Gerstmann Takes On... (03/17/2013)

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Posted by Jeff (3627 posts) -

With Alex spending the last week out on vacation, he's asked me to generate a hot column to fill in for his weekly address. I agreed, but I lack the purity of thought that I can only imagine comes from working remotely. No phones to ignore, no emails to avoid returning, no room full of coughing co-workers to worry about. So I don't know that I have any one topic for you this week. I'll... probably meander a bit.

...

I hate machinima. A lot of that probably has to do with the term itself, which manages to make the concept of "recording dumb shit that somehow involves video games" sound like the most pompous thing in the world. It probably doesn't help that most of the early examples of the form were absolutely awful. Do I really want to watch a billion different "funny" "comedy" "skits" recorded in first-person shooters? Hell, I didn't even really want to watch all those Team Fortress 2 videos that Valve made. But over the last couple of weeks I've gotten into Video Game Championship Wrestling, a regular, episodic set of WWE '13 livestreams that combine the chaos of poorly-programmed AI routines with the madness of a set of awkward story creation tools. It also lumps in a bunch of wrestling and video game nonsense, which more or less sums up my upbringing.

eSports Entertainment at its finest.

Characters include Little Mac from Punch-Out!! and Nappa from Dragon Ball Z. Woody from Toy Story has been on a tear recently, eventually growing a set of Devil Kazuya wings and threatening to make the other figures "play with their toys." Donkey Kong was the champion until recently, when the belt was stripped from him after it was revealed that he's been using a glitched finishing move that gave him an unfair advantage.

The VGCW somehow manages to be more "real" than real professional wrestling, because the man behind all this madness just writes the stories and makes the matches. Once the action in the ring begins, everything unfolds as a series of dice rolls as AI-controlled characters face off against one-another. The obvious, wrestling-like storylines and twists get tossed out the window when, for example, Ganondorf can't beat Bowser in a rematch that, if you applied wrestling logic and plot theory to it, should have gone the other way. So there's a certain thrill in watching Bazza, the mastermind behind this whole thing, dig himself out of holes that the AI tosses him into time and time again. His writing keeps things light enough to make it interesting regardless of the outcome, and seeing Adam Jensen roll into the ring on his Augmented Bike is, well, pretty funny.

There's a good, small community surrounding the VGCW, running a wiki devoted to the virtual promotion's happenings and filling Baz's Twitch chat room every time he starts up a show, performing the textual equivalent of wrestling chants and other feel-good nonsense. It's a hefty investment, as the shows can last three hours or more, but if you're a specific kind of nutcase, it's amazing. I don't really watch any TV anymore, but I'm willing to watch THQ's astoundingly busted game play itself for hours at a time... that might be weird to some, but it all just strikes me as another example of people entertaining each other. In a world filled with people just streaming themselves playing League of Legends over and over again, it's great to see something more creative and weird providing a sound alternative to all that eSports stuff. It's also the only thing that makes me excited to see what Yuke's does with the next WWE game, since if Yuke's can be counted on for anything, it's creating a broken wrestling game.

If I were writing it I would put the handful of "real people" in the promotion into a heel stable and find a way for the video game characters to drive them out for good. But I'm not!

...

SimCity! Still broken? Well... it's less broken than it was last week, but now we're on the section of the rage wheel where people stop complaining about messed-up servers and start complaining about the nature of the game itself. I tend to agree with most of the people who are complaining about the small city sizes and the over-reliance on neighboring cities, since both of those things make this a SimCity game that I'd rather not play.

Drawing outside the lines.

For EA's part, it's still in the middle of an internet rage storm as enterprising modders keep finding ways to disconnect SimCity from its various limitations and disprove a handful of EA's official statements about the nature of the game. Is it offloading complex calculations to the remote servers? Nah, probably not. Does it have extreme issues with how it handles its population as individual Sims move from one part of the city to the other? Yeah, it sounds like it does.

When the internet mobs up and gets angry, it often overreaches and gets into some weird kind of rage land that no sane human would support. But when I look at all the stuff people have been uncovering about SimCity and set that against EA's statements about the game and its slightly condescending tone when attempting to address its detractors... at some point EA is just bringing more of this on itself. The tone of its responses ("I hate to disturb you when you’re playing SimCity") aren't helping them spin this into a positive thing.

