The new insert credit… again.

I will admit the last reboot didn’t exactly go as planned. While the idea was solid, and we were initially enthusiastic, we petered out pretty fast after those first few months, and most of us didn’t post many articles thereafter. We had a few great ones! But in the end it kind of fizzled.

So then came the podcast – we’ve done it for two years, now. It wound up becoming the focus of insert credit for some time, and people quite liked it! Recently though, we’ve been thinking about what we want from this. If we’re going to invest time in it, the audience needs to build, so we thought about a few ways we might do that without changing things too drastically, or making it too much work for ourselves (because if it becomes a lot of work, we just won’t do it – that’s what happened last time). Here’s what we’ve come up with – we will roll this all out slowly, and it may change somewhat, but here’s the current plan.

1) Scaling down. insert credit will just be brandon, tim, and frank. There will be guests, but in the way that Idle Thumbs is just those guys, insert credit will just be us guys, content-wise. This is more of a conceptual change than a structural one, but since we all live near each other, this also opens up the kinds of things we can do.

2) The insert credit audio show. This replaces the podcast, and will eventually have a better visual component, while still having an audio-only version. Since we’ll now all be able to be in the same location, we can slowly make the livestream and video component more interesting – watching talking heads is not very engaging. We will also not talk over each other or have lag anymore, because we’re in the same room! That’s nice. The format will also change – it will be looser than the initial 10 question/6-minute format, with the intention of building some articles out of the audio content over the period of months, kind of integrating the whole thing.

3) The insert credit video show. Though all the names are subject to change, this will be a livestream in which we play through games we think are interesting. We’ll play all the way through them, in installments, and the only rule we’ll have is that one person in the group knows the game well, and that person is not playing. They’re more of a coach for the player(s).

4) Article content. Articles will remain! Tim and I both have articles we’re ready to put up, and just haven’t yet. But much more interesting than that will be our formspring (or spring.me) integration. We plan to have a field people can fill out to ask us game-oriented questions. We will go through these, pick the best ones, and write responses to them in article form. As mentioned, the audio show will also influence some article content – building lists of best games over time, or weaving together narratives.

That’s pretty much the plan, overall. A new version of the site is currently being worked on to reflect these changes, and we’re pretty confident this will generate a lot more interesting content than we had before. This should also more closely integrate the audience with the whole experience. Many of you have known or interacted with us for years, and we’re hoping this will bring everyone closer to the experience.

There will be some growing pains, to be sure, but please bear with us as we gradually turn this into a bigger and better thing!

Rokko Chan Soundtracks, Peace Winds Japan

There’s a new indiegogo campaign benefiting the Tohoku relief initiative in japan, one year after the quake. Essentially, you’re buying digital (or physical) soundtracks with the money going to benefit those affected by the earthquake.

One of the neater additions is two lengthy mixtapes by the telefuture label. Plus, helping! Peace Winds Japan is the charity of choice, and you can also get the La Mulana soundtracks, music from Mega-Ran, Laura Shigihara, and a bunch of other stuff – so go for it, yes?

Interview: Treasure’s yasushi suzuki

yasushi suzuki, as you may recall, is currently working on a manga called Purgatory Kabuki for DrMaster, and did a fair bit of contract work for Treasure, on titles such as Ikaruga, Radiant Silvergun, and Sin & Punishment. DrMaster set up an email interview with him for me, which is going in suzuki’s artbook soon. You’ll see from the brief text here why I never do email interviews, but it’s still interesting nonetheless. The best bit of it, you’ll find, is where he says he’s quite interested in making a game based on the Purgatory Kabuki property.

What made you choose to get into manga at this stage?

It just happened to be at the right time and there was great significance in getting my works overseas.

Is this an original Intellectual Property? Do you own the rights to it?

Yes it is. DGN owns the rights to the brand, Purgatory Kabuki, while I own the rights to the characters – though I did cite a few instances from historical facts and anecdotes.

Would you consider expanding the Purgatory Kabuki line into games? Have you pitched it to Treasure?

I will plan the game myself if I had enough resources and good talents (really!). More on this at a later date.

How far do you want the universe of Purgatory Kabuki to stretch, in terms of anime, games, etc?

If there is a clear purpose that promises high quality in each of these media, I am interested in a variety of media. Games, anime, novel, figurines, movie, theater… I love all kinds of entertainment.

