I have a problem, and I don’t believe it’s unique to just me.
There have been many cases over the past few months when I have had the good fortune to have only one project or assignment due at point in time.
However, whenever I am in that enviable position, my latent procrastinator genes kick in, (who am I kidding, they aren’t latent at all!) and I put it off until the last possible moment. I willingly enter the equivalent of a knife fight for literally no reason at all.
Will I get my work done? Will it get in on time? Just how late of a night are you willing to have? How much sleep can you sacrifice?
Today, I paid that price.
I fell asleep on the bus coming in to school today. I awakened just in time to catch my transfer bus, but in my sleep-deprived stupor, I neglected to bring along my bag! No one noticed me leave it behind, or perhaps just didn’t care enough to tell me if they did. Perhaps this is karmic retribution for accidentally not holding the door open for a completely able and spry retiree yesterday, who was so enraged at my lack of manners that he followed me to my next bus stop and cussed me out.
I engaged my tried-and-true method of ignoring people in public (read: iPhone) and he got bored and left.
Perhaps he was on the bus with me today. Perhaps he was sitting right behind me. I wouldn’t know, as I mentioned previously, I was asleep. Perhaps he spotted me leave my bag behind, but said nothing out of petty, marginally-deserved spite. I may never know.
What I do know is that I didn’t get to hand in my totally sick mock-up of a coupon page from one of those coupon books you can buy from schools and scout groups.
Maybe I’m missing the point here. Maybe the lesson should be “do your damn work ahead of schedule, even/especially if your schedule is free.”
I think I’ll stick with blaming the old man for now. After all, one point of data does not a graph make!
Besides, Dark Souls isn’t going to beat itself.
So Irrational games’s Bioshock Infinite is coming out soon.
As the only Bioshock game actually produced by the studio who made the first, critically acclaimed Bioshock, expectations are high, to say the least.
I have never looked more forward to a game release in my entire life.
I’m expecting a game of the year caliber product. On the upside I expect Elizabeth to set a new standard for friendly AI given how much time and resources the team seems to have put into her design.
This is not an uncommon expectation in the video game community. People put a lot of themselves into video games, unsurprisingly, as it is a interactive medium, and gamers view sequels as a continuation of their own story. You want your story to be as amazing and awesome as possible, and the anticipation feeds into your expectations.
Mass Effect 3, the final game in a trilogy, certainly had a ton of hype built up around it. It was certainly helped along by its impressive ad campaign. Just as impressive as the excitement that preceded its release was the dissapointment after gamers realized it did not meet their expectations.
Starcraft 2′s expansion, Heart of the Swarm, had similar expectations, and while the multiplayer implications of the release won’t be known for some time, by all accounts the single-player offering is a solid followup to Blizzard’s previous release in the franchise.
Then there is SimCity. Would the rancour raised by EA and Maxis’ handling of that games launch been as a big of a deal as it was if there wasn’t such lofty expectation and hopes in the first place? Probably not.
By what causes people to board these hype trains at all? At best, the game meets your expectations and you come away satisfied. At worst, you feel betrayed and angry at the way your precious game was handled. Logically, it would seem, it would be best for people to take a “wait and see” approach.
There are two things that prevent that.
Firstly, technology and human nature. The Internet, and the corresponding ability to find and talk to people that share your interests, created highly focused communities. When you are surrounded by people waiting for a game release, the pressure builds and the bar is raised. It’s inevitable, and normal, to desire something more if other people also covet it. Back in the day, you had a couple school friends and a copy of Nintendo Power to convince you that Game X 2: Electric Boogaloo was going to be the greatest thing of all time. Now, finding others to talk to about games is only a click away.
The second reason, however, is far less benign. More and more frequently, corporations (shareholders, to be more precise) place goals and metrics on game releases that are somewhat at odds with reality. The expectation for sequels to well received games is to sell more copies than their predecessors. To a point, this is doable. A person who passed on a new franchise because he or she was unsure of the quality might feel safer purchasing a sequel, after the original game proved the game was worth $60.
However, all but the most general interest of games hit a certain point where there simply isn’t a audience left to market to. Unless your game is a Call of Duty-like blockbuster, there exists a maximum cap on the sales achievable.
