Monthly Archives: March 2009

Battlestar Galactica – Breaking the Cycle

It is easy to look back on the history of Battlestar Galactica and appreciate what it did to break the conventions of the space opera and how well it played the role of NOT Star Trek.  The series creator, Ron Moore, and his collection of writers made great strides in making something completely different.  It was dark and gritty, and there was nothing but bleakness around every corner.  The ship was falling apart along with most of the relationships the crew had.  The show should not have ended well.

Apollo isn't looking away from his father, he's looking away in shame from his involvement in the fnale

So why did it?  Why did it end with an hour of optimism and the founding of a new race without the baggage of their own hate and technology?  Why say that everything was shaped by God?  The two “head” characters are angels, and one can make the supposition that Kara Thrace was an instrument of God in the long run.  (Or, given how she disappeared, she’s Batman.)

It feels like the last hour of the show and its final revelations were out of place.  The series is the great Battlestar Galactica, which challenged viewers around every turn.  There aren’t too many shows that go out of their way to take five established characters and turn them on their heads – and manage to do so without being a complete deal breaker.  I know that there are people who tuned out at that point, but it was still worthwhile.  It still all worked.

The "head" characters failed to be heady in any way - and were instead a copout

Then comes the ending, which involves everything being far too easy.  Baltar’s redemption, in the eyes of God, is found in carrying a child 10 feet into the opera house.  Caprica Six’s redemption is found in accompanying them.  The opera house was where they were always located!  Cavil, the bleeding nihilist, was subdued by Baltar’s speech regarding theology and the promise of resurrection.  The notes of Kara’s song are actually the coordinates of what seems to be our Earth 150,000 years ago.  The cylon toasters are OK with just flying away in the end.  And the people on Galactica are fine with basically forgetting their relationships and colonizing various different continents.  Everything fell into place way too easily, and it’s all because God made it so.  The worst part of that is that Gaius Baltar, who is supposed to be full of shit, was right about so very much.  It felt cheap.

The entire ending was not cheap, though.  The first two parts of the three-parter were fine.  There were so many things about those episodes that seemed so right.  It’s that last hour that bugs me.  It disappointed me.  It was not Battlestar Galactica.  It was something completely different.  Some might say the challenge in the end was in accepting something easy for a change.  And I say that’s crap.  I don’t know what was going through the heads of all those involved, but this wasn’t right.

I cannot love you, love robot, because I must break the cycle!

And the montage of real-life robots in the end?  All we needed was “THE END?” and to call it a night.  So much for breaking the cycle.  At least one show was cleared off of my Friday night/Saturday morning schedule.

Down on Downloadable Content

I originally wrote a long post about this a few days ago that cited examples of downloadable content (DLC) for video games that I loathed and why I think it is a practice that hurts consumers of video games. I stated that the “Epilogue” DLC that provides actual closure to the game Prince of Persia allowed them to either a.) fix a mistake they made in their published ending for the game, or b.) spend more time to actually finish the game while simultaneously living up to their projected release date. Either way, it’s sloppy. I don’t even know if that DLC cost additional money – but either way the PC version of the game is somehow denied.

I stated all this, but the main fact that needs to be emphasized is this: I just don’t like downloadable content.

Very obvious, considering the above, but I can’t make a reasonable argument for how it’s a plague to the industry or unfair to gamers. If it were unfair, gamers wouldn’t be so into it and the practice would be abandoned. Gamers voice their complaints only for specific instances of poor DLC. For example, the $10 Capcom expects people to spend for Resident Evil 5’s multiplayer death match has caused quite a stir. After spending $60 on the game, $10 for an additional mode feels like a rip-off. I can understand that. Capcom argues, meanwhile, that the game is well worth the $60 price tag, and paying extra for something that is extra shouldn’t be a problem. The fans seem to think that $60 should pay for the full package – which means everything.

Which is the issue I have, when you get down to it. Game prices are already pretty high, especially for the high end systems. Back in the day, the full package was included on your $40+ cartridge. GoldenEye was very much a complete game by itself, but it also included a very lauded multiplayer mode. Metroid was the first game to have such an expansive world, and the “Justin Bailey” code was a very nice easter egg. Extra characters in fighting games were released by completing some challenge, finding a code, or even time released on later consoles. Gamers didn’t have to pay for these things. They were there as a reward for the players. In a way, the games kept opening themselves up as if to say, “There’s more and more for you to find!”

Now there’s more and more for you to buy. Because the consoles contain some sort of onboard memory now, there’s an excuse to add onto games rather than have the games automatically include things. And for an old school gamer like myself, the idea of paying for things that used to be included is ludicrous. It also takes away from the overall experience of a game when I know that there’s more out there that the company would prefer I buy when I’m ready.

