Monday, September 27, 2010

Mini-Cast: Women in Games

You'll hear a fair amount of girl-gamers complaining about women in video games, and how over-sexualized they are. How true is that? And what do guys think about that? Well let's talk about it all on this Gamers Corner!

If you've ever played any fantasy RPG, or Japanese RPG, you'll know that women in games can be pretty sexualized. Big, physics defying breasts that would probably end up giving them serious back problems, and armor that's about as practical for protection as a tennis ball against a tank. But this isn't only in RPGs! It's in shooters, and even has games dedicated to it! Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball anyone?

And girl gamers are getting kind of annoyed. There are few women in gaming that aren't unrealistic, sexualized play kittens, and frankly they want a change! Realistic women, with realistic proportions and a realistic attitude! Is that too much to ask?

Well, in response, let me say this: Cry me a river.

Let's be honest here, if we're going to complain about gender representation, let's have this street go two ways. I'm 6'4", 165 pounds. I don't have a chiseled stomach, I don't have the agility of a ninja cat, and I can barely life the toilet seat without getting a hernia. What game has a guy like me properly portrayed? I mean, if the average man, let alone gamer, gave Marcus Fenix a high five, the results would be devastating!

Girl gamers are complaining about women being improperly portrayed in video games? Well suck it up, because men are just as ridiculously portrayed. For every massive, bouncing rack on a girl, there is a massive, hulking space marine made of muscle, grit, and raw rage. For every seductive sex kitten, there is a suave, mysterious spy or assassin or something.

Simply put: It goes both ways, girls!

So what do guys say about this? How do you think the average guy feels about the way men are portrayed in video games? They don't care! Why? Because it's just fantasy. It's a video game. If you find that guys around you are looking down on you because they play video games with scantily clad women, then the problem isn't with the game, it's with those dumb-ass friends of yours.

Anyone who takes any fantasy element away from a video game, be it sexuality, violence, magic, or whatever, and tries to apply that one-to-one to real life, is an idiot. Flat out, straight up. Idiot. Really, girls, if you find that guys really do respond and talk to you differently because of sexualized women in games, you should be thanking the games! Because now you can pick out the morons way earlier.

Let's be honest here. Both sexes are portrayed in ridiculous ways.
Girls, you aren't being picked on. Quit picking it apart and lets just play some games.

That's what I think anyways.
What do you think?
You think both sexes are being represented fairly in the gaming industry?
Do women have it worse?
Do men?
Let me know!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mini-Cast: Cheap Tactics

If you've ever played any game online, you'll hear complaining about cheap tactics. Maybe you've complained, maybe you've been the cheap one! Is it right? Is it wrong? Let's found out on this Gamers Corner!

Just last night I was playing Halo: Reach online with some of my Xbox LIVE buddies, and a few of them were saying how the game was, in their words, 'garbage'. Now, I'm not going to get into whether or not Halo: Reach is good, because I really enjoy it, and I'm also not going to point out the fact that they were playing the very game they said was garbage.

Whoops! I pointed it out. Whatever.
But I will point out why they said it was 'garbage'. Apparently one of the armor abilities, called 'Armor Lock' makes you temporarily invincible for a time. If you use the ability for it's entire available length, you can get your shields fully recharged. So the idea is that if you're losing a gun fight, you can use the armor lock ability to get your shields back while the other guy can't hurt you. It's like a sudden 'time out' in the middle of the fight.

They complained that this was a cheap tactic. Now, I like these guys, and I've played a lot of games with them in the past: Rainbow Six Vegas 1 and 2, Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, and Modern Warfare 2. And in every single one of those games, these guys complained about cheap tactics. But how cheap is the armor lock shield thing? Or Noob tubes in Call of Duty? Or camping? Or anything like that?

First, let's try and define 'cheap'. To me, something cheap is something that can be done with little effort, little skill, and little thought, that produced a great advantage. For instance, when I first got into fighting games, I played the arcade version of 'Soul Edge'. I didn't know how to move on the 3D plain, or how to block very well, and one guy kept using a move over and over again that I didn't know how to block or move away from. He knew how, but didn't tell me.
That was cheap.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago where I'm playing Modern Warfare 2. Some guy is holing up in a corner of the map 'Skidrow'. He was sitting in a window, covering his back with well placed claymores, and hitting people with an M16 with stopping power. Some might say that is cheap. Now in that situation, I ran around the corner with a 'noob tube', an RPG and danger close on and blew him right out of there. Was that cheap? What about the guy who has on light-weight, marathon, and commando running around with a tactical knife? Is that cheap?

I would say 'no' to all of those.

