Transparent Seas

Mitch Bowman's internet domicile.

Tag Archives: ludology

Mechanics elitism is bullshit

I woke up this morning to a new video from Chris Franklin, the dude who makes the Errant Signal series. It’s about the divide between how we talk about story and how we talk about mechanics in games criticism, and about how we’re all sort of terrible at looking at games as cohesive works, without separating them out into “story good, systems bad” or whatever. You should watch the video:

As much as I like this video, I wish it went further, because I think there’s another topic very close at hand here that Chris doesn’t address. There’s a whole can of worms that’s closely related to this divide between systems and narrative, and it’s had a huge effect on how people talk about games, especially in the last few months with all the bullshit that’s been going on.

I’m referring to the fact that not only are narrative and mechanics kept largely apart from each other when discussing games, but among “core” gamers, mechanics are prioritized to a degree that makes people look completely insane sometimes. Think of all the games you see derided by “core” gamers as “non-games” or “walking simulators” or whatever; Gone Home, Proteus, that sort of thing. They’re all games that are very systems-light, and rely on either narrative or aesthetics to make their impact.

There’s a huge chunk of the gaming public who see games that are more narrative-focused as objectively worse than those that are systems-focused, to the point of considering systems-light games to be not even real games. These folks are particularly prevalent among those who play a lot of games and consider it an important part of their identity.

To me, it sort of feels like another concerning manifestation of social conservatism. Mainstream games have always been heavily reliant on mechanics and difficulty of execution, so that’s how games have to be forever. Harumph.

It’s no surprise that we see this “Gone Home isn’t a real game” bullshit from a very similar cross-section of people as we’re seeing the “Stop talking about political or social issues in muh vidya game reviews pls” comments coming from. It’s all an attempt to protect the status quo from people who have traditionally been excluded from the “core” gaming space. It’s the worst sort of regressive, exclusionary nonsense.

It sucks, please stop it. The correct response to the existence of media you don’t enjoy is the same as it always has been: don’t fucking play/watch/read it.

The Balancing Act: Compromising Between Fun and Art

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. Read more of this post

A Different Breed: Racing Games as Art

Much ado has been made about videogames and whether or not they’re art, and the general consensus among people who actually play the damn things seems to be that they are indeed. Many compelling arguments have been made to support this view, and I find myself agreeing almost entirely.

Inevitably, the argument usually boils down to concerns about the quality of the narrative and the aesthetic presentation. Critics expect narrative art to have compelling, nuanced narrative with something important to say; similarly, they expect visual art to have rich and vibrant aesthetics that go beyond merely parroting the real. Videogames are both a narrative art and a visual art, and are thus not exempt from either of these expectations if they wish to be considered a legitimate art form.

Fortunately, games have lived up to both these expectations quite well, with the likes of Ōkami and Shadow of the Colossus providing fantastic examples of aesthetic greatness, and games like Bioshock and Half-life 2 doing the same for narrative greatness. It seems like the case for games as art is airtight…except for one thing: almost none of the (otherwise quite sound) points that have been made in favour of videogames as art apply to a long-held favourite genre of mine, the racing game. 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

Let’s End The Crusade Against Linearity

Over the last few years, there’s been a growing animosity towards linear games, both from consumers and from developers. In accordance with this, we’ve seen a huge upswing in the number of games that try to offer the player choices that will lead to different endings. This non-linearity has generally been well-received, but still seems to be a formula in need of perfecting.

The most common problem in non-linear games arises when the player is simply given a choice of polarity, without an array of options in between the poles. The Fable series provides a good example of this; one simply chooses to be good or evil, and that choice dictates which of the two story paths you go down. The problem with this is that no gray area exists, despite every player who plays these games falling somewhere in the gray area between good and evil. Nobody’s perfect, after all. Read more of this post

The Action-Adventure Interactivity Bell Curve

There’s been a big trend towards including freerunning and climbing gameplay into a lot of games in the last few years, particularly action-adventure games, and this has generally been an enjoyable step forward for the genre. Graphics have advanced enough that having smooth contextual animations for all sorts of running, jumping, climbing and rolling moves is completely doable. Almost all the recent big-budget titles with free roaming elements have managed to make them look pretty good. Many of them have failed to make them feel good, however.

I recently finished Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, and playing around with its climbing and freerunning aspects gave me an interesting idea. Thinking back through some other recent action-adventure games I’ve played, a theory began to emerge: The level of autopilot present in a game’s free-roaming mechanics form a bell curve of enjoyability. This may not immediately make much sense, but let me give you a couple examples. Read more of this post