Dispassion in the Gaming Scene

Who works on what they hate?

It's a little known fact about my thought process that I will often completely break off from one line of though, go into another, and then return to the original one like nothing ever happened. While this always got me failing marks in English class, I think of it in a positive light. It's important to understand that, in the arts that involve stories and not just pictures, it is never about the outcome of a particular thing, but the journey involved within it. Granted, there are a lot of caveats, like if the journey had no fucking point to it the audience will feel like they were played, or if a journey is so far off the original point that it means nothing to the story, as the absolute worst thing you can do to an audience is waste their time. But when it comes to a beneficial topic, or a seemingly out-of-place feature or area in a video game, it's helpful to weigh the options of whether or not to include a thing, and how much it would improve the work overall if it was included.

You see, there is such thing as deviating poorly, such as the zany and wacky and fucking pointless events of Undertale, the gratuitous song and dance routines in the otherwise serious The Hobbit, and the arbitrary random jiggies/notes/midget quotient of Banjo Kazooie, which is to organic gameplay what an advertisement for domestic abuse shelters is to Pornhub - this shit does not fit! But there are some positive examples of random moments which add a great deal to a work, such as the thematically consistent and hilarious-yet-saddening moments of LISA, the small moments of conversation and lucidity in the otherwise over-the-top Haruhi, and the examine feature in Runescape, for reasons which I'll explain immediately. This was an except from one of the Runescape reviews, and I put it here in order to showcase a few points that just didn't fit the tone of the review.

Let's talk about the Runescape examine feature. This is one of the most definable, yet least appreciated, features of Runescape. If you right click on anything in the world, bloody anything, then you can examine it and get some flavour text. A lot of it is simple descriptions, some of it is jokes, and some actually provides useful information. You never know what you're going to get with the things. To a functional designer, these texts would be useless. Why are we wasting effort by including information that doesn't help the player? But these designers aren't functional at all - as evidenced by their unforgivable tick rate that they maintain in 2016. They added in examine text, functionality be damned.

But a smarter designer would know that the whole point of the examine text is that it does nothing. It's literally fluff - like an easter egg, or a random event, or a monster that wanders the world for no reason other than to give the players something to fawn over. The whole purpose of the thing is that it's inconsequential, that you can ignore it and it will still be there for you to look at later. The examine text is the last remnant of what video games were, and a stark example of what they ended up being: games stopped being about making worlds to explore and have fun in without regard for the efficiency of the process, but they instead became easily-digestible, streamlined experiences for players to get in and out of without any attachment for them whatsoever.

That's the biggest problem with games today; everything that doesn't fit the design document has to be removed. All the rough edges have to be sanded off, all the easter eggs have to be removed for budget restraints, all the fun, secret shit has to be shelved because there's not enough time to include both that and the mandatory amount of cutscenes. In today's climate, it's no longer about adding content that enhances the player experience. It is instead about giving the player the bare minimum amount needed to keep them playing, and then force them onto the next game to buy and then forget about. It's just like television - they don't care about the impact the work as on you, they just want you to keep watching for the next one.

I'm not saying there's a conspiracy between the game publishers to shove prolefeed down your throats. Pulling a Michael Moore is beneath me, though seeing the man implied that there was a government-funded conspiracy to incarcerate the entire black population because of anti-drug laws, there's not much that isn't above him. I'm saying that this is the way the cultural trends are now. In the age of instant gratification, where the average attention span is how long it takes you to move a finger across an iPhone, players and developers have given each other far less credit than each are capable of having. In a world where there are a billion options, developers have opted for the safest and most reliably bankable ones, which is why we get new Tomb Raiders, Pokemon games, and Final Fantasies, even though it's the same content being shipped off year after year.

And I can't claim to distill all of the gaming industry's problems in a pithy paragraph, or even a pithy 5,000 word blog post as I so often write. I'm only describing the symptoms of problems I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe they are due to reduced attention span and greater choice, with people falling into niches that ignore everything that falls outside of their comfort zone, only listening to the opinions of people like them and making it harder and harder for any property to gain traction within any niche other than the one willing to listen to them. Maybe that's why games so often try to be everything for everyone.

And maybe core gamers have become so jaded with the unimportant, unimpactful shit that gets shoved down their doorstep every month that they just stopped caring about any new release, because they know it's going to be the same generic tosh that they and their buddies have already suffered through, causing them to keep playing (and speedrunning) games that they like and they know are good. You might call these "retro gamers", but that would imply that they're only exclusively interested in old games. My boy, they're interested in old games because old games are so fundamentally different from the new stuff that they have no choice but to play them.

The games of old were so technically inhibited, placed on such underpowered hardware, that resources could be allocated to the bare minimum for "techy stuff" like graphic, engine, and sound design, and have the rest of the resources be placed on gameplay. Granted, the AAA market still placed a lot of focus on selling games first and making gameplay second, and they still made pretty setpieces in order to sell games. But it was a hell of a lot easier back in the day where you didn't have the functional equivalent of a mid-range PC in your living room, and the expectation that you will max out the graphics on the thing.

