Thursday, January 28, 2010

Nerd, meet Girlfriend (Part 2)

One of my fans suggested I write more, and that he'd read it when they woke up in the morning. He also said they really liked Nerd, Meet Girlfriend part 1 and it inspired him and his girlfriend to play more games together. Aww!

That being said, sometimes it's hard to get your significant other to play the games you actually like. You play EVE, and you're hardcore. You're a productive member of a 0.0 alliance, and you put around 30 hours a week playing (maybe that's too small an estimate for EVE players). You really wish your girlfriend would play EVE with you.

You're a competitive Street Fighter 4 player. Your boyfriend has an XBox 360 and plays random games. You enjoyed playing Halo 3 together (you suffered through Legendary, but made it somehow), but he can't really bring himself to play SF4 with you because you own him all the time and he doesn't understand why linking two crouching strongs into roundhouse is important. He follows the Ken flowchart and loses horribly, and doesn't have fun.

This post is for us. The hardcores, the players that play games to the fullest, to 100%. How the heck do we get our girlfriends (or boyfriends) to actually sit down in practice mode and learn combos? How do we get our significant other to understand that playing the market is actually fun, and doing endgame raids is awesome when everyone actually does what they are supposed to?

Honestly, I don't know the full answer to this. Some love interests just won't sit in practice mode and learn combos. Some love interests will never get what frame advantage is. Some significant others just don't understand why dealing more damage than the tank is important. No matter what we try, nothing will get these people to do what you want.

However, I can pose some situations from experience about fighting games, and go from there.

I've taught a fair number of total noobs how frame advantage works, in a way that makes sense. I've also taught a large number of unskilled fighting game players about guessing games so that they get that "a-ha!" moment when they do something, guess wrong, and understand that they guessed wrong. Honestly, I still beat these people consistently, but it is about 1000 times more fun to play with them because it goes from being a "spam optimal move" fest to being "I am pretty sure they will do this."

The first and most important thing that you need to have is a student, partner, whatever, who is actually willing to listen to what you are trying to show them. A girlfriend is actually fairly likely to listen to you. A boyfriend... might, although male ego will get in the way. If they don't actually want to try, you are screwed.

The next step is to explain the concepts in as basic a manner as you can. Completely avoid complex topics like parrying or combos. In a fighting game, explaining tempo is very hard, but you're going to have to be the one to do it. I use 'my turn, your turn' gameplay as a way of describing tempo, and use Soul Calibur as my teaching game of choice. Even if my eventual goal is to get people playing BlazBlue (Continuum Shift is out for consoles now, yay!), I need to teach tempo in a game where tempo is easy to understand, and Soul Calibur is easy to understand - it's easy to understand controlling space when we explain what each character's long ranged moves are, and it's easy to explain tempo in a game that often rewards blocking with free damage.

MMOs are in the same vein. Explaining mana efficiency is easy to understand. Explain that a healer should choose when to heal wisely in order to prepare for emergencies, because healing when you don't need to wastes mana for when something bad happens, like extra pulls or aggro on someone else. Explaining why fearing a mob is a bad idea (feel free to demonstrate why, it's one of those obvious things if you see it in action). Explain what DPS is (it's honestly not that hard, it's just the amount of damage you do, no need to complicate it with exact time frames).

If you dumb down the nuance things that you know Barney-style, it helps build a foundation that lets them understand things better. I've had girls (not SOs, but the point remains) who were not normally known for being exceptional gamers ask me why so-and-so did some stupid thing, because what so-and-so was doing didn't make sense, since I taught her to do it the smart way. It warmed my (black, evil) heart!

The closer you get to that 'a-ha!' moment, the better. But you are going to have to hold their hand most of the way. I was teaching a friend (guy) how to play Soul Calibur, and after learning about tempo, he just blocked all the time, even when it was safe for him to attack. I looked at him funny, like "why are you blocking, you should be attacking!" and he just gave me the deer in the headlights look. He eventually got to where he could occasionally fluke a good player, and when he went to play normal SC4 players, he tore them apart (warmed my black heart again). He looked at me like, "wow, these people don't even know when it's safe to attack, it's like beating up little kids."

All the stuff I said in Part 1 applies. You have to be patient, encouraging, and 100% positive throughout the learning process. Since we're probably teaching your boyfriend to do something that involves making him fail a lot (because hardcore players do hard things, and your boyfriend is not going to be able to just do them), you need to be extra encouraging. Sometimes taking him to an anime con so he can thrash all over the anime fans at Soul Calibur might be what he needs. Another good idea might be to have him watch you raid, so he can get an idea for what kind of mistakes other people make.

