Archive for the Grumblings Category

On the Layoff Epidemic in Video Games…

Posted in Grumblings on February 25, 2019 by chemiclord

To an extent, I’m not entirely surprised.  This sort of thing was a long time coming, and no, greedy executives and shareholders are not the only ones at fault.

There are a multitude of factors that lead to this collapse of the workforce, despite companies reporting “record profits.”  Yes, a very big one is shareholders who aren’t gamers trying to take an industry that really isn’t one that can work under a model of sustained growth and trying to force it into sustained growth.

In any creative field, it simply isn’t something that makes money to make money.  You are going to have lulls.  You really can’t expect even a large company of developers to be able to crank out increasingly more sales and profits every year before they start to crack and burn out.  It simply can’t happen for any prolonged period of time, even if you happen to find that one big hit that you can keep adding onto.  For every World of Warcraft there are thousands of titles that simply shouldn’t be expected to have those sort of legs.

Another huge problem is mismanagement.  When every studio starts copycat chasing whatever the flavor of the month is, you get a huge over-saturation of titles where there can really only be one or two winners.  Everything else becomes wasted money and development time, which makes shareholders unhappy.

Innovation and creative are the lifeblood of any entertainment field.  Copycat developing is the antithesis of that.  Add to that mismanagement staples like feature creep, indecision, and demands for crunch… and you have a terrific cauldron of stupidity that leads to catastrophic failure.  If you have a vision, then stick with it.  If you don’t; trust the people that do.

And finally… the fact is that the video game industry isn’t in very good financial health.  Despite Kotrick declaring “record profits,” the simple fact was that these cuts were made in anticipation of the bottom falling out.  The consequence of all this copycat developing, mismanagement, and demands for ever increasing revenues is that we have an industry where everything is built on a fragile skeleton, and the simple fact is that games simply aren’t very profitable, even with methods like DLC and microtransactions and lootboxes.

I’ve said this before… but us gamers simply aren’t spending what we need to in order to keep this industry healthy.  Expect this continue until (at the very least) we accept that $60 in 2019 isn’t the same as $60 in 1999.  We can’t expect this life to continue to grow if we insist on starving it.

Good News Everybody!

Posted in Grumblings on February 11, 2019 by chemiclord

No, this isn’t about The Isle of Donne (though I’m promise I’m very close to done with the manuscript; I’m not going GRRM on you guys).

But if you get annoyed whenever I get political on a blog space that I explicitly said I wouldn’t get terribly political on, then this is good news for you.

I’ve been invited as a contributor on the Kinja blog site Clashtalk, and so for the near future, my political commentary will no doubt be making their ears bleed, and I’ll save this site once more to my creative and narrative endeavors.

I’m so happy that I’ll be able to tragically disappoint two groups of people instead of one.  I always felt like I was falling short in that regard.


On Two Americas…

Posted in Grumblings on January 23, 2019 by chemiclord

(Note: I am going to be coarse.  If you can’t handle strong language, don’t continue.)

Boy, do we have a lovely clusterfuck of bullshit here, don’t we?

On one hand, we have a group of teenagers who intentionally dressed themselves up like they were going to a Trump rally, then walked around the nation’s capitol knowing it would irritate, anger, and cause all sorts of trouble.

They got exactly what they were looking for.

On another hand, we have the “Black Israelites,” a group notorious for being intentionally abrasive and hateful, going to the nation’s capitol looking to make a scene.

They also got exactly what they were looking for.

Then finally, we have a Native American military veteran, looking for an opportunity to get his cause in the spotlight.

He got exactly what he was looking for as well.

Then, to top off this wonderful attention whore salad, comes the dressing of a media desperate to be “first” rather than “correct”, managing to piss off everyone, first by missrepresenting damn near everything about the confrontation, then by rolling back on the parts that actually were correct in an effort to appear objective (rather than actually be objective in the first place).

