Spellenspektakel

After some furious phonecalling, I managed to combine two events on our busy social calendar for this weekend into one! First there was ‘Geekfest the Boardgame Edition II’ which usmu had organised. Then there was the Spellenspektakel (‘Games Spectacular’) to which babarage wanted to go together.
Since cynni had made other plans for saturday, having forgotten about the Geekfest meet because of her offline-ness, that left only usmu, ingiechan and me. So I called usmu, and he liked the idea of coming to Eindhoven to the Spellenspektakel with us!

We were a little late because of various much needed detours, but babarage had already found usmu through our description of him and they were awaiting our arrival anxiously.
We had a lot of fun, though this year the event seemed a bit more muted than previous years — I can’t exactly pinpoint it, but babarage agreed with me. It was fun hanging out with usmu, getting a few games explained, shopping for the more obscure stuff and, of course, acquiring quite a bit of lewt in the process. It was 17:30 when we left the premises, and a good time was had by all.

Most weird game: Sudoku, the Board Game.
Best find: Tsuro, a beautiful zen-themed tile-laying game.
Impulse buy: Flandern 1302.
Obligatory RPG buy (no Spellenspektakel is complete without one, though Fantasy Encounter’s selection was rather pityful this year): Engel.

Zanac EX

So, I finished Zanac EX, a great shooter for the MSX2. Of course, I played it via an emulator, and made great use of the quicksave function. Is that cheating? It’s not like I slowed it down or gave myself infinite lives or something…
There isn’t much variety in the types of enemies you’re confronted with, and with the super-duper souped-up laserbeam that you get when you take weapon no. 5 to the max.
Some parts proved to be quite a challenge none the less. And the music is very good too!

The only Nintendo hardware I own is the GBA SP that I hardly use. I’m not so enamoured of the whole Mario franchise — but it is a fact that Nintendo is one of the most innovative gaming companies out there.

The Nintendo Revolution promises to really be a revolution. Recently, they unveiled the controller for the new console. Hard-core gamer ridiculed it, but only because they lack the imagination of what new kinds of games could be played with that controller. But they aren’t Nintendo’s market anyway, as stroum explains in this post: Nintendo is going after the 80% of the people who don’t game, and that’s the biggest market!

I am slowly beginning to become bored with the standard games. I never bought an XBox because the games are dull. I quit FPS games when they stopped being fun (around the time Quake II hit), and that seems to be everything the XBox is offering these days. Oh, and racing games, of course — which aren’t exciting either.

Lost Garden has a very good analysis of how the game market works: as genres mature, only hardcore gamers remain, and they tend to not buy any game that does not conform to their preconceptions as to what the genre is about. This is happening right now with genres like First Person Shooters and Real-Time Strategy Games: there’s no innovation there, and the games aren’t really accessible to the casual gamers anymore.

Amongst the list of ‘People who are less likely to care’, Lost Garden lists ‘Major genre king developers’, because “Their bread is buttered. They own the mature genres and will milk them for many years to come.”
This tied in nicely with what ‘Designer X’ wrote in The Scratchware Manifesto. It turns out that Designer X is, in fact, game designer Greg Costikyan. The Escapist published two articles by his hand, where he explains his vision in a less flammable manner.

In short, it comes down to this: the cost of creating a game has gone up so much that game companies are weary of taking risks. Rather, they tend to milk their ‘Genre King’-game for all its’ worth. They cater to the hardcore gamers, who shout for ever better graphics, but who resist any change in the core mechanics of their preferred genre.
Look at some of the gaming websites, like Bit-Tech: it’s all about benchmarking the framerate of the newest videocard(s) (preferrably two in an SLI-setup!) against the First Person Shooter ‘du jour’. Everyone cares about how it looks, but no-one cares about new and fresh things.

If you look at the announcements of consoles like the XBox 360 and the PS3, it’s all about raw processing power and polygon count. Sony and Microsoft cater to the hardcore gamers, who have come to expect a certain set of game mechanics — all it takes is just better graphics.
But where is the innovation? Well, we have to look to Nintendo to provide the innovation. While Sony and Microsoft sell more but earn less, Nintendo captures a wider audience with their products and games: being the first to market means that you can get away with a less polished product — and that the whole world is your target audience instead of a narrowly defined group of hardcore gamers.

I’m really interested to see what Nintendo and others will do with the Revolutionary Controller.

Currently, I’m playing Vagrant Story. Yes, it’s an ‘old’ game, but I never finished it even though I did enjoy playing it. So after MGS2, I dug this one out of the archives, and started it up again!

