The Stupid Gamer

Video Games, Opinions, Thoughts, & Tomfoolery

The Stupid Gamer - Video Games, Opinions, Thoughts, & Tomfoolery

Helpful games journalists: Stop telling the shackled to run

Do you ever get advice from someone who is qualified to give it, but you’re not capable of acting those suggestions? If so, you know it can be frustrating, if not, you can probably imagine how it might be. With an increased amount of scrunity on games journalists lately, there’s been a big focus on improving the content being produced by major video game news and reviews outlets. Some prominent writers often hand out freebie bits of advice through Twitter, blogs, and podcast, all with the hope of helping less experienced or skilled writers to raise their quality of writing.

The problem is, many of these tips are impossible to achieve for your average newcomer.

Last week, an editor that works with quite a few freelance writers began to vent a bit. Other writers and editors chimed in and either echoed statements or added to the list of dos or do nots. Some of the tips were quite helpful, such as common cliches to avoid or how to abandon old standards that make you look dated. Some tips focused on things that seem clever, but are actually annoying or disingenuous. But then some gems got dropped that left me shaking my head a bit.

One editor told writers the differentiate themselves by picking up the phone and talking to sources to get their own quotes rather than reporting on existing quotes from reports posted on sites. It’s good information, but few writers who are just getting started have the talking heads at Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and the big publishers on speed dial. In fact, getting that information can be a bit difficult, and some companies dislike being contacted by site owners or writers that have no established history of communication. It’s a solid tip, but it’s not that helpful for a writer that lacks the resources or clout to act on it.

Another tip, well intentioned but misguided, was that small site owners need to do their own independent fact checking. Much like the previous tip, this is simply a near impossible task for small outlets. Over at Gamer Theory, we’re at the point where we can contact a publisher and get a timely response, but it wasn’t always like that. It used to be that we’d contact a company to verify something and we’d not hear anything back. If we did get a response, it would be a quick note that someone might get back to us if they get time. By the time we’d hear anything, the news cycle had turned over and the story no longer mattered.

I love that certain writers are engaging their audience and providing tips for hungry writers. It’s great that they do this, but there needs to be some recongnition as to what a helpful tip would be for someone with limited resources. At times I think we forget what it’s like to be a startup or a newcomer on the scene. We expect everybody to have the power of a major network behind them, when that’s simply not the case.

And really, those tips are still worth putting out there, but they should be accompanied with some understanding. Too often these tips are followed up with a remark that includes criticism of those not practicing them. That criticism is only fair if the writer is capable of acting on the advice, but then chooses not to. When a writer’s hands are shackled, it’s really quite rude to offer them an ice cream cone before the key.

Until we get better access to PR and industry influencers for smaller outlets, it’s time to stop expecting more from the lesser established writers out there. Yes, feed them with “tips from the pros”, but reserve the criticism for them until they’re ready to act on it. All you do is sow discouragement and make the writer question whether or not they’re fit continue writing for this industry.

Republique Kickstarter – When the Industry Decides You Need to Pitch In

Update: With a furious last push, Republique was successfully funded. Congratulations to Camouflaj and Logan Games. Now, make us a game worthy of all the attention the project has been receiving.

Republique is a game being developed by Camouflaj and Logan Games for iOS, PC, and Mac. It aims to be a higher quality gaming experience on the mobile scene. I’m a backer, but I have to admit that I’m not terribly excited by the project as it looks a bit hokey to me. I’m just supporting the project because I like to see developers try something a little different, and for me, $10 is a pretty small price to pay to support new ideas. I am getting a little bothered, however, by the constant evangelizing of the project from the gaming press.

Ryan Payton is the founder of Camouflaj studios. For those unfamiliar with Ryan’s background, he’s gone from games journalist to working in the game industry as a developer. After his time with 1up and Famitsu, Ryan had the chance to work on some high profile projects, including Metal Gear Solid 3 & 4 and Halo 4. Last year Ryan left 343 Industries to found Camouflaj, where he could start up mobile game development on iOS. Due to his roots as a journalist, Ryan has a lot of friends spread around the games journalism scene, and the overwhelming support from the press for his Kickstarter is a direct result of those relationships.

