In response to “Fall of the House of Bellic” from The Escapist Forum: There’s a more practical reason sandbox games try not to end on this kind of plot note. The end of GTA4 was so empty and hollow that, however artistically interesting it may have been, I put down the controller and never again set foot in the world of GTA4.
This was not the case with GTA3, VC, and SA… the benefit of ending “on top of the world” in those games was that you then got to spend a great deal of time enjoying your mastery of the environment; effectively giving us a chance to fully appreciate the sand in the box. I know there are many people who immediately jump into the open world and enjoy it regardless, but those are usually the same people who have never bothered to finish the main plot of any GTA game in the first place.
Fallout 3 suffered from this as well, only worse, because your inability to keep enjoying the sandbox world was actually enforced, and not simply based on your own despondent lack of interest. Of course you could always simply load your pre-end-game save in Fallout 3, but just as with GTA, without even the trappings of plot or immersion, the sandbox world loses its hold on me.
Great article, some really good arguements for video games as an art form.
If you were to believe Escapist users, every game ever made is art of the highest order that will be immortalized in history, just like Mona Lisa.
Gamers are so desperate to be seen as grownups engaged in Serious Business that they’ll call anything art. GTA IV is not particularly original and has nothing to say that hasn’t already been said to death by countless crime stories.
Trying to tie the gameplay and story together is silly. They are divorced from each other completely. In the story Niko is a pretty sympathetic guy while in the game he is a monstrous psychopath.
In response to “Playing the Hand You’re Dealt” from The Escapist Forum: I think this article hit the nail on the head when it said that the Yakuza games were more concerned with telling a story than actually simulating Japanese gang life.
The main character Kazuma himself is a perfect example of the “Honor and Humanity” the article describes as well as the romanticized pre-RICO mafioso that “How Games Get the Mob Wrong” criticizes. The circumstances of Yakuza’s storyline however cannot be completely glossed over.
At the beginning of the first game the main character Kazuma is fresh out of 10 years of prison and totally cut off from his organization because he took the rep for a murder committed by a guy he grew up with – his brother for all intents and purposes (That’s not a spoiler it happens within the first 30 minutes of the game). He’s no longer a full-time Yakuza. The girl he babysits is the child of the woman who might as well have been his fiancee.
From what I remember, most of guys in that game shown stealing, extorting, and pimping are young kids who better exemplify the heartless modern mafia described in this week’s articles. Compared to them Kazuma looks like an oldschooler enthralled to the old ways, and that’s probably what Sega wants to make him out to be.
By the end of the first game Kazuma seems to have every intention of leaving the gangster lifestyle behind. By the beginning of the third game he’s running an orphanage. The fourth game currently in development will actually star three playable characters in addition to Kazuma – one of them a loan shark, one a thoroughly corrupt cop, and one a mafia assassin.
Oh, and real porn stars cameo in these games.
In response to “Misinformants: How Games Get the Mob Wrong” from The Escapist Forum: You’re spot on, although in a way the Mafia genre is just that; a genre. A genre has a set of rules, a particular type of language and particular types of scenery and costume which are used to identify it.
There is no attempt at “realism” in genres, and we can see similar silliness in the “cowboy” genre, which never features actual ranching, and the “pirate” genre, which never features the slaughter or selling into slavery of captured crews.
The “Mafia” genre is a fictionalised setting created for novels, films and video games which serves to glamorize an otherwise sordid and morally unjustifiable activity. Thuggery, extortion, drug selling and other forms of crime are hardly glamorous at all when you get down to it, and most of those involved in crime spend long times in jail or end up dead.
The flipside of course is the “Cop” genre where justice is only obtained by a single man working alone to bring down a crime syndicate without any forensic evidence; or the “Procedural Crime Investigation” genre, where putting together the clues magically whisks the suspect out of the air rather than being used mainly to secure a conviction.
It’s all silliness but it probably doesn’t bear detailed examination, and moreover, if you break the rules of a genre you have to do so knowingly, and with a full understanding of how to bring the player/viewer along for the ride.
“So why doesn’t the gameplay ever reflect this intelligence?”
For one of two reasons, probably:
– The writer isn’t skilled enough to make your character actually come across as intelligent.
– The average player isn’t intelligent enough to appreciate an intelligent script.
I don’t think it’s at all impossible to create, say, a Mafia RPG that mixes action with planning, stealth and the like. I keep coming back to Bloodlines, but there really aren’t that many good examples of good action-RPGs. VtM:B’s plot was more or less built around various power-groups pulling your strings, deceiving you and ultimately trying to do you in. I don’t think it’d be impossible to make an even more in-depth RPG, but it’d require a masterful script writer first and foremost.
In response to “An Offer You Can’t Refuse” from The Escapist Forum: Hey Allen. You know I am a fan. Interesting to see you tackle this.
I find Zynga fascinating. But what I find equally fascinating is the hardcore game community’s — devs and gamers — response to the games that they make.
I would toss out for your consumption the argument that this (the Escapist, etc) is not the proper audience to judge Mafia Wars from a game standpoint, and so I appreciated the inclusion of your friend. But I think looking at these games from the standpoint of a hardcore audience, or even merely someone who is familiar with playing and analyzing hardcore games, is perhaps the least interesting thing to do with the subject. Even though they’re called games (because they are) and they look like games, it’s fundamentally apples and oranges — like saying that a kite has no value because it’s not a B-52. I’m not saying that’s what you did here, but I think that’s a challenging dimension of presenting Mafia Wars to an audience of hardcore gamers.
I think that Mafia Wars itself says fascinating things about what bar of embodiment and challenge is that is sufficient to generate a fantasy experience. Zynga is showing us that, literally for millions of people, it is very very very low — or they’ve just found an exceedingly efficient way of generating that fantasy. Because people are finding it deeply satisfying with the sparsest game and symbolic triggers the business has ever seen, though you could get into an argument I suppose on whether SpaceWar! was simpler.
The scamville stuff misses the mark too, though to be fair there’s a good part of the industry, I think because of the kite-to-B52 comparison, that is predisposed to find a reason to hate Zynga… but the scamville series of articles became progressively more accurate as it went on, and started out extremely inaccurate. It’s an extremely small proportion of people that wound up being scammed, and they (Zynga) did correct it when they became aware of it. The trouble is when you have 63 million people and are working with reputable partners (which SuperRewards actually is) those things can be difficult to track down. But the argument is complex — it is a bit less than a third of their revenue that comes from lead generation, yes — but it’s only a small percentage of that lead generation that is scam-bent. We used lead generation in GoPets, too, and our users were thrilled with it — because for a good number of them they could try out programs rather than paying money, and those programs (like Netflix) were perfectly legitimate. The scamville author tried to make a case that the legit offers will be pushed out by the scams, but that’s speculation at this point — it hasn’t actually happened. And to focus on that small percentage of >30% of Zynga’s revenue also conveniently bypasses the fact that 70+% of Zynga’s customers are paying them directly for these game experiences.
Any rate, there is a lot of fascinating stuff about what’s going on in this space. A lot of game developers have very secure and profitable jobs because of this company. A lot of players are getting access to games who previously (and currently) couldn’t afford them. The story has many dimensions and is regularly misjudged by the hardcore game audience.
No one has publicly revealed what percentage of Zynga’s customers were scammed, but even “an extremely small proportion” of millions of players represents perhaps thousands of frauds.
Besides which, it all depends on what you count as a scam. Sure, maybe it was an extremely small proportion that were illegal scams, but far more of what it does is exploitative of its players. Anyone care to estimate the ARPU of Mafia Wars? Flash games with millions of players make tens of thousands of dollars. Mafia Wars has made hundreds of times that. I don’t know about you, but that sets off my alarms.