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Cracked LCD- Hey Kid, Wanna “Back” a Copy of Catacombs?

used-car-salesman3

I recently had a moment of weakness. I failed a saving throw and started thinking about “backing” a Kickstarter “project” despite my sincere reservations and general animosity toward the shift the hobby and video gaming industry has made toward crowdfunding everything. I’m not quite sure how gaming consumers could not be tired of the seemingly endless parade of vaporware products sold on cute videos, pictures of prototype miniatures, a phony sense of exclusivity and of course the nonsense notion that you are somehow supporting creators’ dreams rather than just paying up front for a product that may or may not meet expectations. It’s a sad day and age when all of these carpetbagging hucksters shilling zombie dungeon crawl tactical skirmish miniatures games (with REAL metal coins) are making a kind of money that has eluded the hobby industry for a couple of decades now by selling games based on “stretch goals” rather than product quality and company reputation.

But I faltered. A couple of years ago, there was a very cool little dungeoncrawler that came out called Catacombs. Imagine something like Descent, but instead of grid-based movement and keeping track of piles of cards or whatever, you flicked wooden discs around the board to kill monsters. It was an innovative, quirky design that brought a dexterity element into the genre. It also became pretty hard to find. Elzra Games out of Canada launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new edition of the game with some rather controversial new artwork. Controversial, it seems, because some people wanted the game to carry on with the original edition’s tacky, archaic artwork rather than the more modern, Cartoon Network-influenced style. I liked the look of the new art, and it was just $55 shipping inclusive to PREORDER (not “back”, regardless of the bullshit nomenclature). There were a couple of “stretch goal” add-ons that were an additional $30, and I felt like I could justify an $85 outlay for a game that I’ve been wanting for some time in a new and improved edition with extras.

So I set about trying to fund the purchase, as always do, by selling some of my underplayed games. I kept an eye on the Kickstarter page, kind of waffling about it. Should I go ahead and PAY FOR THE GAME (not “pledge”, the liars) or just wait until closer to the end? Would more “stretch goals” unlock and make this an even better value proposition? Or maybe I should just forgo the extras and get the base game? Or possibly just wait to see if my usual online retailers get it in stock when the game is released, presumably in November?

But then, something changed. On April 7th, they added a new pledge tier, as if it were not always planned to be a part of the release. The Caverns of Soloth expansion was added, which meant that the over 1000 people “backing” this game , many of whom were in for the $85 or so to get everything offered, suddenly were looking at an additional pledge to get the expansion. The “all in” package is now $130-odd dollars US. And it does not even include the expansion’s board, offered as another “stretch goal” if the “project” hits $150,000. And get this- the expansion board is boldly noted as a “Kickstarter Exclusive”, which means you better put your money down if you want it. Or pay far more on Ebay later.

I don’t want to get too far into a dissection as to whether Elzra Games needs an additional $50,000 to print 1000 or so mounted boards or not, but the shenanigans here are clear. This is a bait-and-switch tactic more appropriate to a shady used car lot than selling a board game. People were offered a product with some optional additional purchases and they pledged money based on what was on offer under the assumption that they were getting it all. I would have done this myself. Now, the “buy everything” bar has been almost doubled. Sure- you can say “well, you don’t have to buy everything” or “those are optional purchases”. But the bottom line is that this company has lured customers in with the pretense that they’re making an $85 purchase for everything and then surprising everyone with an add-on purchase that shamelessly preys on the consumer’s desire to make a complete purchase. It’s one of those things that isn’t illegal or even necessarily immoral- but it’s the kind of business you’d expect from a shady used car lot, not the games industry.

So I won’t be backing the game- I’ll just pick up the game and the expansion when it hits retail distribution for 30% or more off of its Kickstarter price, thanks. I could not possibly care less about the “exclusives”, not when they are being offered by a company that is delicately towing the line between marketing smarts and a lack of integrity. It’s a shame, this is a good game that I’d like to see do well.

Which, of course, begs the question- does a quality product need Kickstarter in the first place? What happened to selling games based on what the product actually is rather than what it could be if enough people agree to pre-pay for a sight-unseen product? I do not entertain any discussion of Kickstarter that argues that you aren’t actually “buying” a product, you’re being “rewarded” for your support. Anyone that believes that this is the case is quite frankly, a dope that deserves to have their money stolen. You’re preordering products that used to be selected for production by a publisher, who would stake resources (as well as reputation) on what they are selling to the consumer. These Kickstarter “projects” are already far too often ending with a “well, shucks” concession to shameful marketing tactics or a mediocre product from both the game makers and buyers.

Witness Myth, a Kickstarter that recently shipped with a widely criticized rulebook and a pervading sense that the game was not quite finished and needed more time in development. Which is pretty par for course for a lot of Kickstarter games. Backers either roll with the company “fixing” their playtest copy game over time or shrug it off and argue that they can at least sell the game at a profit. Witness any number of Kickstarter games that had a big brouhaha in the run-up to the end of the campaign, released to backers, and have now quietly excused themselves from all games conversation outside of those trying desperately to validate their $200, $300 purchases through forums discussion.

I’ve watched the hobby industry take a beating for a couple of decades now and Kickstarter is a slap in the face to the people that have worked hard and taken financial and personal risks to make hobby games what they are today. It’s an insult to people that have worked hard to put out quality games when Elzra Games poormouths on their Kickstarter page that it’s a “full time job” to make their game, which basically means that your pledge is paying someone’s salary.

I’ve seen publisher after publisher struggle to come up with the Next Big Thing and then fumble trying to market what they think is the Next Big Thing. But now the Next Big Thing is another zombie game with miniatures and a $500 reward tier that lets you put your picture on one of the cards. I’ve seen game stores shuttered, designers give up, companies vanish and an overall self-defeatist assumption that there’s not any money in hobby games. Yet here are these Kickstarter projects like Catacombs pulling in $100k or more. And there’s video game “projects” raking in –millions. I’ve asked this before- where the hell was all of this money to spend on hobby games over the past ten years? How is it that people are now willing to buy games sight unseen without the benefit of a review, word-of-mouth or a demo game?

Part of it is undoubtedly the false democratization of the process, the phony belief that you are “pledging” money to help out a wing-and-a-prayer upstart make something that all of those Big Bad Companies would never produce. You’re a cog in the DIY machine that is going to tear down the other machine, I suppose, and every dollar helps Joe Designer make his dream of a space marine dungeoncrawl with deckbuilding elements come true. Doesn’t matter if Joe Designer has no fucking clue what he’s doing. Or if Joe Designer has no experience in producing consumer goods. You’re supporting games “that never would have been made”, man!

Sorry, but the last thing the hobby games business needs is MORE mediocre trash.

It’s pathetic that the industry is in such a sad state that even large, highly successful companies like Fantasy Flight Games are having trouble marketing big box board games successfully and their only real option is to develop product lines heavily reliant on small, serial purchases. It’s sad that people balk at the rising MSRP of games- the $50 big box game is dead, folks- but they have no compunction about pledging $130 or more for Catacombs. A light finger-flicking game that should be on shelves for $35 street. $70 with the expansion (and a NON-Kickstarter exclusive board).

So the finger turns to point at YOU, games consumer and potential Kickstarter “backer”. Why the hell are you doing this? If a random guy approaches you on the street with a brochure for some great game idea and says “I just need a hundred dollars, brother” do you give it to him? I sure as hell wouldn’t. So what about Kickstarter makes that acceptable, particularly when the people starting these projects can always fall back on the “we weren’t actually SELLING anything, wink wink” excuse? Why do YOU keep allowing companies like Elzra Games to run these kinds of campaigns instead of just selling us games the old fashioned way that supports quality, accountability and integrity?

A moment of weakness, and then resolve. I’m not backing anything. Which is kind of a shame, because I appreciate the DIY spirit of Kickstarter and I have friends and associates that have had or are running successful projects. But now that the games business has been pretty much overrun by endless Kickstarters, I’d just as soon see the whole scheme burn to the ground.