Let’s take a look at Dead Space 3. The sales expectations for that game were 5 million, far above expectations for both previous entrants in the franchise. To me, and to many other observers if the video game industry, such a number of sales was ludicrous. I can’t name a single action/horror game that has ever sold that many copies, and to anticipate Dead Space 3 selling that many copies screams of hubris.
But that’s exactly why we saw the amount of marketing we did.
Mass effect 3 was trumpeted as “the best time to jump into the series!” This is flat out wishful thinking. Anyone at all interested in Mass Effect has already made up their minds about it long ago, and no amount of marketing is going to change that.
Similarity, Dead Space was slowly transformed from a straight up horror game into an action game in order to appeal to a wider market of gamers. There’s nothing wrong with that, but “action FPS” fans already have a game to play that fills their needs: Call of Duty and its main competition, Battlefield.
When the third game in a series is released, the best case scenario is that sales stay constant, not improve. Your audience has calcified, and if you made a niche game, don’t expect it to turn into a blockbuster.
What does that have to do with Bioshock?
Well, I can guarantee that both Ken Levine, Irrational Game’s founder and creative director, and 2K Games, it’s publisher, desperately want Bioshock: Infinite to appeal to more than just the crowd that appreciated Bioshock. That crowd of gamers that appreciated the psuedo-horror, philosophical descent into Rapture, the city of objectivist ideology, and it’s incredible criticism of both Randian thought and the illusion of choice that all games give the player, is not as large as the crowd of gamers that just wants to shoot things in the face. For Levine, promoting his game and building the hype train is a method for him to get his message out to as many people as possible. For 2K, it is to get as much money out of Bioshock as possible.
I myself have fallen prey to the various demos, AI explanations, and Ken Levine-led dramatic fanfiction readings, and find myself desperately wishing I was playing Bioshock Infinite right now. But don’t for a moment think that you were immune to all the advertising, or removed enough from the gaming community to avoid being sucked into the zeitgeist of anticipation. You weren’t and if you’re reading this, you aren’t.
Choo Choo, motherfuckers.
Nothing gold can stay.
For decades, SimCity has entertained would-be mayors and city planners with complex simulations that approximate the actual running of a city. Sonce the beginning, SimCity gave players dictatorial control over the destiny of a small settlement, letting them grow it into a sprawling metropolis, and then watching it crumble into ruins with a spate of natural disasters once players got bored. It was and is a winning formula, the ultimate power fantasy.
Enter SimCity 2013, the first proper game in the series since Sim City 4, nearly 10 years ago.
Everything players love about the game is still there, upon first inspection. Zoning, streets, power plants, a ludicrous amount of detailed graphs, everything is accounted for. Indeed, it could be argued the removal of the tedious water pipe and power line requirements was a much needed improvement.
Take a closer look, however, and SimCity transforms from a utopia into a dystopian, bizzaro world where everything is just wrong enough to cause that twinge of discomfort.
The most crucial of components, the absolute control you could wield over your city, is gone. Instead of an infinite variety of choice in choosing a location for your municipal empire, you are told to choose one of a half dozen regions in which to build. Also lacking is the ability to reshape the land itself, forcing your city to drape itself across the landscape rather than integrate itself in its hills and valleys.
The space in which you are allowed to build has been limited as well. Instead of spreading to the farthest corners of the map, an ugly white line serves as a constant guardian over the “city limits” that arbitrarily prevents you from crossing. This results in the almost comical patchwork nature of the region, with a massive residential or industrial complex existing adjacent to pristine, untouched land.
Most damning, however, is the fact that your city is anything but. Instead of a grand, self sustaining megapolis, SimCity now limits you to one section of a “greater metropolitan area.” Cities are forced to specialize, as the space you are given to build in is too small to create an independent settlement.
SimCity is a game about communities, but was never meant to be one.
That is where the development of this game went so horribly wrong. At some point, someone (cough EA cough) decided that the focus of SimCity should be on multiplayer, on cooperative building, on community. That flies in the face of anyone who enjoyed the previous entrants in the series.
SimCity is about being an almighty tyrant, not about being a helpful group member. It is sad that SimCity itself has forgotten that.
Instead, the creators of the game are the tyrants. Forcing the userbase to connect to a server system that currently barely works, refusing to give out refunds for a game that people can’t even play, forsaking the infinitely creative modding community in order to send out carefully focused grouped DLC packs; all of these thing hurt so much more because players remembered a time when they were the ones in control.
