Saturday, May 26, 2012

Darksiders Review

THQ is a member of an old guard of publishers, names and logos of which appeared before countless titles throughout the nineties. Like other members of the old guard, the company got huge and fat and rich off of producing 5-10 games a year and selling them between $40-80 a pop to parents who bought games for their kids entirely based on the license attached to the box. “Oh hey, my reprobate overweight douchebag suburban son likes wrestling; let’s buy him the newest looking wrestling game with the longest title and latest roster.” Not kidding, that shit sold like gangbusters. 

                Then the future happened and every game had to have fancy three dee graphics and interesting mechanics and later some king of online multiplayer component or else it wouldn’t sell. Games got more expensive to make and the strength of a popular license wouldn’t go as far as it used to. So they’re all shutting down and collapsing and folding into larger companies because producing three or four games a year just isn’t instantly generating cashflow like it used to. Right now in the news 38 Studios and subsidiary developers Big Huge Games are both unilaterally collapsing after producing just one game together, a game that took three years and some unreasonable number of millions of dollars to make. Rhode Island actually lent them $75 million to bring the studio to the state because they were probably still thinking in 90s terms where games are instant money+job generators for skilled white men to flow cash into the state. Unfortunately the studio made some godawful decisions in the current gaming climate, opting to produce a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, a genre where if a game isn’t named World of Warcraft, it’s probably going to lose dicktons of money because of the sheer development size of it (World of Warcraft’s data is up to 25 GB. And this is a game made in 2004, before any of these HD-DVD things or nonsense) and the fact that you’re automatically competing with a game that’s 8 years old and still has around 10 million players. 

                So now the studio is collapsing and they can’t make payroll and it’s really not the fault of anyone in the studio. Their first game, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, wasn’t that bad and moved around 1.2 million copies, but in order for it to have broken even it needed something like 3 million copies sold thanks to its multiplatform nature and development cost. These numbers are astronomical, I shouldn’t need to tell you. Back in the 90s, the “golden age of gaming,” a game could sell maybe 100,000 copies and be considered a moderate success. Games were priced more reasonably to their development costs, and everything overall was cheaper to do. In the modern games era we’re tacked to the $60 new price point, just $10 more than the last generation’s price fixing scheme (you know it is) while games cost around twice as much to develop, a bump from around $8 million to $20 million on average. Games also take more time and effort to generate the high definition textures and models and 30fps animations and bug testing. What’s ironic about all this is that games themselves haven’t gotten any more complex or longer, but in fact the opposite has happened in interests of cost savings, which brings us to Darksiders.

                Darksiders is the very first step in the new direction that THQ intends to move as a publisher, away from licensed kids games that are getting too expensive and too difficult to sell (Yet they’re still making a Spongebob Squarepants game for the Wii U. Maybe they’re just reprioritizing towards their best-selling kids games) and towards original IPs wholly owned by the corporation and thus completely monetizeable. Darksiders was produced by Vigil Games, a studio founded by a pair of guys who met in college and started a bromance that has lasted over ten years and Comic Guy Joe Madureira (Portugese for “incredibly sexy”) who was the only reason I went to the first Wizard World convention here in New Orleans, but he canceled last minute because he was busy working on Darksiders 2, crushing my hopes and dreams (I still love you please call me). Also some other dude that I can’t find any info about online. 

                The game on the surface is about Prince Arthas War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse and his super-manly quest for vengeance after the apocalypse happens early and everything goes wrong. There’s some background mythology on a “three kingdoms” approach to this where there’s three kingdoms of reality, man, heaven, and hell; and there’s some loosely explained third party called the charred council that created and operates the horsemen. Big props for the way the game tells the story, nothing is explained to you in didactic style, either by a magic codex or by grating, supercilious NPCs. The game actually ends with a pretty open-ended cliffhanger, as all that really gets done is War’s vengeance quest (and you beat the final boss guy). The only problem is that the story is mind-crushingly stupid. Every single character oozes testosterone from their giant, muscly pores. The dialogue reads like it was written by a WH40k fan that got C’s in high school English. The plot apparently dispenses with the concept of motive, instead simply saying “this character does this” and leaving it there. The real problem is that none of these characters feel like sentient people, much less intelligent or interested people. They feel like excuses to propel a game forward. And hey, that’s exactly what the plot here is. 