But let’s not fool ourselves, and let the general American public off the hook either.  The parties above do this shit because they know that eyeballs, clicks, purchases, and attention follow.  I’m guilty too.  I bit hard myself.  Not so much that I was wrong about any of the boys (because they were being glorious shitheels no matter how much they want to tell the world they were provoked), but now I’m a shitheel myself because I didn’t wait for the whole story.

It’s become another example of the Divided States of America, and the naked contempt and resentment each side has for the other becomes more stark with each passing day and each event where people rush to be noticed and the country rushes to notice them.

Will we learn our lesson?  I hope so… because I don’t think anyone really wants what will be the result of continuing to escalate the divide.

The Viral Meme Process

Posted in Grumblings on January 17, 2019 by chemiclord

Provided without any context whatsoever.

  1. Initial Infection: The meme expands rapidly, as like minded people quickly try and get on board with showing their ass to the world.
  2. Antibody Production: The meme inevitably winds up in the crosshairs of those who feel ridiculed or disagree with the meme, pushback immediately follows as they are determined that the world sees their ass as well.
  3. Mutation: Meme has now reached peak saturation, and now everyone insists that everyone else respect their proudly displayed ass.  Irony is also at maximum as it is impossible for anyone to see any other ass… due to their heads being firmly lodged up their own.
  4. Dormancy: Eventually either the masses realize how incredibly stupid the meme actually is, or a different meme catches their attention (the latter is far more common than the former).  Meme is mostly forgotten as everybody pulls their pants back up in preparation for the next opportunity to show their ass.
  5. Relapse: Some memes reinfect the population, though in most cases they are limited in scope and only to incite groans from an inoculated population.  In rare cases however, the meme takes off again as the masses remember how much fun it was to show everyone their ass.

On The Price of Games…

Posted in Grumblings with tags , , , on October 30, 2018 by chemiclord

In a post made just a few days ago, I made the comment that gamers were part of the reason why the financial environment of games it so terrible.  And I want to expand on that, because just that throwaway sentence in and of itself comes across as a bit unfair.

Jim Sterling (I guess you could call him a gaming pundit) has an excellent video on the topic of game cover prices.  You should watch it if you haven’t already, because it offers a lot of good counterpoints and context for what I’m going off about here.


First, what is he correct about? He’s absolutely right that adjusting the cover price of games won’t stop the predatory practices “AAA” publishers do now.  The toothpaste is already out of the tube, and there’s no getting it back in.

He’s also correct that worrying about major “AAA” titles going the way of mobile pricing is too little, too late.  We’re by and large already there.

But I also think he makes the same sort of mistake most pundits of most disciplines make; focusing too heavily on the top and the bottom of the food chain, and wind up ignoring the middle.

Right now, independent studios have one of two choices; either they stick to budget “retro-styled” titles that require little development costs, or they sell their souls to a major publisher.  You don’t hear more and more tales of big publishers buying studios whole hog because these studios want to be wage slaves to a big soulless corporate entity… it’s because unless they want to keep making titles that look like they came out of RPG Maker, they have to.

The independent studio is basically extinct at this point because it simply isn’t financially solvent to be in operation… and a large part of that is because a $60 price point for a modern styled game that doesn’t have huge financial backing is too massive a risk for any potential indie studio to make.

The profit margin for the sort of game Sterling wants is so paper thin that one title that doesn’t sell like gangbusters means that studio is dead.  Good luck finding too many people willing to take that chance.

There’s no salvaging AAA publishers at this point, and we really need to stop trying to shame them into doing the right thing.  If we want the sort of deep, immersive titles of old, we’re going to need to be willing to pay more for them.  That’s where the games we remember could potentially be found… but if we don’t show the willingness to support those attempts by putting more up front, the studios that might be willing to take that chance aren’t going to.

And that is something we have stubbornly and petulantly refused to do for nearly two decades at this point.  Then we wonder and complain why things keep getting worse.

Gamers are What’s Wrong with Gaming

Posted in Grumblings with tags , , , , on October 27, 2018 by chemiclord

I want to say this first; I would, by the colloquial definition of the term, be a “gamer” myself.  So as I unload here, I do so knowing that I am a part and contributor to this environment.

