Review Condensation

I have been looking at video game reviews recently and it struck me how condensed everything seems to be. After Google searching ‘video game reviews’, I opened every link on the first page. I found myself on the following websites: GameSpot, IGN, MetaCritic, Polygon, GameRankings, CNET, EuroGamer, Common Sense Media and The Escapist. Much to my dismay, I found that only 1 of the 9 websites did not immediately show me how they ranked the game within their rating system. That website was CNET.

The following images are screenshots of the above websites’ front pages on 07/12/2016.

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Why does this bother me so much? I personally find that compressing an entire games’ worth into a simple number does not do any game justice, regardless of the games’ quality. I find that numbers provide a false sense of objectivity within a medium that is inherently subjective.

A reviewer whose website I frequent is Jim Sterling, whose website is The Jimquisition. I genuinely appreciate the way in which he reviews video games. Firstly, his articles appear like this:

jimquisition

While it does appear to be similar to the way that the previous review websites present themselves, the main difference here is that there is no obvious indicator as to what Jim’s opinion is from the outset.

After this 2500 word review, he ends with a rating out of 10. What differentiates this rating out of 10 compared to the ratings of the websites mentioned at the start is that a ‘Review Score Guide‘ is provided via a link on the header of his website. This guide explains what his numbers mean, as well as what kind of games would receive these numbers.

As a developer, I see reviews, as they are now, as being closer to advertisements than to criticism. While it may not be the intention of the reviewer, I believe the general public see reviews as a vetting process instead of an analysis or a breakdown of a product. Not that this is exactly bad for developers, good reviews can lead to more sales. This isn’t exactly bad for consumers either. From a consumers’ point of view, reviewers are telling them whether a game is worth their money.

However, the fault that I see might not be a problem within the reviews sector of gaming, but within myself. Perhaps my opinions on reviews comes from a sense of fear that stems from my own games. A fear that the games that I might create may be falsely construed or that I might present my game in the wrong manner, thereby reaching a different target audience than intended. Take, for example, the user review written by jmhoffer (MetaCritic does not allow for direct links to reviews; jmhoffer’s review should be the first on the list) for This War of Mine. Jmhoffer gave the game 0 out of 100 and criticized the crafting, tool durability and water treatment for not being realistic, going so far as to dispute the developer’s claim that they lived through a war zone.

This kind of review, where people judge a game based on what they believe games in the genre should be, frightens me a little. The reason for this fear can be traced all the way back to my childhood. I have always had the pressure of my family’s success pushed upon me. My relatives on my fathers’ side of the family are all professors and my relatives on my mother’s side of the family are all engineers. Add to that the pressure of being a son whose parents are the least ‘successful’ in the family; my mother is the only one in her family who is not an engineer and my father is the only one in his family who is not a professor. The expectations that were placed upon me through schooling were very high. Getting an ‘A’ for an assignment was considered the standard, therefore anything less than that was seen as failure.

There are two things that are commonly associated with success in the gaming industry, these being your sales figures and your games’ reception. These two are often seen as being hand in hand because surely people wouldn’t buy a game if its reception is bad. The system of reviews we currently have, presenting a games’ worth through an aggregate score, sparks this pressure in me once again. What I fear isn’t exactly negative reviews, it’s reviews that are negative because the person expected something other than what I offered. In essence, marking my game against criteria that I had no intention of including and, therefore, didn’t consider.

But that is the point of freedom of speech, is it not? Being able to say what you want about whatever you want, regardless of prior experience or knowledge.

 

Do you have any insights or opinions? Please leave a comment below or tweet at me at @m_vonwil.

Can Mods Distort People’s Perception?

Length: ~1200 words.
Note: Near the end, this post briefly mentions some serious topics. Please bear this in mind when reading.

A subject that I have recently delved into is fandom. Fandom is the classification given to  a collective of individuals who all share a similar passion or fondness for a particular entity. Some of the more prevalent fandoms of modern media include: Whovians (Doctor Who), Bronies (My Little Pony) and Trekkies (Star Trek), as well as many more.

