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RIP CTF

16 May

Languishing in my drafts folder are 900 words’ worth of reasons why I think Titanfall is the best damn thing, so it’s a shame – likely only to me – that I now have to precede that post with one about an utterly bizarre mistake it’s just made.

TF_Lagoon_Pilot_Titan

As of today, you can no longer join a Capture the Flag playlist on PC – meaning that if you want to capture some flags, you have to park yourself in the ‘Variety’ playlist and wait for it to come up in the rotation. Respawn are intelligent people, demonstrated by the intelligent shooter they’ve created, but this easily ranks among the most bug-fuck crazy decisions in recent gaming history.

It’s bug-fuck crazy because, when both teams have at least a couple of people who know what they’re doing, CTF is Titanfall at its absolute best. Parkour comes into its own as flag runners bounce between walls like Nerf darts, weaving between the gunfire of increasingly desperate pursuers. Meanwhile, Titans form angry mechanical roadblocks around their base, occasionally giving lifts to carriers or even lumbering off to attempt a cap of their own. If you’re playing CTF and you’re not doing something awesome at least 80% of the time, you will lose. I fucking love that it demands that of me.

Now, that experience has an absurd barrier to entry: having to play a few rounds of inferior game modes first. It’s not that the Variety playlist is full of garbage – Hardpoint Domination is still hyperactive fun, and Pilot Hunter is okay if you want Attrition with slightly less action in it – but what multiplayer game, ever, lacks the ability to choose which mode you play? How can such basic functionality be not just overlooked, but actively removed?

Bail_Out

I’ve seen a theory that CTF and Pilot Hunter (which was also banished to Variety purgatory) were simply suffering from low player counts, and cutting their playlists would funnel their denizens towards the more populous modes – speeding up matchmaking for the majority. I deeply, deeply hope that this wasn’t the intention, because booting a playerbase – even a relatively small one like CTF fans – out of their chosen mode doesn’t sound so much like a strategy for having them try new things as it does like a strategy for pissing them off and making them leave for good.

It’s also totally at odds with Respawn’s  own actions. Hours before CTF was removed as a playlist, it received a much-requested change: pilots would drop the flag when boarding their Titan, rather than just tucking it under three tonnes of arm and pegging it. It is outright nuts to release an update that tempts players back with a highly-demanded feature, then almost immediately make that feature such a hassle to benefit from.

Choices_Choices

Basically, if the devs do have a good reason for this, they need to do a much better job at communicating what it is – because right now, I don’t see curious fans taking an opportunity to discover new modes. What I do see is a lot of bewildered players, shocked and more than a little annoyed that the game they bought and paid for has compromised, rather than improved, their ability to play. That is both the precise opposite of what post-release support should aim to achieve, and a huge disservice to what is otherwise a superb game.

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We need to talk about Esther

19 Feb

It’s a struggle to articulate the flaws of Dear Esther – of which there quite a few more than the flurry of 8s and 9s out of 10 would suggest – mainly because it’s surprisingly hard to describe the game itself, as I discovered two days ago when my housemate asked what the hell I was playing. Self-doubt starts to creep in even before you start typing out detailed complaints about the excruciatingly slow walking speed or the complete lack of anything to actually do, because this isn’t a game about doing – it’s a game about looking and listening. Still, it’s on Steam and it costs seven quid – the time for chin-stroking is over.

The main issue is that it’s a story-led affair without a very good story. I care more for the shouting, musclebound thugs of the Modern Warfare series more than the disembodied narrator, his dead wife slash girlfriend slash sister or the completely undefined entity I’m directing through the outer Hebrides, as Dear Esther has the kind of narrative the designers can easily explain away with “Oh, we want players to draw their own conclusions”, but instead awkwardly occupies the space between ‘compellingly vague’ and ‘an actual story’ – a depressing limbo filled with plot points that do exist, but have been cruelly denied any meaning. A few specifics get spelled out quite quickly, but they’re neither open to interpretation nor particularly interesting; someone called Esther has died in a motor accident, the narrator is very sad and wants to top himself because he’s ill anyway, he’s gone a bit nutty and is scribbling on the walls etc. etc. et goddamn c. For £6.99, that’s your lot. I’m increasingly losing patience with writers who expect me to fill in the gaps when they clearly had something specific in mind, but willfully neglected to include it. I’m not here to write fanfiction, I’m here to experience the story you – you! – wanted to tell. Unlike, say, The Stanley Parable, Dear Esther uses a hell of a lot of words to say absolutely nothing at all.

