Experience and digital space

Short answer; No. Long answer; It’s a bit more complicated than that. With digital media, the ontology is often concentrated on viewing the relationship between the consumer, the media and the culture of the media. The digital part is significant. While there are now few generations that have grown up in a world that never lacked the digital component, it is still relatively new introduction in historical scale. Nevertheless, it is present everywhere nowadays and digital elements in out life most likely will keep growing as the time goes by.

Timothy Druckery, a theorist of contemporary media, even went so far to argue that it would not be possible to describe or experience the world without technologically digital devices. He argues further that the evolution from mechanical to technological computer  culture has been more than just a series of new techniques and technological advances, that it is more about the evolution between dynamics of culture, interpretation and experience. Much like Druckery’s collegues, he argues that representative works are based on experience, and it would be hard to argue against that.

Video and computer games are based on experiences people have. First computer RPGs had their roots in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns people had, and this applies to origins of Ultima as well.  Miyamoto has stated that The Legend of Zelda his goal with the game was to have the game feel the same way as if you were exploring a city you have never been in before. You can almost see the overworld map as a city layout in this sense, where certain paths are alleys, larger open areas are parks and numerous dead-ends permiate the game. Or maybe that’s just me. Satoshi Tajiri, the name behind the Pokémon franchise, based the game on his own experience with bug catching. Japan has a history with kids having bug catching as a hobby, and the latest big craze was during the 1990’s. When you consider how a kid has to cover creeks, run over rivers and search the forests for new bugs to catch, you begin to see the adventure and the excitement that Tajiri wanted to convey in Pokémon. You also begin to see where modern Pokémon has started to veer off, emphasizing plot over adventure. There was a good article how Yu Suzuki put Virtua Fighter’s developer through martial arts training each morning in order for his men to animate a punch or a kick right.

That is not to say a game can be created without any experience in subject itself. Hideo Kojima has never been a spy or a soldier on a battlefield, but he nevertheless put his experience from Western movies into use in Metal Gear. You can see the change in certain visual in Metal Gear Solid 2  when they got an actual military advisor on the team. For example, Snake no longer pointed his gun upwards and overall how characters began to handle weapons changed. Small, but rather significant change when you consider how much Metal Gear games depend on the whole experienced soldier schtick.

Nevertheless, all the above mentioned games are representative of some sort of experience and allow the player to experience a sort of simulation of it. With any new sort of media there has been the fear of losing something important to humanity, if you will. With digital media the question of the consumer’s identity has become a question through the fears of how any new media might (or rather will) change our way of thinking and the way we live.

Without a doubt we have both real and virtual spaces as well as the identities that go with them. We have a wear a different persona when we are with our parents or friends, and the same applies to the virtual space. Since the 1990’s virtual space has become more and more daily thing to the point of Facebook and other social media becoming almost essential. However, even in these spaces we have a persona on us that is different from others. Much like how when writing this blog I have a persona on you don’t see in other virtual spaces, though it is overlapping harshly with everything nowadays. While there is no physical aspect to virtual spaces (they are digital and non-physical by definition) they nevertheless are real and can carry to the “real” world. However, we can always the space we choose to interact with, though this has led to the birth of extreme comfort zones where one must feel safe all the time rather than challenging oneself and broaden horizons. After all, nobody wants to get stuck in place for all eternity. Unless they get hit by a car and fall into three years of coma.

Whether or not digital media and virtual identities change our selves in physical form is a topic for a different post (it does, but the extent in which way is expansive), but I can’t but mention that experiences the consumers gain from digital media affects us just as any other similar source. After all, electronic games are an active medium instead of passive like movies or music and require the consumer to learn in order to advance. This has led some to argue that games promote violence through teaching violent methods.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are the two names responsible of the Columbine Shooting in 1999, and two years later Linda Sanders, whom lost his husband in the shooting, sued 25 different companies, like Id Software, Apogee Software and Interplay Productions, claiming that the event would not have happened if games with extreme violence like this wouldn’t exist. It was argued that certain games allowed the two assailants to train their shooting skills with precision and affected the two in a negative way. However, as we’ve seen multiple times over, games do not cause kids to go violent, and it would seem to be far more about the individual and their mental health than the media they consume.

However, it must be said that even when games are escapism from real world, they still are a product of real experiences. Playing may be just a game much like any other, but the more real world expands into virtual spaces thematically and ideologically, the less there is separation between the two. Ultimately, playing a game will affect the real world persona of the player, thought he question how much is very much up to the individual consumer. Games have been discussing censorship, violence and current topics for more than thirty years now, and for a medium that is about escapism to a large extent, that does not bode well. How much value we can put on a digital world that does not make use of its non-real capabilities and ties itself to the real?

Perhaps the digital personae we use has become less important as the melding of two worlds continues, and the identity we assume is an amalgamation.

A delicate piece of hardware

Much like with other modern technology, we’ve managed to squeeze more into smaller space. The laptops or pads we have nowadays are engineered to a point that barely anyone can open up their cases and fix them without further studying on the subject. Game consoles aren’t any different, though the PlayStation 4 is almost as big as the original Xbox. It wasn’t until we began to have consoles that began to show easily damaged sections in the mainline consoles. While the PlayStation could take some hefty damage (personal experience tells me it can survive a trip in a lake), the PlayStation 2 could be damaged by having enough weight at the wrong spot. This was the time when PCBs started to become thinner and more packed up with components downsizing with almost each year. You could lob a NES or SNES outside a window have it working with a cracked case, and the same really for the PlayStation as well. Personal experience, don’t ask. PlayStation 2 however was the first truly delicate piece of hardware that in the end begun to have issues with reading the discs. Sometimes from the very beginning.

