Archives

All posts by noisewar

While the pseudo-highbrow titles of the Independent Games Festival are announced with aplomb, each year feeling less and less indie (which is wholly different than being independent), the raw creative reactionism just isn’t there. I don’t think I’m jaded, it’s just not exciting when indie game means a game made with less than a half million dollars employing one of the following play mechanics: Flash physics, time/perspective manipulation, or audio visualization. Or worse.

It’s as if each time the Incredible Machine is developed cheaper, somehow the gaming frontier has been challenged. Seriously now, can we get over it? Remember when garage bands did their thing in isolation, before they saturated punk, ska, grunge, and many so-called underground movements with so many novelty acts that the genre was drowned by its own crowd? Instead, the only game from the festival I wanted to run out and make everyone play was You Have To Burn The Rope, which is an interactive fuck-you as brilliant as Malevich’s White on White, and will no doubt be replicated to death as if the art was in the game, not the moment.

Yet that game tells the very opposite message as Malevich’s piece, as did Rod Humble’s The Marriage, which showed how subjective we really are, and how that can be turned into gameplay. There is no supremacy of form in today’s rabidly media-hungry culture… all elemental form, all sensations, all primitives are transformed instantly into subjects of intricate, post-modernized stories. There is no isolation. I fear the internet has made this change in human cognition permanent.

So why not embrace it? That’s why You Have To Burn The Rope is fantastic… for games to become art there must be an awareness and a conversation with its own history. Film, music, and literary critic call this allusion, but for the creators, this isn’t just a word, it’s a dialogue. Which means it should invite participants. For me, I’m far more intrigued by stop-motion artist Patrick Boivin’s attempt at turning a linked sequence of videos into Youtube Street Fighter.

And don’t even get me started on Flower.

Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to post. And boy have there been so many things I’ve wanted to talk about, but now at the cusp of what should be a bright new year, I can’t bring myself to carol about all the devastation our economy is experiencing… it’s just too negative. While Xstine and I have consoled ourselves with the idea that our industry is recession proof, is it really? The official unemployment rate is 7.1% in Silicon Valley, above the national average, but if you used metrics from before the Clinton administration retooled CPI to their pleasure, national unemployment is over 16%.

But like I said, let’s stop talking about it. There will be plenty to decry next month, when the market loses faith in the mythical year-end bounce. Let’s talk fun things, like my new favorite site: www.mymomisafob.com It captures the charming, annoying irrational love of the asian mother, steeped in impromptu paranoias and Engrished superstitions.

Ignore the fact that the picture I posted comes from the now defunct Timesplitters developer Free Radical, who sadly along with Factor 5, Midway, EA, et al. are among the many with career casualties this last month. You know what’s fun? RoboKill is darn fun for a simple flash game! Reminds me of shareware classics like Raptor: Call of the Shadows and Zone 66, remember those goodies?

Also, I know this is a bit old, but I finally got to check out Wario Land: Shake It at the store, and it really leverages every bit of the Wii’s potential into a solid, novel platformer… and it has an awesome “trailer” so check this out!

Anyways, it’s tough mustering up much season’s spirit this year, but things are darkest before the light, right? And with so much dark coming, preparing to take advantage of the light is the best way to position ourselves for festive years to come.


So much to be thankful of this year. Having the opportunity of a lifetime staring us in face as the market collapses, having Obama make a brilliant choice in appointing Volcker, having a job of any kind, these are things to be thankful for. Steve showed me a chart where on the bell curve of the market’s annual gains/losses, 2008 is currently at the far left end of the bell, -4 SD into hell. Time to buy.

With that, I wish you all a happy holiday, and when you get a chance play this amazing game Auditorium. So many other games talk the talk about play, but with Auditorium, you really feel like solving puzzles is part of the discovery and creation process. You conduct the visualizaton of sound as a physical stream of liquid, forgetting about interfaces and hit points, for your imaginary audience. Goals are almost subjective, and the visuals are pure player expression. Enjoy!


People have forgotten how tough things used to be. This is true of both the today’s recession and Mega Man 9. The market is in near panic right now, if you go by the put option prices that have hit all time highs. Check out the ^VIX volatility index for an idea how that looks… you’re looking at a spike in FEAR.

But somehow I’m not fazed yet. People in this recession don’t really know how bad the coming depression will be. People in the coming depression won’t know how bad the Great Depression was. And those who lived during the Great Depression just vaguely remember how rough depressions before that had been. Short memories are so divinely human. We think politics today is more corrupt than before, or wars are more pandemic, or racism more intolerable.

