Why I Left Cubed3

Inspired by an article shared by Jim Sterling, I’ve decided to tell my story about why I’m no longer affiliated with Cubed3. There’s a lot to go over, because I was affiliated with the site for two years. I want to be clear that I harbor no resentment toward the owner or the senior editors, and I’m sure they have plenty of negative things to say about me. Well, I don’t really have anything negative to say about them, but their behavior. As far as my behavior goes, there was a period in 2015 where I unofficially left the site for several months to deal with personal matters–that was when I began making The Transition, so I won’t apologize for that. In 2016 there were more periods of inactivity from me, and that’s really what I’m going to talk about.

Introductions & Reviewing

I was contacted one day via Gamefaqs by one of their senior editors, and he wanted to know if I was interested in writing reviews for the site. Apparently one of my user reviews had caught his attention, and I leaped at the opportunity. Just a week or two later, I was writing reviews for games like SDK Paint and Midnight. Shovelware, most people would call it, and not really games that anyone would be interested in playing much. I persevered through, though, and actually caught quite a few reviewers with their pants down, since SDK Paint routinely crashed after ten minutes, which proved that none of the other people who posted official reviews had actually played the “game” for longer than ten minutes.

Eventually I was able to pick the games I wanted to review, and the first among those was Venetica: Gold Edition, a game that I’d always wanted to like, but had never really been able to. There was no reimbursement for reviewing games, and none was expected. The “payment” for the review was the free game, something that I’m not particularly fond of anyway–it would later come with a few strings attached, as I learned with my 3D Gunstar Heroes review, when I was told that “Sega is nice to us, so be easy on them…” There was no monetary reimbursement or expectation of monetary reimbursement.

There were problems, though. I mean, how many people are really sitting around wanting a copy of Venetica? How many people are dying to play Blek on Wii U? Or Wind Up Knight? It wasn’t long and I had reviewed nearly every Final Fantasy game, having missed only Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy VII. When Final Fantasy VII was released on PS4, I was an editor, but I wasn’t even given the opportunity to review it. One of the senior editors had claimed it.

This trend was omnipresent. From Super Mario Maker to Pokemon Sun/Moon, any major  AAA title was going to be reviewed by one of the senior editors or the site owner, with no exceptions. It’s true that I was able to review Rise of the Tomb Raider, but this was a different animal. For one, Rise of the Tomb Raider was hardly a major release. It was not marked on calendars like Breath of the Wild or Final Fantasy XV. Secondly, Cubed3 had a hard time getting codes for AAA titles that weren’t Nintendo products, which meant they didn’t have a code for Rise of the Tomb Raider anyway. This wasn’t a big deal, because I intended to get the game. In effect, I did them a favor by purchasing a $60 game when it was brand new and pumping out a review quickly–a review they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

About a month prior to its release, I made my intentions to review it clear. Shortly before release, I learned that its use of DRM meant that pirating a copy wasn’t going to be possible. If I was simply playing it for my own sake, I wouldn’t have purchased it. However, I keep my word, and my word had been given that I would review the game. Rather than waiting on a crack to release six months or a year later, I bought a copy and reviewed it. This isn’t their fault, and I don’t mean to make out that it is. My point is simply that, for a “real” game, one of the $60 ones, the only way a non-senior editor is going to get a copy is to buy it themselves.

That’s quite a damper to put on the “You get free games” offer. It’s more like “You get free games, but the cap on them is realistically around $15-20, which is nice, but these are games that you’re probably not going to want to play that badly in the first place, like Devils & Demons and Spacejacked!

Writing Editorials

Eventually I was asked if I was interested in joining the editing staff, and at the time there was a mass email between the regular reviewers, editors, owner, and senior editors. The plan was to revamp the site and add more features. I opted to take on the Critical Hits! column, which basically consisted of gaming editorials. I told them that my intention was to have a weekly article there, posted each Monday, because predictability drives growth more than anything else.

It didn’t take long for this to just totally fall apart.

The first problem appeared almost immediately. Within an hour of being posted, any editorial I wrote was swarmed by the rest of the staff, who seized the opportunity to write their own articles in the comments section. On several occasions, comments left by other staff were longer than the articles I had written. It was clear that it was a case of “Someone posted an opinion! Quick! I need to post mine!”

While I have no problem with people critiquing my work or commenting my work, the problem I had was that this is terribly improper behavior for other staff members: if they want to write an 800 word article, then they should do so, not leave an 800 word comment. And while I don’t care whether people agree with me or not, it’s extremely tedious to post a gaming article and immediately have three or four staff members comment about why they disagree.

When I brought up to the senior editors that the rest of the staff was merely using my articles as a springboard to write their own articles in the comments–often not having read my own article completely–I was told that they didn’t see it as a big deal. It’s unprofessional. It’s also a really, really bad look for visitors to see an article on a site and a flood of comments by other people with “Staff” by their name arguing with the original article. If I went to a website and saw that, the absolute last thing I would do is leave my own comment. No visitor will jump into a public debate between staff members in the comments of an article, which raises the question: “Who is this website for? The staff? Or visitors?”

Like clockwork, I had my articles to the senior editors within a reasonable timeframe to be edited and posted, but they were never published in a timely manner. There was nothing I could do about it. I didn’t have the clout to tell a senior editor, “Hey–this is supposed to be a weekly editorial. You didn’t post my last one for three weeks.”

Between these two things, I simply stopped writing them. If they weren’t going to post them within a reasonable window, there was no reason for me to spend time writing them, not when I could just post them here and save myself the trouble.

It was also the editorials that made me aware that each time I used the word “while,” the senior editors replaced it with “whilst.” I can’t even begin to describe how much that bothered me. I didn’t say “whilst.” I said “while.” There is absolutely no context wherein the -st is necessary, and adding it is simply a cheap and gaudy way of making writing sound more formal. My editorials stood on their own as formal writings without having this suffix added.

Joining the Editing Staff

There was never any promise of rewards or anything for editing; it was simply something that one did if one was willing. They asked and I accepted. However, there were guest spots for other websites at this time. The senior staff would give the editing staff opportunities to guest write for other websites like Ebuyer, and that seemed a fair trade. I would use my time and energy editing and posting a few reviews for them, and they would provide an opportunity to write elsewhere.

These dried up, though. Every day or two, I received a new email in a long chain with 7 to 10 reviews attached to it, all of which needed to be edited and posted. One editor would claim a review and post it, another editor would claim another, and so on. I averaged about two each week for a while, but then I just began ignoring the emails. Apparently, so did the rest of the editing staff, because we always used Reply All. Sadly, I was the most active of the editing staff, and there were months-long periods where I didn’t edit a single review because I had better things to do.

However, about once a month they needed someone to post a review at a specific time, when an embargo lifted. Because they’re based in the UK, it was usually an American editor that needed to do this, and I almost always volunteered to take care of these. They would send such a request, and I’d ignore it for an hour or two, giving someone else the chance to step forward, but invariably no one else did. These timeframes usually resulted in my setting an alarm clock for 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, waking up and posting the review, and then going back to sleep. I did this no less than half a dozen times, because I’m a team player.

I simply expect other people to be team players.

My activity dropped off, though, as I said, because… Honestly, who doesn’t have better stuff to do than editing and posting reviews to a website when it brings them absolutely no benefit to do so?

Another new year rolled around, and in January a mass email was sent out that informed everyone that minimum requirements were being put in place: people would have to do a minimum of five reviews each year, and editors would have to edit and post a certain number of reviews. I wrote something like 27 reviews last year, and communicating directly with the senior editors they asked if I wanted to continue editing. I answered that I was willing to, but there were problems that needed to be addressed.

The editing thing is trickier, and this is what I meant to focus on when I discussed the priority thing earlier. When faced with a limited amount of time to do things, I focused on the ones that seemed most likely to yield a significant reward: writing a book, networking with other anarchists, and that sort of thing. There’s no reward whatsoever for doing it beyond doing a favor for [site owner] and the senior editors.

It’s not like there’s anything that can really be offered to reviewers beyond the free games, or to editors, and I’m not saying that there should be. At least–not in a direct way. But something like the senior editors being able to acquire more “Hey, this website needs a guest writer–anyone want to do it?” would probably do a lot to help people stay focused and motivated. Maybe the senior editors/[site owner] can establish ties with small-name literary agents [I’d be stunned if at least half the staff writers didn’t write fiction], or just forge connections with other gaming/tech sites for the editing team to take advantage of. I’m just spitballing, but the whole editing thing does more or less turn out to be “Hey, would you like to take on some extra work for fun?” I had no delusions that it was anything else, and I’m still interested in doing with the way that it currently is. And I may be the only one this happened with, though it does seem that most of the other editors dropped out around the same time that I did.

