Experienced Points: What Is the Future of Video Game Journalism?

Escapist   By Shamus   Feb 3, 2015   278 comments

This column was really tough to write. The whole time I felt like there was this pull drawing me towards talking about #GamerGate, like playing pool on a crooked table.

But I really don’t want to talk about #GamerGate. And I also don’t want to moderate a discussion with other people talking about it. (Hint, hint.) It’s just that it’s pretty dang hard to talk about games journalism without talking about GG. Do your best!

And in response to the question I posed in the column: I don’t care if you call me a journalist or not. I usually call myself a “pundit” to sidestep this very issue.

Edit: Two days later. Well, we weren’t supposed to talk about it, but that was probably the calmest and most civil conversation on #GamerGate that’s ever taken place. Thanks to all of you for being so cool. I’ve closed the comments. I think now is a good time to move on. You folks are awesome.

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Diecast #91: Mailbag

Diecast   By Shamus   Feb 2, 2015   86 comments

Another mailbag episode. I think we only covered about a third of the questions we had waiting for us. Note that I’ve wiped the board clean, so if your question wasn’t answered, then it’s now gone for good. Sorry.

On an optimistic note, having a 1:3 chance that your question makes it onto the show is actually really good odds by the standards of this sort of thing.

Direct link to this episode.

Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Shamus, Josh, Chris, and Rutskarn.

Show notes: Continue reading »

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Reset Button: Do it Again, Stupid

Movies   By Shamus   Feb 1, 2015   106 comments

Yes! Two Reset Button videos in the space of a month. I was going to make this a regular thing, but I’ve just taken on another project. We’ll see what happens.

Also, I think I’m sticking with this graph paper motif for now. Reset Button hasn’t had a unifying style before now, but I think the graph paper is something I can live with.

Link (YouTube)

Transcript below:

Continue reading »

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Looking Ahead: 2015

Video Games   By Shamus   Jan 30, 2015   138 comments

I don’t usually spend a lot of time looking forward. It feels dangerously close to buying into the whole publisher-driven hype machine. Too many sites spend all their time looking at the horizon. Rumors. Teaser trailers. Screenshots. Exclusive first looks. Hands-on press demos. Then the game comes out, gets reviewed, and vanishes forever.

It’s common to discuss movies that are a couple of years old. And it’s routine to discuss books decades after they come out. But games are hurried off stage to make room for the next act and we rarely take time to look at old games with fresh eyes. That’s really unhealthy. Moreover, it sort of leaves the readers out of the conversation. During pre-release, there’s nothing to say except:

  1. I am looking forward to this game.
  2. I’m sick of hearing about this game.

But after a game comes out we can talk about what worked, what didn’t, and why. That’s the good stuff. That’s the reason I’m in this writing gig. The looking back stuff is often more fun than playing the games themselves. In my end-of-2014 wrap-up, it was really encouraging to see lots of people talking about how they were playing games from 2013, 2012, or even 2010.

Having said all that, I guess there is a time and place to cautiously look forward. Really, I’m just doing this now so I can look back at the end of 2015 and compare my expectations with reality. So I’m only looking forward now so that later I can do a compare & contrast when 2015 comes to and end.

With that in mind, here is what I’m looking forward to in 2015:

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Project Button Masher: Sarif Gift Card

Music   By Shamus   Jan 29, 2015   41 comments

Once again, my goal here is to use this project to push me into doing something new. So this time around I’m going to tackle the Deus Ex: Human Revolution soundtrack. I didn’t really fall in love with this soundtrack when I played the game. I didn’t even really notice itAside from the callbacks to the original Deus Ex., but now that I’ve taken the time to listen to it properly, I have to admit it’s really amazing:

Link (YouTube)

I’ll be honest: This is a stupid idea. I’m not remotely skilled enough to take on something like this. And even if I had the skill, I don’t have the equipmentEquipment needed: An orchestra. And singers. And someone who can conduct them.. Here is what I think is distinctive here:

  1. Orchestral instrumentation. Unlike the Half-LifeHalf-Life 2, really. track from a few weeks ago, this stuff isn’t filtered, distorted, bit-crushed, or synthesized. Bring a real orchestra or GTFO.
  2. Vocals. I can’t tell what they’re saying, but gosh those singers sound amazing.
  3. It mixes some electronic pulsing with the above, to give a nice contrast. It’s a blend of new and old, much like the style of the game, which mixed renaissance fashion with cyber augmentation.
  4. Is awesome.