Which is a shame, because the island (which is frankly a better character than any of the ones with names) is beautiful. Stunning. Even when you’re being funnelled FPS-style to the end of each section, it feels expansive and barren, with some of the best caves in gaming – and that’s a lot of caves. The score is impossible to fault too, a restrained and ethereal mix of strings, keys and gentle vocals that hits the loneliness aspect out of the park. And herein lies another problem: you can experience all the best bits (landscapes and atmosphere) and avoid all the worst bits (holding down the W key for an hour and a half) of Dear Esther by simply watching someone play through it on YouTube, with no real effect on how you’d approach the barely-there story.

I truly love the concept of Dear Esther, the exciting notion of exploring hidden landscapes to uncover lost truths. Yet, for reasons I’ll probably never comprehend, it remains so reluctant to give up its secrets that I can only feel like I’m wasting my time even trying. Whether you consider Dear Esther to be a game, an experiment, an interactive story, or all three, that feeling can only ever be the sign of failure.

How To Make Games For People With Shitty Eyes

3 Dec

Start by never, ever using the colour green to connote ‘good/friendly’ in conjunction with the colour red to connote ‘bad/wants to shoot you’.

As far as spectrum-ruining goes, I got off pretty lucky – I only ‘suffer’ from deuteranomaly, a very weak form of red/green colourblindness. Still, while it’s not exactly causing me to violently misinterpret traffic lights, in the world of games it’s caused more than a few headaches.

Worst among these was probably Bioshock 2. Hacking – an essential skill used for opening doors and conning vending machines – involved hitting E (I think) to stop a swinging needle on a green section, while avoiding landing it on the red sections. Not the most involving hacking experience, sure, but remarkably easy if you were paying even the slightest bit of attention. And if you had two perfectly functioning eyes. For guys like me, all we saw was a thick strip of dull hue. Squint all you like, chump, you better hope your random keytap lands the stupid fucking needle on a green bit or you’ll suffer the same fate as anyone else who tries to cheat this medkit dispenser out of a small discount: painful electrocution.

(To be fair, some hacks included a tiny sliver of blue; scoring a hit would net some free goodies from whatever was being wrangled. Out of concern for my character’s health just as strong as the desire for freebies, I trained myself to get pretty damn good at hitting the blues.)

More recently, Bethesda decided to not bother with the majority of Skyrim’s potential compass functions, so no markers for allied or neutral NPCs would appear (there’s no way to tell if a distant figure is friend or foe until you’ve sent an arrow flying into their spine, either starting a pointless fight or coldly extinguishing the life of an innocent bystander, one who may have even been interested in purchasing your butterfly wing collection) nor would the colour used for enemy markers be as clear as the bright, searing red of Fallout 3’s equivalent. Instead, it’s a colour that could be best described as indescribable to anyone with similarly inadequate eyes to mine. Does it stop being a problem after a couple of hours, when you realise that nothing other than aggro’d enemies appear on the compass, despite that being useless for anything other than clumsy stealth mishaps? Pretty much. Would the entire problem have been easily avoided if they’d just used a slightly brighter shade of red? I hear there are, in fact, quite a few available.