Anyway, just throwing this out there. Nothing’s changed for me, and either way I intend to go back to contributing on Wednesdays at least.

Thanks,

Aria

As you can see, I went through considerable lengths to politely state my concerns, offer up solutions, and explain my position. Rather than addressing anything that I said, I received an email back from one of the senior editors that–and I’m not kidding about this–honest-to-god bitched at me for not communicating much with them. The next day, the other senior editor more politely asked for clarifications about what I meant about the guest articles, but by then my primary thought was “Fuck this site.”

It was insane. I wanted to write back, “Excuse me? I’m doing you guys a favor. I wake up at 3 in the morning and post reviews for you guys as a favor. I edit reviews and post them–when I feel like it–as a favor. I don’t get anything out of it. How dare you reply that I am the one with the problem because I stopped doing you those favors after I politely explained why I stopped doing them?”

This second senior editor was much more polite, and seemed genuinely interested in wanting my input, but by then the bad taste was left in my mouth, that he would have the audacity to suggest that the problem was I wasn’t doing them favors quickly enough or routinely enough. It’s absolutely true that they went months without hearing from me. And why? Because they went months without offering me anything but more work to do.

As part of the other senior editor’s reply, however, he said this:

The [guest articles at other sites] were interesting, but the return for Cubed3 was very limited because they kept incorrectly linking in the articles. So basically we were just putting our resources onto work another site when it would make more sense to have those sort of special articles on Cubed3 directly.

“…the return for Cubed3 was very limited…”

Honestly, I don’t care about the return for Cubed3. I didn’t write those guest articles because I wanted to increase Cubed3’s standing in the world; I wrote them because I wanted to increase my standing in the world. It doesn’t matter to me if they link back to the site properly or not, as long as they get my name right. But this, more than anything, highlighted the fundamental disconnect.

The guest articles at other sites were supposed to help the editors and reviewers who wrote them. I was proposing that they use them as a reward for people to participate and contribute. This, apparently, was an unfathomable idea, even to what I would call the nice senior editor. If it didn’t help them directly, they didn’t give a shit. They were focused entirely on themselves, their own wants, and their own needs. If this meant they had to shift the blame onto you, then they shifted the blame onto you. It left them unable to fathom that it might be a good idea to offer the editors a reward for taking up the otherwise thankless and tedious task.

Not to mention, my entire point was that it would have benefit for their site, by offering an enticing reward for people who actively participated. Simply reach out to a number of other sites, secure a guest article, and offer it as a reward to whoever edited the most reviews that week. Or simply offering one to each editor once a month, as long as they were active. There are countless ways it could have been implemented, and such a small and trivial thing would have done wonders to keep people active. And the reply I received?

“We’re frustrated, and you should communicate with us more!”

“Meh. It doesn’t really do much for our website.”

Well, maybe it doesn’t do much for your website. But your website doesn’t do much for me, either.

I totally understand that a relatively small site receiving probably just a few hundred hits a day can’t afford to pay people for reviews and editing. This is part of the site’s problem, though: it has taken on way too much staff, and it has absolutely no way to reward any of them. Games? Are you kidding? Unless you have a niche interest for Japanime games or something, you’re better off simply buying your games, because they either can’t get a code for it or one of the senior editors or owner will claim it before it’s even ready to be previewed.

No one is asking for monetary restitution, though, at least to my knowledge. But even simple ways of rewarding people for taking up more work are shot down. I enjoy editing; I edit stuff for people regularly. I list Editing as one of my skills at Outsource.com. I also enjoy writing; you just about can’t make me stop writing. Whether my article goes to Cubed3 or this website or http://www.anarchistshemale.com or somewhere else is immaterial to me; I’m going to write it and put it somewhere. Really, all they had to do was give me a reason to do it for them.

When you ask people to do you favors, don’t be surprised when they eventually stop doing it and move on. This is not limited to me. One by one, every single editor dropped off through last year. There were people in those chain emails who had never replied or edited one of the reviews. I have no doubt at all that their reasons are the same as mine. When your reviewers slowly vanish and your editors drop off one by one, and then one of your editors offers you polite suggestions and explanations about why it’s happening, it might be a good idea to listen.

I edited two more reviews for them, and once more did the “wake up at 4 am to post a review for them” thing. Then I started ignoring their emails again, and pretty soon they stopped coming. Thank the gods. If I wanted to do favors for someone all the time, only to have them bitch at me when I got sick of doing them favors while getting nothing out of it, then I would still be with my ex-wife.

RPGs, Battles, & Game Length

Before we begin, you should probably read this background article I wrote at Cubed3, because I’m going to be building a bit from that, though I’ll be repeating some of it, too, so I’m not sure how critical that article will be. With that out of the way, I’m just going to dive into it, because the millions of thoughts I had for this article as I lie in the bed this morning trying to fall asleep are fast attempting to escape.

RPGs Are Long

We all know that RPGs constitute the longest video games out there. Whatever form it comes in, from the improperly-named “Strategy RPG” that is more appropriately called a Tactical RPG, to the Action RPG to the Western RPG to the Eastern RPG, some of these types of game can take upward of 40 hours just to finish the main story, and sometimes well over 200 to fully complete the game.

In fact, this has always been the case, but I’m not really sure that what constitutes an “RPG” these days truly qualifies any of these games as Role-Playing Games, and they are all at least 80% fluff: mindless grinding and repetitious battles. This has also always been the case, from the earliest console RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior, if you cut out the grinding for gold and experience, then the games can be completed almost as quickly as a speedrun of Super Mario Bros.

In other words, these games take a long time to play, but they aren’t actually very long games. Using Hex Editing, it isn’t too difficult to start a new playthrough of Dragon Warrior on NES at level 30, with 50,000 gold. Doing this results in a game that takes about 15 minutes to beat. The only necessary parts are visiting Garinham for the harp, rescuing the princess, getting the three tokens, and defeating the Dragonlord. While that sounds like a lot, most of these are just out-of-the-way places that are protected not by a large amount of landmass but by obscenely powerful enemies that force the player to grind to have even the smallest chance of reaching them. Contrast this to games like Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, where there actually is a huge amount of “landmass” that must be traversed separating the player from the goals.

ultima3-extras-cover4Maybe Dragon Quest is a bad example. What about other RPGs? What about Ultima: Exodus, on NES or PC? This game is firmly 99% grinding. If we remove everything that isn’t canonically a part of the story and start the characters at level 25 and with max stats, the game can be beaten in less than ten minutes. Both Ultima: Exodus and Dragon Warrior, however, are RPGs that can take a player twenty or thirty hours to beat. That’s a huge amount of tedious grinding that serves only to keep the player busy.

Final Fantasy follows the same pattern. Cutting out combat yields a game that is slightly longer than either Dragon Warrior or Ultima: Exodus, but not by a whole lot.

Does this trend continue today?

Bethesda’s developers always have an in-house competition before a game is released, where the programmers play against the game designers and race to the finish, to see who can finish the game first. If I recall correctly, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim took a little under three hours. Part of this is that much of the game’s content is optional, but if we’re removing combat then we’re also removing all the quests that involve combat, and that cuts the game down substantially. With all monsters and monster-slaying quests removed, except the ones that involve dragons because they’re canonical, it’s likely that Skyrim could be finished in under an hour, and completed in less than five.

An RPG Without the Combat

For years, perhaps even a decade, I’ve rolled my eyes and mocked people who classify the Zelda games as RPGs. They’re not RPGs. They’re Action Adventure games. However, they’re just as fairly called RPGs as any of the games I’ve mentioned above. As I wrote in the Cubed3 article, an RPG isn’t defined by having things like character levels, a strength stat, a defense stat, and things like that; those are just the tropes and cliched gameplay mechanics. An RPG is defined as a role-playing game. In the Zelda games, yes, players play the role of Link just as much as they play the role of Mario in Mario games, and just as they play the role of the Dragonborn in Skyrim.

An RPG with the turn-based combat and leveling systems removed would look exactly like the Zelda series, in fact. The reason I bring this up is that, aside from the entire genre of RPGs, what is the longest type of video game? Zelda games, hands down. The original Legend of Zelda was huge for its time, and even being an expert player it takes me about an hour to 100% the first quest. They’ve only gotten longer as time has gone on, and removing the combat from Zelda games would only knock off a little bit of that–and then only in the first game. By the time A Link to the Past rolls around, the game itself is enormous, and even running through the game uncontested would have it taking several hours to finish. Ditto with Ocarina of Time.

