Saints Row

So last night I bought the Saints Row double pack (and no, there is no apostrophe in Saints Row). I bought it specifically because I heard that the mechanics were far better than Grand Theft Auto X’s. I resisted the urge to start with the (by all accounts superior) second game and popped in the first. I then played it until my eyes basically wouldn’t focus any more.

The good: Holy Toledo, this game fixes just about every problem GTA has. Let’s go down the list.

Driving controls are tight; it’s possible to actually make a turn without a) having to brake down to 1/4 speed or b) hitting anybody or anything. This is aided by the fact that the streets are wide and both cars and pedestrians are less common than in GTA cities. Following another car is actually possible in this game. Plus, this game had a GPS system that would lead you to your target years before GTA IV.

You have a lot of health, and it regenerates when you’re not actually taking fire. Not only that, but you can carry around with you four health-restoring items at all times. This mechanic by itself means that I’ll almost certainly be able to beat this game.

Shooting is good (but not great). There is no lock on (though once you get the cursor over an enemy, the game will help you keep it there). There is no cover system (though you’ll rarely get into a situation where there’s nothing to hide behind). But like I mentioned above, you’ve got tons of health and multiple opportunities to break contact and recover. I’ve already played missions where I’ve fought through 35-50 enemies, and while I got smoked a couple times, perseverance and taking things slow and cautiously has always paid off.

The game uses a territory system like San Andreas; the more territories you take, the more money you find in your stash every morning. And yes, rival gangs can try to take back territories, which means you have to run over there and shoot their lieutenants so that the takeback fails.

Plus HOLY TOLEDO IS THERE LOTS TO DO IN THIS GAME. But I’ll get to the downside of that in a minute.

The cons:

This is one of the most puerile, juvenile games I’ve ever played. Penny Arcade was right. This is a game for 12-year-old gangsta wannabees.

The storytelling in this game is weak, even by GTA standards. Of course, if your story is weak, it helps to get someone like Keith muthafuckin’ David to narrate it for you. Don’t know who he is? Here, have a taste.

In order to progress in the story-based missions, you must perform activities that raise your respect bar. Once it fills up, you have one “charge” of respect and can then play one story-based mission. Of course, this is a good/bad, because most of the activities are actually pretty fun, although most of them are absolutely amoral (no “gangstas with hearts of gold” here). My favorites are drug trafficking, taking hostages, insurance fraud and mayhem missions. This was a dealbreaker for Sol_HSA, who just wanted to do the story missions, but I think of it kind of like the leveling system in Oblivion, which, while deeply flawed, forced me to try some skills I never would have before, which is where I discovered that I loved alchemy.

The story-based missions are also varied and fun. In one, you street race with three members of another gang…who are unaware that their cars have been fitted with bombs. Your goal isn’t to beat them, but to get your passenger close enough to them so that he can taunt them into using their nitro…which blows them up. In another, you attack a garage owned by a rival gang so that one of your fellow gang members (who has gone undercover with the rival gang) can “save” the garage owner and thus get in good with the gang’s leadership. And in a third, you help a singer who is locked in a terrible record contract (with a label that just happens to be owned by another rival gang) fake her own death.

Okay, I’m going to take it back. The storytelling isn’t that bad; it’s just that this game is a summer popcorn movie while GTA IV is trying to be Heat.

Which leads me to something I almost didn’t want to mention about Grand Theft Auto IV…but now I think I will.

WARNING: PSRD BREACH!

While playing GTA IV I got the feeling that the developers…well, they just don’t like America very much. Niko Bellic arrives in New York only to get stuck in Little Vladivostok, doing the same things he did back in Serbia for money – killing, mostly. No other alternative is presented. And of course, Roman’s fascination with America is only skin-deep, with most of that skin being on BIG FAKE AMERICAN TITTIES!

Instead of telling a story about an immigrant who uses the opportunities America provides to better himself, Rockstar chose to tell a story about a man who allows his past mistakes to rule him, to his eventual downfall, while blaming America for everything (and yes, this is in the dialog).

And let’s not get into Weasel News, the Rush Limbaugh satire and the Republican Space Rangers…gone is the political even-handedness of San Andreas (which featured a hilarious talk show where a couple, one liberal and one conservative, literally got off on ridiculing each other).

Here’s hoping for a Grand Theft Auto V that’s lighter in tone, has less political bullshit and, at the very least, has difficulty settings.

Oh, and by the way…I’m going to swear in this post.

PSRD Breach: Women in Gaming

I try to keep the PSRD breaches on this site to a minimum, but it’s time. So, here is the warning: I am about to piss you off. If you don’t want to be pissed at me, do not continue reading.

Okay, so science discovers yet again what anybody with a brain cell already knows – that men and women are interested in different subjects and this is the reason why there are so few women in technical fields. This also explains why there are so few women in game development.

This has infuriated me in the past. I got into a rather vituperative conversation about two years ago on Game Girl Advance about why are so few women in game development and why the ones who do enter the field seem to get a lot of attention, especially if they are attractive. (I posted there under the handle BadmanX). A poster in that thread explained patiently that the only reason women aren’t more prevalent in game development is because of sexism.

Hello? Hello? Are you shitting me? (Oh, I’m going to swear in this post too. Just a warning. Megan, stop reading.) Most HR departments are falling all over themselves to hire women! Do you really fucking think that HR directors all over the country are saying to themselves, “Wow, what a fantastic resume…TOO BAD SHE’S A CHICK! Into the round file with her!” Don’t be absurd.

