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.
Long Live The PS2
Sadly, Sony shut down all production of the PlayStation 2 at the end of 2012. Father Anthony John Agnello provided a lovely eulogy for Sony’s prolific gaming machine. Commenter Joshua Saietz reminded us of the fate this news holds for the system’s many classic titles and compares the lack of game preservation to that of early films:
Equally depressing is that, with the PS2 gone and the PS3 no longer backwards compatible, a wide variety of classic PS2 games will eventually be unplayable. For a while you’ll still be able to find a used PS2 (perhaps as long as 10 years before the newest ones simply break down), but after that, you’ll be limited to illegal emulation and the handful of digital titles and HD remakes that Sony sees fit to produce. We have no real libraries for games, no real curation, and lot of the history of the medium is simply vanishing before our eyes. In analogy, games are where film was in the 1910s when, once sold, movies were discarded, burned, or sold for scrap, leaving only a tiny fraction of these important works available to future generations.
Taking us on a not-so-frequent-for-Gameological trip to the business side of games, Unexpected Dave broke down why the PlayStation 2 marked a major change for the way “successful” games were defined:
Prior to the PS2 generation, there was almost* no notion of a game “selling poorly”. If you released a game, there was a guaranteed demand of some sort. A publisher’s only task was to estimate (or manufacture) that demand, and plan accordingly. Now, higher development costs coupled with a more fragmented market (and the increasing divergence between critics and consumers) have made it increasingly necessary for every retail game to be a huge hit. What was once called a modest success is now a failure. There’s no longer such thing as the “AAA Niche Game.”
In the NES days, there was such a hunger for new games, and no real reviews available, that pretty much anything was guaranteed to sell.
Once magazines such as Electronic Gaming Monthly started providing some consumer advocacy, the cheap stuff started to get weeded out, genres had become more defined, and game developers were being recognized. In the ’90s, some games sold a million copies, most games sold a fraction of that, but sales generally conformed to expectations. Poorly reviewed games from unknown developers sold poorly. Well-reviewed action games with a marketing push sold well. RPGs were marketed to a niche market and performed accordingly.
This business model was all well and good when Square could put out a Final Fantasy game every year. But as games increased in size and resolution, the staff and development times increased. Obviously, you can’t spend 10 times as much on a sequel that will only sell as well as the original.
Elswehere, Jackbert322 explored the dynamics of the dysfunctional PlayStation family—specifically the much-ignored PlayStation Vita portable:
I’d say, what with the impressive hardware prowess yet total lack of successful marketing, the Vita is like a prodigy on the spectrum. Any attempts at acclimation are misguided and just worsen its social situation (Black Ops Declassified), while its academic achievements are ignored due to inherent prejudices (Persona 4 Golden). It also must deal with unsupportive parents who refuse to adjust to its skills and weaknesses (lower the memory card prices) and instead hold it to a standard set by its older siblings (PS1, PS2).
Aaand I’m extensively anthropomorphizing video games consoles on the internet…how Vita-ish of me.
I’d recommend checking out the full comment thread where you can pay your respects alongside the many affectionate memories and top-10 lists.
Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Snide
Jason Reich relived the horrors that plagued the 1988 NES adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. In the comments, PaganPoet kicked off a string of absurd hypothetical book-to-game adaptations:
You just have to shake your head at some of adaptations people somehow were thought were good ideas. Is there also an NES adaptation of Wuthering Heights? You play Heathcliff, hurling insults and obscenities at Catherine’s ghost to keep her from trying to enter the manor.
Waiting For Godot: a Streets Of Rage/Final Fight style beat-em-up with no enemies. Periodically the little “Go! Go! Go!” arrow appears—but they do not move.
This Is Your Brain On Collectibles
Our current Special Topics In Gameology series continued with John Teti’s look at a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that dabbled in our societal fears of addiction through the use of a very strange video game. Enkidum brought the conversation back into reality by pointing out the ways games tap into our brains’ reward systems, making them something easy for us to get hooked on:
I’ve never seen this episode, but until the last few paragraphs I was thinking the show was not entirely out to lunch. The precise definition of addiction varies, but a lot of researchers say that what’s really going on is a malfunction in the reward-seeking circuits. So you do some activity (say, inject heroin, or play another 8 hours of World Of Warcraft) with the purpose of getting pleasure (this purpose need not be terribly conscious). So the idea of goal-oriented behavior is critical. Junkies aren’t necessarily addicted to being high, but rather to getting high. There’s a compulsive need to pursue the behaviors that lead to pleasure (or once led to pleasure—there’s plenty of alcoholics who are miserable drunks).
All games exploit reward circuitry. With something like, say, chess, the rewards of a good move are pretty much internal. When you start getting to Assassin’s Creed III-style collectibles and achievements, the game is broken down into hundreds of instances of a dozen or so different kinds of tasks, and each instance is rewarded. I think most of us who have played these kind of games will agree that after a while, there is nothing at all enjoyable about the process of trying to 100-percent [complete] them. Finding another frigging pigeon in Grand Theft Auto IV, getting another Templar flag [in Assassin’s Creed]—these tasks are just annoying after a while. But we still do them. And I’d argue that the reasons why we do them have a certain amount of overlap with the reasons why meth addicts get another hit—again, hijacked reward circuits.
Prompted by the mere mention of Grand Theft Auto IV’s pigeons, Staggering Stew Bum gave us a look into his struggle to clean the streets of the game’s 200 flying rats:
Oh, don’t talk to me about those GTA4 pigeons. To the guy at Rockstar who decided that finding and shooting 200 pigeons would be a nifty achievement: FUCK YOU.
I wanted “100 percent” [completion] in the game because my life has no meaning or purpose, so printed out a copy of the map showing the pigeon locations and systematically knocked them off. Paranoia set in frequently because I’d taken out about a quarter of the bastards as I came across them while playing through the game, and I couldn’t remember which ones I’d already eliminated. I would end up searching longer for the ones that I’d already removed. For the ones I did (eventually) find, most of the time it went like this:
1. Finally find pigeon
2. Shoot pigeon
3. Get two-star wanted rating that quickly escalates to four stars
4. Drive around for 10 minutes trying to shake the cops, eventually giving up and reloading last save and trying to go to happy place
5. Back to step 1.
My wife still gives me shit for wasting several evenings tracking down those bloody pigeons, and I don’t blame her. No sane individual would waste their time on something like that. I’d like to say that this experience was my moment of clarity, but no, I still put myself through all this sort of shit for meaningless trophies. It’s not addiction, I don’t think. I don’t know what it means. So, who’s totally pumped for GTA5?
Operation Enduring Pylons
There’s also this cheat in Total Annihilation where you can sell weapons to future enemies, supply your “allies” with enough money to push dope and train a small cadre of insane fanatics to fight wars in buttfuck nowhere for you (and all they ask in return is the complete suspension of human rights in “their” country and plenty of future-stock in drugs and terrorism).
Then, when the game-masters find out you cheated, you blame the weakest dude in your team while dashing out of the way. It’s fine, though, he won’t get charged really. Instead they lose all the evidence, and the guy you pawned off becomes the new opinions guy on G4. And the guy who was partially responsible for the whole disaster, because he played your rogue in the team, later becomes team leader himself, but only for a single game.
No wait, that’s not in the game, that’s in the actual Reagan administration.
Silly me. ^_^
That’s all, folks. As always, thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week.