The same is true of most well-developed games. Super Mario 64, without its combat, would still take a considerable amount of time, as would Super Meat Boy and, honestly, the majority of games. No other genre of game has its overall playtime impacted nearly as much as RPGs when combat is removed.

RPGs Re-Imagined

So let’s return to square one: we want to make a role-playing game. Adding character levels, character stats, and turn-based combat won’t be enough to qualify our game as an RPG any longer; in fact, people are so tired of those that they would just call our game a Calculator Simulator, or a Wall Street Kid duplicate where players spend their time watching animations that swap a number in one column from a slightly larger number in another column with the aim of producing a gain in net resources. Just as players accomplished this in Wall Street Kid by selling a bunch of stocks and buying other stocks, players in RPGs accomplish it by using a magic spell to do x damage to this enemy to earn y gold and z experience, which eventually increase m MP available for that character as well as x damage. Stripped down, it’s nothing more than a numbers game.

I hate puzzles. I tolerate them in Zelda games, but I generally don’t play video games because I want to do a lot of thinking. Most puzzles in Zelda games are okay, but others–like the dual statue puzzle in Twilight Princess–are irritating and overkill. I roll my eyes in frustrated anger when I have to do the stupid Fade in Dragon Age: Origins, or in Dragon Age 2, or in Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening when presented with the stupid ring of fire puzzle. You can’t give players mindless, repetitious combat and then interrupt it with a puzzle. Without fail, I simply look on the Internet how to do these puzzles, because I can’t be bothered to even try to figure them out–although, as a member of MENSA, it’s pretty definitive that I could if I wanted to. The Wind Waker is the first Zelda game since A Link to the Past that had puzzles that weren’t overkill, in my opinion. Twilight Princess also had absolutely ridiculous ice block sliding puzzles that were atrociously tedious.

Besides, would a Zelda game that features a challenging puzzle in every single room of every dungeon really qualify as anything more than a Puzzle Game that forced players to move a Link-shaped cursor from one puzzle room to the next? Would such a game really be any different from hacking Link into Blek? Not by my estimation. But, to be fair, by my estimation Final Fantasy XIII was nothing more than an overly elaborate DVD menu that, instead of having people press up and enter on a remote to trigger the next scene, required people to hold up for x seconds and then press A y times before the next scene triggered.

In fact, one of the best role-playing games that I can think of is none other than Stardew Valley.

“Role Playing Game? Aria, you lunatic. That’s a Harvest Moon clone, not an RPG.”

But think about it. One of the biggest things we would need to add to our new RPG in order to even allow players to actually craft and play a role, are lots of complex NPCs with whom the player can form relationships. The interplay of the player and NPCs in Stardew Valley is no different at all from the interplay of the player and PCs in Dragon Age 2. The mechanics are simply different, Dragon Age 2 features voice acting, and Dragon Age 2, being a AAA title, rightly includes more robust dialogue trees and interaction options.

We’re wanting to let the player play the role of a character in some video game world that we’re creating. The exact mechanics of interacting with the world aren’t terribly important, but it is critical that we provide the player with the tools to craft their character to their liking. This is far more than just cosmetic options, and this is the point that Dragon Age 2 nails with its dialogue trees and Stardew Valley nails with its robust cast of characters: choice. In fact, because of the wider plethora of options available, I would hazard the statement that Stardew Valley actually beats out Dragon Age 2 in this category.

In Dragon Age 2, if you want to be a gay male, then Anders is your only option. If you want to be a lesbian, then the sexy but slutty Isabella is the only option. Possibly Merril, honestly. I don’t remember; it’s been years since I played, and Isabella is so hot that she’s irresistible as a love interest. However, once the player has made their choice, interacting with that other character is where Dragon Age 2 tops out Stardew Valley. While Stardew Valley contains a known ten male love interests and ten female love interests, the selection in Dragon Age 2… is extremely limited compared to this indie game made by one dude. Moreover, every NPC in the game can be romanced by any gender of character, which brings me to a side issue I want to discuss.

Not Everyone is Bi

In order to avoid dealing with controversy from the inordinately powerful LGBTQ group in the United States, most developers choose instead to simply have every romance option be bisexual. This is not only unrealistic, as a transsexual lesbian I argue that this is offensive and exclusive of straight people. There have been countless females I’ve been interested in, just through the last year, with whom I could not pursue a relationship because they weren’t interested in another woman or a transsexual woman. It sucks, but it’s the real world.

People would make the argument, “But what does it matter? If a player is playing their game and wants to romance a character of the same sex, it doesn’t affect anyone but that player. It’s messed up to deny a player an option that they’d like simply because some people are straight.”

And that’s true to an extent, but a very narrow way of viewing the world in others. In fact, the converse is easily just as true: “But what does it matter? If a player is playing their game and wants to romance a straight character, it doesn’t affect anyone but that player. It’s messed up to deny a player an option that they’d like simply because some people are bisexual.”

*sigh*

*sigh*

It seems to come as a surprise to SJWs and the LGBTQ community, but straight people exist, and if a person is bisexual then they aren’t straight. There are lots of men who wouldn’t want to have a relationship with a woman they knew had enjoyed same sex relationships in the past. Such a woman is, by any definitiion, not straight. Bisexual is not some middleground to make straight and gay people happy; it’s a distinct sexual leaning in its own right. If a person is gay, then they aren’t bisexual and they aren’t straight. If a person is a lesbian, then they aren’t bisexual and they aren’t straight. If a person is bisexual, then they aren’t straight and they aren’t homosexual; they’re bisexual. Having zero heterosexual characters in a video game is exclusive to straight people. Every character being bisexual is not some happy middleground to please both straight and gay people. How can my female Dragonborn sleep next to her “straight” husband knowing that her “straight” husband is actually bisexual and has possibly been fucked more times than she has? It’s an absurd question, yes, but it underscores the point: bisexual isn’t straight.

Back to RPGs

Dragon Age 2 was panned by a lot of people as being a Dating Simulator, and I suppose that’s a fair criticism, but what else could any true role-playing game do in order to allow a player to actually roleplay? Again, as I pointed out in the Cubed3 article, we’ve forgotten what the “RP” in “RPG” stands for. It quite obviously stands for “role-playing.” Instead, we think an RPG is a video game where the player avatar has a character level and a bunch of other numbers attached to him/her that go into complex damage algorithms a la buying and selling in Drug Wars or Wall Street Kid.

That RPGs are so naked was revealed to me by the Paper Mario series, where that is literally what players do, though the actions are accompanied by flashy animations. Players expend one SP to do one damage to the enemy and gain one coin and one EXP point. Players take one damage from the enemy and from their pool of 10 HP, meaning they can be hit ten times before dying. Since each enemy dies in one hit, this means that they can kill 19 enemies before having to use a healing item that restores 10 HP and costs 10 coins. Voila! The smart and skilled player makes a net gain of 9 coins and 19 Experience, which accumulate and increase the player’s pool of HP to 15, thereby allowing them to take more hits before having to use a healing item and making an even greater profit while swapping numbers in one column for columns in another.

It’s exactly like Wall Street Kid. The only difference is that there are more resource types, the Buying/Selling mechanics are a bit more convoluted and masked as Attacking/Defending, but it’s otherwise exactly the same. In fact, our little complex relationship system is the only thing truly unique to RPGs, and thus the only things that can qualify a game as an RPG.

I actually have to end this here to do something else. I didn’t even get to the main point, which is that RPGs need a severe overhaul, and need to stop wasting players’ time for the purpose of padding out gameplay. Yes, there can be action elements in an RPG that take the form of battles. Yes, there can be abilities, spells, strength stats, and hit points. But the “brunt of the gameplay” shouldn’t consist of that.

Women in Games

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Just take a moment… and take in that image. Really process it. Take in everything about it.

I have a problem with this, but it’s not because there is a site for male gamers only. I don’t care about that. If there are some little boys out there who are so terrified of women that they have to section themselves out and form a He-Man Woman Haters Club, good for them. I’d rather such little boys stay away from me anyway, and if they’re willing to quarantine themselves, then it makes my life all the better.

The problem is that they use a female avatar to promote their He-Man Woman Haters Club. Did you notice that detail? You might not have, and I wouldn’t blame you. With all the games on Google Play Store and the Apple Store that use female avatars to promote themselves, it’s kind of become something that we don’t even notice any longer. We just take it as a given that pretty much every game is going to use a female avatar. And we are jaded by their perfect, enormous breasts, Barbie-like figures, perfect faces, gorgeous eyes, lustrous hair, and impeccable faces; we don’t even notice it any longer. That’s not really a problem. It’s an irritant, sure, but sex sells, especially to little boys who will be encouraged to buy a game if it has a nice pair of boobs in its primary image. That’s just reality, and it’s not going to change any time soon.