I write this in the aftermath of the revelations of extreme “crunch” (for the non-gamers among my readers, it’s overtime in the same way that Hafthor Bjornsson is a weight-lifter) at Rockstar Games as they pushed to make the publishing deadline for their latest title, Red Dead Redemption 2.

Now, the extreme levels of crunch that R* demanded of its developers earned itself a great deal of flack and scorn from a broad swath of gamers… who then promptly rushed out on release day and rewarded the company for the abuse of their developers by buying the game “Day 1” by the truckload.

Because publishers know that gamers’ words of support for developers are emptier than John Stumpf’s soul.  Publishers will continue to abuse their developers without any real concern of reprisal because they know damn well by now that given the choice between actually supporting developers, or beating them like mules to get their games five months earlier, that gamers would crack that whip themselves if they had the opportunity.

Because gamers are what’s wrong with gaming.  We are the Patient Zero of all of the industry’s problems.  Every single terrible, predatory, abusive behavior on the part of publishers and studio management can be directly Point A to Point B traced to some shitty behavior or actions on the part of the industry’s consumers.

Publishers impose crunch because they know the absolute biggest sin for gamers is to delay a title.  Hell, we live in a society where a reporter got threatened because he reported a potential delay.  That dude was only the fuckin’ messenger.  What do ya think happens to developers of a delayed game?

And before that, what was the big source of outrage before Rockstar’s “crunch” controversy?  Lootboxes and other microtransactions bilking us of our money.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  It is predatory bullshit.  It is disgusting how much money they are making basically selling the equivalent of e-lottery tickets that you (mostly) can’t actually get any monetary winnings on.

But at the end of the day, this mess is the direct result of gamers repeatedly losing their shit every single time the industry tried to raise cover prices, and as such publishers decided they needed to get creative to get the profits they were looking for.  And now that they are making more money than half of the world’s nations, suddenly they don’t need to raise prices.

Good job, us.  All because we couldn’t accept that $60 in 1990 wasn’t the same as $60 in 2010.  We sure showed them!

Hell, we are a community so entitled that we have people comfortable enough to suggest without irony that laid-off developers for a studio that wasn’t even going to honor the contracts they had with those employees should work for fucking free to finish the game.

And don’t even get me started on the culture of toxicity that makes gaming or game developing as a woman such a unique hell that Dante Alighieri, if he were still alive, would have felt compelled to wedge it somewhere between his sixth and seventh circle.

And yes, I’m sure that these latter examples are all “minorities” of the community.  But ya know what isn’t?  The millions upon millions of people who despite knowing about people being worked up to “100 hours” for months on end still said, “But… my games…” and made Rockstar’s management a whole ton of bonuses.

Because we are the problem, and I’m kinda tired of hearing us claim we care about solutions.

On Elizabeth Warren’s Problem…

Posted in Grumblings with tags , , on October 19, 2018 by chemiclord

Apologies for (once again) going political, but fuck it.  Here we go.

Senator Elizabeth Warren has a problem.  But not the one that mainstream media seems to be pushing.

It’s not that she lowered herself to Donald Trump’s level.  I think we’ve seen this story play out enough times that we should know there’s no smart play when Donald Trump decides to target you.  Like any elementary school bully, he’ll do whatever the hell he wants, and punch you in the crotch regardless of your response.  So, I’m not going to snarl and criticize that she didn’t pick the correct losing scenario.

It’s not that she invited a whole new round of racism on Native Americans.  Big business was building pipelines through their watersheds and big government was disenfranchising their votes and voices long before Senator Warren decided to declare she had a six to ten generations removed Native American ancestor.  And those things are going to keep happening long after she’s being lowered into the earth.

She is not responsible for the shit behavior of people looking for an excuse to be shit.  That’s just more blaming the victim crap that we aren’t supposed to be doing anymore.

But Senator Warren does have a problem.  And it’s one that she shares with a ton of families of predominately European descent, from sea to shining sea.