I did what I could. Here is what I came up with:

Continue reading »

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Spoiler Warning 5th Anniversary Special: The Yawhg

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Jan 28, 2015   114 comments

Link (YouTube)

We’ve been doing this crap for five years. There are now about 285 hours of spoiler Warning. To put that in perspective, let’s say you wanted to watch every single episode of Spoiler Warning ever. At the same time, your neighbor decides to do a Trek marathon where they watch all of the original series, all of the Trek movies (including the Abrams reboot) and every episode of Next Generation.

When your neighbor is done, you will still have about 68 hours of Spoiler Warning left to watch. (I’m sorry.) In our defense, I have no idea why you decided to watch all that.

Thanks for watching. We still haven’t picked the game for next season.

For the record: I thought The Yawhg was kind of charming and fun. If I had any friends, I’d totally play it with them.

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Experienced Points: Escapist and Me

Escapist   By Shamus   Jan 27, 2015   89 comments

My column this week is about the column itself. It’s about how the gig works and what kind of controls the site imposes on me.

For context, last week Defy Media (company that owns the Escapist) let a bunch of their staff go. I had no idea this was coming, and nobody really said anything afterwards.

Another interesting point: I set up the askshamus@gmail.com email address specifically so people could propose questions for the column, and almost nobody uses it. The Diecast inbox is constantly overflowing with more stuff than we can answer, but people don’t seem interested in seeing questions answered in column form. I’m not sure why, but there it is.

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Diecast #90: Secret World, Batman, Destiny

Diecast   By Shamus   Jan 26, 2015   114 comments

“This week, let’s plow through the backlog of mailbag questions,” I said. Everyone agreed this was a good idea. And then over an hour later we’d managed to cover two.

Direct link to this episode.

Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Shamus, Josh, Chris, and Rutskarn.

Show notes: Continue reading »

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Five Games Josh Liked in 2014: Part 2

Video Games   By Josh   Jan 23, 2015   80 comments

This is the second and final part of my 2014 retrospective. And you thought it was never coming.

Last time I said I thought 2014 wasn’t such a bad year, and then spent most of the post raking two games over the coals for their collective bad design decisions. I think it’s only fair I start talking about the games I really liked in 2014. These games would be on this list regardless of how well the AAA market was doing.

3. The Last of Us Remastered

Well the version *I* played came out in 2014.

In a market that is increasingly dominated by games that seem more interested in being movies, The Last of Us is the most movie-like game I’ve ever encountered. This is not a compliment. It’s not a straight “movie” like Heavy Rain or even the more recent Telltale titles, but the entirety of the narrative, almost all of the character development, and even much of the most important action sequences take place in cutscenes.

I’ve always been enamored by the potential of the interactivity of video games. “What unique stories,” I thought, “could be told by taking advantage of the player’s input to influence the way the narrative unfolds?” Instead, at least when it comes to big budget AAA titles, everyone’s more interested in making a Hollywood blockbuster with the action scenes replaced by poorly justified shooty segments. These often go together about as well as oil and water, and the player ultimately has no more control over the character they’re playing or the way the story unfolds than a viewer watching a movie. One almost wonders if it would have been better for them to make a movie from the start. And while I’m not presumptuous enough to say that this is an invalid way to make a game, I’m still a bit bitter that anyone with enough money to actually explore this potential is instead wasting it on vapid action movies with by-the-numbers revenge plots.

But perhaps the other reason I dislike these “games as movies” is that I never once got the impression that they’d make very good movies. That is, if you were to strip out all of the gameplay segments and replace them with typical movie action scenes and then release them in theaters as movies, I doubt they’d be very well received. I think film critics would generally pan them, and they’d be relegated to “this summer’s bombastic-yet-vapid popcorn film,” equally inoffensive and insubstantial. It kind of makes the whole exercise seem a bit pointless, doesn’t it? Not only are they often not very good games, with action segments that too often clash with the story they’re ostensibly trying to tell, but they can’t even manage to be very good movies, either.

