Friday, November 18, 2011

The Armchair Gamer Podcast Episode Seven: East Vs. West!

On this week’s Armchair Gamer Podcast, we have an in-depth discussion regarding online distribution, Minecraft, and the differences between Eastern and Western role-playing games. This week, we also get back into the habit of saying offensive things, which we earnestly hope you don’t take seriously. If you do, you may want to find a different show.

Listen to the Episode Here:
Or visit the show’s iTunes page:
Also, in an effort to conserve space on Podomatic, we have a backlog of older episodes on Internet Archives, for your listening pleasure:

Show Plugs:
Nick is on Twitter:!/TOGNick
JJ is also on Twitter:!/Thejourneyman66
And I (Your Host) Am on Twitter:!/Gamebeast23456
Also, check out the official blog of this podcast here:
How do you feel about JRPG's and WRPG's, do you like one more than the other- or do you find both equally interesting? We'd love to hear your input.
Once again, thanks to everyone for listening

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Armchair Gamer Podcast Episode Six: That Gregory Weir Episode.

In this installment of the revered Armchair Gamer Podcast, we sit down and chat about games with a creative, awesome independent game developer, Gregory Weir. Not only do we talk about his score of awesome flash games, we discuss mechanical storytelling, online distribution, and how you should raise a dragon. If you want to get the full effect of this podcast, check out some of his games at

Listen To The Podcast On Podomatic: 

Or Listen on iTunes:

Show Notes: 
Gregory Weir has a blog:
And you can follow him on Twitter:!/GregoryWeir
JJ Can Be Found On Twitter:!/Thejourneyman66
Nick Is On Twitter:!/TOGNick
And I'm Also On Twitter:!/Gamebeast23456

Music Used in This Episode: 

Thanks everyone for listening, I hope you enjoyed it. If you have an indie developer in mind that you'd like to hear on the podcast, or anyone who is remotely accessible- drop a comment or email the show at 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Some More Worthwhile Questions Than "Are Games Art?"

I'm really, really tired of the debate about whether or not games are art. I have heard every possible argument possible from every side of the debate, and I will not listen to anymore of it. If you love games and have seen their power of telling stories and evoking powerful emotional responses, you understand that games absolutely have the ability to be forms of artistic expression. That discussion should have a bullet in it's skull by now, and the fact that gamers are still discussing it proves we are still unsure of our medium, and we personally aren't sure if we are good enough to be art, which is a destructive mindset. 
Since I will never discuss that topic on THIS blog, I feel there are other topics related to the advancement of fascinating and artistic games that need to be discussed; there are problems surrounding video games as an industry that need to be solved. In this post, I'm going to cover two of these questions, and I hope you think about them, as well. 

Is The System Weighed Against Creative Game Development? 

What is "the system", you ask? Some may classify it as publishers, and the mainstream game market. I find that a little close-minded, and it doesn't really cover the whole problem. After all, publishers are just companies that exist to make money. They follow markets and bet on what they feel will succeed in the current market. No, "the system" may very well be you, and it is definitely is me at times. The things we buy contribute to "the system", subscribing to news organizations that parrot corporate lines contributes to it, etc. 

You may think the statement that much of the industry is weighed against creativity is a little dramatic, and if I  did not see the lineup for games releasing this year I may agree with you. But think about this: What games have you been most excited for this past year? Now list all of the sequels that appeared on your list. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy having more of a great game as much as any gamer- but it seems the video game industry is more occupied on doing more of the same than doing something new. We don't seem to want to leave our comfort zone, and because of that we consistently get more of the same. And then when a game at least attempts something different, or tries to change video games- it is labeled as pretentious because, well, it wasn't fun, or some crap like that. 
"The system" rewards people doing the same thing over and over because it says, "That weird game isn't how video games are supposed to be." "Games have to be FUN or else they have failed as a game." It's one thing to criticize a game fairly, it's another entirely to look down upon the game because the people behind the game are trying something new, and calling them pretentious because they aren't staying with the status quo. 

Are The Personalities We Like in The Game Industry Dragging It Down? 

I will admit that I really like Jim Sterling, the writer of Not only do I find his humor ridiculously funny (some of my favorite podcast moments are Jim Sterling going insane on Podtoid in British voices) and I appreciate his harsh criticism of gaming, and his apparent longing for games to become the best they possibly can be. Yet, Jim is very guilty of trying to limit games as a form as well. He has made it very clear of his disdain for "art" games, complaining that they aren't fun, like games have to be fun before anything else. 
Now, it's fine to have different opinions than me. That's what makes the world awesome, there are so many great and fascinating opinions floating around on any topic, and there are people like Jim Sterling who are great at fluently expressing and explaining these opinions. But I find the idea that games have to be fun one of the most destructive of any concept in the industry. It's like saying a novel must have intrigue or else it has failed, it's like saying that a rock album has to have heavy electric guitar riffs or else it is worthless. There is so much possibility in interactive media that saying games have to be fun is ridiculous and limiting.
Yet, people eat up these people's opinions like they are going to give them pundit-superpowers or something. How could non-gamers accept games on the same level as books or paintings when so many people in the middle of the industry feel they need to be toys. I am sorry, but I DO CARE that people accept games- I want more people to be interested in something as awesome as games because I know if we got over this "games are toys" hump, everyone would realize that games are amazing, as I already have. 

I have said my piece, and put forward some pressing questions about trends that are harming the future of imaginative games. I now hope you will disagree or agree with me, and expand this discussion beyond being a one-sided affair. We won't get anywhere in this medium unless these questions are asked, and I am eternally grateful for the internet as a place for asking them. Game on, guys. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Artificially Lengthened Games: Why Do We Love Them?

