So one of the big dramatic points on the interwebs these days is that Guitar Hero guitars and Rock Band guitars aren’t interchangable – guitars made for one game don’t work with the other game. According to Harmonix, they’re all gung-ho for an open guitar standard, and it’s Activision being the bad guy and refusing. Of course, the internet is a bunch of idiots, and they jump all over anything that makes those Big Faceless Corporations look as evil as Noam Chomsky says they are. Now, I mean, I’m no big Activision apologist, but can’t anybody come up with any way this could have played out other than "the Big Corporation tries to crush the Small Mom-And-Pop Outfit?"
For example, consider this. If guitars are freely compatible, this encourages people who already have Rock Band to get the game-only version of Guitar Hero, yes? That makes sense. It does not, however, work in reverse: people who already have Guitar Hero will probably still buy the Rock Band bundle, and people who presently own neither will be inclined to buy the Rock Band bundle and the game-only Guitar Hero. Why? Because Guitar Hero (rather sensibly) doesn’t come with drums or a microphone, and they’re sort of integral to the Rock Band experience. Looking at it this way, it seems like Activision is the clear loser in the interoperability game – if Harmonix’s controllers work with Guitar Hero, Activision can expect to lose money, whereas Harmonix should not.
Now, looking at it this way puts a different cast to things; Activision is no longer quite such a cut-and-dried Evil Personage. Now imagine the conversation played out like this:
Harmonix: Hey, all of our guitar controllers should be compatible.
Activision: We’re positioned to take a loss if that happens. How are you going to make this worth our while?
Harmonix: FUCK AKKKTIVISION NO BLOOD FOR GUITARS!
Now, I’m not saying it did come down that way. I’m not even saying I’m right about the economic assumptions behind this. And I’m not saying Activision is great and Harmonix sucks. I’m just saying that maybe the intertwits would do well to think critically instead of just assuming that the Little Guy is just acting out of pure altruism and the Big Guy is acting out of greed and malice. It’s not necessarily true that Activision Blizzard hates Rock Band and horde.
Oh, and since when does Harmonix count as the Little Guy anyhow? Last time I checked, Viacom – the parent company of MTV games / Harmonix – wasn’t exactly a small-time outfit. In fact, Viacom’s one of the main companies trying to shut down darling-of-the-young-left YouTube. So stick that in your Chomsky and spin on it.
Ignore the whole site. Just focus on the marvel that is the flash animation it opens with. That is the funniest website mistake ever.
The BBC website has a number of interesting little quizzes on it (including one that requires you to enter your weight in goddamn stone). The one I’d like to call your attention to, though, is this one about telling a fake smile from a real smile. Mind, I’m not really clear on what the difference is, but that’s not the point. I’d just like you to look at the twenty monsters they got to pose for this experiment. Is this a representative sample of what British people actually look like?
In the future, we won’t have normal old doors with knobs. We’ll have doors made out of radial metal wedges. And they won’t just sit there, held closed by Newton’s first law – oh, no. Because this is the future, and you can’t expect us to push the doors open like goddamn cavemen. Instead, the doors will be designed by super-smart future engineers so that they’re constantly attempting to rip themselves open. The doors don’t just sit there, you see; they’re always trying to open for you. We’ll solve that problem of sometimes wanting the door to be closed by containing them in a force field that holds them closed. And we’ll make it so if you shoot the force field with a death ray, it shuts off for a few seconds and the door yanks itself open. This is the sensible future approach to doors, and it has only one flaw: the doors will suffer from intermittent latency and sometimes take up to fifteen seconds to open after you shoot the force field with your death ray.
This is one of the insights I’ve gleaned from playing Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. The full review is forthcoming, but I wanted to use this column for complaining about the ways it really pissed me off. I mean, don’t get the wrong idea; the game’s decent. I’ve played worse. But it has a few little annoying touches that drive me completely up the wall, and the door thing is one of them. I don’t know what’s behind it – does it have the World’s Slowest Renderer and actually need all that time to draw what’s behind the door? Is this intentional? Is it "value-added slowness" to drive up the play time so it seems like a longer game? I don’t know. All I know is that it really gets on my nerves.