To be abundantly clear, I don’t consider these passing annoyances to be a problem in the same leagues as those affecting gamers with serious disabilities (fixed key bindings, lack of subtitles etc.). But it’s still an easy fix. Modern Warfare 3 added an excellent colourblind mode to multiplayer, changing the colours of both minimap icons and the names that float over each player’s head from red and green to orange and pale blue. On at least one occasion I had casually strolled past a teammate, only for them to suddenly and fatally spray me with gunfire – they were never an ally, I just saw their username as being vaguely greenish. That may sound famously stupid, but MW3 online is no afternoon walk in the Nordic tundra – pausing for ten milliseconds to take in the pretty colours or even the faction uniform of an approaching player is usually a big enough hesitation to give away the edge in a fight.

So, here’s how to make games for people with shitty eyes: don’t use red and green (or blue and purple, for that matter) to represent opposite meanings. If you do, make them brighter than the goddamn sun. It’s an absurdly simple workaround to something that negatively affects millions of people, from the near-blind to barely-affected whiners like myself, and as such, probably generates a lot more goodwill than you might think.

Suddenly, Videogames

3 Oct

For reasons known only to the vast, pulsating brains floating in supercooled jelly that act as EA’s key decision makers, the single map available in the Battlefield 3 open beta is a miserably chokepointed infantry-only map, and features none of the tantalising tanks’n’jets’n’jeeps we’ve seen in various marketing montages. I’m complaining, of course, of the lack of Caspian Border, which appeared on a tiny handful of password-protected servers before being promptly bundled into the back of DICE’s Hoarding Van so we could all get back on with the much more interesting business of being sniped by some twat hiding in a Parisian hedge. Hopefully before everything breaks.

I’ve only reached level 12, while most people seem to vary between 16-ish and 35, which means I haven’t yet unlocked the ability to have a good time. Weapon unlocks and attachments are mockingly superior to the basic kit, and unlike Call of Duty – where you’re forced to pick a single attachment that best compliments your playstyle – BF3 lets the rich and powerful slap all manner of scopes, stupid torches that completely blind everyone, and upgraded ammo onto their fully automatic deathsticks, while the impoverished are left to be killed over and over and over, slaves to sluggish controls and infuriatingly inconsistent weapon accuracy.

I will say that things are looking up a bit now that I’ve tried the shotgun. It’s unique in that you can point it at someone, fire, and semi-reliably inflict a modicum of damage on them before they can turn around and shine that fucking flashlight right in your face I mean my God.

Here’s a few things  that, I would hope, are slightly more pleasurable to have going into your eyes than a barrel-mounted 300,000 watt bulb: two reviews and a first impressions thing I done wroted for Gaming Daily.

  • Hard Reset Demo Thoughts‘From the harsh lights of translucent billboards to the cracked, rain-slicked streets, Hard Reset boasts a vision of the future that is at once oppressive and bright, broken and bleeding-edge.’
  • Xotic Review‘One of the best smugness enablers since I was tapping my initials into the high score table of some ridiculous jet-skiing arcade game over a decade ago, before the leisure centre replaced all the cabinets with pool tables and vending machines.’
  • Fotonica Review ‘Five static courses plus one infinitely generated and one multiplayer course are available,and that’s about it, really – a kind of Usain Bolt cheese dream simulator.’

I may or may not be, depending on how much opinion I can feasibly fit into a feature article, be getting something in print within the next few weeks. Nothing special – university newspaper – but it’s quite big, and delves into considerably more consequential topics than my usual computer game spewings, so I’m a little excited about the possibility. I may even do something of a self-critique of it on here. Now won’t that be special.

Bugging Out

20 Sep

The screenshots in this post reveal which character I’m playing; if you’re part of the GD game and want to keep playing in total anonymity, either go back or try to avoid looking at the big colourful rectangles. Just sayin’.

For the past five days I’ve been locked in a battle of wits with staff and friends of Gaming Daily in Jupiter’s Folly, a browser-based boardgame that has twelve players racing to build the most efficient crystal-mining operation on the surface of a desolate but mineral-rich planet, building fragile alliances with each other along the way – knowing full well our friends could backstab us at any moment in the name of unchecked capitalistic greed.