Now, they can’t even control their own game.
As you may have guessed from my last post, I read through A Thousand Farewells recently, a memoir-style novel by Nahlah Ayed. In it, she details her life in the Middle East, from growing up in a refugee camp to covering the seemingly unending conflicts that plague the region.
This book is somewhat less personable than I would have expected from the subhead (One reporter’s journey…). While she never veers away from her own personal tale of living in warzones, suffering from PTSD, and the interactions she has with people caught up in conflict, I repeatedly felt as if I was reading a pre-packaged, carefully considered newscast. That isn’t to say she whitewashes what she’s seen and been through; She frequently mentions things that would never make the evening news.
Everything in the book is put there to let you understand why the Middle East is so broken. Her experiences growing up in a refugee camp exist solely to let the reader know what the lives of many Arabs are like growing up. I know that such a statement is factually untrue, but it comes off that way in the book.
My biggest problem with the book is that it smacks of “My First Middle East Primer.” Instead of getting her opinions and views, and reading about a person’s journey through the Middle East, we are given background information and historical context and on and on and on. If I wanted to learn about the roots of conflict in the Arab world, I’d read something more scholarly and comprehensive.
Some of the fault may lie in my own understanding of the politics and history of the Middle East. The information I was being provided was not new to me, and as a result sections of the book that may have been informative to others were wasted space to me. I was far more interested in her personal thoughts and the thoughts of the people around her than re-learning the history behind the situation.
I expected and would have enjoyed a closer and more detailed view of her time in a warzone, such as any scrounging she had to do or saw, and any moments of genuine uncertainty of her physical safety. Instead, she takes a larger view of the situation she is in, never delving too deeply into the details of her life. That may have something to do with her novel being written years after the events described, but that does not excuse her failure to truly personalize her tale.
When she does focus on the here and now, she still struggles with being as real and, for lack of a better term, visceral as I would like. She touches on the fact that she has been a reporter for the majority of her life, and that she has neglected her own life in the course of her work. I think this manifests itself in her writing, which is too dry and “news reportery” for the purposes of a novel. Perhaps she has been wearing the news cap for so long she has forgotten how to take it off.
As for what journalists can learn from her experience, I think she does an amazing job of making you care for the people she describes. Total immersion isn’t the only way to report, but it certainly gives you the most options. She takes the time and effort to remind you that the people you see chanting in the streets, or fighting in dusty alleyways, are people. I just wish she had done the same for herself.
All things considered and all criticism taken into account, I enjoyed the book. It was a nice refresher on the recent history of the Middle East, and anyone unfamiliar with its history would be well served in seeking it out. I only wish she had made the effort to personalize it more, as her story itself is very interesting, just told too objectively for me to truly identify with and care.
Buy it if you would like a finely crafted overview of the Middle East.
Don’t buy it if you would like a personal tale through the Middle East.
I heard a whole lot of grumbling from my fellow Crecommers about having to read Nahlah Ayed’s A Thousand Farewells.
I’ll be the first to say that it is not the greatest book in the world. It suffers from no real pacing, and I got a sense of being a kite drifting free in the breeze, the way Ayed carries us along with her. To be fair, a lot of that can be blamed on her job consisting of doing her own thing in a country until something blows up somewhere else, but presenting her journey less organically and more structured might of helped.
What I don’t understand is some people saying it is boring. Perhaps I’m far too close to this stuff, (I’ve been following the strife in the Middle East since I entered high school) but I had no trouble parsing out the various motivators behind the factions Ayed describes in her travels. It’s impossible for me to say I would fully understand without that background knowledge, but I think she did a wonderful job giving overviews of who’s who and why they matter.
Perhaps some of my classmates found it boring because they have no basis to imagine the things Ayed describes. I know when I was reading through it, I remembered grainy camera feeds of bombs going off in streets, photographs of rebels or soldiers firing into a black haze of smoke and death, videos of funeral processions turning into firefights through the eyes of a handheld camcorder. It’s one thing to hear such things described, another to have the visual memory that goes along with it.
Maybe I just thought that a communications course would have more news junkies in it.
Whatever the case, many of my classmates are deficient in their international knowledge. Who doesn’t know that Damascus is in Syria? That Beirut is in Lebanon? That Hosni Mubarak was followed by Mohamed Morsi of the Islamic Brotherhood? That the Kurdish people lack a state of their own and are ethnic minorities in every nation they live in?