However, to use such an image in the promotion of your Men Only site… crosses a line. You might as well just have the ad say “Women are nice to look at, aren’t they? Yeah, but they should shut up and sit down! Men only!”

The audacity to publicly have a Men Only gaming site, and to use a clearly objectified female avatar to sell that site–it’s fucking disgusting, and I can’t even credit the people for their audacity, because it doesn’t take audacity to jump on a bandwagon and kick a group that is already institutionally disenfranchised. It just takes tiny balls and smaller dicks.

Because just as it’s a reality that sex sells to little boys, so is it a reality that anyone willing to make a Men Only gaming site, explicitly forbidding women, while using a female avatar to promote said site, will have a ludicrously tiny penis. I was angry at them, but having realized this, I now simply pity them. I understand, guys. Really, I do. When your dick is so small that you can’t bear the thought of playing a game against a female–and probably losing that game–then the only recourse you have left is to form a He-Man Woman Haters Club and convince yourself that women aren’t the powerful, strong creatures that we are.

Their cynicism is naked, but not nearly as naked as their fear.

“Women are great to look at, aren’t they? But that’s all they’re good for! They’re out of their minds if they think they can play video games with us! OMG WOMEN ARE GOING TO RUIN OUR VIDEO GAMES THEY’RE GOING TO TAKE OUR TOYS AWAY!!!!!111ONE!!”

Fucking cowards–bald-faced cowards.

If you game on that site, I offer you a challenge. Its administrators and owners are free to accept this challenge, as well. Any game. Your pick. Any time. Call of Duty, Goldeneye, Defense of the Ancients, doesn’t matter. I’ll beat you. And you know it. That’s why you ran and hid at your little website for people with little dicks.

Being a Genwunner

Shortly after my twelfth birthday, something released to the world that would change the entertainment industry forever by giving birth to a franchise that has been wildly successful but strangely uninfluential. This was the U.S. release of Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue. As successful as this series has been, it has done little to nothing to advance the gaming industry.

It is not like Ocarina of Time, whose Z-Targeting and use of rotating 2-D sprites to give the illusion of 3-D revolutionized the industry. It is not like Super Mario 64, whose player-controlled camera solved a problem that many other franchises banged their heads against. In fact, nothing from Pokemon has made its way into other games, but it doesn’t take long to figure out why that is the case.

Pokemon is really nothing more than a JRPG with an overabundance of potential player characters. As it does nothing new, there is nothing that it has that can spread to other game series. And that’s fine, really–I’m not bashing the series for its lack of innovation with the core concept.

I loved Pokemon. I watched the anime. I played the card game, which served as a wonderful introduction to Magic: The Gathering later (the rules are almost identical, after all). And I played the hell–the ever-loving hell–out of the original games. I had Pokemon Blue, and I shudder to think of the hundreds of hours I poured into it. In my circle of friends, I had the Level 255 Charizard that, for months, no one could defeat–obviously. And no one knew how I had a Level 255 Charizard.

It was a kid named George, a year older than I, who figured it out and ended my reign of terror with his level 255 Blastoise.

It's hard to even explain the feelings that this image invokes.

It’s hard to even explain the feelings that this image invokes.

It was all thanks to what I’d named my character and the use of the Missingno. glitch–a glitch that was fair game to us, because anyone who used it to duplicate Rare Candies was going to get curbstomped by someone who actually bothered to level to that point.

Then Pokemon Yellow released, and I got it–most of us did. And it destroyed the fine balance of the games. Venusaur, Blastoise, and Charizard–powerful Pokemon, to be sure–were now dirt common; you were sure to get all three simply by playing the game. When you needed a Grass type, you went with Venusaur, you went with Blastoise for a Water type, and you went with Charizard for a Fire type. The only problem these Pokemon had was that they were single types–though Venusaur was Poison (a trait that did little more than make him more vulnerable to the already-obscenely-powerful Psychic types) and Charizard was Flying–but couldn’t learn any Flying moves. I’m pretty sure Charizard was Flying in the original two (not including Yellow), but I know he was given Flying in Yellow.

Surfing Pikachu also became available, which was a Pikachu who knew the Surf ability. Since the player still had to trek through the Safari Zone in order to get the Warden’s Teeth (If you don’t understand that sentence, then… don’t ask) for the Strength HM, this didn’t really help a great deal–except in battles, where a Surfing Pikachu could crush a Geodude, sometimes Graveler, Onix, and Diglett without problem. The damage formulas were not nearly as well-balanced then: the type advantage of using an ability whose type matches the attacker was negligible compared to base damage and the Super Effective difference, and a Surf was powerful enough to kill almost everything in a single hit. This was rectified a bit with Pokemon Stadium and the series going forward.

However, none of that mattered against an Alakazam or Mewtwo. We all know Psychic was broken then, but it wasn’t actually the Special Attack / Special Defense problem that most people think. It was that Psychic had a type advantage to almost everything, and the only types to which it was weak had Poison as a secondary type. The Caterpie/Metapod/Butterfree line would be the only exception, but as its stats were really weak (Butterfree has never been a top tier), it didn’t matter. Plus, there were no Bug attacks that were worth a damn.

They had no choice but to keep adding them, since they foolishly kept the type.

They had no choice but to keep adding them, since they foolishly kept the type.

Ghost types were an absolute joke. There were only three, and only one of those was worth using: Gengar. Haunter was decent only for those who couldn’t freely trade to get a Gengar, but there was no reason to use Haunter–or, god forbid, Gastly–when Gengar was available. Plus, Gengar could learn Strength, a fairly powerful Normal type attack that did have some use. But there were no useful Ghost moves, and all three Ghost types also had Poison as a secondary–meaning they were weak to Psychic.

Then the next generation was released. I got Pokemon Gold. Without discussion or planning, my best friend bought Pokemon Silver. He had also bought Pokemon Red. It was rather curious, and I’m sure that he named his in-game rival after me, and I know that I named my in-game rival after him. This was near the end of our friendship, since my increasing atheism and leaning toward the goth side would separate us, though not on bad terms. At that point, though, we were still friends. We still versused regularly (whenever someone nearby had a link cable, as neither of us had one), and we even battled Pokemon Cards over the phone. I’m still not 100% sure that he didn’t cheat a few times with his goddamned Chansey coin.

He and I both played through the games. True to the game, he was always just ahead of me in progress. When he reported that he was finished with a city, I would be arriving to that city. No matter how hard I tried, no matter what I did, he was always about an hour of progress ahead of me. I’ll never understand it, but considering the games… The in-game story certainly became true for me. “I just got my Eevee! I’m going to turn it into Espeon!” he would say about fifteen minutes before I arrived in… whatever that city was called.

Nowhere near as powerful as the image of Blue.

Nowhere near as powerful as the image of Blue.

Strangely, I can tell you all of the cities in Gen 1. I could also name all 151 Pokemon from memory, and could put them in Dex order if you gave me enough time and a few hints. But the next 100? One of the cities was called Cherryblossom, right? I don’t recall any of the cities, but that’s because I didn’t play through Gen 2 nearly as many times as I played through Gen 1. Getting 151 Pokemon was never a realistic goal for me, because getting all the starters was a distant daydream. No one was willing to trade them to you at earlier stages, for fear that the principal or a teacher would come out, forcing us to put our games away, and leaving them without their star mon. We weren’t allowed to have the games at school, of course, so that was a real threat. Many were the battles interrupted by the sudden appearance of a teacher, and it wasn’t always possible to meet up later in the day to fix a trade that went wrong.

So why were we playing? We weren’t trying to battle competitively–not really–and we weren’t seeking Dex Completion. So why were we so addicted? Because it was FUN. It was extremely fun.

I couldn’t begin to guess how many times I played through Pokemon Blue. Well over 20.

We lost interest, though. Many things happened then.

First, we simply got older. Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire released in 2002. In 2002, I was getting drunk with friends in a double-wide trailer we stayed at each weekend, playing Dungeons and Dragons and Super Smash Bros. I was an aspiring rock musician and played in a band, and I was getting laid. Pokemon wasn’t even on my radar. The other kids with whom I played–the same was true of them, at least to some degree.

In a very real way, we had outgrown Pokemon.

