Experienced Points: For Old Man Murray

By Shamus
on Mar 6, 2011
Filed under:
Column

Nothing like writing an entire article and finding out it became obsolete about the same time I turned it in. Old Man Murray was removed from Wikipedia last week. I wrote about it, but by the time the article went live the page had been re-instated. Ah well. Hopefully it provides some amusement on its own.

Really, I wasn’t that upset about the page being pulled from Wikipedia. It was dumb, sure, but not exactly an industry-threatening crisis. My real motivation for writing the piece was so that I could talk about one of the influences that got me into writing about games in the first place.

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From the Archives:

  1. Lesquille says:

    Hey, your article introduced me to a cool website I’d never seen before, so justice is done!

  2. Daimbert says:

    Where you talk about it being anti-Roberta Williams, it’s actually Jane Jenson (Gabriel Knight) who’s being bashed there.

    Since she’s written books adapting the games, it’d be interesting to find that book — if it exists — and see how the chain is presented. Does Gabriel really go through all that in the book? Do readers think that makes sense?

    • Brother Pain says:

      Well, I got the book of Sins Of The Fathers with the Gabriel Knight Mysteries way back in 1998, and it was actually a quite good read as far as I remember.
      Haven’t been able to get hold of any of the other books though. It’s too bad, because especially the second game seemed to have a great story, even though it was marred by the live action video and lack of Tim Curry.

      • Daimbert says:

        I have two of them. I forget what the title of the other one is, but I know that one of them is Sins of the Fathers, and the other is the one with the werewolves, I think. I installed one on my computer and it killed my sound, making me hate Sierra games for the longest time. So, I guess there’s that.

        In hindsight, I’m pretty sure that reading the novel was what got me interested in buying the games.

        • whitehelm says:

          The other one was “The Beast Within” based on the second game. She only wrote those two, and never did one for the third game.
          Personally I think King’s Quest has much better examples of adventure game flaws, particularly involving a certain infamous pie. GK3 had an unusually good story, no unwinnable situations, and only the one complicated illogical puzzle (other games had several). It had its own flaws of course, but in general it avoided the classic problems.

          • Daimbert says:

            That’s the one.

            I think I’d have gotten more into them if the one game hadn’t killed my sound and the other one had a bug — at least on my machine — where I couldn’t advance past a certain point despite doing exactly what the walkthrough said.

    • Shamus says:

      His Anti-RW stuff comes from this:

      http://www.oldmanmurray.com/features/374.html
      and:

      http://www.seanbaby.com/cleveland/part2b.html

      EDIT: Ah. The death of Adventure games thing. You know, I really did remember that also being a RW tirade. I stand corrected, I guess.

      • Daimbert says:

        Yeah, that’s what I meant, that the link right after wasn’t an anti-RW rant.

        Although I like that one better than those, actually, because it has more content and so is more interesting.

  3. Nick Bell says:

    It makes me angry every single time I read an article that is more than one page. This is the internet; we don’t need that. Put it all on one page so I can simply scroll and read.

    I really like the Escapist. But this is doubly bad on the Escapist because of their sidebar. The sidebar is so long, but there is nothing in the middle column most of the way. So not only are paged content annoying, it looks stupid in that layout.

    • Simon Buchan says:

      More pageviews to ask more money from advertisers :(

    • Adam says:

      I, too, hate it when websites desperately try to earn money out of the most self-entitled customer base in the world.

    • Nick Bell says:

      Since this post fell off the front page, the chances that anyone will read this are pretty slim, but I am updating just in case. There is a way on The Escapist to view articles as a single page – it is a feature of their subscription. Along with no ads, mobile site access, video RSS feeds, etc. To me, that’s totally worth $20 a year. Signed up, and irritation is gone.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Admit it Shamus,you were the one who got the entry on wikipedia removed just so you could write this article.

  5. Brandon says:

    You should write games for Valve. I’m sure the only reason they haven’t hired you yet is because they just have too much awesome already and if they hired you, your added awesome would upset their delicate balance of awesome.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Nah,he should work for bioware.Valve is good,its bioware that needs help in the writing department.

      • Sucal says:

        Bethesda. Bioware has good writers, they just need better people to bring the plots together. Considering the average plot of most Elder Scrolls games, that have like 1 good bit for every 50 bad bits, Bioware’s 1 good bit for every 5-8 or so bad bits is far more forgiveable.

      • Hitch says:

        Make it Bethesda. A 5-minute phone call from Shamus once a week could result in a ten-fold improvement in their writing and leave him lots of time for the site.

        (As long as we’re indulging in idle fantasies.)

        Edit: Ninjaed.