Is that why we crave nostalgia? This idealized summary of the good of the past? Mega Man 9 faceplants me in a slab of nostalgia. What was it about the originals that made them stand the test of time and technology to be fun to this day?

I like to think Mega Man was the first game character in tribute to gastronome Brillat-Savarin, who famously said “you are what you eat”. Mega Man begins as weak as the player, and as he culls the weak theme-bots and usurps their collective powers into his own, he evolves at the player’s will. Mega Man was the ultimate predator.

And he was a man of character. His arsenal was fought for, not given. His name implied great size, but he is as dimmunitive as Alexander Pope, yet this mechanical everyman has every bit as much wrath. He’s a blank slate, a surrogate for all our platforming victories, yet a myth for our ignoble deaths to those goddamn spikes.

Boy, do I crave real men to lead us today. How can anyone who remembers the long shadows of men like Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, or Andrew Jackson, bear to vote in this coming election? How did the Republicans become the antithesis to every fiscal stance they claim? How did Democrats become raging hypocrites, hating the very people they propose to help? If video games have gotten too easy today, then life certainly ain’t churnin’ out winners.

“Satan is wiser now than before, and tempts by making rich instead of poor.”

WAR is truly everwhere. At home Xstine and I are havin’ a blast playing Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, and almost every itch we had from leaving WoW has been epicly scratched. And boy were we itchy because the end-game in WoW left some unhappy scabs.

Outside of our world of epic vritual battles, one has already been fought an lost on Wall Street. Some friends have asked for my perspective on the bail-out mess, and I want to use a WAR analogy. In WAR lore, the evolution and advancement of warriors comes from the endless combat between the legions of Order and the minions of Chaos. A great story and its great heroes can only be made with this precarious balance. Too much one way is complacency, too much the other way is anarchy.

You may think it’s far-fetched to compare a fantasy video game to financial crisis in this way, but there’s one thing to consider. In Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel he recounts his finding that over the historic rise of civilizations, what built the greatest ones was a combination of geography and natural resources that promoted an optimal state of controlled competition. To have less was complacency, to have more was anarchy. Sound familiar?

Now look at the bail-outs. Chaos has lost, if you believe the anti-free-market crowd. Order has failed if you know better than to believe the Fed. The problem was that Order assisted Chaos, and vice versa. No one knew their roles. The Fed answers to the market now. The market believed the Fed would save them.

What I’m trying to say is that a healthy distrust between the private and the public was lost, Freddie and Fannie being prime examples. What we face now is an extreme reaction as the Fed and Paulson nationalize the market. Chaos has learned that losing the battle means being saved by Order. Where’s the impetus to fight?

Now, I give the Fed credit for not bailing out Lehman brothers, as they knew the books were probably so toxic nothing could be done. And F&F? Ok, sure, they were a GSE, blah blah. But bailing out AIG? An insurer? Forcing BoA to take on Merrill Lynch? And now hints at extending help to foreign banks? Unlimited Sec. of Treasury power? For those who think cash is safe, I’ll point out that the (maybe) $45 billion left in FDIC divided by the $100,000 insured per account is not a happy number. Plus each of these banks going under have tons of employees; Lehman alone has 26,000+. NY is depressing. I can’t even make a conhesive paragraph out of all of it.

And somehow Bernanke is in the back saying a recession is imminent if there is no bail-out. Hello, the recession has arrived, but the punishment for misdeeds has not. Will not? Well that depends on how many tax-payers realize it’s angry mob time.

If you listen to the anti-capitalists, they will tell you that the answer is “none, the market will fix the problem.” And then they’ll tell you that the market hasn’t fixed the problem, and that’s why Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae should be taken back into tight government control.

If you are an intelligent human being, you should understand that that line is a turd of bullshit so large you’d never stop counting the agendas embedded in it like corn in crap. Was that disgusting enough imagery for you? ‘Cuz that’s how you should be feeling right now.

What part of “backed by the government, yo” tattooed on F&F’s back sounds privatized? You see, it’s not just how you run the company, it’s not just what investors are rubbing your balls in cash, it’s what your contingency plan is. And when that plan is “the Treasury will bail us out” then that is NOT free market. Unless you think it has no effect on the decisions/mistakes they make.

