Game Philosopher

The philosophy of games and gaming

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An Explanation of My Links

Posted by gamephilosopher on February 17, 2007

I don’t just link to things just for the sake of linking; these are good sites that I think you should know about.

  • Blue’s News – A really good, non-commercial news site for all kinds of games, but mostly PC games. I’ve been going here daily for several years. There is an annoying flash popup at the top of the page, unfortunately
  • CD Access – Like Chips N Bits, an online game shop that has a lot of old games.
  • Chips N Bits – Online game shop. Has a good section of old games / suspected abandonware
  • Gama Sutra – A gaming industry site. Lots of great information, including job postings, game postmortems, and company profiles.
  • Game FAQs – The best place to find cheats, walkthroughs and maps for just about every game without having to deal with stupid popups, logging in or any other crap from a commercial gaming site.
  • Game Rankings – Another meta-review site, like Game Tab. Find the average review score of a game from across all the sites that have reviewed it.
  • Game Tab – A meta-review site that averages ratings across popular review sites.
  • Game Trade Zone – A place to trade games. You can find a lot of oldies here. Definately a good place for those of you that are budget minded.
  • Home of the Underdogs – While I do not support piracy, some games are no longer available any other way.
  • PC Games that Weren’t – It looks like a new site, but a cool one nonetheless. It’s about games that were cancelled and the stories behind them.
  • The Best Selling PC Games since 2000 – Next Generation’s take on the top 100 best selling games since 2000
  • To the Game – Game release dates. Customizable so you can monitor the ones you’re interested in.
  • Ye Olde Infocom Shoppe – Before you call an old game abandonware, check here. While they don’t sell new/unopened games straight from the publisher, you can get a lot of really old games for the C64, Apple and PC from the 80’s and early 90’s.
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Waiting out the hype

Posted by gamephilosopher on November 7, 2006

You know when a game is coming out that you REALLY want to play, and you spend ages on the internet reading articles, previews, forum posts and anything else you can get your hands on to help satisfy your hunger for the game?

In my experience, this leads to one thing: disappointment when you actually play the game. For whatever reason, be it overzealous designers, over-excited reviewers, or your own too-wild imagination, you tend to get the game and find out that it’s really not as good as everyone thought it was going to be.

Think of: Anachronox, Blade of Darkness, Vampire: The Masquerade, Deus Ex 2, Doom 3, and Oblivion.

I think I may have found a loophole, fortunately. Like I said, the first time you play the game, you’re expecting so much, you’ve waited so long, perhaps through a pre-order line, or camped out in front of a store. When you get the game home, you’ve just completed your own little quest for entertainment, and when you find out the game isn’t the next game of the year, you’re pissed.

Here’s something I discovered. Leave the game alone for 6 months to a year. Move on, and let the game just sit there. Then, come back and play it having forgotten about the broken promises, hype, and every stupid feature that doesn’t meet your tastes. In a year, you won’t remember all of those things you were disappointed about not having and you’ll just play the game. You’ll find that there are a lot of redeeming values to the game despite the fact that it was rushed out the door in time for the holidays.

I recently did this with all of the games I listed above except for Deus Ex 2 and Oblivion. Oblivion is too new and DX2 is going to need a little more time in the vault before I can forget about how incredible the original was in comparison… but they’re on the list.

There are other benefits, too. If you found out you didn’t like the game BEFORE you bought it, you can save yourself a lot of money buying it a year later, not to mention make a statement to the publisher that you’re not going to blindly purchase lackluster games. Also, patches, walkthroughs and any community-driven benefits, like mods, will be in full swing by one year’s time. Lastly, your computer may be updated a little bit, giving you the ability to play it with a decent frames per second at high detail settings.

I’m currently thoroughly enjoying Doom 3, despite it’s flaws because I’ve really forgotten all that was promised that I didn’t see delivered. I have happy memories of finishing Anachronox and am also enjoying Blade of Darkness and Vampire as breaks from Doom 3.

So next time you’re pissed that a game didnt meet your expectations (just wait until Christmas – it’ll happen), put the game on the shelf and let it marinate for a year. When you come back to it with fresh eyes, you’ll be glad you did. I’m sure you’ll find there’s a lot of gaming goodness in even the most over-hyped of games.

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Games you love anyway – Neocron

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 27, 2006

I was originally going to call this segment “Bad Games you Love Anyway” but I thought that was a bit harsh, not to mention inaccurate. So let’s try the implication that the game isn’t the best, but we love it anyway…

I would say, without a doubt, the game I love but can’t describe why is Neocron. It’s an MMORPG/FPS set in the future after some type of apocolypse, but all of that is really irrelevant, since you have no impact on the plot and the plot rarely changes.

Actually that isn’t such a bad thing. Most people’s top 10 games of all time include games with no plot like Doom, Wolfenstein and Alternate Reality: The City, but we don’t complain about them, do we?