Goddamn, this video came out sometime early 2000’s. Takes me back

Nintendo’s consoles usually have been durable, especially their handheld consoles. There has even been discussion how Iwata drove the DS’ tech team mad by demanding the console to be able to withstand multiple drops from a standard height.

However, the more we pack delicate technology in a smaller place, the more easy it is to break it. While most people fellate companies over the hardware, it’s uncommon to see anyone appreciate the design and intentions of the design. The PSP was applauded for its higher raw power over the DS, and while it was snazzy to have in your hands, it was a delicate piece of hardware that could break down very easily. The console wasn’t meant for everybody, and much like how SEGA used to sell Mega Drive for more mature gamers, SONY’s western branches clearly had the more adult audience in mind. The PSP really couldn’t take much damage, I’ve had to fix a few. The same applies to the Vita to some extent, thought the Vita seems to be able to take a beating or two more than its elder sibling.

The Switch has been out only for a while, but it’s already showcasing very erratic behaviour. Some have it going completely mad in sound department, some consoles refuse to launch games, connection issues with the controllers, and the screen’s been scratched by the dock itself. I saw the dock scratching issue the very moment the whole thing was revealed (it had no guiding rails to keep the screen clear), but having a plastic screen is a necessity. Why wouldn’t you want to have a glass screen? They’re so much better! The reason for this is safety and durability design. See, when you have a plastic screen, the console can dissipate a fall impact by wobbling around rather move the energy directly into rigid parts, destroying them. The very reason your phone’s screen shatters so easily is because it can’t bent, and the energy from the is released by shattering. It’s a design decision between durability and looks.

To sidetrack a bit, this really applies to Muv-Luv‘s BETA as well. The Destoyer-Class has a shield hardness of Mohs-15, but because that’s hardness topping that of a diamond, their shields should shatter when shot at. They don’t flex when hit due to their hardness. Mohs scale is for mineral hardness after all and should never be applied outside jewellery.

Newly borked devices is nothing new, either. The 360 had firmware issues since day one, and the infamous Red Ring of Death haunted machines every which way. Hell, the 360 may be a good example overall how to fuck your console from time to time, as some of my friends have told me their 360 crapped out because of an update. For better or worse, my 360 hasn’t crapped out yet.

No modern console is truly finished at launch. Firmware and software issues are relevant and will be patched out at a later date. This is largely due to modern technology. A Mega Drive never needed firmware patches, because it was less a computer than the modern machines. Whatever problems with the firmware Switch has now will be patched at a later date. However, the hardware and design problems are harder to fix, and if Nintendo is anything to go by, they may revise some of the designs in later production versions.

Though there really isn’t any good excuses to use paint coating that peels off with stickers. That’s just terrible. Who puts stickers on their consoles any more? You’d be surprised.

The first wave of adopters will always have to go through the same pains with modern technology. New smart phones and tablets suffer from firmware issues to the point of most common consumers willingly buying last year’s model in order to get a properly functioning device. The price has already dropped at that point too. Apple has been infamous with some of their smart devices’ firmware problems, and sometimes they were removing basic utilities from the hardware alone. Nobody really expected iPhone 7 not to have a headphone jack.

The question some have asked whether or not it’s worth buying a game console, or any modern smart device or computer component for the matter, if they require multiple updates months later down the line? We can’t see into the future, and it’s hard to say what device will go through a harsh update cycle. Essentially, you’ll need to look into history of a company and make a decision based on that. Just trusting that a company will update broken parts is strongly not recommended.

I guess releasing things partially unfinished and patching them up is an industry standard practice. Games get patched to hell and back, and while this isn’t much new for PC side of business, it’s one of those things that show how little of classic console business is in modern consoles. Not all games get patched though, even when they have console destroying bugs in them. NIS America’s track record with localised games that supposedly lock permanently and prevent you from finishing the game, break your console or generally have terrible translation would a perfect chance to use these patches to fix these issues. However, unlike with consoles and other devices, game developers can ignore these problems as the purchase has already been made and they probably are banking on hardcore fans.

Not that any product is final when it’s released. All products are good enough when released, but that good enough has seen a serious inflation with time.

Ageless games across generations

Video games have more in common with hide-and-seek than with movies, literature or music. This is due to video games, and electronic gaming in general, being the latest iteration of play culture. As such games of the past, be it the NES or Atari era, still find home within the new generation of consumers just as easily as any well planned out children’s play, game or even sports would. Only in video game industry we hear something become obsolete because of its archaic technology or because we have that aforementioned new generation. Soccer, basketball and numerous other sports still are around because they are ageless because each of them has been passed down to a new generation, just as children’s plays are.

Children will invent stories as they play along, be a costume play, playing with figures or something else. While there is a rudimentary narrative running in these plays, playing is the main thing. Electronic games, both PC and console games especially, are largely a legacy of these plays. The problem with electronic games is that they are static and can’t dynamically change as the player wants. This is why more varied games are always needed and the more unique titles we have, the better. The Legend of Zelda and Skyrim may be based on a similar notion of a hero in a fantasy land, but their realisation is different and serve different purposes. On the surface the ideas and even core structure seems similar. The reader already knows, the two games are vastly different in how they are played. Just like how the narrative in children’s plays are to enforce the action of playing rather than being the main thing, so do games use narrative as a support for playing the game. Changing it otherwise undermines both playing and gaming.

