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Archive for "Games"

August 8, 2013

The Good Old Days (of Games Media)

I just shared this on Reddit and thought it was worth reposting here since I often get asked about crazy stories from work. Every detail can be corroborated.

All right, buckle up because this is a long and strange story.

The year was 1999. I think. It might have been 2000. At the time I was writing for a video game magazine. This was in the heyday of the crazy video game press junkets; around this time I’d taken the Skip Barber Racing Course at Laguna Seca twice in a month. Colleagues had flown fighter jets and scuba dived in Hawaii.

Anyway, this wasn’t like that. This was an event for Konami’s Nightmare Creatures 2 (or was it Activision? It’s hazy). We were flown out to San Francisco and put up in a swank hotel. We had no idea what we were in for.

The night started with drinks at the Top of the Mark, a fancy-ass bar at the top of a tall hotel located on one of the hills of SF. I walk in and notice this little guy hanging out in a small group over by the window, admiring the view. It can’t be? It is. Gary fucking Coleman. At the time he was doing a column or something for UGO so he had a semi-legitimate reason for being there. Anyway.

A few drinks in, the PR reps tell us it’s time to go. Go where? It’s a surprise. So we troop downstairs and they put us in limos, maybe four to a car and probably something like six cars. We slide into ours, and waiting for us is this very, very hot lady who identifies herself as, I shit you not, “Roxy.” She is apparently there for conversation? She seems very interested in everything we have to say.

The limos drive us around the city in a weirdly circuitous route, before we finally find ourselves deep in the woods of what I later assumed to be Golden Gate Park, or perhaps the Presidio. We exit the limos in a parking lot. They all drive away.

We’re standing there, looking at each other, wondering what the hell is happening, when suddenly headlights turn on in the woods. Out drives a school bus. Its windows are blacked out. The doors open, and five or six little people come out, dressed as executioners complete with hoods and axes. Without saying anything, they herd us onto the bus.

The bus starts up and drives us out of the woods, following another circuitous route through the city.

So let’s pause here for a second. Here I am, winding through the streets of San Francisco, in a school bus with blacked-out windows, with a small troupe of midgets and Gary Coleman. Everybody with me so far? Good. It gets weirder.

The bus finally stops at a nightclub. The little people escort us in and into the back. In the back is a smattering of TVs and systems running the game, a lavish buffet featuring, among other things, all the sushi you can eat, and four or five cages in which are dancing scantily clad women…with, for some reason, twigs arrayed around their heads like antlers and on the backs of their hands like claws.

It takes me a few moments before I recognize Roxy.

Seeing all this, my colleagues and I (and Gary Coleman) proceed to get very, very drunk. Because, really, what else are you going to do? In the course of this noble endeavor, it becomes clear that Gary Coleman is seriously into my friend Zoe. So much so that he gives her his number. Which she, in her drunken state, proceeds to write on the hand of everyone she knows.

I don’t remember much that happened for a few hours after that, but the night’s weirdness wasn’t over. A hardy group of us went to yet another club after this odd ordeal. After a few minutes there I looked up at the bar and saw a guy that looked eerily familiar. So I walked up to him.

“You know, you look an awful lot like Kirk Hammett from Metallica.”

He laughed. “My mom tells me that all the time.”

So I proceeded to shoot the shit with Kirk Hammett for the next hour or so, until my eyes wouldn’t stay open and my colleagues were all leaving.

Woke up the next morning wondering if any of it had actually happened. Then I looked at Gary Coleman’s phone number on my hand and realized I hadn’t dreamed it.

TL;DR: Strange shit happened when video game companies had more money than sense.

February 26, 2013

1UPpers: Here’s an Easy Way to Save Your Stuff

I would say that I’m surprised 1UP is in the process of being abandoned, but, well. I’m not. As soon as they were (re)bought by Ziff, I was pretty certain the writing was on the wall. I may go into greater detail about that at a later time, but right now I want to help all y’all who have a bunch of stuff on 1UP archive it before the site disappears.

If you’re on a Mac, I found this just wonderful method of saving pages as PDFs. First, download OmniWeb here. Open it and go to your page. Hit Cmd+Option+Shift+S. Pick a destination. And you’re done. I went into my System Prefs and remapped “Save As PDF…” (caps and dots necessary) to Command+Shift+S so I could do it easier with one hand, and just numbered the PDFs as I went along. I just plowed through 76 pages of my blog in about 15 minutes. Better still, it saves the whole page as a single-page PDF rather than inserting unnecessary page breaks. Credit for this discovery goes to term at the Ars forum.

On Windows or other OS? Grab Firefox and the Print Pages to PDF extension. This one might even be easier, because it can save all open tabs as PDFs. Alas, it’s not available on Mac.

Now I’m going to go see if there’s an easy way to batch-crop PDFs.

UPDATE: Thanks to dakwar on the MacRumors forum for this easy batch-cropping step-by-step. Works great. Only caveat: It requires Acrobat Pro. No Acrobat Pro? Sorry, you’re on your own.

April 21, 2011

Scandal in Game Reviewing!

Behold the return of the moneyhat!

The esteemed and always awesome Mr. Wil Wheaton put up a post recently about the influence game publishers and PR reps appear to have on the games media. He cites a post from another site, which in turn cites yet another site, both seeming to indicate that videogame reviewers are pimping scores out to the highest bidder and totally misleading you about games because You Can’t Trust The Man.

I spent some time responding in Wil’s comment thread, but it’s way down at the bottom and it’s also quite long, so I figured I’d repost here. I’d love to hear what you think.

Wil, there’s an element to this dialogue that a lot of people don’t seem to be considering, based on the sources quoted and many of the comments here.

Let me preface this by pointing out that in exactly two months I will have been reviewing games professionally for 15 years. Ten and a half of those years were spent at Ziff Davis Media, home of EGM, and later, 1UP. Most of that time was spent at the Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine (yes! a magazine! made of paper!), and most of that time was spent in charge of the Reviews section. Since OPM went kaput in late ’06 I’ve been a freelance writer, primarily doing reviews for many of the big gaming publications: EGM, 1UP, GamePro, GameSpy, PlayStation: The Official Magazine, OXM…er, I’m sure I’m forgetting someone, but you get the idea. During this time I’ve reviewed well over five hundred games, all for publication in major outlets.

What I’m saying is that I know how reviewing games works.

Over the past decade and a half, I can think of exactly one — one — occasion in which a PR person attempted to directly influence the score of a game before the review was written. It was the type mentioned in this articles: “you can get review code early if you agree the game will be at least a certain score.” We of course turned them down.

On maybe, oh, ten or fifteen other occasions, a PR person called me (in my capacity as reviews editor) to debate one of my reviewer’s scores after publication. And in every one of those occasions save one (in which a memorably loony PR dude pretty much went off his meds) they went away satisfied that their game was given a fair chance. Disappointed it didn’t do better, sure, but satisfied that we were evaluating the game thoroughly and fairly.

And that is, of course, a rightful part of the PR person’s job: to ensure the game is being treated fairly. And in my experience, the vast majority of PR people, and the publishers they represent, are ethical, sensible people who are as appalled by sleazy back-room dealing as journalists and consumers are. Because they know what every publication should know:

If a reviewer isn’t honest about the bad games, no one trusts them about the good ones, either.

Trying to artificially inflate a score is an incredibly shortsighted maneuver; it may bump up the Metacritic rating of the current game, but it kills the credibility of both the publication and the game company. If consumers buy a game that’s been artificially praised, they don’t just resent the outlet that did the praising, they resent the game company, too! And they’ll be that much more hesitant to buy the next game.

This is what I would tell the vocal minority of PR people: If we’re not honest about your crappy game, no one’s going to believe us if we praise one of yours that’s legitimately good. And most folks recognize this. That’s why these kinds of sleazy deals are the exception, not the norm.

But here’s the thing that I find particularly amusing about all this. So many people involved in this discussion (including many commenters here) use this news as justification for not trusting the big enthusiast sites or magazines. You even mention in your post not being able to trust 1UP.

But it’s the big media outlets that are most immune to these kinds of deals! The big media outlets know that the game companies need them more than they need the game companies; they’re big enough that they get their clicks or their subscribers whether one particular game is reviewed early or late; they have the budget and manpower to generate tons of non-review content; and perhaps most importantly, they know that if one particular company is going to withhold review code, they have plenty of other companies willing to fill those spots.

Furthermore, the big media outlets have ad-sales teams completely separate from the editorial teams. I know at Ziff there was an impenetrable barrier between ad and edit; we referred to it as the separation of church and state, and it was inviolable. Oh, we might hear that publisher X was threatening to pull ads — I mean, stuff gets around, you know? — but there was never — ever — any pressure from that side, or from our managers, to change our editorial content in any way as a result.

Now, I do know that hasn’t always been the case everywhere. The Gerstmann/GameSpot debacle is the most offensive example of ad influencing edit, but I can think of a few other stories (or at least rumors) I’ve heard over the years.

And it’s been a bit over four years since I worked full-time at a gaming publication, so I suppose things may have changed a bit. But if they have, it sure hasn’t trickled down to me; none of the publications I mentioned above has ever attempted to influence the score of a review I’ve submitted. Not once. Not even a little bit.