And that a nice daydream I had. In reality, for the past five days I’ve been moaning on Twitter along with some staff and friends of Gaming Daily about the metric assload of hostile aliens in Jupiter’s Folly, a browser-based boardgame that has twelve players unexcitedly batting away/being devoured by swarms of the omnipresent bastards on the surface of a desolate but arthropod-rich planet, occasionally asking each other to borrow some pesticide or grenades – knowing full well that the other nearest player to a packed, impregnable nest probably isn’t putting as much effort into fighting it as they are.

I understand we’re still relatively early into the game. But these fanged twats have had an adverse effect on more or less every single one of my attempts at both mining and player interaction. I can’t spend any of my money on new mines because I need dozens of new soldiers to guard my existing sites from the oncoming horde. I can’t play the diplomatic route because the insect war is taking up so many resources I can’t use them to appease potential allies, and I can’t screw over people over because both myself more or less everyone else is sufficiently wrapped up  fighting bugs that causing additional problems during these crucial early stages would be a dick move so turgid that the recipient would, quite understandably, never speak to me again (especially problematic if that person turned out to be a fellow GD writer or, worse, editor).

Their purpose is, I think, fairly clear: they’re catalysts, an uncontrollable influence introduced early in the game to force us to try out interaction, trading and sabotage. They’ll be gone by the end of the game in a few weeks time (individual turns take hours to complete, so I’d be surprised if we finish before this time next month), but by then we’ll have been trained as devious industrialist geniuses and, deprived of cannon fodder, inevitably begin turning on each other. That’s the idea, anyway. Probably.

But here’s the thing: we’re human beings. We don’t need external forces guiding us to become scheming, self-serving villains (if you’re in this game: don’t give me that look, you know it’s true) as long as we know it’ll help us win the game a bit easier. Likewise, if we want to take the peaceful route, we won’t necessarily be strong-armed into joining forces by the threat of hungry insects – we’re perfectly capable of perceiving the benefits of co-operation in a cutthroat game world without, thank you very much.

So, as long as you and your friends have a modicum of initiative, bugs are ultimately an irrelevant addition. I wish that was their only problem. But:

– Swarm nests, vast strongholds of the alien menace that act as spawn points, are dotted seemingly randomly over the map. Considering you can’t take a look at the world before choosing a starting point, this means some players may be constantly bombarded with a never-ending stream of bugs from three or four positions while some lucky sods don’t even have to deal with one. Of course, the latter will shoot ahead in the race for crystal, riding on the coattails of his good fortune rather than any tactical skill. I don’t know each player’s situation in our game, but there are already some huge score discrepancies which the guys at the bottom have, if I’m honest, little chance of closing.

– Groups of bugs also move randomly around the board. While the temptation to say ‘And by random, I mean consistently towards me’ is great, the real problem with this is that it makes reacting to them extremely tedious. When moving a unit of friendly soldiers to what turns out to be the wrong map node takes over fifteen hours just to undo, never mind correct, these swarms’ greatest strength is often that it’s painfully difficult to adequately prepare for them.

– Going back to the nests a bit, sorry, but they are just complete fucking horseshit. Besides these being immune to certain offensive cards for no clear reason, they’re massively overpowered. The standard squad size for troops is twelve, with a single dice to roll in combat which adds to that number. Nests are generally at around 20o-strength, and gain an extra dice every time they spawn a new batch of bugs. To have a good chance of attacking and destroying a nest, you’d need at least 230 men, plus you’d have to level them all up by – yup – fighting smaller swarms in order to gain a competitive number of die. Oh, and every new swarm will usually have a strength of at least 16 and will inherit the nest’s rapidly inflating dice level.

Guys, that is just too damn big of a headache to have to deal with in the first week. And you will need to wipe out those nests in that time, otherwise  they’ll grow to too high a level and will simply continue pumping out laughably powerful units to come and break all our mining stuff.