To be fair, the game has a mini-novel’s worth of history to set up the game world and there is stuff going on, it’s just not very engrossing, and definately not the reason why you would play the game or even stick around after the free trial. Games like Morrowind or World of Warcraft have hundreds if not thousands of unique quests. The most you could get away with in Neocron is about 10 or so.

This game also has bugs. Loads of them. Everywhere. Features don’t work or don’t work properly, descriptions for items are missing, instructions are scattered all over the place and largely suplemented by fans. Oh yeah and patches are as scarce as the populations.

So what’s good about the game? We’ll that’s a little harder to pinpoint. For one, the post-apocolyptic thing has been overdone in many mediums, but not in MMOs. While many people focus on swords and sorcery for their RPGs, this game is futuristic, more like Deux Ex than Neverwinter Nights. It definately has originality going for it.

Similarly, the Cyberpunk genre in computer games, even single player ones, is sorely lacking recently. We’ve had great games like Blade Runner, System Shock, and even oldies like Neuromancer, but, if memory serves, there hasn’t been anything out recently to quench the thirst for those of us with a cyberpunk fetish. Neocron deviates from the overcrowded, heavily asian influenced view of the future that most cyberpunk attaches to, but it still manages to deliver on that feeling that the world took a wrong turn and now we’re stuck in some sort of high-tech stone age.

It also focuses on Player vs Player (PvP). This game leans more towards hard-core, so if you’re going to play the game for an extended period of time, you’re going to be fighting over the outposts scattered in the wastelands outside of the cities, which mean you’ll be fighting other players. This is definately the most alluring part of the game because it’s far more interesting to be attacking other smart opponents than the usual stupid enemy AI.

One of the things that sucks me in about RPGs and Neocron especially is the stat management. When you really get down to it, Neocron is focused a lot on stats. I think it was through bad design, but there really aren’t a lot of options if you’re interested in PvP for the endgame. What that leads to is an almost fanatical focus on the minutiae of every stat down to the single point. If you want to use a specific gun, while still be able to do a non-combat skill you have to set your character up just right. Otherwise, you’ll be too slow, or really vulnerable to a certain type of attack.

The last thing I’ll touch on is the community. This game has a small but tight community that is best evidenced by the activity on the official forums. Some of the top players gather there to trade opionions and strategies. I’m not sure if its the fact that the game is rather small in scope or what, but the players and the mods on the forums work a lot better together than the communities I’ve seen for the Star Wars MMO, WoW, and EQ.

And that’s what its really all about in the end, isn’t it? Community? If you want to shoot stuff, you could easily play Unreal Tournament or Far Cry, but if you want to interact with REAL people inside a FPS, then Neocron may be the thing to check out.

In fact, check it out regardless.

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The case for abandonware

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 25, 2006

First off, let me say that I am 100% against piracy for all formats: DVD, Games, TV Shows, etc. If the content is economically profitable for its owners, duplicating or freely distributing it should be illegal.

So where does my definition of piracy stray from your average copyright holder’s? That would be around the point where the need for the game to be in the public’s hands outweighs the revenue gained from selling said game.

Let me explain. Putting a game on a shelf is very expensive. At a certain point, the publisher realizes that they’d rather focus their effort and money on a more profitable game, and so they stop selling an older game. At this point, the amount of buyers is so low that spending time and money to publish the software just isn’t worth it.

Sometimes the games get compiled into a collection and re-released years later, but its usually saved for the really great series, like TSR’s old Dungeons and Drangons games, or Sierra’s King’s Quest.

For the rest of the games, you have to rely on Abandonware. The term is used to refer to the games that have been abandoned by the publisher to never see the light of day again and therefore are released freely on a website for download. This is, of course, illegal but there are many websites that get away with it. These abandonware sites allow us to play games that are never, EVER going to be on any shelf at Circuit City again, and give us gamers and opportunity to relive our childhoods. Here, the demand for the game outweighs the game’s profitability, and while I understand it is illegal, I support the concept.

Please note that just because a game is old, does not mean it is not profitable. Starcraft, released by Blizzard in ’98 is still, to this day being played by hard core fans. Despite its age, Starcraft would never be construed as abandoned because Blizzard is selling the product and making money from it.

I support abandonware because I’ve been a gamer since 1986, back when some games didn’t have graphics at all, and some of the best ones only used 4. Yes, thats right, FOUR colors. Here’s the first game I ever bought: Ninja by Mastertronic. It’s also important to realize that old books have libraries and used book stores, but a similar mechanism for getting used games does not exist.

I respect gaming as a legitimate form of entertainment and don’t believe that because something is not profitable to the publisher, it should never be played again. Books get reprinted by other publishers whose sole purpose is to release classics. Movies get repackaged and copied on to the new media of the decade and released, but Ninja will never be put on a DVD collection and released again.

