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Donating my Xbox (plus.google.com)
228 points by ecaradec on Apr 7, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 123 comments

IMHO his article was a good read. I even fell for the Spry Fox thing and actually visited his website.

Judging by the colorful first page of the site, his games seem cool and fun... Want to see them... I click PLAY, with a Sunday morning expectation of something interesting coming up.


A f*ing Facebook login screen. I am not a Facebook user. Never will be. Too bad. I look again at his web page with a sense of loss. _His_ loss of my attention.

Back to my Sunday morning coffee, on to the next article in HN.

I was similarly disappointed, but dug out an android device and installed something town for free. it was quite interesting - based on the mechanic where changing one square in a grid affects the state of neighbours.

Triple Town. It's great though it's freemium (150 turns/day limit).

You can play Panda Poet anonymously or with a google account. Supports almost any html5-ish browser with no plugins. I am the dev. http://game.pandapoet.com/

One of the games do not require login: Leap Day. http://leapdaygame.com

(Disclaimer: I worked on that game)

A black screen that says nothing but "Unity Web Player Install Now!" might as well be a facebook login screen to me, I'm afraid.

I sympathize a lot with what was written. I grew up on the Nintendo consoles (my father got an NES from my mom for their first anniversary, which was less than a year before I was born). I really enjoyed playing games straight through my N64 I had as a young teen. But games after that lost a lot of appeal.

At the time I thought it was because I was growing up and just wasn't into it any more. Sure, I used to think spending hours playing Super Mario RPG, Diddy Kong Racing, Banjo Kazooie, or Megaman X was a fun afternoon. Maybe I just grew up.

But there have been a few games that have come out since that I have really, truly enjoyed. Games like Psychonauts, Portal, Pikmin, and maybe a few other non-P games (e.g., Twilight Princess which is a half-P). Increasingly I have begun to feel like I didn't stop loving games, the games I loved just didn't exist anymore or were too hard to find.

I like using a controller. I like playing something I laugh at. I like playing something that stitches together a few basic motions/controls in complex ways to challenge me. I like playing games that are fun with friends or fun for friends to watch you play.

So for now, I mostly try and keep an eye on indie games that are cheap on Steam that work well with an Xbox 360 controller (which is really quite nice) on my Mac Mini. Occasionally I come across something fun and well done. But whereas I could rattle off 50 games I would love to play with my kids one day that I consider "classic", almost none of them were created post-Xbox. That's a shame.

You migh enjoy Braid. It lets you walk, jump and rewind time. Very simple, very very complex.

Braid is amazing. You progress by finishing levels, and collecting puzzle pieces of a picture for each "world" -- and all seem to be snapshots of a part of a man's life and relationship with a woman. Curiosity drove me on, and at the end I found out that it wasn't at all about what I thought it was about. The game is beautiful, engaging, challenging.

Check out Bastion, Recettear, and Magicka. All three are unique in their own ways, and are great experiences. Based on the things you've enjoyed, you might like them, as well.

Bastion's easily the best of those three, and while the gameplay is relatively simple, the narration style is something to be cherished. It's beautifully done, and is great fun to watch.

Recettear is an odd entry - it's a game about being an item shop owner in a cliche JRPG. It sounds stupid, but it's ridiculously engaging, and the writing it genuinely funny.

Magicka is kind of like combining a combo-driven fighting game with an old-school game like Gauntlet. It's very clever, and is likewise very funny.

This is an odd post in that almost nothing rings true to me. The PC much more than the console was all about keyboard mashing.

And post Kinect launch MS seems even less about hardcore gaming.

We don't even need to spend billions to get people to play them.

What does that even mean considering I've never heard of them?

I'm not a games developer, but I can relate to what Daniel wrote about game forms, after playing Bioshock Infinite.

I love the game, but I did so mostly for elements of the design and story, rather than the game play. That it was an FPS connecting the story rather than a puzzle game, for example, was almost incidental to my enjoyment of it, and given the story, I think a series of Myst-style puzzles would have been a better fit.

Wouldn't have sold nearly as well, of course, and there's the rub.

The reason I am not going to buy Bioshock Infinite is precisely because it seems like a pretty mediocre FPS, married to an interesting narrative and/or exploration game.

Don't get me wrong, I love FPS shooters. So when I want to play one, I want it to be good.

I also enjoy exploration games, and from what I have seen of Bioshock Infinite (I watched the ending and playthroughs on Youtube), it seems like it would have made for a great Myst style game. If anything the gameplay looks like the weakest part of Bioshock Infinite.

I actually thing Irrational missed a big opportunity by making the game a FPS. Wasn't Myst a big commercial success back in the day? Wouldn't they have been able to appeal to a wider audience if they had tied the narrative to a something other than a FPS?

For what it's worth, I'm generally indifferent to the FPS genre, play them very badly, and still managed to gulp down this game in four evenings (on the least challenging setting). Approached this way, the gameplay simply becomes part of the emotional texture of the narrative.

Of course, a FPS connoisseur might find that their more refined knowledge of what makes a good game of that type breaks their immersion, in the way that (some) lovers of classical music find that they can't enjoy (some) popular music.

Bioshock Infinite does have exploration elements, you can hunt around for recordings and other evidence that reveal more about the background of what's going on. Oddly enough, for me, rushing in guns blazing seemed more in character, as opposed to carefully checking behind a store counter, seeing if there is something more I could learn.

Eh, there's a history behind the franchise. It's not like Irrational started out with a story and turned it into an FPS.


This is exactly why I'm not in a rush to play this game. I will at some point try it but the first Bioshock lacked so much feeling and the gunfights were so boring that I'm really not into this new episode.

I'm still glad that they use a First-Person perspective because I strongly believe that it's the best way to get immersed in a game.

You do know that Booker's brutal violence is an important plot point, righty? It wouldn't have worked as a puzzle game. You are supposed to dislike the brutality of it.

I hear what he's saying, but I find it ironic that his current gig is making freemium games for mobile, which I believe is a far more damaging trend than FPS games like Halo ever could be.