The game has a leisurely pace (just open up a menu, or the ‘combat sphere’ and you have all the time you need to make an attack), and I quite like that. What I like considerably less, is the fact that you have to construct your own weapons, given the parts you find (and the parts you gain by disassembling the weapons you find). The workshops where you can do this are few and far between — so if you enter a dungeon, and at the end of the dungeon find a boss that you need a particular type of weapon for, you have to go back all the way (or revert to a save-game an hour’s worth of gaming earlier) in order to create the weapon you need.

Yes, I’m soft-core like that. I’m not ashamed to admit that I consult a walkthrough when I get stuck on a particular monster or room, either. The cool thing about this game, is that there are multiple ways to tackle any monster. And then you start noticing the differences.
IGN’s walkthrough advises me to use an edged weapon on the tail of the Wyvern — but warns me that it will be a hard fight (which I have noticed — the bastard killed me about ten times now!). But another walkthrough urges me to use a blunt weapon and attack any part of the dragon except the tail — and tells me that ‘the fight won’t be as hard’…
I think I know what my next attempt will be like!

Sons of Liberty

I’ve finished replaying Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. This was the game that almost made me give up on the Metal Gear franchise: lots and lots of long cutscenes. The first time I played it, I always thought: “Well, I really should be getting ready for bed, but I’ll just save the president and then save!” Next thing you know, it’s 45 minutes later!

Spoilers, to protect the three people who haven't played it yet

I think that Metal Gear Solid 1 (the one for the PSX) is the best game out of the whole franchise. It re-invigorated the series with a fresh new appeal. Boss battles are nicely spaced out, and the hardware is really pushed to the limits. As usual, the story is convoluted and there is some betrayal going on, but it is all broken down to managable proportions. The boss fights are interesting and exciting, and spaced just right.

You hear it a lot: violence on TV, in movies and in video games are slowly but surely subverting the minds of today’s youth.
Gamers are suspect: it is only a matter of time before they bring a gun to school and start killing off everybody indiscriminately. In fact, it won’t be long before bands of gamers, with unsteady gazes and foaming at the mouth, will roam the country — killing and commiting arson. At least, that is what the scare-mongers will have you believe.

Let’s be honest. The amount of violence in the media has increased. Children are more subjected to violence than they were twenty years ago. Surely that has a bad influence on them!? Well, if you look at the cold, hard facts, it becomes apparent that today’s youth in the US is the least violent in recorded history. An excellent article here sums it all up very, very nicely.

How does Europe, and in particular the Netherlands, measure up? Well, looking at a report from the Dutch Statistical Agency, it says on page 12:

In general, the violent crime amongst the youth has risen fast since the mid-eighties in various European countries. Since halfway the nineties, more young suspects of theft and property destruction have been registered in Europe. (Translation mine.)

The Playstation 1, which I think was the first gaming console to really take off in Europe, was introduced in 1994. The rise in violent crime had already occured by then, so it can’t have been caused by violent computer games.
See figure 6.4 on page 5 of the same report for a historical breakdown of the crimes committed by youngsters. There is a rise in violent crime, but the trend had already begun far before the consoles were released. Also of note is that roughly half of the youthful suspects are suspected of theft — violence is the least common crime.
Of further note is figure 6.1 on page 138 of this report, which gives a historical perspective on youth crime. There is a steady rise all the way from 1960 to 1980 — surely that can’t be all the fault of the recent violence on TV!? Heck, when Phil Bloom appeared naked on Dutch national television in 1967 it caused an outrage — television was very, very calvinist at that time.
In 1983, youth crime had peaked, and then slumped in only to rise again around 1995. Can we see the bad influence of game consoles here? Only the launch title Battle Arena Toshinden sounds like it has violence that teenagers could even hope to emulate — but with an ESRB rating of ‘Teen’ (meaning ages 13+), it doesn’t sound like there was much danger of kids confusing the Battle Arena with real life. The slew of supposedly even more violent games that came after it, were released amidst a decrease of youth crime.
Note that the graph only shows all youth crimes, and we know that half of that is theft! So it’s not all violent crime.

It could be possible that the European youth is more susceptible to suggestions of violence in the media than the US youth — but I don’t think anyone believes that. Also, I have a gut feeling that television is more violent in the US than in Europe — but I have no data to back that up.

In short, there is no evidence suggesting that video games cause a rise in violent crime amongst youth. I would wish that people would stop complaining and spend their energy on things that do make sense.

I know that I have no qualifications to give out advice on parenting, but I’m going to do it anyway. Concerned parents, here’s a tip: take charge. Know what your kids are doing. Know what media they are consuming and what they think of that. Talk with them about what they see, and how that makes them feel. Don’t be afraid to set rules as to what they may or may not see or play. In short: be a Parent, and don’t leave the education of your kid to the Playstation or DVD player.
No rating system or metal detector in schools or police crackdowns can ever be a sustitute to parenting.