This was inevitable, of course, because the games didn’t evolve in the same way that the Harry Potter series evolved. I was 11 when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone released–Harry Potter was for my generation. So was Pokemon. It was a wonderful time to be 10-12 years old. These two huge, incredible entertainment properties released for our generation, to our generation. One grew up with us; the other refused to. Pokemon was the one that failed to age properly.

hp booksPerhaps because Rowling was able to write the books faster than Game Freak could make the games, Harry Potter grew up with us, at more or less the same rate. Around Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter began falling behind, but Pokemon had fallen behind by Ruby and Sapphire. And very few of us stuck with it. I was dating (literally) the hottest chick at the school; she was the singer in our rock band. I did things that college students were supposed to be doing, largely thanks to the lack of parental supervision, culminating in my arrest at 17… But anyway.

Many years passed, and Pokemon Diamond / Pokemon Pearl released–again, shortly after my birthday–in 2006. It had been out for a year or two before I picked it up. I just wasn’t interested. But I did finally get it. At first, it was like seeing an old friend once again. “Hey, old friend! Good god, where have you been? I’ve missed you!” I said, even though the starters could never hold a candle to Charmander, Squirtle, or Bulbasaur. “Bidoof?” I asked. “Okay, well… that’s a Rattata colored brown, isn’t it? It’s okay. I’ve made some poor choices, too. Starly? It’s cute, but… isn’t it just a Pidgey? At least in Gen 2 you had the sense to just use Pidgey again. What happened?”

That became an issue. Starly was just a copycat of Pidgey. Bidoof was just a copycat of Rattata. Wurmple was just a copy of Weedle. To say that I was unimpressed by the new Pokemon would be an understatement. I wasn’t simply unimpressed–I was rolling my eyes.

Then there was the Beauty Contest. “Oh, old friend… What in the hell happened to you?” I cried, for this was the equivalent of finding out my old friend was secretly harboring a deadly heroin addiction. It was bad enough to see these blatant rip-offs of old Pokemon being presented as “new,” but the Beauty Contest? And, if I remember correctly, the Beauty Contest was forced onto players and had to be done at least once to make progress.

But I did it, and I didn’t hate it. I didn’t enjoy it. I was supremely disappointed that my old friend had stooped to such levels. But it was something to do, and I did it. My Luxio and I–Shinx and Luxio were good, new mons, at least.

I got the fourth gym badge and reached the swamp. At that point, I saved the game… and never played it again. What had gone wrong? It’s hard to say. Pokemon Diamond and Pearl… simply didn’t do it for me.

We never liked Gen 2 as much as we did Gen 1. I have my hypotheses why that might have been the case, but the primary one… is simply that it was the same goddamned game again. It was like Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3, except the improvements here weren’t nearly as drastic as SMB1 and SMB3. It was really just two new types and some new Pokemon.

Dark–let’s face it. Dark should have simply replaced Ghost, because Ghost was clearly always meant to be Dark in the first place. That’s a pretty large fuck-up, considering Dark was implemented almost entirely to curtail the power of Psychic types. But look at the type advantage chart–they’re virtually identical, except that Normal attacks don’t hit Ghost Pokemon and Dark is weak to Poison. Simply rename “Ghost” to “Dark” and add a half-weakness to Poison, and it’s the same freaking thing. Dark and Ghost are not both necessary, and it only clutters the type chart. Ghost should never have been a type any more than “Rat” should be a type, or “Bird” should be a type. “Ghost” was just a characteristic that three Pokemon had; the types of those ghost Pokemon should have been Dark. I understand that it was a Gen 1 mistake, but they fixed it in Gen 2 with the dumbest possible way.

Gastly, Haunter, and Gengar should have become Dark/Poison, and their ghost abilities should have been removed–or relegated to simply being oddities for those three Pokemon, in the same way that Pikachu had a few oddities and was able to learn both Surf and Fly. A new type to use against Psychic wasn’t necessary–all that was necessary was to rename “Ghost” to “Dark” and create some mons that didn’t combine Dark with a weakness to Psychic, and create some abilities that actually did damage and had Dark as the type. Implementing both was a stupid decision.

It also introduced Steel, which I am totally onboard with. But Poison already sucked as a type–did they really have to harm it more by giving a type immunity to it? Compare Poison to Fire. Fire has 4 x2 strengths and 4 50% weaknesses. Poison has two x2 Strengths, 4 50% weaknesses, and 1 0% weakness. It’s an utter joke, and this is why the game will never be balanced: the types aren’t balanced.

Every Type should have the same number of Strengths, the same number of 50% weaknesses, at least 1 type it can’t affect, and the same number of types that are Strengths against it. Once that is achieved, then individual Pokemon can be created to make use of that. As long as it’s not balanced, though…

Psychic/Dragon. Can you imagine that? Prior to the implementation of the Fairy type, that would have been disastrous.

Anyway. It’s not my goal here to critique the series, not really.

UmbreonOther than Umbreon, there were no mons in Gen 2 that I really liked, and I only like Umbreon because–remember earlier when I said I was starting to lean toward the goth thing? It’s no surprise I liked the Dark type. But here, things began to get complicated, but they didn’t get complicated in the right way…

Breeding for eggs became mandatory to get some Pokemon, and that was tedious as fuck. There was nowhere to catch Pichu, so if, for some god forsaken reason, you wanted a Pichu, you had to breed. This also created the need to breed in order to get the best IVs. So before you could do any real battling, you had to catch dozens of specimens, Release all the ones with the worst stats, and then take careful notes of their stats. Then you had to gain them a few levels–the more, the better–and do some asinine calculations to figure out which one was actually the best. Then you had to do it again, but you had to get a member of the opposite sex. Then you had to breed them at the daycare, and repeat the process all over again until you had one that wouldn’t get crushed immediately.

I never bothered to do it. So the above paragraph may have some inaccuracies and mistakes. I don’t care. The very thought of stepping into that was unappealing, and it was unappealing even then. It was not like Chess, where you could, on your own merits, blaze a path to success. It was more like World of Warcraft–you had to grind. There was no other way.

It also introduced the Happiness mechanic, and some mons who could only evolve through Happiness. Ugh. Great. Something we can’t directly control. Thanks, Game Freak. How irritated was I to realize that my Umbreon could only evolve if my Eevee evolved at night and had a high enough Happiness? Very irritated.

It also introduced the Day/Night mechanic, which made sense but was also fucked. Because now, in addition to needing to know where a certain Pokemon appears, you had to know what time of day it appears. What if you couldn’t play during the Day? What if you couldn’t play during the Night? What if you couldn’t play on Sunday or Wednesday to do the Bug Catching event? You were just screwed. I think it was Sunday and Wednesday, but it doesn’t matter.

A bunch of useless berries and apricorns were added, too, which was just more tedious crap to keep up with, most of which didn’t affect the game enough to bother with. Oh, my Lure Ball increased my catch rate against Water types? Great, because Water types are soooo hard to catch. Berries were useless. Even with strategic planning, the idea that your Pokemon with the anti-Confusion berry would get hit with confusion was laughable. Plus, the berries were one-use, so if it was useful, it immediately became grinding to get a bunch of them, which was immediately not fun anymore.

But no one in their right mind would have held a Berry, not when items like the Quick Claw and all the others were available and vastly superior. Let’s see… A one-time use item that restores 10 HP or instantly cures Sleep… or something that lasts forever and gives my Pokemon a small chance to act first? And the Quick Claw wasn’t even one of the good items!

So in addition to having to breed for the best stats–after pouring over the 251 Pokemon and figuring out which mon you needed–and after grinding them up to a sufficient level, you also had to find and give them the best item for them to hold. Can you see why this wasn’t much fun? Give me a Pokeball, give me a Pokemon, and fucking let me have at it. Get all this other shit out of my way.

disgaea.0It’s not because it’s complex. I love Aion, Rift, and World of Warcraft pre-Cataclysm. I love complexity. Disgaea PC is currently in the lead for my Game of the Year 2016 award, and Disgaea is complex as shit. The problem here is that the Pokemon series became complex in the wrong way. It became complex in a way that requires tedious grinding (which is strange to come from a huge Disgaea fan), not clever strategies and tactics. Though strategies and tactics do play a role, they do not eliminate the need for grinding, and it doesn’t matter how clever you are–if your IVs suck, you won’t win.

