Definining Divinity

March 30th, 2004, by Matt
Question: The developers of Beyond Divinity are delaying the English release to redo the horrible voice acting found in the demo. Since they were happy with it before, how are they going to know whether or not it's even passable this time?

Question 2: When the pre-recorded voice of Alan Keyes calls me up and invites me to listen to him and his good buddy ex-Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore (or, as Alan calls him, "Chief Justice Roy Moore") at a "Ten Commandments Rally", does he know that thanks to Colin McRae Rally I will be expecting them to be driving giant stone tablets over unimproved surfaces?

Question 3: Should I therefore have a reasonable expectation to drive giant Colin McRaes over unimproved surfaces in Colin McRae Rally '05?

FW: Total Idiocy

March 25rd, 2004, by Matt
Executives at the tiny stupid publishers have the weirdest ideas. Selling games that people only play because they're free is one of them. I could be funny here and list a bunch of web-things that people have all seen but would never shell out money for, but I don't want to give anyone any ideas, except maybe for Hamsterdance Hamsterdance Revolution. While you're busy not clicking ads, please also check out the latest mini-review.

Matt's Guide to Review Writing, Part 1

March 23rd, 2004, by Matt
In game reviewing, there's lazy and then there's lack of options. Lazy is reliance on hyperbole, or cliché, or clichéd hyperbole, e.g. "this game raped my childhood memories of what fun was", "this game's animation is a mixed bag", and "this game raped me, and then put me in a bag with other gamers it raped, and there were good and bad sound effects in there with us". However, when describing disappointment— surprised, resigned, or any other form— at a large or small portion of a game, there are only two words that qualify: sadly and unfortunately. If you like to substitute flowery babbling in the place of actual insight, like the dainty folk of Game Critics, you can also interject "alas".

Fussy lady game reviewer Gene Park of Game Critics doesn't use that word in his Beyond Good and Evil review, but does use these words:
After huge battles, other videogame characters like Mario or Final Fantasy heroes routinely pierce the air with fists and victory signs. But after their first big battle, Jade and her pig man uncle Pey'j embrace. Jade's arms slump over Pey'j's portly figure. It's a hug anyone might've experienced before, one of exhaustive, but joyous relief.
He then goes on to non-sarcastically suggest that the next game in the series should also be named after a Nietzsche book, offering Human, All Too Human as a possibility. Thanks, Gene. And it should be "exhausted", not "exhaustive", unless you're trying to say that she explored all relief possibilities with that hug, in which case I'd have to disagree.

Sapphire Bullets of Pure MMOG

March 18th, 2004, by Matt
Brad McQuaid, project leader behind the ugliest game ever to require 512MB of RAM, EverQuest, has a new game he'd like to tell you about. It's called Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, and this is what the FAQ says he wants to do:
Artist's concept of Steve McQueen's posthumous recording session for The Great Escape game.
To lead the next generation of massively multiplayer RPGs by implementing unparalleled static and dynamic content using advanced approaches including, but not limited to: advanced encounter systems; meaningful travel; a detailed and interesting seamless world; advanced immersive gameplay and graphics, and pre-planned expansions for both the short and long term health of the game.
I've spent a while trying to figure out what "meaningful travel" is, but so far all I can think of is that when you travel in Vanguard, when you stop you will truly be somewhere else. I rank this bullet of information up there with Batman: Dark Tomorrow's "intellectually stimulating detective elements" and The Great Escape's "posthumous dialogue from Steve McQueen" . And I think they put in "including, but not limited to" because some parts of the game are going to be so advanced that current marketing technology cannot encapsulate them as a concept, even by putting "advanced" in front of them.

Press vs. Marketing in the World Series of Love

March 16th, 2004, by Matt
Professional gaming is a huge hit, with literally tens of spectators at each event. IGN, the website with one finger on the pulse of the industry and the rest in its mouth and nose, realizes that that means amateur gaming can draw two or three eyeballs as well. So they decided to set up this feature, a four-on-four UT2K4 match between Atari and IGN at the IGN offices.