In my ideal version of Jupiter’s Folly (it also begins by giving me a bonus 5,000 crystal and is actually called James’ Dashing Haircut), space bugs just wouldn’t exist. But, if they did, I can think of two distinct yet superior variations on how they should be implemented:

1) Bugs increase in level and swarm size over time, but you can see their positions on the map at a far greater distance, in addition to their travel routes. There are no nests – once they die, there are no replacements, so we can move swiftly on the much more enticing prospect of corporate espionage rather than playing a half-baked combat RTS. The idea here is that insects remain a considerable threat, but you have the foresight to be able to plan accordingly. Instead of a panicked scramble to drop some soldiers near an approaching cluster, we have a more cerebral goal of balancing our mining needs with the need for a very specifically sized and levelled army. If it rolls right over you, tough – you didn’t plan well enough. But at least you had the chance to plan.

2) Swarms are small and weak – any of the units you begin a game with could kill one without many casualties. But, they can reproduce, and create swarms of identical size whenever they’re in a darkened section of the map. In other words, if nobody has expanded to that area yet, there’s a good chance a number of these little pests will be emerging from them soon. This type of enemy wouldn’t require constant tactical considerations, but do encourage players to venture out into areas they might otherwise not have bothered to. Here, the risk of sending manpower out into the black is rewarded with the possibility of finding new crystal deposits, as well as eliminating the insect’s hiding places. Of course, this raises new issues to chew over – if you leave a darkened area alone, might it help your cause by sending packs of bugs at a competing player on the other side?

I can’t remember the last time I played a game with such grand possibilities for interesting, intriguing, infuriating interactions with other human players, nor a game where a single element (possibly intended to be gone by the halfway point) has soured the experience to such a degree. I can accept that we’ll never see a Jupiter’s Folly without bugs, but I’d settle for seeing them toned down to become the temporary distraction they’re actually worthy of being.

Things Found to Have Occurred

18 Sep

Sat down? Good, this will provide ample opportunity for me to bleat at you about what’s been going on these past weeks – some of it not even about games.

Part 1: The Part About Games

Obviously I’ve been playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution,which takes pride of place as this post’s image theme. Shamefully, I hadn’t even played the original until last year, and Invisible War remains untouched, so I wasn’t able to honestly join in with the collective sighs of relief that oh boy, someone had finally got a DX sequel right. That said, it’s a magnificent game in its own right, a deep and compelling story of conspiracy and face-punching set in an artistically unique and richly detailed world. How great exactly is the scale of freedom? Easily the biggest complaint being levelled at Human Revolution is the inclusion of unavoidable boss fights, a jarring misstep considering every other section caters for shooting, sneaking and subterfuge. And yet, players promptly found clever and/or cheeky ways to end these fights without firing a shot. It’s not quite reminiscent of DX1’s pseudo-bosses, which you could circumvent by uttering a code phrase which makes them explode or, better yet, simply running away, but it’s always good to see an FPS which asks ‘So how do you want to do this?’ rather than ‘Which assault rifle do you want to shoot up this corridor with?’. Even when it locks you in a room with a furious man with a minigun for a forearm.

I also moved house, which isn’t particularly interesting, except it meant that, for the first time since June, I had broadband with actual broadband speeds, rather than something akin to a man reading an encyclopedia aloud down a length of hosepipe. In game terms, this meant I could download Battlefield: Bad Company 2 without causing horrific slowdown for myself and everyone else in my home, having purchased it weeks ago in the Steam Summer Sale. ULTIMATE VERDICT: it’s okay. I love how the weapons handle and sound, each having just enough recoil to feel powerful without becoming completely unwieldy. Other than that, there’s nothing special about what I’ve played so far (entirely the singleplayer campaign, as per my procedure of completing offline modes before entering the online fustercluck); it’s shorter than Black Ops, the story plods along, tonally shifting between Saving Private Ryan and Delta Farce with a peculiar regularity, and only one level – a hilly desert, previously filled with seawater and thus dotted with crusty shipwrecks – is visually distinct from places we’ve visited in games dozens of times before. Strangely, while I bought this to prepare for the upcoming Battlefield 3, it hasn’t changed my expectations at all – based on the admittedly dubious sources of trailers and alpha footage, this looks like it’s aiming to be an entirely different beast. Considering it’s a modern-day shooter set in the Middle East, I suppose it has to try.