Hopefully the people inside EA are taking all of this seriously and not just looking at numbers of cities created or sales figures while attempting to spin this all off internally as yet another example of "the internet's anti-EA bias." I'm sure it'd be pretty easy to lump this in with the Mass Effect 3 outcry and say "well, everyone's just trying to throw rocks at the throne" or something. There are clearly some lessons to be learned here... if EA is actually paying attention, that is.

...

I recently saw a probably-soon-to-be-announced game that I liked quite a bit.

Thumbs up, soldiers.

Normally I try to stay away from weird, non-specific statements like that. They're annoying and they make it look like I'm lording my position--where this is a fairly common occurrence--over everyone else. So unlike some other people in my line of work, I attempt to keep that to myself until I have something of substance to say. I get the appeal, though. I've done it before. I'll probably do it again. But that's not because I'm trying to tease some future coverage on the site. I'm not trying to make myself seem self-important (though I understand when people call me out for that very reason when this happens). Sometimes I get pretty excited about this stuff, I guess.

Seeing new games is probably the coolest part about this job, especially when coupled with the ability to talk to the people working on the game and hear about why they're choosing this direction. It's easy to get a little jaded by the game business' constant emphasis on business. But I still get a chill down my spine when I see something new for the first time. If I no longer felt that, I'd probably start thinking about getting out of this line of work. And if you're in this line of work and you don't feel that... why are you doing this for a living?

...

If you've got questions for me, ask away over on Tumblr. I've been running a blog over there for a bit after abandoning Formspring (which, incidentally, is shutting down soon). I definitely don't get to everything, but since it's got a decent mobile app it's something I can whittle away at when I'm stuck in Ryan's car heading to and from the office. Oh, and be sure to say hi if you see us at PAX! Come to the panel on Friday night, Boston!

#2 Edited by Kaiserreich (711 posts) -

Booya

#3 Posted by MildMolasses (3225 posts) -

Nice article Jeff, I just wish that you had included specifics when referring to "stuff people have been uncovering about SimCity and set that against EA's statements about the game." I haven't been following the game too closely, and that seems like something that warrants more discussion

#4 Posted by mbdoeden (189 posts) -

@jeff Typo alert!

SimCity! Still broken? Well... it's less broken that it was last week,

#5 Posted by Winternet (8025 posts) -

Oh yeah, Jeff is getting deep into VGCW. That shit is too good.

#6 Edited by TheSouthernDandy (3906 posts) -

The Guns of...Gerstmann?? I really have to start watching VGCW. Maybe I'll get caught up on some matches after MLG.

#7 Posted by Russcat (140 posts) -

There are reports of Sim City being even more broken than it first appeared: With client side modifications, people have been able to take control of other players cities. A bulldozing spree has ensued.

It makes me sad because by favourite games of this generation have been the Mass Effect series (3's multiplayer is actually great) and Dragon Age: Origins. I really hope EA can stop and take a good hard look at itself, and figure all this out before it completely nosedives.

#8 Edited by DougCL (216 posts) -

im totally gonna have to check out that westling show.

#9 Edited by KirkDouglas (93 posts) -
#10 Edited by Excast (1029 posts) -

I had never heard of VGCW until that TNT the other week. When I saw Jeff mention on Twitter a live show was about to start I figured, "Hey, why not?".

And it was amazing.

I'm also a big fan of wrestling, but one who is often bored by how predictable and stale things have gotten over the years. I miss the old days when wrestlers were characters instead of just exaggerated versions of themselves.

It is entertaining both because it is totally unpredictable and because the work put into designing these characters is fairly amazing. You can see the time and effort put in to designing Ganondorf's outfit or Gabe Newell's hilarious entrance leap.

So yeah, if anyone is interested in watching Dr. Wily come out to the old Alberto Del Rio entrance and hamming it up, I highly recommend VGCW.

#11 Edited by Giganteus (193 posts) -

I've been following the VGCW ever since the wrestling TNT with Jared and it's addicting.

BETTER THAN THE WWE, DAMMIT.

