Friday was my last day at Page 44 Studios, and I don't think anything I say in this post can capture the prism of feelings over leaving those awesome people. It was kind of like the last bite of the most delicious hamburger in the world before starting on the sumptuous molten chocolate dessert... yeah like that. I like to think that I did everything I promised to do before I left, and that the last dinner I had their wasn't BBQ ribs on accident .
The project I worked on there, High School Musical: Senior Year Dance, was almost finished. I like to think I, and of course all hopelessly driven folks at Page 44, gave it our all to prove that a game based off a wildly successful IP didn't have to suck. This is a game that would have sold at least 2 million profit-laden copies without us lifting a finger, but there's no dignity in that for gamers like us. Not everyone gets to work on a triple-A title, but as Henry Heinz (of ketchup fame) once said: "To do a common thing, uncommonly well, that brings success."
Imagine how ecstatic I was when I saw this IGN preview that actually said our game was fun! And I quote:
Now for the scoffers out there that are quickly writing the game off, I'm going to throw this out here. High School Musical 3: Senior Year Dance played better than Samba de Amigo. The game was overall more responsive with the controls (albeit far simpler controls) and there was a bigger connection to what we were doing and what was going on in the game. Granted, all the songs are from HSM, but hey it was Ricky Martin and Lou Bega in the Samba game, so it seems like a lateral move to me.
There's still plenty of months before the release of either of these games, but HSM3:SYD (ugh I'm just calling it Dance from now on) is shaping up to be a fun, active Wii game that fans of the movie can actually have fun with.
Tomorrow I start a new job at EA Redwood Shores, and hope to bring every ripe, tasty ounce of "uncommonly well" I learned at Page 44 to all projects on the table, common and uncommon. That, with luck, brings success.
You, fair reader, must ask yourself. Was Jeff Gerstmann's review (above) of Kane & Lynch wrong? Was it unfair? Was it a justifiable reason for him to be to be fired from Gamespot after an offended Eidos snatched back stacks of advertising dollars with an angry yoinks? Probably not. But somehow, I don't feel the slightest sympathy for him. I'll tell you why his firing pleases me, and why it should please all those gamers who hope their medium is taking its rightful place among the world.
Criticism. What does it mean? Why does film, art, and music criticism surpass video game criticism? Because criticism, as an artform in and of itself, teaches you something about what it criticizes. It deconstructs the craftsmanship, the message, and the greater context of a work's role in the pantheon. Video game reviews, however, are nothing but paid opinions of what Steve adroitly described as "people who couldn't get into the game industry." Fanboys, backseat game designers, internet experts, and such forth.
Their reviews contribute little to the creation of a better game because these people have no experience working in games. On the other hand, music reviewers can play instruments, art critics can create art, and movie reviewers can have academic backgrounds. What do game reviewers have besides a subjective internal list of what they'd rather vege on a couch playing? I'm not ignoring the flaws of other forms of criticism, but let's be honest here, even at it's best, game reviews are bad. At the end of the day, games are designed for someone in particular, unlike movies which generally can be enjoyed by anyone when done well. Games are inherently fantasy fulfillment, not fantasy creation, and have to be judged on how well they satisfied gamers of a particular type. It is on that level where, for some, Bejeweled can be as good of a game as World of Warcraft.
Gamespot reviewers think that by arbitrarily demanding some games to have innovation, some games to just be fun, some games to be an "experience," whatever their pseudo-standard is, they are "raising the bar." Bullshit. Until there is a real literary quality in games that can be criticized, game journalism is just a recommendation to buy. We all know game advertisement pays for reviews, don't kid yourself. There isn't even anything wrong with that, and I bring up Penny Arcade reviews as an example of it done well. People are simply shopping for the review they need, and for your site to pretend it's creating a golden metric for an immature medium is ridiculous.
To those who want to go out and picket for Jeff, who think the review above sounds like something of senior editor quality at a major game mag, who think they're fighting the evil corporations who are "corrupting" this brilliant stuff with sponsorship, you've already lost. That shit ain't free, nor should it be. Ask yourself how any criticism is paid for. Then demand a higher standard. Abolish this bullshit point system.
Go with the Netflix 5-star system: hate it,
didn't like it,
Ultimately, the only two factors that matters for a game are fun and value. Game review snobs demean the whole industry, just like snobs in any other industry.
If there is one sector I feel comfortable making predictions in, it would be the video game sector, although the majority of it is really just a cluster of a dozen or so companies that publish for a much broader cast behind the curtain. It excites me everytime that this mini-sector is covered by market blogs, and this article is no exception. I like to read about an industry dear to my heart from the perspective of those less intimate with it. What the article says about EA's development difficulties with the PS3 and idealogical difficulties with the Wii, while not surprising in themselves, reminded my of how I've forgotten that companies are companies. Even in the business of creativity and play, the corporate speak is nothing new to investors.
That comforts me.