It’s kind of like World of Warcraft. I’m a PvPer–a titled PvPer. I do arenas. Did arenas, I should say. I did briefly return a few months ago, to check out Warlords of Draenor, but I left again shortly after hitting Level 100. It’s just not for me anymore. If Blizzard wants me back, then they have to:

  • Give Warlocks back our curses.
  • Give Affliction Shadowbolt back.
  • Take Cyclone and Fear off the same DR.
  • Give back Soulburn: Waterbreathing.
  • Give back Felflame.
  • Restore the WoD perks to baseline Warlock abilities. Seriously. They took abilities away from us and then gave them back as Warlords of Draenor “perks.” Great, thanks, Blizzard. My “perk” is that my Drain Soul is now back to how it was before you fucked it up. Gee. Thanks. How creative and inspired you are.
  • Restore Howl of Terror to a baseline ability. It already shares DR with Fear; there was no reason to turn it into a Talent.
  • Give us back Death Coil.
  • Remove Soul Swap from the game. It’s broken, and you’ve had to nerf shit repeatedly since you implemented it. Just remove it from the game and give us back our DoTs.
  • Give Haunt back its old functionality and remove its Soulshard use.
  • Get rid of the Soulshard crap.
  • Give me back my Spellstone.
  • Drain Mana would be nice, too. I once won a 44 minute arena match with my ex-wife because of a beautifully timed Drain Mana. It was epic; it was a beautiful, awe-inspiring match, ending in our victory when we were only 1 minute away from the match timing out into a Draw. I wish I still had the video of it.

I realize that’s quite a lot of demands, but they’re pretty much in order of importance–except Soul Swap. If Soul Swap is removed, and then the next 6 bullets are done, then I’d be willing to return to the game. Until then, Affliction is a pale imitation of its former self, and it’s just not any fun to play.

Before I got off onto all of that, though, my point is that I do arenas. And one of the things that bothers me are the people who insist that World of Warcraft is not a gear-based game, that it’s skill-based. Because that’s utter bullshit. I don’t care how good you are. If you raid without gear, your DPS will suck. So how, exactly, is this not a gear-based game? If you try to Arena without a full epic PVP set, you’ll get curbstomped. How is this not a gear-based game? The upper echelons of PVP are skill-based, sure, but the gear is a huge part of this, as well. In raiding, skill is almost negligible. In 1500+ arenas, skill becomes increasingly important, but it’s still gear-based, even at 2700 rating.

Pokemon is now the equivalent of being gear-based. Gen 1 didn’t have the complexity for skill to play much of a role, either, and it showed, even then, that the series was going to become based more on stats and “things that happen outside of battles” than the battles themselves. But it wasn’t yet a problem, and it was only slightly a problem in Gen 2.

go awayWhen I, and many others, attempted to return with Diamond/Pearl and Black/White, we expressed our dismay, our concerns, and our disappointment, and we were rudely insulted as “genwunners,” written off as blinded by nostalgia, our complaints ignored by the idiots who have now played the same exact game 7 times and haven’t noticed.

Because that’s another huge problem with the Pokemon games: they’re all exactly the same. You play a 10 year old kid going to 8 cities to fight 8 gym leaders, solving small problems in cities along the way, usually by overcoming a criminal organization, and then defeat the Elite Four. Along the way, you’ll need to learn to Cut trees, to use Strength and push boulders, to Surf… Along the way, you’ll find a Game Corner or Game Corner Copycat, you’ll find a large city with a Mega Mart, you’ll find a Safari Zone. The only differences will be the names of people you encounter, the types used in the gyms, and some of the Pokemon themselves. Download a graphics hack of Super Mario Bros. 3, though. Tell me–is it a different game? No, of course not.

And that’s what the Pokemon games have more or less been since the beginning: graphical hacks of the previous generation. Nothing ever really changes, and the games are exactly the same. It’s almost like Mega Man 3, 4, 5, and 6. Actually, it’s exactly like Mega Man 3, 4, 5, and 6.

That, I’m sorry to say, is pretty much the Pokemon series.

But we were interested in returning. Rather than addressing our complaints and welcoming us back into the fold, though, and walking us through the new grindy elements and mechanics, we were rejected and insulted.

That’s fine. You keep playing the same game over and over. Zelda and Mario fans do it. It’s a pretty obvious staple of Nintendo’s repertoire: just release the same game again, but change its name, and the stupid people won’t know the difference. Moreover, you can get the stupid people to loudly insist that it’s not the same thing. And, in a case of beautiful irony, these same people will criticize the Call of Duty games for being identical.

So I’m a genwunner, and the above freaking treatise explains why.

Publishers, Developers, and Consumers–Don’t Be a Tool

It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed in many areas, and there are many more serious places where I’ve seen this. The most serious one I’ve seen in recent years was in regard to NSA spying, where a horrifying 50% of Americans supported the NSA. They don’t realize, it seems, that in life it is a matter of us versus the government, and that they have clearly not sided with “us.” Which is particularly odd, because they are a member of “us.” It doesn’t really matter if one personally approves of the NSA or not–that doesn’t change the fact that you’re not part of the government; you’re part of the people, and you should side with the people. It’s really that simple.

In regard to video games, I’ve noticed an alarming tendency of gamers to take the side of developers and publishers. This comes in many forms. The one I’m dealing with now is that I am being blamed for what is clearly a glitch in Final Fantasy VI on PC: http://plays.tv/s/Kbq334Jv4lmP

Let’s just think for a moment. After I made a post in the Steam forums discussing how much I love Final Fantasy VI and how easy it would have been for Square-Enix to make me give it a 10, and pointed out that I simply can’t do that now, the responses I got met one of a few clear types:

  • It’s your hardware/drivers.
  • You don’t meet the system requirements.
  • Don’t go looking for glitches and bugs, and this won’t happen.
  • Why would you give this version a 10 anyway?
  • Go away.

It’s primarily the first that I want to focus on, because that is the go-to response we get from developers and publishers any time there is an issue with their game. Nevermind that this is almost completely irrelevant to a game that doesn’t use 3D Hardware Acceleration because it’s a 2D sprite game with everything pre-rendered. The System requirements for the PC version of Final Fantasy VI are laughable:

  • OS: Windows Vista / 7 / 8 / 8.1 
  • Processor: Pentium 4 2.4 GHz 
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM 
  • Storage: 950 MB available space

Does anyone out there truly believe that I’m not sporting something superior to a Pentium fucking 4 and 2 GB of RAM? As it happens, I’m running on an AMD six-core at 4.2 GHz. For that matter, I’m in the town of Zozo. Do people seriously believe that I made it 4 hours into the game with invisible sprites, CTDs, and other major issues, and just suddenly decided I couldn’t handle it anymore? Did it seriously occur to no one that this is an issue that just appeared, and that drivers and hardware therefore cannot be the issue in this pre-rendered sprite-based game?

They’re parroting that response at me because that is what they’ve been trained to say–and they don’t realize it, because humans are very easy to train, especially when they don’t realize that it’s happening.

A few years ago, I watched a friend be trained by his Ford vehicle to use his seatbelt. It used an irritating sound that went off any time the vehicle was cranked and the seatbelt wasn’t clicked, until he finally got to the point where he fastened his seatbelt first thing upon entering any vehicle. He had been trained. Thankfully, he did realize that he had been trained, but we aren’t usually aware of how we’re being trained.

When you contact a developer or publisher to tell them you have a problem, their response will always be a request for you DXDiag, a reinstallation of Runtimes and other packages, as they do everything possible not to fix the issue but to make you into the source of the problem.

This is, with almost 100% frequency, what I’m running into in regard to this glitch in Final Fantasy VI. It’s my fault; I did something wrong. I, the owner of an I.T. consultant firm, a VB.Net, Java, Python, Ruby, and C++ programmer, did something wrong. I, the person who once wrote his own drivers for the HD4350, did something wrong. It can’t possibly be that Square-Enix was just being Square-Enix and released a glitchy, buggy game prone to CTDs and game-breaking bugs.

I don’t blame them for this, to be clear. They aren’t bad people, and they aren’t really wrong; just misguided. They don’t see things for how they really are. In reality, there are two sides here: the consumers, and the suppliers. Know which side you’re on. Because even if you disagree with the other consumers, they are doing things that will benefit you.

Emulation rights is a great example. I know tons of people who are against emulation and blatantly conflate it with piracy, shown here:

This is what a modern day Uncle Tom looks like.

This is what a modern day Uncle Tom looks like.

Consumers have already fought this battle–we fought it in the 80s when VHS gave us the right to record broadcasts and view them at a later time of our own choosing. The courts basically decreed that publishing meant “to make public,” and that, by publishing, the publisher relinquishes most of their rights over it. This makes… total fucking sense, and that it makes sense is the reason I continue to be surprised the judges made that ruling.