An ageless game will sell to future generations despite its technological backwardness. This is why emulation will never cease to exist, as anyone who knows the basic use of a computer and reading comprehension probably has already fired up at least one sort of emulator. As an anecdote, I’ve seen people as young as seven doing this without any outside help, and they enjoyed playing Super Mario Bros. on JNes. Why Super Mario Bros.? Because Mario is still a cultural icon, and using a Nintendo system most likely the one thing that people go for first. Not because of the modern entries in the series, but due to how large of an impact the franchise left on the face of culture in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Much like the game industry at large, those companies with a long history with electronic gaming often simply ignore the possibilities of their library. Instead, we may see plug-n-play conversions of some titles like with Atari 2600, but sometimes we get a piece of products that hits the cultural nerve just the right way and outsells itself to the point of amazing even the producers themselves. The NES Mini surprised Nintendo and its execs without any shadow of a doubt, as mentioned by Reggie in a CNET interview regarding the Switch. To quote him;

The challenge for us is that with this particular system, we thought honestly that the key consumer would be between 30 and 40 years old, with kids, who had stepped away from gaming for some period of time. And certainly we sold a lot of systems to that consumer.

Reggie claims that Nintendo is aware of the popularity of their classic games, which he contradicts with this statement. Furthermore, if they were aware how popular their classic games were, Nintendo would aim to make them obsolete rather than push games that enjoy less popularity. The NES Mini, as Reggie mentions above, wasn’t just popular with the people who grew up with the console, but with basically every age tier. Furthermore it should be noted that even in Europe the legacy of the NES has become that they were the victorious console, but do go back few entries to read how well Nintendo royally fucked NES in PAL territories.

It’s not just the nostalgia that sold NES Mini. As Reggie said, NES Mini is popular among kids, and kids have no nostalgia for a thirty years old game console. The games cherry picked for the system simply are mostly well designed and can stand the test of time. Super Mario Bros. does not appeal just because it is a Mario game, but because it’s a fun adventure in a fantasy land. Zelda‘s open world Action-RPG is popular outside the fans of the franchise (and I hope to God BotW will have an open world in the spirit if the original.) Metroid‘s action-adventure appeals similarly to a larger crowd than just to the fans, thou game devs have been furiously masturbating to this genre for the last years harshly.

There is nothing that would keep Nintendo from realizing the spirit of their older games in their future titles. Nothing keeps an old game from appealing to modern consumers, just like there’s nothing from modern children playing games invented couple of hundreds of years ago. We still play cards like Go Fish! or Shitpants with our kids. Hell, one could even say that when we grow into adults (or rather, we realize we are adults) we still keep playing the same games, but stakes are just higher. Poker may replace Go Fish!  but a new generation will still play that. A new card game for kids will appear in the future to supplement already large library of card games, but it’ll never be able replace anything if it doesn’t refine the formula somehow. Even then, it’s hard to beat a solid classic.

To use another Nintendo example is the Wii. Wii’s Virtual Console sold more titles than Nintendo’s big releases in the latter part of the console’s lifecycle, and saw a slow death on the 3DS. This seems to say that Nintendo doesn’t really take into heart the notion that classic games and their core are still viable. Instead, they concentrate on something surprising and that old games are only played due to nostalgia. A sentiment the game industry at large sadly seems to agree upon. With the success of NES Mini, will Nintendo begin to value their classic games more rather than just as the beginnings of an IP? Probably not, but Switch should tell us in due time.

Monthly Three; The time Nintendo lost Europe

When we speak of NES’ success, it really is more about the success Nintendo saw in the United States and Japan. Europe, on the other hand, Nintendo lost in the 8-bit era due to their own direct actions and inactions, saw increased success with the SNES, but in overall terms their home consoles. While the PC market and console market are largely separate business regions when you get down to it, despite modern game consoles being dumbed down PCs and all that, they do exist in parallel and can influence one another. The European home computer market of the 1980’s and early 1990’s before the IBM revolution had set in permanently did compete with the home consoles almost directly, but there is a good damn reason for that.

When Nintendo brought the NES to the European region, it had to fight a different fight than in the US. The US console market was dead at the time, but in many ways such thing didn’t exist in Europe. European home computers, like ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC had firm footing in European game markets. One could even go as far to say that console market didn’t exist in the same form in Europe as it did in the US and Japan, and Nintendo’s entry to into European markets would be difficult at best. Let’s be fair, the second time North American video game market crashed in the 1983 affected European market worth jack shit. Atari was more known for their computers than for their consoles across the Old World.

Markets is the keyword here that needs to be remembered, as Europe is not one nation like the United States. While I’m sure everybody is aware that each nation in Europe has their own distinguished culture, people and legislation, I do feel a need to emphasize that you are largely required to deal with each nation independently. The European Union has made some things easier when it comes to business trading, but the less I talk about the EU here the better.

