The important stuff

December 2, 2007

When I registered this blog last year I had a real intention about it: It would be about videogames, cultural effects of videogames and to a lesser degree; the issues that plagued Mobygames as a database in trying to define an categorize materials. While the content of this blog has sometimes been on hiatus, and other websites have done a much better job than little old me, it still seemed worthwhile. I want people to understand that I love my consoles and videogames, as I love other artforms: movies, books, theatre, youtube, tv shows, clever websites… the things that make up culture.

However I’ve been watching some television dealing with the environment and climate change and it has pushed me to being depressed. I mean really depressed. The kind of depressed that I really can’t discuss on any kind of a blog without being called an emo. Suffice to say that my appetite is gone and I really had to force myself to eat every bite of my dinner. Steven Running likened climate change to dealing with any other tragedy, in that there are five stages of grief. As he points out, a fair amount of people only deal with it as three stages of grief… and jump straight to depression. That unfortunately is where I currently lay.

Suddenly in the wake of earth’s problems, videogames really don’t seem that important. But neither do a lot of the media that I previously described as culture. A lot of people are happily watching their TV shows and I can’t blame them, it’s good TV. A lot of people are happily shooting opponents at Halo or Counter-Strike or dealing with Mario Galaxy and exploring Azeroth. I know I have. It’s been a wonderful experience. But climate change scares me. It scares me to such a degree that I’m having trouble enjoying these things. I’m having trouble even thinking of culture as important. Existence is of the paramount important. Existence allows us to live, culture makes living worthwhile.

As a gamer, there’s a certain difficulty in explaining this. Part of the gamer nature I believe, is to be masters of distraction and focusing one’s attention elsewhere. This is the essence of videogames and quite a few people I know *became* gamers at a young age simply as coping mechanism for trouble in their families or around them (childhood and adolescence are traumatic experiences even under normal circumstances). Because of this… I know firsthand that a lot of brilliant people are… well focusing their attention elsewhere. I’m worried somewhat that the solution to problems are buried in one of these brains, genius but for the fact that it’s concentration is on Final Fantasy XIII rather than anything occurring in the real world. Again, I understand this… I despise watching the news and hate reading newspapers. Under normal circumstances I can even justify this attitude, a lot of what human beings do are scandals and business deals and whatnot that don’t affect me. And yet climate change somehow is something there’s no running from. Isolation within a virtual world is simply something not viable for an issue that’s not only global but potentially the most important thing for the species.

If this is sounding like the same “environmental rhetoric” that the reader has heard before. I apologize. I simply have to write something because as mentioned, I’m pretty depressed over this. The worst is not knowing what to do. Coupled with issues I already have this is…. not paralyzing but…. it’s very hard for me to get anything done. I’m hoping the feeling will pass, I can measure this emotional state since Friday. Nonetheless it affects my sleep, my ability to do anything and quite frankly scares me more than anything in recent memory. I wandered over to remnants of the “One Tonne Challenge” website (I believe the program has been canceled), most of the stuff seems to be things I’m doing already. And yet, I live in an apartment, there’s lots of things that aren’t under my control but that of the building owners and would be difficult to convince. At the same time, all of these are small steps, which while they add up and are certainly better than nothing, really don’t feel like they’d accomplish too much either. A quick glance over my television stations shows that most TV stations are filled with sitcoms, movies… everything regular and normal. I feel depressed that there isn’t more… I dunno. Eco-Programming?. Likewise I visit the Internet and the top stories are still about which Christmas toys to buy and what hi-tech gadgets are coming and the timeline for the Iraq war. All issues that seemed important last week but now merely see as something to distract the world from a goal of preventing pure terror. Maybe I’m too sensitive to this, I was raised on a school curriculum of caring about the environment and cartoons about Planeteers. However none of that particularly helps in knowing what to do. All I’m seeing in the current environmental data are trends that lead to the destruction of everything I know and care about: all that “culture” I was so passionate about in the first paragraph.

Like I mentioned, I’m having real trouble enjoying anything and I’m having real trouble even doing anything. The highlight of today is that I signed up for “green power” from the company that provides the electricity. Every other task I’ve completed seems extremely unimportant and like I’m just wasting or biding my time. It probably also doesn’t help that I don’t have any friends I can really talk to this about… and so I’m also getting myself more and more upset without an outlet for comfort or a shared consciousness to give my faith in humanity’s efforts. The bulk of my social circle lives online and as mentioned, they’re gamers. They seem more concerned about multiplayer strategies and newly released games and 30 lives codes. Like I used to be. And now that I’m not, I don’t know what to do.

I had fully intended to restart the NGAD (New Game a Day) section of this blog. Now it seems like I have a new reason to avoid it and have lost any reason to think why it might be important. :(. Likewise I’m having difficulty finding a reason to log into mobygames.