                Which actually turns out okay, because as a game it’s pretty darn great. It’s derivative as all hell, but most of the best video games are, and the game picked the right franchises to be derivative from. It’s a third person action game that plays almost identically to The Legend of Zelda, albeit with more manly and complicated combat. Sections are divided between puzzles and combat and the occasional gauntlet-of-enemies-to-be-defeated-with-special-weapon segments.  Like I said, this is not a bad thing. There are not enough legend of Zelda clones on the market, and Nintendo seems content with releasing one ever 5 years, which is awful and terrible and totally unsatisfactory. 

                Everything of course is much more gory and manly than Zelda. The game even has a mature rating, though aside from the ridiculous blood everywhere (this games versions of Zelda’s keys are actually little daggers you stab through the eyes of barriers to your progress, eliciting a huge spurt of blood) there’s nothing particularly mature about this game. The only time vulgar language is used is towards the end when the sole female character is called a “bitch” and a “whore,” both pretty jarring as the only severe insults throughout the game (other than ludicrous threats of murder from silly-looking demons) and both towards the only woman in the game. This is a boys only club, folks. Women aren’t allowed.  But hey, that’s not really out of the norm. What was the one female in Gears of War 1 again? Some woman literally half the size of the protagonist wearing a short skirt?

                Anyway, overall Darksiders is not that bad. It’s probably worth your time if you like Legend of Zelda and you can check out from the library for free like I did. Just be prepared for everything that’s wrong with modern games on this disc. We’ve got gameplay pretty down, but presentation still leaves a lot to be desired. Darksiders 2 is out this August, to star another horseman, Death. THQ is doing slightly better financially, and the success of this game is probably going to be a major factor of the publisher’s health going forward. 

                THQ is a great story, though. They had a CEO that became really adamant about producing a drawing tablet peripheral for kids to play games with, a fiscally untenable move in any case that isn’t Guitar Band or Rock Hero. The uDraw tablet underperformed massively and is the number one reason for the publisher’s stock sliding so badly at the end of last year. They fired that guy (and I’m pretty sure he wrapped a corvette around a tree afterward, as is the natural life cycle of sociopathic executive)  and a bunch of other people, but they took the smart move of leaving their dev studios intact and simply refocusing their efforts to other games. Darksiders is one of the original wholly owned IPs that THQ hopes to turn into a comic series, a cartoon, a series of novellas, a card game, maybe a movie, and so on. Viva Capitalism!

Friday, May 18, 2012

In Regards to the Hospitality Zone

Hey there. 

My Name is Jacob Germain, I’m a resident of the Seventh Ward in an area that is called the “St. Bernard Crescent” by realtors and landlords who want to distance it from being in the seventh ward.
My apartment is inside the original hospitality zone as it was introduced, though not much hospitality happens here and I’ve since been written out of the bill. I live in one of those parts of town that we warn tourists away from because presumably the people of my neighborhood are going to rob and shoot them. My immediate neighborhood used to be up and coming, but this and that happened and it ended up falling to the wayside. The streets are busted, there’s a blown out former adult education center down the street, every other lot is abandoned or blighted. 

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about this bill and why two thirds of the revenue from this bill is NOT going towards infrastructure improvements. I understand some representatives are here from the CVB, purportedly to support hospitality in general and the wonder and glory that is a service economy. What they’re not here to talk about is the fact that they stand to make an additional 5 million in taxpayer dollars every year if this bill passes. They’re not interested in fixing the broken streets, the busted sidewalks, the damaged infrastructure of any part of this city, let alone the French quarter. They’re here to line their pockets with public money.

I’ll be frank with you: I’m already aware that this legislature is the result of a number of backroom deals. Just look at where the money is going. It’s not cleverly hidden or obscured, but laid bare in the law. This is Louisiana politics as usual; the kind of political profiteering that makes it possible for some people to be rich in a city of minimum wage service jobs and rampant unemployment.

You should rethink this legislation. You should reconsider what its purpose is and why you’re passing it. You took an oath to serve the people of Louisiana; people like me and my fellow hospitality zone residents. You did not take an oath to serve the highest bidder.