One of the weirdest pull Nintendo did for Europe was to split the PAL territory into two sub-territories when it came to locking, with Mattel handling distribution in the  so-called A-territory, while numerous other companies handled the B-territory. The Mattel branded territory also had Mattel produced NES variant, that looks exactly the same on the outside, except where it reads Mattel version and has that locking mechanism, keeping games from working on it. It doesn’t make much sense that you’d had to keep an eye on regional lockout within your own region, but that’s how Nintendo rolled, until in 1990 they established Nintendo of Europe to handle continent-wide dealings, kicking the Mattel version to the curb. One of the reasons was this that the NES was relatively rare console, especially in the UK, where the console was sold in specifically selected stores, mainly chemists and such, for whatever odd reason. You’d think selling NES at Woolworths would’ve been the best idea, but no. This applied to games too, but the rest of the Europe saw both games and consoles being more widespread. However, they were still relatively rarer sight in the late 1980’s compared to the computer software.

Some of the companies that handled NES outside UK fared better, some worse. Spain was handled by Spaco, who were lazy with their game distribution, and at some point tried to emphasize their own titles over others. In all European countries games came out few years later than their US versions, thou it should be mentioned that Sweden was one of the countries that got the NES as early as 1986, whereas some saw the console released few years later. Bergsala handles Fennoscandia overall nowadays, but before they only handled Sweden, Norway was Unsaco’s region, whereas Funente originally dealt with Finland. Importing games from other countries was a common practice in Fennoscandia, though the NES still had to fight against computers like the C64. Digging up all the history European NES has would fill a whole book, thus the scope of this entry will be kept limited.

The second reason why Nintendo failed the region was in the pricing of their games. While the US had always seen relatively high-priced games, the European market was almost the exact opposite. A standard NES release cost about £70 at the time, which turns into about 82€ or $86. Even now that price seems over the top. In comparison, Sega’s Master System had games going for some £25, or  about 34€ and $36. Even the Master System had lower sales than home computer software, that could see as low pricing as £10, or about 12€ / $12. Regional variants of course applied across the board, but the level of pricing didn’t change at any point. You just got less bang for you buck on the NES.

To add to this, the Sega MegaDrive saw PAL region release at a time when home computers were having a slight breakage point, and offered new games to play still at a lower price, making Super Nintendo’s market entry that much harder. Both Sega and Nintendo had American emphasizes titles as well, with Startropics being one of the best examples, and Sega’s overall strategy how to sell the Genesis in the US, but Europe had no saw no such emphasize. Even Sega tasked third-party companies to handle the PAL territory, such as Mastertronic in the UK, who marketed the Master System aggressively, selling the console an undercut price of £100. Sanura Suomi handled Master System in Finland, while the Belenux countries were Atoll handled Sega’s licenses between 1987 and 1993. Only a handful of European exclusive titles exist compared to the US and Japan, and they’re not remembered all that fondly in the annals of gaming history, mostly because the historians rarely give a damn about European gaming.

Furthermore, game enthusiasts quickly noticed that the NES games ran slower than intended with black bars on the screen. This was due to different standards, where PAL region ran at 50hz and the NTSC ran at 60hz. Companies across the board didn’t give a flying fuck porting their games properly, instead doing a quick job and making their games run around 17% slower. Interestingly, the only game that properly optimised for the PAL region is Top Gun 2. A more interesting oddball of the bunch is Kirby’s Adventure, which was patched to have proper pitch and tempo in music while having the engine running at PAL’s 50hz. Except for Kirby itself, who moves at normal speed, so everything around him moves at 17% slower speed than intended. This kind of screwfuckery didn’t really install confidence towards Nintendo among European consumers. In the end, the NES didn’t penetrate the market, sold games at far higher price than any of its competitor and had less titles distributed that were worse than their NTSC counterparts in terms of

Because of these reasons, many third-party titles that American and Japanese audiences enjoyed on the NES were enjoyed in different forms on various home computers at much lower prices, and sometimes in superior versions too. This was the era, where ports of one arcade title was drastically different from one another. The current differences between ports are laughable at best in comparison.

The way the European markets preferred Sega and home computer products over the NES are directly due to how different the market was, and badly Nintendo handled themselves. The sheer amount of game software the home computers, and even the SMS, had at the time essentially made the rarer NES and its library a niche. Certainly, the NES saw a small renaissance in the very early 1990’s prior to the introduction of the SNES, but at this point it was already a lost battle. There were companies offering decently priced low-end and high-quality titles for other machines than the NES.

As such, it would do good to remember that while the disruption strategy works, each region requires equal amount of care in the manner that fits that said region. If a company were to push highly Japanese titles to America, it would fail. If a company would be pushing highly American titles to Japan, it would fail. Europe on the other hand is different, with each country having a different uptake on things. Countries like France and Italy at one point were the biggest European otakulands without them even noticing it, while others shunned both Japanese and American products, concentrating on their own titles. In order to succeed in European game markets further, companies had to learn some new tricks and utilise each nation’s or region’s specific nature to their advantage. European game markets have changed drastically since late 1980’s, and perhaps that’s for the better. However, the face of European game markets, and industry itself, left a mark that is still seen and felt how companies approach European consumers. Sometimes, they just don’t.

The killer of handheld gaming has no fangs

I admit, the title is misleading, but it works for the post. For a long time now I’ve been told that the mobile gaming is the killer of consoles and that all the handheld consoles will die out because mobile (phone) gaming makes so much money. Well, as I’ve previously discussed, the data isn’t there and this time I’m going to talk about personal experiences with mobile games now that I had to upgrade from an old Nokia to an Android smartie.

The thing is, this post may again be an old record playing the same song. The mobile game market is not in the same category as handheld console gaming. I would argue that this stems from three points; controls, physicality and devices themselves.

