PewDiePie Makes $15M/Year and Is a Racist

Sigh.

I haven’t watched much PewDiePie but occasionally I’ve enjoyed one of his playthroughs as a way to get a sense for a game. Now, after he’s been dropped by Disney and YouTube, I realize from the reports that he’s a dirty scumbag and a hero to neo-Nazi hate groups. (I also realize he was pulling in $15M per year for his goofball videos. WHAT?!?!)

This is yet another sign that the Internet is making it so we can’t have nice things. It used to be that you could watch baseball, play videogames, and pretend for a few isolated moments every day that we can all coexist without hating each other based on superficialities.

But no, that’s no longer the case. Baseball’s now political (I cite the congressional hearings where Democrats and Republicans lined up on party lines to support or criticize Roger Clemens for PED use). Choosing a home improvement store or a pizza delivery service is now political. And watching a freaking game playthrough is political.

I blame you, PewDiePie. Die, PewDiePie, die.

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Do You Watch Your Friends Play Games?

Not everybody enjoys watching others play videogames, just like not everybody enjoys others play sports. There’s something about games that demands that hands-on experience.

Of course, a big part of it depends on the style and personality of the person you’re watching. If you’re a stealth gamer, you probably wouldn’t enjoy watching a brawler barrel through levels, for example.

But assuming you’re watching someone who plays like you do, or perhaps faster than you do (!), do you enjoy watching them play? Or are you itching for them to get an urgent call from their significant other?

I don’t love watching gameplay video, but I’m watching theRadBrad on Youtube right now. He’s got a pretty good style, he moves quickly, and he’s got a friendly, funny energy to him.

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and the Future of America

Had a Red Robin Gourmet Burger and Now I Am Nostradumbass

So your immodest game writer went to Red Robin, the burger chain, the other night. While the experience is fresh in my mouth (why does that sound wrong?), I feel I must crack wise about what Red Robin gourmet burgers tell us about the future of this country.

red-robin-gourmet-burgersRed Robins are really a microcosm of what is good and bad about the name-branding and big-boxing of America. They’re made from fresh, healthy ingredients. They’re tidy, clean, identical, carefully marketed to Joe Six-Pack, and unerringly friendly.

The staff seem ridiculously cheery; you have to wonder about the pep talks and management, because they’re totally getting it done. I do admit, however, to a flashback to the cynical and often twisted movie Waiting when I saw them gather up twice to sing out birthdays to families celebrating their kids’ special days.

So Yeah, The Burger

I ordered the Whiskey River BBQ Chicken Burger, which is basted with BBQ sauce. It also includes cheddar cheese, crispy onion “straws” (think skinny onion rings), lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo. “Cowpokes and real folks both love this one!” crows their website.

The burger arrived promptly, accompanied by a serving of their piping hot “bottomless fries” and some gigantic crunchy onion rings. At first it looked a little small to me, peeking out of a white paper wrap*, but it’s about the size of a chicken burger you cook on your own grill. The menu photos always look enormous.

So I took a big bite and I had a revelation. Red Robin gourmet burgers are telling the future, and the future is expensive, heavily sauced, carefully manicured, and so full of flavor that you can’t taste what it’s made of. The future is served by marvellously attentive people who refill your soda before you’re done, sometimes bringing you a second glass so you don’t even have to lower the glass to get more.

A bite of my burger was like a little bite of Las Vegas. The glittering lights, the gambling, the dancing girls, and the empty feeling. I followed the cheese, I was diverted by the onion straws, and I was waylaid by the barbeque sauce. The overall effect was pleasurable and comforting, because on an animal level I was happy that I was getting some serious calories. My tongue responded to the sweet and the salty. But on the other hand it had none of the subtle interplay of flavors that truly great food possesses. It didn’t surprise or delight; it overpowered.

And somewhere in there was a chicken breast, flanked by some lettuce and tomato, all yelling to be heard, but no one paid any attention.

My gourmet burger was relentlessly adult but built on childish principles. It’s forgotten what it is. A Red Robin gourmet burger is what mall food looks like when it grows up. And the future is lavish, clean, and bright, but it looks to be overdramatic and desensitized at the same time.

*By the way, this wrap is really a brilliant innovation, keeping the burger together without a toothpick, and making it easy to hold.

Uncharted 2 Steals Hearts

Uncharted 2 and Naughty Dog Revive the Adventure Genre

The Uncharted 2: Among Thieves SKU and its action/adventure gameplay are dominating the ratings at Metacritic. Adventure games? Zork? Monkey Island? Indiana Jones? Hello again. We’ve missed you.

Uncharted 2 brings back Nathan Drake (Indiana Jones?) for another round of high-stakes artifact hunting, this time to the fabled Shambhala, a remote valley in the Himalayas, where he’s pitted against a fugitive war criminal.

I don’t have a full gameplay review today — just a little celebration, and a link to Uncharted 2’s astronomical Metacritic score and review.

97, in case you’re curious — a point below all-time PS3 leader Grand Theft Auto IV.

Hogwarts’ Harry: Top Five Europe Photos

Hogwarts’ Harry and Other Pics

Hogwarts School and Harry Potter don’t actually appear in any of my “game writer on vacation” photos, but there is a connection, as you’ve probably already noticed.

