Pondering Tuesdays – Reality Check Edition

Tomb Raider - Lara on Radio

I’m just going to keep putting random “thinking about stuff” synonyms in the title field until I run out. Let’s get started…

Wanted: Strong Female Role Model. Ashelia (no full name given) played Tomb Raider and had a powerful reaction. Go read it and then come back.

I wish I could have my daughter read this. You hear about the need for female empowerment and role models all the time. It’s almost always well-intentioned, but there’s a point at which those become buzz words and not something genuinely meaningful. As a father, it makes it hard to know exactly where to steer her because you want so badly for your little princess, as she becomes a person who’s not so little anymore, to choose role models that represent the best in human nature and not Twilight’s pitiable Bella or some camera-starved reality TV whorelet.

Also, Justin Bieber. Le sigh.

No, I want Ana to know about real strength, the strength to persevere in the face of adversity and not be dragged down by it. Not Lara’s strength in a video game, though certainly she’s a well-conceived character in the reboot, but Ashelia’s in writing that piece. And not just to write that particular piece but to endure what she did and carry on, going out into the world and having a voice. Not everyone rises above that kind of experience. A lot of us sink and never get our heads back above water level.

Ana is nine years old. She’s too young to read this article, too innocent of the world still to understand what it means. She doesn’t yet know of the myriad things that go bump in the night and I want her to have that last for as long as possible, though I know there are far fewer of those days of blissful ignorance ahead of her than there are behind. No, she can’t read this yet, but there will come a time when this will have resonance for her, when it will mean something. And when it does, I’ll have the link stored away. I don’t mind waiting a little longer.

Where’s the Love? In a world where Bioware is something of a sad pinnacle for the idea of character love stories in games, I find this PAR article quote, from Torment creative lead Colin McComb, comforting:

“We do plan to have relationships in the game. I don’t know if we’re necessarily approaching romance, at least not in the way it’s been explored in games recently. There’s a lot more to the word love than simple flesh coupling,” McComb explained. “That’s frankly the aspect of it that’s least interesting when you get right down to it. It’s the interpersonal intimacy. It’s learning the depth and turmoil of another person that I think is more fascinating. That’s the aspect we want to explore with relationships with people.”

Mass Effect 3 Ending

It’s not that I think Bioware games are embarrassingly bad in this regard. Liara (pictured) has some magnificent turns to her character. And I’ve defended Bioware’s use of relationships in the stories for their games more than once. It’s just that they’ve never really done better at it than they did with Baldur’s Gate II and the original Knights of the Old Republic. They’ve never found the next level. They’ve designed relationships in the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series such that sex is the goal and that’s an anathema to telling stories with believable, meaningful relationships between characters. Great storytelling, stories that reflect the human condition as it were, need to be able to reflect that love is a powerful driving force in the proverbial Hero’s Journey. That the Torment team appears to get this is encouraging and, if they execute, it should make for an interesting step forward in how romantic character relationships play out in the framework of a story-based game.

Gaming: The Next Generation. King Art Games hit up Kickstarter, hoping to get six-figures for their turn-based strategy project, one that’s inspired by games like Advance Wars. It’s a solid, compelling proposal that was, not coincidentally, fully funded in a week’s time. There are 32 days left.

What Kickstarter is doing is making responsible game development possible again. What do I mean by that? I mean that in a world where Square can publish some very good AAA-budgeted games and still have their president forced to resign because of inability to make financial numbers, we see yet more evidence that AAA publishing is, in two words, Teh Stupidz.

The jury is in and the game industry is not nearly the big business it wants the world to think it is. It is not Hollywood. Trying to make the business of producing games into Hollywood, no matter how great $200M Bioshock: Infinite may be, is not a recipe for industry-wide success. These are exceptions to the rule, though I have my doubts that even this critical darling will deliver a serious return on investment. (It’s worth pointing out that $200M number could be completely farcical. My point still stands.)

This is what makes Kickstarter-backed games important. In a world with very few responsible game publishers, the upper-echelon of Kickstarter projects bring game development back into the real world. They’re taking game development out of the hands of supposedly Very Important Men and letting real gamers fund real projects based on real budgets; small teams of passionate designers making their kind of game, selling it for one fair price with the goal, not of making gobs and gobs of money for shareholders, but to earn a living. Yes, there are exceptions and there are plenty of pitfalls to spending money on games that may never see the light of day, but I’ll take my chances with inXile and Obsidian, Conifer and Stoic. They’re in the business of making games I want to play and they don’t need $200 million to do it. That’s something that I want to be a part of, both as a gamer and as a consumer. Clearly, I’m not alone in that.

7 Responses to “Pondering Tuesdays – Reality Check Edition”

  1. Michael Barnes March 26, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    You know Todd, I am not a fan of Kickstarter for a variety of reasons but in an ideal situation, something you mentioned makes quite a convincing argument for it that ties into some of the things I’ve been writing about. Crowdfunded games- again, in an ideal situation- return not only that sort of grassroots, garagey tone that the business had before the suits moved into the offices and jackasses in Affliction shirts that think they’re making pictures became the face of game development, but it also brings back a sense of _accountability_. If you pay for our game, and it sucks…it’s on our heads. Not on a nominal company head, not on some subcontracted developer, not on some misbudgeted catastrophe.

    But again, that’s an ideal situation. It won’t be for another couple of years before we have a good read on what the net benefit is from the Kickstarter thing. We may have a long trail of crap games to show for it with a couple of highlights, or it could be a long smear of mediocrity. Or it could be a renaissance.

    I’m still not funding anything until I see product. Period. Personal issue.

    Tomb Raider is terrible, I liked it for about the first four hours and then I realized that I was being fooled into thinking that the game is good. It isn’t.

