Tuesday, January 31, 2006

John Romero Still Exists

Read this.

If you ever needed proof that someone "up there" hates us, there it is.

If you're not caught up on John Romero, he is a cyborg from the planet Suck who basically built up a reputation as one of the co-founders of id software and then squandered that reputation on cars and womens. He was with Ion Storm Dallas (what then-Ion Storm Austin's Warren Spector referred to as "that other Ion Storm") and headed up a team whose greatest claim to fame was that one of the level designers was a hot chick. They eventually released a game called Daikatana that was hailed as the best game ever on one of the most memorable Opposite Days ever recorded. More recently, he worked for Midway, which no one really knew, and he did some nGage games that no one ever played.

And now he's working on an MMO.

Another bit of catch-up: MMOs are awesome. Everyone wants to do one, and no one will admit the truth, which is that the current art of the MMO has already been mastered. Back when EQ and Anarchy Online were the big fish, people were saying that there's not enough audience to play so many MMOs. Now EQ, Asheron's Call, Anarchy Online, EQ2, Eve Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Matrix Online, and others have found a fairly decent audience each, and World of Warcraft is out there with 5 million worldwide subscribers. No one else will announce their numbers, but I would guess that the next most popular game is posting subscriber numbers of about 300,000. Maybe more if you count random Korean MMOs. The fact is that the great majority of MMOs fail miserably before they even launch, because everyone sees how profitable EQ was and World of Warcraft is, and they want a piece of the pie, but they don't try to innovate or give the market anything new. Well, that's not true. EQ2 lets you order pizza from Pizza Hut without leaving the game. So I guess that's something.

John Romero wants to do an MMO. Clearly he can handle it, because he once had a Ferrarri and a hot chick and long greasy hair that made him look like the drummer in a Ramones tribute band. And he worked on Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows, which has managed a 66% from the criminally droolish gaming press.

Oh, and he has a new wife who was like, totally in high school when they met. Check out her blog, LOLZ. That has nothing to do with his MMO or anything, I just thought it was interesting.

Anyway, I hope you're all excited about Romero's new MMO. If it's as good as his other recent work, well... Hmm. I can't even think of an appropriate joke, so I'll end with an old-school GamePro preview ending:

"If Romero's new MMO is as good as his other work, then the MMO world will 'Quake' and 'Die(katana)' when it runs the 'Gauntlet' this 'Doom'... er, summer. Or whenever."

Ow. I think I broke my soul.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Reviewers: David Perry doesn't care what you think

Here's an interview with Shiny Entertainment's David Perry.

It's not entirely worth reading, because despite what David Perry thinks, he's about as relevant as I am. Which isn't much. Well, he's a little more relevant. But you get my drift.

I'll save you some time. Here's the best part of the article:

"The thing about the video games business is that the reviewers who critique your games are very hardcore gamers with very strong opinions that don't necessarily reflect those of the mass market. When we did 'Enter The Matrix,' we wanted to sell as many copies as we possibly could and, in fact, we made something like $250 million. In order to do that, we did focus group tests and made many changes in the game in order to make the average gamer happy. You'll find that, with most games today, the people who buy your games give higher marks than the reviewers. And that's something that you have to watch out for in our industry. You can't judge whether your game is successful based on what the professional critics say."

Note this: "When we did 'Enter The Matrix,' we wanted to sell as many copies as we possibly could..." Not, "We wanted to make the best Matrix experience we could." I think that's significant.

I think I've talked about the Enter The Matrix situation here, in which Atari released "review copies" in the form of boxed copies during E3, at which point even the quickest online reviewers couldn't have a review posted until the game had been on shelves for approaching a week. So folks had no info on the game other than "All the magazines seem excited about it" (which we were, because back then the Matrix was cool, and we didn't know much else about it ourselves) and "It's the damn Matrix," which was enough to sell games back then. The game went on to sell, according to Atari, 4 million copies in the first week. Then the reviews came out and almost universally (I believe Game Informer gave it a good review, but they couldn't have possibly reviewed a final build) panned the game. I'm not sure what happened to sales at that point, but I like to think they tanked. That game was a blight on the industry, buggy and poorly developed.

