I’ve written a bunch of new things, of the type that would normally appear on this blog. Rather than appearing here, they’ve appeared on a gaming site called Gameranx instead, because they pay me for them! So for those who actually follow this blog, here’s some stuff I wrote this month.
- The Error of Apple’s ‘No Serious Games Allowed’ Policy
- Angry Birds, Tiny Wings, and the Wide World of Mobile Development
- SimCity Reviews Paint a Grim Picture of the Future’s Meaningless Game Reviews
I’ve updated the Off-Site page of this blog with links to all this new stuff, and will continue to do so. If you’re not seeing new posts on here, it’s probably because my words are ending up elsewhere on the interbutts.
In the wake of yet another school shooting in the United States of America, the question of how to reduce gun violence in the country has once again risen to prominence. While many have proposed fairly reasonable steps that could be taken to curtail the amount of gun-related homicides, such as increased mental health infrastructure and/or stricter gun control, others have taken the opportunity to attack all manner of things they don’t like. One of the guiltiest parties in this regard has been the NRA, who in their statement on the Sandy Hook shooting managed to blame all sorts of irrelevant shit, including – of course – videogames.
Due probably in part to the NRA’s nonsense, as well as the general hysteria surrounding gun violence right now, videogames have once again become a focal point for those looking to blame violence on something other than systemic problems in their government. Earlier this week, Vice President Joe Biden met with industry leaders to discuss the issue of violence in games, and there was some serious debate amongst games journalists on whether this was a good idea.
Now, it appears video games will be forced to deal with the government and its attempts to stop gun violence in a far more direct way, and completely against the will of the industry. A new bill has been introduced in the American House of Representatives, titled the “Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act.” Essentially, it will require all games sold in the United States to carry an ESRB rating, and it will be completely illegal to sell unrated games.
From the body of this proposed legislation (which can be read in full here):
It shall be unlawful for any person to ship or otherwise distribute in interstate commerce, or to sell or rent, a video game that does not contain a rating label, in a clear and conspicuous location on the outside packaging of the video game, containing an age-based content rating determined by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.
Now, it may be immediately obvious to many people why that’s a godawful idea. There is no other medium in existence that carries such a restriction, and for good reason; even movies, which have a similar content rating system to the ESRB, can still be sold without that rating if they so desire. Most theatres won’t show unrated movies, but the creators still have the right to distribute the movie in any way they please, whether that be through physical media or through a digital format.
This will no longer be the case for videogames, if this legislation passes. It will be completely illegal to sell any game, either physical or digital, without a rating from the ESRB. There’s no other word for it – that’s censorship, and should be rejected out of hand as a violation of the First Amendment. It prohibits the freedom of expression of game developers, and requires them to obtain consent from a private company before releasing their game on the supposed free market.
That issue of the ESRB being a private company also raises further issues. The House bill in question would give the ESRB – a self-regulated, privately controlled organization – the final say on what is and isn’t appropriate for children. The government is handing over the reigns of moral judgement to a private corporation, and not allowing any alternative ratings systems to even be considered. How can we be sure the ESRB represents the values of the majority of American citizens, when they’re a private company with no accountability to the public?
Some will be quick to point out that the MPAA, the organisation that rates movies, is also a private organization. The key difference between the two situations is that there’s no government requirement that movies receive MPAA ratings. The production houses control both the MPAA and the theatres to an extent that makes having an MPAA rating almost mandatory for a movie that wants to reach a mainstream audience, but there’s no government involvement whatsoever. If someone wanted to form an alternative ratings system and convince theatres to accept their ratings, there would be no law preventing that. Of course, there’s also the fact that the MPAA is in no way a system that we should hope to emulate in the games industry, because it’s a pretty broken system…but that’s a conversation for another time.
As if there wasn’t enough problems with this Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act already, there’s yet more issues beyond those of censorship. Even if your game has no content that anyone would find objectionable, and would pass any ratings standard in the world, there’s still the issue of actually getting it rated in the first place. If no game is allowed to reach the market without a rating, it forces even the most innocuous of games to obtain that rating, and that costs money. Not a particularly small amount of it, either; according to a Joystiq report from a couple years ago, the ESRB charges a $2500 fee when a game is submitted for rating. That’s not an insignificant cost for indie studios.
To summarize: the American government is trying to pass a law that will require you to pay money to – and be subjected to the moral standard of – a private corporation, if you want to release your creative work into the American free market. Every other medium is off the hook, and only videogames will be subject to this demand. If that doesn’t sound like crazy talk to you, then I don’t know what to tell you.
So…Star Citizen. For those of you haven’t heard, the guy behind the old Wing Commander games is making a new game, and it’s an incredibly ambitious and impressive looking affair. Go check out all the various footage of the game that’s available on the official site before we continue.
As is pretty evident, even from the extremely early look at Star Citizen we’ve been given, it’s shaping up to be a really impressive game. The visuals are fantastic all the way around, from the vastness of the virtual galaxy right down to the small physical movements the pilot makes when the player steers or controls the throttle. It’s also an incredibly vast game as far as the gameplay variety it offers. On the surface it’s a spaceship-flying action game, but that’s only the beginning; there’s plenty of opportunities to get out of your ship and explore on foot, often inside other large ships.
The craziest part about it is that it’s a crowdfunded game. While looking as ambitious as (or perhaps even more ambitious than) most of today’s triple-A games, it’s being made on a relatively modest budget that’s been donated by eager players. So how the heck are they planning on pulling such a huge project off on such a reasonable budget? Continue reading
At the beginning of 2010, the future was looking great for racing games. There were some great titles on the horizon, mostly on the arcade side of things. In addition to the usual yearly titles like MotoGP, F1, and Need for Speed, there were some exciting original properties coming out. Specifically, Blur, Split Second, and ModNation Racers were all set to come out in the first half of the year.
In May of that year, all three of those fresh new titles came out, and lo and behold, they were all good! Bizarre Creations’ Blur felt like a crazy hybrid of Ridge Racer and Mario Kart, offering all manner of powerups and weaponry while providing some realistic looking car designs and environments. Black Rock Studio’s Split Second turned the collision-heavy formula of the Burnout series up to eleven, with the inclusion of player-activated environment changes which could wreck other racers or change the circuit route entirely. Both games received good reviews, aggregating in the low eighties on Metacritic. Continue reading
It seems like every few months, after everyone has almost given up hope, someone at EA or DICE will mention a Mirror’s Edge sequel. The most recent case of this was in early July, when EA exec Frank Gibeau told Game Informer, ”It’s on the list. It’s just about looking at what teams are available, who’s got the right quality approach to it, and who understands it.”
It’s been almost four years since the original game came out, and while the initial response was lukewarm, it has since blossomed into a well-regarded title, often praised for its bravery to try something different. It’s a game that I loved the moment I first played it, and is still one of my favourite games of the current console generation. As such, I’m anxious to see a sequel, but I’m also wary of what a sequel might become if EA tries to turn it into a more broadly-appealing franchise. Continue reading
It’s becoming increasingly clear that games have begun evolving past the point of being merely entertainment software. In their progress towards attaining status as a proper artistic medium, it has ceased being adequate to be simply entertaining. We now expect more of our games than ever before.
No doubt, many developers have stepped up to the plate, offering us amazing audio-visual masterpieces, easily transcending the categorization of mere software. We’ve been given entire worlds to explore, interesting characters to meet, and epic tales to shape with our actions. These are by all means incredible achievements, but they come with new challenges to be faced. Continue reading