I’m sure every single person knows a family that claims to have some sort of Native American blood.  Hell, the overwhelming likelihood is that it’s their family.  Those stories are spread throughout said family like it some sort of mystic shaman ancestry where we could grow up to have magical powers that stem from our mysterious heritage.

We regard that real or imagined ancestry with some sort of awe that is patently ridiculous.  It’s not special.  It’s not a sign that we are somehow more sophisticated than our plain white brethren.  It’s not something to revere or speak of in hushed tones like it would somehow scandalize us to our neighbors.

And it certainly isn’t something you should be talking up by the time you’re in college, whether you tried to gain advantages from it or not.

On James Gunn…

Posted in Grumblings on August 1, 2018 by chemiclord

For anyone who is not familiar with who James Gunn is, he is an admittedly talented director responsible most recently for the very popular “Guardians of the Galaxy” series.  Recently, he was fired from that job after a handful of alt-right pundits with an axe to grind dug up decades old comments and tweets that were obviously terrible jokes and made such a huge fuss about them that Marvel’s parent company Disney couldn’t ignore them.

Recently, an on-line petition has arisen asking Disney to rehire him (which I’ll signal boost here).

But I personally will not sign it.

Why?  Because this is my personal protest against the Court of Public Opinion.

When we decided as a society that it was okay to dig up thoughts and expressions from decades past and that they were fair grounds for public shaming and job terminations, we should have considered the consequences of that.  We should have known that it was going to come back around and bite us in the ass.  We should have anticipated that it wasn’t just going to be “the enemy” that had skeletons in their closet, and had done or said some shitty, awful things in their past.

Hell, twenty-five years ago, I was a white teenage boy in the rural Midwest.  We now call that “Trump Country.”  I distinctly remember laughing at someone making a Nazi salute in a high school cafeteria.  I threw around “boy” and “son” towards the few minority people in the school like I was giving out Pez pieces.  And while I can’t remember a specific instance, I am 100% certain I dropped the n-word.  There’s simply no way in hell I didn’t.

And I have absolutely no doubt that if I ever get any sort of significant acclaim that it’ll all be thrown back in my face.  I’ve accepted that in advance.

When we went after Milo Yiannopoulos for comments about pedophilia being not all that bad some odd fifteen years back, when we tried to drag Trump about the Access Hollywood tape from even further back as if it was in any way relevant to the here and now… we opened the door for ourselves to be attacked in the exact same way.

That we apparently didn’t see it coming is the hilarious part.  And even more hilarious is that we didn’t even need to load that weapon and fire it.  Why the hell should we feel compelled to drag people for what they said fifteen years ago, when we can be dragging them for what they said fifteen minutes ago?

Sorry, Mr. Gunn, but you’re collateral damage in our society’s rush to outrage, and the bloodthirsty desire of the Court of Public Opinion to convict for any reason without any statute of limitations.

Maybe we’ll be smarter about this in the future, but I sincerely doubt it.


The Canterbury Traveler

Posted in Grumblings on July 18, 2018 by chemiclord

It’s not terribly often that a video game allows me to dip into my English Lit studies so blatantly, but Octopath Traveler for the Nintendo Switch isn’t your typical video game.

Square-Enix quite proudly declares that Octopath Traveler harkens back to the days of “old school RPGs,” and it indeed does that, both good and ill.  From the heavy grind elements, to the heavily padded play time created by the necessary grind, to the somewhat disjointed narrative elements, to the endless excuses the game presents to make you do anything but what you’re supposed to be doing… there’s a lot of things that modern games tend to not do, and for good reason.

Old-school RPGs generally did not respect a player’s time, and neither does Octopath Traveler.  Be prepared to either spend several days in deep marathon sessions, or be willing to spend months just taking it in piece by piece (and hope to remember just what you were trying to accomplish between sessions).

That said, there is definitely some good elements of old-school RPGs that I was happy to see again.  In many ways, the RPGs of those ol’ times were almost as much puzzle solvers as they were adventures.  Octopath Traveler brings that back in spades with a depth of turn-based combat I have not seen too many times before, if ever.  There is a delight of accomplishment in putting together a chain of attacks that completely turn the tide of battle that you really can’t do in the active time or hybrid combat that modern RPGs prefer to utilize.

The sprite artwork of the characters and environments doesn’t always mesh perfectly with the more modern particle and lighting effects the game uses, and if you’re prone to motion sickness, you might find the very obvious focus line as the scene shifts from foreground to background extremely jarring.  But said effects are breathtaking, especially in combat.

But honestly, the best analogy I could think of to describe Octopath Traveler is a Middle English long-form poem by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Much like the pilgrims in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the various stories of Octopath Traveler don’t overlap, and in fact have little to nothing to do with each other.  On one hand, having a game’s narrative that doesn’t have some central, puppet master type antagonist is a fairly novel one, and creates an illusion of a very big world, one in which no singular person could hope to wholly influence.

On the other hand, only the protagonist of any given story chapter will interact in said story (the other members of your party completely vanish outside of combat).  It can be jarring to suddenly lose those you had been fighting alongside up until that narrative step.  In fact, interactions between party members are restricted to occasional events in various pubs, and it feels like a tremendous missed opportunity to create a much more engaging narrative.

As a result, Octopath Traveler feels unfinished in a way, much like the poem that Chaucer was unable to complete.  It feels like there was so much more that could have been done to turn what is a very good RPG into a great one.

How much you enjoy Octopath Traveler will depend entirely on how much your enjoyment of “old school RPGs” is tainted by the rose colored glasses of nostalgia.  You’ll either be delighted by all the things that have slowly vanished from the genre… or be reminded why games aren’t really made this way anymore.

On the Role of Journalism…

Posted in Grumblings on July 12, 2018 by chemiclord

Between President Donald Trump’s “fake news” and the media’s constant hand wringing about the president’s “War on Journalism,” it really does feel like the people reporting the news have become as much of the story as the news itself.

As much as I am loathe to say that President Trump is right about anything, perhaps he has stumbled unwittingly on a very good point.

What good is professional journalism at this point?  What is it actually doing right now that isn’t already being done by less professional outlets for less cost and much more effectively?

I know the obvious answer is that the people are so poorly informed nowadays, but is that really true?  Or, I should say, are people really any more poorly informed than they ever have been?

Are the crazy conspiracy theorist, or the hate-filled ranting nutjob, or the inflexibly entrenched partisan really new things?  I’d say not really.  I think every single person can’t even count the number of horribly informed people they know using both hands and their toes, and that number probably really hasn’t particularly increased or decreased over the years.  Hell, the people you’re thinking of right now are probably even the same people you’d be thinking of twenty years ago.

Like with most things that are getting “worse” in our society, I’d contend that the only thing that’s really changed is how visible these terrible things in our society are.  Poorly informed people only seem worse now because there are so many more ways they can show their ass to the world than there used to be.

Mass media is failing not because people no longer care about the news.  It’s because the public no longer needs to pay someone (or serve as a receiver of advertising) to craft a slant, story, or opinion.  There are hundreds of “amateur” journalists or bloggers or newsgroup posters that are giving them the exact same level of “quality” but refined even further to hit the talking points they want to hear for a lot less time and/or monetary investment.

We no longer need journalists to tell a “story.”  Why go to Fox News at certain times of the day, when you can hit up The Blaze or The Raw Story or Breitbart at your leisure?  Why hit up The Guardian‘s website and be begged for money when you can get the same talking points (and get largely the same amount of garbage comments) just by following the right people on Twitter?

Now, with that said, I think journalists do potentially have a vital use… they just have to be willing to actually do it.

Journalists, in many ways, are the first responders of the media.  They have the quickest access to the actual facts of what has happened.  They have the most direct connection to the people who are actually responsible for the events we hear about.

We don’t need stories.  We need facts, and journalists remain our best and most effective way to get them.