    Bioware talking about realistic romance is about like Larry Flynt talking about it.

    • drmcscott March 26, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

      Why Mr Barnes… you’re a picture of optimism today!

      With the Kickstarter thing I think we’ll have to be discerning with what we front with our hard earned cash and quite honestly I’m a fan of publishing things I want to play.

      The personal issues you have may dissipate in good time. FTL was an excellent little title that I was happy to pay for. Endless Space was right up my alley and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Now I completely understand these games may not float your boat, but they are completed, released and exactly what I paid for. They exceeded my expectations, as at the time I felt that it was a punt. I still feel that way about Kickstarter projects and I don’t think that will change. Then again I feel that way when I purchase most games, triple A or not. Is this worth my cash… it is after all a disposable toy.

      The Banner Saga is shaping up well as I’ve already played the fundamentals. I’ve been enjoying the Doublefine documentary and look forward to playing it. What I’m getting at here is the things I have funded. They have been accountable.

      The wastelands, torments and space sims etc etc. These are all games I cannot get from traditional publishers, because its not going to sell 5 million (and somehow not make a profit!). I want these people pushing the genre, not recreating it (right now I feel we are in the infancy of the public-publishing and we wont get any outrageous risks, but if this continues…) The fact that the people actually making the game are directly getting the money pleases me to no end. They can listen to feedback, run ideas past people, or simply stick to what they said they would do. Its a question of trust. Quite frankly big publishers do not deserve any at all, and whilst I’m very quick to say (again) we have to be discerning in what we pay for, I’m more inclined to trust real gaming teams with clear goals with (at most times) proof of expertise or sometimes none at all. like Limit Theory, I didn’t fund it but hats off to the guy… he made all that by himself! I also didn’t fund Peter Molyneux’s populous thing because he doesn’t need it, the games reinvents nothing, I dont feel like playing another populous and finally (most importantly) that question of trust again, and I love Molyneux and will defend him.

      There are pitfalls and if someone funds a project that’s clearly horseshit with minimal information or wild expectations, with no pedigree or even proof they can deliver… and they expect a perfect game (or game at all) then its on that person. So far I have been willing to fund projects that cater directly for me and pays the people that actually slave over there own vision without publisher perversion or corruption.

      • Todd Brakke March 28, 2013 at 11:13 am #

        This. Absolutely this.

        There has, for some time, been a rather large gap in the kinds of games being published. You had your very budget-minded indies and your AAA-focused bigs publishing, basically, the same four kinds of games over and over again. (I’m drawing the number “four” from the clear blue sky.) You could argue some pubs, like Paradox, were trying to fill the middle ground, but it hardly covered the variety of niches we used to have. The most popular and successful (in terms of funds raised) projects on Kickstarter, I think, are filling a large gap that nobody else could be bothered to fill. That’s, I think, why you see gamers rushing to support these projects. They see an opportunity for the kinds of games they want to play and rarely, if ever, see anymore. They want to support that.

        Michael, I totally get your personal aversion to funding any such projects. It does make sense, but there’s a lot of good arguments for supporting this model too. Personally, the number I’ve funded can be counted on one hand, but I’m happy to roll the dice on them. The aforementioned FTL worked out in a big way. The other games I’ve supported, I don’t mind showing a little blind faith and if they don’t work out, well, I’ve paid full price for crappy games before. Nothing new under the sun with that.

        Kickstarter, right now, is helping small to medium design groups to fill an important hole in the market. If it means seeing more of the kinds of games I want to play, I’m okay with that. :)

  2. Helios March 26, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    I feel that type of experience is still a longs ways off (as something that can be expected in this medium). The people that grew up with video games are just having/had children that will make it happen in their time. There is still a frown by our peers on games, what they are, and what they represent.

    As for Kickstarter, to me it’s nothing more than a low fee, public broker for individual investors. It’s akin to what eBay is to traditional auctions. Don’t be shocked if it’s embedded next gen, as it’ll go from “eliminating some risk” revenue on risky games for indies to an actual source of income on AAA (just see the Square Enix & CEO Yoichi Wada step down fiasco on Tombraider/Hitman/Sleeping Dogs failures this week in news). Que Xzibit memes “pre-funding your pre-production product for pre-order”.

    • Todd Brakke March 28, 2013 at 11:16 am #

      I would not be the least bit surprised to see the AAA-pubs make a run at a Kickstarter-like model. I think they’ll be about as successful at changing their current fortunes with it as they were with introducing microtransactions, DLC, etc. For what the gaming market actually is, in my opinion of course, the problem with these companies is not that they’re missing on some mythical font of revenue it’s that they’ve allowed themselves to become Too Big to Succeed.

  3. Autistic Angel March 27, 2013 at 8:36 pm #

    Todd, if you haven’t yet read Meagan Marie’s blog post about the sexism she’s encountered working in the video game industry, I recommend it.

    http://meagan-marie.tumblr.com/post/46396481491/what-would-you-do-if-you-werent-afraid

    It puts that E3 encounter Danielle had with an Activision rep telling her she was “good for breeding” into a different light. It was funny at the time because it seemed so absurd. Who behaves that way -ever-, much less while on the clock? Now I’m left to wonder if it was even out of the ordinary for so-called “professional” functions.

    The part that reminded me of this article is: positive female role models aren’t just for women. It seems like there’s a disappointing percentage of men, at least in the game industry, who could use an exemplar for basic respect.

    • Todd Brakke March 28, 2013 at 11:19 am #

      I’ll check the article out for sure. I completely agree with your last point. Having legit female role models ought to be just as significant for boys as for girls. There’s a lot to be learned from that and I probably should’ve included some reference to my son in writing that part of this post up. Thanks for pointing that out!

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