In my book Dungeons & Desktops, I wrote in the introduction that I think CRPGs are the greatest learning tools ever designed. To my shame, however, I did not properly defend that statement--at least, not directly. While I think most of us would agree that the basic mechanics of a CRPG teach us valuable transferable skills like resource management, long-term planning, team management, statistical analysis, and so on, what makes them better than other learning tools, including other types of videogames?
As someone who has been to bat for several Kickstarter projects lately, I'm becoming concerned with what's going to happen on the other end. After all this community support, will it be back to business as usual when the products hit the shelves? Will all this "fan outreach" end when they start worrying about maximizing their sales?
How will I feel when the games that I've not only helped fund, but--like many of you, have also promoted heavily with every social media tool at my disposal--how will I feel if those games end up on the shelf with the same kind of closed-source, DRM-encrusted, shrinkwrap-licensed bullshit that plagues the rest of the industry?
After some preliminary research, I've found that while most of the big game projects at least promise a DRM free version (at least as a limited option to backers), there are few promises that they will *exclusively* offer DRM free versions.
Let's consider how some of the Kickstarters I've supported are handling these issues:
I finished my last post my saying I would have a look at the 2d fighting games that Capcom put out for the Dreamcast so here we are. Fighting games then - they have been around for some time - I can remember Karate Champ in the arcades with it's 2 joystick control and it was a game I steered clear of after a few tries - my money wasn't going far and a kid on a budget had to be selective back in the day - I can remember watching quite a few games though. It's a genre I've always been in two minds about - I've been like a moth to a flame really. They attract me - but my level of skill is such that I get frustrated very quickly. I read reviewers laughing at the simplicity with which they can dispatch CPU controlled characters at the highest difficulty setting but I struggle at the default difficulty. I guess I'm too predictable - when I find a few moves I can execute I tend to stick to them and fighting game AI seems to be able to deal with this approach quite easily. Even a game as old as Street Fighter II Turbo on the SNES seems to be able to figure me out pretty quickly.
I've typed this article up on an Apple laptop - and had to google to find out how to type the hash symbol. How lame is that? Jobs had some strange ideas about what people use - what was it with Java support in the iPhone/iPad default browser? Noone uses Java? What a load of rubbish.
Anyhow, it has been some time since I posted here on this subject (i.e. my far too big collection of games that I will never get around to playing to the level of commitment that the games probably deserve) and here are two I've been putting some time into recently and keep going back to - Gunbird 2 and Raiden III.
My last post in this blog was about a shmup (Darius Gaiden) and I make no apologies for following up with another two - because I'm going to rant a little bit about high scores again. Look at Darius Gaiden on the Sega Saturn - a lovely game that is tarnished because it doesn't save high scores (boo!)- taking a big chunk out of the reason to own it which is a crying shame as its an excellent shooter with a lot going for it. But a shmup with no high score is bordering on pointless. Gunbird 2 and Raiden III both do it right - though the OCD part of me thinks that Gunbird 2 could have gone a bit further with how it supports high scores.
Modern CRPGs are console shooters. And that pisses me off. But how did they get this way? Last week I wrote about some features I'd like to see in a classic-style CRPG. I've been thinking more along these lines, thinking carefully about all of my favorite CRPGs and attempting to isolate the elements that so endeared them to me. What I've discovered is that this exercise is futile. You cannot create a good game simply by taking out the best gameplay mechanics from different games--what's more important is how well a designer has been able to build an attractive and coherent homology. I don't much like the term, but I like how Barry Brummett defines "stylistic homology" as "the signifying system that is a style is held together by formal properties such that one could look at a new article of dress, for instance, newly designed, and identify it as Edwardian." I think we could easily do the same for individual games or even whole game franchises, assuming it's well-designed. For instance, World of Warcraft has such a coherent homology that I'm sure most players would be able to look at screenshots of a city they hadn't personally visited--such as the Undercity--and realize it was from WOW and not Guild Wars 2. If you bear with me a moment, you can also see that this concept extends beyond just artwork and into gameplay. Even before you ever played a monk in WOW, for instance, if you're familiar with the other classes then you already have a pretty good idea of how the talents, abilities, and so on will play out. I think it's the sign of a great game when you can introduce something as radical as an entirely new class and not have the rest of the game fall apart.
