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The tyranny of games-that-were

Oh, we're doing this dance again.  I just had a college flashback.

Get in there and get wet.

Last week’s tempest in a teacup was the announcement that Nintendo was finally hopping into the mobile games arena, a fact which the rest of the gaming industry responded to chiefly with a sigh and perhaps a muttered “welcome to here” or something similar.  This is not revolutionary or stunning.  Mobile gaming is as genuine a form of gaming as, well, anything that’s been coming out over the past decade.

What was surprising were the number of people clinging to the idea that this was some major change, as if Nintendo’s refusal to get into the space before now was indicative of a philosophical stance rather than a deeply calcified corporate structure incapable of forward motion.

Nintendo’s issues as a company are best addressed in another article (and probably will be), so I’m not going to go into that here.  But it’s always surprised me, to this date, how many people think that the way games were released was indicative of anything more than how things were in terms of technology.  The idea that the game arrangement we grew up with as children is in some way indicative of how things ought to be, from here to eternity.

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The Seven Deadly Sins of Game Design

It is a day, there is some judging going on, six of one and so forth.

I suppose it’s not really judgement day, but it’s similar.

Woe unto ye, designers, for ye have sinned.

The seven deadly sins in Catholicism are functionally the ur-sins.  They aren’t the worst, they’re the roots from which all other sins spring.  And I thought it would be edifying to remember that the same concept applies to game design and gameplay, starting from the design side.  For there are sins in game design as surely as anything, and some of them are not what you would expect.

Since we’re stressing the idea of the seven deadlies, of course, they should line up to the big ones – greed, envy, sloth, lust, wrath, pride, and gluttony.  And I could write for weeks about how those sins are very different from what people usually imagine when they hear those words, like how sloth is less about inaction and more about profound spiritual ambivalence, or how gluttony isn’t just a matter of eating stuff.  But that’s really outside the wheelhouse of what is largely a game design blog, isn’t it?  So let’s talk about the seven deadly sins of game design.

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Hard Project: The Matrix

And it went so desperately wrong.

How could this have gone wrong? Oh, wait, all the ways.

The Matrix is one of those things that was a very big deal when it came out and then faded in importance about five minutes later.  It’s been a decade since the last film, and the odds of us seeing another one are slim to none.  Which is a shame, because it’s still a franchise I like quite a bit, even if I’d like it more if we had gotten the prequel-and-sequel the Wachowskis had originally wanted instead of the single sequel split into two parts.

If you like pretending the two sequels didn’t happen, imagine them as one lean two-hour film and start falling in love again.

We’ve seen three games based on the franchise, with one of them (The Matrix Online) both failing to live up to the promise of that concept and completely failing to deliver on what was originally conceived of in a persistent universe.  It kind of makes sense, if you think about it.  Even though the movies look great and prompt lots of thoughts vis-a-vis “man, it’d be great to play this as a game,” the whole thing winds up being a really hard project from the word go.

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Growing out

Just okay.

I have it on reliable authority that this was largely okay.

Reading the descriptions of anime on Netflix made me wonder why I’d ever cared about it.

It wasn’t as if I really needed to; I had just finished watching through Star Trek Voyager and needed something new to watch, so I was browsing through shows.  I was glancing at anime because, hell, it’s been years since I’ve seen an anime that I genuinely enjoyed, despite the fact that anime was central to such important parts of my life like “meeting my future wife” and “starting me on my current career path.”  So I was flipping through, looking at some of the shows that had gotten critical praise, and…

Crap on a stick.  Was anime always just a parade of teenage breasts and shitty premises?

I still think there are loads of wonderful stories that anime has given us over the years, and I’m reluctant to say that it’s somehow modern anime that’s the problem; there have always been terrible shows designed to serve as high-velocity fanservice dispensers.  The problem, in part, is me.  Novelty made these things appealing enough to overlook when I was younger, but once the novelty light gets yanked away I start to see what was always there.

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Demo Driver 8: The Joylancer: Legendary Motor Knight

That's a good thing, obviously.

You can set up how many visual effects are on screen, which can make this cleaner to read as necessary.

What bothers me about “retro” games so often is that they miss the entire point of the exercise.  The games that I played as a child were not in any way, shape, or form undiluted masterpieces; they were products of their time as surely as anything.  Too often retro games wind up treating the entirety of these games as religious experiences, as if every single element was equally important in making games fun and you can’t have a truly fun game without a whole pile of obscuring and unpleasant tedious components.

In theory, you can do better.  You can take the parts that did work, the genres and elements that don’t really make it in the triple-A marketplace these days, and get rid of the tedium and missteps.  Cut out the spirit and pull that forward, but leave the bones where they lie.  Separate the platform and the moment from the overall experience.

The Joylancer: Legendary Motor Knight is close to what I’d consider a prime example of how to do exactly that.  It’s not entirely there, and some bits and pieces are unlikely to change before it moves from Early Access to an actual launch.  But even those broken bits aren’t broken enough to make it an exercise in tedium.

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