Archive for the Rants Category

PS3 “Home”: Metaphor for everything wrong with Sony

Posted in Consoles, Online Gaming, Rants on January 6, 2009 by Kit

Oh man, where to start?

Home is Sony’s newish social networking experiment. I was invited to the public beta and so I strapped on my  pasty, lifeless, zombie-like avatar and wandered around. It’s since gone live, and I have logged in all of one time since then.

Home is sort of like Second Life, only more boring. Instead of making and sharing your own content, as in Second Life, you are stuck with the fare that Sony sees fit to dole out (or, more likely, sell you). Home itself is free to use, and I was at first bemused and then horrified to find that there are stores in Home where you can buy things like virtual lamps for your virtual living room. In Home, you can:

  • View ads for Sony content.
  • Pay (real) money to wear a new (virtual) t-shirt with a corporate logo on it.
  • Pay (real) money to decorate your sterile (virtual) living room with sterile (virtual) furniture.
  • Get cursed at by a racist 14 year old gamer d0od.
  • Fake dance terribly to shitty music. (Really, Sony?)
  • Watch your connection to the Playstation network repeatedly crash.
  • Bowl.

The only people I could ever imagine using this product are masochistic shut-ins, and they’re all busy in Second Life or posting on their blog (…)

I’m going out on a limb with a prediction: this product will never make a dime for Sony, even if they keep it online for a million years. And I hope it never does. Sony doesn’t deserve to make money off it, because it’s terrible. It’s simply not a compelling experience. There’s no content in it that I can’t get better, elsewhere. The inability to create anything, coupled with the ridiculous pay-to-play stores … it’s all just crippling. And the bowling is stupid.

The only real feature the game offers is the ability to use Home as a way to keep in touch with other people on the PS3 network, but there’s already dozens of better ways to do that… many of which are actually already part of PS3. From my PS3 I can instant message, send email, voice and video chat. Most individual games offer their own way to arrange network games. There’s just no reason to load up a giant, clunky interface so that I can do it with a stupid virtual t-shirt on.

I’d rather communicate by carrier pigeon.

This product is a picture-perfect example of what happens to social media when an old-fashioned monolithic corporation gets its grubby fingers into everything. When this happens, you get a product that nobody asked for, that does nothing anybody wants, and looks like it was designed by an octogenarian executive who once read an article in the Wall Street Journal in 2003 about this whole Facebook thing and who uses jargon like “Web 2.0” with a straight face and whose secretary has a son who’s really into Second Life.

This man thought to himself, “What if somebody had the bravery to harness the power of all this new technology to  … get this … show people advertisements!”

It’s just so cute the way Sony missed the point. The great power of social media is the ability to create your own stuff, that’s what makes it compelling to people. The platform itself (whether it be YouTube, WordPress, Second Life, or Facebook) is just a delivery mechanism. If your platform is just a static ad-delivery-service, it’s not going to attract any users. It’s particularly ironic that the same people who brought us LittleBigPlanet failed so completely at Home.

But then, I’m getting used to Sony failing. And that sucks, because despite it all I still like my PS3. But if Sony sees services like Home as the future of the platform, then the future doesn’t look all that bright.

Won’t Get Fooled Again or Why I Haven’t Yet Played GTA IV

Posted in addiction, Consoles, PC Gaming, Rants with tags , , , , , on August 14, 2008 by Kit

I still haven’t played it. I know! I know!

There’s a series of good reasons, and they all amount to an object lesson in why proprietary software sucks and how you can be royally screwed over if a company releases a busted product when there is no community available to provide a fix.

I’ve opined on this topic a few times, and I’m aware of the hypocrisy: I’m obviously touting software freedom while supporting game companies who make the most proprietary of proprietary software (not only can you not see the source code… but you can only run it on one device made by one company).

But consoles are still simply the best way to play games, and I love games so much that I’ve traditionally made a convenient (I know! I know!) exception for them.

