The Critic Proof Game

There are games, much like there are movies, which are 100% bulletproof when it comes to “critical” reviews.

Let’s take Pirates of the Caribbean. What started as a fun romp where Johnny Depp could channel his inner Keith Richards has since turned into a complete farce filled with shockingly poor writing and actors who are at this point phoning it in. This latest film has surpassed 200 million at the box office despite taking a beating in the press. As a surprise to no one, this franchise remains critically bulletproof….

Duke Nukem Forever is such a game. Duke’s not very good, and that’s being polite. It has all of the redeeming qualities of head lice. I feel bad for everyone involved, really. This is also what makes this whole Redner Group fiasco all the more disheartening. No one should ever lose their job over Duke Nukem Forever. If Jim Redner only understood before he tweeted in a bout of anger and frustration — Duke’s immune. Let the press have their say. Allow us to exercise our ability to beat a game up against the ropes until it collapses in a bloody heap.

Let us be Joe Louis to its Max Schmeling because the truth is, we live for that stuff. Writing “good” reviews isn’t nearly as fun as writing a review about Duke Nukem Forever.

A Gamasutra article today discusses how an analyst has predicted that Duke will sell anywhere from 1.5 to 2 million units. You HAVE to assume development costs for this, as far as 2K and Gearbox is concerned, wasn’t high. God I hope not. If Duke sells 2 million units it is a commercial success. Despite being a truly terrible game Duke went in basically immune to criticism.

Perhaps this is in part what Gearbox head man Randy Pitchford meant when he said that those who write poor reviews will have to answer to readers? If Duke’s going to sell like this…maybe he’s right?

What does that say about the buying public? What does that say about name branding? What does that say about the role of game criticism? Are we less important than we’d all like to think? (hint: yes)

I’d be lying if I said that to see a game like Duke Nukem Forever sell 2 million units while a game like Metro 2033 sells less than 500,000 didn’t irritate me a little. The fact that 2 million people might actually sit down to play Duke Nukem, I assume merely due to name recognition and curiosity, takes a while for my brain to process.

In the end, I’m thrilled to see Duke hit the stores. It’s out,. It no longer has that vaporware tag attached to it — a game that is still talked about when people wonder what might have been. Duke is real. It’s a physical thing.

And here’s hoping we never have to speak about it ever again.

New Zelda Ad

Damn Robin looks like Father Time.

Dawn of War III Info: The Trickle Stage

Relic has started the slow trickle of details concerning Dawn of War III. Eurogamer spoke with THQ’s Danny Bilson who had a few thoughts on the upcoming (technically, it’s gonna be a while) RTS.

“”When you see it you’re going to go, whoa. I promise. …Dawn of War III, either way, is going to have a much larger strategic component to it, more of a global battle going on with little tactical things, sort of MMO-like.”

Is Nintendo hitting the skids?

Last week’s announcement of the Wii U had most folks playing the “cautiously optimistic” card. I came away impressed by the promise of what the console may be able to do and the suggestion that it will- at very least- bring Nintendo’s console specs more or less in line with this generation’s other consoles. Which are, of course, now approaching five and six years old. Ironically, Nintendo foolishly chose to show footage of games running on those consoles instead of theirs. Along with this ersatz footage came promises of support from third parties just like last year’s 3DS presentation, little of which seems to be materializing. After a week’s cooldown, I’m much less enthusiastic about the Wii U. Particularly in light of all that promise and potential that was squandered (or possibly illusory) in the Wii’s original incarnation.

Then of course there’s the tablet controller and a host of technical and logistical unknowns surrounding it including uncertainties as to how or if game makers will even invest the time and money to develop for a non-standard peripheral for an unestablished platform. When I saw the controller, my first thought was “$500″. Investors also took notice of Nintendo’s presentation and the laundry list of confused points and unestablished facts, and their stocks took a dive. Introducing what appears to be a very expensive (and among mainstream and casual gamers, unasked for) follow-up to the Wii in a declining market environment with fairly bleak forecast feels like a total mistake- particularly when Nintendo is trying to phase out two extremely successful platforms while playing catch-up with the competion and struggling to find a market for the 3DS. Is Nintendo on the ropes? ran an article yesterday detailing Nintendo’s slumping sales in the US based on a report pubilshed by market analysts Wedbush Secuirties, and there are some pretty bleak figures. Wii sales are completely in the dump at this point with only 236,000 units sold in May. That’s still more than the PS3 is moving, but a 30 percent decline for the console. The firm noted that 3DS figures were “well below” an expected 180,000 units. That’s a 50 percent downturn from its second month on the market. Software sales for the new handheld were cited as being an all-time low for a new hardware launch.

