Sunday, October 14, 2007

Frank Rich speaketh: Is Hillary Clinton the New Old Al Gore?

This pretty much sums up my thinking about Hillary, although of course Frank Rich always says it better than I think it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

screw you, fanboys

Recently I came across a pretty aggravating thread trashing me for my review of Bioshock. It was remarkable both because it was a collection of furious diatribes against me in spite of my generally glowing review and because it was full of nonsense, include a statement that I just took over the column from a guy who has never written it.

It annoyed me enough that I decided to register for the forum so I could reply to that thread, but it seems new members have to be okayed by a moderator who has apparently gone AWOL, since it's been a couple of weeks and I'm still not able to post. So just for the record I'm putting my reply here. I'd been meaning to blog at some point in more detail about the problems with Bioshock's story anyway; it drives me crazy how critics keep acclaiming the game's storytelling, which is really quite weak.

Some fanboy also recently graffitied my wikipedia entry; probably someone mad that I didn't declare Halo 3 the greatest game in the history of the universe.

Here's the reply I was going to post to quartertothree [WARNING: BIOSHOCK SPOILERS BELOW].

Just came across this thread. It’s fine that you disagree with me, I disagree with critics all the time. Although I don’t usually rant and rave about people who positively review something I like because I disagree with a couple of points. (The last thing I felt like ranting about was the San Francisco movie critic who said “Click!” was almost perfect; that’s just insane.) But there are a lot of things said about me in this thread that simply are untrue, so I wanted to respond.

First off, I played BioShock all the way through, down to the very sweet final cut scene where you grow old and all the little girls love you. I saved almost all the little sisters and only killed one just to see what it was like, but restarted from a save point after that so I wouldn’t sully my good guy status (I like playing good guys in games, it’s just a preference).

I don’t know why, since I repeatedly talked about how great the game was, you would assume I hadn’t played it. Why would I not play a brilliant game? Is it really impossible to believe someone could play the same game as you and disagree with your take on it?

Second, Seth Schiesel never wrote the game theory column, except for a couple of columns when the Times was auditioning new game columnists. I have been writing the column for years and years. Seth writes articles on gaming but not, for the Times, reviews (with one or two exceptions). But I imagine it’s more fun for some of you to read Seth’s articles because, since they are reporting rather than reviewing, they don’t say anything critical about a game that could upset you.

What I write are reviews, in spite of what one poster said. This poster also mentioned my review of Daikatana, which is odd since I never reviewed Daikatana for the Times, although I did briefly pan it for some long-forgotten publication that I’m sure he never read.

The reason I write about more than one game in a review is because that’s what the Times wants from me (it started when they changed the column from weekly to biweekly and decided they didn’t want to lessen the number of games reviewed). Rather than trying to find two thematically similar games, I try to find the games I feel most deserve attention and then write a transition between them. People have complained about this before, but I have actually grown to like the approach. Anyway, there are already so many good games I don’t have space for that I would hate to leave out any more than I already have to.

Now as for the Art Deco thing, people seem to be making the assumption that I believe all the buildings should have been rebuilt to reflect modern architecture. Yes, that would be a stupid point, but it’s certainly not one I was making. Keep in mind that Art Deco doesn’t just mean the shell of the buildings. It means all the furnishings, fixtures, posters and ads on the walls. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that it’s odd that a society would stay that aesthetically static for so long; it would suggest that there is not a single creative person trying out new ideas. But it was a pretty brief comment so I don’t know why there’s such a focus on it. I love Art Deco, it’s my favorite architectural style and I think it’s a tragedy that when it went out of fashion many of those buildings were destroyed because people considered them tacky. But I don’t think it’s wrong to point out that it is highly unusual for a city to be so creatively stagnant.

I did not, as a couple of people pointed out, write the article’s headline, and I was surprised that was what the editors focused on, but I am okay with their choice. Since my main concern was telling people what a great game BioShock was, I did not spend much time on the faults with the story, but here’s something I wrote to someone who emailed me when the game came out:

Because of a lack of space I didn't get to critique the narrative structure of BioShock as much as I would have liked. I actually find the seemingly universal ecstasy over the story puzzling. The game starts strong, but once it gets started it really just relies on that momentum. Half-Life had an interesting twist (discovering the army was trying to kill you) and the intriguing ongoing mystery of the guy in the suit. Max Payne started off with a cool opener, but it also had cool dream sequences to keep up that sense that this was a game that was really trying. I don’t feel BioShock made the same effort to keep the story moving. BioShock has a completely expected twist and a wandering plot; a big chunk of the game is simply killing people for some guy; that's not a story that moves forward, that's a story that wanders off into the alley and does some shit and then wanders back into the main plot.

BioShock is like Myst; the only real story is the back story. I don't say that's terrible, but I really don't think it's an especially brilliant approach either. To me it seems like the praise for the story has more to do with how poorly most action games tell stories than it does with the quality of BioShock's own narrative.

I was also disappointed when someone told me that even if you kill all the Little Sisters, they still save you at that point in the game where you are lead to safety by them. To me, that seems lazy; if I play the game as a bad guy, I expect the story to change as a result. I don’t just want a different final cut scene. (If the guy who told me that is wrong, and the little girls don’t save you if you kill them all, then I apologize for this criticism.)

Fortunately it’s easy to find critics that will give every popular game a rating of 100, so it should be pretty easy to avoid nasty people like me who dare to offer minor criticisms of a game in their rave review of it.

I thank the couple of people who pointed out themselves some of the things I have just pointed out. I salute your thoughtful consideration.