there’s no way to figure out the story or plot unless you look it up online, or maybe beat the game, which is impossible. Trust me, it’s not worth the effort either way, so just come to terms with that and forget all about this game.

Final Thoughts: <sigh> I really had high hopes for this NES Squaresoft game, but they were for naught. This “action/adventure” romp to kill baddies and save…stuff did nothing but frustrate and confuse me. I guess if there’s one positive thing about this whole experience it’s that I know the great things that Squaresoft eventually went on to do in the gaming industry.

Final Score: