For the longest amount of time I was the owner of an Xbox 360, and that was all. In those days it was a console that defined me as a player of videogames. The PC, the PS3 - these came later. I saw Dead Rising running on a machine and I said "I do not care about how this happens but I need this in my life" and, 8 years later, I do not harbour regret. Dead Rising was batshit insane, but I had grown up playing games like Revenge Of Shinobi and Ren And Stimpy. Batshit insane wasn't really a big deal. Batshit insane is what videogames are for.
When I got my Xbox 360 I played it to death. Literally, that fucking thing died and I had to send it off for repairs. I was at school, no job, no spare money - I got two new games a year, christmas and bithdays - and whatever I could scrounge out of the preowned section at the local gamestation. I was 15 years old and my xbox was fucking rad.
Back in those days the PS3 always kind of intimidated me. The price alone was high enough to appear abstract as an amount you will never be able to afford and the games looked almost alien - unknown quantities that were beyond my reach. It's weird to articulate it like this, but where the 360 was goofy and approachable, the PS3 seemed almost like a boutique approach to videogames - a status symbol that people would buy and then never actually play.
It's weird how that changed over the years. "Goofy and approachable" now seems "clunky and out of touch" while Sony has somehow managed to maintain the casual class that made it so intimidating in the first place - compounded by open reception to consumer feedback and an impressive catalogue of games. All this despite being £100 cheaper than the competition, bizarre when you consider the high price tag was what gained the console it's original extravagance.
This transition has been ultimately passive. Thanks to E3 Sony has gained the reputation of appearing receptive to consumers and demonstrating a solid understanding of what both their fanbase and wider audiences want from their console. Microsoft flounders, now playing catch-up, a series of middle aged men in blazers telling you what you should want. It was like being lectured by my father. What we had was great but, problem is, I'm not 15 any more. I've grown up, Microsoft. Maybe you should try it.
It's 4:46pm BST, i'm still at work, and I'm wasted.
I feel like I'm starting too many blogs with "I haven't blogged for a while" to the extent that the expectation for Sweep blogs has diminished. I'd like to begin a blog with a triumphant return but, in truth, I can't really be fucked. I have a twitter, I have a facebook, I have many outputs for the regular insanities that cloud my judgement. The entire blog format seems somewhat convoluted, an extension of opinions that are more concisely and articulately portrayed by other mediums - this is not to say that blogging has been entirely diminished conceptually, and I remain a full advocate of it's unique presence both on this website and the internet as a whole. I just cannot, personally, be fucked. Sorry.
This blog is a heads up; A warning. I'm being sent away to Mumbai for a couple of months to work, and I will have very little online presence. This blog remains a bastion of sanity in a life that is about to become increasingly chaotic. I will be posting all my adventures and misfortunes right here. So stay tuned, giantbomb.... you ain't seen nothin' yet.
Over the last few days there has been a lot of turbulence in the VFX industry. Those of you who watched the Oscars might have been aware of the protest taking place on the street outside, where almost 500 VFX artists had gathered to protest the conditions in which many VFX artists are expected to work. To add insult to injury, the film Life Of Pi won the academy award for best VFX while the studio responsible for the work, Rhythm And Hues, files for bankruptcy and hundreds of artists lose their jobs. When the representatives stand to claim their awards, their speech is cut short and their mic unplugged as soon as they mention their studio, the Jaws theme played obnoxiously over their cries of protest. They had not exceeded the time limit they were allowed for their speech, and the presenters, Seth McFarlane included, can be seen clearly baffled by the whole scenario.
The issue here is one of subsidies; VFX soldier explains them far better than I could ever hope to:
"The problems are further compounded by countries that hope to generate economic activity by offering subsidies that essentially pay studios to have the vfx work done there. Vfx facilities are now becoming “rent seekers” where they move from country to country, state to state to take advantage of free government money. This has led many vfx artists to become permanent nomads where some are forced to leave their partners and newborn children to find temporary work in the far reaches of the world. I know of senior colleagues who purchased homes with a false sense of job security only to end up being laid off months later and forced to foreclose when they could only find work in another country.