I don’t have a problem with anybody giving a quick shout out to a friend’s project or even a little encouragement to check out what a colleague is doing. But this whole Republique banner waving is getting a little gross. I feel as if we, the readers of these video game sites and blogs, are being held captive to their evangelizing. We don’t even know if the game is going to be any good, and every time you turn around, another major media outlet is reiterating how you should be donating or increasing your current donation to the Republique Kickstarter fund. Shacknews, Giant Bomb, Joystiq, etc. are all over this pitch, and barely a day goes by without a mention hitting the podcast or news feeds.

I don’t think that reporters are totally conscious of how heavy handed they’re being. I don’t think they realize how biased they appear. Many of the people constantly reminding us about Camouflaj through their stories, Twitter updates, Facebook statuses, and podcast mentions are some of my favorite journalists and editors in the industry. I just think that the nepotism that we show for fellow games journalist brothers (or former members of the media) is getting to the point where lines are being crossed.

I think an editor, podcast host, or reporter should be able to give a mention to the stuff that they love, but I don’t think they should act as bannermen, pledging loyalty to a product. If Camouflaj wants the exposure, they should buy it through marketing efforts. Not everybody with a good idea is lucky enough to have come from the ranks of games journalism, and it’s unfair to them (and to readers of the site) that certain projects get constant attention ahead of their own for no significant reason.

There are only three days left on the Republique Kickstarter, and it’s pretty obvious that the project won’t be funded. Everybody who pitched in will get their money back, but the profile on the project has been raised so much that when the game eventually makes its way to release via alternative funding, most of its marketing push will already have been established and “paid for” through free mentions and articles on many of gaming’s largest news and opinion outlets.

I hope Camouflaj puts out a good game. I hope that they find themselves successful as a studio, but I don’t think it’s our burden to ensure that they are.

Jessica Nigri gets asked to leave PAX East for her Lollipop Chainsaw cosplay

Jessica Nigri was asked to leave the PAX East show floor on day 2. The reason for her dismissal from the show had to do with her choice of outfit as she portrayed Juliet Starling, the protagonist from the upcoming Lollipop Chainsaw game. Jessica Nigri has been portraying Juliet Starling for a while now after she won an online contest to see who could make the best Juliet. She’s attended events dressed up as Juliet, but at PAX East she really came out in something meant to turn heads. But there’s a problem, PAX often has kids running around, and no doubt their heads were among those turning and fixating on her attire.

Initially Jessica was asked to change her outfit, which she did, and she put back on the same outfit that Juliet Starling wears in Lollipop Chainsaw by default. This outfit is basically your standard sexy cheerleader suit, with the short skit and the low cut top. Even this change, however, was not enough for the PAX East crew, and they asked her if she could wear a more conservative top. In the end, Jessica left the show floor on day 2. Below is the image of the outfits worn by Jessica at the show.

Jessica Nigri Lollipop Chainsaw

Jessica Nigri as Juliet Starling from Lollipop Chainsaw at PAX East 2012

Personally, I don’t have a problem with PAX East asking Jessica to either change her outfit or leave. I know that many cosplayers are roaming the show floor in somewhat revealing outfits at times, but it’s different when you’re dealing with an exhibitor. PAX East is different from E3, where the show is locked down and no children under 18 are allowed into the show, even under adult supervision. And while Jessica’s outfit isn’t going to harm anybody or turn them into any sort of deviant, I have to respect Penny Arcade for working hard to create a family friendly atmosphere, even if it’s not the most popular stance to take.