Thank you for your time. 

[editor's note: I wrote this as public comment for the committee hearing on the Hospitality Zone bill. the bill was amended at the hearing to feature a newer 50/50 split between infrastructure and marketing, with 20 percent going to the CVB, who hired around 50 people to wear red shirts with the phrase "tourism matters" and stand around during the hearing. The bill is vastly improved, but they still stand to make $2 million a year from taxpayers. Not mentioned here is the Convention Center holding $30 million in infrastructure improvements for ransom unless this bill passes. It's a whole lotta fucked, folks.]

Monday, May 14, 2012


                People should have a reasonably equal chance at succeeding in life, or maybe people should be able to do what they want to do. Or maybe people should be able to live life according to their principles without undue hardship. People should be free, except when that freedom infringes on other people’s freedom, except when their concept of free destroys the existing systems of society. There are all kinds of ways to construct a moral framework without using a traditional religion, but none of them are sufficiently perfect. No moral framework is ever perfect. Everything needs qualification.

                Let me cut to the chase: there’s no reason to construct moral frameworks. Reject them when people try to sell them to you, no matter what their intention is. Moral frameworks only create division and foster “us vs. them” thinking. Do not reject the people, do not shame those who do build frameworks, but recognize where that leads. Reject no one.

                The irony here, of course, is that I’m describing a moral framework. I’ve delineated what is good and what is bad. “Moral frameworks” are something to reject, people are something to embrace. An enlightened master in my framework is a person who accepts people and rejects their moral frameworks. So really it doesn’t mean anything. I can’t tell you how to be happy; you’re going to have to figure that one out, yeah? Live how you want. Don’t hate other people, not cause it’s “bad” or whatever, but it won’t make you happy. New moral framework here: being happy is good, being sad is not. Sad people are failing to live up to moral standards, happy people are succeeding.

                Not going to work either, happiness isn’t exactly a binary proposition. Sometimes you’re clinically incapable of being happy, sometimes your experience has created a problem where you can’t actually feasibly happy. People suffer from ptsd and depression and all kinds of things no matter whether they are trying to be happy or not. Life circumstances can cause someone to totally involuntarily hate someone. Cultural conditioning does that all the time.

                Maybe being happy isn’t right. Maybe you can just not make other people sad. But that’s another set of issues. Some people get sad over weird things. Communication is imperfect, and we’re trying to bridge a gap between people with wildly divergent social backgrounds. We’re all living drastically different realities, which is why we developed a series of social expectations in the first place. Society bridges the gap and gives everyone a reasonable expectation of how another person will behave and maybe what their motivations are. This way we’re not terribly shocked when someone jabs their open hand at us. We know it’s a gesture of friendship and meeting and we’re supposed to shake it with our hand in turn. Similarly we recognize that someone gesturing at us with an angry face and a middle finger raised means us ill will.

                Similarly, moral frameworks are intended to give us an idea of what we’re supposed to striving for. When we say something like “people are basically good” what we mean is that we’re all socialized into a certain framework of social expectations where bad people would presumably not exist because we responsibly believe that being bad would make them feel bad, especially because being bad makes us feel bad. This breaks down in the face of pathologies where people are incapable of feeling guilt or social obligation, pathologies where nearly every behavior triggers a guilt response, and rationalizations where people will mentally justify bad behaviors as actually being good and thus don’t trigger a guilt response.

                Since so many exceptions exist to this sort of thing that maybe it’s more fair to just say something like “approach each situation with an open mind.” Or “don’t prejudge any person or situation” or something like that. I’m not sure that’s fair either. Prejudgment is something that we do as a species as a way of efficiently categorizing experiences and making them useful in the future. We prejudge that fire is hot, for example, so that in the future when we see fire we know to stay away from it because it’s hot. Shutting off a structural facet of memory is much more easily said than done and probably not a great idea. I’d suggest maybe you just don’t behave like you’re prejudging them anyway, but it’s essentially impossible to entirely separate your thinking from your behavior.

                Do you see what I mean about moral frameworks? They’re slippery, imperfect things. Like fish downriver from a paper mill. Do what you want. I don’t believe in free will anyway, so you’re just going to do whatever it is you’ll do. Godspeed.