The other little nitpick I’d like to throw in is about the ending. I guess you could consider this a spoiler, so maybe don’t read it if you’re anal about things like this. After the final boss, there’s this scene where it tries to build up some pathos by making it look like Samus didn’t survive. There’s this long pause and some mobs are like "no sign of Samus’ ship" and all that. Now, the scene doesn’t bother me because it’s totally pointless and manipulative – welcome to video game endings, boys and girls. No, what bothers me about it is that here we have the designers – the same designers who made the whole Prime series, mind – writing a series ending with a suspenseful "oh no maybe the hero died" scene.
They evidently forgot that the Prime series is a fucking prequel series. It comes before the other Metroid games. Anybody who is aware of this – a set that, apparently, doesn’t include the game’s developers – is going to get no deep emotional impact out of the gratuitous pathos scene. Unless incredulity counts as an emotion.
I’ve been reviewing video games for a few years now, and I think I’ve broadly gotten the hang of it. I’ve learned this by reading lots of other reviews and evaluating them in terms of what’s good and bad about them – in essence, reviewing other reviews (wait, where have I heard that…).
One thing I’ve learned is that a good review shouldn’t go into too much detail. Paint in broad strokes – readers don’t need or generally desire to hear low-level information about every single level in the game. If there’s anything in particular that sticks out ("level three was especially good because…"), highlight it, but there’s no reason to try to "prove" that level three was the best by explaining everything that was wrong with levels one, two, four, five, and six. Give the general tenor of the game and call out the exceptions and you’re good.
Reviews should avoid spoilers whenever possible, and clearly demarkate them when not. Now, some things it’s safe to spoil – you mean the final boss in the new Mario game is Bowser? No shit? – but it’s really tacky to give away the solutions to any mysteries or describe the ending or any major plot twists in detail.
Use a rating system, and make it sensible. Some places try to be all iconoclastic and eschew ratings. That’s all swell and post-modern and probably ultimately better for the art of game journalism, but it’s a disservice to your readers for two reasons: one, readers sometimes want to read you harshing on something and can use low ratings as sort of an index to find the harshest reviews, and two, they make it clear even when your language is ambiguous exactly what you actually thought about a game. So I advise using a system of ratings, but not an insane one; you seen Gamespot? You see how the ratings they give games have 101 discrete possible scores? Bullshit it’s possible to rate video games with anything resembling that much precision. I mean, I sometimes wonder if I can justify the eleven possible states I use, and these twits have a hundred and one. There’s just no way.
Also on that note, avoid saddling yourself with a weird rating "formula." I assign a rating to each game based mainly on how much fun it was. A game that was really kickass fun will never score lower than a 4 from me, no matter how ugly and blocky the graphics are, and even if it doesn’t have any sound at all. Meanwhile, ship a beautiful, state-of-the-art, orchestrally-scored, packed-with-bells-and-whistles steaming log of poop and I won’t rate it higher than 1. Gamespot was notorious for a horribly unbalanced "system" that had them giving equal weight to a game’s graphics, sound, gameplay, and "value," along with a truly bogus "tilt" number that could be set to whatever the reviewer desired if the average of the other four didn’t whip up a score he liked for the game. Now, the existence of the tilt category is sufficient evidence that this system is horribly flawed. Ignoring that for a moment, consider this: which matters more to you when you’re evaluating a game? The gameplay, or the sound? If you can’t decide, well then hell, this is the system to use. But if you’re a non-retard, you can probably see why this is stupid. (Note: Gamespot has, probably due to many years of me making fun of them about this, finally changed their idiot rating system. But I wrote this whole article and then found out about that, so I just went back and made it sound like I already knew. Hell if I was erasing it.)
Most importantly, try to make your reviews entertaining. Get a few jokes in there, work on writing prose that doesn’t suck, and try not to get too dry and technical. You’re reviewing games here, not industrial equipment; people reading this stuff can be expected to be at least passingly interested in entertainment. I mean, the least you can do is swear a lot, amirite?
