Videogames as Toasters

 By Shamus Aug 6, 2008 25 comments

While writing my earlier post on survival horror, I found Chris’s Survival Horror Quest, which has reviews of a lot of survival horror games, most of which I’ve never even heard of. (It also reminded me of ObsCure, which I had meant to pick up ages ago, but then forgot. I haven’t seen it in stores since. Hopefully I can still find it online.)

Anyway, that site has a great pair of articles on videogames-As-Products. The first talks about the overly clinical method of reviewing games that most sites and magazines use, as if they were reviewing a purely mechanical product. Reviews seem to talk about the technical aspects of a game and never get around to the more subjective parts of the experience.

The second article goes into more detail and compares the reviews of the various forms of Resident Evil (Movies, games, soundtrack.) It also talks about how the high price of videogames makes them more of an investment, as opposed to “disposable entertainment”. (And this isn’t even taking into account the outrageous prices in Australia. $100 for a game? I get angry just thinking about it.) He also mentions the heedless pursuit of graphics spectacle, which is of course one of my favorite hobby horses.

Both are excellent and worth a read. The sort of thing that makes me say, “I wish I’d written that.”

Also worth noting is the article on the “Otherworld” version of Silent Hill. And also…

Ah crap. This is going to be one of those websites that just eats time until I’ve finished reading the whole thing.

20525 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.


  1. Heph says:

    A$100 = €60. I pay the same for my games. Of course, both of those equal roughly US$90, so, yup, it’s epxensive out here. Oh well, console games are still more expensive, so there’s that, at least.

    Other than that, damn you, I’m still trying to catch up on all of your archives. Don’t feed me more time-burning stuff!

  2. Grant says:

    “Ah crap. This is going to be one of those websites that just eats time until I’ve finished reading the whole thing.”

    Wow, sounds like me when I get behind on my RSS feeds. But seriously, I thought trying to find an extra $50 in my budget for a game was hard to manage, but $90? That’s highway robbery.

  3. GAZZA says:

    “The fist talks about …”

    Unless you’ve decided to take a significant right turn in this blog’s general topics recently, I suspect that might be a typo… ;)

  4. Shamus says:

    Fist vs. First Typo: Frixed.

  5. Eric says:

    The Fist sounded like a hero or a villain.

  6. Burning says:

    Interesting articles, and I appreciate the link. However, while I have a lot of problems with video game reviews, ultimately I don’t agree with most of his points.

    Video game reviews are very similar to the reviews for board games and card games. These reviews, after a brief summary of the game concept, are almost completely devoted to discussion of game mechanics and production values. There is usually some subjective remarks about whether individual components of the game work or not, but for the most part the reviewer tries to give a flavor of what playing the game is like.

    I find that the details I see in video game reviews are more like this than the example he gave of reviewing a book by commenting on the paper quality and the font choice. While there is all too often technical detail I am uninterested in, I can’t recall a review that didn’t tie back the technical details to how it affected game play. I do in fact care whether the AI actually makes the enemies behave intelligently or not, just as in a board game I care about whether the random element allows or disrupts long term strategy. While I fully agree that videogame reviewers are too obsessed with high end graphics, I want to know whether the game looks good on screen, just as in card game I want to know if the cards I’m going to be looking at for the next few hours have good art.

    I’ll concede that videogames tend to have more of a story than board or card games. And yes, I care about that story. And yes, I wish that more reviewers would cover the story aspect, which should be treated more like a movie or book review. But videogames are still games. And I don’t think I can decide whether I’ll like a game, video or otherwise, based on a high level experiential review. I need the details.

  7. Dev Null says:

    Maybe you’ve already seen it, but I thought you might be interested in the article The Escapist did on a crop of “new” independent game designers. I haven’t had a chance to go through all the website links yet, but it looks like there might be a few interesting things in there…

  8. itches says:

    Hmm, I have a bone to pick about it’s Fatal Frame reviews.

    Fatal Frame is to me the scariest thing I have ever encountered, it is almost the ideal scariest thing I have seen. That time I was lost out in the woods and had my lantern go out in a puff of wind? Not as scary.

