Sunday, July 31, 2011

What Really Determines a Game's Metascore?

Have you ever noticed that, with occasional exceptions, the "triple A" games released by the big publishers always end up with generally favorable review scores? And that the more unconventional, quirky games, and those released by smaller publishers are far more likely to wind up with "mixed" review scores? Ever notice flawed-but-deeply-brilliant games scoring lower than big budget, generic clones? Ever notice user scores significantly lower or higher than a metascore?

Why do certain games tend to get higher or lower scores? What thoughts tend to run through a reviewer's mind while they're playing a game and writing a review, and how does this influence the overall trend of the metascores? More after the jump.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

News Report: Violence Causes Video Games

In 2007, teenager Danny Petric shot both of his parents with a 9mm pistol, killing his mother and severely wounding his father, allegedly over a video game. This bit of news is back in the headlines as defense attorneys now try the "video games made me do it" defense. According to Mark Petric, the shooter's father, Danny became obsessed with Halo 3 after a snowboarding accident left him housebound for nearly a year. His father is now on a mission to get violent video games out of the hands of children.

As shocking as this sounds, my gut reaction is to say that this is but one extreme example that isn't representative of the vast majority of people playing violent video games. But I don't want to jump to any conclusions without considering all of the possible angles. So let's take this opportunity to examine the claims made in this case, the news reports, as well as the larger issue of video game violence. More after the jump.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Video Games in TV: The X-Files

"Some TV shows just don't get it." Part of a periodical series: Video Games in TV.

In the seventh-season episode "First-Person Shooter," FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully investigate a mysterious death in a virtual reality game called First-Person Shooter, developed by First-Person Shooter Corporation. You think the audience realizes this is a game about First-Person Shooters? Maybe we should say "first-person shooter" a few more times just to make sure. First-person shooter.

Anyway, Sculder and Mully have to track down a cyber-assassin and eventually play the game themselves in order to stop the murders, all-the-while commenting about gamers and gaming culture. This episode gets so many things wrong that saying it 'fails at accurately representing gaming culture' is nowhere near as effective as calling it 'an absurdist satire of the mainstream media's inept understanding of video games.'

More about "First-Person Shooter" after the jump. Jumping the shark, that is. Note that there's a summary of the episode's major flaws at the end of the article, in case you don't want to read the entire synopsis/commentary.

Friday, July 22, 2011

New Periodical: Video Games in TV

Some TV shows just don't get it. Every so often a television series (usually a crime drama) reaches for new ideas and airs an episode with video games as the running theme. Sometimes the killer is a gamer, and the detectives use his video games to track his motives; at other times, the killer uses video games to kill his victims; in yet other times, the murderer is just a video game-obsessed psychotic. The plot elements in different shows' video game episodes may vary, but they all usually have one thing in common: they suck at representing gamers and gaming culture.

So it occurred to me that it might be fun to watch some of these episodes and write articles about them. Well, it probably won't be fun watching them. It''ll probably be mind-numbing and frustrating, but someone's gotta do it. Well, no one really has to do it. But if anyone's going to do it, it may as well be me. Anyway, look forward to "Video Games in TV" randomly showing up now and again, wherein I'll critique a display of video games badly-represented on TV. Of course, this all depends on being able to watch these episodes, somehow. If you know of any good examples of video games in TV, be sure to let me know.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Trial-and-Error: Balancing on a Razor's Edge

Games that involve a lot of dying or restarting are said to have trial-and-error gameplay; the player doesn't know what to expect or what to do until it's too late, and then has to do it again. Trial-and-error has become widely regarded as a bad thing. When someone uses the phrase "trial-and-error" when referring to a game, they usually mean that as a criticism. However, trial-and-error doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, trial-and-error can be a very powerful tool for creating an engaging, rewarding gaming experience. There's a very delicate balance involved with making trial-and-error effective, otherwise you're likely to end up with an unsatisfying gaming experience, but it's something that shouldn't be so readily dismissed.

Click to continue reading about the nuances of trial and error.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Horrible Architecture/Engineering in Half-Life

A typical day in the life of a Black Mesa employee.

