Why Smash Bros Melee Endures, and Why Steam is Set Up to Exploit You

Why Smash Bros Melee Endures, and Why Steam is Set Up to Exploit You

Super Smash Bros. Melee

Hello, Escapist readers! As part of our partnership with curation website Critical Distance, we'll be bringing you a weekly digest of the coolest games criticism, analysis and commentary from around the web. Let's hit it!

First up, from Kill Screen's Joshua Calixto we find a compelling look into the fighting game community which has emerged around Super Smash Bros Melee and Nintendo's resistance to acknowledging these hardcore players:

For [game director Masahiro Sakurai], Melee was more than a sequel, more than a game even. It was his idée fixe, his impossible ambition to create something infinitely deep and comfortably shallow at the same time. Now Melee has become his Pinkerton: A revitalized cult masterpiece, a bolt of lightning caught in a bottle, and the one puzzle piece that could fix everything... if it didn't already belong to another era.

While we're looking back, Play the Past's Angela R Cox asserts that by categorizing games as 'retro' (aesthetically or chronologically), we fundamentally change what they are:

That is, when we consider a text as a socially situated object, we find that as textual practices change around a material (or digital, in the case of code) object, the text itself changes as cultural perception and use of the text changes.

Switching gears to look forward, on Media Diversified, Jordan Minor foresees a convergence of the afrofuturism aesthetic movement and a new wave of racially diverse games:

"Afrofuturism is the intersection between technology, black cultures, the imagination, and liberation with a heavy dose of mysticism," says Ytasha L. Womack, author of Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture. "It is expressed through an array of genres including music and literature. It can also serve as the basis for critical theory around culture and/or race. It is a lens to see alternate realities through a black cultural lens." And it is particularly prevalent in literature like sci-fi/fantasy novels and comics books, gaming's geeky cousins.

[...] Adopting the aesthetic could also give games a chance to be at the forefront of black narratives, an area they are currently lagging behind in to say the least.

On the topic of emerging trends, but on the more commercial end of things, at Eurogamer the one and only Simon Parkin looks into a particular legal wrinkle in the growing world of Youtuber advertorials, in which some publishers or developers pay video producers for coverage.

Lastly, a big one: game developer Brendan Vance has released a 10,000-word tour-de-force on the intersections of games industry, consumerism, and spiritual wholeness. Summing it up could hardly do it justice, but here's a choice excerpt:

We have hereby come to prefer our 'content' the same way we prefer our pig feed: Smooth tasting, from an Ikea-branded trough. Think about how a 19th century philosopher like Hegel might regard the concept of 'replay value'. Would he commiserate with us about how the mind/spirit of romanticism just doesn't make for large enough murals? Or would we have to pull out a bunch of obscure 21st century English words just to explain to him what the hell we were talking about? It's important to realize that 'replay value' is not some timeless virtue sought by all media for all of history. It is a political viewpoint wrapped in a sales pitch perpetuated by people trying to improve the market position of their mass-produced entertainment products. By appropriating the word 'content', which denotes what we want, our intrepid capitalist marketers have steered us away from the conceptual, spiritual and artistic content Hegel envisions. All we want now is more stuff for a lower price.

[...]

When we observe today's class of small, broke, powerless game studios subsisting from tiny mobile project to tiny mobile project, we typically attribute their existence to an apathetic audience and/or soulless business executives. We neglect to notice how convenient our 'neutral third parties' might find it that these developers are incapable of renegotiating the royalties they pay or, say, founding a new 'ecosystem' of their own. Today we see Valve travelling in the same direction as Apple, and we wonder whether Gabe Newell can 'fix' the madhouse (sic). If you're Gabe Newell the madhouse is not broken.

Vance's essay covers a huge swath of topics, from filler missions in Assassin's Creed to larger economic realities which affect how we use and consume everything from games to Twitter. It's a long read, but definitely worth your time to go through the whole thing.