So Dave Perry doesn't care what critics say. He only wants you to buy his damn game. Here, here's some more:

The Hollywood Reporter: The gamers' word of mouth is more important than the critics' reviews?
Perry: Yes, that's what really matters. If we put all of our attention on making the reviewers happy, we'd create a game that would be for hardcore gamers and would please only a very small percentage of the mass market. That's not why we're in business.

It's clear he's in business to make tons of money. That's assumed. But it's another sign that the industry is leaving hardcore gamers behind. Good or bad, who cares? But the trend is that games are leaving behind the audience that made them popular in the first place. And here, David Perry, He Who Brought Us Enter the Matrix, is announcing his intentions, not to make a good game, but to sell tons of copies to people who don't know any better.

I give reviewers a hard time, and they do deserve it most of the time, but to dismiss them as hardcore gamers who have nothing to add is irresponsible, and it's clearly the words of a man who got burned by poor reviews. "Oh, they gave it a bad review because they're out of touch with what the average guy likes," is the traditional comeback of a developer who gets a bad review. What people fail to realize is that game reviewers aren't academics in an ivory tower; they're GAMERS. They do the job because they love and know games, for the most part. Some of them can't separate their frustration with playing so many games that are exactly alike from their honest sense of what's good and bad, but some can. If you want to know what a gamer will think, they're the best source. Not the developer.

I know. I have sat here in the bubble, working on one project at a time, unaware of what goes on in development on other titles. Even ones in the same company. I've also been out there, a journalist, seeing development teams working on things they think are innovative but are also being worked on in parallel at other companies, who also think they're being innovative. You want to say, "You do realize that this is the sixth RTS we've seen this week with that hotkey system?"

Perry is basically saying, "I don't care about advancing the art of games, I just want to sell copies, and to do that, I will find out what the 'average gamer' wants, even though there's no such thing." Which is fine, and even ballsy to admit, but it's sad that that's the state of the art for the industry. Any true artist or designer who cares for his work would feel gut-punched to know that the person really making the decisions for the project is some kind of non-existant "average gamer."

I want to kick Dave Perry in the head. But come to think of it, I've wanted to do that for some time, so I'm not sure if this article caused it or not.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Dead or Alive 4 Review for Xbox 360 on GamePro.com

I hate to do this. I generally hate to speak ill of the publication where I used to work.

Okay, that's not true. But I'd like it to be. Anyway.

Read this review of Dead or Alive 4 on GamePro.com. I'll wait.

Enh. Screw waiting. It's not really worth reading.

This review, it should be noted, was featured in the print version of GamePro, in the issue meant to go off shelves today. Which means that it was on shelves a month ago. Which means that the reviewer was working on the review three months ago.

Please, now, note the date of release for DOA4. 12/29/2005. Note also that the Official Xbox Magazine didn't have reviewable code by December 16. So the illustrious GamePro apparently had reviewable code back in (complex math) early October.

And the article shows it. This is the fluffiest, lamest major review article I've ever read, and I've written some damn fluffy and lame articles for that mag. Let's go through the major points of the review:

  • The game is good (Intro)

  • The game is very pretty

  • You can play as a Halo-type Spartan (Holy crap!) plus a bunch of details about the Spartan character and none about any other character

  • The online game-matching lobby is cool, as is collecting stuff to "trick out" your online lobby avatar

That's it. Hey, reviewer! How's the fighting system, which I've heard has backed away a bit from reversals and more toward a striking style like Tekken? How are the new characters (aside from the Spartan)? How many new outfits do the characters have? Can't you a LEAST make a bouncing-breast joke? I mean, c'mon, dude. These are women with BOOBIES.