F&F are GSEs. This means they were created by the government, for the government, regardless of how “privately” they are run. The Fed gives them cheap loans that they securitize for a profit and then pass on to borrowers, who have special faith in that relationship.

So now look at the Fed’s latest bail-out plan:

  • F&F CEO removed… GOOD, though I’m sure they get some nice parachutes…
  • F&F Conservatorship… RIGHT, because the goverment’s had such a good track record before…
  • Buyer of the Last Resort… WHAT? So the Fed keeps F&F stock afloat with $200 billion of our money? BTW there is only the “last resort” left, ding dong.
  • 10% per annum portfolio reduction… WTF?! Who the hell? Wha…? How are you going to achieve this, how is this relevant, and what are you saying when you tell a company to reduce its business as you buy up its stock with our money?

All that does is keep or lower existing mortgage rates. Solving the credit crisis is not going to address the lack of DEMAND for things to DO with that credit. Like I’m really going to buy a house now that lending rates fell 1% when the nation is facing mass unemployment and inflation. Like I’d really solve the latter by doing the former anyways.

You’d think the Republicans would be against ham-handed intervention. Too bad they’ve confused F&F with Terry Schiavo.

I’ll spare you what you already know about how great the Wall-E movie and how its strong theme is about the ravages of commercialism. I wanted to talk about the secondary theme in Wall-E, the thread of symbolism that enriches what seems like simple story-telling fabric. Forget the “hypocrisy” that one (of the very few) soulless critics pointed out about the commercial viability of the slickly designed cast against the wholesome message. That critic has forgotten his job is to review movies, not corporate greed, unless he’d prefer the movie to NOT have its message and JUST be a vehicle for Disney’s marketing.

SPOILERS!!!
Continue Reading

Michael Walbridge the Game Anthropologist has some interesting things to say about why he felt the Team Fortress 2 community was more civil and mature than what we’ve all experienced to be the absolute dregs of humanity in other online FPS’s. I won’t mention Unreal Tournament, Counterstrike, and Halo, but oops I just did.

While I think his points are on the dot about the way the team dynamic of the game fosters a cooperative us vs. them bond for the players that ultimately leads to self-regulation, and I like how he explains that anti-social behaviour is deflated by being an actual part of gameplay, there’s another point I’d like to add. So far, his comments are true for most team-based online shooters, just handled more elegantly in TF2. Yet one aspect of the game that stood out to me only after a lot of intense playing is that the character classes in TF2 were like tools to me.

Tools? Well, at a certain level of skill, we pick and choose from a small range of classes that we know well, and apply them to the current situation on the battlefield. I don’t think the majority of players play only one class. For myself, I choose between soldier (objective-driven offense), pyro (defense and chokepoints), and engineer (control) constantly as needed. The classes are like my swiss army knife of the proper contributions my team needs.

I think this leads players to identify less with some avatar online through which they would normally evoke all the horrors of anonymity, and instead a certain fourth wall is broken and a player is displayed onscreen as his tactical choice. In my opinion, this places players and their decisions in much greater proximity to each other because their intentions and personalities are more transparent. Only in that kind of openness will player-to-player advice and criticism mean much. I had similarly mature companionship in games such as the Battlefield and the Tribes series, and provide the same way of thinking about your avatar. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

This post is going to attempt pulling three disparate subjects I wanted to talk about into one coherent rant… ready?

I’m savagely disappointed in John McCain, my candidate of choicelessness, and was dismayed to hear Michael Hollick’s complaints about being underpaid for his voice acting role as the main character of Grand Theft Auto IV. These happened within a week of each other, and got me incensed by how this country is dominated by populist feel-good, and not rational understanding.

McCain, along with the hypocritical bitch whose husband I’ve already written about, is pushing for a Gas Tax Holiday paid for by money the government doesn’t have (until it taxes it out of the people). Like the biodiesel fad that has led to mass starvation in worldwide food shortages, it stokes that unjustified indignation people have who think Big Oil is plundering the common man. Meanwhile, Hollick, telling the NY Times of the “mere” $100,000 he made voicing Nico Bellic, made the presumptuous remark, saying “But it’s tough, when you see Grand Theft Auto IV out there as the biggest thing going right now, when they’re making hundreds of millions of dollars, and we don’t see any of it.”