Noob tubes are annoying, the light-weight kid is annoying, the camper is annoying, but unless the game doesn't give you any tools to deal with them, then it's just not cheap. Annoying? Oh totally! But cheap? I don't think so. Don't complain because someone is using a valid, beatable tactic to beat you.

So let's go back to this armor lock problem. Your shields don't regenerate any faster when you're in armor lock, which means that if I run into a guy, get the drop on him, light him up, and he uses armor lock just before he dies to get his shields back, my shields will regenerate at the same speed. Which means when he comes out of it, I'll have the same shields he does. So what's the problem? You also have the advantage of moving around while he's stuck in one place. So get a better position! There are plenty of options available! It might be annoying, but I can't think that that's cheap.

How about you? What do you think is cheap?
Noob Tubing? Camping? Rushing?
You think I was wrong? Right?
Let me know!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Cup of Tea: Piracy

Recently, Notch, the creator of the awesome game Minecraft, posted up on his development blog his feelings on piracy. And I gotta say, it's my cup of tea.

I'll say this first and flat out: I don't agree with or like piracy. I don't think anyone deserves or should otherwise acquire anything they didn't pay for that they'd normally have to pay for. Call it theft, call it copyright infringement, call it what you want. I don't agree with it at all. We're not talking about bread or food to survive, we're talking about a luxury item. Be it music, movies, or video games, if you can't afford it then you don't get it. Simple.

But I do have something in common with pro-piracy groups! And that's that game developers, the movie industry, and the music industry all need to be creative when it comes to dealing with piracy. Securom, Ubisoft's terrible online-only DRM, and other intrusive and really freaking annoying copyright control methods are not the answer we need in order to deal with piracy.

In Notch's post, he calls the internet and file sharing the biggest revolution in information flow since the printing press, and I couldn't agree more. We have access to so much information at a moment's notice, and it's continuously changing the media industry. Hollywood and big music companies have basically tried to operate like they did before the internet became what it now is, and haven't really moved with the flow. Rather then go with the tide of technology, they are being dragged with heels dug in.

The gaming industry has moved a bit easier, but there are still issues. For every Steam platform, there is an Ubisoft style DRM. For every Stardock stance on piracy and copy protection, there is an Activision stance. And it seems you're either sensitive to your customer base, or you're a copy-protection ogre. Left or right. Black or white. Or, to the customers, good or evil.

A recent commercial I heard on the radio had the owner of a mattress store talking about a customer appreciation sale. She said "We're celebrating our customers! Because let's face it! Without you, there is no business!". The owner of that mattress store gets it. Customers are kind of a big deal. They drive your business. Without them, you have no business. So if you treat them like crap, they'll go elsewhere. Or, in the case of digital media, they'll just take it without paying. So, developers, what can you offer your customers that will have them opening their wallets? That's what Notch asked himself, and I'll give you a hint to the answer, it's not intrusive DRM or over-zealous application of out-of-date digital copyright law.

Now, I'm not so naive to think that if every developer was like Stardock or Notch in their stances on piracy and copy protection that all piracy would stop. That's ridiculous. There are plenty of people out there, I'd say the majority of pirates, that download because they want things for free. It isn't a 'download-protest' or something, it's just simple greed. That'll always exist. But even I, with a pretty strong anti-piracy stance, can admit that the numbers would certainly be different if more game developers, if more movie studios, and if more record labels would take a minute to stop pointing the finger at those downloading, and reflect for a moment on the three fingers pointing back at them.

That would be my cup of tea.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mini-Cast: Rage Quitting

To rage quit is to just leave the game because you're either angry at another player, you're about to lose, or for a lot of reasons! But is it ever justifiable? Let's find out on this Gamers Corner!

I'm sure everyone reading or listening at one point has rage quit a game. You're playing online against some guys, and they are slaughtering your team with no hope in sight! And it doesn't help that the other people on your team have the combined IQ of a Cicada. But it's not just restricted to multi-player, is it? I mean how many times have you been playing a game, went without saving for a while, and then died? Now you've got to go through every bit of level you just went through! Screw that!

These are all pretty understandable reasons for rage-quitting, but should it be done?

Well, yes and no.

Yes because there are absolutely reasons to just leave a game.
And no because sometimes doing it is just being a jerk.

You can rage-quit whenever you want in singleplayer, since it's only affecting you. You aren't potentially ruining the game for anyone else, because you're the only one. So rage-quit by yourself all you want.

As for multiplayer, there are absolutely valid reasons to drop out of a match. If a player is harassing you, you certainly don't have to sit there and take it. Most games now have a mute feature, though, so you don't have to really quit to get away from morons like that.