The game industry, for some betters and many worsers, has grown up. It's leaving its roots in the basement of hackers. It is being held to a multi-national standard, ethically and financially. It has, despite its loss of innocence, become recognized.
And I dearly hope that, like books, radio, comics, television, and film before it, it will endure through its current phase, the scapegoat of political campaigns and modern vices, and enter the annals of pleasant anachronism. Only there is it safe to continue to work its influence as the world whirls around another threat. There, it will build better men.
Right now, the old guard thinks it ruins them. What about the teenage gunman who turns out, contrary to preliminary reports, didn't own a single game? Or what about when the stepmother of a boy recently apprehended for the sport-killing of a homeless man opens herself and her story to Penny Arcade, telling the world that "Video games DID NOT make this kid who he was, and it’s unfortunate that the correlation is there." Her story is haunting, even moreso if unheard.
As the year of the Golden Pig arrives, I hope that the industry will have great fortune, making it (and me) rich. Feng Shui experts proclaim this also a year of Fire on top of Water, a year of great conflict and volatility. With game legislation in furor, and the industry cycle starting anew under the duress of the console war, this will no doubt be one of the deciding years on the fate of games and their status among other media.
Now that World Jump Day is over, stupidity will diffuse more evenly among the 23.934 hours in the sidereal day. If you hadn't heard of it, it was a call for millions of chumps across the planet to jump up and down at the same time in order to shift the orbital path of the planet, and thereby bringing world peace, global cooling, and a climate of general inanity. C'mon folks, the idea makes no sense at all in regards to physics. If anything, if should be World Blow-Upwards-At-The-Sky Day and instead of spreading across the globe canceling out their own foolishness, they should do it all from one place... like a poisonous rainforest or something.
But the strategy they've come up with is not new. Dantesoft sent me a BBC article nicely summing up the troubles a giant EA has faced. From the folks I've talked to, what burnt people out wasn't so much the workload, but the pointlessness of said work when constantly defined and redefined by suits and producers, the worst combo for human health since the Big Mac and large fries. Try changing 3-4 managers a month. Try marketing perps invoking art/code pipeline changes. One gent, who was friends with the guy who filed the class action suit against EA, told me of a game in which developers would try to score points based on how many times they could get producers to say "in reality...," and of course bonus points if you could get them to play the crying card. I kid you not, they cried.
So I guess we are to believe that significant jumping up and down has changed the orbit of EA's heart. I'll believe it when interns stop abandoning their internships there.
But jump hard enough and you'll plummet through the Earth into China, where they're still busy at work ruining stereotypes for Chinese people stateside. Read this incredible story about how Massive Black, related to the artistic monument that is ConceptArt.org, had their business sabotaged and stolen shamefully and shamelessly by their Shanghai faction.
This is the John Grisham tale of the game industry. Where asian women here in the Valley enjoy the benefits of being stereotypical dragon ladies and kawaii dolls in the sensational yellow fever of the interracial dating scene, asian guys are haplessly painted as spies and fu manchus. Y'know why? 'Cuz of selfish assholes like James Xi Zhang and the massive fraud, embezzlement, and conspiracy he perpetrated against Massive Black. If Hellgate is delayed for this, he's a dead man.
"Charlize Theron has her Oscar. Now she has her Catwoman."-- David Frese
This movie's relationship to the animation that inspired it is the equivalent of the relationship between the Fight Club game and the Fight Club movie. Peter Chung's Aeon Flux was a psychonanalytical vignette of action movie cliches. This vacuous movie, then, is a two hour din caused by the infinite whiffing sound of what modern man amended to the metrosexual moral code- the "missing the goddamn point" effect. It's as if someone directed a videogame based movie on the intellectual property and cheat codes listed at GameFAQS alone. I'm sorry, it's already been done. I'm sorry, it hasn't STOPPED being done.
So I'm kinda pissed at this triumvirate approach. Film, game, comic/book. The loss in intramedium translation is endemic to entertainment, who as an industry seem to think entertaining entails keeping costumes but culling characters. Unfortunately, given the longer and more prestigious history of film, it is videogames that suffer the stigma. It sure doesn't help when only 3 of 18 the XBox 260 launch titles are sequels, remakes, or otherwise unoriginal. Which is already a far better track record than EA, who defines the gaming mainstream.
Is it any surprise that there is such a clamor for cheaper games? In the past eight years, the game industry has grown 120% in sales, but only the top 5% (80 titles a year) turn a profit, and Lord Voldemorte puts most of those out. After even inflation, why aren't games cheaper? Development costs have soared, of course, countering all the advancements in the ease of making games compared to the yesteryear. And for what? Market saturation of sequentially sequelized sequels that either emulate or get emulated on celluloid by ever more virtual casts. Koyaanisqatsi. I fear for our gaming future. Why hasn't AI changed since Wolfenstein?
On a side note, DO NOT install the Google desktop tool. It (and tools like it) in combination with an updated IE will open your computer up to abuse and exploitation.