In an attempt slash costs the vfx facilities have eliminated benefits such as sick days, health insurance, and retirement accounts. Many are forced to work under illegal conditions with unpaid overtime and 1099 tax statuses where we are responsible for paying the employer’s portion of social security. The projects have become more volatile as the vfx facilities try to please the demands of the director put in place by the studio. Constantly months of work can be thrown away by last minute changes by directors with zero consequences. This in turn leads to extended crunch times to update the changes where artists work day and night with 70-100 hour weeks."
Many VFX facilities have been forced to move or have gone out of business because of underbidding exacerbated by government subsidies that drastically distort the price of VFX.
No matter how successful or efficient our work is, we are ultimately at the mercy of the next government willing to distort prices and put the companies we work for out of business.
Here's a quote taken from An Open Letter To Ang Lee, who has been widely criticised for not giving his VFX artists the recognition they deserve despite his film winning Best Cinematography (Ironic, considering most of it was shot in a swimming pool) and Best VFX:
"After a fabulously insulting and dismissive introduction from the cast of the avengers, at least two of whom spent fully half of their film as a digitally animated character, R+H won for it’s work on your very fine piece of cinema. And just as the bankruptcy was about to be acknowledged on a nationally-televised platform, the speech was cut short. By the Jaws theme.
If this was meant as a joke, we artists are not laughing."
Here's some more stuff you might find interesting:
If you see someone on twitter, or on facebook, with a flat green avatar: they are part of this movement. We chose flat green because, without us, that's all you would be able to see. A greenscreen. And maybe some dick in a stupid costume.
For those that don't know; I'm a VFX artist. I chose to write about this here because it's important to me, if not to anyone else, that people are informed. All we ask is your awareness and support. I'm going to end this blog here but if anyone has any questions I'm going to be around so feel free to drop me a comment. I didn't intend for this post to get so long but, y'know, fuck it.
I'm sitting at work listening to people around me chatter about the 8GB of DDR5 RAM that we can expect to sit snugly inside the PS4. We haven't heard much about the new Xbox, but I'm sure it will boast something comparable. I'm trying to get my head around how such a huge boost in the potential graphical prowess of our games will influence both the industry and game design as a whole.
With the new Killzone trailer boasting huge, sprawling cities,
and Watchdogs similarly creating an expansive metropolis bubbling with virtual individuals - it's clear that the natural progression of "better hardware" means, for many, "We can fit more shit on the screen". I'm not going to deny these games look incredible, but should that be the focus of what we want from our videogames and, more importantly, is that how we want developers spending their obviously tight budgets of both time and money throughout the next generation?
Think back on the biggest disappointments of the last few years. I'm willing to bet Mass Effect 3 is on that list - though not for it's aesthetic, but for it's conclusion, for it's story. When we play a game our immediate concerns are that of animation, of reactivity, of the weight of our movements and the impact that is reflected in the world we might inhabit - of narrative, of the artificial intelligence of both our comrades and enemies, of humour and of ingenuity. It's hard to appreciate this stuff because it's success is governed by it's subtlety - if it's been done well, you don't notice it. The appearance of these games is important but it's secondary to the other gameplay mechanics that anchor you within the game you are playing. Many titles have demonstrated that even through a thick layer of abstraction it's still possible to empathise with a virtually controlled entity - that it's still possible to create beautiful, meaningful experiences with limited physical capabilities.
In our current generation we already have games that exceed our aesthetic expectations, yet under-perform elsewhere, be it through poor level design or pacing, or whatever. There are still plenty of elements of game design which are repeatedly ignored, or undercut, or discarded. Every time I spot clipping in a pre-rendered cut-scene I hear nails scraping down a blackboard. So while I love the hype, and the optimism, surrounding this next generation of consoles, I think it's important not to forget that good graphics does not automatically mean good videogames.