Remake something until you get it right

July 31, 2007

“Remakes” is generally a dirty word around me. Whether we’re talking about a movie or a novel or even a cover of music, the idea of a remake seems like a general cop-out. First there’s the idea of cashing in on an existing well known property, instead of producing original work. If it were an exact reproduction of the story with newer graphics or different actors, that’s one thing. However most movies don’t feel they can get away with that and instead they decide to re-write the plot adding new twists. Recent “big movies” such as Planet of the Apes, Ocean’s Eleven and The Manchurian Candidate all follow this. The writers and the director decide that the plot needs to be mucked around with, and frankly I find that insulting to the original work (especially in the cases where the remake ends up being worse or unwatchable compared to the source material).

But my blog post isn’t about movies, even though I felt the need to open a conversation with them (and I’m not going to talk about books or music despite mentioning them in my 1st line. Sorry). I talk about games instead. Videogames have also been subject to the remake syndrome as original programmer teams as well as new programming teams get to work “updating” old classics for newer systems. But unlike films, I notice that forums don’t have the same amount of venom for game updates as they do for other media. So why is that?

The first reason is platforms. Quite simply, not every game exists for every game systems. Remakes partially fill this need. By hiring a studio to “update” gameplay, graphics, story and other elements, the company is often investing in a way that they believe will be needed to appeal to the gamers on newer systems. It’s not so much that many players agree with their changes, in that they have no choice. If they want a version of [Game] for [System], then they’ll take whatever they can get. Likewise, gaming history has been filled with official ports that were essentially remakes in everything but name. As a result, quality can vary quite wildly. Already we’re seeing that versions of Spider-Man 3, a brand-spanking new game… plays very differently on an XBox360 and a Playstation3 than it does a Playstation2 and a Gamecube. Even though the game is the same, you won’t learn anything new by playing one version after another version, it’s still a drastic change in mechanics and ultimately experience.

Now let me just go back to my movie example. Do you think people would be happy if different versions of a movie featured different scenes? If actors said different lines? What about different endings? In fact they’ve tried it before. The movie Clue if I recall was shown in theatres, and depending on the specific reel, any one of three or four different endings would conclude the movie. People who own the VHS or DVD copies of that movie get to watch all the endings. This feels so much like the situation we have with gaming platforms right now that it’s ludicrous. Yet at the same time, people *have* put up with George Lucas/Frances Coppola muddling around with footage 20 years later, just as they’ve put up with a new imagining of a movie 10-20 years later.

Back to games… full remakes happen here too. Resident Evil on Gamecube is essentially Resident Evil “remade” entirely for a faster system, Several games on X-Box Live Arcade are “remade” with snazzier elements rather than being the original. We accept these, because they allow us to play. Movies don’t have this problem, an original version will always be shown on TV, or found in a pile of VHS or re-released on DVD (often to cash in on the remake). Games just don’t get this luxury. If you want to play Elite, it turns out you actually NEED hardware from 20 years ago… or software that pretends to be that hardware, with all kinds of extra overhead and artificial limitations.

When I started writing this, I was hoping it would sound less like a rant. Now that I’m here at my last paragraph I’m not sure I’ve made the point I set out to. Quite simply it is this: Remakes are insulting. Rewriting the ideas that make something memorable is akin to saying those ideas were not good enough in the first place. Yet it’s always the “hits” and famous titles that get remade. In other words the material that has proven itself “good enough” gets remade in some new designer’s image. This hurts me because I think the focus is wrong: A message to Hollywood and the Games Industry would be: The products that need to be remade are the ones that FAILED the first time around. There are hundreds of material that would fall into something I would call “almost good”. And because they’re not good… they’re unknown. In terms of games, there’s titles like Daikatana, Robinson’s Requiem, Solar Jetman, Omnikron: Nomad Soul…. (quick examples off the top of my head) these are things that have great elements… but as a whole, aren’t that great. If we were talking movies, I might mention: Flight of the Albatross, Ice Pirates… (less complete list based off the top of my head) UNDERDOGS.  And I really wish if a company were to focus time and energy to do a remake instead of their own original ideas… they’d focus on the items that NEED a remake. Need a little push to become great.

Sorry this turned into a rant. If any part of this didn’t make sense, leave the standard comment and I might go back and edit some text to make it more clear.

The dog ate my hard drive

February 27, 2007

Some technical difficulties underway. In my personal life, which only marginally affects this blog and has a tiny tiny impact on MobyGames discussion. One of my partitions is experiencing errors. A terrible thing for data loss, but luckily it’s nothing important, just the drive on which I install games. It’s also the drive where I’ve kept quite a bit of screenshots taken of different games.

