Hit the Videogame News point for massive damage
In this issue:
- GameStop under fire for recommending bad games
- Reporter’s Notebook: CAPTIVATE09 in Monte Carlo
- “Jake and the Fatman” star “hopeful” for game revival in wake of Mr. T announcement
- Sega announces new compilation of best compilation games
The Skinny: Seven years after the U.S. government got into the games business in a big way with the first America’s Army, the game gets a major update with a focus on realism and new technology in America’s Army 3.
1. It’s about “outreach, not recruiting.” That’s according to PR Director Lori Mezoff, who explained that there are no recruiters in the game pestering the best players to sign up, “The Last Starfighter”-style. It’s more about “telling the Army story,” Mezoff said, providing a feel for the Army life and letting that attract people. Is it working? According to Mezoff, 30 percent of young Americans have played an America’s Army game, and 30 percent of those players say they’re more likely to enlist in the Army because they played. You do the math.
I noticed a weird bit of subject synchronicity when scanning through my gaming Web comics yesterday. Both VGCats and Real Life Comics seemed to be hammering home the same somewhat crotchety message: Today’s gamers aren’t worthy; we had REAL gamers back in our day, dagnabbit!
I’ve got to say, I’m getting a little tired of this kind of us-versus-the-newcomers mentality among the “hardcore” gaming set. Yes, more people are playing games now, but this is not a bad thing! In fact, it’s been vital to making the industry as exciting and varied and downright enjoyable as it is today.
The argument that new gamers are somehow ruining the industry is not new. Penny Arcade laid out the case back in 2001 as part of a four-part series of comics analyzing why “videogames suck now” (as the introduction put it). The problem started, apparently, when Sony tried to market the PlayStation to “the same f***ing guys who used to beat us up in P.E. They’d never turned into an eggplant in Kid Icarus. They had friends and girls and sports. Why did they need games?”
Believe me, I get where this argument is coming from. Games were an overwhelming, integral part of my youth. From just before I got my first NES at age seven through about my senior year of high school, practically the only way I interacted with my peers was by either playing games or talking about them. Games gave this shy, scrawny kid a vital social outlet that helped him get through adolescence relatively pain-free with a group of other awkward, like-minded children, and I’ll be forever indebted to the medium for that.
But back to Penny Arcade’s eight-year-old question, echoed in this week in other Web comics: “Why did they need games?” The answer is, of course, they didn’t need them. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t want them, if they were offered in the right way. More importantly, it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve them now.
Music is obviously the core focus of MTV News — it’s right there in the Music Television name. But over the last four years, the outfit has increasingly included videogame coverage in its ever-expanding pop culture sphere. That increased attention has largely been the responsibility of Stephen Totilo, who was hired as MTV’s first full-time videogame beat reporter back in May 2005. Since then he’s built MTV News, and its game-focused MTV Multiplayer blog, into a major destination for original game reporting and commentary.
The Totilo era at MTV News ends this Friday, though, when the longtime game reporter leaves to take a Deputy Managing Editor position at Gawker’s popular gaming blog Kotaku. I took the transition as an opportunity to talk to Totilo about the future of MTV News’ gaming coverage, his plans for Kotaku and his thoughts on the wider game journalism industry. Below are some of the most interesting excerpts from our conversation.
“Hopefully [MTV Multiplayer] doesn’t have to go dark … There’s a chance [it could happen], but if that happens it won’t be some weird frozen in time thing. We’ll let readers know it’s happening and what they can expect beyond that.”
“The plan is not for me to regularly re-post news gathered from elsewhere. … Imagine what I do in my current gig transplanted into Kotaku. That’s what Kotaku gets.”
“Just a week or so I was reading some rude comments from a developer telling me that he was sure I was just biding my time until I could get a cushy development job. He guessed wrong. If a meteor hits Kotaku and I manage to survive, then I will get another gaming journalism job after that.”
“Reporters need to pick up the phone more and find out about stories for themselves. And readers would be best served to identify those reporters and outlets who do the best work and keep supporting them.”