I’ve been reading Atlas Shrugged recently, after a debate with a co-worker where he felt I didn’t fully understand Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy and had represented it unfairly in my Bioshock article. After reading it, I’ve realized that I was more right than I ever knew. She created a complete strawman for her Atlas’ and now I know I can’t point out any flaw in her logic if I’m in the same room as her fans/cultists. But I did gain an appreciation for how deeply she feels for the great men and women who are assaulted for their wealth and power by the very people who depend on it.

And I have a similar if less fervent feeling for Big Oil. Yes I’m going to defend them. Do you people know that Big Oil has had a declining profit margin since Standard Oil? That Big Oil today has a lower profit margin (7-9%) than most other industries (look up the highest yourself)? And that’s without the reinvestment into infrastructure people damn them for! Did you know that the government’s gasoline taxes rake in twice as much as Big Oil revenues?

But Big Oil has made so much money! They should give back to the people, cried the looters! Did you know that if you graph Big Oil’s “huge” profits to oil consumption, the correlation damns no one but the oil-gobbling people ourselves? Did you know that Big Oil isn’t even that big? Exxon (the largest of Big Oil) ranks 14th largest in the world, the biggest being ARAMCO which is 12 times its size! Sure, let’s return Big Oil to the mercy of the people, let’s just make it state-owned… like the 13 other oil giants in the world that dwarf “Big” Oil.

So when Hollick says it’s hard to watch GTA make millions, isn’t he right? It’s not like he signed a contract agreeing to all these terms, nor had any idea of the popularity of the world’s best-selling game beforehand. Clearly he was misled. He should have protested the obvious exploitation by letting another unknown actor take the $100,000 blow that was merely better than average for opportunity starved voice actors whose video game work isn’t protected by their own selfless union. :rolleyes:

Where Ayn Rand was wrong was her trust in the utilitarian nobility of the elites in capitalism, a trust not so different than the trust in the working man found in her nemesis: socialism. But her dangerously seductive philosophy was birthed from a real and tragic irony. If you run a business, shall I punish you when people can’t get enough of your product? When the people force profits upon you, shall I force you to give back charitably? Shall I take your right to pursue profit in the name of National Security, along with wire-tapping and waterboarding?

So then, tell me what right Hollick has to feel anymore pain than the hundreds of other people who worked far more for far less pay and fame, whose efforts in anonymity made Nico Bellic possible? Tell me what right Hollick has to the millions GTA made, when any number of elements in that game could have become the clincher to its appeal? Did anyone buy GTA because Michael Hollick was starring in it?

Then tell me what right we have to demand Big Oil’s morality at our feet, when it is us who drank in the prosperity of energy irresponsibility until the mirage began to fade?

Taking the top-100 games between March 13th, 2007 and March 13th, 2008, as reported by Next-Gen.biz, I did some number crunching to find some correlations. Keep in mind that the conclusions drawn are only appropriate to the games and timeframe stated, and that I did make certain assumptions along the way (like treating re-releases as different games). Plus my math isn’t so hot, but you get the idea.

Here are my findings:

And you can download the excel file here.

What I found is that there is a 0.28 correlation between daily game sales (DS) and Metacritic score. Is this alot? That I cannot tell you, but what I can point out is that this is (surprisingly) higher than the correlation between DS and the # of SKUs the game was released on, which was 0.20 based on the data.

You may notice that there is a negative correlation of -0.13 between total sales numbers and days since release. This is not a mistake. Because the timeframe ends not long after the holiday season, this season’s blockbusters actually have higher total sales than games released after the last holiday season. This goes to show how important that season is. I am aware that the # of sales decreases at an exponential rate after release, so keep in mind that DS is probably weighted higher for more recent releases.

Dividing the mean DS by 100 possible Metacritic points and then multiplying by the correlation squared, I guesstimate that last year each +1% to the Metacritic score was worth 7.67 sales per day (for the top-100 selling games). Is that worth it to developers and publishers? Without more data on budgets and per SKU revenues, it’s hard to tell. One thing to notice is that no top-100 game scored below 30%, so I would think the DS per Score would be slightly higher.

Similar to Chris Pruett’s article (except that I corrected for number of days released and extrapolated correlation) I conclude that a good score does not guarantee sales. I’d clarify his observation that there are no bad games over a million units by saying that companies who make bad games wouldn’t have the budget to attempt a million sales. Scores are important for selling blockbusters, but that doesn’t mean you need to make great games to make money. Sadly, the majority of games just need to be between 50% and 95% to sell well.

In the future, I would like to further refine this data, using platform marketshare and total SKUs, as well as including IP vs. non-IP into the discussion.