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Tuesday Meditation – We Had Subs Edition

We Had Subs It Was Crazy

So, yeah, there’s no JTS post this week because there’s no JTS this week. We’re sorry about that. But you tell Brandon he shouldn’t be exhausted from his move or Bill that he shouldn’t watch OSU’s elite eight game live or me that I shouldn’t enjoy a pre-spring break evening with my kids since they were about to spend the week out of state. The stars aligned against us this week, but we’ll be back and all will be well. In the meantime, it’s Tuesday and things happened. Richard Garriott was kind of a dick. Bioshock Infinite was awesome, but not as awesome as everyone says. Also, Michigan did something even more awesomer… and there were subs… it was crazy. (God, but I love MGoBlog’s style.)

Richard Garriott and the Art of Winning Friends. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago I wasn’t all aflutter about Garriott’s Ultima-rebooty thingy, Shroud of the Avatar. The game’s presentation itself wasn’t really enough to grab me, though I’ll always follow anything the guy does. Maybe it’ll work. But regardless of that, I have to say that Garriott going around acting like a dick isn’t helping matters when he says things like this:

“You know, I go back to the day when I was the programmer, I was the artist, I was the text writer, etcetera,” said Garriott. “Every artist we’ve ever hired ever is infinitely better at art than I ever was. I was never a good artist, or audio engineer, or composer. I was a pretty good programmer, but now all of our programmers are better than I am—but if I’d stayed in programming I could probably keep up.

“But other than a few exceptions, like Chris Roberts, I’ve met virtually no one in our industry who I think is close to as good a game designer as I am. I’m not saying that because I think I’m so brilliant. What I’m saying is, I think most game designers really just suck, and I think there’s a reason why.”

Yes, he’s trying to make a larger point in proclaiming to PC Gamer that other game designers suck and nobody is really as good as him. And, yes, a lot of sites ran with the “they suck” quote without providing any context to it at all. (That context being that people are trained enough to be designers as opposed to the usual artist, programmer, janitor roles.) And, yes, in context, and wading through all the prideful braggery, there is a reasonable point to be made. But let’s not pretend Garriott A) didn’t know exactly what he was saying and B) wasn’t being a dick about it. He was. A consummate dick, in point of fact.

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Then, when the whole thing blew up on him, as was inevitably going to happen, instead of offering even a token apology that hinted maybe he should have used different words, he went and insinuated it was PC Gamer’s sensationalism that caused the stir and, oh, here’s what I really meant now that I am being shamed into acting more reasonably. And PC Gamer’s Logan Decker, instead of starting a ridiculous flame war, took the high road and said, hey we don’t think we’re to blame and we even sort of agree with the man. It’s nicer than I would’ve been about it.

It’s hard to watch a guy you really rather idolized for a very long time behave this way, especially when he really hasn’t done anything noteworthy for gaming in 20 years. Maybe if there were a line up of great 21st century games to his credit I’d be more willing to accept that bravado. There’s not. Given that, just a small dose of humility would be nice. It is one of Ultima’s eight virtues after all.

Infinite Praise. Except Not. Tom Chick is taking heat for his Bioshock: Infinite review from exactly the sorts of people you’d expect. I’ve only got a couple hours spent with the game (I’m barely even into the shootery parts) and even based on just that taste I can tell you that he’s absolutely right about this game. It’s a beautiful, beautiful package. It’s also the same damn shooter we’ve been playing. What’s funny to me is Yahtzee called this one waaaay back in his review of the first Bioshock game (right around the 44-second mark) .

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“It isn’t like System Shock 2. It is System Shock 2.”

Infinite is System Shock 2… too. They’re all the same game, mechanically speaking and at this point I don’t think it’s completely out of line to call Irrational a one-trick pony. They’re just really, really, really, exceptionally good at that one trick. Nobody does that trick better. And, you know, that’s okay. It beats the hell out of yet another Call of Duty. That doesn’t mean, however, that regardless of how good the setting is (and Columbia is amazing) that it’s not all getting to be a bit rote to actually play through. Bioshock at least had a decade separating it from System Shock 2. We had warm fuzzy memories, but little in the way of equivalent experiences. Now, we’ve done that. It was practically yesterday and I don’t think it’s asking too much of Irrational to suggest they need to come up with something more than shoot with this hand, use magic with that hand, listen to some audio logs, and scrap for money in trash bins. You don’t have to re-revolutionize everything, but a bit of game mechanics evolution to go with these brilliantly imaginative environments would be swell is all. Also, the save system sucks. Hard.

Final Four!!! It’s been 20 years and a lot of dark times since the maize and blue of Michigan saw Final Four action. Down by double-digits with just a couple minutes to play (and a statistical .6% chance of winning the game), that elite eight victory over Kansas had precisely zero business happening, which makes it all the more glorious. That game-tying three from Trey Burke in the waning seconds to send it to overtime will live in tournament lore forever. Also, there were subs and it was crazy. M fans, you have a T-shirt to buy.

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Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and proceeded to spend over 16 years as a development editor for Pearson Education, publishing books, videos, and digital learning products under the Que and Sams Publishing imprints. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd has also been a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets. Follow him on Twitter @ubrakto or check it out his website at

15 thoughts to “Tuesday Meditation – We Had Subs Edition”

  1. “Also, the save system sucks. Hard.”

    Thank you! I’ve been reading multiple reviews and posts on this game, yet this is the first time I’ve heard this mentioned. How the hell did this get missed?

    For those not familiar, the save system (I’m going by PC here since that’s what I’ve got) only saves by autosaving. You have no control on when a save is made, and these autosave points are not nearly as often (or obvious) as they should be. So if you have to turn the game off after a big battle and 5-10 minutes of exploring and there was no autosave (likely), then you’re screwed.

    And on top of that, as far as I can tell, there is only one save file. So no letting someone else play or going back to neat moments until you’ve entirely finished your game (you can technically start a game at any chapter, but I don’t know what upgrades/items get saved to that and I’m not willing to risk trying it out in case nothing gets saved).

    Overall, I love the game, enough to put up with this crap. But to have this sort of thing in 2013 is ridiculous.

    1. I did notice the One Save thing, which is even more crazy than the lack of user-controlled saves. So much so, I wondered if I as missing something. I had played some Tuesday night (release day) and then wanted to show my girlfriend just those opening minutes in Columbia, so I went to start a new game and it said I’d lose my old one. It doesn’t invalidate all the great stuff about the game, but how does that happen?

  2. I have two words for Garriot. Tabula Rasa. Because that sure was an example of some great design there wasn’t it? Well, I guess it kind of was, it set the record for the fastest shutdown of an MMO.

    1. I dunno, I was a devout Tabula Rasa player for a while. The shutdown had way more to do with NCSoft then Garriot. Was it perfect? Gods no, but it did some things very, very well. One example: Most MMOs just have monsters respawn by just appearing. One moment they’re there, next they’re not. TR’s mobs were dropped out of a ship. It also had public quests before public quests were made cool. Fact is, the game had a lot of innovation, that although wasn’t fully utilized in the game, had a huge impact on the games that followed. Much like Ultima.

      1. I never played Tabula Rasa, but the wrap on it seems to be exactly that — it did a few things well, and not a lot else. I don’t think that gives the guy the platform to call out the rest of the industry. That’s what I find grating about the guy. I’m all for some confidence, and some swagger even, but there’s a line where it just becomes arrogance and I think he’s left that line pretty far behind him at this point.

        1. Oh, I don’t deny his arrogance. I also question his relevance in the current game market. There are a number of indie studios doing exactly what he’s doing, where only a few people are handling the workload, and they are putting out amazing games. Soldak Entertainment for one, and you can’t deny the influence Mojang has had on the industry. British is clearly out of touch with the market as a whole.

          I just felt the need to correct the assumption that Tabula Rasa’s failings were all on one person, as opposed to there being a number of factors in place.

          1. Oh, for sure. That’s completely reasonable and points well made. Hell, I don’t entirely blame RG for Ultima VIII or IX either. He was The Man and shoulders the load, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence the series went south when they went under EA’s umbrella. When you work for a publisher, even good designers lose a measure of control… the lack of recognition of that, I think, makes his comments to PC Gamer all the more grating. Lots of folks out there doing, largely unheralded, lots of excellent design work.

  3. I couldn’t possibly give two shits about playing Bioshock Infinite. This is after listing it as one of my most anticipated games of 2012, I mean, 2013.

    Why? System Shock 2. I loaded it up before Infinite came out and realized that IT was the game I wanted to play instead of it. So I saved myself $60.

    Chick’s review was phenomenal. THAT is the kind of games writing and reviewing I want to read. He dug in deep and delivered an insightful, intelligent review that gets at what’s WRONG with a game design paradigm wherein that kind of story is told as a first-person shooter. It’s too bad that “games journalism” is more about appeasing consumers and advertisers than it is about delivering cut-the-shit-sonny _writing_ like that.

    I could not care less about the story of Bioshock Infinite if the best they can do is to reiterate for a FOURTH time the same gameplay mechanics but with different backdrops for all of the manshooting.

    Why does that story even need _weapons_?

    As for Richard Garriott, Crom bless ’em. He’s an old guy shaking the cane. But you know what, I don’t think he’s necessarily wrong. There aren’t many _individuals_ like him and Chris Roberts in video games today. There aren’t game designers. There’s big, corporate aggregates of lots of people trying to effectively build a house together. Sure, in the indie area there are “name” designers. But it’s not like it was in the 80s when folks like Garriott were literally creating this stuff out of virtually nothing.

    1. A couple other NHS readers and I had a discussion about the way the shooter elements undermine the story over Twitter. My stance on it is that this game would be better served if your role was reflective of that of an actual Pinkerton. Give me ways to interact with the world not based on bulletpoint diplomacy. I want to spy, I want espionage, I want threats, bribery, coercion, chases and escapes, brawls, and as a last resort shooting.