Knock Bioshock Infinite for delivering dollops of voice-acted plot progression along with explosions, headshots, and the like, but at least it doesn't require me to pay a buck-ninety-nine to buy the coins to buy the lockpick to unlock a door. (or wait 12 hours for my city to produce enough coins to buy the lockpick. Whatever.)

I totally understand him, as I am also "that kind of gamer". I don't have a taste for FPS and I've never owned a console. I play mostly on iOS devices, and before that, Flash games on the PC.

But let's not forget that those games are HIGHLY successful, and it clearly seems that there is a huge market for those. I am not surprised that some game companies (MS among them) treat those games like "the only true way". Fortunately, it looks like the gaming industry is expanding and other alternative games are also being created and are easily accessible... Probably the game industry will be more diverse and fragmented as a result, which is great for gamers with not a taste for blockbusters... But while enough people like to play violent FPS, the games are going to stay...

When I was a kid I hated the Xbox, hated Halo, and hated how it seemed to create a new model for playing games. It was released when I was in middle school, and I remember there being a sudden and abrupt shift in what kind of gaming mentality there was.

Prior to the Xbox, console games were largely focused on lush, whimsical landscapes with mechanics that required some puzzling to figure out. At least, the games that kids played, anyway; I know Unreal Tournament and Doom and Quake were big, but looking back I think those games all had a whimsy to them as well. The arsenal in Unreal is way sillier than anything Halo's ever had to offer (even Halo's energy sword seems kind of rote). And the major titles on the N64 and Playstation and Dreamcast were titles like Mario and Sonic and Crash Bandicoot – colorful worlds, puzzles often based on platforming. Developers like Nintendo and Rare had a knack for creating controls and visuals that seem to reward you for getting into them, so that even Rare's Goldeneye 007 felt like an utterly silly game. (Proximity mine in the toilet!)

When Halo came out, it was immediately apparent that this was Microsoft's grand new vision of gaming – "realistic" graphics, self-seriousness, achievements, and an ugly competitive edge. My memories of Halo are almost all multiplayer, obviously: generally, six kids sitting by a machine, two of them unhappy because they sucked and consequently were cycled out every other game, meaning they didn't get practice time either. The local teen center turned into a place where a bunch of bro-types would hook up their Xboxes and play each other all night, screaming at one another between rooms. The TV that was used for movies got co-opted into another Xbox resource, so eventually the whole place became a Halo pit. And online Halo (which started with 2, if I recall correctly) changed the dynamic yet again, in a way that's familiar to all of us: kids cussing at one another, players generally acting like little shits.

Some of that all would have happened without Microsoft's "Xbox is a manly console for men" marketing push. But you can absolutely look back and say that Microsoft influenced developers in a bad way. Sony made a push to "cut Microsoft off" with titles like God of War, which are similarly quote-unquote epic. Halo opened the door for Tom Clancy games, Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed, on and on. A number of older game developers decided, when they made the change from 2D to 3D, to pursue a similarly "gritty" realism. Now there's a gaming culture wherein genres are solidly defined and there's excruciatingly little variation between game mechanics, visual style, or design mentality, at least in the AAAs. And it's because of how relentlessly Microsoft pushed to divide the market.

The old designers either shifted their styles along with this, or they ran out of steam. Sega hasn't made a good game in over a decade – I won't even blame that on their pursuing a "mature and edgy" vibe with the Sonic franchise, though they seem to think that's what gamers want. They just ran out of ideas for where to take Sonic. Rare had a couple of late-era successes, mostly Viva Pińata, but the only thing they've done in five years is Kinect Sports games. And Nintendo? They still stick to their old style, but this many years on Nintendo's flaws as a game developer are showing. Aspects of their games which were totally forgivable when they were building for N64 or even Gamecube are starting to feel like irritatingly deliberate decisions on their part now. And you know what? That would be okay if Nintendo didn't sometimes feel like the only company still pushing that particular aesthetic. If they were one company among many, it wouldn't matter so much, but they're singlehandedly trying to push against the currents of every other game developer on the planet, and it's increasingly becoming clear that they're just not good enough to carry that all by themselves.

Obviously, this is a view of just a limited slice of gamer culture. Indie games absolutely borrow from the old-school design mentality more than they do from the Halo mindset; I've seen more whimsy and fun in a single Humble Indie Bundle than I've seen appear on the Xbox 360 since its release. Even there, though, you can feel the influence somewhat, and it's spoiled some games that I really wish I could have enjoyed (namely Bastion). And you do have both occasional lighthearted breakouts (Katamari Damacy) and games that use the self-serious mentality to incredible effect (Demon's Souls). This is a fad which will pass with time, though I'm not so pleased at the thought that our next big wave of developers are the ones developing for mobile and Facebook. Angry Birds and Farmville are not a fun influence. But that's just the way it goes. There'll always be good stuff if you know how to hunt for it. I just miss the fact that for a decade or so, the best games were at the top of the heap or close to it. I don't know if I realized how lucky I was as a kid until that ended. The 90s were a great time to grow up a young gamer.

"When Halo came out"? As opposed to the endless steam of first person shooters that came before it that were even more straightforward, simplistic, and violence-driven?

Blaming Microsoft for this is insane. There is virtually no difference between Wolfenstein and Doom on the one hand, and Halo and Gears of War on the other - except for better graphics. If you think this is a trend of the past decade, then you either weren't a gamer in the '90s, or you are letting nostalgia colour your perceptions.

Wolfenstein and Doom were simple, playful, colorful. Even as game devices became more powerful, there was a playfulness to FPSes that you can see in titles like Perfect Dark and the Unreal series.

One of Halo's major innovations was that it removed the health bar. In a shooter like Doom or Goldeneye, you have let's say 100 HP, and different weapons deal a different amount of damage. It's just like any fighting game with a health bar. Halo replaced that with a shield system, wherein being shot repeatedly wasn't a game-ender if you could get away long enough for shields to recharge. It changes the pacing of the game substantially, especially in multiplayer. The jittery feeling of older games, where every shot counts and you always have to be on the lookout for your opponent, was made both slower (because other players weren't constantly trying to get a shot on you and wear you down) and a bit more mindless (because once you got into a firefight, your only choice was to shoot the other person repeatedly or else there'd be no damage left whatsoever).