    Part of what makes it so scary is about what it avoids. There is a strict limit on the amount of fear you can experience in a game where you have a shotgun, or you can beat the brains out of the monster. You can fight the monster and win, so while there can be fear that fear is limited by you aiming the shotgun at the zombie and letting lose.

    Fatal Frame doesn’t so that, it’s not about the combat. You don’t have a weapon, you have a camera. When you use it to take a picture you can only see a narrow part of the world around you. After you take the picture you can go back and take a look at it, pictures that tend to be creepy and capture things you didn’t see. You don’t even just use the camera in combat, you take pictures of things around you as you explore!

    That’s it, that’s the “combat” and it is 90% irrelevant to the game. The review says the combat becomes tedious, but that’s like saying the sound of your gun shooting in a FPS becomes tedious. That’s not what the game is about, it’s a minor flavour.

    Fatal Frame is about the atmosphere. It is about the creepy things you see out of the corner of your eye, the creepy sounds you hear that you can’t explain yet while you are exploring. The greatest human fear is the fear of the unknown, not fear of something trying to bite your face off. In a haunted house you’re worried about a ghost showing up and tapping you on the shoulder, not of a zombie jumping through a window and mauling you.

    Once you have something to engage with, once the tension that has been mounting releases into the fight version of fight or flight the amount fear drops as you redirect energy is making sure it is dead. It’s the same energy you use when playing Mortal Combat. Fatal Frame avoids this by having the combat be disappointing by most standards because it isn’t really combat – you use a camera for the love of god!

    The review of the sequel, Fatal Frame 2 touches upon the weakness of this. That without a combat system of zombie bashing fun in there, if people lose the immersion the game is gone. It’s the same as when someone sits in a theatre watching a horror film and says “Eh it’s not real, I can’t be scared by this.” You need to be willing to play ball for the game to work.

    And why is Darkwatch there? That’s not horror!

  9. Sitte says:

    Ah crap. This is going to be one of those websites that just eats time until I’ve finished reading the whole thing.

    Sounds like me when I found this blog after reading DMotR.

  10. Carra says:

    100 U.S. dollars = 65.2188091 Euros

    Well, new console games easily cost 70 euros, pc games around 50 euros.

    The rates just seem to be 1 dollar for one euro, if a game costs 60 dollars in the US, put it on the markets here for 55 euros. And that while the rate is 1 dollar to 1.53 euros which puts the games cost at < 40 euros… Yeah, we’re getting ripped.

  11. Carra says:

    Ugh, just did a quick lookup for some PS3 games:
    -> Soul calibor in Belgian shop: 65 euro
    —> US: 60 dollar (39 euro)
    -> Metal Gear Solid 4: 69 euro
    —> US: 60 dollar (39 euro)
    -> GTA4: 65 euro
    —> US: 65 dollar (42 euro)

    Never really thought about it but we pay a *huge* premium on our games.

    Ps:
    Belgian shop being Freerecordshop.be, US shop EBGames.com

  12. Meta says:

    100 $? New games cost the same in Denmark where I live. Actually a bit more. That’s mostly tax, though.

  13. Kevin says:

    A “friend” sent me to TVTropes.com yesterday. Three hours later I scraped my eyeballs off of it. I still have work to do today!

  14. Heph says:

    @Carra: I’m Belgian too, I went by the prices I saw in the Newstreet today, in Brussels. Went shopping for books :-P

    And….I can’t resist…
    @ Eric:
    These aren’t the hammer.

    …My penis is the hammer.
    *runs*

  15. NobleBear says:

    Dude!

    This site is awesome. Thanks for the tip, Shamus.

    :D

  16. ZzzzSleep says:

    Shamus,
    If you’re interested in more info about Aussie game prices, have a look at this article.

  17. Mari says:

    Thanks, Shamus. Now I have a whole other site to read when I’m done with TVTropes.com (and no, Kevin, I swear it wasn’t me…at least I don’t think so unless I’ve accidentally started some sort of horrible chain reaction with my research links for an article that’s half-written and viewable by a few friends)

  18. Veylon says:

    Of course, the problem with reviewing the subjective aspects of a game is that they are, after all, subjective.