The incestuous relationship between games journalists and PR

It’s something that gets talked about once in a while, but it’s always a subject that either quickly gets brushed under the rug, or it gets laughed off nervously. It’s a reality, however, and it’s the biggest obstacle in our industry when it comes to getting gamers to trust us as journalists. I’m talking about the incestuous relationship that exists between games journalists and game developers and PR.

To deny that there’s a whole lot of coziness going on between games journalists and PR is akin to sticking one’s head into the sand. As I talk about this, I’m going to name specific examples, but I’m going to refrain from naming names or companies outright. The point of this article isn’t to point out who is guilty, because the problem runs much deeper than what can be named from a few specific examples.

A few years back, a bit before the launch of the Wii and PS3, I attended a media day at a large publisher’s office. We were there to see games for the 360, Wii, and PS3, and for many in attendance it would be their first hands on with Wii and PS3 software. After the first couple of major titles, we broke for lunch. The publisher treated us to a nice catered meal, but I noticed that a few reporters left to “go get some real food” with a couple of members from the PR team. At the time it seemed harmless.

As we sat down to eat, a few guys at the table grumbled that the guys who left for lunch were getting a great free meal, but that they “typically paid it back with a glowing preview.”

I didn’t think much of it and chuckled at the comment, figuring it was more of a joke than anything. But sure enough, as embargoes lifted, the guys who went to lunch served up previews that were devoid of criticism that were also packed with bits of information that nobody else had access to at the event.

The experience caused me to open my eyes a bit to the practice. I’ve witnessed countless similar occurrences in other settings. I took a trip to cover a gaming event outside of the country once. I was treated amazingly well on the trip, but again, there was another group that had a deep familiarity with our hosts who ended up posting previews that were far more glowing and, once again, contained additional information than we were able to collect at the event.

I’ve seen the same sort of stuff take place at E3. I’ve seen it take place over Twitter. Anybody who is looking will see it, you don’t need any sort of insider access to see that certain reporters benefit from a friendly relationship with developers and PR.

These relationships aren’t some devious plan or the result some under the table dealings in most cases. The reason this happens is because we often become friends with PR or developers as a natural consequence of communicating and spending time with them. The problem arises when people find that they have an easy time talking about what they like about their friends’ work and that they struggle to criticize that same work. The issue is compounded when former journalists are now in production, and they have former co-workers handling critiques. And while I do like that some journalists often refuse to review games that they get a little too close to during development, they still do benefit greatly from increased exclusive access.

So what can be done? If the nature of the industry pushes us naturally into these positions of friendship, is there a way to avoid favoritism? If you’re on the PR side of things, wouldn’t you want those who tend to give you the best press to be the ones you trust with increased access to your products? If you’re the reporter, wouldn’t you overlook a few minor gripes in exchange for a better working relationship with your PR contact?

Well, it would take a denial of basic human nature. I don’t know that journalists are ready to fairly criticize their friends, and I don’t know that PR is ready to bestow equal access to all individuals and news outlets, regardless of how critical or kind they may be. It’s what needs to happen for us to improve as journalists, and for the games themselves to improve. Proper criticism is key to improving products.

If we truly love this industry, we’ll start doing the hard thing and start getting honest, even with our friends.

Can Kotaku repair their image with the hardcore audience?

I’ve been an outspoken critic of Kotaku over the years. I’ve refused to give the site clicks, and I’ve heard countless complaints from other gamers about how poor the coverage is at Kotaku. Normally I wouldn’t rail so hard against a publication, but Kotaku was seriously one of the shining of examples of everything that holds games journalism back from being taken seriously.

Always willing to sacrifice quality for the sake of a few extra clicks, Kotaku was notorious for putting out articles that were extremely low quality, rushed, off topic, not properly sourced when they were reporting on another site’s exclusive news, and for having a poor attitude when answering to criticism and negative feedback.

But everything is changing now. Kotaku is not the same as it was even three months ago.