It gets more difficult to make the argument for games as art when it’s obvious that it’s the business side that’s running things.

Short Response to RE5 Controversy

MTV Multiplayer recently put up an interview with Resident Evil 5’s cinematic director, Jim Sonzero, in which he got to respond to the controversy about the game’s questionably racist visuals. He naturally defends the game, and he says that Capcom went out of their way to balance things out – like making the second lead black and “peppering” the landscape of infected with white people. He also stated that people just want something to bitch about.

This response is fine. I believe that Capcom tried to make things balanced, but there’s still a latent racism in the game and in games in general. I like how the attempt at balancing things out started with a light-skinned black woman with straight hair. Then they put white people into the body count. However, an interesting question came to mind:

Why couldn’t they have initially conceived a game with a black lead? Not as a shoe-horned co-lead but as the actual lead?

Out of Touch – The Nintendo Wii Experience

I don’t really get why I started reading the Gamasutra blog, seeing as I am not in the video game industry myself.  It is very much an insider’s blog, but they try to make sure it is accessible to simply game fans.  Truth be told, who is most likely their bread and butter?  Yeah, game fans who want to make games.

An interesting article on creating must-have Wii games came my way, actually indirectly through another blog.  I forget the blog’s name, but I’m probably going to give them a shout-out sooner or later.  Gamasutra is interesting, but it’s just not something that calls my attention by itself.

The article sums up what it is you find on Wii and why.  There are a lot of bargain-priced titles that people in the gaming communities call “shovelware” that sell really well.  They have accessible box art, promise short play experiences, and most important cost less than the A-class titles on the system.  The big thing that jumps out at me is the lower price, especially after Valve publicly stated a month or so ago that more units of a game sell when the price is lower.

Shock and awe.

Along with value, games that sell well on the Wii are accessible and have a certain level of recognition factor involved.  This is pretty common in mainstream marketing, which is what the Wii has definitely reached.  Movies that sell exceptionally well tend to have brands or actors that people recognize and deliver fairly simple narratives (along with trailers that pretty much tell people what they’re getting).  It is what appeals to the base level of person.

I resent what Pachter says in the article about the Wii audience’s not being as sophisticated as the audience for the other two consoles.  There’s something about the word that bothers me in this context.  We’re talking about video games, and these people who play on the Wii are playing games that they want to play.  Whether or not the games receive critical acclaim is not important when the discussion should be about the amount of fun the individual user is experiencing.  I would say that these individuals are making incredibly wise choices, especially since they may not have as much invested in video games as others might.  A bargain title to a new gamer is a huge investment.  People who are used to paying upwards of $30 for games see the cost as lesser than people who are just now finding out how much everything costs.  While I would not buy these games myself, these are fairly wise investments for people who are essentially experimenting with gaming.

It starts making more and more sense to me why game developers and the long time enthusiasts do not understand this.  The only time they experienced this newness to video games was long ago, and they forgot all about the experimental wonder that it was.  Hell, this may even explain why their idea of a social gaming experience, for the most part, is cold, competitive, and usually at a long physical distance from everyone else.  Gaming for them is personal, and they can’t understand the mindset of people who are not at their level of intensity about it.

The developers are also the reason why the new consumers found on the Wii are not accustomed to the more intense, serious-minded games that are found on other systems.  Where were these developers at the Wii’s launch?  Their negligence cultured the crowd they are currently unable to sell their games to because they were were busy being nay-sayers about Nintendo’s less powerful system.  Now if they want to profit off of the machine, they have to build their brands from the bottom up.  They can also continue ignoring the Wii and making their profits from the other two, but it would be naive not to tap into a larger market.

And what we come away with is that people want to buy games they recognize, that are cheap, and that are easy to pick up and play.  MAKE your games recognizable.  If not based on a previous property, put it out in the public consciousness.  Advertising, believe it or not, can sell games.  SELL games for less than standard price.  What you fail to accrue per unit may be made up by total units sold.  MAKE GAMES FUN AND EASY TO PLAY.  Don’t make games easy, but don’t overcomplicate them.  That should be a no-brainer.

This is not coming from a Nintendo apologist.  I support the Wii because I find it to be a really fun system, and the price point matched where I needed it to be.  I have gotten a lot out of it already, but I would like to see more come its way.  I’m by no means the average Wii owner, but I know people who are.  These people want to play games, but they’re not the elitists who pour through all information available on the entirety of the internet before they play games.  They pick what is fun to them, not what they’re told is fun.  They want to share games with their friends.  They want to have fun with their consoles.  I’m not going to lie.  I want to have fun with my console as well.  Developers just need to realize that the only crowd out there isn’t the niche audience that was initially cultured in the 80’s.  It’s time to start thinking that really anyone could be a gamer if given the chance.