This complements the self-seriousness of the Halo games, which absolutely inspired the direction of the next-gen titles. Halo was "grittier" and less silly than previous shooters had been. In Wolfenstein, you were fighting enemies like robo-Hitler. In Doom, the enemies you were up against were inventive, silly, and fun. And the push towards realism was by no means inevitable. Look at Unreal Tournament 2004, which was a touted push towards enhanced graphics and gameplay that took advantage of modern systems, but which remains an utterly comical game. The violence is whimsical and comic; the levels are far more ridiculous than Halo's or Halo 2's. It's a pretty game, as far as that goes, but the prettiness is used for exaggeration rather than for "grit". So obviously that path was not only possible for games, but it led to quite a few very good games over the last decade.

You seem to be missing a whole slew of games here, and most importantly, you don't seem to understand just how gritty, dark, and realistic Wolfenstein was for its time.

You cherry-pick robo-Hitler in order to paint Wolfenstein as a fun and happy game - but the fact of the matter is that when it was released, it was the most realistic game ever made (give or take), in which you killed nazis. Nothing but nazis. In a first-person perspective, in a dark and gritty environment, in what was seen as very realistic. The policor backlash to the game's realism and grittiness - and the nazi-aspect - was huge. Wolfenstein was far, far more realistic and gritty than Halo has ever been, when put in historical perspective.

Then there's the fact that other realistic console shooters existed long before Halo came out. Take Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark for the N64, for instance. Two highly-realistic first person shooters, accompanied by successful multiplayer elements. Or Medal of Honor for the PS1. On the PC, too - take Rise of the Triad, one of the most violent games I can think of. Its multiplayer was simplistic, straightforward, and incredibly violent and gory.

I know it's all the rage to talk down on console gaming and games like Halo in particular, but the fact of the matter is that this kind of gaming didn't start with Halo, and had been around for a long, long time before it. Games like this have always existed alongside deeper and richer games, and that's a good thing - I like more intelligent and rewarding experiences, but after a long day or a stressful week, I just want to get some friends together and shoot zombies in Left 4 Dead 1/2 - just as I don't want every movie I see to be Philadelphia. Sometimes, I just want Armageddon or Die Hard, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Not to mention Doom was not at all "simple, playful, and colorful". Running around through Hell with dismembered corpses on spikes being chased but gruesome demons was frightening in the early '90s. Maybe it was just cause I was 10 at the time :)

I think you've got some serious nostalgia going on there. I agre with the other posters - Wolfenstein and Doom were considered shockingly violent at the time of their release. Before Wolfenstein there were no high-speed 3d shooters; 3d was mostly the preserve of adventure and maze-solving games, or required settling for vector graphics. It looks silly and fun now because it's so primitivebut at the time it was startling.

Doom was also fun, but I don't think of it as playful or silly. it was horrific and scary, because it set the standard for realism back in its day - of course the monsters were unreal, but nobody had ever seen such a detailed or fluid-feeling environment before. And gameplay-wise, both Wolfenstein and Doom were largely blast-and-hope type games, because the AI wasn't very sophisticated and sniping/stealthing your way through was generally not an option.

When I think of playful and silly from that era, I think of early Duke Nukem and Rise of the Triad, which started out as a serious game but rapidly went into silly territory with unlikely weapons, wildly unrealistic platform mechanics (giant trampolines) and wacky pickups (magic mushrooms that caused on-screen 'hallucinations'), and practically encouraged the player to cheat (god mode etc.) for the giggle value. Incidentally, there's a ROTT reissue in the works: http://riseofthetriad.net/web/app.php/features/

Just a minor nitpick, but Halo did have a health bar. It was Halo 2 that removed it. Bungie briefly brought it bak in Halo ODST (which was why my friends and I loved its firefight the best).

Halo 2 wasn't the first game to remove the health bar either, Red Faction 2 had an almost identical vitality system to Halo's shields.

If you think FPS's with shields Halo-style are slow, you've never played a modern Call of Duty. If anything, this unrealistic choice made it much faster and funnier, since no one needed to hunt for medkits again; it also gave players a realistic choice for hiding in cover, or doing anything else at all. With health bars, it's shoot back or die.

If you think Halo was gritty and serious, you've never played Halo. Grunts are some funny bastards. Multiplayer with vehicles and rocket launchers is damn silly.

Also, complaining about the "excessive competitiveness" of Halo (of all games), compared to that of, say, Counter Strike or damn fucking Quake 3, is pretty fucking disingenuous. Harvest Moon is more suitable to competitive play than Halo.

The game Soldier of Fortune (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soldier_of_Fortune_(video_game)) was pretty serious, and it came one year before Halo.

I also think you might be missing quite a lot of games you did not know.

I used to feel terrified when I played Wolfenstein as a kid, definitely not simply playful.

The original Halo had a health bar.

>Wolfenstein and Doom were simple, playful, colorful.

You were in middle school when Halo came out, so I can be fairly certain you were too young to remember Wolfenstein and Doom being released. And you're completely wrong. Those games were not simple and playful and colorful. They were gory, and violent, and brutal and complex. I had to play them when my parents weren't paying attention because of the excessive gore and satanic overtones. Doom was not some simple little game, it introduced the concept of circle strafing and multi-level enemies in FPS.

>The jittery feeling of older games, where every shot counts and you always have to be on the lookout for your opponent

Ha, really? Quake introduced the term run-and-gun. You didn't make every shot count, you just fired a barrage of rockets and bullets all towards your enemies.

>Halo was "grittier" and less silly than previous shooters had been

Yeah, demons from hell with miniguns for arms and blood dripping off their fangs are super silly. And the those Covenant grunts run around comically when you throw a sticky grenade to them... so gritty.

I totally agree with you.