#12 Posted by Sweep (8927 posts) -

Those TF2 videos are impressive purely from a technical standpoint. What valve have achieved with their animation editor is pretty mindblowing.

Moderator
#13 Edited by warxsnake (2650 posts) -

I recently saw a probably-soon-to-be-announced game that I liked quite a bit.

Normally I try to stay away from weird, non-specific statements like that. They're annoying and they make it look like I'm lording my position

Isn't that what you always do on the bombcast? :P <3

#14 Posted by CptMorganCA (208 posts) -

I feel terribly douchey for pointing this out, but:

"So I don't know that i have any one topic for you this week"

Missing a capital "I".

#15 Edited by LucidDreams117 (410 posts) -

Great article Jeff. Good read.

And @MildMolasses, I recommend going over to Kotaku. They have a lot of Sam City coverage. What people have been discovering is that for a certain time you can play the offline. The AI in the game isn't all too great meaning not much computing is being done on that end and how modders have been pretty successful when it comes to playing offline permanently.

#16 Edited by Sai (75 posts) -

Great article! Do you think EA will ever budge on the SimCity issue?

#17 Posted by Ouren (136 posts) -

TABLE-SAN NOOO

#18 Posted by Ett (206 posts) -

the chat is the best part of VGCW.

#19 Posted by Crushed (884 posts) -

YO GANONDORF LET BOWSER WIN THAT REMATCH

Look at how he refused to pin Bowser in the last few minutes. Ganondorf is an honorable king. He will always have his legacy. Thousand Years of Darkness. Longest streak of title defenses. First double champion. First three-time champion. Defeated Baz and Little Mac at the height of their corporate power. He escaped Gaben's Wallet Squeeze and used it against him. His curse felled over a half-dozen wrestlers in their prime. He even humiliated Bowser in a past Inferno match.

What did Bowser have? That one time Arino nearly beat him? Those two interns that VGCW corporate pays to dress up as "hoes" during his entrance? No, it was the time he easily beat Ganondorf at the height of Ganondorf's reign, and that night it had been exposed that it was all due to cheating. It was all Bowser had, man.

Ganondorf graciously let him win. He's still a Tag Team Champion, and soon he'll be GM of the company. Bowser can have his narrow exhibition victory, then go back to hiding for the next five or ten promotions as usual.

#20 Posted by JoeyRavn (4995 posts) -

Stop filing things under the table, Jeff Gerstmann.

#21 Edited by TurboMan (7605 posts) -

I love VGCW, but the chats are awful during it.

#22 Posted by Zaccheus (1797 posts) -

I tried to watch VGCW and was disappointed that there was no commentary during the matches... The characters are amazing and the intros just unbelievable, but who want's to actually watch those matches?

#23 Posted by FLStyle (4768 posts) -

@zaccheus said:

I tried to watch VGCW and was disappointed that there was no commentary during the matches... The characters are amazing and the intros just unbelievable, but who want's to actually watch those matches?

4000+ people as of Tuesday night, part of the fun is the chat amusing themselves.

#24 Edited by TurboMan (7605 posts) -

Also, if people enjoy VGCW levels of stupid, I recommend finding some Chikara Pro Wrestling clips... here's one of Mr. Touchdown MURDERING The Mysterious and Handsome Stranger's bird (and tag team partner), Ferral Sapphire.

#26 Posted by ShaggE (6555 posts) -

@turboman: That is AMAZING. Comedic wrestling is the best wrestling.

#27 Edited by Phatmac (5726 posts) -

Ha, fill under table. :)

#28 Edited by CodeFire (186 posts) -

@sai: No, probably not?

#29 Posted by spookytapes (264 posts) -

The chat is probably the highlight for me on VGCW as well, seeing the chat "pop" in real time when something crazy happens is so awesome! Also the ALL CAPS yell / chant typing makes you feel like you're at a wrestling show.

#30 Posted by MildMolasses (3225 posts) -
#31 Edited by MeatSim (10898 posts) -

I watched my first episode of VGCW last week after hearing about it on TNT, and I think I just might be hooked on it now.

#32 Posted by Hailinel (25179 posts) -

@zaccheus said:

I tried to watch VGCW and was disappointed that there was no commentary during the matches... The characters are amazing and the intros just unbelievable, but who want's to actually watch those matches?