Briefly returning to console land (Christ, it’s been what – a year and a bit?), I picked up Resistance 3 for the PS3 and blasted through it while pointlessly attempting to sniff back an incoming cold. The change from grunting military epic to a more personal, down-home tale was a welcome one, and I didn’t even think I missed being able to carry a dozen huge guns at once (Resistance 2 limited you to a primary and secondary) until I was switching between five in a single fight. That said, the emphasis on character-focused storytelling is somewhat at odds with a series that doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go with its lore. Here’s a short version: a parasitic alien race called the Chimera have occupied Earth, and after two games which end with apparent victories, it’s only gotten worse (way to make replaying the old ones feel completely futile, guys!). Meanwhile there’s a bunch of incredibly tantalising backstory that literally everybody wants to hear, but remains infuriatingly stuck with passing mentions in notes and audio logs. I can’t fault the vast majority of R3 – it’s great fun, even now I’m a mouse and keyboard convert –  but perhaps the reason it left me cold was that it’s based on a story so afraid of revealing anything important, in case Insomniac want to use some of it further down the line, that the scraps we were given couldn’t sustain yet another full-length adventure.

Part 2: The Serious Stuff

“One speaker described a British Tactical PsyOps team which had been working in Iraq. Its staff consisted of a builder, a fashion photographer, a telecoms engineer, a nursing graduate, several snipers and a mortar platoon on transfer to make up the numbers.”

After five goddamn months, I could finally be bothered to finish reading Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News. As a lowly student of journalism, rather than a card-carrying, cape-wearing Grand Master of professional writing, I kind of went into it with the same mindset as a textbook. This was all wrong – it’s a book that aims to expose rather than teach, since every tale of embarrassing failure or ridiculous cosying-up to politicians, PRs and crooks is delivered with the kind of incredulity that assumes the reader knows how horrible it can sometimes get. As a result, I don’t think Flat earth News made me smarter, but I felt a bit smart whilst reading. It’s also surprisingly funny, in a kind of droll manner I can’t quite sufficiently articulate, and ends with three chapters each dedicated to a particular newspaper and packed with so many moreish details I wish he’d write a revised edition that does the same for all the major UK broadsheets.

Actually, there was one thing I’ll be sure to consider in my career: if you’re ever meant to be taking care of a source who has sensitive information on Israel’s nuclear weapons plans, don’t leave him alone to be kidnapped by Mossad agents. That’s quite important.

Incidentally, it wasn’t long after I completed this encyclopedia of journalistic mishaps that Johann Hari was found to have been a) copying quotes from other sources to use in his own interviews, ostensibly because what he gathered himself didn’t always make sense on paper (surely a fault of his technique rather than the interviewee?), b) policed his own Wikipedia article from negative comments whilst editing those of his rivals, calling them homophobes and anti-semites and c) fabricating details for a piece describing a visit to the Central African Republic, for which he was awarded an Orwell Prize in 2008. I mean, damn.

In the interests of disclosure, I’ll admit I wasn’t a fan to begin with, but always found his style too sanctimonious to be the work of an habitual liar. I also find it odd the majority of ensuing Twitter-amplified anger has been directed at his quote wrangling rather than his Wikipedia antics. Common troll’s work, of course, made considerably worse with the knowledge that he was using an alias named for a real-life university acquaintance (who now holds a senior position at The Times – yikes), as well as the infuriating hypocrisy of posting libellous bullshit on one of the internet’s most-read sites when, in 2007, he was threatening to sue a blogger for libel – specifically, for calling his journalistic integrity into question. Incredible.