There's something about the original Half-Life that's always bothered me. For a game that was declared "Game of the Year" by nearly every reviewing publication in existence, and for a game that set genre trends and standards for years to come, I could never quite appreciate its effect. It's a great game, certainly; it's both playable and enjoyable even in today's market of technologically advanced, super-sophisticated shooters. So what could possibly have bothered me so much about Half-Life to have blemished my opinion of it? Pretend that you didn't already read the title, and click to find out what it could be.

PS: There are lots of pretty pictures waiting for you if you do.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Some Thoughts on Portal 2

Portal 2 was released on my birthday and no one gifted me a copy of it. As a result, I discovered that I need to get some new friends. Friends who appreciate the cosmic significance involved with the sequel to one of the best games of all time being released on my birthday. More importantly, I need friends who can capitalize on that significance and give me a free video game. If you think you're qualified for that role, leave a comment on this webzone and we'll talk. Or just give me free games and you can automatically qualify.

But anyway, I finally got around to Portal 2 once Valve gave it a 50% discount during the latest Steam summer sale. And now that I've played through it, I'm ready to speak my mind about its strengths and weaknesses. Portal 2 is a mighty fine game that, in some ways, lives up to its expectations, but it ultimately doesn't deliver the same concentrated experience as the first Portal.

Click to continue reading about Portal 2.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Siren: Sigh-Rendering Tedium

When it comes to survival-horror, only a handful of elite titles manage to evoke a sense of genuine dread and terror in their audiences. These are high aspirations that many contenders struggle to achieve. Going into a survival-horror game, a player has certain expectations: to be scared while drowning in suspense. The good news is that Siren actually succeeds in eliciting dread and terror---just not in ways that would satisfy your expectations. Siren's horror comes from putting up with disjointed pacing and frustrating gameplay.

Siren makes a few attempts to provide a uniquely compelling experience, and these are principally honorable efforts.  Unfortunately, the game's unique elements are ultimately what make it or break it. Some players may find Siren a refreshing take on survival-horror, but others are perhaps more likely to become frustrated and impatient with it. Unless you're really craving something unique, it's best to take the game's own advice and "resist the call."  

Click to continue reading the full article.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why Arcania Sucks

As a long-time fan of the Gothic series, nothing saddens me more than to see a beloved series turn to shallow mediocrity.  Actually scratch that.  I'd be more sad if the soul of the Gothic series were forever cast into oblivion, never to flex its mighty competition-crushing, standard-setting RPG muscle again.  Thankfully Piranha Bytes, the original developers of Gothics 1 through 3, are still alive and kicking, working this very moment on the glorious Risen 2.  With that in mind, I'm not really sad to find that Arcania: Gothic 4 sucks.  I'm just a little disappointed.  After all, how hard could it be to screw up the "Gothic" feel?
Apparently it's not so difficult, as Spellbound (in conjunction with JoWood) have shown us.  When I'd heard that Gothic 4 was getting a new developer, I was actually one of the few Gothic fans who had high hopes for the new game.  Gothic 3 was far from ideal, so I'd already learned to restrain my expectations, but I thought that a new developer could breathe new life into the series.  I told myself I'd enjoy the game for what it was and not flip out if it deviated from the other games.  And then Spellbound missed every mark and left me no choice but to go on a nerd rage.  Not only does Arcania share virtually no gameplay similarities to its predecessors, but as a game if fails to deliver anything remotely compelling, interesting, or entertaining.
Since Arcania's been out for the greater half of a year now, I'm not writing a full review.  Plenty of other smarter and more talented people have already spoken their minds on that issue.  Instead, I'll be making a list of things that were present in the first three Gothics (especially in G1 and G2), which Arcania is entirely lacking, with special emphasis on why these aspects are crucial to the compelling nature of Gothic.  Click below to continue to the full article. 

Massively Effecting My Indifference

Having finally gotten around to playing 2007's heralded Mass Effect, I'm now prepared to speak my mind about BioWare's science-fiction action/adventure/alien-copulation simulator/role-playing-game.  There are a lot of things to be said about ME, some of which might be praise, or maybe criticism, or perhaps just downright nitpicking.  Suffice it to say, my experience with ME was mixed, leaving me with little other choice but to say "meh."  The game's been out for like a decade or something, and even your grandmother's book club has played it by now, so this may be old news to some of you, but it's new to ME.

Continue to the full article for the rest of the verdict.