Continue reading »

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Project Button Masher: Triop Employee of the Month

Music   By Shamus   Jan 22, 2015   35 comments

In 1994 I discovered that the only reason I listened to all that nu-wave synth-pop in the 80’s was because I was waiting for someone to invent proper electronic music. I don’t know where music historians would say electronic music beganProbably something like Kraftwerk, way back in the 70’s, actually. but for me it began with System Shock.

I usually rank this as one of my favorite soundtracks of all time. But look, this game will turn 21 this year. I was a different person when I played it, obsessively, for the better part of a year. I can’t untangle my nostalgia from my musical taste when it comes to this soundtrack. In fact, when I hear the music all I can see is the levels they belong to.

If you’ve never heard it, or if you’ve forgotten it, here is the whole thing, exactly as it sounded to 23 year old Shamus in 1994:

Link (YouTube)

The tracks range from quasi-industrial to straight electronic. I can’t capture all of that in one track, so for inspiration I looked to “L02 Research” “L06 Executive” and “L08 Security / Bridge”.

Distinctive characteristics:

  1. Very basic synth instrumentation. Unlike (say) Doom, these instruments aren’t pretending to be electric guitars or string instruments.
  2. Take a simple melody, and then take 2 of the notes and yank them way up a couple of octaves.
  3. Bitcrush the drums. This is something I hadn’t worked out until now. You can lower the bitrate on the drums (or other instrument) to make them sound more raw and 1993-ish. It’s the audio equivalent of pixelating an image. Doing this to the drums really gave it that System Shock feel.
  4. In a couple of tracks I noticed this stylistic quirk: The drums tap out a slow, steady rhythm, but then once in a while with suddenly do this rapid-fire snare for a couple of seconds.

Here is what I came up with: Continue reading »

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Five Games Josh Liked in 2014: Part 1

Video Games   By Josh   Jan 21, 2015   99 comments

Shamus called 2014 The Year of Meh, a sentiment that certainly seems to resonate with a lot of people when they look back on it. And I can’t really blame him or anyone else for holding that view. This is the year that Facebook bought Oculus. The year Google almost bought Twitch, and then Amazon did. The second half of the year was dominated by an oft-violently heated debate, with social movements and counter-movements that, no matter where you stood on the issue, probably managed to piss you off somehow. But all of this is beyond the scope of this piece, and what really I’m interested in discussing here is the games of 2014.

And as far as games go, last year had a lot of misses. Ubisoft took the brunt of it with the triple whammy of Watch_Dogs, The Crew, and Assassin’s Creed Unity. But it was also the year we saw Dungeon Keeper turned into a “free” to play monstrosity of naked corporate greed. It was year where even the “great” games were more often just good games that had no competition from their peers. 2014 is a year without instant classics. There was no “Gone Home” or “Paper’s Please” or “Last of Us” that unified and galvanized gamers like there were in years past.

Even so, I just can’t quite bring myself to say that 2014 was a bad year. There were a lot of games in 2014 I really liked. No instant classics, but I feel that helped me to appreciate the games that otherwise might not have gotten the attention they did. I want to talk about five games in particular in this list, the five games I liked the most this year. This list can be read as a top 5 list, with #1 being my “Game of the Year” if indeed such a thing has any meaning. Of course the actual gradient is much more nuanced and the games so different in what they do and do not do that a direct comparison will always open to interpretation.

I’ve also had to split this list into two parts, as I am apparently completely incapable of writing short, concise blurbs when I’m passionate about something. And the first half of this list is the two games that I feel probably wouldn’t be on it if 2014 had a stronger lineup. So maybe I’m not making a very good case for my point here. Don’t worry, it’ll all come together later.

Without further ado…

Continue reading »

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Experienced Points: What Makes the Technology in Grand Theft Auto V So Great

Escapist   By Shamus   Jan 20, 2015   51 comments

So a couple of people asked me to elaborate on why GTA V is so amazing in a technological sense. So I did. This might be a little unfair, because GTA V is the only urban sandbox game to make the jump to current-gen consoles.

Still, all of this was basically true when comparing (say) GTA IV to Saints Row The Third, so it all evens out.

While running around the city, I ran into this bit of sidewalk, which gives a little clue as to how they cram so much detail onto mundane surfaces without blowing their texture budget:

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