I recognize your character art in Ikaruga…what was the thinking behind putting that humanoid character in the opening menu screen? A lot of people have been wondering why he’s there.

Mr. Suzuki cannot answer this question. (damn)

What do you feel is a better vehicle for your creative expression, games or manga?

Hmmm. It’s really hard for me to say which one is better. (well done)

Do you foresee continuing to work in the game industry, as well as doing manga?

I see both games and manga as part of my creative work as an artist. I will consider them depending on my goals and purpose.

Working on any games now?

Mr. Suzuki cannot answer this question. (damn x2)

What’s Stamp Club? Is that like a print club game or something? What did you do for that? (Apparently it’s one of the first ‘games’ he worked on)

Mr. Suzuki cannot answer this question. (note from editors regarding Stamp Club: It is said that it’s an innovative box-shaped gadget that creates stamp from pictures you have taken.)

Sin and Punishment is coming to the Wii, and possibly to the states. Are you excited about new audiences getting to experience this game and your work?

There’s nothing better for a game than to have more people to play and enjoy them. I am very happy and excited about this! Please enjoy the game!!

What is your fascination with swords?

I guess it’s my Japanese soul. It’s an instrument that reflects the ambition, the manners, and the dignity of both the maker and the wielder. Maybe it’s the perils in handling the most beautiful weapon that attracts me.

brandon sheffield hates email interviews for a reason

the insertcredit.com fukubukuro 2006: GAME OF THE YEAR EDITION


the insertcredit.com fukubukuro 2006: GAME OF THE YEAR EDITION
by tim rogers
02142007



This is a review I started, and never finished, of Grandia III:

grandia iii

a game by square-enix

developed by game arts

a review by tim rogers

1/2

Game Arts is a game development house the employees of which presumably subsisted on three-hundred-yen soba noodles every day for nine years thanks to a game called Lunar: Silver Star Story. That game triumphed with a distinct, explosive element of surprise the future would later call attention to detail. I remember an interview with some of the game’s designers on the “Making of Lunar” video CD included with Working Designs’ English adaptation of the Japanese version of the game. One guy said, “We got so much fan mail, hundreds of post cards and everything, all from people saying they loved the game and the characters, or that they cried in the end.” This was motivation enough to inspire Game Arts to remake the game (slight exaggerration ahead) no less than forty-three times across six platforms, each time with marginally better animated cut-scenes, and remixed music.

What made Lunar sell so well? Surely, it wasn’t the first videogame to ever feature voices and redbook audio, and it certainly wasn’t the first game with a story that centered around a boy on a quest to do something involving dragons. Apparently — so say the fans — the game endures because of its heart: the characters have heart, and they speak their lines of dialogue as people with real, live hearts. As a person who has read a lot of literature and loved a lot of literary characters, maybe I’m jaded, and maybe that’s why I can’t see what is so endearing about a thick-headed boy on a quest to be a “Dragonmaster,” whatever that job title might entail. The story is, in objective terms, bland, sub-Disney stuff, most of the business being unspoken affection between a young boy and a girl who resembles a princess, and something about people living on the moon. There’s a sense of humor to it, to be certain, though most of the time, in both its original Japanese and its excellent (and by excellent, I mean “faithful”, and by “faithful” I mean “full of jokes ‘funny’ to the kinds of people who think the game is ‘great'”) English translation, it never rises above the “Christian rock and roll” mark on the hip-o-meter.

There was a sequel to Lunar, called Eternal Blue. It had more anime stereotyped characters, more music, a pink furry cat-thing companion (who is of course a baby dragon), and more silly conflicts. It of course took place thousands of years in the future, and many fans like it better than the original.

What the Lunar games have always done wrong (and by “always” I mean “twice,” and by “twice” I mean “forty-six times”), as far as I’m concerned, is forget to be videogames. They scarcely even attempt to be pieces of entertainment. They’re happy just to be around, just to be in your PlayStation, proud that someone is giving them the time of day. Gamers play them because, really, there’s nothing else to do. We know the guy is going to become a Dragonmaster, and of course we know he’s going to kind of get the girl, just as plainly as we know the little white cat on his shoulder is going to turn into a white dragon, because we meet a white dragon right at the beginning of the game and can’t help noticing the resemblance. Lunar‘s battle engine is turn-based fare in which every boss battle is winnable just by using the hero’s “Sword Dance” ability over and over again, while every one else heals. The producers must have noticed the vapidity, which is why they upped the variation in enemy formations in Eternal Blue, and made it so the enemies gain levels along with you, giving you even more incentive to avoid enemies on the field map. The previous incentive being that battles are never, ever, fun. In the case of a game of greater scope and emotional weight, a daring producer could say the battle system is boring and tedious because he wishes to educate children against the ways of violence. Not so, in Lunar; it’s apparent they merely couldn’t think of anything else.