      • X2-Eliah says:

        Nope, he has to work for Mojang. Their game has no plot whatsoever >.>

        • Mari says:

          Some games don’t need a plot. Tetris doesn’t require a plot. Pong didn’t need a plot. Minecrack doesn’t need a plot. Actually, for me half the fun of Minecrack is that I can make up my own plot. I have an entire story in my head about how Bob is the only inhabitant of the Sylvan Woods that he’s constantly improving because of a terrible cholera outbreak in the Wooden City. Every thing Bob does in improving the city is against an eventual future where the town is recolonized. In the meantime, he’s slowly going mad with only the cows outside the city to talk to. Odds are that if emigrants ever DO show up to recolonize the city, Bob will cheerfully kill them and wear their limbs as hats. (Yes, I just admitted to writing fanfic.)

          • Desgardes says:

            Wait….all three of those games have plots. Tetris: Falsely interred into Saint Petersburg’s most notorious mausoleum/gaol, you must manage a never ceasing rockslide lest you suffocate and are crushed to death. You might remember it’s sequel, Contra, where you’re getting revenge on the people who put you there.

            Pong: When you enter the high-stakes world of underground table tennis, you never expect to run into your step-father’s evil twin brother! Much less that he taught you everything you knew, and you spent the last twenty years perfecting his play style, rendering you an utterly even match. Can you out think him?

            Yea, it’s more premise, but when they tried to flesh it out, fans rebelled at the canon and so they had to split the difference. :( Kind of depressing that they couldn’t respect the creators, honestly.

            Mincraft: For eons untold, you family has been a diligent workforce of dwarves serving a master king. However, you were born special, much taller than your brethren. On the day of your coming-of-age ceremony, where you’d choose your life path, you went exploring with your close comrade, and, due to your height, were sucked through a portal into a far-off place. It took a moment, but you realized that you still had that choice to make, and will follow your hearts desire until such a time that you can discover a way back home, wiser and hopefully safe. I won’t put spoilers in, but let’s just say fairytale endings can be done really heartfelt, but without feeling cheap or unearned.

          • Mari, Shamus REALLY needs to add a like button just so I can hit it for this comment. Really.

        • Sumanai says:

          I guess you haven’t heard that “Tycho” from Penny Arcade is writing for Mojang. For Scrolls specifically.
          http://www.scrolls.com/

          Well, he calls himself a fluffer:
          http://www.penny-arcade.com/2011/3/2/

  6. Irridium says:

    Clearly they did this just to annoy you.

    They took it down to get you to write something, then when you did it all they put it back up, and proceeded to laugh.

  7. So much for the conflict of interest and payback angles. Those threads were interesting, as were the posts calling everyone who objected a meat puppet.

  8. BTW, there is now a wiki page on the issue:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Old_Man_Murray_controversy

    Feel free to visit and edit ;)

  9. The Unforgiven says:

    I’d just like to say that the reason American children don’t learn about the War of the Moon is because you guys /lost/. Canada won. They teach it to us in like grade 3. :P

  10. LintMan says:

    Beyond the things Seamus mentioned, some other things that OMM was groundbreaking on:
    – They took on and deflated some of gaming’s biggest personalities when the rest of the gaming press wouldn’t say boo against them.
    – They compared the hype leading up to the game with what was actually delivered. (See the Trespasser review for a great example of this).
    – When the rest of the gaming media got caught up in the hype of some game, OMM was quick to call them on it.

    These days, Yahtzee fills some of the role OMM played, but not nearly enough of it.

  11. Lalaland says:

    I remember finding Old Man Murray from a link on Thresh’s Firing Squad (back when naming something Thresh’s X meant anything) and it was a revelation. All the irritating cliches of FPS games and the obtuse ‘puzzles’ that had long since soured me on what had been my favourite genre, adventure games.

    OMM was right about adventure games they walked themselves off the cliff, so intent on their own navels they missed the yawning chasm ahead. The rise of GameFAQs and others has mitigated the worst excesses of these games but back then if you got stuck that was it, sod your £50. I was very unusual in my area in having the internet at home in the mid-nineties and even then the odds of the ropey search engines lucking upon a forum post with the answer were low. It was so enraging to be denied the story I’d paid for because of puzzles as utterly illogical as the moustache puzzle pilloried in the article (http://www.oldmanmurray.com/features/77.html).

    Never knew they went on to find success with Valve, it’s really heartening to think that they found success in the field they are clearly passionate about

  12. eric says:

    All I can say is, here here. Old Man Murray was and still remains a brilliantly funny and insightful games web site… it’s not uncommon that I’ll go back every now and then to re-read some old articles. It’s incredible just how many of their complaints are still relevant to the world of gaming.