The controls of a mobile device, be a pad or a smart phone, are dependant on the screen. This is something that can be gotten around with external controllers, but native games can’t be designed this in mind to a large extent. Games have to use the screen as the main input device anyway, and that creates its own difficulties. Your hand and finger will always be in the way when you use the device to some extent, accuracy is always a question and there’s only so many variations you can do with them. Most games are about tapping or swiping, or are menu driven. Sometimes even combining all of them to some extent. These are limited by the amount of inputs a screen can recognize, which mostly is two in modern devices. Some devices can recognize more, but you if you want maximum user count, you’d optimally design the game to use the lowest mainstream setting to some extent. Let’s not forget that they need to be intuitive, fast to learn and simple.

The whole physical thing is really an extension of lack of separate controllers. Physical button that gives you a feedback when pressed always trumps over an image of a button that reacts visually to your finger. Eye-hand coordination works here just fine, especially if there’s a sound effect to go with. Some applications will also make the phone rumble, but even with that something always feels off. You’re not all that sure if the button was pressed or if the application registered the press until you see some of results on the screen. Everything happens on the screen and outside rumble there is no other option to physically interact with the software to any degree, outside hard resetting when a game locks your whole phone down. Don’t underestimate the power of touching something real. That’s why people buy statues of their waifus.

The third bit is the device themselves. Mobile phones are not dedicated gaming devices and function more like the classic palm computers would. By that extension, the games on smart phones follows the same natural pattern as Flash games do. The only difference is that some Flash games can be controlled with your keyboard, not just with your mouse. The devices themselves lend themselves for gaming, but they are not even the secondary function. Despite modern phones being shit for calling because of their boring slate design and wide as fuck screens, calling is their main idea.

Apps being compared to Flash games isn’t anything negative. It’s just natural. Seeing people still spend numerous hours playing browser games on Facebook and elsewhere, they’re no laughing matter. Sure, the golden age of Flash games and videos are long gone and that certain kind of nearly majestic freedom to do whatever you wanted can’t be realized any more thanks to certain sites pandering to the loud minorities rather than to their userbase and brand.

All that taken into account, a game like Monster Hunter would simply not work on a mobile device. It does not have the input options to work within the game’s design, and changing the game to fit the hardware of a phone would completely revise its gameplay. The same goes the other way as well, despite modern handheld consoles could house the touch controls and all. The content in mobile games rarely manages to stand up to similar level game on a handheld device. Granblue Fantasy, probably the most popular RPG on mobile devices, is ultimately very lacklustre in how much the player plays it. The game’s completely menu driven and story bits are delivered in Visual Novel style. The only actual gameplay is turn-based fighting, which compared to something like Bravely Default falls short in direct comparison between the titles.

However, that sort of comparison would be like comparing to apples to sausages. Sure, both are edibles, but compete in a different fields. The same difference exists between handheld and mobile gaming. I can see myself keep playing mobile games here and there, they’re a good time sink to kill a minute or two. However, when I need to kill more time on the go, like on a train or on the way to the hospital, I’d rather bust out a Vita or something to play something that can deliver a bit more than just few minutes of gameplay. However, the nature of these games are not in the same field as arcade games, despite them sounding like that. Arcade games were their own thing again, something you had to dedicate a coin or two for with some time. For a mobile game, all you really need to dedicate is some finger tapping and you’re golden. In essence, mobile gaming is computer gaming on the go with the closest thing being Flash games.

None of these are a blemish or a negative comment on mobile gaming. It’s just the nature of the beast. It’s no wonder not many apps can stand out from the app stores to any degree. The same applies to games and software on desktop computers. There are more software lost to time than what you can find archived or on sale.

The tales of mobile gaming killing handheld consoles are largely exaggerated.

Is art a game?

The discussion whether or not games are art has been going on for a long time now, but rarely people amuse the thought of the opposite. After all, in the arts field there are rules that are almost indecipherable to the outsider, but the professionals know them through and through. The game just happens to take in the real world, where professionals weight the value of works against pre-existing set of values and scoff at the notion of art as just another waste of time to entertain children and the rich. The rules are not written by just one person, but are tied to a vivid history that gets updated now and then. Nevertheless, much like the origin that is play culture in video games, art world has competition that defines monetary values and rules those follow. This, of course, applies to business world in general, where ideas and thoughts of grandeur are showcased as the main selling point, when all that really is just the front to mask the profit and flow of money. For example, Apple and other electronics companies may sell themselves as a green and responsible companies, when in reality they dump their electronics waste to Ghana as “second-hand merch,” and deliberately design their products to die out faster than intended. Designed obsolescence is something we need to get back in the future.

So art dealing is a game in much sense like any other, but is art itself a game? Specifically, can art be equated to electronic gaming?

Since the 1990’s traditional large audience galleries have been wrestling with interactivity. After all, games are getting called useless waste of time, just like art, but an art gallery does not think this way. I’ve personally met some curators that abhor the idea of gamificating their art galleries. Art galleries are more a slow-paced chess game, where the consumer needs to stop and ponder each and every stroke the painter had done and reflect its message. Games on the other hand invite the consumer to take active part and arguably deliver an instant gratification.

Video games, and games in general, are fun. Their intention is play, to give a pause from our daily lives. Art does not need to be fun. It can be gruesome, stopping and force the consumer to face reality. However, whereas game, and indeed play too, has a challenge to overcome through wits and skill, art does not. Not in the same meaning anyway, art can challenge us to think, but it never requires us to beat a level to see and consume more of it.