It looks grim.

Of course, it isn’t like Nintendo is filing for bankruptcy and we’re not anywhere near reporting that their stock is being delisted. But it does seem that the writing is on the walls that after five years of success, the House that Mario Built needs to take a hard look at its strategies. Mario and Zelda brands no longer sell systems in the long term when the competition is so stiff, and the fad gamers that dropped $250 to play Wii Sports for a month or two are hardly return customers. Gimmicky hardware with built-in novelties does little to encourage reasonable people to drop the same amount of money on a handheld system when there is no software available for it, let alone when the software that is on the shelf is sub-par and anyone can download a better game for a dollar on their cellphone.

More and more, Nintendo is looking like a lumbering, hubristic giant overconfident in their brand identity and almost unresponsive to industry trends and changes. Most DS owners are perfectly content with their portables and aren’t looking to upgrade any time soon, and the vestigal 3D feature is hardly a selling point. Sure, the Wii U looks impressive. But no Blu-Ray or DVD support? Really? As Microsoft and Sony move ever closer to evolving into that mythological set-top box that does it all, how do you justify buying a presumably expensive console that does just one thing anymore? And the company’s insistence on novelty might turn mainstream heads and incite core gamers to speculate on potential, but at the end of the day a gimmick is a gimmick and if it doesn’t change the way we play games, it adds up to zero.

Yeah, we all know that Nintendo’s first party development is the best in the business, but what difference does that make when third parties either treat your gimmicky platform as an anathema or as a way to turn a quick buck. Let alone when you invest in a Nintendo console and the generation’s top titles either pass you buy or turn up on your system as shoddy ports or crap spin-offs. With Wii development practically at a full stop, core DS game releases all but dried up, and the 3DS release schedule already looking barren aside from ports and remakes, it’s pretty clear that Nintendo’s slump is tied specifically to software. It strikes me that- once again- Nintendo’s greatest failings are in its third party licensing and software development.

They know this, which is why they bend over backwards to assure everyone that they have the support of firms like EA, Activision, THQ, and Ubisoft. But when you’re releasing behind-the-times hardware that has features and peripherals completely different than competing platforms, it makes the prospect- and return on investment- of developing much riskier. If I were a developer, I’d be thinking twice about putting any money into 3DS titles and I’d be extremely gunshy about the Wii U given the Wii’s notorious history as a shovelware player and Nintendo’s fading stature with core audiences. In other words, the people who actually buy new hardware and the games to go with them over the long term.

Of course, the Wii U is itself an overture to this crowd- even the name suggests “you” instead of “we”- meaning that this isn’t as much a family affair. Yet Nintendo understandably doesn’t want to let the Wii brand or product design go because it was so successful. So they’re at a loggerheads. Make the appeal to the core gamers and alienate the larger mainstream market that they’ve taken to the bank for the past several years, or make it to the casual crowd and continuing losing the bulk of their fanbase to Microsoft and Sony. It’s a can’t win situation, and it’s one that I think is going to spell trouble for the company over the next several years as they struggle to figure out where they can succeed the most in a rapidly changing business.

Nintendo simply has to get with the times. Announcing Arkham Asylum, Colonial Marines, and Darksiders II as “launch titles” was bold. But are these games releasing a year or more after their PS3 and 360 counterparts? And what happens when Microsoft announces its next console- which is likely to be early in the Wii U’s lifespan? Is the 3DS just totally doomed at this point, particularly when the PSVita has been announced at the same price with huge titles already lined up for its launch?

I’m not a financial analyst, I don’t watch stocks, and I don’t have any investment in the games industry other than as a writer and game player. But more and more Nintendo is looking like they’re on the verge of getting left in the dust by companies that weren’t even in the video games racket until 15 and 20 years after Nintendo was practically ruling the market. But it’s not 1985, 1991, or 2006 anymore. Everybody’s got a phone in their pocket that plays games we never imagined possible on any version of a Nintendo handheld. The HD consoles are changing and adapting to mainstream lifestyles, not faddish whims. Nintendo has got to figure out where its place is, who its audience is, and how to compete if it’s going to remain a viable player and avoid slumps like those sales figures becoming a sign of a consistent decline. But this is also a company that’s close to losing ground and losing touch, trotting out beloved mascots and remakes of classic games at industry events to remind people of past glories, fiddling the theme song from Ocarina of Time while Rome might be burning.