So Sick of Your Excuses

excuses

It’s not uncommon for folks in the video games industry to say incredibly stupid things- the kinds of things that point out how clueless, in denial, and utterly corporate the business has become. Two recent items caught my eye and ire. One is a statement made by a Capcom executive during a 3Q shareholder call. The question was point blank- why did Resident Evil 6 miss its sale mark of 6 million copies sold, landing somewhere around 4.8 million? The response was typical corporate bullshit, saying absolutely nothing in a way that sounds important. There’s talk about analyzing causes, validation that 4.8 million sales indicates a popular title, and a bunch of unmitigated corporate  bullshit about how marketing and “internal operating frameworks” need to be examined to determine shortcomings (you can make your own “jackin’ off” gesture at home). The other is a comment made by Puzzle Clubhouse CEO Jesse Schell  (who?)  at last week’s DICE conference about how releasing a demo harms game sales, potentially halving them. He went on to explain that the best way to sell games is to release a trailer and provide the consumer with no possible way to try it before you buy it. Love you too, buddy.

Both of these statements put me in mind of the kinds of post-sales failure finger-pointing and “dog ate my homework” excuses that we’ve seen too often in this video games generation- like poor old Warren Spector claiming that Epic Mickey failed because they used a adventure game camera instead of a platform game camera. Or the tired “gamers didn’t get it” response.  For all of the money in the video games business, it’s just incredible that none of these analysts, developers, executives, or stakeholders has bothered to own up to what the truth about these games failing actually could be. Nobody wants to state the obvious and take responsibility for all of these millions of dollars in development and promotion squandered. So many excuses, but nobody talking straight.

It could be that your game just fucking sucked.

Or that nobody wanted to buy it for any number of reasons ranging from market saturation to the $60 price point. Or maybe people DON’T want a Resident Evil game that moves further and further away from the core values of the franchise in ten different directions. Maybe the demo showed potential buyers that the game was just BAD to begin with.

And maybe- just maybe, guys- gaming consumers aren’t Pavlovian idiots responding to your marketing. Maybe- just maybe- consumers should be respected instead of treated as marks for day one DLC scams, unasked for multiplayer, and used game lock-out tactics like online passes. Could it be that maybe people are starting to NOT want the shit you’re selling? Could it be that with more choices available, the guys that treat their customers like mindless trash are the ones seeing losses, failures, and missed expectations?

Hearing these kinds of excuses just points out how the desperate this industry is becoming and how far removed from reality the people in positions of power in it really are. It shows- yet again- that video games and corporations don’t always mix so well.  And it shows yet again the latent contempt these companies have for us. This Jesse Schell character wants to tell the business to NOT let us see their game before we buy. He wants us to make a blind $60 purchase based on a trailer. A trailer. I hope no one listens to this clown, who has no business being CEO of anything.

It blows my mind that people with business degrees, corner offices, decades of experience, and other attractive resume elements can’t see something that I and a lot of you have had figured out for as long as we’ve been spending money on any kind of consumer good. There is no analysis needed, no one needs to be paid a dime for the kinds of simple business wisdom the video games industry has forgotten.

If you make a great product or offer a great service and you treat your customer with respect, you will make money.

Let me repeat that. Consider this a free course in running a business. I don’t think they teach this in MBA school. Memorize it. Jesse Schell- you need to hear this.

If you make a great product or offer a great service and you treat your customer with respect, you will make money.

Really, it is that simple. If you’re making huckleberry pies or satellite guidance systems, all of the marketing and hufflepuff in the world doesn’t make a lick of difference if you’re treating people badly and delivering sub-par product that no one wants to buy. Yeah, you need to get the word out.  But people do not buy things just because of an advertisement- regardless of what the folks in marketing trying to hold onto their jobs will tell you.

I never saw endless streams of trailers, previews, preorder bonuses, transmedia, or an E3 presentation for Minecraft. It seems to be doing pretty well. I wonder if Mojang blames “internal processes and administration” or the availability of a demo for his game selling 20 million copies instead of 21 million.