These last few weeks I've been pouring my gaming livelihood into one console game, Batman Arkham City. As I've said before, this game is absolutely fantastic- from the gameplay to the story to the awesome villains. Except one thing: The game is an absolute collect-athon. Really. There is so much to collect and accomplish in the game, it's overwhelming. Riddles, collectible trophies, breakable cameras- all of these are present in the game, and found in large quantities. These little treasures are scattered all throughout the game to lengthen gameplay, and darn it- it works. 

Like I've said, the human brain has evolved into a very goal-oriented entity over the years. Understandably so. We needed to survive, and to survive we have had to accomplish certain goals. When we accomplish these things, we get a feeling of satisfaction- a purely chemical reaction; human beings are mind-junkies, we love to get ourselves high, and we'll spend hours accomplishing goals to get that feeling of satisfaction. 

This concept has many guises in game design. The first is this: collecting items. This is not a new concept. Games have made us bend over backwards for upgrades or little sounds since dinosaurs walked the videogame landscape. Who can forget their first 100-percent-ing of a game. The second method of artificially lengthening a game is known as grinding: Grinding is commonly found in MMO and RPG games since, I dunno, the SNES. We did basically nothing for hours, such as fighting repetitive enemies and searching boring places to find a needed upgrade. And it was sold to us as a form of "upgrading" our character.... Yeah, that's nice. 

And you know what? I'm tired of these psychological-tricks pulled on gamers. Grinding isn't fun. If you find grinding fun, I pity you. I don't buy a game with expectations that I'll be able to spend dozens of hours doing something for nothing. We just don't have time to grind in games anymore. There are things we need to do, game articles we need to write, etc. So why does grinding exist, but to artificially lengthen an experience that has no buisiness going on for as long as it does. It's a cheap design gimmick, and I cannot get behind it. You can't sell me a 60-dollar game full of fluff and expect me to thank you for it. 

This is my own opinion, of course. I know some people who love games being lengthened for them. But for a person like myself, who wants to experience an RPG's story in a forseeable timespan, I cannot support grinding or collect-a-thons that are NECESSARY to finish a game. (I should mention that Arkham City doesn't punish you for not collecting, or grinding.) 

The Difference Between Games As A Product and A Work Of Artistic Expression.

You know, I dog on games like Call of Duty a lot. Constantly, I find myself comparing an artful, indie game to Call of Duty or a game like it. And I am very much guilty of also making the mistake of putting Call of Duty in a position of inferiority, like it is inherently disgusting and shouldn't even exist. Because, despite all of the complaints I've had with the Call of Duty series, I have to admit that for the last three years every single Call of Duty game released was almost a perfect game. You can not deny that Call of Duty is one of the most prestigious, consistently high-octane game series of all time. You have the success of the games alone to attest to that fact. Yet, I can not in good conscience look at the series as a particularly good one, or one that is healthy for the development of video games as a respectable medium of expression. 

With that being said, I think the work of designers like Jonathan Blow, Gregory Weir, and others is far more important to the evolution of games than the near-perfect Call of Duty series ever will be. This is not to say Majesty of Colors by Gregory Weir is comparable in terms of gameplay to Call of Duty. Compared to COD,   this game is nothing- literally five minutes long at the most, with pixelated graphics and one-dimensional gameplay that could never fill a game the size of Call of Duty, but these games have something that Call of Duty and other engineered blockbusters lack, and that's heart. And there's a very good reason why: 

Most Huge Blockbusters Are Engineered To Be Blockbusters.

Why are series like Gears of War, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Madden, etc. so freaking good? Well, part of it is that the people working on the games are very, very talented people who are dedicated to their job and want to make a good product. But the other reason is because the amount of resources publishers have to use on high-profile games is insane. Games are constantly play-tested by non-biased, third-party individuals and tweaked to work perfectly. After all, they can't afford to release a product that isn't as perfect as possible. 
By the time you play a game, it has been turned over and over by dozens of different people that try their hardest to break the game, to find exploits or problems with the gameplay, and to see how accessible the game is. You are getting a highly-refined, carefully crafted product that has been designed with the utmost quality in mind. Which is great, I still enjoy AAA games as much as the next guy. Just a few weeks ago, I basically had a nerdgasm over how freaking awesome Batman Arkham City was. 
However, when anything is distilled- whether it be a game or a movie- the character is often taken away as well. In the interest of making a great game, a game loses the developers touch and the charm associated with playing a game you know was developed by people, not polls and play-tests. 

Recently, I played the indie game Knytt Stories, a Metroid-style platformer full of whimsy and charm. I enjoyed the heck out of the game, devouring the expansions and then going back for seconds and thirds. It was a pure game experience, and my enjoyment of it was comparable to something like Arkham City, which is another near-perfect game. However, this game had flaws, HUGE, GLARING FLAWS! Flaws that could have easily been ironed out if the game was play-tested a few times. But, some of the things that were wrong with the game were also what I perceived as being done right. The game was so charming and fun, it had me spellbound the entire time I played it. 
The game had, for lack of a less-cliched term, character. It had a presence, and the creator of the game created something that was beautiful and unique and awesome. It felt like it's own game, with no ties to anything else in the platformer market. It was pure and unadulterated, and what flaws it may have had were covered up by the sheer amount of uniqueness. 

If we continue to eat up games that are developed like products and not forms of personal expression, if we keep classifying games based on mechanics, if we keep treating games as toys- we're not leaving this spot we are in now, this awkward spot of people pulling in every direction for only AAA games, no AAA games, etc. I'm not saying AAA-games have to go, but maybe it's time we stop looking for perfection in games, and start looking for individuality and fun. Maybe it's time for something that isn't over-inflated and highly marketed. Or- maybe it isn't. I guess gamers will decide that.