Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.
Dispatches From The Unlivable Cities
Anthony John Agnello’s article on the “urban design” of in-game cities has been a topic of discussion for much of the week. I followed many of the resulting threads with interest. Here’s a sampling.
Commenter doyourealize noted that games’ distortion of space can have interesting effects on the perception of time, as well:
I remember playing one of the Final Fantasies for Game Boy a while ago (admittedly not great, very formulaic games, but I still played them). In the instruction manual, the authors wrote a short story of a journey the heroes take early in the game. In it, they wrote about how it took a few days to travel from one town to the next, a journey that in the game took maybe two minutes. I’ve always remembered that. The good games are pared down so only what’s necessary to the journey is displayed.
And I apply that to cities. We, as gamers, only see what we need to see—at least, that’s how it should be. (I’m looking at you, Grand Theft Auto!) It’s not that Adam Jensen never goes to the gas station to pick up an Orange Fanta, it’s that that doesn’t matter, so we don’t see it. I imagine all the interiors to un-enterable buildings are there, and sometimes your character even goes in them, just not when you’re looking.
Merve apologized for this supposedly “super-pretentious” comment, but I’ve read plenty of pretentious games commentary in my day, and this note on the aesthetics of the Deus Ex seres ain’t it:
One thing I love about the city design in Deus Ex: Human Revolution is how well the aesthetic balances “clean” and “dirty.” In the original Deus Ex, almost every place I visited felt dank, dirty, and grimy. Human Revolution, on the other hand, shows how a beautiful, clean LIMB Clinic and a dark, dirty alleyway can exist side by side. It’s a nice reflection of some of the ideas in the game: haves vs. have-nots, the augmented vs. the unaugmented, a façade of sophistication and scientific progress vs. the reality of dirty backroom deals and corporate espionage.
Now, on your typical internet comment thread, you might expect a post with a byline of ShitMcFuckensteinAVC to be something less than insightful. Those online rules of thumb don’t apply here, though. The right honorable Mr. McFuckenstein launched a discussion about invisible walls with this observation:
On the subject of invisible boundaries (a necessary evil), I’ve noticed that the Grand Theft Auto series seems to go out of its way to avoid them. In the process, they just make the play area an island in an infinite sea. I actually find this more jarring than if there were an invisible wall blocking access to the mainland. It’s definitely a difficult design question because you have to have borders, but you don’t want it to feel like they are there.
A lot of good comments on this one.
Children Are Our Future
In this week’s new-release roundup, I got all crotchety and wondered if the kids these days knew how good they have it, what with the panoply of downloadable, affordable, high-quality games at their disposal. Chip_Dipson reports that yes, today’s youth understand their good fortune on multiple levels:
My nine-year-old son appreciates how good he has it, but his perception of the gaming world is decidedly more fractured than it was when I was a kid. Where video games were essentially “all games are pretty expensive and you need to wait/earn them” for me as a kid, my son is very cognizant that there is a level of game that you wait and save for (console titles, some downloadable stuff), and smaller games that are essentially free and instant (basically anything covered in Sawbuck). The idea of waiting all week to watch a new episode of a TV show or a holiday special, or spending all of a Saturday morning watching cartoon through sugar-glazed eyes, is sadly lost on him though.
On The Kindness Of Clark
More than dealing with the victorious in the Winner’s Circle, what I loved about Dick Clark as a host on Pyramid was how he dealt with the losers, which obviously happened more often. After the clock stopped, the lights would come up, Clark would head over to the rail, lean on it (careful to make sure the player was still the center of the camera shot), and offer his own clues to see if he could trip that trigger in the player’s brain that their celebrity partner was unable to reach.
Dick was playing along, was engaging genuinely with this thing he was at the head of, and seemed to really enjoy it. Some probably thought that was faked, but I don’t believe it. This is the guy who even gave Michael Moore a brief chance to make sense when ambushed in his driveway in Bowling For Columbine. (Moore ended up looking like the bigger jerk in that scene.)
Dick Clark had more patience and more desire to connect with people than Pyramid, game shows, or his whole career really required. On the game show front, that was what appealed to me, more than the “control” aspect you mentioned. People can say what they want about Pat Sajak’s gee-whiz friendliness, or Alex Trebek’s avuncular positivity toward his contestants, but Dick Clark really carved out the space necessary in each show to indicate the empathy he felt with these players in this position with these phrases. And unlike the more businesslike Trebek, he was able to stay on target for television time limits AND show that warmth simultaneously. As game show hosts go, I probably only hold Bob Barker in higher regard (for his charm, not his boxing skills on the golf course).
Wonderful comment. I agree that Dick’s love of the game and his connection with the players (and audience) were genuine. He was passionate about the game of Pyramid and also happened to be quite good at it, no surprise. Not only was there the ritual in which Dick would jump in after a loss and often come up with an ideal clue, but he also had the pre-Winner’s Circle ritual of giving the contestants a shoulder massage (his “rubdowns”) during the commercial break so that they’d relax. Even after he’d hosted the show for over a decade, he had a heartfelt desire for the contestants to enjoy themselves. He will be missed. Thanks for your thoughts, MattmanBegins.
It’s A Hard-Knock Life
For his On The Level column this week, Joe Keiser considered the airport from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, which he characterized as a “place of little failures.” That led a few readers to share their own tales of fail. Like ElDan:
It seems ridiculous, but I totally tried skateboarding one time, on the assumption that if I’m great at Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, obviously I’ve got to be at least decent at real skateboarding. I busted my ass pretty severely twice within 30 seconds and decided skateboarding was dead to me.
Then Effigy_Power did ElDan one better:
I have a story that can top that. My brother had been playing the rally activities of Gran Turismo 2 for an entire day and was then sent by my parents to pick up my little sister from a friend’s house. Deeply inspired by his prowess in the game and lobotomized by nine hours of sitting 24 inches away from the TV, he thought that his 1994 Pontiac Grand Am should be able to sort of slide through a corner. It was winter. The car had all-season tires. My brother is not a good driver. Steel bollards are harder than cars. $1,200 damage. License revoked by parental authority. Shamed for life.
Give Yourself Some Space
Tired of those ugly underscores in your commenter name? There’s a way to get rid of them. From the Disqus menu at the top of every comment thread, choose “Edit Profile.” Then click on the “Profile” tab. In the “Full Name” field, enter the handle you’d like to use in Disqus comment threads. Contrary to appearances, this doesn’t have to be your actual name—just type whatever name you’d like displayed when you make a comment. Most gloriously, you can use spaces in this field (unlike the “username” field), so you can be the dashing “Mega Man 2 Savant” instead of the homely “Mega_Man_2_Savant.”
And no, I have no idea why Disqus is set up like this.
By the way, Disqus may “helpfully” ask you to merge your Disqus comment account with your A.V. Club comment account. For the time being, I recommend you don’t do this. It worked fine for me, but many other people have encountered bugs, and there is no going back. If you upload your avatar image to the Disqus system and use the method described above to set your handle, you can easily create a replica of your AVC identity without having to munge your user information between the two systems.