To me, these facts are background information. To many of my classmates, perhaps being introduced to these facts turned A Thousand Farewells into more of a textbook than a informative novel.
That saddens me. Ayed’s story deserves better than to be treated as a learning exercise.
So a few weekends ago a couple friends of mine decided to sit down and play through the universally acclaimed videogame adaptation of The Walking Dead with me. We had all watched at least two seasons of the televison show, and I myself have read through around 70 issues of the comic, but none of us had played through the game, despite the constant accolades and good press it had been given.
It’s won four awards from DICE:
- Adventure Game of the Year
- Downloadable Game of the Year
- Outstanding Character Performance (Lee Everett)
- Outstanding Achievement in Story
TWD even managed to grab Spike’s game of the year, a huge change from their usual choice of mindless action and testosterone fuelled orgies of violence.
So, expectations were high, to say the least.
It blew my expectations out of the water.
I wasn’t the one “playing” the game this time around. The last time our little crew got together was for Asura’s Wrath, which failed miserable in grabbing our attention, and before that it was for Catherine which was a brilliant experience marred by the final hours of the game. In both instances I was at the helm, being the final arbiter for group decisions. That duty fell to my pal Kevin, to my mixed feelings. Its nice not having the pressure to choose, but I liked being in control.
Unlike both those games, The Walkind Dead held our attention from the get go and never disappointed. The tale of Lee Everett and his ward, Clemetine, is a hugely impacting story of survival, of having to make a choice between choosing what’s right and what’s best, about what to cling on to in a world that has “survived” the apocalypse. But, most importantly and chillingly, it is a story about being a parent.
Lee Everett is a convicted murderer going to jail for killing the man who slept with his life. The game opens with you, as Lee, sitting in the back of a police car as the cop in the front seat talks to you about your crime. You have the choice of responding in one of three ways, or by saying absolutely nothing at all. That’s pretty much the whole game, deciding on how you respond to other people, or what you do in certain situations.
The scene continues, with police chatter on the radio getting more and more frequent, with more and more police vehicles speeding towards the city behind you as you are driven towards prison. The tension grows and grows, until the policeman driving you slams into somebody(somezombie?) stumbling onto the road. You careen off an embankment into the woods next to the road and black out. You wake up an indeterminate amount of time later, still in the wrecked police cruiser, and kick out a window to escape. The cop that drove you out here is dead, but as you try and get the keys to the cuffs on your hands off of him, he comes back to life and starts dragging himself towards you. You have to scramble to find a shotgun, load it, and blast his brains out before he chomps you.
Your efforts to survive attract more zombies, and you escape over a fence into a backyard. You investigate around a bit until you find a voice recording of a mother phoning her daughter, Clementine, detailing her husband getting “bit by a vagrant” and things are “getting crazy around here,” until the last recording tearfully begs Clem to stay safe. You find Clementine hiding in a treehouse, and vow to keep her safe.
12 hours of playing later, we were through with one of the most touching, adrenaline pumping experiences of my life. The Walking Dead is, ostensibly, about surviving the apocalypse, but it is really about being a good father figure for a poor orphaned girl. Throughout the game, you are confronted with difficult, horrible decisions on what you are willing to do to survive. Other games usually give a standard “save the baby, eat the baby” choice between being an absolute monster or a saint, but in The Walking Dead, there are only one type of choice: shitty.
ENTERING SPOILER ZONE
Everything you do is shitty. All of your outcomes are shitty. There is very little you can do to improve your situation. All you can do is control how you react. At one point, you have a person who cut off the legs of one of your pals to eat for dinner at your mercy. You can’t be certain you’ll be able to prevent him from doing something like that again, you lack the resources to lock him up, so your realistic choices are kill him or let him go. Kill a man or don’t. To my great disappointment, my friends al ignored my cries of “You aren’t an executioner!” and killed him with a pitchfork to the chest. Lee(you) turns around and sees little Clementine staring at you, horrified.
Everyone in the room was instantly ashamed at their decision, even if they had all rationalized it as the best option available seconds before. For the rest if the game, there was only one objective: shield Clementine from the hard reality of the world she lived in. Then the game throws you a curveball.