I think the OPs objections is that older games don't look grittier, but these days they don't because it's hard to look past just how bad the graphics are by todays standards. However back when they were released, Wolf3d and Doom had my heart racing and even made me jump -frequently- because picking up a red key opened a secret room filled with hell demon. Doom and Doom 2 were terrifying at times.

Then you have games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill and even (albeit to a less extent) System Shock 2 which all predate the Xbox and were all pretty scary.

As much as I hate to bring age into the debate, I think the OP is too young to remember or too young to buy such games.

You know what, it's totally possible! I've studied games from a critical perspective, but never a historical one; while my criticisms of Xbox's marketing make sense from the games that I know, it may be that I have completely misinterpreted what the games that game before it were like. Age is a factor when we're talking about the change of games over time.

I still think that there's been an unfortunate shift in games over the last decade or so, and that Halo exists along the spectrum of that shift. This guy's essay made a lot of sense in the context of what criticisms I have of games in general, but I might be giving it more credit than it's worth. Sorry for being so annoyingly wrong about things; I'll try to understand this better for future discussions!

I may be wrong, but I think the parent's point is that nitty gritty realism/brutal/gory/violent games were niche before the advent of halo/xbox.

What would really be helpful is a sales chart for FPS games between 1990 and present, but I'm not sure where we could go to obtain such information. I suspect that there would be a burst in the popularity in FPS games from niche to mainstream status around the release of either halo, counterstrike, call of duty 4, or one of the quakes, but I'm not sure which one.

Halo (and really, Rare's FPS platform) brought the FPS niche from PC+keyboard+mouse to console and controller. This introduced casual gamers to the world of the hardcore competitive nature of Doom/Quake/Unreal Tournament, a multiplayer environment where winning meant shooting your friend in the face.

You didn't have to maintain a massive gaming rig or be committed to computing in order to get into FPS now. All you needed was an xbox.

That signals the divide. What PC games were cute in the 90s? If one removes the 'educational' ones like treasure <x>, it's always been one of grittiness and machismo. Halo bridged the gap and let that scheme flow into consoles. And its clear that it is more successful with the consumer.

> Halo (and really, Rare's FPS platform) brought the FPS niche from PC+keyboard+mouse to console and controller. This introduced casual gamers to the world of the hardcore competitive nature of Doom/Quake/Unreal Tournament, a multiplayer environment where winning meant shooting your friend in the face. You didn't have to maintain a massive gaming rig or be committed to computing in order to get into FPS now. All you needed was an xbox.

Quake III was released on the Dreamcast. Duke Nukem 3D was released on the Saturn and Playstation. Doom was released on the Megadrive/Genesis. Halo wasn't the first FPS to be released on the console. Not by a long shot.

I certainly agree that those games appeared earlier on the timeline. But Halo/Rare FPSs were the first to be outstandingly successful in their control and playability scheme. The console versions of those games you list were hampered by their platforms and would all likely be considered less playable than their PC counterparts. Thus the genre could not break in as it could with Goldeneye or Halo.

What PC games were cute in the 90s?

Well, Theme Hospital and Grim Fandango were pretty funny, but I can't remember any others.

Westwood Studios' Legend of Kyrandia series arguably although it's themes were somewhat darker, the overall style was definitely more light-hearted than today's visceral FPS.

Even before the Quakes you had Duke Nukem 3D, Wolfenstine, Doom I and II. Then you have the dozens of games that used Doom's engine (Hexen and Heretic being the big two that I remember, but there were others).

In fact a quick scan on Wikipedia shows up dozens of FPS games that predate even Quake I: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_first-person_shooter_en...

The reason why FPS might seem more popular now is likely just because graphics have advanced so much that it's hard for big game studios to justify releasing a 2D platformer. And you see this with all of the old third person 2D games that have been updated to 3D (Sonic Adventure and later games, Mario 64 / Super Mario Galaxies, Zelda, Final Fantasy, etc).

to remember Wolfenstein and Doom being released. And you're completely wrong. Those games were not simple and playful and colorful. They were gory, and violent, and brutal and complex. I had to play them when my parents weren't paying attention because of the excessive gore and satanic overtones.

I was early 20's when Wolf 3D came out. It was shockingly graphic, but like everyone else at work I played it all the way through.

Doom on the other hand... just too gory and satanic. No thanks.

Fast forward to the present, I've played all the Halos. They're completely mainstream and not very gory.

Currently playing Borderlands 2. I dislike the constant theme of sadism and torture, but it's fun game and I manage to get past it.

I bought an Xbox magazine the other day. Literally 80%+ of the games involved shooting rotting-corpse zombies. I really don't get why people like that stuff.

Given he was a kid when Halo came out, I doubt he was born when Wolfstein was all the rage for PC gamers.

Yeah, violent games and shooters have been around well before Halo. It just brought shooters to the consoles. God forbid other "bro types" enjoy games too. There's plenty of other inventive, creative games out there if that's your thing too.

> God forbid other "bro types" enjoy games too.

Being a bro isn't, like, something you're born into. It's a certain mentality, a certain way of approaching the world. And while I like many facets of bro-dom, and enjoy the hell out of sitting down for some Smash with a couple of friends and a six-pack of Yuengling, there are some bothersome things about bro culture which that particular category of game emphasizes.

I mean, I'm critical of the FPS as a genre to some extent. It's fun as hell, but the nature of how the genre's set up has given it some kind of crappy limitations that no game I know of yet has managed to overcome. Even the best ones, like the Half-Life franchise, are limited in ways that bother me. I'm also not super fond of hardcore gaming: it's cool to watch from afar, but it's not an especially inclusive culture, and I fear that games like Starcraft and League of Legends help to scare away a broader variety of players. I'm not trying to say that gaming was perfect before Halo came out; I do think, however, that Halo helped to push a wave of bright designers in some shitty directions, and that game design has suffered as a result.