I’ve quickly whipped up an NGAD entry, for a game I hadn’t planned to mention until later… but which had it’s screenshots stored elsewhere at the moment. In the meantime, there’s some cleanup and salvage I’ll have to do before things are all normal again. Also, since I’ve moved my blog to wordpress I’ve also noticed that I’ll need to reorganize the different tags attached to posts in order to have them make sense. This blog was originally intended as personal observations of the MobyGames project… the NGAD games are just a sideline to that to make life more fun and keep me playing wacky things.

Finally I have a friend taking me out to lunch in order to convince me that HIS website is a worthwhile goal and that I should spend amounts of time on it. All this leisure is hard work.

Anglish Language?

February 6, 2007

By the way… in case it wasn’t already obvious from the rest of the Internet: In a chat situation, the native English speakers make a lot more spelling mistakes than folks who don’t use it as a primary language. But then… most people already knew that just from the shorthand commonly used on cellphones.

And hey, there’s a list of about a dozen words that I always seem to misspell. What do you mean that “mentioned” doesn’t have a 3rd “n” in it?

Fingers Crossed

January 28, 2007

MG has developed quite a nice shopping list of features that would be great to have. Of the ones that don’t require a complete redesign, there have been promises of this and that from the Admin quarter and Mr. Mobycode himself, Brian. I hope that’s underway right now. Not only because I’m getting dizzy awaiting some improvements… but also because I’ve been generating a lot of errors on the website over the past few days. I’m hoping all these “technical difficulties” are a sign of work behind the scenes and not… say, a sign of the web server releasing black smoke.

Not much else to say… I picked up a lot of full season TV DVDs and they are distracting me from the project.

Trying to make sense out of groups.

January 19, 2007

Over the years, we’ve accumulated several groups for linking games together. Some of these are properly labeled such as “Super Mario Bros series”, others are open to dispute such as “”. Basically what we need for a lot of these are standard definitions that are listed in the FAQ/Help for these items. For instance, what’s the difference between a “clone” and a “variant”? I’m not sure there is one, but some groups are named “Breakout Variants” and another is named “Donkey Kong clones”.

I would like to see a separation of the group listings we have. Right now I’m thinking there needs to be some base standardization. The following seem obvious to me

  • Direct Sequels (or Sequels or Series)… every game that’s in a series should be part of this . One question is, can a series just be a bunch of games under the same label (Final Fantasy) or does it need to be a continuing story that references earlier events and characters (Wing Commander)?
  • Indirect Sequels (or Universe)… games part of a larger universe such as Metaltech or Super Mario. This would basically include games and all their spinoffs in cases where gameplay and setting is drastically different (for instance Suikoden’s main RPGs and it’s side stories)
  • Common Themes. Such as Westerns or Alice in Wonderland or World War II. Depending on the exact context of the theme, some of these might be eligible to promotion to genre anyway.
  • All other groups

Looking over dozens and dozens of these game entries easy day, I’m also tempted to switch them all to the format “Series: Tekken” or “Universe: Battletech” or “Theme: Alice in Wonderland”

In any case, what’s most important is we need better definitions of the requirements for a game to be a series, a variant, etc. There are altogether to many groups labeled such as “Aerobiz Games” or “Merchant Prince Games”, and while that’s not confusing on it’s own… when it’s placed in a big databases along with the aforementioned suffixes, it’s a bit hard to tell what’s what and why. I think several of these choices are unfortunately based on the preferences of the submitter and approver. Luckily it’s all just text and labelling… in the grand scheme of things, this is easy to fix. We just need a standard.

Sometimes I read what I wrote and think I sound like a bad librarian. Without the training of course :). The problem is the game group linking is complicated and messy. The relief from that statement is that they’re also very useful and allow people to find out about all kinds of major linkages (“Oh, The Sting! is the sequel to The clue!, I never would have known that myself”). Which is why I’d like to improve the presentation and comprehensibility of some of this stuff.

Of course as usual, any truely creative achievement seeks to avoid the constraints of categorization.

A console by any other name, would still button mash…

January 18, 2007

I need somebody smart to come up with a new word. I dislike “video game”. Sure it’s the industry term, but while it’s true that graphics are still the deciding factor behind a lot of gaming choices… not everything is about “video” any more… or ever was. “Electronic Games” is another popular term… but there’s something in the connotation where it sounds like we’re talking about TIGER Electronics hand-helds and the Board Game, Operation (the one where you reach in with tweezers to grab the funny bone and then ZAP! Electricity!). Of course I’m not a fan of the “game” portion of either of these terms either… but “Entertainment” is too generic to use in everyday conversation.

Smart people reading this, please coin me a new term for my lexicon :). I’m only trying to reinvent the dictionary. Why should it be so hard?

Interactive Entertainment… (*visions of early CD-ROM titles*)