More and more, I regret ever giving most of these companies and developers my money. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that for too many in the industry that the business/customer relationship is an adversarial one. There are good people in this business, good businesses. Let’s run these corporate jackasses and their excuses for failure out of town and get the good guys back in control. Folks that understand the Barnes Maxim-

If you make a great product or offer a great service and you treat your customer with respect, you will make money.

No excuses.

Cracked LCD- The Kickstarter Carnival

The first Kickstarter project I ever funded was the revised black box edition of Glory to Rome. The idea was that the publisher, Cambridge Game Factory, had hired an actual artist (Heiko Gunther, a name to watch) to redo the whole thing since the original edition was one of the most notoriously ugly games on the market. Among the stretch goals was a signed apology from the first edition’s illustrator. I like the game- sort of an advanced San Juan-style tableaux builder with some decent interaction- so I felt like it was a good project to support. I finally received the game last week, after almost a year of excuses as to why the game had not been produced or shipped. Many backers still haven’t seen their games, and the excuses continue to mount.

I’ve only backed one other Kickstarter, and that was Road to Enlightenment. I’ve played several other board games that have gone through the crowdfunding process including Empires of the Void, BattleCon, and Lyssan. Uniformly, these games have been good to almost great, with every single one characterized by the same shortcomings. Apart from Small Box Games’ consistently great offerings that have gone through the process, they are all somewhat underdeveloped, underbaked, and unpolished at a rules and mechanics level. The quirks of inexpensive Chinese contract-job production are evident in many- box labels bubbling up and peeling away, strange moldy smells or dampness, and murky printing. And these are the games that have actually shipped. Who knows how the piles and piles of Kickstarter games in various stages of funding will turn out, but I’m betting “unprofessional” and “unfinished” are among the descriptors.

I know people love Kickstarter, and there’s this romanticized idea that it’s this kind of punk rock DIY way to get your board game (or video game) made. I love that idea too. But the punk rock DIY spirit isn’t a carnival-like atmosphere of shrill shilling, with banner ads hawking game projects left and right on major board game sites, promising ridiculous stretch goals to people who pay way, way too much for random games. Every time I see the Kickstarter logo, I just think of a carnie, barking their patter into a bullhorn, trying to get you into to see the Bearded Lady. And take your dollar.

In an industry where you’re looking at worldwide sales figures of 5000 representing a very successful title, the idea that you can get people to pledge to support whatever otherwise unmarketable board game idea you have with zero financial risk is an appealing one. There are board game projects on there (and on similar sites) that are getting close to a million bucks in funding. Even established, long-standing hobby game publishers are jumping on the crowdsourcing bandwagon- and jumping off the traditional business investment one. It’s a smart marketing trick. I call it carpetbagging.

Kickstarter and the crowdfunding craze area perfect enabler for the board gaming world. Between the “Cult of the New” (gamers that wildly careen from new game to new game) and the “gotta catch ‘em all” consumerist mentality that sites like Boardgamegeek.com foster, it’s not exactly hard to part “backers” from their money- even if you don’t post a rulebook or have any evidence that you’ve ever designed, developed, and manufactured a board game before. Flashy art, a compelling title, and a popular concept like “zombies” are apparently all it takes to get fifty grand out of board gamers for your vaporware. Where the hell was all of this money in the hobby before Kickstarter?

There’s a gold rush mentality that has been going on since Alien Frontiers blew up, the first high-profile, high-dollar Kickstarter board game- not to mention video game projects that have just exploded in money. Alien Frontiers opened the floodgates, and now it seems like four out of every five new games that I see have a Kickstarter logo somewhere nearby. When I see that logo, my interest plummets- no matter how cool the game looks. Call me old fashioned, but I like for the $60-$100 board game I’m buying to be vetted and developed by a professional publisher that knows what the hell they’re doing. Experience counts, and so do taste and quality.

