Games Are Still Programs (GASP)

Often when reading reviews, I tend to see that a lot of the time, it is the subjective experiences of the reviewers that determine the score of a game.  Some try to convince you that even though a game has some technical flaws, it makes up for it with something compelling either in narrative, gameplay, or in another area.  
 
I don't think they have the authority to rule out any technical flaw based on a subjective experience.
 
Most people seem to be under the impression that games in general are just as subjective as movies, music, books etc.  This is a false notion.
Most people think that a game is still good if it provides subjective experiences that will be good enough to ignore the bugs.  This is simplifying the medium too far.
 
A game is made up of two very distinct parts - The technical half, and the artistic half (for lack of a better name sorry).  All programs that perform functions are judged on how well they perform the tasks they claim to do, as well as the quality of the overall package.  For the most part, programs are easy to review without bias, because they either work well, or they don't.  Games, believe it or not, inherit this trait to some extent.
 
If a game works well, then the final review will be a subjective one, as the only thing that can make or break the interest of consumers is the feature set, narrative (if any), setting and artistic direction of said game.  No one can definitively call the game poorly-developed, though can fairly say that they are not happy with the feature set options, or subjective elements like narrative.  Even in the most extreme of situations where games seem to have unquestionably horrible characters, art direction, narrrative and/or setting, those variables are still within the realm of subjectivity, and isn't quantifiable by any possible means.
 
On the other side though, if a game was poorly made and is riddled with bugs or experience serious performance issues, we can objectively say that a game is poorly-made.  If there are problems with gameplay, there is no way to ignore it or see it in a nicer light.  Same goes for frame rate drops, incorrect values, poorly-calibrated control schemes, visual artefacts that were clearly not intentional, bugs that will hinder or even halt a player's progression, corruption of data, failure to retain a recent state of a player's current game, sound issues and many more that I can't think about right now.  An accumulation of these problems can greatly determine the quality of a game on this aspect of a game, and often enough it is poor quality control that will gaurantee a negative impact on a game. 
 
Most people may argue that bad forms of the subjective elements of a game will also guarantee a games demise.  I would then have to remind these people that no subjective element can ever "guarantee" anything.  They can be used to make a calculated guess, but guesses are hardly definitive in the first place, let alone these elements.  They were never able to guarantee, and they never will.  So many people rate Starcraft 2 so highly for being an excellent game, but in the end the only thing that can be gauranteed is that Starcraft 2 is a well-developed game at its core.  You cannot convince people who were never interested in RTS games to like Starcraft 2, simply because it isn't their cup of tea.  However they cannot deny that the game is polished and well-developed to the point that only subjective elements will determine whether or not it is worth their money.  I could say that I do not need chat rooms, but that is my subjective opinion that will differ to another person who might want the feature added.  The addition or removal of a feature does not affect the games overall performance and reliability to perform as best as possible to make the subjective experience an error-free one.
 
As games continue to evolve, there will be many more subjective experiences that will be made possible by the advances of technology, as well as the continuous push for innovation by creative minds.  These will result in many more discussions revolving about many topics, like artistic quality, questionable feature additions, removals or alterations, the dollar-per-hour debate and whether or not it is an acceptable line of thought for deciding the worth of a game, and many others.  As we explore these questions though, we must never forget.
 
Games are still programs, and they cannot be completely subjective until we can guarantee a level of quality in the technical aspects that will prevent any game issues from occurring in the future.  Theoretically, this is an impossible variable to keep constant, and thus there will always be a level of objectivity that will definitively separate good games from bad games to some reasonable extent.

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A Shifty Magician's opinion of LoL, HoN and MOBA

 Today I wish to discuss about a genre of games that are trying to reach out and become just as important as other genres that are well-established in games today.  Ever since Defense of the Ancients, a Warcraft 3 mod that took the hardcore world by storm, these games arrived to attempt to score some serious cash in the gaming market.  However there is an immediate problem, which may cause the downfall of the two main players today, League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth.

 
If you do not know about Defense of the Ancients yet, google it for all the details, however the short of it is that it is a game involving two teams of player-controlled heroes and AI minions called creeps, with the goal of pushing their minions into the opponent’s base, in an effort to destroy their main base and win the game.   There is no unit control to speak of, and players can only control the hero they selected at the start of the game, with some exceptions.   For a long time, this was the game most often played by hardcore gamers, and lived on until the announcement of three new franchises – Demigod, League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth.

Demigod has nothing to do with my main point of the discussion, and I will explain why.   Demigod has already failed to become a successful commercial product, and overall the game is full of brilliant ideas with poor execution.   If it had more time to work out the kinks and had a larger character roster, then I would dare say it would be potentially better than either of the other two games.   The ideas involved were not broken, and in some ways actually innovative in allowing for deeper strategy and tactics.   It is a shame that it is not to be however.