I'm critical of "games that attract waves of bros", if the bros seem to be the majority of person attracted to a game, in the same way that I'm critical of movies that attract that sort of person. Adam Sandler movies, for instance. I'm not saying everybody who likes Adam Sandler is a bad person, but I do feel that Sandler movies are kind of puerile and limited in a way that appeals to a particular type of person, and that, to the extent that they influence other creators, they do some damage to our culture. Adam Sandler's influence on movie-making has been less impactful than Halo's influence on game design, so the mentality described in the OP does bother me somewhat. To hear a guy working at Microsoft say "my company specifically tried to manufacture this kind of experience to reach this kind of audience" pisses me off.

Have you seen Punch-Drunk Love? The thing about that movie is that it takes Sandler's film personality, but abstracts it out from the context of blatant comedy and inserts it into a low-key tragedy, with the skill & taste of an auteur writer/director (Paul Thomas Anderson).

It's quite wonderful, and now I'm thinking about what the equivalent for Halo would be. Maybe a game that brings out the tragic aspects of war -- not just as shocking gore, but as sadness and horror. Maybe a game about a Halo warrior's post-war life, a civil Sim-type game interrupted by disturbing scenes of post-traumatic hallucination & paranoia. Or a game that starts out as a shooter and becomes impossibly difficult, until the player's inevitable death, after which the real game begins, taking place in a Tibetan Buddhism-inspired series of post-death liminal states of terrifying scenes of his past sins.

One of the things that attracted me to the first Halo series was the humanity of the writing. Halo (especially the first one) never glorified violence in the lore of the game. There is much lamenting the horrifying situation that Master Chief finds himself.

This is of course completely lost in multiplayer, but I'm not sure how you can blame bungie for the non-authored parts of the game.

Well, Bungie has some good writers, but the very concept of the game they created is inherently xenophobic. You're pitted against an Other who exists only for you to kill. Eventually, you are allowed to see that this Other is more complex than that, and therefore maybe not worth killing unnecessarily, but now you have a new Other to mindlessly kill, and there's not a whole lot of awareness that there's an irony to the change.

The story of a game is told through gameplay, not through cut scenes in between. The gameplay of Halo is, "kill these things". Not much more complicated than that. The writing can self-pity itself as much as it would like, but the fact remains that Bungie created a game in which there is only one possible course of action, and that is to kill. That multiplayer is such an aggressive shitpile, legendarily so in Halo's case, only goes to show that beneath the facade of "story" in Halo, there is pretty much just "shoot things and feel like a badass for doing so, or else get pissed off that somebody is better at shooting you than you are for them."

Jonathan Blow, who's a brilliant game developer in his own right, gave a lecture in 2008 about exactly this sort of dissonance between storytelling and gameplay. He does a great job pointing out that even the best titles in gaming, like Grand Theft Auto and Half-Life, do a poor job of aligning in-game story with the actual play. It's long, but if this is a subject that interests you, then it's absolutely worth giving a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGTV8qLbBWE. (Whilst studying this subject for my undergraduate thesis, I also took notes on this whole lecture, so if you're feeling lazy I could upload them for you; let me know if you'd like that!)

Punch-Drunk Love is one of my favorite romantic films! Adam Sandler is a damned talented man, don't get me wrong. That's why I'm even more okay with criticizing his more standard fare. The dude can do better.

I think the key to understanding "how to do the FPS better" is that the first-person model doesn't only have to exist for shooting. It's a very potent set-up because it's "virtual", and limits your perceptions to the scope of the character you're controlling. You could make a game that involves guns but is not strictly a shooter, and therefore has the freedom to give you a certain context into what surrounds your actions.

As much as I love Buddhism in my video games, I feel like your idea might feel too preachy to your average player. But how about this for a set-up? The game starts off as a "sports" shooter game – say, paintball, or something of the sort – and you're a person with a couple bucks and a passion for the game. Ultimately, you get to a point where you're up against people with much better equipment than you, and the game becomes almost a test of masochism: how many times will you try before you give up? But there's a whole other world out there, offering you opportunities to make a quick buck. And whether you pick a live of military service or a life of crime, you're put back into a situation with guns, only now the stakes are infinitely higher. There are no second chances.

A game like that could really play with character development, both by looking at the people who serve along with you, and by making enemies something more than faceless soldiers. Give you the impression, perhaps, that the only people fighting these fights are people who don't have the idle money to play paintball all their lives, and that you're being sent to war against yourself, against people who are pretty much just like you. Except that sometimes, you're fighting for the rich people who want more, and sometimes you're fighting as the underdog, against a group of greedy people who are willing to use violence to get what they want.

Of course, if you're looking to avoid that kind of morality, you can always stick to playing paintball. But you're aware of the fact that even there, you haven't quite escaped from the world as thoroughly as you may have liked...

I know nothing about paintball forgive me

> It's quite wonderful, and now I'm thinking about what the equivalent for Halo would be. Maybe a game that brings out the tragic aspects of war -- not just as shocking gore, but as sadness and horror.

Last year's Spec Ops: The Line did a lot of this kind of work, subverting the FPS genre while you play through it. Zero Punctuation's review of it is insightful as usual: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNhPMjbgkXA

> Have you seen Punch-Drunk Love?

People who say "Adam Sandler Movie" usually think of movies produced / written by Adam Sandler.

Really? For me that phrase definitely means "movies starring Adam Sandler". A lot of (most of?) the movies written/produced by Adam Sandler also starred him, but that doesn't exclude other movies. I definitely think of Punch-Drunk Love as an Adam Sandler movie.

I just don't understand what is necessarily wrong with that. You don't enjoy the more competitive culture that games like Halo, COD, or Starcraft invite but that doesn't restrict other games from being made and enjoyed. There are plenty of inspired original games made every year.

I used to love playing Halo 1 over system link with a group of friends but now trying to hop into Halo 4 only to have a bunch of kids cursing at eachother it turns me off from multiplayer. I agree with you in that some of those elements from the hardcore competitive culture are disappointing, but that is just one facet of gaming culture as a whole. I still feel like there's plenty of other good parts that it doesn't bother me.

> I'm also not super fond of hardcore gaming... I fear that games like Starcraft and League of Legends help to scare away a broader variety of players.