Ask the average “hardcore” gamer what they think of a game like Bejeweled and you’ll often get a lengthy tirade on the evils of the bestselling puzzle game and the casual gaming boom it helped spawn. These kinds of mindless, over-simplified gem-matching games represent everything that’s wrong with today’s game industry, the argument goes. Instead of creating a compelling universe or crafting a tight set of deep, slowly unfolding rules, these games latch onto one simple mechanic (move a gem to create three in a row of one color) and wring it for all it’s worth — which usually is about 15 minutes of interesting gameplay. At their best, these gem-matching games could be called pointless diversions. At their worst, they’re pure mental masturbation: a single, nearly instinctive action, endlessly repeated, culminating in a violent explosion of sights and sounds that leaves you feeling oddly unsatisfied in the end.
I understand these arguments, and agree with large parts of them. What confuses me, then, is how these same arguments seem to fall by the wayside when hardcore gamers talk about Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords and its recent sequel Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, two games that dress up this same simple, tired gameplay with the thinnest patina of role-playing clichés.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve succumbed to the seductive power of the gem-matching game before. I recently fostered an intense, month-long addiction to Bejeweled Twist, spending every free moment mesmerized by the game’s effortless, autopilot gameplay and bright, colorful explosions. But Puzzle Quest: Galactrix lacks many important elements that made Bejeweled Twist so compelling, namely: an effortless interface; excellent presentation; a smooth, quickly-progressing difficulty curve; and, most importantly, a frustration-free reward system that minimizes the role of luck.
Discussed in this episode:
The rhythm game genre wasn’t always all about dancing and playing plastic faux instruments. At the genre’s beginnings, games like PaRappa the Rapper and Space Channel 5 were the Broadway musicals of the gaming world, telling simple, sweeping stories with the aid of catchy songs; evocative “set design” and basic, call-and-response, button-tapping gameplay. Rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero and Rock Band have turned this quirky niche into a mainstream obsession. As much as I love those games, though, there’s a part of me that’s been longing recently for more of the absurdist rhythm-game musicals of a decade ago.
Well, Rhythm Heaven certainly satisfies that need, cramming 50 tiny variations on the classic form into its tiny silicon wafer. Nintendo’s take on the genre is so old-school that it actually throws out the kind of minimal stories that held PaRappa and SC5 together, opting instead for dozens of disconnected micro-stories — each just as absurd as those of a rapping dog or a dancing space reporter. In one, military cranes (like the bird, not the heavy machinery) train for an unseen war. In another, Easter Island’s moai statues sing love songs to each other in gibberish. Dumpling-eating monks, dolphin-riding synchronized swimmers, robotic ping-pong players, ninja dogs, gopher-destroying beet farmers, lovesick chemists, race-car photographers, karate masters and soccer stars all feature in their own mini-dramas. They each stick around barely long enough to establish themselves as characters through some crude graphics and extremely expressive animation.
This week’s question: If you could have any job in the game industry, what would it be?
Kyle Orland: Community Manager, Nintendo
Why? Well, I’ve had some experience managing a rowdy crowd of Nintendo fans as Webmaster of Super Mario Bros. HQ, and I survived that OK. In fact, I even enjoyed it at points, when the fans weren’t being bat-shit insane (you should see some of the weirder fan fiction I’ve seen). Plus, I already have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of all things Nintendo — save for a huge gap surrounding the Pokèmon series — so I wouldn’t even need much specific training.
Could it really happen? I suppose if Nintendo were actively looking and asked me and paid to move me out to Washington. I can’t say I’m expecting them to call, though.
Kyle Orland: “[The indie scene] is becoming almost like the music industry, where an indie band is only as good as how few people know about it. If I know this band and no one one’s ever heard of it, it’s the best thing ever, and I discovered it, and it’s great.”
I certainly understand why a lot of game journalists absolutely loathe April Fools’ Day. Besides having to be on alert all day for fake news coming through the pipes, game journos also have to spend the day enduring some truly awful attempts at “humor” from writers who really have no business trying to be funny.
I can’t count myself among the Fool-haters, though. I look forward to April 1 every year as a day for game journalists to stretch a bit outside of their tiny, fact-based reporting-and-commentary boxes to try their hand at some creative fiction. It’s a chance to imagine what could and should be in this industry, a day to create elaborate fictional worlds where even the implausible is possible.
So, this year, as in years past, I’ve put together this set of awards to celebrate the best (and denigrate some of the worst) of the April Fools’ form. Enjoy.