It’s like if I wanted to stand on a street corner performing with my acoustic and singing–if someone wanted to record it to watch later, what the fuck right would I have to stop them? None at all. If I’m doing something publicly then it’s largely up to the public what they do with it.

No emulation is not closely associated with piracy–it’s only so associated by fuckwits like you, Fish-E, who can’t think without the publisher’s permission to have a given thought. You have the legal right to modify your games in whatever way you want in order to make them playable in a way that is convenient for you. We fought for and kept that right in the 80s. Try to keep up. Ripping a game to your computer to play it with an emulator is absolutely no different from recording a broadcast through VHS. What you’re saying is, “Because some people use VHS tapes to make illegal copies of movies, VHS itself is associated with that, and deserving of a ban for discussing.”

No, you fucking moron, and you don’t get to conflate two disparate concepts like that. We have different words for them for a reason. “Emulation” and “piracy” are different things. That’s why we have two different words–to describe these two different things.

As it happens, I’m in favor of both, and fuck the publishers and developers. I’m not here to make EA, Square-Enix, Ubisoft, and WB money. I’m here to enjoy my life.

I will not:

  • pay full price for an incomplete game. See Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim GOTY Edition.
  • pay for a game that I don’t know works correctly. See Civilization 5, Final Fantasy VI.
  • pay more for a game than I think it is worth.

I happen to use piracy largely to try out games, as glorified demos. I never felt that Skyrim was worth $60, plus the price of all that DLC. It had too many problems: it was shallow–oh, so shallow–glitched, bugged, and barely working. I paid $40 for the GOTY Edition not too long ago, and I feel it was worth that.

Last year, I paid $60 for Dragon Age: Inquisition on launchday, even though it cost $10 more than it had any right to cost, in what was clearly a bald cashgrab by EA. It almost the last on-or-near-launch-day purchase I’ve made. Since, I’ve bought a few other games on or near launch day, but, curiously, they are all Nintendo products. Nintendo, I have not and will not pirate your games until you give me a reason to, and I say with a sincere clap and genuine approval that you have never given me a reason to.

I’ll get into the problems with Dragon Age: Inquisition–like the fact that Bioware evidently doesn’t know what an “inquisition” is–one day. For now, let’s just say that purchase bit me in the ass, and that I did not get $60 of entertainment out of that World of Warcraft Wannabe. Prior to that, Bioware was one of the few companies whose games I wouldn’t pirate, because I knew that I was going to get a high-quality product. Dragon Age: Inquisition destroyed that faith.

So if developers want people to stop pirating their games and to stop waiting for GOTY Editions to purchase them, then all they need to do is release working, complete products. Sectioning off parts of the game to sell later as DLC? Nope. Not gonna pay for something that should have been included in the game already. Nintendo has started doing that, with Mewtwo being locked behind a paywall. The really messed up part of this is that you already have the characters and stages if your game is updated–you’re just not allowed to use them until you pay Nintendo an extortion fee. That’s my issue with DLC and multiplayer: if something is on my system, you can’t fucking tell me that I can’t use it. Because at that point you did give it to me, whether you want to admit it or not, and I don’t give a fuck what legal shenanigans and word games you can play to convince another lawyer that you’re correct. I’m talking basic right and wrong here and simple ownership rights, and the fact is that you gave me that DLC in the last update.

The entire gaming industry is a FUBAR mess, and it’s not helping that a large portion of consumers have no idea that they’re being Uncle Toms for developers and publishers. With indie developers, I get it. They’re small studios, and they don’t have the cash flow to keep their studio going. But then you have them saying things like:

“Just pirate it,” Notch said in response to a fan who couldn’t afford Minecraft.

Team Meat actually presented the argument, as I am, that piracy is good for example–the indie studio behind Super Meat Boy. I’ve actually had multiple people bitch at me for using pirated versions of Minecraft and Super Meat Boy. That’s right–these people are such Uncle Toms that they’ll be an Uncle Tom even when the developer itself doesn’t give a shit. People bitch about me pirating Minecraft and hurting Mojang when, prior to being purchased by Microsoft, Mojang themselves didn’t give a shit.

lolwut

lolwut

These Uncle Toms remind me of this dumbass image. It is “extremely offensive”? To who? No one fucking worships Isis. And if they do, they’re retarded, so fuck them anyway. I laughed hard the first time I saw this image floating around Facebook as people expressed how “offended” they were on behalf of this non-existent deity that no significant portion of the population believes in.

Since we're getting offended on behalf of fictional characters now...

Since we’re getting offended on behalf of fictional characters now…

Yes, if you believe that Isis is a real goddess with an actual existence, you’re retarded, and fuck you. Of course, I’m an atheist and think this about most religious beliefs, but the pagan ones that dust off old, defunct gods and believe in them anew are definitely a bit more retarded than others.

Anyway, I’ve digressed a lot, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 is finished downloading. lol–I already had a pirated version. And I just bought it on Steam. Half of my purchases on Steam have been for games that I’ve already pirated. It’s just different to play a game legitimately. I don’t know why it is, but it is. Team Meat is correct; I am correct.

So know whose side your own. Are you an Uncle Tom? Or are you a consumer?

Long live the Pirate Bay.

Why Can’t Games Work?

I hate Apple products. I hate everything about Apple. But I’ve gotten a new appreciation for their old tagline of “It just works,” because… PC games don’t. It’s gotten to the point where I prefer reviewing Indie and low budget games for Cubed3, because they are so much more likely to work correctly than AAA games. It’s completely unacceptable. I’ve been saying for years that console gaming is fucking retarded because they’re nothing more than gimped, uncustomizable, unupgradeable PCs, but developers’ total inability to release working games on PC is really making me do a double-take at console gaming. Their games can be pretty fucked up, too, but it seems like PC has a higher “this game doesn’t work” rate.

I’m currently reviewing Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition for Cubed3, and I’ve gotten about 2 hours into the game. This isn’t the first time I’ve played Darksiders 2, but it is the first time I had to play it, to review it, and I’m not particularly excited about that because the non-definitive, and therefore inferior version that was sold for years, bored the fucking hell out of me. I never even got past the first world.

Detour: Definitive and Complete Editions

I recently purchased Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition on Steam for like $5. By all rights, this game shouldn’t exist. I remember when DLC was first discussed by PC gamers a decade ago, and we expressed the worry that they would release games as incomplete, and would then sell us DLC that completed them. Now they’re doing exactly that, and they’re not even trying to hide it. Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition means literally that everyone who purchased the game had to buy all the DLC to have a complete experience, and that’s not okay. DLC should complement the experience, not complete it.

We’re not arguing semantics here, because look at Batman: Arkham City and how the Catwoman sections were treated. Parts of the main story, critical to completion of the main story, were sectioned off and sold to players. We’ll come back to this topic one day, about why in the world developers think they’re entitled to be paid twice for one copy of a product, but for now let’s just bask in the glory that is the fact that we were sold an incomplete game for full price, and then had to buy shit on top of that if we wanted to complete it.

Complete Editions are tacit admissions that we’re getting fucked over, robbed, and cheated by games that are being sold to us incomplete. Definitive Editions are bald-faced admissions that we were, until this version, being sold an inferior product. None of this is okay. I don’t care how developers and publishers–and confused gamers who don’t understand whose side they’re on–think that this is okay. It’s not. Back to the main point.

Ah, That New Game Smell

A few weeks ago, I was looking into starting my YouTube channel for DiMezzo Gaming–and I’m still going to do that, but it’s going to be a little while. I don’t want to launch too many things at once. The first video will be me standing there. Something shorts out off-camera, electricity buzzes are heard, and then grey-black smoke wafts upward. I wave the smoke into my face with a gesture, close my eyes, and euphorically say, “Ah… That new game smell…” I’m still going to make this video, but it’s going to be a few weeks. Between house shopping, car shopping, reviewing for Cubed3, talking with literary agents, launching this site, and running my I.T. firm, I’m a tad busy right now and can’t devote the time to YouTube that would be warranted by opening a channel.

It was Tomb Raider that spurred this idea, though I don’t recall now what issues I was having with it. Oh, yeah, I do. It wouldn’t run for more than ten minutes. The framerate steadily dropped until it was running at 10 frames per second. Despite my joking about framerate, I actually do care a bit about it. But it’s consistency that I care about, and it doesn’t really matter to me if a game runs at 30 or 60 frames per second–as long as it is stable at that rate. Tomb Raider (I’ll update this post when my Cubed3 review is posted; it’s with the editors right now, and they’ve got quite a backlog of reviews from me) is not stable.