Whovians, Bronies and Trekkies respectively.

 

What I would like to discuss is not about why fandoms exist or their purpose, but about their influence on those who have not experienced the original media. Fandoms create a community and provide a sense of belonging amongst its members. Furthermore, they provide avenues for people to express themselves creatively. This creativity comes in many forms, the most common being: art, cosplay and fan-fiction. Video games, however, have an additional avenue called modding and it is this avenue I would like to further explore.

While I wouldn’t say that I’m apart of any fandom, I have certainly benefited from them. My first experience of fandom comes from the Skyrim modding scene. Mods are modifications to a video game that adjusts, alters, adds or removes content to/from the original work. The content of these mods can range from Dovahbit of Caerbannog (a pet rabbit that can carry your stuff, harvests ingredients and can wear hats) to Falskaar (a fully voiced, 20-30 hour mod with its own quests and music).

Bethesda, developer and publisher of Skyrim, has the top six places in NexusMods’ database, with 130,244 mods and 1.618 billion downloads in total, across six of their titles, as of this writing.

bethmods041216

As a developer, it is unbelievably flattering to see so many people who are willing to put in time and effort in order to change the game however they wish, regardless as to whether they are changing your game because they hate a decision you made or because they want to improve or add something that they feel is missing. Mods can even be a selling point to some people because it is seen as a way to further increase the value of the product. I personally have seen comments saying that they bought Medieval 2: Total War purely because of the mod Hyrule: Total War.

Games with modding potential provide so many benefits, not only to the game itself but to the people who play them. The benefits include, but are not limited to:

  • People who creates mods are able to express themselves and their skills, as well as share their creations with other people in the community.
  • People who bought the game are able to access additional, fan-made content, thereby extending gameplay.
  • The developers can potentially increase sales through the popularity of their modding scene.
  • The game itself can improve via modders improving the base elements of the game that the development team didn’t have either time nor money to fix before release.
  • With YouTube and video streaming in general being so popular, channels such as MxR Mods exist and allow someone to make a living from mods, or at least advertising mods.
  • The mod Tamriel Online adds multiplayer into an entirely single-player game. Quite an astonishing feat!
  • Some modders are even offered employment from game development studios because of their creations

However, there can be adverse affects from having such an openly adaptable game. Mods that add things such as: nudity, mutilation, slavery and rape exist, though they cannot all be found on the NexusMods website (due to their nature, I won’t link to these mods). This leaves me feeling rather conflicted. While I don’t have any interest in using these mods, I don’t believe that they should be taken down nor do I feel any offence from them. If the cathartic hypothesis regarding violence in video games is to be believed, then allowing people to express these kinds of fantasies inside of a fake world may lead to real world benefits.

*A point that has to be made here though, is that Skyrim is a single-player game. I feel perfectly comfortable defending the more obscene mods that are available for Skyrim because of this. The actions that one takes within the world of Skyrim effects no-one but the single person who is playing. As soon as multiplayer is introduced, however, the existence of these mods become entirely detrimental. Take this article (NSFW) on Kotaku for example. The article details how some players in Grand Theft Auto V (GTAV), with the help of a mod, have been able to simulate sexual activities with other players through animation manipulation and position locking, regardless of the other players’ willingness to witness or perform these acts. So, rape, essentially. It is bad enough that people suffer such a tragedy in the real world, so why bring this into a fake world? It may seem like I am contradicting myself; I defend Skyrim but reject GTAV?

*I can absolutely understand condemning both games but, as a game developer and designer, I can’t help but emphasize the differences in the source material. Skyrim is designed as a fantasy world where one can go to experience a world unlike our own, with: Khajiit (sentient cat people), Argonians (sentient lizard people) Dragons and magic in abundance. On top of that, all actions taken in Skyrim effect only the player because there are no other human players. GTAV, on the other hand, is designed to emulate some aspects of real life and parody others. It gives the player almost everything that the real world has, complete with cars, guns, drugs, airplanes, mobile phones, skyscrapers and explosives. The game allows for multiplayer, meaning that a players’ actions can effect not only themselves but other people as well. It is this, the addition of multiplayer, that completely changes the situation. It changes it into an action that requires consent from two parties but provides no avenue to do so.