Development was simpler back then because the hardware was simpler. You didn't need an operating system in your games console like you have with every other nowadays. You booted up a game and you played it, no bullshit. If I bring out a Nintendo 64 or a PlayStation, I could insert a game into them and be playing within five seconds (well, if the Playstation lens isn't broken. thank Nintendo for choosing cartridges instead). If you insert a game nowadays, you have to wait for the console to boot up the hardware, boot up the operating system, phone home to the Motherland, install updates, and then it will read your game disc. At which point it will then install updates for that game, install the game to your hard disk, and then you might be able to quite possibly play it if you have an Internet connection and the good graces to not have your account banned.

I remember Grant Kirkhope (the Rareware composer) saying that development was radically different back in his day, because of the way the world worked. The Internet was just a tiny blip on the radar of the most tech-savvy individuals back in the late 90s - the idea you could plug your Nintendo, even your PlayStation, using an Ethernet cord was fucking absurd. There was no day 1 patches or the need to sign up for anything before you played a game. You shipped it off to the games store, sold it to the consumer, and then they played it with no bullshit. There was always the chance it would be shit, if you weren't on the up-and-up with what few gaming magazines were out back then, but given the amount of choice that you have for politically-biased, editorially-imbalanced, and overall impassionate gaming press nowadays, the alternative almost seems better.

If you were making a game, and you had a game-breaking bug in there, you didn't ship it off like it was nothing. You'd be fucking fired if you made bad work back in the day. When you shipped off the master copy, that was it - you couldn't go back and change a thing, because it's gone like the wind, baby. If your game sold well, if you were working on an alternate regional copy, or if you were lucky enough to get a second printing by your published, you might have the opportunity to work on a new version of the game where you could fix your fuck-ups. But that was a rare event, and developers had to work on the assumption that once they released something, there was no way to change anything once it's in the players hands.

Nowadays, sloppy work is the standard. There's no need to program well, or to make a game that works fine on release, or is free of technical defects, or doesn't support the platform it's being released for, or even isn't that good at all. You can just release an update within hours after it's release - simple and clean, so long as you have always-on Internet and a privacy-infringing account and the disk space to download it and the vain hope that the update will work without a hitch and without wiping all your data when it does happen with or without your consent. We've entered an ecosystem where games are no longer sold to players, but are instead leased to them piecemeal, where it is perfectly acceptable to create an unfinished product because the sheep just don't fucking care about their rights as a consumer.

And one of the problems that this ecosystem presents is that games have no more room for flavour text and fun, because to have too much fun would mean that there won't be any more opportunities to sell more of the game to them later on down the line, in microtransactions and character skins and other devious practices which have, due to the ignorance and disinterest for the disgusting and unwashed gamer masses, become the standard norm for games, paid, free, or otherwise. It is no longer enough for companies to charge eighty dollars - eighty fucking bucks, the price of two week's worth of groceries - per game, in addition to the four to six hundred dollars for the games console itself, but it is only once they start adding in ways to continue extracting money from you even after you've paid this exorbitant price for a luxury product, that they will become placated until they find more ways to nickel and dime you.

The idea that, in order for a person to enjoy a product that they have paid for, they have to continue to receive life support patches for it even after it has been paid for, forcing you to spend your limited, constantly-depleting reserves of time, setting up a system where the company that sold you the product is in complete control of how you get to use the product, is not only a malicious practice, but is also a discriminatory one, because it assumes that everybody has both the resources and the ability to create an always-online ecosystem that they can freely spend their time on maintaining at every spare opportunity they have.

When I say that gaming is a luxury pasttime, I do not say that this is because it should be relegated to those who can afford it. I say it as the unfortunate consequence of an industry that prides profit above the art that it creates - the same as television, movies, music, and animation suffer. When you consider that the gaming industry has, for years now, treated the customer like they are nothing more than pieces in the board game of big business, have given both the medium of games and the dignity of the customer so little respect, acting contrary to both of their interests at all times, then it is little wonder that there are so many pirates who flip the table, throw the board into the air, say "fuck this", and play by their own rules for the rest of their lives. When you create an ecosystem where people feel abused for trying to enjoy a legitimate product, then they will swiftly turn to a product that gives them more liberty, opportunity, and freedom, than what any company would.

You can imagine then, that the idea of a games designer adding in a useless feature like examine text, serving no purpose but to bring enjoyment to the player that uses it, is so foreign to today's gaming environment that it would be one of the first features cut for being "a waste of resources", or whatever bullshit eking out from management. There is a point to it - an important point. It makes the player feel like they're being appreciated by adding in something that belongs to them alone, and nothing else. It doesn't exist to make money. It doesn't exist to further an agenda. It exists for enjoyment, plain and simple. Nothing else to say about that.

Small business for small people - Froghand.

Today's page was updated on 2016-11-17 and created on 2016-11-17!

I will admit, though, that making a game is bloody hard.

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