If people are glitching, or cheating, or otherwise proving that they need third-party, outside help in order to win because they are some spoiled only-child who is used to always getting what they want then yeah, I'd quit too. Playing against cheaters isn't fun.

And there's lag! You can't really blame someone for quitting when the game is barely playable because the host is using a toaster for a modem.

So when is it not OK?

Really, only in one instance: When you're just losing. And I don't mean losing like I mentioned before, where your team-mates have the combined mental capacity of belly button lint. I mean: Just losing. You always see it near the end of a round where the other team is about to lose and a bunch of them drop out just before it ends. Guys, let's be honest here, who cares about your win/loss ratio? Do you think girls will be impressed by it? No, they won't. Get real, and lose with some dignity. Because when you just quit like that, you're doing the gaming equivalent of taking the ball and going home like a whining child.

Winning is great. Who doesn't love to win? But some of the best games I've played were games that were lost by a slim margin. The tension, the suspense, the final fight for victory! That is way more exhilarating then winning by a large margin.

But even if you're losing by a large margin, and it's just because the other team is legitimately better then you, just suck it up for a round! Some games, like Starcraft, allow for an opportunity to forfeit early when both players know you're doomed. But if you send out an attack force early and it get's destroyed, don't just quit because your only strategy failed. Grow up and stick it out! Try something new! Have fun with it! It's a game, after all.

But what do you think?
You think rage-quitting is always permissible?
Or perhaps there is never any excuse for it?
Or maybe you have some example or reason to rage-quit that I missed?
Let me know!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bitter Tea: Racism

Now this is hardly going to be a shock to any of you, but I encountered some douche on XBox Live last night who was using racial slurs. And he insisted he wasn't racist. And that makes for some bitter tea.

Let me set the scene. Me and two other friends were in a Modern Warfare 2 party, and we joined some random game. This random guy we got teamed up with was talking along with us, and seemed like a fairly normal guy. Then he busts out the N-word after getting killed. Now, me and one of my other friends I was playing with are white, and the other friend I was playing with is black. And I know my whole group of friends I play with online are sick of stupid, pointless, attempted-shock racism. So I say something to the kid, because, really, it's just idiotic to say something like that.

Well the kid tries to defend himself by saying that he's not racist. He just uses the racial slur. That was his big defense, that he uses it like black people use it, so he's not racist. Besides the fact that he was using it as a curse because he got shot, This idea of 'the word only has power if you give it power' is a load of crap. That rhetoric is simply bull, and doesn't apply to real-life.

This is the point I made to this moron, and it goes out to anyone else who like to use racial slurs because they think it's funny: If you were walking in a neighborhood that was predominantly African American, and you use the N word, you'd get your ass either beat, or killed. You could scream and yell about how 'the word only has power if you give it power', but that won't mean a thing. Because it doesn't mean a thing. And if you admit that you wouldn't say it in that situation, then you're just a punk coward!

And you know what? Since it's said so often by ignorant little punks from suburbia where the most dangerous thing they ever experience is their parent's divorce, it's not shocking anymore. Max, the black guy who was playing last night, says it best: It's just not original. You're a bunch of skipping records playing the same old crappy joke that nobody really found funny in the first place.

It's not shocking. We don't think you're bad-ass, cool, or funny. We think you're an ignorant, racist little punk. And yeah, it is racist. Racist people use racial slurs. That's how it works. You aren't racist? Don't use racial slurs. Max also had another wise saying: The only people who can use the N word are black people, and the black people who do use it should stop.

Let me wrap up by saying this: I love South Park. In season 11, the first episode, Randy Marsh, Stan's dad, uses the N-word on Wheel of Fortune. Token, the black kid at Stan's School, gets pissed when Stan says 'he didn't mean it, it's not a big deal. But Token insists it is a big deal, why? Well, as Stan finds out at the end of the episode: Stan concludes that not knowing the point is the point. He explains to Token that, as a white person, he will never understand why Token is so upset by the word, and why it can make black people mad when a white person says it in ANY context.

As a punk kid from suburbia, you don't know what it's like to be called the N-word like a black person. You have no idea, and you'll never have any idea.

I'm not expecting anyone to have a big epiphany after reading/listening to this, because this is, after all, the internet. And people love to be dicks for the sake of being a dick. But I had to get it off my chest! The kid last night was an ignorant moron, and anyone who does the same thing is just as ignorant, and just as moronic.

And that's some bitter tea.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Cup of Tea: Mafia 2

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So I just finished Mafia 2, and I've got to say: It's an awesome example of story-telling in games, and it's my cup of tea.