I believe it is important to discuss such extreme situations because fan collaboration, such as the mods discussed, is not always controllable, nor is it instigated, by the developers. At the moment these types of mods are fairly hidden from the general public, meaning that only those who seek them out will find them. Which is perhaps for the best. These mods have the potential to severely damage a products’ image, the gaming industry’s image and possibly society as a whole, considering the popularity and demographic of gaming . Personally, I find it a little difficult for me to imagine what it would be like if a game that I made enabled this kind of material, nor would I know how to react. Should I allow my future products to be open to people’s freedom of expression, thereby potentially adding additional gameplay or improving graphics at no cost to me, or should I limit my game to my expression only, thereby potentially decreasing the value and popularity of my product?

*Edit – 10/12/2016

Do you have any insights or opinions? Then please leave a comment below or tweet at me at @m_vonwil.

Your Income & Your Art

The topic presented in week 2 is ‘Your Income & Your Art’. I have always found the money side of video games very interesting, although I’m not sure why. I personally have always disliked money, mainly due to some situations that I have been in with my family. Never-the-less I wish to support myself by making a career out of doing what I love.

The problem is that currently I don’t believe that what I am making is worth any money. Of course I have ideas for games that I would love to make and believe I would be able to make a profit from but I don’t currently have the skills to make these games the way that I would like to. Therefore I believe that employment would be my first step into the world of professional video game development. Employment will allow me to hone my skills as well as learn from others with more experience than me. It will also allow for me to not only make a living but also save money to fund my own game.

Another possible method that I believe would be viable is crowdfunding. Many games have been made possible through crowdfunding such as well known Koji Igarashi, influential in the creation of Castlevania, and his Kickstarter Bloodstained.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/iga/bloodstained-ritual-of-the-night

However, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a unique case. The Kickstarter campaign was used as a tool to measure the demand/popularity of the game. While there is no doubt that the additional funds that were raised over the Kickstarter’s initial goal, a project of this size requires money to get the campaign off the ground. These funds are usually provided by publishers.

There are also many successful projects by smaller and lesser known developers that have been successfully crowdfunded. These developers are just a few steps above myself and are more representative of what could be possible for me.  Games such as Shovel Knight, Undertale and The Banner Saga are all games that were successfully funded through Kickstarter that I have thoroughly enjoyed.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/yachtclubgames/shovel-knight

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1002143342/undertale

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stoic/the-banner-saga

If I was to be realistic, I would only be able to decide this once I believe that my creations would be good enough to sell. This would mean that I need to finish my course before making this decision.

My Review: Undertale

Undertale, developed by Toby Fox, has to be one of the best games that I have played in a while. It is quite hard to mention much about this game without spoiling what makes this game great. If you are deciding whether to purchase then I would suggest trying the demo first before reading this.

What first captured my interest in this game was the music. Not only do all the major characters have their own amazing theme, the small touches that are added to the area music based upon your actions was an interesting surprise.

Player character in the starting area

The gameplay is perhaps one of the most unique aspects of this game. It consists of a bar moving along a gauge when choosing to fight enemies (the closer you get to the centre, the more damage you do), and requires shoot-’em-up style evasive maneuvers when defending. Defending can be fairly lax, but, since all enemies attack at the same time, fighting multiple enemies in the same encounter will make dodging become very difficult. There is a similar effect with bosses in that each boss has their own method of attack which requires their own method of dodging.

Defending againt a single enemy

Undertale is advertised as being able to be played entirely non-violently if you wish, which I found to be true for all opponents except one but it is entirely possible that I may have missed something. By learning the personalities of your enemies you can ‘befriend’ them or at least convince them to stop fighting you.