So I’ve decided to jump the gun and throw up a top five of the photos I took in London and Paris, with five more to come shortly.

Notice the devious writing trick I used — the non-commital “a top five” rather than “my top five photos” or (heaven forfend!) “the top five photos.” Not really a game writing trick, per se; more of a legalistic way to avoid saying anything definitive.* These are just five photos that I like, for various reasons.

* I recently read an interview with one of my English profs, Nancy Packer, who lambasted the semi-colon. She said it’s the language’s ugliest punctuation mark, and that one should use dashes instead. Punctuation passion!

Sorry about the dorky watermark. I’m submitting these to some stock photo agencies and I don’t want slimeballs leeching these.

hogwarts-harry

Was amazed to stumble upon this college courtyard in Cambridge. This isn’t even one of the heavy hitters like King’s College; this is one of the minor colleges. I wish my university dorm looked like this. Ready for a brisk game of Quidditch!

By the way, Quidditch is the most ridiculous game in creation. It’s clear that J.K. Rowling isn’t much for game design. She can write the crap out of candy and sweets, though, I’ll grant her that.

videogame writer's eiffel-tower-ironwork-trusses

You might recognize this structure. Hint: Paris.

game-writer-brick-apartments

Brick apartments in Swanage on the Dorset coast.

game writer at buckingham palace

Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Monument.

cannons-palace-les-invalides_sm

Hopital de Les Invalides. Napoleon is buried in the cathedral whose gilded dome you can see up top.

Hope you — Harry Potter fans, science fiction readers, and otherwise — enjoyed these ramblings. More soon.

Boxing Games and Fight Night Round 4

Boxing games are back. Fight Night Round 4 has been announced with a ship date – actually, a ship season – of “Summer 2009.”

It’s good to see this boxing franchise making another run. There’s also leaked video on Youtube of an EA representative comparing FN4 and FN3, which I also found encouraging. I loved FN3 but it still had plenty of room for improvement. I think we still haven’t seen a true next-gen arcade-simulation of boxing, just very tantalizing and visually appealing boxing imitations.

Part of the problem is that boxing really involves the whole human body, like dancing. (Seen any good dancing videogames? EA, want to use the FN4 engine to make one?) Obviously, it’s a different scale than controlling a running back in a football game. The biggest disappointment is that the game is destined for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Of all the next gen platforms, you’d think the most natural fit for a boxing game would be on the Wii. However, motion detection on the Wii isn’t as precise as Nintendo would like you to think.

I think what we’d all like to see is a boxing game that captures true body movement- a lean of the shoulders, a flick of the hips, a tilt of the head – rather than a string of rote offensive and defensive boxing moves. Whether it comes in a boxing game, a brawler like Tekken or Street Fighter, or in the aforementioned dancing game, we all want more control and simpler controls.

One analog stick for punching was a cool idea, and revolutionary in its way (kudos to you, Kudo), but ultimately untenable. After all, that little stick had to do all the work of two arms. Being lefthanded, I found it especially perverse, and eventually joined my human boxing compadre in using the face buttons, a la Punch Out and time immemorial.

Good to see Tyson in there, too. I definitely wished for his presence in FN3.

Videogame Writing Influences TV?

EDGE Thinks Videogame Writing Is Affecting Television Plots

Rely on EDGE Magazine to throw out some interesting memes. Today I stumbled upon this thought – that some of the hot new television writing is actually becoming more like videogame writing. And not in a good way:

TV is yet another medium struggling to compete against interactive entertainment…. Even TV shows are becoming more like videogames, with a flat palette of two-dimensional characters moving progressively through random objectives, the odd big boss and perplexing, pointless plot twists. Heroes, Lost, Family Guy. Shit, shit, shit.

Family Guy Has Videogame Plots?

So those cocky Brits just compared your favorite TV show with human offal. But you have to admit that some of these modern ensemble television dramas aren’t TV shows in the classic mode.

Instead, they’re giant productions that will continue to throw out new characters, obstacles, and plot threads in a desperate and calculated effort to survive. It’s fully possible that, like the great red herring generator, Twin Peaks, there’s no overarching meta-narrative. I fear that they exist only to exist. When the concept wears thin and viewers turn elsewhere, these shows might just crumble and crash into the rocks without ever attempting to answer the questions that they raised in the first place.

Still, An Interesting Reversal

Sure, the videogame movie is a Hollywood staple as movie studios reveal again and again their timid business strategies. But it’s not every day that you see someone postulate that game writing is bleeding stylistically into other media, instead of vice versa. Some food for thought the next time you’re zoning out in front of the idiot box.

Do good.

do-good

Do Good Now

Do good while doing nothing? How about working on a cure for cancer while picking your nose? How many of you can do that? That’s what I’m doing today. I’m gonna do good while doing absolutely nothing.

Okay, to tell the truth, I’m going to do good by installing the World Community Grid applet. And yes, it will do its good work – solving a small share of giant computing problems like a cure for cancer – using my PC whenever I’m not using the CPU.