Game Arts behaved like a magician, probably ever cautious that someone would step up and expose their trick — that people were playing Lunar games only because they wanted to hear anime voices because of a preexisting fetish for little girls and helium, or because they wanted to see cheesy Christian-rock-and-roll-hip animation because they were hardwired to endure the hardest of hardships in the name of viewing scant clips of animation. I pause for a second in this review to reflect on anime culture, once again.

***

Then I realized, hell. There’s no reason to continue this. The only conclusion I was able to come through is that the game was jacking the player off vigorously with the “air combo” battle system — which, despite being really satisfying the first couple of times you use it, really isn’t that exciting. You’re juggling enemies in the air! Though not really! The first dozen times or so you’ll be slamming the buttons to get your attack off quickly, forgetting that the game action freezes (purposely — this is the hook of the battle system, in fact, and why it’s so brilliant) when a player character’s turn comes up, meaning that if you were lined up for an air combo, you’re going to get it, whether you use timing or not. Now, I’m not a dumb man (I think?) and I never believed in Santa Claus because I’d stumbled across physics textbooks before issues of Penthouse, so I am willing to say that if, the first dozen times or so, I was duped into believing that Grandia III‘s battle system involved reflexes and/or strategy, it was the game’s fault, which is a nice thing, because that means it was all very well-staged. Aside from that bit, I knew, when I reached the above point in the review, that I was just going to bash the game’s story (referencing specific instances of Christian rock, even) and making people angry. Still, I like some of the words I’d put to work there. So I saved it as a Gmail draft — and the next day, I kind of got hired for a job at a Major Videogame Manufacturer. Today, grasping at things to put in this year-end feature, I looked back at my Gmail drafts. Gmail is my current word-processor of choice. You can even do rich-text in there, now. You can’t indent paragraphs, though hell if unindented paragraphs with double returns aren’t the new indentation, anyway.

(edit: one year later: the entirety of fukubukuro 2006 was written using Google Docs. docs.google.com. If you have a Gmail address, you can use it! Fully endorsed!)

It is the middle of December, 2005. I spent the whole day playing Kingdom Hearts II. I had written some things about it on this website’s forum, and a bunch of kids who don’t know what a “milf” is came in by the droves to tell me that I suck because I’m biased toward something they’re also biased toward, in a different way.

I pause here to reflect on people in general.

I’m not going to finish Kingdom Hearts II. I’m simply not enjoying it. I had planned on writing a review that would pick apart every one of its little problems and horrible horrors, one that would make even die-hard fans understand, and proclaim, “Yeah, I guess this game does kind of suck!” Then I realized: there’s no pleasing those people by upsetting them. That, and they’re people I don’t want to please, anyway. I’d rather see them trampled by wild mustangs.

I have preached for a long time, usually of my own writing, that if you don’t like it, you shouldn’t bother reading it. People never seemed to understand this, probably because I was the kind of guy to play videogames like Kingdom Hearts II even though I don’t enjoy them at all. I don’t even enjoy sitting there and making fun of the game. This is important: you see, I’m not a “professional” when it comes to reviewing videogames. I just . . . do it. It’s a hobby. I have to say this again and again. Just because this website (which I didn’t make) looks, you know, better than anything you could make without paying someone doesn’t mean that we actually get paid to make it. It’s just a hobby. I could go on and on. (I usually do.)

2004’s “Fukubukuro” was loved and despised. It was big. It was written mostly during three days. This year’s Fukubukuro is written by, I guess, someone else. He’s still me, though. It’s like James Bond. I used to be Sean Connery, then Roger Moore came along. The me who is writing this year’s Fukubukuro might as well be George Lazenby. I have a job, I have new hair, I will soon move into a new apartment (later revision: yep, just got a washing machine/refrigerator/microwave yesterday, and ordering a sofa today), and after that, I’m paying a very, very gay Japanese man to hand-make me a unique leather jacket. (Unique as in, like, if it were an item in Diablo II, its name would be written in a pale kind of yellow.) How the hell did I go from being poor to being gorgeous? (There was a period we could probably describe as being “poorgeous” in between.)