There’s a lot to be said about someone like Zev Shalsinger or Christian Petersen selecting a game for publication and deciding to invest capital in its development and manufacture. That means something- that the company is taking a measured risk and is putting their money behind their product. Kickstarter games are asking YOU to invest YOUR capital into THEIR product. I’m sorry, but I think that’s kind of fucked up, regardless of this idea that the market is deciding what gets produced and regardless if “investing” just means that you get a copy of the game. It’s particularly fucked up when you’re buying games more or less sight unseen in the good faith that the game that you’re buying is actually going to be any good. Or even played.

There are other things that Kickstarter is doing that have changed the gaming culture. It’s created a greater sense of dilution, with more and more titles available or on the way. Yet I rarely see anyone talking about, playing, or discussing most Kickstarter games beyond some flurry that may occur around the time the game actually ships. There’s so many flash-in-the-pan titles I see come and go, and never hear from again- even if the game manages to make it into retail distribution. Accessories, expansions and reprints are starting to appear on Kickstarter, with the long out-of-print Vesuvius Incident showing up recently. It’s a game I would have bought from a retailer in a heartbeat. But I’m not backing it and if it doesn’t get printed then I’m sure I can find something else to do with my time and money. I didn’t even back the Ogre Kickstarter, and that’s one of my favorite games. I’ll gladly order it from my favorite online retailer when it gets into distribution- and after I hopefully do not hear about production issues or other disappointments. Stretch goals be damned.

There are already so many great games out there that are barely played. Do we really need to be throwing our money at every “project” that comes along, in the vain hope of discovering some incredible new game that will last, what, six months in regular play rotation ? Or is the ratio of junk to jewels being skewed by the access to your gaming budget that Kickstarter affords armchair designers and the carpetbagging major publishers? Would we really miss the glut of zombie games, ersatz Euros, Space Hulk clones, and other ephemera if they didn’t get published?

I’m not saying that all Kickstarter games are bad or poisonous to good gaming- Tooth and Nail: Factions is a recent example of a really great on. Nor am I saying that there aren’t promising projects out there, or that I hate the DIY spirit and think it should all be “corporate” at all. What I’m saying is that I’m not backing the crowdfunding concept as a way to get high quality, well-designed games to the table in any kind of reliable way. I’m not trusting my money with someone who may or may not make a great game that I may or may not be able to ever play or even get rid of. Assuming that the game actually ships.

Now, that guy that is Kickstarting the salt-firing anti-bug shotgun- he may actually be worth backing.

When Common Sense Met Kotaku

Kotaku did something interesting yesterday. Which is not to say that they never do anything interesting, in fact, since Stephen Totilo took over, I’ve quite enjoyed the changes to the site, but yesterday’s event, in which they invited an anonymous employee of a major video game publisher to answer reader questions, was particularly interesting.

There were no huge bombs dropped, nothing scandalous announced, no earth shattering revelations, which is why it was so damned compelling. It was nothing but common sense answer after common sense answer, yet what I found so interesting about the whole thing, was how it appeared that the people asking the questions never thought of these answers themselves.

If you were to come up with a list of questions you would expect the readers of Kotaku, or any big gaming site, to submit to a big time video game publisher, chances are your list and the questions asked on Monday would be similar. People wanted to know why publishers do day one DLC, why publishers place DRM on PC games, why publishers don’t take more risks on new IPs. Now, I could have answered those questions myself without the input from the publisher person and they would have looked something like this: money, money and money. Amazingly enough, the “official” answers weren’t that far off of the mark.

Now, I’m not saying that publishers are always making the right decisions, but I simply can not fathom how the answers provided by this person are not blindingly obvious. Video game publishers are in business to make money. In many cases, these are public companies, beholden to shareholders as well as to themselves. They do what they do because they make money off of it. We can argue the merits of the long term effects of their current strategies at another time, but for right now, they’re looking to make money and their decisions are based on that goal.

Let’s take Day One DLC, for our first example. The question was basically “Stop making it, it sucks. Why do you do it?” The answer:

Then stop buying it.