Look at the screenshots, too. The huge ones in the online review. They're clearly NOT taken from gameplay. They're PR screens. The screens of the online lobby have JAPANESE TEXT IN THEM. What... Okay, I suppose if you were reviewing the Japanese version, you'd have to interact with Japanese players on the Japanese servers. Fine. But... man.

You put that together with the completely crap-smoking review, and you get a horrible mess of editor irresponsibility. If I was on the fence about DOA, I would want to know about the fighting system, how it controls, how hard the AI is, how fun the single-player version is, etc. I got a far better review of the game from here (scroll down a bit, look for "Update 12/31/05"), at Wataru Maruyama's personal blog, where no expectation of impartiality is implied.

The GamePro review is such a loaf of seeded poop that I am almost embarrassed to have worked there. If that's what the mag has become, a rag that reviews previews just to get them on the cover, then I will start an underground railroad myself for the cool people who still work there. Because that review is complete crap, and it's their cover.

I didn't mention the author of the review, mostly because I have no idea who it is. Some guy named JohnnyK. Whatever.

I blame GamePro publisher Dan Orum. Because I think there's room there to blame him for all problems in life, and not just the ways in which GamePro has gone into the toilet.

Just... It's sad. I guess I'm inviting this upon myself for expecting game journalists to be responsible, but there we go.

Anyway, I couldn't stomach the rest of the issue. If anyone knows if there are any cheats in there for that Call of Cthulhu game, let me know.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Deep Thoughts

I don't know who, if anyone, is still reading this out there. Somehow I still get about 199 readers a week, but I imagine it's all spamming engines and such. Which is fine, because today's post is likely really depressing, so maybe some of those spammers will just get all melancholy and throw themselves off a building.

Maybe, just maybe, I'm SAVING THE INTERNET.


So, I spent large chunks of New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in the emergency room. You see, I have this inflammation in my boy parts, the fighting of which sometimes makes me a little lightheaded, particularly at meals. On New Year's Eve, I began to feel lightheaded at lunch, and I thought, "Well, crap. This hasn't happened in a little while." I went home, played some Warcraft until I needed to sit down on the couch and rest, and just sorta sat. Ms. Awesome was at work at the time. And so I was left there with my thoughts.

Soon thereafter, the Lady came home and left for a party with her friends. I told her I wasn't feeling up to being around drunks, but I told her to go and have fun.

I noticed the chest pains soon thereafter. A tight ache in my left chest, mostly around the left side of my sternum. I was like, "Okay, this sucks," and decided to go on with life. Until my thoughts got the better of me. And I checked online for "heart attack symptoms." And it seemed like me.

HEre's an aside: If you ever look online for symptoms, you WILL come away thinking you're about to die. The symptoms for everything that you find on the Internet are:

  • Some pain somewhere

  • Dizziness or not being dizzy

  • Having a stomach

  • Breathing

If you or anyone you know has any of these symptoms, then STOP LOOKING UP DIAGNOSES ON THE INTERNET.

Anyway, so I thought I was going to die. I called an advice nurse, and her basic prognosis was, "Go to the emergency room," which is pretty much all they're programmed to say. In Canada, the emergency room isn't slow enough; we need an advice nurse to waste more of our time.

So I called a cab (on New Year's Eve, even... it was fun hitting redial over and over with my chest hurting and thinking I was going to die alone) and finally got through. I went to the emergency room and waited. Strangely, it wasn't overly busy. In fact, it seemed almost deserted. Everyone assured me that the "fun" would begin around midnight. I hoped I'd be out of there by then. It was about 8pm.

Anyway, long story short, I had many tests done, and they all turned out fine. My blood pressure was good, ECG looked okay, X-rays, fine. The diagnosis? No fucking clue. All they knew was that I was unlikely to die right away. Which I suppose is good.