This new hardware is going to give developers a lot of potential ways to expand their designs. I hope they don't waste it. A lot of them can't afford to waste it. The industry remains fragile, with solid hardworking dev teams having to shutter their doors based on the poor sales of a single title - there are a lot of studios out there who can't afford to spend an entire development cycle creating a huge realistic city which the player has no enthusiasm to explore.
After watching the Kentucky Route Zero Quick Look, I went and bought Kentucky Route Zero. That seems an underwhelmingly methodical process, and I suppose it was. The only real hiccup was that the game isn't yet available on Steam. And that's actually the extent of the trouble: A single hiccup. I clicked their site, bought the game with paypal, downloaded and unzipped it, then set the exzecutable executable to run through steam anyway. Because I'm just a fucking maverick like that.
However, this last step was crucial.
Not running a game through steam is a death sentence for even the best intentioned purchases. My computer is littered with little indie titles that I picked up but that would only run through some other ridiculous software and not through steam. There are plenty more which I simply never bought because they didn't flash up on the steam storefront. Worse still, there were non-steam games set to run through steam that I hadn't updated, and would simply refuse to start. I would click on them, receive an error saying "This game is out of date" or "Error: something something missing files something" and promptly lose interest. That seems... unhealthy? Steam might not have turned me into a lazy cunt, but it certainly brought it to my attention.
I played the Battlefield 3 beta and I loved Battlefield 3. It was gritty, the guns gave a satisfying kick and, also important, I was pretty fucking good at it. When I was told that I couldn't play the game on Steam and that I would have to use this other "basically steam but not as good as steam" software that seemed to be more of a hindrance than a help, I was not amused. Both Origin and Battlelog are services that work on a very basic level - they function - but unfortunately they do not work for me. If EA want to build their own distribution platform then great, but in making the process so convoluted they have actively detracted from the enjoyment I get from their games. To the extent that I can't even be fucked to play them. Why make all that effort when I have these other games over here on steam that don't require any fucking around at all.
"The internet is super smart. If you do something that is cool, that's actually worth people's time, then they'll adopt it. If you do something that's not cool and sucks, you can spend as many marketing dollars as you want, they just won't."
I'm not really a PC fanboy.
I have fought for neutrality as often as I dared - the more people playing videogames the better, regardless of what machine they are using to do so. One might argue, however, that I'm a Steam fanboy. I have been using Steam for 6 years now, and I'm pretty damn comfortable with it both as a service and games hub for my computer. So when I actually took some time to think about Steam, and my dependency upon it, I felt pretty fucking good about it.
It sucks that there are some games that don't or can't go the steam route, though I like to think I'm savvy enough to track down titles like Kentucky Route Zero regardless. The problem is that there is no room on the internet to go backwards - Steam raised the bar; if you can't reach it, you might as well not exist.
I have been loving the Encyclopaedia Bombastica videos that Jeff is churning out at the moment so, as I'm too hungover to leave my house right now, I decided to throw together a Giant Bomb parody of the classic Encyclopaedia Britannica logo. I'm just going to leave it here, for you to look at with your eyes.
EDIT: I didn't realise that @buzz_clik had not only thought up this idea but also visualised it way fucking better than me so, y'know.... shit.
Being a moderator is great, and I love working for one of the best websites on the internet, but at some point I stopped feeling comfortable about sharing my opinions regarding the site. It's understandable I guess, when you spend most of your time clearing up other people's arguments that you are increasingly hesitant to begin them yourself.
I used to enjoy throwing crazy ideas at @snide and then watching him sigh as he explained why they weren't practical. I understand why, in retrospect: A lot of our suggestions genuinely weren't practical. I didn't mind. It was just a nice feeling to be even slightly involved in the direction of the site that I love so much, that there were members of staff even slightly receptive to the suggestion of change. The problem is that stuff was happening back when the site was still young, there was still room to expand and experiment. The scope and direction of Giant Bomb has changed dramatically since then - again, understandable - but there should be still room to discuss what we like and what we don't.