Want more? Be sure to swing over to Critical Distance to have your fill!

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Kris Ligman:
"Afrofuturism is the intersection between technology, black cultures, the imagination, and liberation with a heavy dose of mysticism"

This is easily the silliest thing I have ever read. Well, ok, the Amazon synopsis of Ass Goblins of Auschwitz takes that cake, but it's up there for sure.

Otherwise decent stuff. The bit about lower prices and more content not always being the best thing or even good is some interesting food for thought, though the essay is a bit long to actually read.

Certainly better than some of the previous Critical Distance articles, so just keep on improving and everything will be great!

Am I the only one who feels this should be in features rather than news?

Unless the news is simply acknowledging the new partnership?

We have hereby come to prefer our 'content' the same way we prefer our pig feed: Smooth tasting, from an Ikea-branded trough...

Ick. This article is long, overly verbose, and mostly is a fancy way of dressing up an age-old idea: Mass market consumerism is the biggest evil of today and it's poisoning the general population into being accepting of low quality entertainment over high-brow works that carefully examine thoughts and ideas. And whether or not that position has merit, the article dilutes its point by needlessly indulging in flowery phrases like:

Once upon a time some people stole this word from us. They buried the former meaning somewhere in the depths of history where they hoped we'd never find it. They supplanted it with a new meaning that by absolutely no coincidence makes it very easy to market downloadable 'content' for media like Assassin's Creed. They would like us to forget the old meaning ever existed, but I refuse

There is no inherent value in using more words. The article is very pretty, but also incredibly ineffective at actually conveying a message. It's a self indulgent ramble that takes far too long to actually reach a meaningful point, and in the first few thousand words the most he's done is say that DLC and padding are bad and that you don't really have to worry about whether games are art.

It's also somewhat hilarious that his end point seems to be the one EA was so widely derided for over a year ago: He is, in effect, trying to make the point that massive discounts cause games to appear to be worth less. It's just that instead of saying "Sales cheapen the IP" he's saying "Sales cheapen the Art".

Falterfire:
And whether or not that position has merit, the article dilutes its point by needlessly indulging in flowery phrases like:

Once upon a time some people stole this word from us. They buried the former meaning somewhere in the depths of history where they hoped we'd never find it. They supplanted it with a new meaning that by absolutely no coincidence makes it very easy to market downloadable 'content' for media like Assassin's Creed. They would like us to forget the old meaning ever existed, but I refuse

There is no inherent value in using more words.

There's no inherent value, but there can be value. I enjoy reading words that someone has put some effort into writing. I'd rather read Virginia Woolf than George RR Martin. Granted, this guy's no Virginia Woolf, but none of this seemed flowery to me.

The article is very pretty, but also incredibly ineffective at actually conveying a message. It's a self indulgent ramble that takes far too long to actually reach a meaningful point, and in the first few thousand words the most he's done is say that DLC and padding are bad and that you don't really have to worry about whether games are art.

It's also somewhat hilarious that his end point seems to be the one EA was so widely derided for over a year ago: He is, in effect, trying to make the point that massive discounts cause games to appear to be worth less. It's just that instead of saying "Sales cheapen the IP" he's saying "Sales cheapen the Art".

You keep saying that "he's basically just saying X", but I don't think that is actually the case. I think it is possible that he required a larger percentage of words to get across his actual meaning than the synopsis you provided. His main point was definitely not "sales cheapen Art"; I'm not sure that was part of it at all. I don't think he cares how much you charge for your game, but cautions about how much value Steam is actually providing to the developer/user.

It seems odd to complain about a personal blog as being "self indulgent". But, yeah, someone put a lot of effort into writing something, so that's worthy of derision, I guess.

Oh hurrah, ANOTHER few pages of why people didn't like Brawl. Lord knows we didn't get enough of that already.

Sorry to sound harsh and all, but the whole "why didn't Brawl work" thing has been analyzed to death, and it mostly comes down to two big factors: tripping (which killed competitive play all by itself) and the "floatier playstyle" that some folks found to be anathema. But others clearly loved it, because while Brawl doesn't get the attention of its older brother, it received a mod that eliminated tripping and still sees a lot of casual play.

Falterfire:
snip

Absolutely agree. There is just as much, if not more, merit in brevity when trying to convey an idea as there is in excessive verbosity. It also helps, especially when trying to engage your readers, to tone down on the cynical-nature of your apparent growing apathy towards the medium in which you work. Something the author seemed to be unconcerned with.

Further, quite a few of the author's assertions are demonstrably false. Notably: his damnation of sales.

In the case of Steam, these sales have not only increased the profits devs have seen with their games; at times equivalent to those seen during the initial launch-day sales; but have also been responsible for quite literally saving some struggling developers from having to close their doors for good.

We can argue until we're blue in the face as to whether these sort of discounts somehow diminish the intrinsic value of the "artfulness" of these games. However, their value to the costumer AND the developer is not quite as open to debate. Certainly not without ignoring a wealth of evidence.

Really, the vast majority of the piece comes off as a combination of a damnation of capitalism and a cry for attention. I know that sounds petty of me to say but it's how I felt after reading it.

'Course, when someone's self-proclaimed title is "Professional game developer, bullshitter" one isn't really surprised to find the latter in a few of that person's articles.

;)

scotth266:
snip

I think only people interested in eSports can understand these fans.

I have much sympathy for them. My favorite eSport titles went through a similar progression when their developers tried to "innovate" and cater to the masses. The Halo competitive scene died because competent people at the MP design team weren't allowed to do as their wish(Halo Reach) and the franchise tried to be more and more like CoD (Reach, Halo 4). Starcraft on the other hand was drastically changed too, but not all in a bad way. In fact, the increased accessibility allowed the Western community to grow. It's a slippery slope. While I do not play Dota 2, I think Valve did the best job: Keep the game basically the same, while giving more tools to new players to learn it.

eSport is not a niche anymore. When people have interest in a game to see it played professionally/on stage, developers should be more carefull how they design the multiplayer. Because these people are the ones that stay (even decades after release) and throw money at it if you give them certain options (see TI4 prize pool). Also, the professional players can be game testers, even designers of the future, because their understanding of games or a certain genre of games is very deep - maybe even better then the people designing it. Sage (former Shadowrun fps dev and pro, got hired by Bungie but idk if hes still there), Bravo, Ghostayame etc. (Halo pros working with 343i), 2GD(former Quake pro, now making his own Arena FPS) and Day9 (former Starcraft 1 pro and Star2 caster, working on his own RTS) are a few examples.

I understand people want multiplayer games for casual fun. There are ways to do that, e.g. with unranked matchmaking, casual game modes and better tutorials.
But that doesn't mean you have to dump down the mechanics of the game itself. If you do that, you assume your audience is dumb too/not up for the challenge. I don't think this is healthy game development.

inb4 "eSports are not real sports and people watching other people play are pathetic": 1) it doesn't matter how you call it, it is here and it is here to stay (see the stream numbers, sponsors, prize pools) 2) stop telling others what they should have fun with

Gali:

I think only people interested in eSports can understand these fans.

I'm not sure if you're implying that I'm not interested in eSports (I do, I watch a lot of competitive League and had a blast watching EVO) or if you're just starting your post awkwardly.

My main complaint about Melee is that the fans viewed the floatier playstyle of Brawl to be "dumbing things down" when it was just an attempt to change the tempo of the fights. Interestingly enough the article points this out, but then tries to make the claim that nobody wants to watch defensive games, which is ridiculous - why then would people bother watching all the other EVO games where blocking properly is 1/2 the game's technique? The whole affair feels far too similar to how League fans bitch whenever the meta shifts in a way they don't like.

 

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