Unfortunately, the problem is that such coherence comes at a cost. The same factors that allow us to already have a pretty good idea of what the monk will be like are the same factors that lead to boredom and disinterest. And man oh man, am I bored with WOW and Skyrim.
There are so many great Kickstarters going on right now that I'm GRAVELY concerned some of these will get lost in the shuffle. So to that end, I'm going to post some notes about each of the projects I'm backing, and I encourage you to do the same! I'll order these by the time they have left to go: Salem, Star Citizen, Hero-U, Shadowgate, and Cthulhu World Combat.
A lot of people have been asking me about my thoughts on the new X-Com: UFO Defense game. Usually these are folks who loved the original game, which I reviewed two years ago on Matt Chat #60. Admittedly, that video was the first time I had played any of the original games, and I didn't play it much after that, so I'm not the person to speak to about how faithfully the new one captures the minutiae of the old series. At any rate, I wouldn't care about that anyway. After all, the old ones are still quite easy to get up and running on a modern system, so if you really want the authentic experience, it's not going anywhere. So, that leaves me with a more important question--is the new one any good? I have to say yes, even if it seems the designers seemed hell-bent on sabotaging their own game.
I have only managed to play through the single-player campaign once, and that was on normal difficulty. The fact that it has a difficulty selector (which it encourages you to change during the game if it gets too hard) was alone to get my hackles up. I really hate it when a game makes me answer that sort of question right off the bat.
It's taken me awhile to try to ferret out what actually happened here, but as far as I've been able to tell, one of Eurogamer's journalists has been fired over some vitriolic comments he made about high profile game reviewers being on the take. (A doctored, but still harsh version of his article is here. The journalist, Rab Florence, isn't someone I'm familiar with, but I gather from his description as a "comedy writer" that he's accustomed to shaking things up for the sake of attention. At any rate, his diatribe against game reviewers who blatantly promote products from the big companies...I mean we're not idiots here, right? We all know that the latest COD and Halo games are going to get four stars and the red carpet treatment on all the major sites. Meanwhile, anyone who dares question the superiority of the latest AAA darling gets (a) totally ignored by the mainstream and (b) bashed or looked at funny by everyone else. Apparently, the only thing it's safe for the mainstream journalists to bash are games like Duke Nukem Forever and Mass Effect 3. After all, standing up for games that are so reviled makes them "safe" targets, so naturally they go to town, making them sound like the Worst Games Ever. (Finally, we can take the gloves off! Now let's really tear into this one to prove we don't occasionally tear into one...)
By now, I'm sure everyone has heard about how Brathwaithe and Hall pulled the plug on their Shaker RPG Kickstarter. I had pledged $100 to this one, mostly because the rewards were great and I have a lot of respect for everyone involved in this project (though I've yet to interview either). The gist of it all is that they went into this with a plan to do something "old school," but didn't get into enough specifics about what their game would actually be like. Sure, we all remember how great the old days of Wizardry, Ultima, Pool of Radiance, and Bard's Tale were...but after whipping up everyone into a gonad frenzy, they ran out of the room before anybody got to cuddle.
They've promised to come back with a stronger pitch. I doubt that any of them give a rat's squeal what yours truly would like to see in that pitch, but what the hell. I know they (amongst others) have the talent and experience to make me a very happy gamer, so here's what I would like to see in the next big Kickstarter classic CRPG pitch.
One of my favorite all-time quotes from the much-maligned Karl Marx goes something like this: "mankind... inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation." When I first read this quotation back in the 90s, the internet was just beginning to evolve from a sort of "super BBS" inhabited almost entirely by academics, engineers, and plain ol' nerds. Everyone could see that something BIG was happening. Much BIGGER, even, than America OnLine--if you could possibly wrap your head around that! For most of this period, the internet was used by the common person mostly to send email and then go on to Yahoo to play some games or browse their extensive directories. Once money started to change hands, though, thanks mostly to eBay, there was an explosion of commercial interest. The web quickly evolved from the thousands of personal pages (dog, career, photos of gardens and some cute animated GIFs)...It soon became common, then expected, to see a URL even on your box of Mac & Cheese. "What are THEY doing on the internet?" we asked.