What about EVE?

Well, honestly I think you're screwed, because EVE really... isn't fun. I know I'm going to get hate mail or something because people insist EVE is fun, but it's not. EVE is an enjoyable experience (I hate to call it a game) for a lot of people. Some parts of EVE can be fun, maybe. But the most important part of EVE is the corporate drama, which really has little to do with the 'game' itself. It's something that you can't just inject yourself into. The game itself is about watching progress bars go up (or really down, in the case of enemy health bars). Sure, there is a fair bit of depth involved in making those progress bars go down, but it's not like most MMOs where every 1-3 seconds is a decision-making point. It's definitely not like a fighting game or shooter where every .1 seconds is a decision-making point. If you can get your girlfriend* to play EVE with you, it's because somehow you got her into your alliance and got her involved with the drama, and she likes it.

Either that, or she's an economics major.

Ultimately, this is a hard question to answer in a general way, but I can sum it up like this:

1: make sure they are actually interested in playing with you; if not, go back to Gears of War
2: start teaching them very basic concepts, starting from the first little things they do wrong
3: never get frustrated, use the word wrong, or be negative, ever - 100% positive all the time
4: be aware of the fact that they most likely will never be amazing
5: be prepared to give up, because honestly this is hard and you most likely failed #3

*kind of sexist, but I realize that the ratio of male to female in EVE is like 20:1 or something

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Gaming Journalism is Garbage

I read gaming websites a lot, and hype articles are getting to the point where they just aren't good for useful anymore. Yes, there are bad articles on all the time. I know this. But what pissed me off enough to write about it came from IGN, which considering how long they've been in the business, they really should know better.

Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if this article is taken down, although it's been up for over a week, so my guess is probably not. I got linked to it from somewhere else, as I don't actually read IGN, because I guess I figured everything they wrote was trash.

The article, in case you're too lazy to read it (I probably would be!) is about how JRPGs are fundamentally flawed, and the writers have their own special, magical ideas about how to fix them. Yes, you heard right - writers - that is to say that unlike most trashy gaming journalism articles, this one went through peer review. I can really only imagine what kind of peer review. Was it where they look at the other's brilliantly typed words and fawn over how witty they are? Did they even stop to think for 2 seconds about the PR disaster it might cause?

I think this is the stupidest piece of gaming journalism I've ever read. I'm no industry demographic genius or anything, but it doesn't take a lot of thought to know that bashing on a hardcore gaming genre is going to send the fanboys in droves and they aren't going to be happy.

Also, the next time I read somewhere that Deus Ex is a western RPG, I think I'm going to barf. Deus Ex is western awesome*, not an RPG.

The real worst part of the article is that it's mostly just preferences. It's funny when they claim #9 (grinding) when most modern JRPGs minimize mandatory grinding, and have since the PSX days. Some games (like Lost Odyssey) penalize grinding by adding diminishing returns to EXP awards. Sure, some games still do it, but the fact is that tons of people like grinding EXP for their characters. That's why asian MMOs are still popular over here.

Other things, like improving presentation and reducing cliches are already prevalent in JRPGs. Should we call out Dragon Age for having cliches, too? NO. What IGN calls a cliche is more accurately called an 'archetype', and there's a lot of room for flavor inside those archetypes. Female magic users, being an example they used, are perfectly fine things with plenty of variations. Loner swordsmen are too. So are drunken dwarven berserkers, or cops who are pissed off at the system and think they should pursue justice outside the law. It's about the quality and robustness of the writing.

For western RPGs, the average quality is usually higher just because there are fewer of them, and Bethseda and BioWare really can't do wrong. In Japan, there are a lot more RPGs released in general, because their market is different (they like grindy, stat-based games more than we do). If we compare the Japanese RPG market to the western shooter or action game market, you'll find that the average quality is probably closer (probably worse, in the case of the US action game market).

Sure, JRPGs are a smaller market share, but seriously - does IGN need to bash them for doing what they do? I don't see any reason why a gaming publication should go and genre bash. You don't see me bashing 3D fighters... yet.

Out of the 500-some odd comments on the topic right now, I think there was a 2chan invasion too. Wow, go JP players for being awesome.

*actually closer to a stealth action game