Here’s the story.

Probably you’ve all heard of this little game called GTA IV. The one with all the cop killing and prostitutes. The one that makes teenagers shoot up their Social Studies classroom with dad’s unsecured handgun.

Well, I’m a big fan. I think it’s smart (for a game), provides a great example of satire and anti-genre (for a game), and it doesn’t hurt that it isn’t above a bit of cute self-mockery here and there. It’s also fun as hell.

I am aware that it occupies a moral gray area, and I’m fine with that. Moral qualms are not the reason I’ve not yet played this game.

Not owning the game is also not the reason I haven’t played it yet. I actually bought it the day after it was released. For those of you keeping track… that was last April. As I type this, it is sitting on top of my entertainment center.

Not owning the correct platform is also not the reason I haven’t played it yet. I was a PS3 early adopter… in part because I was excited to hear that it supported Linux out-of-the-box. But mostly (and here is the delicious filling of the irony sandwich) — I just wanted to be sure I had a system that could play GTA IV.

That’s right, I bought the most expensive game machine on the market mostly because I like GTA that much.

I was undaunted when I heard they were giving “downloadable content” to XBox owners, despite GTA’s longstanding association with PlayStation. Whatever – I’ve always liked the PlayStation brand, and I figured the PS3 would be a quality product. I never much cared for those in-between releases (like “Liberty City Stories“) anyway, and I figured downloadable content would probably be just more of the same.

About a week before the GTA release date, my PS3 broke. It just powered itself off one day and wouldn’t turn back on. Not even to eject the Seinfeld dvd that I was watching when it died.

I dutifully called the support number on the back of the machine. Talked to several very polite and helpful people (Sony support is pretty good). Learned that my machine was (of course) out of warranty, and that it would cost some money to repair it. Ok, fine. Learned that it will take up to three weeks to repair the machine.

No!

The meaning of this was obvious: I would not be able to play GTA while all of my friends were playing it. I was going to miss out on all the stories about the various discoveries, stupid vehicular tricks and trash talk that goes with a new GTA release. I was never going to feel the pride at being the first person in my acquaintance to find something awesome in this game.

Oh well. It’s just a game. So I paid the money and shipped the system off in the nice box they sent me.

GTA’s release date came and went. I had the cash, so I bought the copy the day after. Just so I could maybe regain some lost time when my machine came back.

I was so excited when it finally returned. They even threw in a new controller! My Seinfeld DVD was in a nice jewel case, unharmed! I unboxed the whole thing, set it up, got all the system updates from the internet. And then I plugged GTA in, breathlessly waiting through the (long) install.

And then I played the game! I lied earlier when I said I haven’t played GTA IV. I have. For five minutes. I played through the intro mission. Just when was taking Niko out to explore… the whole thing locked up. Niko was frozen in mid stride and a bunch of weird angular graphic shit was all over the screen.

I began to feel a tiny bit sorry for myself.

But no need to panic… I just hit reset. Glitches are not uncommon in the current generation of games. Maybe it’ll work after a reset. And it did. For another five minutes.

The small, spoiled adolescent that lives inside my chest began to make himself heard.

Like all sensible people, I got on the internet to look for answers. I poked around on various message boards, and noticed that a respectable number of people on the Official PlayStation boards were reporting the exact same thing. All these people owned PS3s that were about the same age as mine (i.e. the early release ones).

The bad news: No fix (or even acknowledgment of the problem) was yet forthcoming from either Sony or Rockstar Games (the GTA people). My problem was that new. People online were angry — like bees.

Eventually, after a few days, Sony figured out that something was actually broken and published a lame little checklist of things to try to get the game to work. None of them worked. The word began to spread:

“Call Sony, they are replacing machines for free… even if they are out of warranty.”

If you are still reading, I hope this hits home. I had, not three weeks ago, PAID Sony to repair my broken PS3. And now, here they were, replacing them for free because they had obviously shipped machines with some kinda problem. The initial repair had cost me $150. If the machine had held on for another week or two I would’ve gotten a free repair.