Stephen Totilo has taken over at Kotaku as top dog now that Brian Crecente has left to be part of the Vox Games team and former editor-in-chief Joel Johnson is writing for Jalopnik. New faces at the site are headlined by the highly respected and likable Jason Schreirer. These changes have brought about an immediate change in the attitude at the site, and the writing has noticeably improved. The design is still a mess, but we’ll worry about that later.

In recent weeks, Stephen Totilo has shown that he’s a responsible editor-in-chief that cares about the content produced under his watch. There’s still a disposable story that slips through here and there, but the blatantly offensive or truly awful posts have been put to a stop, and when one has slipped by, Stephen has apologized via Twitter for it. It’s radical change in attitude coming from the top at Kotaku than we’re used to, and I hope people are paying attention.

For years Kotaku’s stance has always been, “we’re Kotaku, so deal with it.” Seeing Stephen opening up increased dialog is what is going to be the biggest difference for the blog. For the first time in years I’ve been willing to read articles at Kotaku, and if I don’t like what I see, I have patience because I am seeing a sincere effort by the staff to improve.

I’m curious what others think. I’ve rarely heard a good word about the site said when I’ve been sitting down with other journalists or talking to gamers who are well read in the world of gaming.

For Kotaku to turn their image around, they’re going to have to stay pushing into this new direction. It may cause their overall click count to go down, an I’m not sure how the upper management at Gawker will feel about that, but I just hope that they stay patient and allow Stephen Totilo to continue to have free reign.

Personally I’d love to see Kotaku become a respectable website in our community. The more great outlets we have, the better we are as an industry. It’s a long road back, but it looks like the driving forces at Kotaku are willing to stay in for the long haul.

Can I get an explanation here?

I’ve had my PS Vita for a little over two weeks now and overall I’ve been loving the game. I’ve already started rolling out some reviews for the games over at Gamer Theory, including my review for Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational. I gave the game a 4 out 5 star rating, which means it’s a very good game. I’ve also been downright addicted to the game since I gave it a go for the first time, but I’m also incredibly frustrated by it.

Allow me to explain.

Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational is far more deep than it appears on the surface. There are standard shots, power shots, and then there are special shots that you can execute. The game barely tells you how to do any of the three, and it’s all tucked away in loading screens or in the user manual, but even in those places it’s poorly described. And in no place does it mention that you need to level your golfer up to a certain level to use certain special shots. In addition to the different shots, there are conditions that aren’t explained very well. The game leaves a lot up to you in regards to figuring out the gameplay systems and what the visual cues mean. The end result is confusion and frustration.

At times the hole itself seems to be larger than at other times. It took a forum search to find out that there are different cup sizes throughout the game. Also, there are challenges on each course that are totally unexplained. As it tallies up your score after each round, you’ll see a bonus for completing a “Crown” goal, but you’re never told how to achieve the goal. Again, it takes some forum hunting to find out what the requirements are. Eventually these goals get explained, but not until after you’ve COMPLETED EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE CHALLENGE MODE. Silly is a nice way of putting it. Asinine is the accurate way.

And Hot Shots Golf is just a more recent example, but I’ve noticed that one area Japanese developers really fall behind is in their ability to train the player. SoulCalibur V is also light on tutorial, but then you have games like Final Fantasy XIII that hold your hand for far too long. I’m starting to see that Japanese developers are either lacking proper focus testing, or else they’re just stubborn in how they want to handle (or mishandle) tutorials.

As the average age of the gamer continues to creep upwards, and as more and more triple A titles roll out each year, developers really need to figure these basic issues out. If I have to waste time outside of the game itself to figure out how to play a game effectively by searching around forums or online guides, then the developer has failed.

Pardon the dust, and the time away

When I decided to get back to putting posts up on The Stupid Gamer, I went through the process of updating the WordPress software, which caused some real issues. The site was actually down for the count until I was able to figure out that the theme was the issue. So I’m reverting back to my old theme for now, but it’s probably not permanent. Right now I’m noticing that some posts look pretty bad as they were written with the old theme’s format in mind. Sorry about that, but the work to fix those old posts would be overwhelming. New posts going forward will look great though…I promise.