What makes you think League of Legends is a hardcore game, particularly compared to Starcraft?

I really don't see it scaring people away from video games; it is one of the few RTS/ARTS games that have gone for mass appeal instead of gratuitous complexity. Honestly, I think it rivals even MMOs like WoW in how friendly it is to new players, which is reflected in how many people have moved from WoW to LoL.

If you think there's virtually no difference except graphics, I'm not convinced that your perceptions are that unclouded either.

Halo and Wolf3D have about the same amounts of 'whimsy' to my recollection.

Halo was a standout because of it brought multiplayer to console, wasn't it the first console game to have 16 players? The coop campaign was also really fun.

Maybe the article-writer thinks that Halo made FPS too mainstream? Unlike Doom/Quake, it was cleaned up enough in a pretty blockbuster-wrapper to make it the new model of gaming to follow?

In 1996, my wife would call my pager Tuesday night because I hadn't come home from the office. We were playing Quake over the Novell on our CAD workstations. It's easier now, but there hasn't been a quantum change.

Saturn Bomberman had 10 players for multiplayer.

I'm not quite sure I follow OPs point. Playstation had a bunch of thoroughly unfun uncute games.

Absolutely. It was the PlayStation that first marketed itself as the system for hardcore gamers.

Genesis does what Nintendon't. Sega was the system for 'hardcore' console gamers of the 90s. Just take a look at this ad: http://www.eidolons-inn.net/segabase/G-32XPromoAd1.jpg

The gaming industry has /always marketed to that crowd, it's not something Microsoft invented.

Tangentially, have you seen bombermine? It's an online bomberman clone that generally has several hundred people playing simultaneously, a ton of fun. Obviously not a console game, but your Saturn Bomberman reference made me think of it.

> Halo was a standout because of it brought multiplayer to console

I must have imagined all those hours spent online with my Dreamcast :p

Halo (well, Bungie) revolutionized the console FPS. Halo had dual analog control (I'm sure there were FPS that had it before Halo, but I don't know what it is). Halo 2 introduced online play with playlists rather than servers (I believe they were the first).

Those are innovations that sparked hundreds (thousands?) of copy cats. Not saying Wolfenstein/Doom didn't have a ton of innovations as well, but I think it's safe to say Halo took things to a completely new level.

What you're lamenting is not the change in gaming, but the passing of your youth. Games aren't less whimsical and more realistic, you are. Childish preoccupations have been replaced by adult concerns and to an extent you mourn that.

That's how I read this too, those whimsical (childish?) games are still around now (don't ask me to list any ... i'm all growed up!).

My son's 17 so let me look through some of his old PS2 games... Kingdom Hearts, Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, Rayman, Tak - I think those all epitomize the type of game you are referencing, you just stopped playing that type of game because you grew out of them. Also, if you'd tried to play those games there would likely be plenty of peer pressure to keep you away, teenage boys are good at peer pressure like that.

My son is almost 17, and I could have made the same list of games I'm nostalgic for. I could be wrong here - I'm not a huge gamer, but I just don't see those types of games available for the Xbox. PS3 and Wii strike me as the platform for whimsical games, and Xbox as the platform for rote FPS's.

I've never been a console gamer so I wasn't really aware of this distinction - though I guess I do have some vague sense of it. I'd just assumed that the big titles were all available on all platforms. However, it appears you're absolutely correct , the games I listed weren't available on Xbox.

Still, speaking to unalone's broader point, maybe he just shouldn't have purchased an Xbox and stuck with one of the other consoles. Those games do exist.

I think the other reason why that change occurred is that the first generation of gamers grew up, had disposable income and were a huge potential market. Xbox was marketed specifically at that group and has been highly successful, but it was expanding the gamer market - it didn't do that by destroying the other genres. This isn't a zero-sum situation.

I guess there are fewer of those games on Xbox, but I bought my wife a Katamari game on that platform.

I was in my 40s before I ever played a console game. I don't think this is an artifact of nostalgia for one's youth. The PS2 was the dominant console before this generation, and it definitely supported a more varied set of games, many of which were whimsical. Same could be said of the PS1, I think (although I only played those long after their heyday).

The games on the XBox, and even more so on the XBox360, have felt like a much narrower nich, heavily aimed at the "Rated M" audience... The PS3 has been a little (but only a little) broader. Nintendo emphasizes another niche but it has definitely been marginalized.

I agree that many of these games migrated from the PC (or expanded to) to the XBox platform, but what's missing, for me, are the alternatives, to the point where I don't plan to buy another XBox. (Not sure I'll buy another PSn, either -- will have to see more than came with this generation.)

Incorrect. Games may not be less whimsical and "magical," but the ones that are are ignored in favor of:

Halo Call of Duty Battlefield Skyrim Assassin's Creed Et cetera...

They're ignored by the hardcore gamers; the same that used to play DOOM and Quake back in the 90s, but there's still plenty of people playing them.

LittleBigPlanet, for example, sold more on the PS3 than multiple Call of Duty editions, GTA IV and others.

And lets not forget mobile games, where Angry Birds rules.

Mobile games are a very different niche, as are flash games. LittleBigPlanet is defintely a counter-example (for PS3), but there aren't too many others.

Katamari, Lego anything, narrative-type games like LA Noire or Heavy Rain, strategy-shooters like Metal Gear, Flow...I could go on. I don't feel like there's a shortage of options; I am not that great at multiplayer shootouts and as I've got older I've become really sick of horror/gore gameplay, so I play very few FPS games any more.

How are mobile games niche? Angry Bird has 1 billion downloads.

He said a 'different niche'.

But I think you a very valid question of if (or when) total computer game playtime will be (already is) so dominated by mobile and browser-based games that PCs and consoles are the actual niches.

If you look at all the major studios that have been wading into mobile and social, it's pretty clear the industry has been thinking about this for a long time now.

This is -- by far -- the most insightful discussion in this entire discussion. The GP post's mistake is the same confusion that leads people to imagine that the quality of music, movies, trends, toys, games, and so on were all at their pinnacle when they were young.