Other do-good-er tasks that the World Community Grid is tackling include mapping human proteomes, researching rice proteins to help farmers raise better crops, and finding ways to cure dengue fever and AIDS. Sponsored by IBM and a number of major unis, the World Community Grid is a fantastic, safe, free way for you to do good while sitting on your butt.

If you’re familiar with the SETI screensaver, you know the concept. Do good while doing nothing. Except, frankly, I think a cure for cancer is a helluva lot more likely, and will do more good, than discovering bug-eyed monsters from the Sci-Fi Channel.

Do Good at Work

If you’re an IT professional, at a game design contractor or elsewhere, you should see if you can get some of your execs or your CTO on board with this particular do-good opportunity. A large corporation or even a corporate department can have hundreds of idle computers at any given moment.

Those clock cycles could be doing good things instead of running around empty-headed. Idle hands are the devil’s playground! Get that silicon to do some good work!

How to Do Some Good with Your Idleness

Ok, here’s the link to the World Community Grid. Get out there and do some good.

The videogame writing smackdown of the month

videogame-writerThe videogame writing quandry

Videogame writing often gets overlooked in the modern videogame development process. There’s no hiding from the raw facts.

From EGM’s review of Alone in the Dark for Xbox 360:

AITD wants to emulate the presentation of serial television, but neither the writing nor the “performances” compare to even TV’s least-essential shows. Certain events benefit from a dramatic camera view, but the unlikable cast of needlessly angry antiheroes punctuates dialogue with romantic cliches and superfluous cursing in such a way that you’re not hearing unique characters – you’re hearing one writer who ran out of ideas.

Sigh.

A highly-qualified team of dozens of engineers, artists, animators, modelers, scripters, level builders, producers, marketeers, and managers spent years working on this product. Man-decades of work went into making it. The franchise has benefited from even more time and expense; the original PC game was the progenitor of survival horror videogames.

And this reviewer reserved 75% of his comments about the game for the videogame writing.

Why videogame writing usually sucks

1) Dev priorities. Making a game is a ridiculously huge undertaking. Most of the software has to be written from scratch; even if the developer uses middleware, tons of customization and game-specific functions must be created and tested. While the dev team struggles to maintain a stable environment, the designers, engineers, and artists must ride that buggy, half-built, half-realized swaybacked mule and perform their delicate and deadline-pressured work. It’s like trying to paint the Mona Lisa on a moving city bus while psychos constantly steal your brushes and replace them with crayons.

Because the technical challenges are so great, game writing becomes a bit of an afterthought. Videogame writing is malleable and stable. As long as the game writing doesn’t alter the flow of the game, it can be changed up until the 11th hour. It’s generally not a huge challenge to replace one dialog line with another, or move some narration from one level to another.

2) Everyone thinks they’re a videogame writer. How may of your friends want to write a novel someday? How many of those novels do you think will be really worth reading? The same is true of videogame developers, except more so, because they’re generally creative folks.

However, for every videogame designer, engineer, or producer who has a writing background and serious literary chops, there are five to ten others who lack that background. Unfortunately, all of them would love to get a crack at doing the videogame writing for their current game.

The videogame team leaders, who are budget-constrained and harried, usually give them that opportunity or take it for themselves.

3) Bringing in a videogame writer can seem like an insult to the game staff. When not handled well, the introduction of a videogame writer can chafe at egos and cause team dissension. Management has to work with the videogame dev team to emphasize how the writer will actually reduce workloads, develop the plot and thematic points that they’ve so carefully crafted, and carry the responsibility of polishing dialog and storyline in crunch times when the team will have little time or patience for inspecting niceties like development of ancillary characters.

Why videogame writing shouldn’t suck

1) Game writing doesn’t crash. I know this is a shock, but videogame writing doesn’t cause A-class bugs or videogame crashes. Never has a game been recalled because there was a critical flaw in the writing.

2) Videogame writing has no dependencies. A game’s plot and character development can be created in a vacuum. Game writing doesn’t need special tools, art assets, or a stable “build” of the game development software.

Of course, good videogame writing generally is the product of constant feedback from the entire game dev team, adapting to changes in character design, art style, and level design. And those changes can easily precipitate changes to code, design, and even art. Still, the fact is that videogame writing is remarkably independent of other game development efforts, and as a result, it can be very polished regardless of the state of the overall game.

3) Game writing is vital to your game’s success. Let’s face it: videogame writing can sink an otherwise legitimate game. Players rely on game writing to give them motivation and excitement. Cheesy or cliched videogame writing sucks all the joy out of a player’s experience. There’s nothing sadder than a good game that doesn’t motivate players to enjoy the whole experience.

4) Hiring a videogame writer is cheap and efficient. Just compare the hourly rates of contract programmers and contract videogame writers. Good videogame writers take some effort to find, but they won’t bust your budget. And hiring a videogame writer takes an extremely visible part of your game out of overworked dev team members’ hands and puts it in the experienced hands of someone who can devote their full attention to it.

In fact, we’d argue that game writing shouldn’t suck. Ever.

If you’d like to chat with us about how game writing can fit into your production flow, please contact us for a free game writing consultation.