This will contain minor spoilers for Mafia 2, and fairly major spoilers for Mafia 1, so if that bothers you then quit reading and/or quit listening!

I won't go into major deatils about the game, because you've probably either already made up your mind on whether or not if it's for you. If you haven't, then go check out some reviews because this isn't a review. If you want my review of the game, here it is: It's great. There.

But I want to touch, quickly, on an amazing piece of story-telling that took place both at the end of Mafia 1, and near the end of Mafia 2. In Mafia one, you play Tommy Angelo, much like you play Vito in number 2. And, like Mafia, 2 you work your way up in the family, and in the end, you defect to the feds for protection and to get out of the mob life. You had enough. In the final cut-scene, it shows you as an old man, watering your front lawn. A car pulls up, and two men get out...

"Mr. Angelo?"
"Mr. Salieri sends his regards."
And you're shot point-blank.

The ending of Mafia 1 is one that has stuck with me ever since I first played it. It was dirty, it didn't sit right, and it was perfect. It was real. In so many stories, you get off scott free in the end. All your trials and hardships weren't for nothing, they were for that final moment when everything was made right. But this? This wasn't about a neat little bow wrapping up everything neatly. It was about the reality of the situation: The family isn't something you can just walk away from. I loved it.

Fast forward to last night, where I finally was getting through Mafia 2. One mission near the end has you and your pal Joe going to wack some guy who angered another family. And as the drive to our destination went on, and as the conversation about the job got more detailed, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was going to go kill me in another game.

I honestly stopped the car in the middle of the street, and said out loud: I don't want to do this mission. I liked Tommy Angelo. Sure, he made some mistakes, but he tried and reached for a better way! He sought redemption. Vito, my new character, didn't know that, though. And I was reminded all over again why I loved the ending of Mafia 1.

It wasn't about justice.
It wasn't about what was right or wrong.
It was about the way things were.
The family isn't something you can just walk away from.

I loved that they put it in Mafia 2, and I love that they executed it so well.
I didn't like seeing Tommy die all over again, but it couldn't have happened any other way.

And that's my cup of tea.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mini-Cast: Realism

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Hey I'm Baby Tea, and we're going to talk about realism in games. Is it good? It is bad? Does it even actually exist, and do we want it to exist? Let's find out on this Gamer's corner!

When people talk about realism in games, they can actually mean a few things, so we're going to narrow it down. Some people might talk about graphic realism, but we're not going to. Some people might mean characters, or story, or realistic situations, but we're not going to. We're talking about games, not a sitcom. No, we're going to talk about realistic gameplay. The military shooters, really, since you don't have realism seeping into any other genre.

So let's first talk about whether its "good" or "bad". Well, really, this is all taste. Sometimes I like playing Halo and being a super soldier with shields and lots of health! And sometimes I like playing Rainbow Six Vegas on 'realistic' difficulty and carefully, and tactfully, clear out a room. Both are fun, both are satisfying in their own way. You might prefer one over the other, but neither are inherently bad.

But have we really experienced realistic gameplay?
The biggest annoyance I have is when people use the word realism when referring to Call of Duty 4, or Modern Warfare 2. Now, I enjoy both of these games, but neither of them are realistic. At all. They might have real-world guns, real-world military hardware, even levels based on real-world locations, but nothing about those games is realistic. Anyone who tried to play the game online like a military shooter understands this quickly once they get stabbed by a 12 year old using lightweight, marathon, commando, and a tactical knife, who then brings their sexuality into question.

Let me say it one more time to go on record: Call of Duty 4, and Modern Warfare 2, are not realistic. At all. Playing either of them doesn't make you a gun or military expert. Shuttup.

But do we actually have any actual realistic games?
It's not Rainbow Six Vegas, or Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. I've played every one of those games, and while they do offer some realistic gameplay, we can't really say it's realistic. If I get shot in the leg, I'm not just going to be moving slower. If I take a 5.56 mm round to the chest, I'm not going to hide behind a barrel and feel ok in a second.

A lot of Mil-Sim shooter fans would probably bring up two game series that some of you may or may not have played: Operation Flashpoint and ArmA. These two games get it the closest, I think, in terms of realism. But how good is that? Do people want that?

Well, yes and no. Mostly no. While both the Operation Flashpoint and ArmA series are undeniably popular, with a huge community behind them, they aren't nearly as popular as Mario Galaxy, or Halo, or Gears of War. Hyper-realism is a pretty niche market.