We will not bother to investigate. Instead, this year’s Fukubukuro will be almost entirely about my penis. You see, I have come to work for a videogame company now; this nonetheless makes videogames not so entertaining anymore. Well, I guess you could say I was working for this same videogame company about a year ago. Anyway. Now with money and food, I see that playing videogames is kind of useless. Even with a really nice television, one of the most gloriously amazing ones ever made (Shadow of the Colossus) doesn’t impress someone who hasn’t already been hard-wired to care. That’s what life is about, you must understand — sharing. We must share with people. If you’re not sharing, you’re just jerking off. Videogames don’t seek to share; in an online deathmatch of Halo 2, the pleasure is created and terminated within an individual player. Now, in my enlightenment, I’ve finally reailzed that playing a guitar is far more rewarding to everyone than, say, memorizing a King of Fighters move list.

Anyway, at the end of this introduction, I’m going to give a shout-out to This One Guy. This One Guy is always angry, and uses the internet to talk about things he hates, hoping that people will comment on his writings and say, “Yeah, that was awesome the destructive way you expressed how you hate that guy.” This one guy happens to hate me. This One Guy: You Rock. Someone will love you someday, probably on accident. I mentioned you in my Fukubukuro article last year because a Google search done at the time of that writing revealed your hatred for my article as the number-two result for “Fukubukuro.” You then mentioned me again, as I have been informed by something like fifty emails, on some forum, saying, “Yeah, I hated this guy once, and then he totally wrote about how I hated him in his next article. What an egotistical fuck!” or something like that. Yes, I’m egotistical! And yes! Thanks for reading! Give me a call if you’re ever in Tokyo!! I’ll take you to a restaurant and invite you to spew your hatred at me for as long as you like. And then I’ll return your hatred with love! I’ll even buy you a Coke! You’ll either feel silly, or you’ll just be a sack of shit!! And here’s the real kicker! I don’t even like you! I’ll just be pretending!

ONE YEAR LATER

I wrote all of the above a year ago. Man. Maybe there was something wrong with me, or maybe there was something wrong with the world. Pretty much everything I wrote for last year’s fukubukuro was awful.

Who knows what the hell is in this one. The least I’ll say here is that it has been designed, from the ground up, to repel anyone who won’t like it. You’ll know within two paragraphs if you’re going to be able to read it. If you manage to force yourself to read it despite burning hatred, you deserve to be shot and then posthumously awarded a medal.

I’m not going to twist anyone’s arm or anything.

At any rate, I’d like to thank bort, persona, and ashura for some of the images.

And yeah, let’s get ahead with this thing. Lots to do.

And yes, for those of you who don’t know what a “fukubukuro” is, I quote myself in 2004:

A “fukubukuro” is a paper shopping bag sealed up with staples and set in a wire tray in front of a Tokyo department store on New Year’s Day and sold for low prices to customers oblivious of their contents while men in multicolored bathrobes stand on folding chairs screaming about great values into megaphones.

The most important thing to note is that, sometimes, a fukubukuro (the word is made up of the two Chinese characters “lucky” and “bag”) contains something like a new CD-player, an iPod, or a gold bar. I’ve heard that at Bic Camera in Ikebukuro, one of the cheaper fukubukuros you can get — I think it’s 4000 yen — has a brand new copy of Gran Turismo 4 inside. The bag probably also contains some Gokiburi Hoi-hoi cockroach traps and a single used blank CD, which is somehow blank, despite also being used. In the end, though, hey, you still get that Gran Turismo 4.

On that note, let it begin.

[next: the insertcredit.com fukubukuro 2006 keynote address]


Review: Armored Core 4

Armored Core 4 (PS3/From Software)
by ollie barder
01072007

Recently I’ve been a happy chappy. I managed to bag a game and the console to play it on within the same day of release. Whilst many may regard PlayStation 3 owners as some kind of shit eating anti-christ, let me tell you this; I’m a resolute console agnostic. I really couldn’t give multiple flying fucks about deranged corporate allegiance; all that rocks my boat is what the games on whatever system offer.

