Archive for April 11th, 2013

Kotaku calls out Quarter to Three for aberrant review scores

, | Games


I was fortunate enough to be part of Jason Schreier’s thoughtfully written and incendiarily titled article on Kotaku, Metacritic Matters: How Review Scores Hurt Videogames. I enjoyed Schreier’s article for the diversity of sources he used, and I’m grateful that he invited me to participate. But I can’t help but wonder that he introduced me as “well-known for aberrant scores”. That’s far more of a statement about the state of videogame criticism than a statement about me. As a reviewer, I believe strongly in two things and I don’t feel either of these things should be “aberrant”: 1) I believe in using the entire range of a ratings system, and 2) I believe in rating games based on my experience with them rather than pretending I have some objective insight into their level of quality. We’re talking about entertainment here, not toasters, cell phones, or automobiles.

Schreier concludes that the system — Metacritic aggregating someone who uses the entire range with someone who doesn’t use the entire range — doesn’t work. I couldn’t disagree more. I would argue that what doesn’t work and what’s hurting videogames is how many reviewers pretend ridiculously towards objective insight measured on a bell curve that spots a game 60 points for just showing up, but deprives them of 100 points for not being perfect.

I’m grateful to be on Metacritic because it’s a fundamental part of the modern conversation about entertainment. People like to gauge the consensus on their entertainment. People like numbers, statistics, math, lists, favorites. It’s part of nearly any hobby. And I’m the same way, as a guy who plays games and as a guy who writes about games. Unlike a lot of writers — Adam Sessler really unloaded on Metacritic in Schreier’s article, implying that it keeps food from game developers’ families — I don’t hate the aggregates. On the contrary, I consult them frequently, and I feel they provide a valuable if sometimes flawed service.

My issue is with the data fed into Metacritic. An aggregate is only as good as its individual components. The system that doesn’t work is the perception that videogame scores are somehow an objective measure of a game’s quality. They aren’t. They’re a measure of how much a reviewer liked a game. Any other perception of a rating is fundamentally broken. It’s not Metacritic’s fault that so many reviews treat videogames like toasters, cell phones, and automobiles.

It’s also not Metacritic’s fault that so many of the larger sites are so cowardly about how they rate games. I don’t believe that what IGN and Game Informer do has to be the norm, any more than I believe that what Fox News or The Daily Sun does is the norm. Big media isn’t the same thing as right media. The solution is for more critics to use the full range of their rating systems, and for readers to recognize that three stars at Quarter to Three isn’t the same thing as a 6.0 at Gamespot, which isn’t the same as a 6 at Eurogamer. Tom Chick is not the same person as Kevin VanOrd, who is not the same person as Tom Bramwell. We have our own perspectives and methodologies, and none of those perspectives or methodologies gets to dictate the norm at Metacritic. That’s the point of an aggregate. It should be a variety of voices pulling in a variety of directions, and not a bunch of non-committal uncritical mumbling huddled under a drab tent pitched between the 70 and the 90. Personally, I feel it’s a failure of games criticism that I’m so often at the bottom of the page on Metacritic.

And as for how this data supposedly deprives game developers’ families of food — seriously, Sessler, if that’s your priority, put down the microphone and break out a pair of poms poms — I love the games industry and what it does. I want it to succeed. I want every studio to remain open and every employee to get a bonus and every game to make every publisher rich. I write about videogames because I’m an enthusiast. But more importantly than wanting games to succeed, I want games to be good, to get better, to grow up, to offer unique and meaningful experiences, to speak to people in the same way that books and movies and music speak to people. Recognizing when that happens and calling it out when that doesn’t happen is more important to me than making sure someone gets his bonus. I told Schreier in our conversation that my main obligation was to my readers. But upon reflection, I’m not sure that’s true. My main obligation is to the medium.

How City of Heroes was almost saved

, | Games


On November 30th 2012, NCsoft shut down City of Heroes and ended the spandex adventures of thousands of players. Gamasutra has the exclusive story on how the popular superhero MMO and developer Paragon was almost saved, but was instead scuttled by last minute publisher decisions.

On the night before we all got the notice of the studio shutting down, Brian, Ross, and Destin were in there still trying to work out that deal. We were a signature away from things going through or not – and we unfortunately fell on the not side.

Lead Designer Matt Miller spoke about some of the plans Paragon had for the MMO if they had been allowed to continue.

So we had an alien invasion race called The Battalion that was going to be arriving in the very next issue. That would play out over several issues culminating with the moon base, where you would use the resources of the moon base to actually fight back and basically kick Battalion out of our solar system.

A final fan effort to purchase the rights to City of Heroes also failed.

Ubisoft says there’s no room for “B-games” in next-gen development

, | Games


Ubisoft CEO Yannis Mallat spoke with GamesIndustry International and explained how the next-gen of consoles may not result in any big changes to the general direction of the industry.

“On one end of the spectrum you will have all the big, AAA blockbuster games that [offer] more and more production values, more value for the players, but there will be fewer of them taking a bigger chunk of the market,” Mallat said.

On the other end of the spectrum, the developer said mobile initiatives, tablets, and Facebook will continue to bring in new customers to the gaming industry. The problem is with what falls in the middle of the spectrum.

“The in-between, the belly of the market, is the one that just collapsed in a way and disappeared,” Mallat said. “Meaning there is no room for B-games, if I should say so, which proves the point of quality. I think that companies that put quality and consumer value as a primary focus, as we’ve been doing at Ubisoft, will enjoy great success.”

Mallat did add that he expects development costs to rise, but that the new consoles would bring opportunities for innovation.

Flashback is kind of coming back

, | Games


Flashback to 1992! From the depths of France came a rotoscoped science fiction platformer for the Amiga called Flashback that wound up being ported to just about every system available. Players loved the convoluted story married to the striking (at the time) visuals reminiscent of Out of This World. Unfortunately, Delphine Software wound up making annual iterations of Moto Racer until their closure in 2004 and never got to finish the tale of Conrad B. Hart’s investigations.

Rejoice (or cry) retro fans! Ubisoft has announced that Paul Cuisset and others from Delphine have reformed as VectorCell and will be releasing an HD “re-imagining” of Flashback using Unreal Engine 3.

Gorgeous graphics, amazing animations. It’s the Flashback you’ve always dreamed of. True to the original spirit but made a million times better by using modern engines such as Unreal and Havok. The makeover is completely stunning.

It’s all about Gameplay. The team modernized gameplay mechanics, making the game more reactive, offering new features, like gadgets and an experience progression system. But the developers kept the original formula in mind: a fine balance between rolling and shooting, exploring remote space stations and obliterating hostile alien planets.

Bringing back new memories. The story was revamped to speak to 21st century gamers. Most of the cast of the original game is still here – Conrad, the Morphs – but you can expect new characters and a few twists you’re definitely not going to forget… this time.

Polygon revealed that the remake will have core gameplay changes to bring the experience up to modern expectations.

“For example, in the old game, when you aim, it was either left or right,” Da Costa Vieira said. “You can’t do that now because it would be too old school. So now you can aim at 360 degrees. For us, it was a very important thing to fix because the goal here is to see what we can do with current technology to make Flashback even better.”