The problem with realism, and while we'll never really get it right, is the problem with consequences. Ultimately, it's still a game, and there isn't the same consequences as out there on the battlefield, because it's not the same. You don't see real-world soldiers worrying about their kill-death ratio.

And while the consequence might be you losing the game, or stay out until the whole round is over, that's hardly a real consequence is it? The thing about war is that it's not really pleasant. Getting shot at, getting wounded, these aren't things that translate well into a video game because, really, they aren't fun. And that's what a game is about: Having fun. I can't imagine anyone would like to play a game where you get shot in the gut from 400 yards and lay bleeding out for 10 or 15 minutes.

Because let's be honest, games are about escape. Games are about doing things you normally couldn't, or wouldn't do. And games are about fun. Some guys love the Mil-Sim games, and I'm one of them. But there is a limit, isn't there? Do we put in sprained ankles from falls? Broken legs? Blurred vision from sweat?

And there are somethings we just can't experience in games, no matter the technology. The weight of your field pack, the rough, uneven terrain underfoot, and the texture of the blood-soaked bandage that you're trying to hold over the massive hemorrhaging wound of your squad-mate and best friend.

What do you think?
You think Realistic games should be more realistic?
Should we push every boundary that stands in our way?
Or should we step back from going too far?

Let me know!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bitter Tea: Duke Nukem Forever

So we recently got word that Duke Nukem forever is actually, finally, coming out. 12 years of development, a ridiculous amount of engine changes, design changes, and overhauls, and even the cancellation announcement about a year ago. Now, like a confident teen who thinks there is nothing to fear in the dark house getting stabbed in the neck by Jason Voorhees, we've been hit with one of the biggest announcements of gaming history: Duke Nukem Forever is coming out. For real this time.

And I don't like it.

It's not the game or the franchise, not at all. I actually am kind of looking forward to the game itself, but not it's release! I know that sounds crazy, but think about it: 12 years in development! That means we've enjoyed at least 8 years of Duke Nukem Forever jokes! Making references to the development time and the name, referring to the game whenever another game took a long time to develop, and just an over all good amount of nerdy references that helped establish a pecking order at LAN parties around the world!

"Hey, go get more Mountain Dew!"
"Why don't you get it?"
"Because I was THERE when Duke Nukem Forever was using the Quake 2 engine!"
"...dang it."

But that's all going to be gone now! Kids have grown up only knowing the game to be in development, and so what are they going to say? Are they going to screech like the little harpies they are into their XBox LIVE headsets about they hate it and then call my sexuality into question? Are they going to screech like little harpies into their XBox LIVE headsets about how awesome it is and then call my sexuality into question? Will they even know how to respond?

This is changing everything!

What will our new reference be for too long development times? Hmm?
We COULD still use Duke Nukem Forever, since 12 years is a long time, but the beauty of the original reference was that they game was never coming out! It was a hype-machine, and was never going to be released! It was the really nerdy, clever way to say "It's never coming out, but out there, somewhere, they are working on it." But that's gone now.

So fine. Great. Duke Nukem Forever is coming out.
I honestly think it'll be fun...but at what cost?

...At what cost?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Cup of Tea: Minecraft

Fairly recently, I was introduced to a little game called Minecraft.
For those unfamiliar, it's a very simple, java-based game where you mine, create, and survive. There is no story, no boss-battles, or ultimate antagonist. It's just you digging, mining, building, and surviving. And the graphics are extremely simplistic, making everything (trees, hills, mountains, water, creatures, you) out of blocks. It runs fantastic on every computer I've tried it on, including my netbook. It's still in it's alpha stage, and gets regular updates. It even has multiplayer!

And this game is fantastic.
I mean: Extremely fantastic.

Some might be put off by it's lack of structure and over-arching goals, but do you know who would love it? Anyone, who ever played with, and fell in love with, Lego as a kid. That's totally me. This game let's you just build. Screw mining, you can just build, picking from whatever block you want, and making things 'till your heart is content! This is like dumping the box of Lego out on the ground and going nuts. People have made amazing things with this simplistic mode, and it's a blast.

I, however, have far more fun in the 'Survival' mode, or the 'Alpha' version of the game. Basically, you start in your world, and you just have to survive! You have to mine for materials to make tools, weapons, your house, your food, everything. At night, zombies and skeletons and spiders come out to get you, and if you don't have a secure house, you'll be toast. You can find dungeons underground with treasure (And monsters), and build your house/castle/mine of your dreams...with a bit of hard work!

I recently bought the game (A mere $13) and I recommend anyone who loves Lego and building to at least try out, and enjoy, the classic (free build) mode. It's free, so you don't have anything to lose. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got mines to build and my inner child to feed!