For the Wii it was Zelda, for the 360 it was Chrome Hounds and for the PlayStation 3 it was Armored Core 4.

Continue reading

Feature: Gaming’s Missing Kane

Gaming’s Missing Kane
by Brendan Lee
12022006

In 1986, tattooed jack-of-all-everything “Beat” Takeshi directed a game called Takeshi no Chousenjou (Takeshi’s Challenge). It was, from design to execution, utter punishment for any gamer determined enough to attempt the grind. The challenges were thinly-veiled jokes. You’d have to hold down a button for hours, or leave the controller untouched for an hour. You’d have to sing into the controller for an hour . . . or hit a final boss a mind-numbing twenty thousand times.

In 1995-ish, Absolute Entertainment failed to release Penn and Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors, because they went out of business trying to meet Penn Jillette’s daily catering demands. A complete build of the title still thrives in BitTorrent form, largely for the included minigame Desert Bus. The game put you in the driver’s seat of a 45-mph bus from Arizona to Las Vegas — a straight, flat burn though the middle of absolutely nothing. The trip took eight hours . . . in real time. The bus pulled to one side a bit, so it was impossible to just tape down a button and walk away; you just had to sit there, steer occasionally, and wait. And wait. After 8 hours, you received one (1) point, and had the option of turning around and going back. For another 8 hours. And another point.

In 2005, D3 and Sony released Baito Hell 2000 (Work Time Fun, US title). This collection of mindless tasks challenged gamers to . . . well, to play them, I guess, for as long as they could stand to punch the buttons. The player had to separate baby chicks into bins, or chop wood, or not drive over a cliff. Or, most infamously, put the caps on pens at a pen factory: pen after pen after pen after pen after pen after pen.

These experiments could probably be dismissed as jokey one-offs; the farting in the wind from designers either much too close to the game industry or much too far removed. However, they’re spiritually linked; each one screaming a warning at the gamer with wild and scary eyes, spittle foaming at the corners of the mouth. The message is as unwelcome from the games themselves as it was from your parents:

For God’s sake — get out, before it’s too late.

I have played an awful lot of The Idol M@ster, Bandai-Namco’s networked gal-sim title. I even wrote about it, a little. At first it was kind of a lark — one of those chin-scratching attempts to try and understand a little more of Japan’s lonesome and grease-caked underbelly. After a few thousand yen, though, I started to realize a couple things:

1) The Idol M@ster is probably one of the worst games to come out in recent years.

2) I couldn’t stop playing it.

It’s not really that I’d go out with the idea of playing it in mind, exactly; I’d just go out without any firm plans, and I’d wander around Akihabara for a little bit, and sooner or later I’d find myself in front of the machine, grinding away on its pointless minigames in an effort to bring up my gal’s stats a little more. I asked myself: is this fun?

Well, yeah, it was. Kinda. More fun than not playing The Idol M@ster. More fun than sitting in my apartment and drinking rancid hateful bottles of 500-yen Suntory wine by myself, watching the airplane lights pulse on the skyscrapers. After a few weeks with no end in sight, I decided to call it a hobby.

“Heh heh . . . going to play a little Idol M@ster!” I’d announce in the office, to nobody in particular.

“That’s just what I do!” And when they’d look at me with pity or contempt, I’d just sigh, roll my eyes, and flash them a Religious Grin.

You get Religious Grins from some people. They don’t even have to be particularly religious people, really; they just have to know something you don’t, believe in it with every desperate ounce of their hearts, and not feel particularly inclined to discuss the issue. I’ll try to illustrate.

Let’s say, for instance, that you see a man wearing a Sandwich Hat — literally, a hat constructed of old, taped-together sandwiches. It smells bad; crumbly bits and rancid tuna keep falling onto the ground. Birds dive-bomb the Hat at intervals, and the man swats them away, snarling. It’s making him sweat like a mall cop. You decide to approach him and ask about his choice of helmetry — clearly, it’s causing him a considerable amount of discomfort.

“Why,” you ask him, “are you wearing a Sandwich Hat?”

He rolls his eyes a bit, and smiles. “Maybe a better question would be: why aren’t YOU wearing a Sandwich Hat?” Then he gives it to you, full in the face . . . the Religious Grin. It’s a thing rich with peace and self-satisfaction, sent down from the very Zenith of Enlightenment. It is a smile that rejects such questions with ease, because they come from very ridiculous and very flawed premises, buried deep within all that is Wrong.