The teenager that lives in my chest was locked in his room with black eyeliner on, listening to The Cure and crying with his face in a pillow.

So I dutifully called Sony support again. Once again, they were very polite and very helpful. I described my problem, told them I’d tried all their fixes and that GTA simply wouldn’t play on my machine for more than 5 minutes at a stretch. They said they’d repair it for free… and sent me out another box. No, they would not be able to refund the previous repair costs since they were unrelated to the GTA bug.

After another 3 weeks, I had my PS3 again.

Feeling pretty ambivalent about it, I stuck my GTA disc in. And it worked. I played for about thirty minutes. Enough to satisfy myself that the crashing was over. Then I put it away.

I’ve since played some older games, replayed some favorites, but I haven’t touched GTA IV again. I don’t know why. The thrill is gone somehow.

I’m not wowed by the innovative gameplay, or the graphics. Not because they aren’t great… but because they are just dismal reminders of how much shit that machine put me through and how much of a sucker I am for putting up with all of it.

The thing is, I know Sony didn’t cheat me. I know Rockstar didn’t cheat me. This is just what happens when a piece of highly coveted software gets tied to one specific platform. When that platform dies, or has trouble, you have no recourse.

I still like my PS3. Sony support was fast and courteous. The problem is that the entire business model is designed to leave the consumer helpless. When one of my home computers breaks — I can fix it myself. Usually pretty cheaply. You can’t do that with a Playstation (or an XBox or a Wii). Even if you aren’t afraid of breaking the warranty, most of the parts inside them aren’t off the shelf components.

When software on my Linux desktop has a bug, it is usually quickly addressed and repaired by the massive community of people out there who care about it. If I was smarter, I could even participate in this process (I have, to a very limited degree). Hell, if I want the software on my desktop to do something that it doesn’t currently do – there’s a good chance that I can actually email the person that wrote it and ask them to add it. And even if they can’t or won’t, there’s a good chance they’ll at least write me back.

Try getting that kind of attention from any company who produces mass market software.

I may not be able to get away from proprietary games… but the PS3 will be the last dedicated game console I purchase, so help me. I may miss out on some console exclusives, but I’m not going to be suckered by the system again. No game is worth that.

Does the arcade suck, or have I just outgrown it?

Posted in Arcade, Consoles, General, Rants on July 29, 2008 by Kit

About one million years ago, some friends and I went to an arcade in Indianapolis just to see what it was all about. It was part of a larger idea I had to pursue the idea of The Arcade as some kind of cultural watermark.

It wasn’t my first arcade, obviously. But it was my first trip to an arcade as someone who could be reasonably called an adult. I’m not sure what I took away from the experience, if anything. Just a lot of disconnected observations.

The music playing over the sound system was pitch-perfect. Our Dear Sweaty B summed it up: “It was as if the arcade had gone into full-on Mrs. Havisham mode – it forever ran the soundtrack of the time immediately prior to its irrelevance.”

The bloated corpse of the 90s loomed large not only in the choice of music, but also the game selection. The “classic games” of the earlier arcade era were limited to one of those terrible multi-game cabinets stuck in a corner. Somehow that wasn’t very much fun to play. Recent titles present were limited to the most recent iterations of the well established thoroughbred brand name fighting and shooting kinds of games.

And of course, being the awesome people that we are, my friends and I made a good stab at having fun with it. And it was fun. Ish.

But the thing is… I couldn’t help but think about how I could be playing better games on a bigger screen with better graphics at home. With the same people. In fact, every one of the friends that I brought with me are people I’ve spent at least some time playing games with in various living rooms starting with my college years up until today.

It’s difficult to blame that lousy mall arcade for the poor selection, broken machines, and general air of boredom that hung around the place. All just more evidence that the audience has moved on.

The arcade at the Circle Center Mall is well aware of its own recent mortality.