We haven’t seen the last of him either. He’s on a temporary suspension from the Independent while he takes a training course in the States – because how else can you know not to be dishonest in the press without private tutoring? – and has a decent sized circle of columnist friends who’ll probably vouch for him upon his return. It’s the least they can do, after he kept their Wikipedia pages clean of anything other than glowing praise as well. Frankly, though, any sane person should be more worried about what’s to become of the Indy. I’ve always enjoyed it, but their apologetic treatment of a man with such contempt for things like ‘honesty’ and ‘his readers’ has very unpleasant implications. Which is a terrible shame, as on the same day that Hari confessed to it all, his newspaper was running a marvelous and long-overdue investigation into Steve Whittamore, private eye and Fleet Street’s go-to man for dodgy info-gathering, on the front page. Solid, fearless journalism, forever to be overshadowed by one rogue hack. I’ll defend this craft to the death but Christ, no wonder Nick Davies had to write a book.

Part 3: New York New York, Newww-www Yoooork

I was in New York. It was great! Even with an underground train system you could bake clay in, I can easily see myself living there, on the conditions that I a) lived within walking distance on my day job and b) had a day job that made me filthy rich. We were there when Hurricane Irene passed through, five days after an earthquake rattled the border patrol desk I was passing through at JFK – there was some rain, and then we went to the Hard Rock Cafe in the evening, but just in case we needed to shack up in the hotel we ended up spending over $30 on a modest day’s rations from a cramped, sweaty deli.

NYC: The USA’s most populous city. Still doesn’t have any supermarkets.

I won’t list all the stuff I did, nor the places I recognised from various games (a lot), but here are some things I learned: one, Jack Daniels makes the greatest barbecue sauce in the known universe. Two, the holes in the side of a pair of Converse are wide enough to allow complete waterlogging from a brief step in a puddle. Three, don’t feel bad for ignoring people who try to talk to you on the street; their indignation might sting, but you may have just saved twenty-five bucks in horribly-titled rap CDs you’re only going to throw away when you get home.

Part 4: Torchwood

Finished, was terrible.

Kotaku, Regular People, and Knowing When To Shut Up

8 Jul

I suppose there’s no harm in tossing in an extra comment on this. I do read (and, God help me, occasionally enjoy) Kotaku, so I’d rather it matured and improved rather than burnt out – even as a result of an internet-wide criticism bombardment. That said, this is a particularly inflamed scrote-wart of a news article, and listing all the ways in which the pus is seeping out would be a waste of everybody’s time, particularly when much deeper and more heartfelt rebuttals can be found elsewhere. I will, however, summarise my main two issues with it:

1) The use of ‘regular people’ as an umbrella term for people who aren’t normally into e-sports was a mistake, but it wasn’t Schiller’s to begin with. Bizarrely, though, instead of challenging or even ignoring the interviewee’s use of the term, she ran with it – thus twisting the mildly unfortunate choice of words (which even then had self-deprecating, rather than outwardly insulting, undertones) into something that felt snobbish and condescending. This was a chance to say “Hey, come on now, we’re all game fans here” and she blew it.

2) There’s a time and a place for first-person stuff, and this ain’t it. Why someone who boasts about their lack of interest in a community has been assigned to cover it is beyond me, but Schiller’s sheer determination to insert herself into a news piece, consisting mostly of someone else’s interview, is anecdotal writing at its worst – arrogant, narcissistic, but worst of all, irrelevant.

To be clear, I love what people like to call New Games Journalism. Done right, it’s funny, dramatic, haunting, incredulous, exciting, vivid and a great way to demonstrate a game’s strengths or weaknesses. Done badly, it’s a waste of good typeface. Some people are all too aware of that, and there’s nothing these puritans – who think their archaic, stony-faced, back-of-the-box style is the only way games writing can ever be – like to see more a piece like this. I’m still learning, to be perfectly honest, but it seems like the best thing to do when writing in the first-person is knowing when to shut the hell up and get back to the information you’re meant to be conveying. Jen Schiller crossed that line, mouth still moving. Both her and the quality of her article have suffered for it.