Will the video game studio system collapse?

So this is something I've been thinking about for a while. Let me set this up by talking about Hollywood.

In the early days of cinema, there was what was called the "studio system." Large movie companies owned all the means of production of the movie industry: the sets, the equipment, the directors, the writers, and the actors. Movies were produced in an assembly-line fashion, with the people involved having no creative claim over the works that were released. All rights stayed with the companies, and the creative people signed themselves to many years-long exclusive contracts.

The movies produced in this time were little more than big, exciting, escapist entertainment for the world-weary audiences. People came to the theater to be entertained, nothing more. The images on the screen dazzled audiences everywhere. Patrons of older arts like stage theatre and the printed word scoffed at films, dismissing them as big, flashy, and empty pieces of drivel.

But then, in the 1960s, the studio system began to crumble. Directors desired more ownership of their works, both legally and creatively. Independent filmmakers began pouring out of universities with the vision that films could be more than simple pleasures: that they could change peoples lives and speak to the human condition. Films started being released that defied convention. Intensely personal films were made with vision and purpose. Now, today, film is a widely accepted art form. And while big dumb blockbusters still exist and create huge profits, films are released every year that inspire people, enrich lives, and challenge our minds.

Fast-forward to present day. Large companies like EA, Activision, Ubisoft, etc produce huge, lavish, and ultimately empty works of pure escapist entertainment for the masses. Writers, programmers, voice actors all work on contract with these companies to produce games they maintain little to no creative ownership of. Film-goers and critics like Roger Ebert point out their assembly-line production and the profit-first mentality of these companies. They are not seen as a legitimate art, and even those that enjoy them only want them to ever be a form of entertainment and escapism.

But we see the rumblings of change. Indie developers are beginning to release games that have a clear artistic vision. Meaning is trying to be conveyed, and the emotion of these creative people is present on the screen: people like Jonathan Blow, Phil Phish Terry Cavanaugh and small teams like Supergiant and Thatgamecompany. These people are gaining notice. Not only of Forbes and the Wallstreet Journal, but of critics. And not just "game reviewers" but of people that are interested in real critique.

Could it be that the "golden age" of video games may be nearing a close? Young people with passion and fresh ideas are pouring out of schools across the world, and new business models are making it financially viable for small teams and independent developers to make their visions a reality. Our hobby is moving inexorably into the realm of art. Like it or not. Movies haven't always been like they are now. One they were considered a lower form of entertainment, and fans and critics alike scoffed at the notion that they could be anything more than what they were. Those people were short sighted. I hope there are enough of us out there today in the audience and in the industry that are not.


L.A. Noire. Fantastic game, but we need new consoles bad.

I love this game, but that's not what this blog post is about. I'll just cut to the chase. After playing games on the PC almost exclusively for the last 4 months, coming back to the consoles was incredibly jarring. L.A. Noire looks fantastic, but DEAR. LORD. The framerate. I've gotten used to playing games with AA cranked all the way up and still getting a solid 60 FPS. I'm not what you'd call a graphics whore, but when I'm playing a game, poor framerate can really destroy the experience. Mind blowing graphics don't always make things better, but high framerates DO. 

We need new consoles not because graphical fidelity needs a huge generational leap, but because current hardware cannot handle the kinds of big games developers want to make while delivering the kind of smooth framerate necessary for a seamless, immersive experience. I'm sorry. 20 to 30 FPS just doesn't cut it. If you don't believe me, try playing Mass Effect 2 or Batman: Arkham Asylum on a modern gaming rig, then go play them on 360. I dare you. It's now very obvious to me that this generation of consoles needs to be replaced and soon.

Note: I am not knocking L.A. Noire. It is fantastic. Just a realization I came to and I needed to air my grievances.

Eve Online. You should try it out.

I've been playing Eve for about a week now. Inspired in part by the crazy stories I'd heard on the Bombcast and also by the trailers that keep popping up, I strode boldly into the expanse of player controlled space economics. I must say, it's clearly not for everyone. If you want nonstop action or really enjoy waiting in line to kill some big boss, this probably isn't the MMO for you.  
HOWEVER! If you are looking for an MMO where players can actually have an impact on the world, this is a clear front-runner. I should also mention that this game "does space" better than any game I've ever played (with the exception of Mass Effect perhaps).  
Anyway I'll be brief. I'm having a blast so far despite the lack of action. I really enjoy the feeling of working toward a goal and being a part of a player-driven world. I owe it to  Sacerdos87 for showing me the ropes and getting me started in his corporation. If you're interested in playing, I suggest you contact him on GiantBomb!