And of course this makes sense when you think about the power these bigger publications hold. If we really need to be concerned about someone falling prey to publisher and/or PR pressure, I think it’s the smaller sites we need to beware of, the ones who have limited access to begin with, limited resources to devote to non-review content, and limited staff to serve as buffers between pushy PR and writers. To be clear, I strongly doubt many of those succumb to that pressure, either. But wouldn’t you agree that they have more incentive to?

One final note before I release my choke-hold on an entire page of your comments section: If we want to point fingers here, we should consider pointing them at aggregator sites like Metacritic. The section you quote mentions that “sites which use letter grades don’t get advanced copies” because of how Metacritic translates them. And if you think of this from a PR person’s perspective, it makes perfect sense: Metacritic calls a “C” a 50 out of 100. If that same reviewer reviewed the same game on another site, it would likely get a score around 75, because most game publications use a number-based rating system that roughly translates to percentage grades in school: e.g., 60 or lower tends to be “failing.”

To combat this, either all publications could adopt the same rating system (ah, no) — or Metacritic could get their heads out of their asses and use some sense when standardizing scores: If a C is 50, fine — but make sure that for sites that only rate 60-100, an 80 is also 50. It’s pretty simple math, you know? Calculate the mean (or is it median?) score for each source, and make that the middle of the scale.

In closing, I’ll say this: It’s fun to bash on The Man; it just doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense. Also, this sort of thing is news because it’s the exception, not the norm. Also, I’m rather hungry.

Your fan,
-joe rybicki

October 13, 2010

The Real and the Semi-Real

In light of all the “cyber-bullying” that’s in the news lately, I thought it fitting to reprint a blog post I wrote at 1UP back in early ’06. Feel free to swing by the original page to read the comments. But I’ll warn you: they can be pretty depressing.


 

“I weep for the future.” –Ferris Beuller’s Day Off

I’ve been following this thread over at the GAF about a guild who crashed a virtual funeral in World of Warcraft, and it makes me sad. Basically, what happened is this: A member of a WOW guild suffered a stroke in real life and died. Her guildmates, knowing her only through the game, but nevertheless wanting to offer some remembrance for one of their own, decided to hold a memorial service in the game. A rival guild decided that would be a great time to show up and kill everyone. Hilarity ensued.

Now, is it sort of creepy and vaguely sad that a group of people elected to hold a virtual funeral? I’d say so. It lends a depressing weight to the stereotype of basement-dwelling gamers who can’t function in the real world. In my opinion, it trivializes the real loss that this person’s real-life loved ones feel. But saying gamers aren’t the most socially adept subculture isn’t going to surprise anyone, and the fact is, these people did have a relationship with the deceased, however unorthodox. You can’t criticize someone for feeling grief simply because they haven’t met the deceased in the physical world. You can criticize their method of paying their respects, but I don’t see how you could criticize their right to do so, or the validity of their desire to do so.

And so this rival guild storms in, in a very well-planned strike (and yes, it’s pretty comical if you don’t think about it too hard), sending virtual mourners scurrying and leaving a trail of virtual bodies in their wake. Were they within their rights as WOW players to choose this moment to strike against a rival guild? Oh, absolutely.

But “within your rights” does not equal “right.” Fred Phelps is acting “within his rights” when he pickets the funerals of servicemen, trying to convince people that God is killing soldiers because America harbors homosexuals. The KKK is acting “within their rights” when they hand out their entertaining little photocopies (as an aside: for a good time, ask a Klansman what race Jesus was).

These phenomenal fuckwits who thought it would be funny to take advantage of the (admittedly naive and perhaps misguided) funeral proceedings to boost their stats — or even just for entertainment’s sake — were certainly within their rights. They’re also a bunch of gaping assholes.

“But wait!” you may say, “It’s just a game! How can you criticize this but defend killing hookers in GTA?!” The distinction is quite simple: The hooker is not a virtual representative of a real person. A game is “just a game” when it has no impact on the real world. But you put another person on the other side of the equation and things change. Is killing a person’s avatar the same as killing a person? Of course not. It’s not close. But it does have a real effect on that person. You are inflicting suffering upon someone else, even if only putting them through the tedium of building up another character. We have ways to describe people who get off on inflicting suffering on others. One of them is “sadistic.” Another is “evil.” (Another is “gaping asshole.”)

The important distinction here is that for many (perhaps most) players of MMORPGs, the game is just a medium for socialization. It’s one step removed from instant messaging…which is one step removed from telephone interaction…which is one step removed from face-to-face contact. It’s different only in degree, not in substance.