Look, it’s simple. One team puts together a rough estimate on how much they expect the company to make from DLC. Let’s call that “A”. Then another team puts together an estimate on how much it will cost to develop that DLC. Let’s call that “B”.

If A > B, you get Day One DLC.

Seems pretty simple to me. But, let’s not cherry pick. Here (s)he is on new IPs:

You don’t spend your money on new IPs, at least not at this stage in the cycle.

And:

I’ll say what I said earlier: you’re not buying new IPs. You may feel like you are, but trust me, I’ve seen the numbers, and with very few exceptions (which unfortunately get trumpeted in the media the loudest), you’re not.

My absolute favorite quote, though, had to be in response to a question about Call of Duty. Sorry for posting such a long question, but I think it’s important to read the whole thing:

Question:
How come there seems to be such a big gap between customer and publisher? It’s something that’s been bothering me for a while, but gamers voice their concerns when they get something they don’t like. Sure, they don’t always have good arguments, but a lot of times they do.

Call of Duty is the obvious example here, and I’m sorry for being ‘that guy’ and bringing it up. Sure, it sells like… I don’t know, something that sells really well, yet thousands of customers complain literally everywhere about how much they dislike the whole ‘let’s release the same game over and over’ (and let’s not trick ourselves, that is what is being done, regardless of how many times one makes a new story about nukes).

Why aren’t their opinions taken into consideration? I hear publishers saying that they are, but looking at the games they keep pushing out, it’s pretty obvious that no, no one is listening to the customers, or at least not the ones who doesn’t just buy the next game because ‘it’s the sequel to that other game I bought because it was a sequel!’.

Personally, this isn’t a big of a problem. I don’t mind CoD, and I can enjoy it. But what does bother me is that everyone is talking about how much the customer – the gamer – matters, yet absolutely no one is actually listening to what they have to say. Sorry for the whole novel-thing I’ve got going on, but that’s my question. Why?

Also if you took the time to read (and possibly also answer), thank you.

Answer:
Ah, here is where you went wrong: on CoD, the customer is not necessarily a gamer. Activision constantly does research and listens to their fans. In fact, many of their decisions are guided by those reports. It may feel to you that thousands of people feel X, but the truth is, based on hard data, that millions of people feel differently from you.

It never ceases to amaze me how insular the gaming community is. We go on sites with other people who love games as much as we do and we all bitch and moan about the same things and wonder why, in most cases, our complaints aren’t addressed, never once considering that most of the people buying Call of Duty and Madden and “insert popular franchise here” every year don’t give a rat’s ass about DLC and story endings and what have you. They go into Best Buy or Walmart or GameStop, buy their game, leave happy and stay that way. Does that mean that publishers should ignore the dedicated gaming communities? Certainly not, but we shouldn’t expect them to change their plans specifically for us. They’re looking at numbers on spreadsheets and our numbers simply aren’t large enough.

If you haven’t read it already, you should definitely check the piece out. The person answering had a pretty good sense of humor about things, at one point answering the pointless question of publisher evil by remarking that they’re closer to the “don’t tip your waitress” evil than the “genocide” evil, and gave some other insight into things like piracy, the PC being the preferred target platform due to the lack of licensing fees, and going with your gut when it comes to pitches. The best line, by far, though, was this one, which hopefully (s)he will get to expand on in a future Q &A:

DO NOT GET ME STARTED ABOUT KICKSTARTER.

Now that Q&A ought to be a hoot.

Barnes May Cry…Over Modern Gaming

The most surprising thing about playing through Devil May Cry via the new HD remaster collection isn’t that I wound up absolutely loving it, having somehow never played it since it was released eleven years ago. It’s that the game made me terribly sad. Not because the barely-there narrative of Dante, Trish, and the awesomely named Mundus, but because it reminded me of how video games used to be before the industry began strip-mining and over-monetizing itself under the banners of DLC, preorder bonuses, and online passes. The classic Capcom title also recalls a time when game makers were working with technology that wasn’t really anywhere near approaching cinematic technique with any seriousness or effectiveness. Instead of employing quicktime events and prattling z-grade scriptwriting to tell stories, the thrust of the game’s narrative is almost completely in its gameplay, setting, and atmosphere.