The submitted story sounds like someone working in a place where they shouldn't be, and their laments are other people's celebrations.

Halo (at least the first one) wasn't completely serious. The Covenant often said and did silly things, as did your fellow marines if you shot them. The graphics were also more vibrantly colorful than any game in the Quake series. Microsoft even threw resources at Rooster Teeth for producing Red vs Blue, which is an absolutely silly and hilarious series.

Halo 2 brought some of the best multiplayer I've ever seen on a console. In Halo 3, they added a ranking system that attempted to keep the online experience fun for newbs and veterans alike.

Furthermore, not all modern blockbusters are self-serious. The Borderlands, Portal, and Team Fortress 2 come to mind as shooters that are completely and utterly silly. Gears of War has a little whimsy, too, though perhaps not enough for your tastes -- a chainsaw bayonet on the end of an assault rifle? Whimsy!

I understand your frustrations with modern mass-market gaming, but they're neither Halo's nor Microsoft's fault. This is how capitalism works. Maybe the market shift is temporary, leaving you in a niche for a while until the indie movement becomes large enough to push the "grittily" realistic games out of the way. Or maybe it's permanent, in which case you'll be stuck in the indie niche forever. At least the Xbox Live Arcade has no shortage of whimsical indie games to play.

I wouldn't define Portal as a "shooter"; it's a puzzles game which happens to use a weapon-shaped tool.


Not to negate your main point, but:

> Halo opened the door for Tom Clancy games,

The first Rainbow Six game predated Halo by three years (and the announcement of the XBox itself by two years) and though it started as a PC title, it was released for all the consoles of the time, including the Nintendo 64. You could argue that Tom Clancy games paved the way for Halo.




To be fair though, the games have changed in the Post-Halo world dramatically. The original Rainbow Six was actually our main LAN party game because it was so brutal, slow and tactical. We literally split up teams into different parts of the house with whiteboards to map out stuff. It was awesome.

I think the way to really sum all of this up is this:

"Halo brought PC FPS culture to consoles and into every living room"

Before Halo the same level of vitriolic competitiveness existed, it was just exclusive to the PC gamers playing FPSs. These gamers who were in desperate need of having someone to let out some agression and play "Alph-male" a role many of them didn't get to dabble with during their daily lives.

And that's the thing a lot of people who grew up under this new regime don't realize -- that machismo was pervasive. Among Quake's multiplayer kill messages (found in client.qc) were statements about Player A riding Player B's rocket, Player A being [nailed|brutalized|smeared] by Player B, Player A accepting Player B's [discharge|shaft], etc.

Born in 1992, I felt this way as well. I literally spent months playing Crash Bandicoot when I was 9-13 years old.

When I finally got a computer, I realized I don't like the aesthetic of the newer games at all, and so got into programming without ever finishing a single game on the computer.

There's no such thing as the aesthetic of newer games. Sure, there's a bunch of blockbusters which share a similar aesthetic, but there are (and were) plenty of different games.

The best sellers of 2001 (the year of Halo) were The Sims and Rollercoaster Tycoon; not exactly dark and violent games.

I'm sure now you've heard of the Lucas Arts adventure games, but that's definitely what you should have been playing!

We do not like to discuss it, but a lot of people get a kick out of inflicting harm -- "fucking shit up" in other words -- and some game developers pander to that.

I remember a blog post from the late 90s or early 00s that pointed out that the marketing material (trailer or ad copy) for one FPS bragged about the realism of the gore, e.g., of the blood that spurted from the wound when you shot someone.

True, true. This also applies to most game publishing houses, not just the mothership.

There is a group-think mob mentality that ravenously follows the whims of top management as 'hip' and mere players are referred to as scrubs and considered not worthy to make suggestions or criticize.

Go to any popular MMO forum and criticize any portion of the games supposed backstory, and prepare for the waterfall of developer lead fanboy rage in response.

There are various tropes baked into this culture. All the 'bros' know that universally pet classes must always be second class citizens. Don't overlook how pay to win, and lottery style 'mystery boxes' that asian cultures are so fond of, almost overnight became fixtures in almost every online game now.

The author is making some pretty big generalizations IMO. While I agree there is a culture of gratuitously violent games -- which the market responds positively to -- there are also many incredible games that feature no realistic violence. Fez, Minecraft, LIMBO, and Braid come to mind. I work on the Xbox Platform Team and I feel like we have an accurate representation of the interests of the gaming world (and in fact the non-gaming world -- many people simply don't play games). Maybe things were/are different on the teams actually making games, but my team is very well-rounded. We play FIFA, Spelunky, and Trials Evolution in our down time...obviously the bro-est of games.

I don't think it's just bro types working on Halo, Gears and other FPSes. There was an article (also posted here, I believe) about a woman developer's origin story. http://caitiem.com/2013/03/30/origin-story-becoming-a-game-d... - She worked on Gears and Halo 4.

There's a time and a place for all games - the mindless shoot em ups, or the whimsical indie types. Or the serious Dark Souls types. Or even the cinematic types with a ridiculously large cinematic to gameplay ratio.

I wonder about people exposed to this sort of action from middle school on:

"Filling out the gaps in the 7-12 hours ride are moments of rote game play with all possible feedback knobs tuned to 11. Blood, brains, impact. Innovation is located at 11.2. This makes you feel something visceral."

Having cognitive issues similar to being exposed to porn from this age on. We are starting to read about people who've come forward and said they are unhappy with their sex life and have tied it back to their early porn exposure. I wonder if there isn't a similar effect in recreational activity.

In high school one of my friends was an adrenaline junkie, they were crazy for that feeling of being right on the edge. They satisfied that edge by doing crazy things which could have killed them (sadly eventually it did). But most of my friends weren't affected and while a roller coaster ride was exciting, the lack of adrenaline when hiking didn't ruin hiking for us, or sailing.

So do we have people who can't spend their spare time doing something like reading or walking because it doesn't give them a jolt of adrenaline, like we've had folks say they had troubled being satisfied with "normal" sexual relations ? Any thoughts on how we could test that?