It may seem weird to think of games in such grandiose terms – but the ability to play at home really was revolutionary in a basic sense. No more could arcades hold you hostage for 5, 10 or 15 minutes a quarter. You didn’t have to wait in line for the most popular game. You didn’t have to bike across town to a dark, smelly bowling alley.

Is there a trade-off? Sure there is. But it’s an uneven trade the scale of which even a white trader stealing land from a Native American might well appreciate. The winner in this exchange is so obvious that it hardly bares repeating.

There are kids who are already almost grown up who can’t imagine scrounging quarters from couch cushions to play a game that charges them each time they play.

I still carry nostalgia for those old times. And I hear that some prisoners have fond memories of their various prisons. But it’s as hard to imagine an ex-con locking himself back up, and it’s hard to imagine video game culture moving back into the arcade.

RESET

Posted in General, Rants, Science on July 28, 2008 by Kit

I am now back from my long hiatus. This is the only thing I will give you by way of explanation:

Careful readers (both of you) will remember my plan to visit a bunch of arcades and write about them. This fell by the wayside after one jerky start. Then I moved into a 3 acre homestead built in the 1930s, and all the things that accompany this fell on my head. The Blog was left to rot.

I’ll admit that I have felt a bit of guilt about nearly abandoning this venture. I’ve learned over the years that my reaction to guilt is to drop out and fahgeddaboutit. Some pop psych assholes would call this “avoidant behavior.”

But you know what? I’m not going to do that, dear reader. This is going to be different. This blog … is special.

And so are all of you.

Happy Spendmass!

Posted in Off Topic, Rants with tags , , on December 10, 2007 by Kit

Atheist unbeliever that I am, I happen to love Christmas. I love getting cards. I love carols. I love lights. I love sweets. I love It’s a Wonderful Life.

But there is one Christmas tradition that fills my heart with cold, seething, murderous rage: Christmas advertising. I am also aware that this is the least original complaint ever. Lucy Van Pelt was right all along. Christmas is a big commercial racket. It is all organized by big eastern syndicates.

But do we have to be so transparent about it? This year, I’ve noticed a subtle increase in the number of ads that carry a specific underlying message: Screw your loved ones, Christmas is a great time to buy shit for yourself. We’re no longer even pretending to believe any of the generosity malarkey that once justified our annual consumptionfest.

Like the toy companies, the video game industry does its level best to provide us with a yearly “must-have” item that will suffer inevitable and well orchestrated “supply shortages.” Christmas is an incredible marketing two-fer for a few lucky video game companies (Nintendo).

  1. Loads of money from poor saps who are essentially required by guilt to buy a pile of useless shit for their (kid/lifemate/whatever).
  2. The added PR boast of being perceived as the hot toy of the season, since nobody can find your sold-out game anywhere. Now you have another guaranteed wave of guilt-fueled post holiday game purchasing by poor saps who failed to buy the love of their (kid/lifemate/whatever) on the first go.

My advice to game buyers this year? Stop putting up with this shit! Of all the industries to shamefully manipulate holiday release dates to maximize profit, the game industry is second only to Hollywood. If it’s not artificial shortages, it’s timing releases to either stack up on the holiday or to just miss it (so that marquee games can soak up the most consumer love).

It’s important to remember that they don’t actually have you over a barrel. There are lots of other ways to spend your money. Or better yet, consider finding some ways to make Christmas a little less about money in the first place.

So many game players are adult men with no kids. We can buy games whenever we want them. Maybe for adults, Christmas should be a time for us to reflect on some intangibles.

The old lady and I don’t buy presents for each other anymore. We bake, watch Christmas movies, listen to Christmas music – the whole shebang. And we each make a little something special in secret to wrap and put under the tree. The only rule is that it can’t be store-bought.

We find that we have a lot more holiday energy. We don’t get sick of carols the way we used to. We don’t feel as cynical about the holidays.