So, fast forward to New Year's morning. Chest pains still there, even more intense. I still feel like I got run over by a shit truck, whatever that is. The Lady goes to work, and I try to play Warcraft and just get better. I end up feeling really badly and sitting on the couch, and my imagination caught up: What if last night was a mistake? What if something had changed? What if they missed something? I called the advice nurse again, and she parrotted, "Go to the emergency room." All I wanted her to say was, "Suck it up, pansy, you're fine. Just get some rest and shut up." But she's not authorized to say that sort of thing. I think they can only really say, "Hello," "What is your date of birth," "Ella Fitzgerald," and "Go to the emergency room."

So, another long story short, four hours after I got to the ER, I got called back. I actually took it as a good sign that they didn't rush me in like they did the night before. The Lady got off work and took a cab to the ER to be with me, which I thought was super-awesome. She even brought our Nintendo DSes.

This time, I got an ECG, and that's about it. A doctor came in and said, "I looked at all your crap from last night, and I think you're not going to die." And he listed off a number of "reassuring" factors: I'm young(ish), not doing cocaine, the pain is pretty constant (a heart attack wouldn't be a low-grade ache over a period of days), it doesn't get worse when I exert myself, etc. I'm glad he did that, because ever since, whenever the pain got bad, or I felt really lightheaded, that doctor's head appeared over my shoulder like Firestorm on the Superfriends.

Anyway, so I don't think I'm going to die. Not right away, anyway. I still hurt, and I still feel like crap, and I still have no idea why. They said it was likely muscular or some inflammed cartilage or something. The doctor said to finish out my antibiotics (8 more days or so) and go back to my other doctor like I was supposed to. I think if I were going to die, he'd not have said "wait 8 days."

Anyway, there I sit. I'm at work today, feeling weak and out of place, but I'm there.

The whole thing has made me think, though. I mean, really, something really bad can happen at pretty much any time. I could have a heart attack right now, with little warning. I could be alone at home and have a heart attack and die feet away from the phone. Someone I work with had an aneurism while sitting on the shitter a few weeks ago. It's freaky. You could be driving to work, and a truck filled with chloroform could wreck in front of you and make you go unconscious. Seriously. Your brain could explode, without warning, at any time.

It makes me a little paranoid and anxious, which doesn't help my condition. It makes me want to have people around (and by "people" I mean "Ms. Awesome") at all times. I am constantly monitoring my chest pain, going, "Ooh... I think that felt a little more like a pain and less like an ache, I'll dial '9-1' and hold my finger over the '1.'" There's a general fear of the body just... failing. It's potentially crippling.

But there's more to it than that. I've often postulated that the reason Californians seem so laid back is because they have, on some subconscious level, accepted the fact that the ground could open up and swallow them at any given moment. On some level, even if they don't realize it, they have accepted that, and live on. Hell, I accepted it. I went through a number of earthqakes in the Bay Area, as did millions of other people.

If I can find that sort of acceptance with this "I'm going to die RIGHT FUCKING NOW" thing, I think it'd do me some good. Light a fire under the ol' arse. That's the sort of thinking that begets children and works of art. It makes one cancel his Warcraft subscription and rely on Microsoft Word to pass his free time.

I know myself. Nothing will come of this. Eventually, I'll feel better, God willing, and I'll go back to my slovenly ways. Or will I? Maybe this is it, what I needed to get going, get into shape, and become the monster-buff super-genius I've always thought I was (when, in reality, I was more like The Blob than like Superman).

Anyway, those were my thoughts on the whole situation. I'm currently waiting it out, seeing if this damned chest pain goes away. It has been... 4 days now? And it's about the same. Which, really, means I should stop worrying about it so much, because cardiac problems are sudden and intense. But I worry, and it seems worse.

Anyway, I imagine even the spammers have stopped reading this now. Theoretically, House of Awesome!!!!!! should be back with a vengeance in the next few days. We'll see you then.