Devil May Cry is definitely an old fashioned game, and I mean that in the most affectionate way possible. The save system is obnoxious and you’ve got to buy these stupid yellow orbs that look like some kind of gummy candy to continue without redoing the entire mission over. Voice acting and dramaturgy is the pits, but those were the par-for-course Achilles heel of Japanese design in the early 2000s. The camera angle is fixed despite it being a 3D action game, and this undoubtedly would chafe modern gamers used to panning and tilting a clumsy camera around a character. Locked doors requiring weird keys and simple adventure puzzles abound.

That makes sense because the game was originally conceived as a Resident Evil entry, and it looks, feels, and even sounds like a pre-RE4 franchise effort except that instead of Panzer Jill or Abrams Chris the character is free-moving, limber, and has an unlimited supply of bullets. The game predates Itagaki’s Ninja Gaiden by a couple of years and Kamiya’s title lacks that sixth-gen masterpiece’s depth and variety. It’s a basic hack and slash game that exists somewhere halfway between Golden Axe and Bayonetta.

But all of the above doesn’t matter, because the game is a great example of how timeless, solid gameplay overrides technical limitations and dated or obsolete concepts. Control is great, the combat system is simple but laced with flourish, and exploring the castle is compelling. It’s not quite the great location that Arklay Mansion was in the first Resident Evil, but it has a similar sense of architecture and space. It’s expertly laid out, with every furnishing positioned with the precision of an expert propmaster. But boy, does Dante hates furniture- who knew that chairs contained so many red orbs. The set is left a shambles.

It’s a sub-ten hour game, but it’s the kind of thing that’s worth coming back to. Performance rankings are a powerful incentive to replay, as are secret areas and alternative paths within a relatively linear framework. The game is meant to be replayed at higher difficulty levels, and since the gameplay isn’t tied so specifically to narrative it doesn’t feel tedious to revisit completed missions. I love the structure- 23 fairly short missions, each with a specific goal. It’s almost casually bite-sized. You can either buckle down and burn through a string of missions or just do one in ten minutes or so. It’s almost a modern concept.

It surprised me that I was able to get into the game and without a sense of feeling like it must have been great for 2001. I feel like it’s great for 2012. I recently tried to play Ico and Shadow of the Colossus and although I appreciated both, I liked neither for exactly this reason- I felt like I had missed the point at which those games had the most impact.

But what I keep coming back to is how refreshing it was to play a game that was 100% complete without any DLC, marketing gimmicks, screechy “community” politics, controversy over endings, or other modern quibbles. It was also refreshing to play a game that was very clearly a video game and had no aspirations to multi-billion dollar sales and no ambition to compete with any other form of media. It also exists a million light years away from the pretentious indie attitude that video games can be revolutionized by rhapsodizing about how great the 8- and 16- bit generations were. Its bluster and attitude are now quaint, but Dante’s silly swagger and ridiculous anime look are still not redolent of the off-putting hyper-male, locker room machismo of many modern games. There’s a certain glam rock patina to the game that I just love.

It also reminds me of how much I really do like Japanese design and how much I miss that pervading sense of cross-cultural strangeness that games going back into the NES era often had. Goofy internal logic, nonsensical storylines, ludicrous incongruities. It made me miss the days when Japanese designers weren’t trying to emulate the West- and gamers wanted the quirk, strangeness, and charm more than they wanted AAA polish, blockbuster sheen, and Michael Bay wallop. At least Platinum Games still carries the torch. They remember.

Playing Devil May Cry for the first time circa 2012 was hardly a trip down memory lane for me. I had no nostalgia for it. I wasn’t frothing at the mouth that Dante’s hair isn’t white in the upcoming- and very awesome-looking DMC from Ninja Theory. I just wanted to play a good brawler with great gameplay regardless of its vintage. But by being reminded of how much has been lost in this console generation, I got more than I bargained for- depression!