Attempting to befriend an opponent

The characters and dialogue are vibrant and full of humor, even when least expected. General NPC’s that are found in towns, and occasionally outside of towns, have dialogue that relays a sense of their personality, which adds to the feeling that . All of the characters were so original and endearing that I find it in myself to fight them and not befriend them.

Of course, there are many things that are in this game that I didn’t cover, such as the mass amounts of adorable dogs, optional backtracking that leads to even more dialogue with the main characters and my favorite character Napstablook (who I originally pronounced Nap-Stab-Look, but is actually Napsta-Blook), who, if you try to fight him, won’t take damage because he is a ghost but will lower his health anyway just to be nice. In the end, I can’t recommend this game enough. It plays with the typical knowledge that people have about 2D role-playing games and manipulates them, and the result of that is this amazing game.

This review can also be found here, on Steam.

Images:

Undertale Logo [Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://undertale.com/images/undertale_logo.png

Screenshot 9 [Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://undertale.com/nscreens/xscreen9.png

Screenshot 5 [Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://undertale.com/nscreens/xscreen5.png

Screenshot 2 [Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://undertale.com/nscreens/xscreen2.png

Curated Content

I recently created a playlist of games that really made an impact on me. Of course, if I was to list every game that I loved then the list would be ridiculously long. This list contains the games that entered my mind first. The playlist contains the following games, with no commentary, in this order:

Undertale

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

The Wonderful 101

Dark Souls

Bloodborne

Xenoblade Chronicles

Shadow of the Colossus

All of these games have amazing music, interesting stories, great game-play and fantastic design. it is these types of games, games that utilize all creative aspects available, that I really wish to create.

Predictions of the Future

A recent read of the book ‘The Pirate’s Dilemma’ by Matt Mason has presented me with some interesting perspectives on the gaming industry.
The Pirate's Dilemma Cover

The book discusses the impact that pirate media has had on society and how it has changed how businesses operate. Pirate media is media that has been obtained or is shared/broadcasted illegally. Gaming companies have been fighting pirates for ages, believing that they are just common thieves that are trying get free entertainment. Given the recent state of the AAA industries, I believe that these pirates are trying to spark the ignition of change.

These pirate’s are looking at the current state of the gaming industry and seeing the game industry treating their fans, and gamers in general, horribly. With every ‘major’ game release comes a pile of ‘exclusive editions’ of the game at different retailers that offer to people different items that are not available anywhere else. Watch_Dogs was perhaps the most notorious for this, offering items labeled as ‘iconic’ even though the game wasn’t even released yet as well as multiple single-player missions at multiple different retailers (guaranteeing that no player would have the entire game).

Small Anecdote: Even I have had a recent experience with bad retailers. I recently bought Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain on PS4 which came with a free code to unlock some in-game items. When I entered the code into the Playstation Store, I was greeted with a message saying that my code was invalid even though I bought the game new. Sometimes they can’t even have quality in their additional ‘content’.

It is this scale of profit vs quality that pirate’s, as well as gamers, are fighting. The AAA industry sees them as thieves, but their main purpose is competition. The pirate’s offer the same content for free but with drawbacks such as; uncertainty on the side of the consumer since what they believe is a game might turn out to be a virus, possibly slow download speeds and, obviously, it is illegal.

My prediction for the future is that AAA companies need to see this as a challenge and not as a threat. If they continue to hinder consumers with ridiculous DLC (downloadable content), which is sometimes on the disc that consumers buy but is locked away behind a pass code, and DRM (digital rights management), they will begin to see a dramatic loss in consumers willing to buy their games. They need to begin to see games as a form of creative expression and not as an outright business.

If they do nothing, they will be beaten by the many creative and amazing developers that are starting their own projects at Kickstarter and IndieGoGo.
Kickstarter Logo

IndieGoGo Logo

There are developers there already that have created award winning games before, seeking or have attained funding, for their projects, by people that trust their work. The current AAA industry needs to facilitate their own change otherwise talented developers will rise and start their own companies, which will replace the current AAA companies.