I’m not sure if it’s the lack of shopping, or just the amount of pride I take in assembling something special out of cloth, paper, or sugar. Or maybe it’s all the extra time we get to spend with each other, accomplishing something real and assembling all the other silly little presents that we make for our friends and family.

It’s not that we’re cheap. We’re doing fine. But we’d rather spend our extra money on a vacation, or something that we do together. And if we want a game, book, movie, or even a toy… we just go buy it.

Besides, the games will be cheaper when they go on sale in January.

The inevitable sexism rant.

Posted in Rants, Sexism with tags , , , on December 4, 2007 by Kit

I’ve been holding back this post for some time, because I didn’t want to start things off with a big feminist harangue. I guess the time has come.

Women Like to Play Games, Too

A lot of hay is made about the so-called difficulties of courting women gamers. And I think that’s mostly bullshit. It isn’t hard to get women interested in games, it’s just that the big game publishers are addicted to the kinds of games that appeal to their traditional market: men in their 20s and 30s.

They’ve been targeting that demographic since the first Playstation came out, and they really know how to do it. Making a serious effort to include more potential players is a risk they aren’t willing to take, even if it means sacrificing some potential theoretical profit.

I think that’s a mistake, because there isn’t any trick to getting women interested in so-called hardcore video gaming. Women want to play games as much as men do, but gaming has been so trenchantly sexist for so long that it’s hard for some people to imagine a world in which it isn’t. The Wii has proven that lots of people outside the traditional demographic are interested in playing games. But far more needs to be done.

Side note to game designers: Reaching out to women does not mean putting pink butterflies on the package.

I’m not even an expert on my own tastes, let alone anyone else’s. But I have some ideas, not that anybody is interested.

We Have Several Different Kinds of Sexy Bitch In Our Games

Women in games today are depicted as:

  • Almond-eyed Fucktoys with Attitude.
  • Ugly Bitches.
  • Sexy Bitches.
  • Brainless Sexy Bitches.
  • Brainless Ugly Bitches.

Regardless, they are all in the game to be had, either metaphorically or literally. Yes, yes, I know that there are exceptions and that you can go through your game library and glean a measly few semi-evenhanded treatments of women. But it’s hard to deny that this is an enormous trend.

When a designer decides to make a female protagonist sexier… they aren’t doing it for women. They aren’t doing it because women are interested in being Almond-Eyed Fucktoys with Attitude. They are doing it because men want them to be.

The Myth of the Powerful Lady

Occasionally gamers will trot this one out. They’ll offer up one of the various Almond-Eyed Fucktoys with Attitude as an example of a “Powerful Woman” who somehow breaks gender barriers with her sheer bitchy ass-kicking boobalishousness. But, ladies and gentleman, Lara Croft isn’t really breaking any gender barriers and we all know it. She’s there for the boys, and she represents a gender-role fantasy that has been carefully calculated to appeal to us.

Editorial Addition: In fact, this particular phenomenon is even worse for the potential female gamer. The message these so called “Powerful Women” send is: “No matter how bad ass you are, no matter many guns you have, no matter how strong, intelligent, or independent you are — you will still be measured by the size of your tits and ass. So you better bring the Double-D cup and the booty if you want to participate in our make-believe world.”

Men Are Sexy Too

“But, games usually depict the male protagonist as having an ideal physique.” So goes another common argument. And you know, I’m not so sure that’s true. I can toss out counterexamples all day (and it’s telling that most of the games with ugly protagonists still feature sexed-up ladies), but there’s more to it than that:

When you are a man, being leered at is never a threat.

When you are male, the situations where being slobbered over might represent a threat are statistically irrelevant. You’re a man! You’ve got the power, baby! The obvious corollary here is:

When you are a woman, being leered at is often a threat.

Look, fellow males. How many times have you walked into a darkened bar, caught the eyes of several people wandering over your chest and ass, and thought to yourself… “Maybe I should have a drink someplace more well-lit.” How many times have you thought that it might be a good idea to call up a friend to escort you to your car from a late night class?