I don't know, it's pretty addicting watching the likes of a hilariously constructed Bowser and Ganondorf go at it for half an hour in a ring that's been set on fire.

#33 Edited by Alorithin (125 posts) -

Glad Jeff found something he likes but he doesn't need to belittle things I like. Watching Bomber nuke his own army and using suicide bomber medivacs vs Gowser in this weekened MLG stream has been a highlight of my week.

#34 Edited by Zaccheus (1797 posts) -

@flstyle said:

4000+ people as of Tuesday night, part of the fun is the chat amusing themselves.

Yeah that probably helps a lot. I've just watched the archives since my time zone doesn't really allow me to watch live.

#35 Edited by Stimpack (902 posts) -

Good article. I enjoyed reading it. Now I'm excited about some unknown game, as well.

#36 Edited by Morello (83 posts) -

@zaccheus: There are a couple Youtube channels that archive the matches with the chat as well, if you just search for VGCW you'll find them easily enough. They have playlists for each date's event.

#38 Edited by Kirios (36 posts) -

VGCW is so fucking hype everyone needs to watch it. Best thing going on Twitch BY FAR.

#40 Posted by chilibean_3 (1657 posts) -

VGCW is pretty great. I just watch the recorded stream and skip around a lot of the bad AI fights to get to the good stuff quicker.

#41 Posted by Little_Socrates (5683 posts) -

@alorithin: All he said about esports was that there's a lot of it and he doesn't really watch it. I don't think he really belittled esports at all. Now, if you're a huge Red vs. Blue fan, maybe there's a reason to be annoyed.

Love VGCW, started watching it during the TNT because all you were doing at that point was talking about it and I figured actually watching some VGCW was probably a better used of my time. Really glad I did; though I'll probably never dig into the back catalog, it's a fun watch roughly once a week.

Glad you're making a case for not being as "jaded" as some people like to think you are, Jeff. I like to think you're just a professional first and a diehard fan second.

#42 Posted by CaLe (4021 posts) -

I've been running a blog over there for a bit after abandoning Formspring (which, consequently, is shutting down soon).

I fix it for you.

#43 Edited by EnduranceFun (1114 posts) -

Yay for VGCW. Been watching it with friends on Skype for about a month now, one of the highlights of my week. Go to VGCWClem's channel on YouTube to see archived streams with the chat, the chat makes it worthwhile.

#45 Posted by rebgav (1429 posts) -

A sim wrestling league is a great concept for a stream! It's a shame that there isn't a better, more capable game to use for it.

#46 Edited by Swoxx (3003 posts) -

@jeff You guys should try out Cities XL. It seems to have what you're looking for in a city building sim.

#47 Posted by C2C (855 posts) -

VGCW is pretty great. The Ganandorf vs. Bowser match was pretty even for a while.

#48 Posted by prestonhedges (1965 posts) -

Without commentary, and with all of the incredibly long load times WWE '13 employs, I just can't watch VGCW at all. Way too grueling.

#49 Edited by Excast (1029 posts) -

I was wondering how a Video Game Site Wrestling League might work.

The Giantbomb vs Polygon guys in a Survivor Series match.

As long as Ryan Davis gets the Sin Cara entrance everything will be fine.

#50 Posted by Mezmero (1969 posts) -

I don't know what I love more about VGCW, the writing or the copyright infringement. I'm not really big into machinima myself but I remember enjoying a handful of stuff back when it was still novel. It was a fun time in PC games where modders were showing the game creators how to make these busted ass games tell a memorable story. I didn't remember the story of Quake 2 anyway. I laughed at Red vs Blue around the time that was coming out, shamed as I am to admit.

A man of your caliber should be able to grasp the platitude of there being exceptions to every rule. Jeff you hate reality TV but love Storage Wars. Hate comic books, love Batman. Hate JRPGs, love Persona 4. Hate anime, love Transformers and G.I. Joe. There's a give and take to every form of entertainment imaginable. Sometimes you just need to mix things up to keep your sensibilities fresh and well balanced.

Just be happy you know enough cool people with reliable tastes who can point you in the right direction. And no, I'm not talking about the internet. Thanks for the article. Keep up the great work.

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