Additional Material 1:

The following is former EA CEO John Riccitiello at a stockholder’s meeting.
My apologies for the bad audio quality (this in not my upload but the uploader added some, fairly fitting, music).

Hopefully I won’t see the day where I need to pay to reload my gun in any game.

Additional Material 2:

Due to WikiLeaks’ recent unveiling of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), it appears as though my prediction my not come to pass. It seems as though, at least from a video game perspective, that companies and countries continue to view piracy as an outright threat and are drafting the ‘TPP, the largest-ever economic treaty’ to deal with all forms of copyright. Now, I know that video games aren’t the only thing that the TPP can target and that this draft may just be to protect pharmaceuticals and other large markets, but since the agreement refers IP (Intellectual Property) in general it is safe to assume that this agreement could be used to target the video game industry as well.

References:

Mason, M. (2008). The Pirate’s Dilemma. New York, America: Free Press

The Pirate’s Dilemma [Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://thepiratesdilemma.com/images/us-book_cover.jpg

Kickstarter Logo [Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.kickstarter.com/download/kickstarter-logo-light.png

IndieGoGo Logo [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved from https://g1.iggcdn.com/assets/site/brand/IGG_Logo_Frame_GOgenta_RGB-2-f8565fa188a9dd16fb6c67321150b94e.png

My Media Use

As a prospective video game designer, the media technology that I use most would be the PC, and mp3. Not a day goes by that I don’t use my laptop to play games, study, do work or look at the news. Same goes for my music that I store on my phone. I am always wearing headphones, listening to music, podcasts or youtube videos whenever I get the chance.

The PC is what I use most. The sheer breadth of information that is accessible via the PC is astounding as is ever-increasing. People can start careers, learn about the world or even create an online persona through their PC and the Internet. There is very little that one cannot do with a PC and an Internet connection.

My other most used media form, mp3, I use as a luxury. Most of the music that I listen to consists of video game and anime soundtracks. What I enjoy about that music the most is that good video game and anime music conveys the feelings of the scene that the music was played in.

What brought me to study Games Design.

Video games are a medium of entertainment that I am very fond of. They have helped me to expand my views by presenting new ways of thinking, new cultures (real or otherwise) and have allowed me to momentarily remove myself from reality. For me, there is no specific genre of video game that stands out above the rest. I see video games as a culmination of almost all, if not all, creative mediums. I suppose my view would be best defined by the term Immersion, meaning that if a game can’t make me believe that what happening in the game is natural or if certain elements of game design clash, then that can really hinder my enjoyment and dissuade me from playing.

The game that perhaps influenced me the most would be Dark Souls. It was really the Souls series that facilitated the change from my previous tertiary studies to Games Design.

Dark Souls Cover Art

Dark Souls is an action role-playing game developed by FromSoftware and is one of the most amazing games the I have ever played. Everything from the music to the game-play and to the design of the game is great. The music fits well with the game’s theme and story, with fast,heavy music for intense boss fights and sombre music for the final boss which ties in with his backstory. The game-play is rewarding and requires you to learn about your opponents and their position, but once but you have learned that then the pace of the game is entirely dependent upon you. There are also different stats which, when increased, allows the use of specialized abilities which can entirely alter the style of game-play.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this game is how the story is conveyed to the player. The only section of story that is given to the player is an overview of events that happened before the player started. Every character that the player can speak to has their own bias and the only other available source of information is on item descriptions that can be found in the player’s inventory. Dark Souls does an excellent job of trying to get the player to actively search out threads of story so that they can unravel the mysteries of the game world on their own.

The culmination of all these elements, and many more that aren’t listed here such as multiplayer, NPC’s, enemies, architecture, etc., are what make this into a fantastic game. I hope that, in my future endeavors, I can make a game such as this,

Image:

Dark Souls Cover Art (Western Regions) [Image]. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/8d/Dark_Souls_Cover_Art.jpg