    If someone made a Stargate game where you go around and blast things, Reviewer A might complain that it should resemble the show more, with various politics, puzzles and personalities, whereas Reviewer B might rhapsodize over the clever weapons and vehicles systems. Isn’t this how the debate over Witcher went?

  19. Daosus says:

    Noooo, Shamus, what have you done! *goes back to reading website*

  20. Miral says:

    Ah, I remember TVTropes. Got sucked into that about three months ago. Took me several hours to escape that time, and I’ve carefully avoided going back, no matter how tempting :)

    ObsCure was great, in my opinion. I’m not sure if I’d call it survival horror, though. It seemed to me more of a horror-themed adventure game. (But then, I’m more into adventure than horror, so that might have coloured my opinion.)

    I bought ObsCure 2 a couple weeks ago as well, but I haven’t had a chance to play it yet.

    While I haven’t played the full Penumbra games yet, I did play the tech demo. That was great too, although there was less characterisation of the protagonist (but then it’s a first-person game, so you kind of expect that; and it’s likely there’s more in the full games).

    And yeah, new PC games here are ~NZ$100ish (console games are typically ~NZ$120ish). It’s nuts. Although generally I tend to wait until they get down to ~$50 before I buy them; but there are some notable exceptions (when I get sucked in by the hype).

  21. Eric C says:

    Damn, that’s an awesome site. As a passing fan of survival horror, it’s really interesting to read an enthusiast’s insight into the genre. Thanks for the link.

  22. Jeffrey says:

    Nice link. And the articles link to another set of columns that is a respectable read itself.

    So much reading!

  23. Rats says:

    A lot of the extra we pay in europe is for translation (or so I am lead to beleive). Thats also why it takes so long for the games to arrive here, but the fact that in the UK we pay around £50 for a top end game (afround $100 US) when the dont need to translate anything really gets me.

  24. Drew says:

    He’s missing Dementium: The Ward. Survival Horror on the Nintendo DS. The Game had a lot of problems, a lot of which was due to the platform, but it still managed to be decent survival horror for a while. It did get dull after a while, though. The sound, however, was pretty excellent, and I’ll continue to say that that’s the whole key to scary games.

  25. I think either way the system is a little shot to heck.

    There is the question of whether it is fun, lives up to expectations, lives up to the expectations of someone else, does what it is supposed to do, and whether or not it really takes advantage of what is available.

    Judging these things as products is probably wiser, ultimately. A decent consumer reports reviewer would tear a new one into a toaster that won’t fit bread. A serious reviewer would attack any cooking product where burning or overcooking the food is more likely, or just easier, than cooking it properly… that is, if it is difficult to learn how to prepare food properly with that tool.

    To that extent PC reviewers tend to do horrible jobs.
    There are games every year month, or every year, that simply fail to be compatible with a large bulk of the merchandise that the packaging claims that they are compatible with: “PCs”.

    I don’t care for pretty anymore. The graphics that PC games were equipped with in 1998 are good enough for me. Just don’t make them deliberately ugly or too blocky. The “realistic” cinematics of Dark Forces II, Silent Steel, Myst or even Jedi Knight II are fine with me. 1998 pretty and No One Lives Forever pretty are both good for me.

    I want fun, and I want fun that works. What good is a story in a game if I cannot have fun getting from one bit to another? And how can I have fun if something in programing disrupts the fun, like some sort of mal-function?

    Of course, this kind of stuff extends to console reviews (and lack thereof) very quickly. How many of you were aware of how many models of Playstation 2 there are? I count approximately five or so between the release of the very first Playstation 2 and… even after the Playstation 3.

    The hardware peripherals for the Playstation 2 are not universally compatible with every Playstation 2.

    The above paragraph applies to official Sony products specifically branded for “Playstation 2″.

    Shouldn’t that PISS YOU OFF? Why not?

    Didn’t we buy into the whole console thing to avoid that kinda compatibility crap problem? I did. Sony = dickwads.

    I won’t boycott but I will state facts.

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