It’s better to just turn and go at this point. Trying to chirp away at him will only make him angry, and his face will turn purple, and he’ll have to stick another couple ham and cheeses up there before he begins to feel better.

Let’s steer this thing back.

Do you remember when film-noodling porkpie Roger Ebert made his sweeping claim about video games and art, and how they could never, ever be the same thing? I certainly do — I hammered away giddily at some forum or other, MOD PARENT UP-ing TifaLuv777’s poignant WHAT ABOUT REZ!? post. Of course I did! He’s from the land of Old, that Ebert guy, where people scrape their walkers along the sidewalk and scream at teens to stop huffing Windex. Maybe video games haven’t had their Citizen Kane yet — but it’s sure as hell not the medium’s fault. They’ll get there. The demoscene is flourishing! People are doing great things with Game Boy Cameras. Machinima. Chiptunes. Those assholes will see, the whole damn lot of them. Etc.

But.

I’m getting to the point where I can see that, from a certain perspective, he’s right, and it’s highly unlikely that it’ll get better anytime soon. That big, sprawling, perfect game that will make everyone sit up and say Yes . . . ART.

It’s not coming.

Why not?

It’s easy to pick targets.

Cathartic, too.

1. The Fans

Ultimately, we’re the ones spending the money to prop the beast up, so most of the shit should settle squarely in our laps. I bought Final Fantasy III for the DS recently; I should probably burn for that. I should probably burn for mowing all those lawns as a kid for the sake of Turtles in Time. I should probably burn for Dotstream. I should probably burn . . . well, there wouldn’t be much left to burn, I guess. Pour some gas on it, burn it again.

Why?

Because there’s nothing there, really — it’s a constant itching of neural pathways that have no business being itched; a constant worthless massaging of the same old chemical release receptors. Autonomic fellatio. Masturbation. Nothing being accomplished, again and again, sequel after retread after empty nostalgic joke.

But we’re not laughing, because we don’t get it. Video games were one of the great cosmic pranks of our generation, but the chuckle went straight over our heads. Our parents weren’t quite sure about those games — they might be, y’know, addictive, or something — but they made the kids happier than anything else in the world on Christmas morning, and when they were trying to perfect the Triangle Jump they weren’t using a laundry marker on the walls.

And now, having grown up in that odd, weirdly-rendered place . . .

It’s the only one that feels right. There are these — you know, these new games, but they don’t quite have that red-hot old-school feel. It’s gone. Nothing feels crispy/clicky enough; the fully-orchestrated soundtracks have a hollowness that dedicated Super Famicom sound chips never did. The more polygons they added, the less substance there is. Something’s somehow . . . missing.

But what?

What’s missing is us, being a kid, wanting games so bad that we saw them flickering behind our eyelids while we slept; a Fruit Roll-Up hanging out of our mouths as we tried to figure out a workable way of playing with the sound down low enough that we wouldn’t get caught playing Boogerman at 4:28 in the morning. We grew — well, maybe not up, but older, certainly. And there’s a fork now, a split, with the future in front and the past in the back.

The past has been completely strip-mined. Emulation, roms, homebrew; everything we so desperately needed at age eight hovers within the most half-hearted grasp. Video games are everywhere; the perceived value drops like a fucking rock. That precious scarcity — that brain defect that kept you playing Bugs Bunny’s Crazy Castle up to the CONGRATULATION screen — has disappeared.

But . . . I mean, it can’t be you, can it? And it can’t be the games. Those games were great!

So you make a few oil paintings of Dig Dug and try to remember.

The future is full of liars. That good thing — that really good thing is just around the corner, another 60 dollars away. And sometimes, you know, it kind of works. You feel it, and there’s kind of that laughter in the back of your head, and you’re that kid in footy pajamas spinning in front of the Christmas tree.

Almost.

Except . . . except you aren’t, and for every minute of tingles there are hours and hours and hours of oatmeal-gray nothing. But there are those tingles, and they keep you buying, and the buying keeps you in a constant state of semi-disappointment.

So you make a few oil paintings of Dig Dug and try to remember.