Please do not misinterpret the intention of this blog; This is not an attack. This is not written in anger, or frustration. This is a reflection on the state of blogs on the site which I have used for many years and intend to continue using. As someone with the 3rd highest blog count here (on the entire damn site), I'm in a pretty unique position to do so. The fact that I'm a moderator doesn't even factor into it.
For a long time I was "The blog guy" or more specifically "That idiot hamburger who writes shit down" and even sometimes "What the fuck are you doing, stop touching my sister!". I still am, to some degree. Those 360+ blogs are still there, if you want to go read them. I wouldn't recommend it, though, for aforementioned idiocy. I used to badger Dave that the blog community on the site needed more publicity, that they needed to be featured more, that bloggers weren't getting enough recognition. That was a long time ago, years ago, before blogs could be linked to the forums. After the new system dropped, and I became a moderator, I kinda stopped whining. The new system works to a degree: You can write a blog, post it to the forums, and people will read it. Having used this system for over a year I will agree that it does allow fresh blogs a large amount of attention. Where it fails is that the entire community is now completely focused on one aspect of the site: The forums.
Our forums aren't too bad, I think.
We keep them fairly tidy. Anyone who thinks otherwise should go check out some alternatives for a bit of healthy perspective. All things considered, we have a nice bunch of people here and I am, for the most part, happy to be associated with them. However in merging the blog and forum communities, I feel like something was taken from the bloggers. The emphasis was clearly placed on the forums being the central hub for the site and, as a result, the blog scene was diluted. We have a lot of great writers here, a lot, and I think we would have even more if people felt that their effort would be appreciated - but with nothing to distinguish a personal, heartfelt blog from a standard forum post, the enthusiasm for extensive and articulate writing floundered. A blog should be something that you follow for context - for the opinions of someone you have familiarised yourself with and trust. That's why people come to Giant Bomb, right? For Jeff and Ryan, and all the other guys you know and love. How many people pick which forum threads they read based entirely on the OP (unless it's someone you dislike and deliberately want to laugh at or troll)? That sense of context doesn't exist on forums, and I truly believe that the quality of posts made on Giant Bomb has suffered as a result.
This is the bit where shit gets constructive:
If you want people to write good blogs you need to reward them for writing good blogs. You need a structured environment where people feel confident that their work will be seen and appreciated regardless of how many followers they have - a page on the site where new content is easy to find and distinguished from the rest of what I'm going to disparagingly refer to as "clutter" that is normally associated with the forums. You need a layout which not only displays the content well, but highlights the writer and gives the reader the opportunity to find more of their work. The Community Hub does this to some extent, but it's not enough. It's not enough to simply point to a single blog and say "This is a good blog" because that doesn't do anything to further the sense of community that the site needs. A lone blog solves nothing. That might sound cliquey or elitist but it's true.
Think of a page with 3 columns:
Popular Blogs - Blogs with most comments from the past 24 hours
Followed Blogs - A feed of blogs written be people you follow
Newest Blogs - A general feed of all blogs written on the site
Then at the top a section for a featured blog, selected by the mods and staff, that gets a banner at the top of the page similar to the articles on the frontpage. The potential for finding and reading new community content is instantly made so much easier. Much as I hate to admit it, this idea is stolen from IGN who have been doing this shit much better than us for years. That's fucking depressing. I have complete confidence that we can do it better.
I'm going to end by pointing out that I fully appreciate the timing of this seems slightly fucked. I know the Top Men have been working tirelessly on the imminent site redesign, and it's looking fucking incredible by the way, but as Lucille Ball once said:
"If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it."
I shouldn't need to tell you how great Hotline Miami is. This blog post is not being written to inform, but rather to appreciate. Praise for the game seems unanimous in a way which I consider appropriate; Hotline Miami deserves both your time and money. It also deserves your house, your family, and your collective metaphysical and material wealth. But for now, your time and money will suffice. That seems fair.
It wasn't until today that I made the connection between Hotline Miami and Norrland.
