Transparent Seas

Mitch Bowman's internet domicile.

Monthly Archives: April 2012

What to do About Used Game Sales

For whatever reason, the game publishing industry has recently decided that used games are a terrible thing, despite the fact that used sales exist in every other medium, and have existed in videogames since their beginning. A cynical observer would be tempted to opine that it’s only an issue now because we now have the technology to prevent used game sales; the advent of always-online games, complicated DRM, etc. have made it very easy for publishers to prevent people from playing a game that’s already been played by someone else.

The reasons behind this sudden rise in anti-used game evangelism aren’t what we really need to be worrying about, though. The fact is, publishers aren’t going to quit whinging about it now that they’ve started, until something is done about it that pacifies them. It’s in our – that is, the consumer’s – best interest to make sure whatever is done about it also benefits us. Or at the very least, doesn’t hose us.

The current rumors would indicate that next-generation console hardware simply won’t play used games, but this quite frankly seems improbable. Even so, we must consider the effect that such a hardware decision would have on the industry. The short answer is that it would make it unimaginably worse for the consume. Such a system would mean that buying a popular game on launch was the only way to ensure you would actually get to play it. If you wait until later, it might be sold out, and with no used game market, you either wait for a re-release/reprint or you simply…don’t play it.

So what are our alternatives? Well, there’s a few, and they range from being slightly less egregious to being actually pretty acceptable. Here’s the most probable ones that come to mind: Read more of this post

The Crowdfunded Revolution: How Kickstarter Can Change Videogames Forever

There was a time, not so very long ago, when games could be made by anyone who had the passion and the desire to do so. Small teams of friends, or even single people, could make games that were pushing the technological envelope of the medium, and they could do it in mere weeks. Many of these people were computer scientists, or university students who wanted to be computer scientists, giving them access to the required hardware. This was the golden age of videogames.

Unfortunately, that era has passed. While independent games are still made with this DIY ethos, and are sometimes even commercially successful, the real envelope-pushing stuff is being made with a a much less soulful approach than the homebrew projects of yore. The top of the videogame heap now belongs to multi-million dollar companies with HR departments, middle managers, and – most detrimentally – shareholders who expect a hasty return on investment.

The result of this increasing corporatism of the videogame industry is an overall decrease in the appetite for risk-taking. Less and less games are made with a truly unique and genre-defying design vision, and more and more games are made as bland sequels in easily digestible franchises; in other words, “safe” games. Games that won’t lose those all-important shareholders their money.

For most modern gamers, this is a story they’ve heard many times. The creative malaise in the industry is not a brand new phenomenon, and has been evident for more or less as long as the publisher-developer business model has been around. Fortunately for the videogaming populace – for whom the current industry model has been largely detrimental – a remedy may be in sight. Read more of this post

The (Eventual) End of Rubber-Band Racing

As early as the days of Mario Kart 64 and the first few Need For Speed games, I’ve had an  instinctual dislike for rubber-banding in racing games, but it wasn’t until recently (while playing Need For Speed: Shift 2 and Forza Motorsport 4 back-to-back) that I could put my finger on what was so loathsome about it. There’s something terribly unfair about an opponent whose speed changes based on how badly you’re crushing them, that much has always been clear. There’s a bit more to it than that, though.

Before we get into it, a quick introduction: For those unfamiliar with the concept of rubber-banding, it’s a mechanic generally found in racing games. Essentially, it’s a method of building AI opponents to always be relatively close to the player. If they’re beating the player they slow down, if they’re losing they speed up. The idea is to make the experience more exciting for the player, by making it feel like a close race all the time.

Unfortunately, there’s some pretty serious flaws in the way rubber-banding is implemented in the vast majority of modern racing games. Rather than having AI that actually improves its driving to catch up to you, they tend to simply “cheat.” Their cars are made artificially faster or slower, instead of having a defined set of power and handling characteristics like the player car does. This, to me, is the crux of why rubber-banding is so obnoxious. Read more of this post