Excessive risk taking could have structural/physiological root causes. http://www.mendeley.com/catalog/impulsivity-risk-taking-beha...

The authors experiences about gaming seem to be dramatizations of fairly common first world teenage problems - which are exaggerated here for advertising.

I'm going to refute this whole post with one word: Kinect

It's funny that in some ways iOS and Android, arguably the most widely used gaming systems atm, actually foster the kind of games he's talking about wanting to make.

There's still the mainstream bro games, but it does seem developers have more of a chance to make a living off their ideas.

> Strategy over button mashing!

That made me think of QTE. We never needed those things, but still they gave it to us. And keeps giving it to us. It's lazy gameplay, it's a "I'm a developer, I have a cutscene and I'm too bored to integrate real gameplay into it".

As always there's balance to be had: done right it gives a sense of urgency and involvement in what would otherwise be another "lean back and watch things happen" cutscene, whereas done wrong it annoyingly interrupts the flow at best. Personal experience: God of War QTEs feel entirely disconnected and over the top, whereas (Square's) Tomb Raider QTEs help in breaking the fourth wall and draws me into the scene.

Zero Punctuation's Tomb Raider review would disagree; not just the QTEs but the increasingly common scenes where 'you have control' but if you don't immediately head in the right direction you'll die. It's not just Tomb Raider, Uncharted is also repeatedly guilty of this.


I was thinking of Tomb Raider when I say it was lazy gameplay.

Agree with lloeki to some extent, but with a different game in mind: the Walking Dead. All of the action sequences are done with QTEs, but they are sprinkled through the game and are pretty varied in style. I think in the context of an otherwise slow-paced adventure game it works pretty well.

My particular pet peeve is not being able to replay a cutscene. "Wait, what did he say, I couldn't hear it." Or the phone rang and I got distracted. And it turns out to be an important plot detail that I missed. Aargh.

I enjoy playing indie games as well as the corporate blockbusters. I'm glad there's a market for both. However, Is it just me, or can anyone else not wait for Battlefield 4!

Has it ever occurred to the OP that maybe the Xbox 360 was such a huge success precisely because of the culture of the employees there?

Was the Xbox 360 really a huge success? It came second or third in sales for its generation of consoles. 75 million units in seven years is a small number compared to mobile devices. Android sold 144 million devices in Q4 2012 alone.

I think the next generation of consoles are going to struggle against cheaper systems like OUYA and tablets.


Wii – 99.38 million as of 31 December 2012

Playstation 3 – (IDC January 2013 estimate: "about 77 million")

Xbox 360 – 75.9 million as of 31 December 2012


> Was the Xbox 360 really a huge success? It came second or third in sales for its generation of consoles. 75 million units in seven years is a small number compared to mobile devices. Android sold 144 million devices in Q4 2012 alone.

Yes it was a huge success. Even though it didn't sell as many consoles as others, its tie ratio flat-out beats[1] both the Wii and the PS3, and that's quite an important metric that's almost never taken into account, but that contributes a great deal to the success of a platform.

[1]. http://www.vgchartz.com/analysis/platform_totals/Tie-Ratio/G...

So 'tie ratio' is basically number of games sold per hardware unit? Interesting. For example, North America seems to buy about 50% more games per unit than Japan, with the exception of the PS1 and (S)NES.

I wonder if/how this affects the projects of different studios? E.g., should we expect games from Japan to tend to have broader appeal?

Why are you comparing consoles to mobile devices? Its apples to oranges. This is like comparing Netflix subscription to Xbox/PS3 consoles sold. People buy mobile devices and get the added benefit of playing games. I don't think there is a majority of people who prioritize games when looking to buy a phone (But I could be wrong).

This is so glorious I almost want to undelete my Google profile to give my first +1 that never happened.


Still, great post with which I sympathise greatly.

I'm happy he went indy. His company seems to be doing well. http://spryfox.com/

I've seen both Triple Town and Steam Birds featured on the App Store. I think both were in the top 10 at one point or another.

so he was working for the company that made the hardware and was shocked to find out that the company was very invested in maximizing the market for their hardware?

Rule #1 of blogging: if you mention your company or service, it should be a link. I don't have hard data, but I think the need for googling "spry fox" (or guessing the url, spryfox.com) lowers the number of people who go on to the OP's site by a full order of magnitude.

Good post otherwise.

It may just be me but I got the feeling that he wasn't posting this in order to draw traffic.

It could be that this wasn't just a marketing effort. Ever thought about that? like, speaking your mind without looking for an immediate reward.

It adds credibility and class to the post though. It keeps the attention on the post's content, and feels less like a random plug.

Eventually, people will develop strong immunities to random plugs, and all marketing will have to be this way- subtle, genuine, real. Can't wait.

This is assuming that this post is primarily marketing rather than a guy who is emotionally invested in both game design and his past getting something off of his chest.

Sure, it acts as self-promotion, but it's cynical to assume that everything that promotes anything was created first and foremost to sell stuff.

just what every g+ post needs. a signature with all the information you've entered into your profile!

Great post and good luck with the new games!

I'm driven by ideals that fit poorly with an industrialized console monoculture: What if games can connect people? What if they can improve the world? What if they bring happiness and joy to our lives?

His company as founded a few minutes ago, 2010 in real years http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spry_Fox . Give it a few more years before the holier than though attitude, who knows what you'll do during the next downturn. See Zynga


It is quite well written and takes 2-3 minutes to read, if you find this piece too long, why are you browsing hacker news in the first place?

Seriously, I'm not sarcastic, I'm curious. Most of articles linked here seem to be longer.

As usual, it is per definition very bad for men (white men) to have something - a club, a community - of their own.

If that's what you're getting from this article, you either have very strange ways of reading the same text I did, or you are a fool.

The entire point of this rant was that the author did not feel welcome in this "club, community" and didn't like what it entails. I can sympathize with that somewhat, and I bet you can too.

well the op seems to like the Kawaii elements but some of the more intense Kawaii stuff can verge on creepy.

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