What's right and what's wrong with Dragon Age II

I've just finished the game after about 30 hours of gameplay. I'm going to briefly touch on what I liked and what I was disappointed by. This will be spoilerific, so be forewarned. 

The Good

Alright, I'll start with the good things. There is a lot to like about this game. Bioware is still Bioware, and they continue to shine in many of the areas we're used to.  
  1. The writing: Superb. Dialogue is sharp and witty. Characters are likable for the most part, and you're never embarrassed by what comes out of their mouths. (except when you're meant to of course)
  2. The visuals: Much much better-looking than the original. Characters look better, spell effects are beautiful, and the art style is brilliant.
  3. A lot to do: There's just a lot to do! quests, quests, and more quests.
  4. The Characters: I know this is sort of covered by writing, but it bears repeating. The characters are wonderful. Te banter returns as one of the highlights of the game. I never get tired of listening to characters throw quips at each other while walking through the streets. I should also mention that the voice acting is excellent. Female Hawke now rivals Female Shepard for my favorite protagonist. No matter what options you pick, you always get a great performance. It's also important to note that he/she is a fully realized character in much the same way as Shepard. I much prefer a voiced protagonist that I direct in broad strokes to a list of dialogue options. I think the dialogue wheel fits perfectly into the Dragon Age formula.
  5. The Combat: It's fun, fast, flashy. All those good f's. I'm sure many will find it divisive, but for me it's a welcome change to the DAO combat system.


The Bad

Yes it's time to talk about the bad. Most of my quick little review-type-thing will be focused on the bad, because let's face it, this is what makes me want to talk about it. If everything were sunshine and daisies, I wouldn't be writing this. 
  1. The Scope: This is the part where I clench my fists in frustration. The single biggest problem with this game is the scope. SPOILERS!! You spend the entire game in the city of Kirkwall. Yes that's right. Bioware: the masters of world building, confine you to a single locale. Now don't get me wrong: it's a well realized and detailed city. But honestly. If you had told me that the entirety of the sequel to a game that had you traversing dozens of wildly different locations would stick you in one place for 30+ hours, I'd have laughed you off of the internet. In fact, most of the problems with Dragon Age II stem from this one major design flaw as you will see in a minute.
  2. Recycled Locations: This is truly baffling. At first I didn't really notice, but it becomes all too clear very quickly. There are only a few dungeons, and they get used over and over throughout the entire game. I'm not just talking about similar visuals, I mean they are exactly the same. Same layout, same locations. I am I truly expected to accept that the same hideout place I fought a bunch of smugglers in is also being used by a crazed Blood Mage, a cult, and a pirate? Lazy. Plain and simple, and not what I expect from Bioware.
  3. Lack of a Camp: I know it seems silly to complain about this, but just hear me out. All of your characters have their own dwellings, and are assumed to stay there whenever not out adventuring with Hawke. It's an interesting approach, but it presents some problems. I suggest that the reason you feel so connected to characters in other Bioware games (your Mass Effects and DAO) is because they travel with you, far from their homes and yours. Confinement to the city allows for the characters to pursue careers and such, but it limits the sense of companionship you get from trundling across the countryside with your band of cohorts. It's also pretty jarring when you go to talk to them and they act like they haven't seen you in days when you've just spent the last 3 hours killing monsters with them. I know it's all part of it being a game and that all RPGs have similar issues, but it's harder to suspend disbelief in this case.
  4. Lack of Urgency: Simply put, it doesn't feel like what you're doing really matters until the very end, and at that point it feels forced. It's hard to feel the consequences of your actions are really significant when the stakes are as low as one city's fate. When you've just come off of a game that had you saving an entire kingdom from a constantly-looming threat just on the horizon, it's a pretty big let-down.
 In conclusion, it's a pretty good RPG with many of the trappings that make Bioware games great, but it just comes off as feeling like a job half-done. I really really got the feeling that at some point this game was pitched as being a side story in the larger Dragon Age Cannon. A sort of set-up for the eventual true sequel to Dragon Age. If this game had been called: "Kirkwall: a Dragon Age Tale," then we wouldn't be having this conversation. I feel optimistic about the future though. When the real Dragon Age II comes out, and the Champion of Kirkwall is fighting alongside the Hero of Fereldin, it's gonna be pretty fucking awesome my friends.