Norrland is an entirely fucking insane "art" game made by Hotline Miami dev Cactus for an exhibition in Sweden. I played it months ago, after RockPaperShotgun wrote an article about it. It's a 2D hunting game in which you progress from left to right, each screen spawning increasingly crass and warped mini-games. One such game forces you to piss on a line of ants, another where you must tap arrow buttons to masturbate, and I vaguely remember another where you shoot a bear, then rape the corpse. All the while, you must desperately attempt to prevent the obnoxious music and strobing colours from dribbling your brain out through your nostrils; That is not part of the mini-game. That shit is a physical consequence that you, the player, must somehow internalise and conquer.
Yeah. It's that kind of game.
Hotline Miami is similar in it's ambiguity towards obscene brutality. However, the most interesting parts of the game are, arguably, those with an absence of violence. The game interjects your Miami massacre with everyday occurrences such as; going to a video store to rent a video, or picking up a pizza after work. The characters are polite, even friendly, creating a wonderful undertone of tension. Upon completing each mission the game immediately cuts all music, leaving you to stumble back to your car, meandering clumsily back through a trail of bloodshed and carnage. It emulates a sense of empathetic shock remarkably well, on a level which very few other games have been able to replicate successfully.
As the game continues, these brief periods of tranquillity become marred by your increasing mental instability. Eventually all sense of reality is lost, the core experience revealed as brutal and surreal. It is unapologetically fucked up in all the right ways.
I'm not going to tell you to go and play Hotline Miami because you have already played it. The idea that you haven't is somehow troubling on a level that I find difficult to articulate.
Like everyone else on Twitter, I have been playing a fair amount of FTL lately.
I'm really enjoying the game, the variety of each adventure and discussing the different strategies and builds online. Despite the somewhat randomness of your path, there seems to be enough room to wriggle your way out of even the most desperate situations, creating a satisfying balance between luck and skill.
I haven't been feeling too great lately (It's either the flu or AIDS. It's probably not the AIDS.) so I'm actually kinda pleased that it's been pissing rain for the past 12 hours. Otherwise I would have felt like even more of a useless sack of shit for sitting inside and playing videogames all day. In between deleting spambots and playing Dota (718 hours logged and counting) I decided to boot up FTL for a quick meander through the galaxy.
I tend to pick the starting ship, as I value being able to target manually - an option that is unavailable to the drone-based ship. I named her the SS PAX, with crewmembers Sweep, Matt and Waffle, because reasons. And so off we went.
The first jump was to a distress beacon.
A scientific vessel was having some kind of trouble so I sent my crew over to investigate. Turns out it was some kind of space zombie outbreak that not only immediately infected one of my crew, but as I tried to bring him back onto my ship he turned violent and attacked me, along with several other zombies from the science ship. It was Sweep. I had died after a single jump. Not only had I died, by my animated corpse was now trying to eat Matt and Waffle.
Having killed myself without much trouble and fixed up the minor damage to my ship, I set Matt at the controls, Waffle in the engine room, and we shot off into space. There were a couple of standard pirate/rebel encounters which I won easily, until I reached the exit of Sector 1. The rebels were still far behind and I needed a third crewmember so I decided to search around for a shop, having stacked up some decent scrap. I had previously met a merchant who requested an escort to a further star and, seeing as it was within reach, and that I was due some luck, I shot past the exit to complete the quest.
It was a trap. Waffle died.
So then there was just Matt, with a whole ship all to himself. That was pretty depressing. The one consolation was that I still had a decent stockpile of fuel and missiles, so I could still fight my way out of any trouble that I found. I would just need to be careful. Into Sector 2 I popped.
Into nothing. Two jumps. Three. The fourth through a nebula. Still nothing but eerie silence at every stop. I encountered several ships who requested my assistance but those which I answered would always cause more problems than they solved. My hull strength dropped to 5 or 6 bars, my fuel rapidly depleted. I became jaded, ignoring distress calls, using the last of my scrap to buy miniscule amounts of fuel when I eventually hit a store. On several occasions I would arrive at a store with only 1 fuel remaining, and only enough scrap to buy 2 or 3 to keep me afloat. On top of this, the rebel fleet continued to push me forward further into harsher and more dangerous territories, and without the scrap and equipment that I had failed to find in the first two sectors, I was completely fucked. I knew I was fucked. Even the game seemed to know I was fucked, the music compounding the sense of hopelessness. But what can you do except keep going? So I kept going, limping desperately through space.