In Interactive art and the video game: Separating the siblings Regina Cornwell argues that losing the distinction between interactive art and video games showcases how there is a lack of criticism in post-modern era, that making no distinction between them furthers art’s institutionalism. It degrades art into low-level consumer goods, where being entertained through modern technology becomes the main attraction. Perhaps to this I could add that the simple use of the term art has lost its weight and meaning, as anything can now be art and anyone can be an artist. Indeed, interactive art is not about the rules of the piece, it is about exploring the piece. Games are, in the end, rule driven with end goals and obstacles.

The Louvre is sometimes called the only region free game on the Nintendo 3DS. It, by the very definition of a game, is not one. It is an interactive audiovisual guide. So no, art itself, does not equate as a game. Not even when it’s being produced.

While it is easy to put art and games in the same basket with each other, it seems to be the case that game industry is vehemently wanting to do that, while the art professionals seem to dislike the idea. This wasn’t always the case, as in the 1990’s both sides seemed to dislike each others’ guts. Indeed, even now certain movies are called game-likes because of their direction, action and pace.

Perhaps the most damning is the origin that separates art from games; games are about play, art is not. While some of the rules computer games exhibit can be applied to interactive art to an extent, they are not governing factors. To a painting, such rules can’t be applied to any extent. Where art originates and what it truly represents when stripped down to its barest minimum is more a philosophical question, but perhaps the good old art is about human expression might do the trick. No, playing is not an expression, if you were thinking that. It’s about playing.

Much like how pop-art can be considered as the most spread low-level art in the world, we should consider the existence of game art. While games themselves are not art, they do contain elements that could stand as art. Much like how the neutral space where galleries set their pieces in exhibitions, games are merely containers for what could be considered art. However, element like coding fall into the field of mathematical craftsmanship, not art. Even the motion in such a place is important. The physical motion and seeing pieces as they are in reality affects us differently than seeing something through a screen. Virtual reality, phone applications or any game can’t replicate reality, no matter how advanced their technology is.

Furthermore, game space and art space are not compatible. Game space is very personal spaces, even in arcades. They are not meant to be shared, outside one or two people next to you couch during multiplayer, but even that is largely rendered obsolete through online gaming. Even then we as individuals can decide if we want to call our friends over for a play. Even in arcades this applies, as we are set under strict rules of pay and play, and ultimately are given a respected space while playing a game, even when we have an audience. Art space is the polar opposite, being completely open and public in most cases. An individual can’t decide who has the access to art space alongside them. Games encourage competition and individualism, something that clearly bothers some people to no end, while art space may call merely playful competition in status. All these ideological differences showcase themselves not only the spaces themselves, but also in the arrangement of the spaces and in cultural contexts.

Perhaps the core difference between art and video games is crystallised in Joe Laniado’s review about Serious Games from 1997;

So by way of a game, a diversion, create me a world where I have a clearly defined purpose, set me a challenge – give me a spaceship and something to shoot at.

Digital gambling?

It’s a thing you don’t hear much. I was reading a book this morning with family, and I heard something about games, be it digital or traditional (as they put) having an adverse effect on people who play them.  There was no true cohesion in what they were saying, talking about gambling and money games in general via mobile devices and such. Not until they started showcasing Counter Strike and talking about how that affects people too. They were speaking of esports.

It sounds so unnecessary. Electronic gaming seems to be a term these people do no simply use and in the views of those who handle addicted gamblers, digital gaming seems to be largely the same thing as their paper counterpart. What throws a spin to this whole thing is that the professional commentator of digital gaming in the show portrayed video and console games as a whole in the same light as gambling. All of them share the same points of decision-making and addictive qualities, she said. I had to question aloud whether or not this was an intentional narrative made to showcase that Super Mario Bros. is in the same league and Internet poker. In whatever game in general, be it soccer or the like, we go through similar thought patterns and have to discern the best outcome. We gamble and we may win or lose against the odds, there’s nothing special to it in of itself. Gambling addicts are a whole another thing, as are the people who sit days worth in front of the computer playing MMORPGs and start to get rotten feet.

The idea of labeling all electronic games under one banner is largely stupid, especially when digital game is, essentially, just a synonym for a video game. After all, a video game is a visual multimedia source that is combined with set rules and controls the player interact and commands, often to achieve a victory condition. Some form of money may be present, especially in modern mobile phone games, but that alone should not be contrasted to gambling.

The first thing I found about digital gaming as such was from Peluuri, an online site for gambling addicts. Without noticing it, those who consume electronic games in genera have been lumped together with gambling addicts. The reason isn’t hard to guess; news about some child dropping thousands into a mobile game for whatever reason still pop up frequently, and the fact that esports has brought the dimension of gambling into video game circuits.

Except, what the expert in the telly show was talking about the problems digital gaming brings with it, and the aforementioned website confirms her assertions. Problem gaming is defined excessive amount of time and/or money spend on money games, that have a negative effect on the person’s life, like his psychic or physical health, studies or work life, economy and/or human relations. …for those who consume computer games in large quantities, it was noted that they share similar problems with handling their emotions, channeling them properly or escapism via games similar to those who gamble. All this seems to give note that while site speaks mostly about gambling, the people who handle gambling addicts have dropped video game addicts into the same category because the majority of the addicts on either side share the same psychological problems.

Why the hell do people think games are the reason when even these help websites clearly say that’s in the person and not in the game that’s wrong?