      Honestly this applies to Tomb Raider too. There is a definite curve to violence in games. One death is traumatic, 2 is dramatic, 10 is problematic, 100 is psychotic, and 1000 is tragic. In reality killing is rare. If your character can rack up a death toll comparable to Chicago, you have gone off the rails. Every time your character kills it cheapens them all. If your game ends with a total kills in the single digits, or even low teens, then each time you had to resort to deadly force can have some resonance.

      DO NOT make me kill dozens of enemies, then rub my face in it by saying ‘and how many people have you killed to get to me’. That is grade A bullshit if you didn’t give me any other option. Unless that is the whole point of your game (A la Spec Ops) you are just being a dick.

      It’s why I don’t go into anything resembling shooters except on rare occasion. I’ll stick to my strategy games thankyouverymuch.

      That said Bioshock Infinite has some utterly brilliant bits. The atmosphere is extraordinary. The care and thought in the world goes far beyond anything in Bioshock. Read the posters, explore the world, see it’s construction. There is so much intent built into the world, and it does wonders. There are scenes which can only truly be done justice in a game. I won’t go into much detail, but for anyone who’s played will understand. The Hall of Heroes is one of the best game environments ever designed bar none. There is so much detail, so much richness. The touches (like the animatronic signs) tell so much without words. You don’t just get a sense of what they are saying. The world touches on our American history, draws you in, and pulls back the layers of whitewashing. It demands you to look, and examine beyond the jingoism, and American exceptionalism and look at the cruel, dark, racist heart that underlies many of our countries past exploits.

      It’s ugly, it’s disturbing, it’s brilliant, and it’s all done without a word.

      Add in the phenomenal dialogue (pay attention to the tin soldiers bits), the carefully selected (and twisted) bits of scripture written on the world, and the pitch perfect musical score (opera FTW) and it strikes to something special.

      Then you shoot 30 guys.

      There is so much brilliance, I just wish that it needen’t be beholden to regressive shooter mechanics. But it is, because we are the exception. We who dig, and search for meanings. I talked to several friends and colleagues, and when I expressed my desire to play the game with less (or no) shooting they thought I was crazy. The sad reality is most people would not buy the game if it didn’t have all the gratuitous violence. We are the elite, the discerning, the picky critics, and we are an outlier. A game does not get made that has as fully realized and as rich a world without the shooting, and that’s just sad. In a Michael Bay Transformers culture you can’t have your Argo or Lincoln without mixing with a(n un)healthy dose of Expendables.

      1. I think there’s a lot of truth in that. A lot. I don’t necessarily think the game would be better if you only had to confront a dozen guys or whatever, but I’m totally on board with the notion of dialing back on the meat grinder. I think there are ways to have handled violent encounters in the game that would be frequent enough to keep the action going, but wouldn’t have the effect of just mass-killing without any thought or consequence behind it. I was astonished at the beginning of Infinite how alive the world was and then you “win” that raffle and suddenly the place is a ghost town devoid of everything but the folks looking to kill you. That just felt odd.

        1. Absolutely agree on the disappointing ghost town. It led to this weird behavior from me. I would reload a checkpoint immediately upon causing a firefight if I hadn’t already fully explored the environment. The incidental details are so strong, losing the ability to experience some of them because of unwanted hostilities was not OK. As soon as the shooting starts the NPC’s disappear and don’t repopulate after. Well time to reload and explore this corner first.

    2. Michael, I agree that Garriott has a point when he says that game design is a skill that’s different from being an artist or a programmer. I don’t think any sane person would argue against that. I think there’s a lineup of guys who would justifiably find fault with the notion of this guy, who hasn’t designed a game near as good as the middle # Ultimas in 20 years, telling them they’re shitty designers because they didn’t create Ultima or Wing Commander. This from the mind behind Ultima VIII and IX? That’s not confidence. It’s not swagger. It’s just flat out arrogant, and in a way that’s monumentally disrespectful to a lot of people out there who have been making good games, most of them without the sort of recognition that came from being a successful designer back when two guys in a garage could make a great game and see it go on shelves at Babbages.

      1. Oh, it’s totally arrogant. But I kind of don’t mind that, aside from the disrespect you noted. It’s not hard to detect notes of bitterness in what he’s saying…it’s probably pretty frustrating to have been in on the ground floor of all this, literally inventing video games, and to see these guys making all of this money and really not doing the same kind of design or inception.

        Let me put it this way. I find the arrogance of folks like Phil Fish and Johnathan Blow revolting. I find the arrogance of folks like Richard Garriott quaintly abrasive.

        1. Hahaha! Touche. I guess I must just like the guys that quietly go about their mf-ing business. ??

    3. Seriously, Tom’s review of Bioshock Infinite was easily the best piece of game writing I’ve read so far this year. It’s too bad the comment section went to the gutter before I could actually congratulate him on the writing. But I was happy to see your comment amidst the noise.

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