When you are an adult male, the possibility of rape in the everyday world is basically nonexistent. When you are a woman, it’s a fact of life. Statistics vary widely, but most estimates put the number of women who have been victims of a sexual assault at around 15-20%. Some put it as high as 30%.

Chew on that statistic for a second, and think about how much gaming culture must look exactly like a creepy bar where the lights are just a little too dark. I think a lot of women take one look inside and choose to entertain themselves elsewhere.

I Like The Sexy Ladies, Really!

Let it not be said that I’m against sex in games. I’m not. I’m not even against pornography in games. I’m okay with a gaming world in which there are both seedy bars and places that are clean and well-lit.

But right now, the gaming world looks like one giant red-light district. And I’m tired of listening to people in the game industry act as if there is some mysterious trick to writing games that women will like — all while painting the nipple cups onto the latest Sexy Bitch With Attitude.

Enough with the fucking demons and zombies, already.

Posted in General, Our Lord Satan, Rants on November 1, 2007 by Kit

Recently I bought a new game: Frolicky the Puppy Visits the Daisy Patch.On the box was a picture of the eponymous adorable little puppy, gleefully rolling in a field of daisies and butterflies. A happy sun beamed down on the entire tableau.

I thought to myself: “Just the thing to cheer me up! This game will get rid of the giant Grumpus that has been taunting me all day. Some sunshine and whimsy is just what the doctor ordered!”

So I took the Puppy home and plugged the disc into my PS3. There was soothing music and pretty colors. Adequate levels of frolicking. It was bliss.

As I progressed, zombies started to attack. They didn’t make much sense in the game, but it was a Japanese import and sometimes you’ll have that. Shrug.

At the end of the first level I’m faced with the usual crappy boss-battle. The boss I’m fighting is obviously a giant winged minion of the Dark Lord Satan. He has horns and wings, and a flaming sword. He probably speaks with a forked tongue, I can’t tell. He has trampled down the Puppy Patch and burned all the daisies and butterflies. Every time he hits the Frolicky Puppy with his giant flaming sword, fountains of photo-realistic blood splatter everywhere.

What the fuck, Game Developers?

What is with you and zombies and demons? I’m sick of them. Sick of fighting them. Sick of all your different not-so-creative ways of renaming them. Don’t think that fools me!

Why do you have a compulsive need to work zombies and demons into any game, no matter how thin the rationale? Is it just because you liked Doom that much back in 93? I liked Doom, too. But it’s been a decade and a half. I’ve moved on. Why haven’t you?

I feel like the last remaining character in a survival horror film. Only, instead of making a last ditch stand against the ravenous hordes from Hell, I’m tempted to just dive in and get eaten out of sheer boredom. I’ve been battling these same creeps for almost half my lifespan, obligatory shotgun in hand.

(Note to Jack Black: Don’t worry, Brutal Legend is still destined for a special place in my heart. I’ve already given it 5 stars without even playing it.)

Before I wrote this post I opened up my ancient copy of the AD&D Monster Manual. Yes, I still have it. First edition, motherfuckers.

Inside I found pages and page and pages of monsters that weren’t demons.

There was a panther… with tentacles. And some kind of floating eye thing. Let’s not forget the various animal hybrids. Like the squid/shark, or “squark.” Or my personal favorite, the owlbear. That’s creative monster design.

Oh yeah, I guess there were some demons too. But the important part here is that there were lots of other things.

I’m not about to just stop playing any games that feature zombies or demons. I’m not a Christian, for Christ’s sake. Many of my favorite games feature them prominently. I just yearn for something new. Some goddamn originality. Games are technologically better than they ever have been… why does that have to mean a trade-off on creativity?

Oh, and aliens that resemble the alien from Alien are also on my hit list. That has to end. Dead Space, I’m looking at you.