Why the hell do they find a need to use digital gaming? What’s the point of using yet another term for something that already had two valid terms? There is now answer, but I’ll amuse myself this a bit. Video and computer games replaced electronic gaming at one point completely, and now that both of those terms have been dragged through the mud for a good couple of decades now, the current generation that doesn’t want to associate their research and intentions with any of have decided to choose a more diplomatic term. We do live in a digital age, after all.

The advent of esports of course seems to have played a rather large part in this. People gamble which team will win, and biased researchers will see whatever they want in the electronic/digital/computer/console game landscape. Is the person who contests in esports comparable to a person who gambles? Perhaps to a person who gambles at a tournament, but I’d make a comparison with a race driver more. Sponsors put money into the machines the competitor then puts all his efforts in. Esports is someone’s career after all, at least to some extent.

In the end, making it a game addiction when people don’t have any other outlet to channel their problems into is deceptive, blaming the thing that’s being used to channel things rather than accuse the person of wrongdoing. It’s the same with same when games are blamed to cause shootings. In the end, the individual person and his problems are always the key to everything. If gambling, video games, booze, driving, masturbation, rock climbing or any other activity worsens their life, why in the hell are their relatives and friends letting him ruin his life like that? Even adults needs help, sometimes forced.

Traditionally, gambling has been treated as its own thing while all other forms of addiction, be it sports or the like, have been their own thing. Mixing computer and console games give them the wrong connotation, and adding digital gaming as a new thing for the old doesn’t help. Not that the common consumer even cares about this, all they want is to have those drunkard failed gamblers off their block, and get those no-good video game nerds outside to breathe some fresh air and mingle with other people.

Monthly Three: Computer game

This Monthly Three (imaginative name, I know) will most likely consist less content than usual, as the theme will be System X defining games, in this case What games define computer games? In this way I hope to showcase the core differences that stand between computer/PC gaming, arcade gaming and console gaming. As all three systems have differences in their core, the selection here are largely picked to present the definitive elements that a platform excels at.

We start with computer games, because they are the first to stem from the general field of electronic games. That’s a whole another can-o-worms we might open one day after discussing how computer and video games are simply continuation if child play culture.

But onwards, games that defined computer gaming as we know it nowadays. These are not in any particular order, so there’s no reason to look into that. The amount of games will be kept under ten for the sake of removing excess fat.

Continue reading “Monthly Three: Computer game”

Monthly Three: If it exists, there is…

After Arkanoid, Breakout styled games become hottest shit again. While people mostly remember that time as the boom of NES era and arcades were in a weird moment in time, when home consoles started usurp them. Not to say that the arcades didn’t have their share of awesome games, but less people remember any arcade games from 1986 than console games. PC had its own fair share of games from the time, and Arkanoid was ported to basically every major PC of the era.

Where do you go from Arkanoid? From Breakout it was a simple task just to expand with options, or vary the gameplay rules by changing the tiles or the ball. Arkanoid DS was less successful in changing everything from the physics to the shape and dimensions of the playfield. Nevertheless, Arkanoid stayed true to the idea of keeping it simple, but not all Arkanoid clones followed this path, at least not in visual design. Of course, it was just a matter of time until a porn version of Arkanoid would surface.

The Japanese PC scene was very different from the western one, until it was basically taken over by the IBM standard, a thing that seems to bother some people a lot. I understand these people very well, there are a lot of things that fascinate me in these old PCs, be it how the visuals or simply the how they work out. Even on emulation there’s some nicks here and there that need to be figured out, but luckily most modern emulators are straight forward. Once the IBM standard began to take foothold in Japan, some games had both PC98 and DOS support.

Japanese computers were not technological marvels when it came to screen scrolling, which is why Super Mario Bros. Special opted for screen-to-screen transitions instead. This is also one of the main reasons Visual Novels became a thing; it was easier to showcase one picture with bunch of text than code gameplay in. By 1990 people had got around how to make scrolling work, the year when Cyber Block Metal Orange was released on NEC’s PC-8801 series of computers.

Metal Orange is not really an expansion on Arkanoid’s gameplay, but a modification. It takes the same basic gameplay as Breakout and takes the idea from Arkanoid, but mixes things with its own method of power-ups and progression. The gameplay is really tight and stands well throughout comparison, especially its Sharp X68000 port.

First thing that you may notice that the overall design of the screen is more expanded than what it usually is with Breakout titles. One third of the screen is dedicated to a HUD with score display, the operator of your spaceship and power-up indicator. It all looks really lovely, with that Japanese 80’s sci-fi flavour to it.

Nevertheless, there are three major flaws in the design of the visuals. The first one is that the power-up capsules increase a bar that indicates which power-up you have an access to. The capsules don’t straight up grant you a boost this time around, but you need to collect them certain amount get certain level power-up. From one capsule to seven and grant the usual Arkanoid flavour of power-ups. The interesting one Silhouette, that gives you after images. The most expensive one creates a Barrier that bounces balls up. Unless you can keep up how many capsules you’ve collected and in what order the power-ups are on the bar, you’ll be eyeing that bar from the playfield to check what the current status is. While you can play Breakout just with the corner of your eye, most people want to focus on the action. Placing this bar underneath the playfield would’ve made it easier to keep an eye on, as players would still check where the spaceship paddle was located.

The second is the spaceship itself, and this is largely a personal issue I’m sure. The spot that bounces the ball up and down is the top of the craft, and doesn’t go deeper than the front of the ship. Sometimes I try to bounce the ball with the side of the ship, underneath the hitbox, with no avail. It’s a visual cue with no attributes. This is more an issue with the X68k version with more detailed graphics.