It's hard to say which is a bigger lie: IGN calling a Public Relations Rep, a Brand Manager, an in-house Associate Producer for an externally developed title, and a Director of Marketing "developers", or IGN giving anyone at IGN the job description of "editor". That's exactly how the contestants were described, though.

And while Atari stockholders— who have seen their investment devalue by over half in the last two years— must be glad that they're paying for custom sports jerseys and plane tickets for four guys who have done such a great job not selling games, they must be even happier about them having their own trading cards:

This is Matt Frary, or as he is known to his fans, "PR_Flak", or as he is known to people who need the press materials of an Atari game for an article they're writing, "Lazy Unresponsive Fuck". Not that most of you readers care; this paragraph is provided merely as a service to the gaming press, to prove his existence. In the end, I'm convinced his presence on the team was the deciding factor in Atari beating IGN, as the IGN team probably spent the entire time distracted by the shock rifle combo of both discovering that he is not a phantom and seeing him actually doing something press-related.

The end result is that IGN, maybe a little bitter about losing, ended up tacking a score of 9.4 onto the five page review. 9.4 might, on the one hand, seem like a pretty good score. But on the other hand it's only .4 better than what they gave the incredibly boring UT2K3 and only .2 better than what they give just about every other game. Sore losers, I guess.

Voting Mandate Misdirected, Delivered Properly

March 11th, 2004, by Matt
Yesterday, Old Man Murray updated. But frankly, Erik must be a little rusty because not only did he miss his website, he was just plain wrong. In trying to prove that Grim Fandango is better than Chrono Trigger, he hinges his argument on the idea that something that has sucked for longer (Chrono Trigger) sucks more than something that sucks, but has sucked more recently (Grim Fandango).

Here's where he messed up: the only thing creepier than black people speaking French is white people speaking U.S. Marine. Ultimately they sort of sound the same in that I can't really understand either, but the Marines end every sentence by barking like a dog, so that can't be good. Yet this is exactly the newer and more sucky situation in French-speaking Haiti: old President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has gone into exile in the face of a coup, and has been replaced by now un-exiled Prime Minister Gerard LaTortue and a bunch of U.S. Marines.

LaTortue, which is French for "The Tortoise", which makes him Jewish, as seen in this screenshot from Sly Cooper 2, is so far finding that a country is a bit harder to control than the American entertainment industry. The Marines are having to shoot people, and the people who are not getting shot are so disorganized that they are still having anti-Aristide demonstrations despite Aristide having left the country two weeks ago.

Part of the challenge lies with his constituency. Like Tim Schafer, the creator of Grim Fandango, the Haitian people are mostly crazy. The day after Halloween is the Mexican Dia de los Muertos ("Day of the Dead") and is the true story on which Grim Fandango is based. That day is also the Christian Dia de los Todos Santos ("Day of Todd Santos aka All Saint's Day"). 96% of Haitians are Christian, according to the World Almanac, the majority of them Roman Catholic. But many of them have also gotten the Voodoo expansion pack, an add-on that, among other things, borrows the Day of the Dead from Mexico. For Haitains, regular belief in an all-powerful being who forgives you no matter how much of an asshole you are, as long as you pretend you're sorry to someone behind a curtain once a week (or less, if you're also sorry about it being less) is just not crazy enough.

Yet while Crazy Tim Schafer only made a videogame and negative money out of the Day of the Dead, Crazy Voodoo People made this:

While I can imagine Tim putting things down his pants (if I really want to— this is certainly not something I think about daily), hot peppered alcohol (which I'm told and can certainly believe is what is in the bottle) is not one of those things. While the lady (!) in the picture tries to do whatever dead people-related thing that is supposed to accomplish, I gather that the only slightly less butch Mr. Schafer would be happy just with playing Chrono Trigger. And if even the creator of its mortal enemy would play it, it must be pretty good.

But even though Haiti proves that newer can sometimes suck more than older because of Voodoo and Mexicans, I would still recommend that people vote for Grim Fandango over Chrono Trigger. Why? Because Squaresoft fans are stupid, and I know it would make them cry, because Aeris dying in Final Fantasy VII made them cry, which, because it was a completely random and melodramatic piece of plot development, is why they are stupid. A vote for Grim Fandango on March 15th is completely justifiable; Erik is just too busy making a game and affording groceries to figure out the real reason why.