According to information released at CES, it appears that Sony will be distributing high-definition video content over (get this) Xbox Live Marketplace. Doesn’t exactly demonstrate a wall of confidence in your own platform, there, Sony.
Behold ye peons, and despair! I am now the sovereign of my own little city. As of this writing, it’s the 389th largest city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and we’re growing rapidly. Click on the link and donate your precious genetic material to my mad cause! GAZE UPON MY TRUE FORM AND DESPAIR!
Guitar Hero III contains quite a lot of songs by quite a lot of bands, many of which are deserving of the title "Legends of Rock." But then it also has a lot of songs by a lot of bands that it’s nothing shy of perverse to call Legends of a goddamn thing. Since this pisses me off, let’s talk about them. I’m just discussing the ones in the single-player career mode, here; the bonus songs are so wildly variable and such odd stuff that I’m thinking nobody ever meant to call those Legends.
The Killers – They released a b-sides/outtakes collection after only two studio albums. Fuck them.
AFI – Come on. "Davey Havok" is probably the worst tough-guy stage name a musician’s ever adopted. It always makes me think of what we’d get if Davy Jones and that guy from the X-men adopted a really stupid kid. That notwithstanding, AFI’s never released a song worth hearing, and Miss Murder (the cut in GH3) only barely manages to scrape past normal-bad into hysterically-bad by virtue of the unbelievably lame breakdown two-thirds of the way through the song. Come on, AFI. Either get a lot better or a little bit worse and you’d be a lot less objectionable.
Priestess – Who?
Weezer – I – what? Weezer? Calling Weezer either legends or rock is a fucking stretch. Okay, great, you thought Pinkerton was badass when you were twelve. You probably also liked Eureeka’s Castle when you were twelve, and that’s not a legend of rock either. I’ll grant that the Sweater Song was probably the funniest "intended to be serious" song I’d heard up to that time, but that’s not screaming "rock" either. Oh, and they chose the dull, lugubrious "My Name is Jonas" instead for GH3, so we don’t even get that.
The Smashing Pumpkins – Come on. Billy Corgan may have been the only man in history with the balls to make a band consisting of him playing every single instrument and yet give it an explicitly plural name, but that doesn’t mean they were any good. I had in fact forgotten all about the Smashing Pumpkins until this game came out. I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.
Tenacious D – Hey, when I’m a movie star, I’m going to start a terrible vanity band and release a bunch of stupid "ironic" songs too. Maybe a whole bunch of tin-eared nerds will call me a legend of rock!
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Far be it from me to talk shit about Stevie Ray. I’m just thinking, you know, maybe he’d better for Guitar Hero IV: Legends of Electric Blues. Since, you know, that’s what he played and all.
Slipknot – Well, they’re better than Trapt or Staind or Linkin Park, and they spelled their name right for God’s sake, but that doesn’t mean rap-metal is worth ten damn cents now or ever was before or ever will be in the future.
Disturbed – See above.
Queens of the Stone Age – This is the sort of band that says shit like "We want sex to bleed into the music. At our shows, we want to see half boys and half girls in a utopian world, dancing and drinking." So they’re pretentious idiots, they use words they don’t completely understand, and they don’t seem to understand that if they want sex in their music they need to goddamn put it there themselves. Personally, I think they should put some sex in their music. Or some violence. Or maybe some jokes, because, frankly, guys, you put me to sleep. But seriously, check out some of the amazingly lame things Joshua Homme has said. It’s incredible.
Muse – If you’re getting the impression that I have to struggle to tolerate level seven, you’re not wrong. And who the hell decided to put Muse in here? We’re trying to forget about Muse, Neversoft or Red Octane or whoever. At least they picked Knights of Cydonia. Not that it’s any good, mind; it’s just that I can distract myself from listening to the song by imagining the scenes from the hypothetical Tim Burton western it was evidently created for.