Attempting to appease the Gods of Political Correctness by artificially “evening out” the number of male and female game developers is doomed to failure. It will only hurt the game development industry and companies shouldn’t bother, no matter how much the feminists bitch.

On the other hand…making games tailored for women was and is a fantastic idea. Women arrived to the gaming party a little late, but now they are here and ignoring them is just stupid. People just need to come to grips with the fact that far fewer women are going to be inspired to make their own games than men. And there probably always will be.

Rethinking PSRD

I have a policy on this site that I do not discuss politics, sex, religion or drugs. I call this “PSRD”. I do this because these subjects have become incredibly divisive (especially politics) and I don’t want people getting into stock flamewars in my comments over subjects that have already been argued to death and back.

On the other hand…I had a bit of an epiphany over the weekend about games that have an overt political slant and I’d really like to talk about it. And it does feel weird to not be able to talk about whatever I want on my own blog. I know that a lot of people have multiple blogs for different subjects, but I’m honestly far too lazy to set that up (and policing one blog is enough work already).

So I’m going to do what James Lileks does and warn you.

Warning. If you continue reading, you might find out something about my political views that you do not like. Thus, if you want to continue to like me, you should not continue reading. Should you ignore this warning and continue to read and then decide that you no longer like me, please flame me through email rather than with a comment. Flame comments will be deleted.

Last chance to stop reading and not be offended by my political bias.




Okay. Over the weekend I was doing some “history of gaming” research and I was reminded of the Oddworld series of games. Now, I’d never really liked the Oddworld games; I felt they were artistically brilliant but the gameplay was primitive. But it wasn’t until I watched a GDC presentation by Lorne Lanning that I started to actively hate them.

That presentation (which, unfortunately, Gamasutra no longer hosts) was ostensibly about producing games. But what Lanning actually delivered was a liberal anti-government, anti-business diatribe. Which explained a lot to me about his games. There’s no such thing as a good business in Oddworld; all businesses are evil and the people who create and run them are willing to commit any atrocity to keep profits up. Destroying them is a brave and noble act.

And that reminded me of a couple other things. First, Jay is Games featured a whole bunch of “serious games” on his site right before the midterm elections last year – all of which had a liberal slant. (One of them was about how important NGOs are to developing countries, something a whole lot of people would dispute.) When called on it, he basically said “It’s my site, if you don’t like it stop reading.” Which of course is his right. And it’s my right to stop reading him – which I didn’t do. But I don’t read him as often as I used to, because now I feel I have to vet each link he provides to make sure there’s no message before I click. Because honestly, I don’t play games to get preached at.

Which made me start wondering…why is it that practically every game that has an overt political slant is liberal? Conservatives tend to dutifully scrub their own personal prejudices out of the games they make – witness The Political Machine, which is scrupulously nonpartisan even though its creator, Brad Wardell, is definitely conservative.

And then I remembered this nearly excellent article in The Guardian (England’s largest newspaper) about Ian Bell and David Braben, the creators of Elite. Now, The Guardian is liberal to the core. At no point will a conservative viewpoint ever be approvingly presented in that publication. But I was shocked at the amount of bashing on Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher there was in an article that seemingly had nothing to do with politics.

And that’s when I realized that games that have an overt political bias are liberal because most of the common game mechanics are fundamentally conservative.

Take Elite itself. The two basic mechanics of Elite are “work to improve your lot through your own actions” and “if anyone tries to steal your hard-earned money, shoot them”. Both of these are conservative principles. Which doesn’t surprise me, I don’t think “wait for your next government stipend” would make for compelling gameplay.

Plus there was the fact that writing Elite made both Bell and Braben rich. You’re not supposed to be able to get rich in a socialist society, no matter how much value you provide to how many people. Thus, while the reporter was obligated to write about them because they’d made a game that had become world famous and inspired many other games, he felt the need to remind us how fundamentally Bad the whole situation was. He even made sure to note that Bell had become a good liberal now.

Unfortunately for the liberals, the most popular PC game in the world is also one of the most conservative. I’m talking about The Sims 2.

The Sims 2 is a fantastic game, but I’d deliberately not played it much because it is such a time sink – I think it’s the one game that sucks up time even better than RPGs. Megan has been playing it practically since it shipped, and when I was assigned to work on a Sims 2-based project here at work I finally could justify spending several hours with the game.

Just running a simple simulation of a household is enough to shatter a whole bunch of liberal delusions. One of the base scenarios in Sims 2 explicitly shows how difficult it is to raise a child as a single parent. Another makes it quite clear what adultery does to a household. Several show the consequences of having sex (or “making woohoo” as they put it in the Sims world) with a bunch of different people. The game does a great job of teaching the importance of setting good goals and working towards them. It even shows how important it is to choose a spouse well. Plus there’s the fact that getting ahead in Sims 2 requires a lot of work (even with cheat codes). It doesn’t preach; all it does is show the consequences. Which has certainly been enough to cause Megan to come to several useful conclusions.

And I love the fact that the user base of Sims 2 is evenly split between men and women.

In the end, propaganda is the enemy of art and I certainly wouldn’t call any of the liberal-slanted games I encountered “good” by any standard. So I guess I shouldn’t let it bother me.