The amazing, anonymizing internets have made it easy to forget that there is a real, living person on the other end of your messageboard diatribe or your Fark flamewar. (And please, before you hash out a comment along the lines of “ZOMG YOU HYPPACRIT YOU ARE DISREPECTING SERENTY NOW BY CALLING THEM GAPPING A$$H0ELS!!!111!” understand that these guilds forfeited their right to be treated with respect when they acted like gaping assholes.)

As socially inept as these virtual mourners may be, let me ask you…who is behaving with more social grace? The gamers who chose to pay in-game respects for a real-world loss, or the ones who used a real-world loss to gain an in-game boost? Who’s more in touch with the real world? Who would you rather have living down the street?

Am I alone in thinking this way?

August 25, 2009

Now It Can Be Told

guitarsmall-540I’ve been hinting at a big project for months now, and it’s finally done. Well, by “done” I guess I mean “begun” — I’ve just launched a new website: Plastic Axe.

See, I love music games. I mean, I really love them. This is in part because I love music in an embarrassingly wide variety of genres, and in part because I’m a musician myself (I sing and play bass, guitar, and drums, in case you didn’t know). So these games sort of hit me right in the sweet spot.

Anyway, I’ve been spending the last few months putting this site together. This is a solo project; I’m doing all the writing, design, coding, PR, administration… Suddenly I’m very tired. Where was I? Oh yes: This site is all me. But I’m also hoping it’ll be useful to other fans of music games, who can keep up with the latest news and releases, and find lots of new music in The Vault.

So there it is, my Big Secret Project: Plastic Axe — Music games for music fans. Go have yourself a look around, and let me know what you think in the comments (over there rather than here, please).

July 24, 2009

One From the Mailbag: Platformers

And by “mailbag” I mean, “my e-mail account.”

Steve Taylor writes to ask: “What PS2 or PS3 game would you recommend for those of us who LOVE Ratchet & Clank? I don’t know of anything like it.”

Well, let’s assume you own all the Insomniac-developed Ratchet games. (No? Here are Amazon links to Ratchet 1, 2, 3, Deadlocked, and Ratchet Future 1 and 2.) My next recommendation would be the Jak and Daxter series. The first is my favorite by far, followed by the third, then the second. There’s also a pretty solid racing game.

Also within the same basic genre (and most certainly within the same level of quality) is the Sly Cooper Series.

Beyond these, the Big Three of PlayStation platformers, you may enjoy Psychonauts and Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil. Aaaand that’s where my recommendation engine stalls out, because I honestly can’t think of any other really good games that are remotely similar.

Anyone else have any suggestions?

July 13, 2009

New Reviews: Guitar Hero Smash Hits and Tiger Woods 10

Why, of course I’d add two posts merely days after announcing I won’t be updating for awhile longer, why do you ask?

This is just to say that Green Pixels recently put up a couple more reviews of mine, for Guitar Hero Smash Hits and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 (the Wii version, with the fancy-schmancy new Wii MotionPlus pack-in). They’re both good! Go find out why.

June 2, 2009

Come Visit Me at E3

OK, I don’t mean literally, in person. But I’ll be writing previews all week (and possibly next week) for G4TV.com. None are up right now, but I expect them to start popping up regularly within the next 12 hours or so. Come on over and say hello, won’t you?

[Update: Fixed link to reflect where the stories are actually posting. Come leave a comment!]

May 21, 2009

Can’t Talk, Preparing for E3

I hate when blogs go dormant. So just to make sure no one thinks this one has suffered such a fate, I’m still alive! It’s just that I’ve found myself rather suddenly going to E3 (that would be the big game show in LA, for those of you outside the industry), and having to do a bit of scrambling to ensure I’m ready.

So please forgive me if this place goes dark for a bit. I expect to be back in the regular swing of things by mid-June.

Well, as regular as it gets around here.

May 7, 2009

David Jaffe Calls the Past

Today a bunch of my friends and former coworkers launched (okay, prelaunched) a new social-focused games site called Bitmob. One of the first bits of content is this interview with David Jaffe (creator of the God of War series) that pisses me off for two reasons:

One: The “random facts” interview theme is something I’d been wanting to pitch to some outlet for awhile but hadn’t gotten around to yet, and now it’d look like I’m ganking their idea. Jerks.

And two: Jaffe relates this little vignette that would make such an awesome premise for a story that it makes me angry I didn’t think of it:

I once called my childhood phone number — about five years ago — just to see what would happen. The phone picked up — no one said hello — and on the other end I heard two little kids playing and calling each other Philip (my brother’s name) and David (me, duh). Did I call the past? I still wonder. And no, you can’t take the idea and use it for a movie or book. It’s mine! Mine I tell you!

Isn’t that great? Check out the whole article, it’s a fun read.