Another kid in your group gets bit. Eventually, it gets to the point where the kindest thing you can do is put him out if his misery. His mother and father go off into the woods with a gun. Instead of killing her kid, the mother shoots herself. We then had to choose how to deal with the situation: kill the kid, or make the father shoot his own child.
Not wanting to force the poor fellow to kill his own flesh and blood, we shot the gun for him. But all I could think about was “what if it was Clem?”
The writers of the game are Very Smart People, as you then have the opportunity to teach Clem how to shoot, and cut her hair so it’s harder to grab. We were all still committed to keeping her safe, but we all knew that violence was unavoidable in the world Lee and Clem live in.
There are many opportunities to do the “smart” thing in the game, but after the pitchfork scene we all chose the “moral” choice. It wasn’t out of some desire to play the good guy, or to be a hero. It was to be a good person for Clem. At one point, the survivors vote to kick a person out of the group. That person had almost gotten Clem killed hours earlier, and is in general a completely useless member if the team. We gave Clem a vote, and she voted to let him stay because he’s “doing his best.”
There was no question how we would vote.
Soon, however , the worst case scenario happens: Clementine is abducted.
Because we had never let anyone hang out to dry, we had the entire group help us out trying to get her back. Karma.
The final scene of the game left me in tears, along with a room full of twentysomething year old dudes. You are given the opportunity to give Clementine some advice, with very little time to say much. Trying to decide the most pertinent information to allow a little girl to survive in a zombie apocalypse alone, a girl you’ve come to care deeply for, was heart wrenching.
SPOILER ZONE ENDING
The Walking Dead is not about zombies. It’s not about surviving, about the losing your humanity in inhuman conditions, or about numbing yourself to pain to carry on.
It’s about a man and the child he’s trying to raise.
The voice work and writing for Lee and Clem is superb. I hate children in almost any medium except books, video games and cartoons, because they are the only forms in which children don’t have to play themselves. The bar has been raised even further.
Play this game. There is very little “required knowledge” of video games required; at its heart it is a point and click adventure game. If you can move a mouse you can play it.
It’s 12 hours. That’s like a season of a TV show. No TV show has come close to impacting me the way this game has. If you want an amazing narrative experience wrapped in the most convincing illusion of real, impactful choice I’ve ever seen, buy this game.
You no what’s getting increasingly obsolete these days?
The internet (and I will always resist efforts to capitalize that word) is changing the world of publishing. Authors, musicians, artists, creators in general, all have a free method of distributing their work. They can reach a global audience with the click of an “upload” button, and the online world is a fostering environment for creativity. If what you put out is of quality, eventually you’ll build a base of fans who will be willing to support you. But there is one group of people, publishers, who would very much disagree with the statement that publishing is changing.
To them, it is dying.
To be fair, from their perspective, it is. They built a world around consolidating and communicating the work content creators put out. And they made a ton of cash doing it. The internet took their world behind the barn and shot them in the head. It’s bleeding out, in desperate need of medical attention, but the nearest hospital is two hours away. Publishers are performing ultimately fruitless first aid on a wound that can’t be closed.
Alright, that analogy is going to some weird places. Let’s get back on track. Too often, I see companies (its always companies) desperately trying to convince governments, judges, and consumers that they are required elements of an industry when really, they stopped being needed when Google launched in 1999. I know that might not be technically accurate, with pure text like books being able to be transferred via internet far earlier than something video content. but bear with me.
As soon as people gained the ability to search out things for themselves, quickly and easily, the death clock on publishers started counting down. Why should content creators sign away their intellectual property in exchange for getting their product to markets in today’s day and age, as we still see in the video game and film industries? What possible reason exists for a musician to sign a contract for distribution, when they don’t even make money off CD sales? Who the hell wants to hit a pay-wall when searching through academic research papers?
Publishers once served a useful purpose. Now, they are nothing more than parasites, actively slowing the technological growth of our world. Media companies like FOX and NBC wanted to sue Dish Network for building a DVR that automatically cuts commercials out of its recordings. Why? Because they want to keep the gravy train of ad money chugging along. Music congloms sue people for hundreds of thousands of dollars because of “lost sales” when they download music. I don’t know anyone who has bought a CD in the past five years.
I know I might sound a little crazy when I’m railing against “the man,” but this is important. We aren’t living in the 1980′s anymore. Its time for the suits to recognize that. You can’t put the genie back in its bottle.