Mega Man Legacy Collection was completely unplayable, showing me only a black screen and what might have been a Wingdings font in white. Research indicated that installing a particular Windows 7 update would resolve the problem–and it did, but it should never have been necessary. I intentionally refrain from updating my Operating System; I own a tech firm, after all, and no one has seen more damage caused by Windows updates than I. Even with this update, it still crashes a lot.

Then there are games like They Bleed Pixels, which work flawlessly. And who could forget the legendarily awesome Super Meat Boy, which also works flawlessly? Even this stupid piece of shit works. There is also the glorious Orcs Must Die! 2, so incredible that it has spurred me to take part in my first-ever preview series. All of these games work.

Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition doesn’t, and it doesn’t seem that I’m the only person with this problem. I have no idea what’s causing it; it did work just fine. But now it doesn’t. So you can imagine what kind of review the game is going to get. I show no mercy to games that don’t work, and Darksiders 2 was never particularly good in the first place. I held nothing back on SDK Paint, and I’ll hold nothing back on Darksiders II. Because the asinine argument about hardware and software types making compatibility a problem is not valid and has not been valid since 1999.

We have two types of CPU, two types of graphics card, 3 types of RAM (that matter: ddr2, ddr3, and ddr5), and one type of sound device. Everyone is sporting AMD/AMD or Intel/Nvidia. I’m in the former group; I love me some AMD. But hardware is no longer an issue, and it hasn’t been in a very long time.

Resolution Woes

I played some piece of junk game earlier that–you’re not going to believe this–was only 256×240 resolution. I know! Ew, right? It’s not even 720p! It’s disgusting and ugly. God only knows what they were thinking to release a game in such an awful state. It’s unplayable. Just look at those numbers–can you even imagine how bad that resolution truly is? It’s gross. It makes me vomit in my mouth just thinking about it.

And you might want to sit down, because it actually gets worse. The game couldn’t show more than 54 colors simultaneously! I’ll wait while you throw up.

So this disgusting, blocky, unplayable mess of 256×240 resolution graphics could only show 54 colors simultaneously. I can’t imagine what they were thinking to release it in such a state. It’s atrociously bad, and totally unplayable. It does, thankfully, run at a brisk 60 frames per second, but that hardly matters when we’re dealing with such despicable resolutions.

The game was some crap piece of shovelware called Super Mary Brothers 3 or some shit. I don’t know. It didn’t look very good. I guess if you could make yourself deal with the atrocious resolution and lack of anti-aliasing, you might be able to squeak out some kind of not-so-horrible-you-want-to-kill-yourself experience, but that’s way too much work to be worth it for a game the developers thought was okay to be released at such a terrible resolution.

And I hope you’re not a sound buff! Because the audio is mono! I’ll pause again while you go vomit.

That’s right–mono audio. One channel. They couldn’t even do stereo, much less 5.1. That’s disgusting. And the sound quality is just atrocious. You can tell it’s just these horrible blips and bloops that you could get if you programmed a game on a TI-85 calculator.

There are only two things players can do, too, so there’s no variety to the game. Players run and they jump. That’s it. The developers tried to add in a little variety, at least, because players can get fireballs and a thing that lets them fly, but they don’t really add anything to the gameplay. It’s still just running and jumping. At 256×240 resolution and less than 54 simultaneous, six of which have to be a shade of grey.

It’s fucking atrocious, and someone needs to hold the developers’ feet to the fire over it, because this isn’t acceptable. They should be ashamed of themselves for not releasing a game that runs at least at 1080p, because anything less than that is totally unplayable. And would it have killed them to add a little anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering? Jesus Christ, look at this mess:

Totally unacceptable.

Totally unacceptable.

What were they thinking? This isn’t okay. This is terrible! Unplayable! Hideous, disgusting!

/end Satire

Crowdfunding & Psychonauts 2

It has been announced that Psychonauts 2 is in the works, and that it is being crowdfunded. Wait. Did I miss something? Although I never played the first Psychonauts, plenty of people did. According to Wikipedia:

Although the game was first cited as the primary contributing factor to a strong quarter immediately following its launch,[51] a month later Majesco revised their fiscal year projections from a net profit of $18 million to a net loss of $18 million,[52] and at the same time its CEO, Carl Yankowski, announced his immediate resignation.[53] By the end of the year, the title had shipped fewer than 100,000 copies in North America, and Majesco announced its plans to withdraw from the “big budget console game marketplace”.[54] Schafer stated that by March 2012 the retail version Psychonauts had sold 400,000 copies.[55]

So the game initially caused a very strong quarter, but going into the second quarter the figures were revised from a net profit of $18 million to a net loss of $18 million. The game sold so poorly that the CEO of the company resigned? That’s fine; I accept that, and way to take responsibility, but that raises the question: What makes them think it will be a good idea to make another one?

No sequel should ever be crowdfunded. The argument about Psychonauts not being successful financially just goes to show how bloated video game development budgets have become. Final Fantasy XIII, of course, sold millions of copies and was considered a failure by Square-Enix, as was Tomb Raider. As Jim Sterling routinely points out, publishers would rather have no money if they can’t have all the money, “some of the money” is not enough. If they make a game that is only profitable by $1m, they consider it a failure.

Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic remains the most expensive game ever made; it was so expensive to make that there was never any chance that Bioware would recoup the cost. I don’t remember the details now, but in order for The Old Republic to be successful, they needed a ridiculous number of paying accounts over the course of two years. Actually, that only caused them to break even. The Old Republic should go down in history as the biggest fuckup in gaming, beating out Atari’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial by a wide margin.

Atari spent an obscene amount of money making E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, of course, and a sizable chunk of the millions of dollars went to George Lucas simply for the license. Much more was spent on advertising and publishing; millions of copies were made. The game itself was rushed out in something like 5 weeks. And Atari has never recovered from that enormous fuck-up that caused the scales to fall from the eyes of the gaming public, making us realize, “Shit. These games actually kind of suck.”

And while the gaming industry is thankfully putting the money into game development itself (except in the case of Square-Enix, since all their money goes to making pretty movies), the fact remains that they haven’t learned from Atari’s or Bioware’s fuck-ups. Just think about what it must mean that they incurred an $18m loss on a game that was already on sale.

Maybe Psychonauts was pretty good. But if they can crowdfund its sequel to the point where they can make a suitable game, it really will go to show how bloated the first game’s budget was. While I applaud Double Fine Productions for at least offering stake in the profits to investors, the bottom line is that it shouldn’t be necessary; no sequel should ever be crowd-funded. If it wasn’t successful enough for a sequel to be made without resorting to crowd-funding, then there is no reason to think the sequel will do any better.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this, but it’s the first time I’ve felt like really talking about it, because the idea is abhorrent. Crowdfunding exists for people to get their first creation made. Under no circumstances should it be used to make sequels and follow-ups; this undermines the entire point. And with fucking pre-orders and season passes already blurring the lines and making AAA publishers basically ask for crowd-funding, this “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” bullshit the gaming industry is obsessed with needs to stop.

Market forces dictate that if you make a product and sell it, and you don’t sell enough copies of that product to cover the costs of making a follow-up, then you fucked up. The market has brought you before the courts, you have been tried, and you have been found wanting. Bow out and come back when you’ve got a new idea. Tim Schafer is just using crowdfunding as a “Get out of fucking up free card,” and he shouldn’t be rewarded for that. If you liked Psychonauts and want to see more, great, but don’t give your money to Double Fine Productions. They’ve already demonstrated that they lack the financial sense and appeal to truly survive in the industry. They’ll be back in two years asking for more crowdfunding to make Psychonauts 3.

It’s not strictly necessary that Double Fine Productions make a game that would be Psychonauts 2. Look at Mighty Number 9 and how it comes from the creator of Mega Man. It is undeniably the spiritual successor to Mega Man. They didn’t come before the gaming community and say, “Look, people, we know we screwed that last one up. But if you’ll donate a bunch of money to us, we promise we won’t do it again. So if you’ll pay us today, we’ll sell you a hamburger Tuesday.”

Because that’s what it really is. It’s not “We’ll give you a hamburger Tuesday if you pay us today.” It’s “We’ll sell you a hamburger Tuesday if you pay us today.” Fuck that, people. don’t let them get away with it. They fucked up. They did that all by themselves. They’ll have to come up with something else to fix their fuck up. They can’t just come before the gaming community and start begging for money, not after fucking up so badly that their previous game recorded millions of dollars in losses.

You dun goof’d, Tim.

And then there’s this:

tim schafer