As for posting, I’ll get back to it. I still love this blog and I just haven’t had a lot of time for it since getting Gamer Theory up and running. It was never my attention to abandon The Stupid Gamer. For those that come back, thanks for being patient. For the new readers going forward, feel free to browse the archives, but try not to take me too serious here…

How to improve the E3 Expo

E3 2011 was considerd a runaway success by just about everybody you ask. The show went smoothly, the booths were packed, there was plenty of awesome games on display, and as far as I know, nobody got hurt. So why nitpick? Well, there are some issues with E3 and I think it would be wrong not to talk about them. Here are a few ideas I have about how to improve the gaming industry’s greatest event.

Increase access to the show

I discussed how the ESA is in essence creating a closed loop by restricting access to smaller media sites a bit before the show, so I’ll keep that brief, but there are ways in which the E3 Expo could improve access to the show floor without compromising the media’s ability to work.
E3 2011 ran from Tuesday to Thursday. The press conferences generally take place on Monday and Tuesday, and a few parties last until Friday or Saturday, but the show floor itself is only open for three days. Publishers spend unspeakable amounts of money to construct their booths, only to have them up for three days. My idea would be to extend the show for two more days, but allow those who don’t qualify for media badges only to attend days 4 and 5, while days 1, 2, and 3 would be media exclusive. The media would benefit by dramatically smaller crowds during their stay, and even with one less day, the general attendees would also have a smaller crowd. The extra two days would also extend coverage of the show, allowing for some of the smaller titles to get some additional exposure. Due to thinner crowds, the ESA could relax the media restrictions enough to get smaller sites a better chance at attending the conference.

Consider a new venue

Los Angeles is actually not the most ideal city for holding E3. It’s convenient for many of the developers that live in the area, but for travelers, it’s not great. The city is expensive, it’s public transportation isn’t as good as other popular convention cities, and downtown LA doesn’t have much to offer in regards to activities besides crummy bars and some movie theaters. A city like Las Vegas offers better public transport, more hotel options, better activities, and an overall more affordable destination for most travelers. Even San Diego or the Bay Area would be better if they wanted to keep the convention in California.

Require more from official partners

The E3 Expo is a huge benefit to the city of Los Angeles, its hotels and restaurants, and local businesses. Hotels, in order to be part of the official E3 housing, should offer free Internet to their guests. My hotel, which was a very nice hotel, still charged a $13/day Internet fee. I guarantee that they’d drop that fee for E3 attendees if it was a requirement to be part of official E3 housing.
Given the huge boon to the local economy that E3 provides, it wouldn’t be hard for the expo to leverage their muscle just a bit more to help attendees get some extra perks. I’ve been to other conventions that have handled this much more proactively than E3 does.
I hope it doesn’t sound like I dislike E3, because I love going to the conference each year, but I do think it could be better. It seems that each year the show has a healthy showing and a good time is had by its attendees, but I rarely see the show organizers strive to improve the conference in a measurable way. With a few improvements, E3 could be more accessible, more affordable, and an overall more comfortable expo to attend for both media and general attendees.

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm screenshots emerge

A Dutch website, www.insidegamer.nl has posted a big batch of screenshots for StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, which is part 2 of 3 of the StarCraft 2 story arc. All of the screens come from the single player portion of the game and they contain heavy spoilers in them for the Wings of Liberty campaign. If you haven’t finished Wings of Liberty, it would be a good idea to hold off checking out these screens. If you have finished the Wings of Liberty campaign, the spoilers in the screens are very minor. Check ‘em out in the gallery below. (Click on individual images to enlarge.)

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The original image post on Inside Gamer is found here: http://www.insidegamer.nl/pc/starcraftiiheartoftheswarm/screenshots