Itchy Thumbs

Completing games then reviewing them

Archive for February, 2006

Getting up to speed

Posted by D on February 21, 2006

Before we continue it’s probably best if you read a few things about the state of games production. It would be useful if we were all on the same page, all singing from the same hymn sheet, all batting for the same team and all fusing our conciousness with the same indecipherable hive mind (so to speak). So to that end I would advise you read the following articles:

Death to the games industry: Long live games Part 1 by Greg Costikyan
Death to the games industry: Long live games Part 2 by Greg Costikyan
Nintendo’s genre innovation strategy by Dan C at Lost Garden
Greg Costikyan ranting
Greg Costikyan putting his money where his mouth is

So, you’re probably asking why you needed to read those and what is so important about all those articles? First off I think buried in their cores each article tacitly illustrates the one great immutable fact about games. A fact so shocking that many publishers don’t want you to know. A fact they keep hidden so that people and cultures across the globe are slowly begining to forget their history, nay birthright. And strangely enough it’s little more than: the only important feature is that games are fun and playable. The games industry is littered with pretty games that play like utter dogs (Shadow of the Beast anyone?), the games industry is also littered with games that are successful purely as a consequence of marketing and this is set to get worse. As budgets ramp up few publishers will have the balls to pull a game they’ve invested millions in and it’ll be cheaper to pay for the advertising budget to market a sub-standard game than it will to pull it.

And the other more overt thing that these articles illustrate is that the structure of games writing and publishing sucks, contrary to Greg Costikyan‘s admirable hardline stance, I’m not as convinced that it is the poor business model that produces poor games. There’s plenty of poor open source, freeware and shareware games out there. Poor playability is a consequence of not having a single, grand unifying vision for the central mechanics of the game. Design a game with a committee and you get a game that only a committee can love yet every individual will hate. It’s no mistake that Shigeru Miyamoto’s games are invariably good. As more games require more and more cash so to the list of vested interests quickly increases. More games will come to be designed by a committee to ensure as wide audience appeal (and greater financial returns) as possible. But appealing to the mass market often leads to a combination of mundane ideas and poor execution, designed to satisfy all tastes yet satisfying none. You need only look at the Hollywood film industry to see plenty of analagous examples trotted out every summer for Blockbuster season. I’m sure I should be attempting to shoehorn in that quote about “a camel is a horse designed by a committee” in here. So I suppose I’d like to see less camels and more horses, antelopes, gibbons, baboons, blue bottles, wasps, elephants, ocelots and so on.

So, now we’re all aware of the state of the games industry and what actually matters (having fun and playability that is, do keep up). At this rate I may even get round reviewing some games.

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And so it begins…

Posted by D on February 17, 2006

A long time ago I started playing computer games.

Not too long after that I started reading about computer games as well. Back then there were reviews and cheats and pokes and all manner of unctuous gaming goodness and I was hooked. Sometime after I began reading about computer games I came across the glory and wonder that was Amiga Power. Within those pages I discovered that people could write interesting and funny and genuinely critical things about games. Games reviews could be honest and didn’t have to a sycophantic peon to the gaming industry. Amiga power was eye opening and it was funny and in it’s passing many a tear was shed. After that point we moved into the dark ages of game reviewing and not much has improved since.

Nary a word has been printed by a magazine in 15 years that wasn’t paid for, or approved by the developers themselves. Most magazines were (and still are) glorified adverts, with little by way of a critical eye. Nonetheless, during this time, UK channel 4’s Digitiser column was a lonely voice of (in)sanity the black crticial darkness of this period.

For a long time there were no games reviews worth reading. In fact, in teenage boy’s bedrooms* up and down the land there was frustration. A great wailing and nashing of teeth could be heard. After years in this wilderness when we had lost all hope, we came across the internerd (god bless her). Finally there was an outlet for teenage boys, from far and wide, to acquire free porn, and there was much rejoicing. And after the vigorous rejoicing (twice) they could surf to places that held impartial gaming advice. Today you can find sites where people aren’t being paid to have an opinion (hurrah!) and there are many such outlets to visit. Penny Arcade, Game Girl Advance, 1up.com to name but a few. Hell, some of this advice isn’t just impartial it’s also well written and insightful, it’s written by people who actually give a fuck. So it’s my intention with this blog to add my lone voice to thisfray.

So I’ll outline a couple of objectives:

  • As my subtitle suggests I’ll only review a game if I’ve completed it. Well, complete might only mean 98-99% complete in some cases and some dreadful games may also get a review for comic effect or to illustrate a point.
  • As this is a UK based blog it may appear to lag little behind the rest of the world (with regards release schedules and what not), so let me extend any apologies to my international readers. Also the reviews will be somewhat biased towards PS2 and DS releases for the time being (actually some really old and wothwhile things might get a mention too).
  • This blog will be totally impartial, yes I’m not getting paid to do this and I swear on my life I never shall. Ok not strictly true, one day there maybe advertising space sold, who can say?
  • There may be some other media reviewed, films, books, albums, new hardware but the main thrust will be computer games.
  • This blog will also be an outlet for some essays about gaming culture and my approach to computer games. With any luck this should add ample context to the reviews. If someone reviewing a game hates FPS’s then it pays to know that kind of information and I hope that my other thoughts about gaming will inform my reviews.
  • Sorry grandma, there may be some swearing (only in the name of comic effect, natch).

But what credentials do I have, I hear you ask. Nothing formal I must answer. I’m not a journalist and I’m not a trained writer. I’m just a game fan that cares about playing good games and that cares to see the standard of games raised. I’ve played games for over 20 years now on many systems (including but not limited to: ZX81, ZX Spectrum 48K, BBC micro, RM Nimbus, x86 PC, Amiga500, Gameboy, Amiga 1200, SNES, playstation, N64, playstation 2, Nintendo DS) so I hope that indicates that I might have some experience playing many games and hope it indicates that may picked up some idea about what makes some games succesful and others not so. Of course you can be the judge of that by reading what I have to say on the matter. Other than that I’ve thought about games, playability and the games industry for a long, long time.
* Yeah, yeah. Ok, I agree that there are plenty of girl gamers fiddling away in their bedrooms but I’m talking about the early 90’s here. At that time gaming was the exclusive preserve of spotty males whose only other social outlet involved dice and mighty elvish maidens called Glithandrel; whose heaving, oiled breasts strain against the filigree work of their armoured bustieres, whose supple legs speak of pleasures no mortal man has experienced… I’m sorry I appear to have drifted off point, if you could just give me, say, 5 minutes, I’ll be right back.

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