Psychonauts in the news

File this under “hope for the eternally hopeful” – yesterday, the flames that keep Psychonauts fans alive were stoked by a very optimistic Gamasutra post that stated that the full publishing rights to 2005 psychedelic adventure/platformer Psychonauts now belong to the developer, meaning that any and all purchases of the game (on Steam, Xbox Live, etc) will now benefit Double Fine, not Majesco.

The few, proud believers in a Psychonauts sequel were pumped – and some fans were ready to go buy a second (or even third) copy of the game, now that the money would be going to the developer itself.

Sadly, the cold, sober reality of morning hit, and DF main man Tim Schafer clarified a few points:

Double Fine head Tim Schafer has clarified this new arrangement to Gamasutra, saying that while rights have reverted, the company is not yet going to receive all the money for the game. Kipnis’ Twitter post was the result of “an excited team member jumping the gun a little bit.” Schafer told us this in an email:

“It’s true the publishing rights have reverted to Double Fine, but there are some more deals that need to be worked out and contracts that need signing before that actually means anything, financially. After that’s all squared away, we will have some fun stuff to announce! (And no, it’s not Psychonauts 2.)”]

Sad trumpet?

Psychonauts is one of my favorite games of all time, and yes, I proudly wear my Double Fine fandom on my sleeve. But I’m totally ok with the game not getting a sequel – I think it stands alone just fine as a unique experience. Hell, I’ll be happy either way, as long as the team keeps making fun, creative, out-there games for me to gush about.

I do want to know more about this “fun stuff to announce” though.

A Guide To Using Twitter

No High Scores

Our audience here at No High Scores is, by all accounts, extremely intelligent, devastatingly gorgeous and, among many other things, harbingers of excellent taste. I mean, that last one is obvious. Why else would they be here?

That being said, I’m going to pull a mother-in-law on you in which I say that you probably already know something, but then proceed to tell you any way. Ready? Here goes. Twitter is public. And by that, I mean that anything you say on Twitter is our there for everyone to see. Can you limit who sees it? Sure, but that’s not the default. The default is for all of your writings to go out into the ether where they can be consumed by anyone with an internet connection and a link to

So, if you’re, oh, I don’t know, a PR firm representing Duke Nukem Forever, and you think that you’re going to evaluate who gets future review copies based on what you consider venomous reviews, you probably don’t want to Tweet that because if you do, everyone can read it….

I have worked with Jim Redner on a bunch of releases in the past and he has always been 100% professional. I worked with him on all of the Borderlands content, some of which I gave good reviews, some of which I gave bad reviews and every time a new piece of content was released, the download code arrived in my mailbox. Based on Jim’s follow up statement and apologies, the Tweets were clearly written out of anger and frustration and he promptly apologized for it. Do I think that Jim and 2K are now going to go on an aggressive campaign to blacklist outlets over Duke Nukem Forever reviews? No, I don’t. In fact, it’s probably going to be easier than ever before to get review copies out of the Redner Group as they may do a little overcompensating to appear that they’re being as above board as possible. Note to self, see what games Redner Group is handling and ask for a copy.

I have a different perspective on this whole thing as I have been on the other end of such a thing and outside of a few people at GameShark, no one knows about it because it’s incredibly embarrassing, but I think, in this case, it’s worth telling the story to better explain where I’m coming from. At last years’ E3, we had a booth appointment with a company that will remain nameless for reasons you’ll see soon enough. Danielle and I had a great tour, everything was fabulous and we went on our merry way. A month or so later, I asked the company for a review copy of one of their games. Now, a booth appointment isn’t like a golden ticket or anything, but at the same time, one would hope that if you’re substantial enough of a site to get a booth appointment, you would be substantial enough to get review copies. Not so in this case. The fact that I didn’t get a copy of the game wasn’t a big deal, however instead of telling me “no” outright, and allowing me time to come to other arrangements, I was strung along for a couple of weeks and then told “no”. I’m a big boy. I can handle a negative response, I just prefer to be told up front.

Fast forward a month or so later and Danielle had asked me who my PR contact was at the company as she was reviewing another one of their games and needed a contact to see about a review copy. When I responded to her, I used GMail’s nifty way of auto-filling the To: field to get my contact’s email address, however I neglected to then delete said address from the To: field before sending the email. This would be the email in which I said that a colleague of my contact strung me along before telling me to go fuck myself. Now, is that what happened? Essentially, yes. Did I want to express that to PR. Oh God no. I promptly realized what I had done and apologized up and down, but never received acknowledgement from my contact one way or another. Maybe they never got the email, maybe they did and didn’t care, maybe there were offended all up and down and we’re forever blacklisted. I have no idea, but every time we don’t get a game from them to review, I think this is my fault. It very well might be. Should they continue to punish us for something that was obviously a mistake? No, and we shouldn’t all get on the Punish Wagon for Jim either.