I understand that it is illegal, and many websites do too, often removing download links when oldies become available on the market, or even pointing you to where you can find and old classic for sale by a collector.

This is true love of a game. At a certain point, the publishers should step back and realize that they put out such a great game that 10, 15, 20 years down the road people still want to play it.

I would have no problem with paying the publisher $5 to get an oldie from ’86 because I believe in copyrights, but until that day comes, I’ll take my abandonware.

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Finally played WoW

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 12, 2006

Oh yeah, after writing that article on Rob Pardo, I decided that I really needed to give World of Warcraft a shot. I did. It’s good. Real good. We’ll talk about it later.

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Blizzard’s Design Philosophy for WoW

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 8, 2006

I’ve never played World of Warcraft, maybe I will some day, but I did read a great article yesterday that I thought would be a great read for you people.

http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/09/06/agc-rob-pardos-keynote/

Its a keynote speech from WoW’s Lead Designer Rob Pardo and it has some really good details about what choices Blizzard made when designing the game. Here are some highlights.

 “Another thing we talked about very early on was the game being soloable to [level] 60.”

In designing a game so that it’s accessible to a wide array of people, Blizzard wanted to capture the casual and the hardcore gamers. The way I see it is that casual gamers are less likely to band together into groups because they’re not online for 8 hours a day cultivating relationships with other players. Therefore, they can’t be made to rely on groups to complete the game or they’ll lose interest. On the other side of the coin, the hardcore players have the ability to go solo or run around with their mates. Both are viable options.

““Killing with a purpose” is the quest philosophy for WoW. With other MMOs, quests were just go out and see that experience bar move.”

I know this from personal experience. I’m currently playing an MMO that doesn’t even HAVE a plot, and about 5 hours worth of missions. The result is going around killing stuff, and then going somewhere else and killing stuff, ad nauseum. People lose interest within weeks because you eventually run out of things to do. In a subscription based game, this is the worst thing that can happen, especially if you can figure out the game sucks within the free trial…

“An example of Tradeoffs: system requirements of Wow versus Crysis, for example. Crysis looks awesome. But we would rather have the broader market. So that forced us to the stylized art style that is resistant to looking dated. ”

I never really thought about this, but since opinions of what graphics are cutting edge changes by the day, it would be very tough for an MMO to last for several years without looking dated. Stylized art sidesteps the age factor so the developers can concentrate on patching flaws and coming up with new content rather than keeping up with the graphical jonses.

Overall, a great article, even if you’re not into WoW. I didn’t forsee me ever trying it out, but after reading this article, I just may…

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Left brain vs. right brain gaming

Posted by gamephilosopher on September 5, 2006

Friday afternoon I bought two very different games, Indigo Prophecy and Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. These two games use very different styles of control.

Indigo uses the arrow keys to move the character and the control key to do actions. Other parts of the game require you to play Simon with colors and positions which correspond to keys on your keyboard.

Prince, on the other hand is a straight action game. Press space to jump, left-click to swing your sword and WASD to control your character.

Realizing that the two games had very different styles, I wondered if I should plug in my XBOX 360 controller to play either. Then an idea hit me.

Console games always use a controller where movement is controlled with your left hand and actions are controlled with your right. PC games, before mouse-look used your right hand on the arrow keys to move and your left hand to control actions. Now, spacial movement, like camera control or “looking” is controlled by the right hand on the mouse and actions are controlled by the left hand.

Why am I making a point of this? Because your right hand and eye are primarily controlled by the left side of your brain, and the left side of your brain is more adept at processing certain kinds of information than your right side. (and vice versa).

Check out this chart from http://www.viewzone.com/bicam.html

LEFT BRAIN FUNCTIONS

uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
knowing
acknowledges
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies
practical
safe

RIGHT BRAIN FUNCTIONS

uses feeling
“big picture” oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can “get it” (i.e. meaning)
believes
appreciates
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
impetuous
risk taking

Notice that spacial perception is right-brained, which i believe means that its better manipulated by the left hand. Could this be why moving your character has changed from a right handed action (on the arrow keys) to a left handed action on WASD in recent time? Do you think a left handed person who has their mouse on the left of the keyboard has a harder time controlling their character because they do it with their right?

Another thing occurred to me. Many games have information displayed on the screen while you play, whether that be health, ammo, inventory, etc. Some games put that information on the right and some do it on the left.

Take Deus Ex as an example, http://tinyurl.com/zv5t8 (hosted on PlanetDeuxEx.com)

The game has your health in the top left and your skills in the top right. Since they’re on the extreme of each side, only one eye is picking up that information. Is the correct eye processing the information best suited for the side of the brain it is directly connected to?

A quick look through google images shows Doom 3 health and armour are presented on the bottom left, whereas the Grand Theft Auto series always has that info in the top right.

Perhaps this is why i find myself with my face pressed up to the screen – so my more appropriate eye is able to catch the information presented on the opposite side of the screen.

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