    I’m not at all a fan of Wikipedia’s requirements for notoriety, since the implementation feels extremely arbitrary. They removed an extremely detailed 5000+ page article on Warhammer 40,000 lore a year or two ago, and yet at that same time you could look up horribly dubious articles like “list of fictional ducks”. While I’m sure there are noteworthy fictional ducks, the decision-making is often made far too quickly and – here’s the catch – without much input from people who are actually interested in the article’s content in the first place. Wikipedia claims to be a generalist encyclopedia, and this is how they rationalise such decisions, yet where and how to draw the line is never really clearly defined and seems to favour certain spheres of culture over others.

    Thanks for your efforts here, I know the gaming community appreciates them.

    • Sumanai says:

      Some of those could be explained with mods not getting around to them, but from what I’ve heard there has been a page for every pokemon for few years now (except for Black and White, since they’re too new to have been for so long). Even now I tested by searching for Psyduck, and here’s what I got:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psyduck

  13. Grott says:

    The real tragedy here is that this indicates that there’s still people who take Wikipedia seriously. The bureaucracy doesn’t even pretend that there’s a point to it for users beyond succeeding in a RfA, the easiest way to do so being amassing a high edit count by reverting edits by unregistered users, unpopular users, and users who aren’t favored by one of the admin power groups that determines what content stays and what tone it should be presented in. Said power groups are the biggest influence on Wikipedia, but if the POV you want to be favored doesn’t already fall within a group’s personal values, don’t worry, maybe it can be bought. That’s why admins are required to have an email account, because as shown from various leaks of private mailing lists, they need to determine what the “correct” POV is an make sure everyone is backing them up and ready to deal with any editors who get in their way. Dishearteningly, Wikipedia has grown from a curiosity to an active participant in the destruction of unfavored information, and for every shitstorm like this there’s a hundred less covered incidents where the few people who had something to say on it were blocked for being “sock puppets”. Sure, most of those incidents that result in users becoming unpersoned are related to things like politics and corporations, but it can show up anywhere.

    But hey, at least it’s open, right?

    • krellen says:

      If you want information about something non-controversial, it’s pretty good. You just have to realise you can’t take any of the opinion parts at all seriously.

      • FatPope says:

        Whilst I’d agree that some controversial articles might not, at a given time, be totally even handed I still think you’re going to far with your criticism here. Most articles will at least present both sides and rarely have outright factual inaccuracies. The only issues seem to be with, as has been stated, determining whether certain information is relevant to the discussion, or more subtle issues with tone.

        Most of the time though if there is controversy surrounding an issue it’s clearly marked as such, and the reader is encouraged to visit the comments page to view the debate.

        Again, I’m not saying that Wikipedia doesn’t have problems, I just don’t feel quite as negatively about it as you seem to.

  14. Sauron says:

    It was reinstated largely because of people like you writing notable sources for it (see: RockPaperShotgun’s amazing compilation) and searching far and wide to compile lists of sources that were already existent. One of the frustrating things about this controversy was the focus on WP:N, a guideline which *can* and *should* be violated often, when OMM’s article was really a case of violating WP:V, an actual policy. The focus on WP:N, despite being simply wrong, also incited argument about whether OMM was notable, mostly by people using the common definition rather than the guideline definition. If people had referred to WP:V as they should have, sources would likely have been compiled sooner and the entire argument avoided.

  15. MrWhales says:

    I’d like to put it out there that Valve has the most interesting people in the entire world working for it. Erik, and if you watch the 40 minute long video where Gabe talks about Valve itself to high schoolers, he mentions some incredible people there.

  16. Otters34 says:

    I’d have to disagree rather seriously about Portal being one of the best games of all time. Its writing is novel and all, but falls flat when looked at from a perspective that doesn’t include the word ‘ironical’. The biggest fault being the writers treating a broken artificial intelligence like an insane human being. Gameplay-wise I agree with the majority with the caveat that I would have preferred if it had been a plotless tech demo advertisement for a new mechanic in Half-Life 2: Episode 3.

    Also, Valve-employed writers always struck me as being good at coming up with ideas(the Earth is conquered by aliens from another dimension!) that they fail to consider the ramifications of(these aliens have conquered several dimensions of the universe, but can’t keep a lock on ONE planet?) or just coming up with ideas that are deeply unappreciated by me, like a super-rabies strain that gives people superpowers while making them act like movie zombies(thank you, Valve, for deepening my hatred of zombies beyond what I thought possible).

    In the case of dialogue, they’re brilliant at writing one-liners and zippy retorts, but after a while their speaking characters sound less and less like humans talking and more and more like a convention of Mutant Enemy fans.

    Which reminds me of Critical Miss, which has nothing to do with the above, and everything I dislike about most of the comedic works the The Escapist hosts. To make an obnoxious post shorter, I despise the cheap-shot mentality, ad hominem jabs and endless cynicism and meaningless vulgarity found in nearly every page of that comic.