Despite the aforementioned fucked situation I remained optimistic.
Something good would happen, the game would throw a couple of friendly encounters my way, or some aliens would take pity and join my crew. I used the last of my fuel to jump to a random star. Not a distress beacon, no store, just a single unassuming dot in the nothingness of space.
It was an asteroid field. A rebel fighter launched itself at me and, setting my weapons to autofire, I dashed around the ship desperately trying to stay on top of the damage caused by the passing rocks. It took a while, but I won. The rebel ship was destroyed. It was only once I had repaired my scanners that I realised that my ship was on fire. I quickly opened the airlocks but it was too late - my life support had been destroyed and the room was ablaze. It was hopeless. I had to put out the fire before I could repair the system, but there wasn't enough oxygen left to let me do so.
It hit me harder than it should have done. There was no malice to it, just complete indifference to the actions I had set into motion, and that was somehow worse. I quit the game and felt slightly hollow. I have played FTL plenty of times and I had never been so entirely screwed over on any of my other attempts. It was sobering to think that, despite my best intentions and supposed skill, I had failed so miserably. I was also vaguely nervous that this streak of bad luck would somehow follow me out of the game and corrupt everything I touched for the rest of the day.
So I did what any sane adult would do: I drank 2 bottles of cider and watched cartoons. You know, Sunday shit. My FTL adventure left a lasting impression though, and it might be a while before I feel like returning for another attempt.
If you haven't played it yet.... well. You should probably go and do that. That game is pretty great.
I'm pretty stoked about Big Picture, Valve's new plan to move PC's into the living room.
It's not something in which I will partake, having a pretty sweet PC setup in my room already, but I like the implications it has on the direction of videogames in general.
Microsoft, Sony and even to some extent Nintendo have made it pretty clear at the numerous industry events like E3 that they are attempting to combat the stigma of owning a "console" by replacing it with a "Multimedia hub". The ridiculous dashboard on the 360 is clear proof that Microsoft is attempting to cram as much junk into their console as possible, and for years these two publishers have been battling for social-network and media domination in their hardware.
I don't know about you guys, but I don't use any of it. I own a PS3 and a 360, and use them both frequently enough to justify owning them, but for solely videogames. I have a pretty sweet PC, and it's the PC which I use the most - because it already does everything that these consoles have for a long time been attempting to do, and it does so effortlessly and with a much greater degree of freedom and versatility.
This isn't a PC fanboy rant. I'm not suggesting that consoles are inferior in any way as videogame-playing machines. My favourite franchise in the world is Gears Of War, and I would much rather play that on my 360 than my PC. I bought my PS3 to play Uncharted and Journey and I have no regrets there, either. There are games that define consoles, that fit so perfectly you can't help but wonder if the hardware was structured around them. They are perfect examples of everything consoles do well.
The PC has the luxury of being able to sidestep the petty competitiveness of E3 dick-swinging by being completely open. And this is obviously what has made the platform so appealing to Valve, a studio with a reputation for not patronising their users with over-simplified menu screens or a lack of consumer involvement in the design process. Now Valve are actually putting their money where their collective mouths are, which is admirable and, honestly, pretty exciting.
In 5 years I expect everyone will be running a PC in their living room.
In 10 I expect Valve will be selling their own brand of high-end PC's that run on a linux-based OS of their own creation. People have made it pretty clear that they are willing to spend a lot of money on videogames, and that they care enough about the performance of their consoles to spend hours arguing about it on the internet. All they need is a way of selling the versatility of the PC without intimidating their customers with the underlying software tinkering. And I have the utmost faith that they will do so. Because Gaben.
The next 5 years are going to be interesting. Get hype.