The present . . . well, the present’s a mix of the past and the future, and it’s utterly fucking ridiculous. The fans have demanded front-row seats to Aeris’s Neverending Funeral; they’ve got the money, and they sure as hell have the time. So they buy, and they complain, and they complain and they buy.

Sometimes they make a few oil paintings of Dig Dug and try to remember.

2. The Game Companies

Actually, these guys are pretty blameless.

People would riot in the streets if McDonald’s closed.

Can you see the beauty in a Brittney Spears release?

Can you spot the sparkling juicy center in a perfect omnipotent scam?

It does take a certain amount of balls. Big, angry balls full of harmful indifference. You need to be able to stare at someone with unblinking eyes, figure out objectively what will get cash out of them, run it past the legal department, and whistle an angry pirate dirge all the way to the bank. It’s hard to find one single person who will be that unconscionably shitty to someone, so some enterprising individual invented The Corporation to dilute the guilt and jack up the puissance by some breathtaking order of magnitude.

Things have spiraled. Games have to be huge, unwieldy bastards — huge budgets, huger rewards, the lowest possible amounts of focus-tested risk. Sequels and retreads and Madden are the only things safe enough to touch, turning the entire unwashed industry into a gangly cipher predicated on nostalgia and moe and palette swaps. Indies toil into the night, dreaming of the day when a media conglomerate will cut them a check. Gravediggers in Liverpool refuse to bury the dead.

3. The Hardware Companies

Movies are great, because they’ve been in a format that people can deal with for a hundred years . . . people shuffle into a big dark room and sit there for a couple hours. People like shuffling into a big dark room, because their parents taught them how to do it when they were young.

The great thing about it is the whole locked-in nature of the experience; people know what will be in there. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a filthy torture room for showing propaganda films or a 1000-seat stadium theater; it’s still going to be something to sit on and a screen on the wall. Even when they came up with the television — same thing. The only things they were really adding there were quick access to your own snacks and bathroom.

Something that people definitely hate is inane bickering and in-fighting among multinational electronics makers and content companies. People don’t want to bet the farm or the Christmas budget on the next big format war; they don’t want to buy the same movie collections again and again in a wide array of formats. They want to see the kids jump around in front of the Christmas tree a bit, and try to still afford to send them to University at some point it the hazy optimistic future.

Still, you’ve gotta buy something.

So.

The main thrust is that you’ve got a perfect trifecta of hateful co-dependence. The hardware companies breed a constant sense of forward-thinking dissatisfaction with the current generation of technology, which gets dumped gently onto the heads of the Loyal Customer. The Customer stews in it, rolls it around, and turns a green shade of schizophrenic . . . sharply divided between a nostalgia for what gaming was, and a hungry raw desire for what it could be. These disparate pieces are picked up off the floor, given a cursory dusting, and then fed into the Hit Machine. An attempt is made to jostle them into some sort of product. It fails on almost every level. It sells.

And here then, is the sticking point; the reason that gaming as is will never have its Kane:

Those industry jokes I mentioned — Takeshi, Desert Bus — are not fun games. If they were, they’d be entirely above any type of criticism. This has always been the deciding factor; if a game is fun, it’s a good game. If it’s not fun, it’s bad. This, though, is an almost farcically bad way to judge art. Art is as expressive as language itself — more, even. It can disgust people, or inspire awe, or make children think about cats. To limit game design to what people find entertaining is to admit defeat before you code your first INCLUDE statement.

Don’t get bogged in semantics: if you don’t like the phrase “Art,” try “unfettered medium for creative expression”. With a $200 video camera, I can shoot a documentary, or a porno, or a biopic, or a human drama. I can get studio funding for a small-budget indie release, or press for a full-budget prestige film. None of these avenues are open to me in gaming. Ideas that would be easy to pitch in any other medium seem ridiculous when mentioned in a gaming context. For example:

I have an idea for a survival horror game called Bruised. You play a single parent fighting to save her children from an abusive non-custodial father. The game has nothing but bad endings: you can save the girls, but the father commits suicide in front of them. You can save one girl but not the other, dooming one to a life of chaos and abuse. The profits from the game go to support local women’s shelters.

This game would be almost cliche to try and pitch as a book or movie, but what game studio would take it on? Who would play it in numbers large enough to justify the cost? The types of people to pay money for that kind of human drama would never be able to suss the dizzying amount of specialized knowledge and assumptions needed to play modern games; the greater gaming public would never have an interest in shelling out money for what was sure to be a bummer of a time.