    There are (once a blue moon)legitimate criticisms made and probably funny(though I’d rather lose a finger than call them so) jokes made, but I can’t ignore the packaging of careless sneers and repulsive joy at others suffering that comes with it. Also, way too much sarcasm.

    • Shamus says:

      *groan*

      Yes, yes, you didn’t like portal. This happens, you know? But it doesn’t change the fact that Portal spawned many memes, is very highly regarded, and is recognizable to people who have never played the game.

      Hence the “notable” aspect of it, which was why I brought it up.

    • Veloxyll says:

      I’m unaware that appreciation by you was a condition for something to be entertaining.

      • Otters34 says:

        I never said it wasn’t entertaining, just not one of the best ever. It’s a lot of fun, but the plot strikes me as overly shallow and places the player in a situation where their efforts don’t seem to amount to much.

        I probably should have just said that. I am sorry for the ill-will this caused.

    • Aldowyn says:

      I’d just like to comment on one specific part of that:

      “the Earth is conquered by aliens from another dimension!) that they fail to consider the ramifications of(these aliens have conquered several dimensions of the universe, but can’t keep a lock on ONE planet?”

      .. Earth (or humans) is special. I’m too lazy to go look up the TVTropes entry on it and link it, but it’s definitely there. Shucks, look at Warcraft, same thing there.

      • Will says:

        It’s not so much that Humans is special as Freeman is special.

        And it’s also important to mention that the G-Man is at least partially responsible for causing the Combine so much grief; without him Half-Life 2 certainly wouldn’t have happened and the Combine were winning until Freeman came back.

        Everyone always forgets about the G-Man; remember that he is working for ‘clients’ who are apparently opposed to the Combine, because in his work for them he releases Freeman, so we can assume that out there in the big wide universe is at least one more force or group that is investing at least some time and effort into throwing a wrench into the Combine’s gears.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Indeed.The combine held the earth with ease,until beings of unimaginable trans dimensional powers intervened.Both g man and vortigaunts posses some uber powers.Freeman is there just to be the well placed pawn in this trans dimensional game of chess.

          As for the headcrabs,what exact superpowers do they give people?Save for immunity to pain(well,they do feel pain,constantly,but arent hindered by it),headcrab zombies are pretty much weaker than humans.Except for the special strains,that is.

          • Ambience 327 says:

            I think the zombies he was referring to are the ones in Left 4 Dead.

            • Otters34 says:

              Yes, the mutations given the special infected in L4d is what I was referring to.

              I apologize for giving the impression I don’t like Portal, I do. It’s fun, memorable and cleverly designed. It’s simply that the sheer repetition of how its story is a masterstroke that I disagree with. To put it a better way, I like Portal despite its story. I am also sorry for my poorly chosen words and petulant tone, for which I have no adequate excuse.

              On a more pleasant topic, thank you for writing that article on Old Man Murray. I had only read their article on the insanity of puzzles in adventure games, and had no idea if what else they’d written, or that they were pioneers of modern blogging/game news and review sites.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                “It’s simply that the sheer repetition of how its story is a masterstroke that I disagree with.”

                How come its not a masterstroke?Sure,the plot is nothing new,but plot is not the same as story.You may not like the way its written/told,but then again,that doesnt make it bad per se.I dont like how dostoevsky writes,but that doesnt mean crime and punishment is not a good story.

                • Otters34 says:

                  You know, there are days when I doubt my literacy, especially after writing something for a half hour or so that I only realize is barely legible gibberish after actually reading it.

                  On the issue you raised, plot not equaling story, I must admit that the two terms are frequently used interchangeably, leading to the above confusion. So yes, I am unhappy with what is told, but not how it is told.

              • Will says:

                Well to be fair, the story in L4D is purely an excuse to throw zombies at the players and definitely came second to the gameplay.

                Plus, i kind of liked the rabies virus thing, it’s a little bit clever.

    • eric says:

      I feel bad because my blog was called Critical Miss. In fact, I launched it only a couple weeks before that stupid webcomic appeared. Needless to say, my blog now has a (slightly) different name.

      And no, it wasn’t off-topic. Bashing all of the crap that The Escapist publishes (minus one or two shows/articles/etc., Shamus’ included) is always relevant, considering they’re trying to stand in as paragons of “games as serious business”. They need to be held to high standards.

  17. Kdansky says:

    I found it hilarious that you tried to copy OMM’s style, but never quite got it right, because it’s just not how you write. It’s a brilliant hack job, so to speak.

  18. Deoxy says:

    Very enjoyable article. Having never read (or even heard of) OMM, I really enjoyed your article, even though it is apparently not as good as vintage OMM. I might have to go read some of it (when I have some time… yeah, real soon now).

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