Predictions for Persona 5

So I'm replaying Persona 4. I forgot how much I loved this damn game! So with the upcoming release of Catherine and my newfound love of Persona 4, I've been thinking a lot about Atlus games.  
Anyway I got to thinking about Persona 5. I'm wondering what the major theme of the game will be. Persona 3 had the Dark Hour and the inevitability of death. Persona 4 was more light-hearted, and it had the midnight channel and a whole detective vibe. It was all about people coming to terms with their inner self. 
So what will Persona 5 have? I'm thinking maybe it will have something to do with dreams. Perhaps you'll enter a dream world to go fight the shadows. And maybe those dreams will start coming into the real world. I know it's all very Inception-y but maybe you end up going into other peoples' dreams to save them from the shadows and awaken their Personas.  
Anyway just killing some time until it gets announced at least. Hopefully TGS this year. right? RIGHT??!!


What I want in ME3 that will make it even better

ME2 is unquestionably my favorite game of the year, and the whole series is my favorite of this generation. So here's my list of things that would make ME3 a shoe in for not only 2011's GOTY but also one of my favorite games of all time. 
1. Better graphics: Yeah yeah I know "graphics blah blah blah." But seriously, I absolutely love the look of Mass Effect, and I think the series would benefit from improved animations (specifically in conversations) and more detailed textures. Apparently the PS3 release of ME2 will use ME3's engine, so I guess we'll get a sneak peak of what improvements they make. 
2. The return of loot/ more customization: I really enjoy loot in games, but I think they made important changes in ME2. I think they can find a happy middle ground. I would like to see more options in customization specifically in armor. I would like to be able to change the entire look of the armor. The armor in ME1 had a look that was distinctly different than in ME2. I think it would be cool if we could choose from armors that look entirely unique rather than essentially pallet swaps (like ME1 had) or mostly minor cosmetic changes (as in ME2).  
3. Planet Exploration: Remember how boring and bland all the incidental planets were in ME1? Also remember how horribly the Mako controlled? Yeah me too. I did however enjoy how BIG it made the universe feel. I think the Overlord DLC proved that Bioware has learned how to make planet exploration both control well (the new hovercraft controls pretty damn well in my book) and have lush environments. I hope we see more of that in ME3. 
4. More of EVERYTHING!!!!:  
More codex backstory 
More environment-specific dialog 
More party interaction in-mission 
More lines of dialog recorded for conversation trees with party members 
More mission-specific dialog 
More Liara 
More Inter-Species back-story/conflict  
More things to do on the Normandy 
More Liara 
More futuristic nightlife 
More crazy future space environments and tech 
 More EDI and Joker
I just cannot get enough of the universe Bioware has created. Just about everything in the fiction is right up my alley, and the dialog and characters are just brilliant. I found myself bursting into laughter constantly at the witty incidental comments characters would make on missions or the ridiculous dry humor of both EDI and Legion. I also spent hours combing through the Codex and dialog trees for every bit of fiction possible. I just want more dammit! 
Here's to Bioware, and here's to Mass Effect!


Nintendo should stop making consoles

Alright I'll preface this by saying that this is in no a way a rant about the Wii being a bad console (because it isn't). It's more of a wish for the future that would benefit the end users.   
So the thing about the Wii is that it is an inferior piece of hardware. Let's be honest. It just can't support the kind of games that the PS3 and Xbox 360 can. Because of that, the only reason to own a Wii is for the brilliant first-party games that Nintendo develops: your Zeldas and Marios etc. I think Nintendo has a lot to offer us in terms of IPs.  
But all of those games could run just as well, or even better on the other consoles. Imagine a Metroid game running on modern hardware! It's true that Nintendo used to have the trump card of motion controls, but that has changed with the advent of the Move and Kinect. Thus I think in a perfect world, Nintendo would not produce a new console and would instead begin developing games for other platforms. They could create games that aren't inhibited by their poor hardware and frankly sometimes baffling choices of service (friend codes anyone?). I think this would be a great thing for us the users.
Will this happen? No. Why? Cause Nintendo likes money. And you can't blame them. Their business model has served them well. But still, we can dream right?