Third is a minor, but with the stuff that’s going on the screen, tiles breaking, balls bouncing, enemies falling and whatever power-up you have, the animated background can actually make you mistake one of the stars as the ball. I’ve heard this to happen some people who’ve played this game, so it’s a minor issue, but an issue nevertheless.

Depending on your worldview, you may dislike the porn aspect of the game, but that also gives it its rhythm. Each Stage is divided into smaller sections, first having two stages and then increasing each opened image until the player has to beat four stages in one go. Not that it matters really, there are infinite Continues and a Game Over doesn’t send you back to the first stage of a smaller section. The CGs themselves are decent and look very much in-line with other Custom games, like TEEN.

One last thing that Metal Orange does that Arkanoid didn’t was the music, as in there’s quite a lot of it for a Breakout game. Each Stage has its own theme, each character has its own theme, there’s the opening and ending themes and they’re all pretty damn good.

Nevertheless, Metal Orange’s greatest changes really do lie in the visuals and in the sound department, and these two are really what Breakout games can do without completely revamping the game system. The simplicity that started with Pong has not aged one bit in our modern-day games, but we’re seeing it less. Whenever Nintendo got back to basics with Wii and the DS, they faced great success, similarly how the NES and GameBoy become phenomenal.

2016 will be economically challenging year anyway, and maybe it would be best for developers to take Blue Ocean market seriously again with simpler, but far more refined games.


Designed freedom

Free roaming game design has been with us for a long, long time. PC RPGs tended to give the player whatever way they chose to approach a quest or a task in order to give an illusion of  that the player can do whatever he wants. Whatever came afterwards was tied to events, and sometimes the way the player approached these tasks decided where the game went.

Arcade games were different. Their strength always was in the strong design that kept the gameplay together and required to master the gameplay elements as intended. There was relatively little freedom of choice, if any.

Console games could take the best of both worlds, as with Legend of Zelda. While you were free to tackle the game in whatever way you wanted like PC RPG, it was tightly tied to the design of the game and progress structure, just like an arcade game. Hence it being an Action RPG.

With sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto and Sleeping Dogs being examples of relatively free approach in games. Sometimes it is advertised that you are completely free to play the game the way you want, but this isn’t really the case. For example, Metal Gear Solid V has a strict ranking system that essentially makes the player to play the game in few selected ways rather than truly appreciating the way the player would like to approach the missions.

Would a free roaming game that emphasizes on the player’s own approach even have a need for a some sort of ranking system? For challenge missions and such yes, but outside that the system would need to be reward the way the player plays. It is supposed to be a free system after all.

The problem is a dynamic ranking system would be how to rank the different approaches. In a stealth game like Metal Gear it would make sense to give a penalty to the player for killing enemy soldiers, but with MGSV you’re the Big Boss and you call the shots. If you want to go in guns blazing, then you do that. It’s a valid method and was even demonstrated in Konami’s presentation. In this approach, shouldn’t the system rate the accuracy, speed and lack of collateral damage?

A problem with a dynamic rating system is how it would recognize the way its being played, but essentially there is no game that actually allows any sort of approach to the game. Ultima Online was the closest thing we’ve got. This is due to games being products that are always designed with a core idea. For a stealth game its stealth, even if would allow whatever approach. The game design would always push the player towards the designed method of playing. To go in guns blazing fits more Grand Theft Auto.

The solid nature of games is another thing that essentially prevents the player to do whatever they want. Games have a definitive beginning and end, and you can’t branch off those even with games with multiple different ends. While games may be interactive, they are not dynamic. What is coded in there won’t change. In Zelda you can’t side with Ganon. In Sleeping Dogs you can’t jump the ship and join the criminals.

It’s marketing speech when you hear that you are free to do approach the missions whatever way you want. You can do it, but don’t expect a high rank unless you manage to get around the system. A player who understands how he is ranked and how the system works can abuse it to their heart’s content as much as they want, thou most customers don’t give much weight or even care enough to put enough time into the game. Tool Assisted Speedruns are an example where understanding the game has taken to an absolute maximum. DS Brain Age’s TAS is an example how understanding how the game functions underneath allows player to essentially whatever they want.

No game allows you to approach itself the way you want to. The ways the game can be approached has been designed already and the templates are already in there. There can only be personal variations how these templates are then put into use. A game may have been designed to support multiple approaches with modifications and large amounts of options to choose from, but it may also have a core design that simply invalidates some of those approaches. The only game that’s completely dynamic in its approach are children’s games and traditional pen & paper games, where the participants give direct feedback to each other and change as the situation needs. This possibly ever-changing nature is something that electronic games can’t do without having a system that can allow such change or react to it. After all, neither computer or video games are reactive, that part is left to the player.

To compare with other media, movies are completely inert in their interactivity. What’s there can’t be changed and it can only repeated the exact same way. With games scenarios are often this way as well with the player giving them the dynamics to change with slight variations. Some games may emphasize on random elements with procedurally produced worlds or random placement of items and characters. It’s something, but far from actually changing or adapting to what the player is doing.

Long story short, if a game wants to allow the player to approach missions and task however they want to, and actually stick with this sentence, the games would need to be as reactive and mould themselves around those selections. Designing and programming such a game would be nightmare. Then again, most people seem to prefer the more tightly designed games, like the 2D Mario ones.