So then: new markets, new blood. But how? New inputs aren’t the cure — while Wii Sports certainly showed a lot of people that pretending to bowl could be a fun time, the vertical nature of console releases ties the experience to a single corporate entity, robbing any title of the universality other mediums enjoy. Yes, Rez, yes, Killer7, but innovation isn’t even the cure: innovation is consistently and continually punished. Innovative titles that succeed are recycled and lobotomized; those that fail are considered bad ideas that just don’t work.

So then: the downloadable market. Indie releases, crafted with care and sold by people with scruples. Again, you run up against the same issues; the titles are locked to specific consoles which are in turn controlled by the majors. Try releasing your Super Columbine RPG on Live.

So then: distribute via PC . . . let Rome burn, while the indies code together games that will really challenge the status quo. Again, you’ve got a missing audience. Gamers lusting for the bleeding edge won’t spend more than a few minutes on a cobbled Game Maker title; even non-gamers are familiar enough with the medium to know when things lack a budget. At best, the indie scene is a poetry slam – – there’s an audience of sorts, but it’s just other people waiting to read.

Is there a solution – – something that can save the most promising medium in history? Something that can wrest it out of control of the least common denominator, make things evolve?

I would propose that, yeah, kinda . . . but nobody’s going to like it.

Games, as a medium, need a massive re-branding. Get angel funding. Come up with 5 concepts that have never been done in the history of gaming – – bonus points if you can do it without mentioning the Holocaust. Get non-industry people all over it; screenwriters, novelists, visual artists. Combine them with the talented and frustrated designers who have been dying to show people the explosive potential of games as a medium . . . and then, don’t call them games. Open at a museum, a gallery. Don’t invite the gaming press. No branded controllers. No logos. No sponsorship. Keep it clean; present the experiences as just that: experiences. Show a group of previously uninterested people how accessible and compelling something like this can be. Create the demand.

. . . or, you know, don’t. The amazing thing about gamers is how flexible they can be; games are either an evolving, progressing medium or c’mon, just video games, depending on how the conversation is blowing at a given moment. That persistent insularity is striking; if the video game industry has managed anything at all, it is a sense of community. From the PR flacks who prophesize the upcoming New Electric Jesus, to the stinking marauders that squirt him out just in time for Christmas, to the part-time tart that slides her ass into a vinyl SEGA skirt and glimmers for the cameras, to the sad and lacking wretches missing their children’s birthdays to make sure that the new Ridge Racer has enough lens flares, to the slouching teen level-grinding on his parent’s lawn to ensure enough ready cash to buy What’s Next, to the game journalists blithely retyping press releases on their bare and hairy legs at two o’clock in the morning to the strains of Bowie’s Rebel Rebel, to the countless scraps of lowercase web chatter noting that there are a couple of missteps, but overall a surprisingly competent entry to the series, to the brown-spotted old money men eating thinly-sliced horse in smoke-heavy izakayas laughing and laughing and laughing and pretending to laugh . . .

They’ve all got a place in the Church. They all hang together, pulled together by slight and invisible forces. And yet you’ve got a slim few . . . the children that somehow managed to slip away . . . Takeshi and the others . . .

They shine. Not for the enjoyment they provide, you see, but for the enjoyment they don’t provide. They are the Art that games aren’t. They are selfish objects, wringing a terrible revenge from a subculture that deserves to be punished. When you strip the fun away, you see Gaming for the bony white husk that it is . . . sad masses of cells tapping plastic in the dark, wondering where all the loneliness and depression are coming from.

That’s not just a failure of an industry.

That’s a failure of biology.

brendan lee is going for a walk


News: EA: The Human Story

An anonymous spouse of an anonymous Electronic Arts employee has posted a fairly gruesome LiveJournal entry, which details the working conditions of the industry giant’s game designers. According to the article, which is freely distributable under the Creative Commons deed, EA’s practices involve intentionally setting a “crunch time” for non-tardy projects, establishing mandatory eighty-five hour work weeks (though, as the article puts it, employees can go home early on Saturday night for “good behavior”), and a near-elimination of vacation time upon a project’s completion. There are also quite a few interestingly anonymous comments already posted by both former and current EA employees in the Comments section.

“My significant other works for Electronic Arts, and I’m what you might call a disgruntled spouse.”