Matt's Guide to Preview Writing, Part 1

March 9th, 2004, by Matt
The preview is an essential piece of any magazine or website's repertoire. As a writer, it's your chance to take an unfinished game, or a video of someone playing it, or a couple of screenshots and a blurry, photocopied transcript of what someone said about it, and predict what it will be like. Your readers need this information; on the off chance that the game is actually released, your preview is their primary source of information that will help them to determine whether or not an actual review is correct, and whether or not the reviewer received money from the game's publisher in exchange for the review.

A great responsibility lies with you, then, not to contradict yourself within the first three sentences of your preview. Take Action Trip's preview of the upcoming Conan game for PC and Xbox:
There's a real problem with being a gamer these days. We find ourselves in an age when mediocre console games based on successful movie and novel franchises dominate the industry. Although the idea seems hackneyed, it's nice to see an old fantasy franchise come back to life in a computer game.
Then again, since licensed games dominate the industry about as much as I do, it's not actually a "real problem with being a gamer".

And think about this, you preview writers with no idea how to start your article: if developers weren't making crappy licensed games, they'd be making crappy unlicensed games. Maybe they'd even be making crappy Prey for 3D Realms, since apparently George Broussard has forgotten how compilers work. I'm not saying that that's happening right now, in Madison, Wisconsin, using the Doom 3 engine, I'm just saying that that's probably what would happen if a developer in Madison couldn't get a movie license project.

Most of Us Get What We Deserve

March 4th, 2004, by Matt
Here's something that everyone gnashing teeth over the cancellation of Sam and Max 2 needs to think about: how bad are a game's prospects looking if the same company that shipped RTX Red Rock axes it? I can tell you just from the E3 trailer that the game's whole reason for existence was that a sequel to Sam and Max sounded like a good idea, not because they actually had any idea what to do. The trailer had no evidence of a plot, and a few mediocre gags, and that's it. Max drops a filing cabinet on someone, Max jumps up and down on a guy, Sam answers the phone with "Commissioner! How's the rash?" and then the big finish is a scene of them doing a dance in a gymnasium.

But if a fog of anti-creativity didn't keep LucasArts from waiting until a couple of months before the game was supposed to ship to give up on it, it's certainly not going to keep the Righteous Internet Fans of Good Games Club from complaining. These freelance game industry experts from around the world have already weighed in, with the usual punditry, on the loss of the game they wanted to keep pretending they were going to buy.

Their response to the cancellation notice's citation of "marketplace realities" as the reason for the cancellation? "LucasArts doesn't realize that the reason adventure games don't sell is because nobody makes adventure games anymore!" Of course, in reality this idea that nobody makes adventure games anymore is just wishful thinking. A couple of adventure games make their way into the TMOL offices every month as part of some cosmic punishment for when I was 16 and stole Pool of Radiance and an issue of Penthouse from a Waldenbooks. Dark Fall, Black Mirror, Mysterious Journey II: Don't Stop Mysteriously Journeyin', et al., etc. all suck, sure, but they are in fact adventure games.

Where were all these lamenters when Armed and Dangerous, a game that primarily distinguished itself from Sam and Max 2 by actually being funny, was released by LucasArts last December? The same place they would have been had this game been released, of course, and that's why it was cancelled.

James Herriot Online

March 2nd, 2004, by Matt
Sometimes I think I am just poor in the investigative department. But then I see GameSpot posting news about how banks in World of Warcraft will work like banks in every other MMORPG and I feel like maybe I really didn't miss anything important since Thursday. Unlike their copy editors:

About the only real news is also from MMORPG land, unexpectedly. It seems Lineage II is definitely including some exciting new tradeskills on top of the smithing and the tailoring and whatnot:

Famous game developer Erik Wolpaw, upon seeing the news, excitedly turned hispanic and gathered his aura into his fist to punch himself in the face:

He later would say that he was trying to turn blue, and punch somebody else (not in the face), but had "miscalculated several important chakras".
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