Since League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth came into existence, there has been a very ugly verbal war between fans of the two.   Like with any internet war, it is full of complete stupidity.   On the one side you have LoL fans, who’se argument is simply that HoN is a literal carbon copy of Dota, but with a graphics update (and my personal opinion on the art is that it looks bland).   On the other side, HoN fans hate on LoL with a passion, just because it doesn’t play like Dota 1-to-1.   They complain that you cannot kill your own creeps, or that the game is simplified to the point that they do not consider it as competitive.   In my own unconclusive opinion, HoN fans have the weaker argument, as at least LoL really is doing different things, and provides a unique summoner system to affect the game.   It is quite balanced, and does not allow players to completely overpower the other team by themselves.   HoN has no unique gameplay features to speak of, and they have announced nothing that is innovative and does not change the pacing of the original mod.

But regardless of opinion about which is better, they both are in a position to die out slowly, and it is because of two elements, which make or break many games – game modes and a variety of locations.

First off, the lack of game modes are already a sign that the usual gamer will get bored of the games fast.   There is only one game mode, and that has not changed yet.   There is no derivative forms that change the gameplay at all, and this is a very concerning.   This means that both companies are banking on products with only one game mode.   That already spells mainstream failure, and will cause a dependency on the hardcore audience to stay afloat.   This is a stupid business decision.

The second thing is the lack of maps.   So far everyone can play and enjoy LoL, but HoN is nowhere to be seen except for the beta period.   But there is enough footage and impression posts out there to safely determine that there is only one map for both games.   LoL has a second map in the works, but due to odd management and staffing choices, the second map is still in Beta status, and not allowed to be used in matchmaking.   If anything, LoL is less susceptible to this problem if at least they get more maps out there to add in some diversity for the game.   Otherwise, both LoL and HoN will have problems trying to market themselves to wider audiences if they cannot even deliver on the basic features people expect in any game.   No one will pay full-price or even half-price for a game with only 1 map to play on, regardless how many hero, stats and network features you throw into it.

Overall, the first true generation of MOBA titles are at a rough start, and it will take a lot of time to see if one or either of them will be successful in the wide gaming market.   With critical features lacking, there is a good chance that either of these games will fail to reach their goals to be the MOBA game that the game community can accept as their flagship game for the genre.   Only the niche MOBA audience can keep these games and their developers afloat, as there is not enough for the mainstream to care at this point.  

If they fail, hopefully a new, more impressive game comes out to rise this genre to become just as relevant as those already established, as I have always liked this kind of game type.  There is just something grand about playing these games, as it is like active chess.  You assess the battlefield, and number-crunch in your head whether or not you will succeed in your attack.  When the team works together, it becomes a really exciting experience, and in proper games it is also grand when losing, as a skilled team would keep the struggle going, making sure their victors would really have to fight for their victory.  These games so far do not properly do this justice, as there is only one battlefield to fight for and only one way in which to fight, and that is not enough for any product.
 
If there is any information that I may have missed, or if there are holes in my logic, please by all means respond and clarify it to me.  I am very open in changing views as long as they are correct.

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LAN's still kicking

Due to the recent kotaku story on the official word that Blizzard will not contain LAN at all, it left people divided on wether LAN is still important or not.  We now have the internet where everyone can simply log on and play with each other, without the need for moving hardware and having to set up an overly complicated local network. 

The anti-LAN supporters pretty much do not mind this, but then again this may not affect the mindset of the mainstream player or the hardcore solo player who buys the game just to play single player or to play with others online without any interaction with anybody in a local setting.  But there are also large groups of people that do not mind the hassle, and enjoy hearing people in real life get pissed that they got sniped in the head for the 42nd time, or that they just bot ganged up by the entire opposing force in DOTA, or cheer as someone pulls off an entire team kill in an FPS.  It's that feeling that everyone is in a community of people that love to have fun competitively and cooperately, and is something that is often missed in Internet games.  Sure you can recreate some of that thanks to more games incorporating mic support in games (something that more games in general should support), but for what I see, when alone people don't get excited enough about the situation in hand.

 I can assure you, the reader, that when a person plays a game and achieves something in it, the person is near emotionless of it.  It is the total opposite of what the reaction would be if friends were around.  In my case, if I finish a race just in the nick of time with some mates locally, I would feel relief for making that, and an uproar of "Awesome" and "Oh that's bullshit" would ensue shortly after, and it's an overall satisfying experience.  But in the house, i feel only a fraction of that emotional response.  It is the kind of look that makes parents of the older generation worry, as they see their sons or daughters not make any face changes, and play a game for the sake of playing a game.

Please understand that I am not saying everyone is like this, but it is apparent in a good portion of players around the world.  Other people are lucky and feel when they succeed or fail in a game, and others just don't plain like to involve themselves in LAN party gatherings as they still have the feeling that it is a geeky thing to do.  But be understanding dear reader, and I hope you realise that a lot of people still like to LAN and play with mates locally.  They sneak in a game at university computers so that they can all have fun whilst waiting for their next class to start.  They go to internet cafe's and have a ball duking it out in their favourite games.  Hell some people even organise their own LAN events and make people bring all their hardware to one location, just to do one thing - to hang out with each other, and have fun.

You can compare this situation to card games and online card games.  Online card games are fun, but not as much as when you have card buddies around with you.

Link about Starcraft 2 with no LAN here and in many other sites by now: http://www.kotaku.com.au/2009/06/no-lan-play-for-starcraft-ii/

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