So yes, I completely understand what Jim is probably feeling right now, and because of that, I tend to give him a pass on his behavior. He got angry, said something he was feeling but shouldn’t have been expressed publicly, and he has since apologized for it. It’s not like he tweeted that he hates Asian people or something horribly racist and it makes you question his character. What he said is that they’re reevaluating who gets review copies based on venomous reviews. I’m sure this isn’t going to be a very popular opinion, but so what?

Whenever I give a game a bad review, I always try to make it clear that I’m not insulting the developers personally. Do I always succeed? Probably not. With a game like DNF, which sounds like it’s not only poorly designed and executed, but also features some pretty offensive material, that task would be even harder. I mean, whoever decided to publish a game that features women being raped by aliens in a jokey manner as opposed to a serious “oh shit these aliens are despicable” manner, probably should have their motivations questioned. The line between bad review and venomous review then becomes even fuzzier and I can understand being protective of your clients if you feel that the reviews of their work attacks them personally. I probably would think twice about sending product to outlets that personally attacked my clients as well.

All that aside, the bottom line is this: PR outlets control who gets review copies, and they can decide to exercise that control in whatever manner they see fit. Their job is controlling the message, and deciding who gets copies, or who can post scores in relation to the embargo are all tools they use to accomplish that task. If you don’t like PR controlling the message, then don’t play their game. It is just that simple.

My Twitter feed was all abuzz about Redner’s comments and the threat of blacklisting and other terms thrown about to make this sound more serious then it actually is, but here is it is, in a nutshell: a PR firm may make it harder for sites to get early, and free, something that is publicly available for, at most, 60 dollars. They are not keeping the game from getting into everyone’s hands. They’re keeping the game from getting into a small group of hands early and for nothing. If you don’t want them keeping it out of your hands, buy it yourself. Buy it yourself! Jim Redner or Randy Pitchford or Jesus H. Christ Himself can not keep you from writing or saying anything about a game you bought yourself with your money. If you don’t like the way PR plays the game, then don’t play it. PR can’t push you around if you don’t let them decide what you write about.

We are enthusiast press and as such, we are beholden to PR to do our jobs, but we don’t have to be. Over the years we have dug ourselves into a pit with every early review and day one launch event we post and PR stands at the edge of this pit, throwing down games as they see fit. When they don’t throw down the games we whine and complain, ignoring the conveniently placed ladder that’s right next to us. Maybe if we all used it to climb out, bought our own games and stopped feeding into this notion that a review is only worthwhile if it posts before people can actually buy the game, we wouldn’t give a shit who Jim Redner wants to send review copies to.

I have worked with some seriously wonderful PR people in this business and some complete tools, just as I have worked with some seriously wonderful developers, designers, writers, artists, you name it and some complete tools in all of those departments. At the end of the day you come across all types, and how much you decide to let them influence your job, or your opinion, is your decision, not theirs. I think we would all serve our readers a lot better if we kept that in mind.

Spelunky Trailer

Two things I know about this game:

1.) This is directly in Danielle’s wheelhouse.

2.) Todd will never play this game. Unlike the EDF trailer below this is not due to his irrational fear of bugs, but due to his bad platform thumbs.

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon Trailer

This new trailer for EDF Insect Armageddon is much like the E3 trailer, only showing off a few more battle scenes.

Two things I know about this game:

1.) Brandon will most certainly play it co-op with his co-op cohorts.

2.) Todd will not play this under any circumstances.

Brandon’s E3 write up:

New Xbox to Debut at E3 2012?

That’s the word from as Crytek is apparently on board for another Timesplitters game on the new console. Some interesting details:

The Crysis 2 developer says that Microsoft will announce the existence of a new Xbox within the next 12 months, hinting that an E3 2012 reveal is likely. Crytek believes that Microsoft will announce and launch its new machine ahead of rival Sony, though the developer is also investing resources into next-generation PlayStation development. The information was detailed to by a high-ranking industry source at Crytek, who stated that TimeSplitters 4 is currently being demonstrated internally, is being built with CryEngine 3, and was being shown privately in video form at E3 2011.

Details are few but DirectX 11 support is supposedly a focal point. Interesting. In this same news story Crytek also talks Wii U. A Crytek engine on a Wii…what is the world coming to?

Read the whole story here.

X-Men Destiny Trailer Looks Old School

And by “old school” I mean last generation. Seriously, it looks like Silicon Knights is using the same engine they used for the GameCube version of Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes. I’m going to assume this is super-mega-pre-alpha or something.