Thursday, March 7, 2013

Comfortable Guilt

Do you, my reader, ever feel any degree of guilt for living a comfortable lifestyle? Anyone that knows anything about me knows that I am a video game collector--especially steelbooks. I spend quite a fair bit of money on maintaining my large collection. There are, after all, an almost alarmingly huge amount of steelbooks being released for many games these days. It's nothing for me to drop at least $30 per steelbook; that's not even including the cost of the game, and heaven forbid if there is a collector's edition, as well. This spending clearly goes well above and beyond a need for entertainment. I find myself quite preoccupied with, but also quite pleased with the collection I have managed to amass. This is all well and good, but it also brings me to the point of this entry: guilt.

I was driving to school a couple of days ago, and it was really quite rainy outside. There are four or five different homeless people that I pass nearly every day on the way to school. They stand at the exits from the freeway, and they hope for pity from the morning commuters stuck waiting at red lights--who are probably too busy wallowing in pity for themselves to spare any for the vagabonds. I frequently talk to a couple of them; they're actually quite nice, just messed up. I saw them differently this day, though, then I had previously. I was sitting in my nice, warm car. I had my heated seats on, my music was going, I was all bundled up in my warm cloths, and they were standing out there in the rain, begging for money to eat. This is, of course, the standard situation when comparing homeless people to the drivers around them, but I really looked at it differently that morning.

I had spent a good portion of the drive bidding on some ebay items. I was extremely pleased to add them to my collection, but they served absolutely no functional purpose at all. I was spending money simply so I could have something else on my shelf and another line in my spreadsheets--yes, I'm one of those people. Meanwhile, in the world right outside my car window, there was this poor old woman standing there in the rain. She smiles and waves to everyone that goes by, and she hopes she'll get enough money to properly eat and warm up at some point that day. I couldn't help but feel bad once I lined this comparison up.
I am not a bleeding heart, so do not take me for one. She is not entitled to my money, and there is nothing wrong with hard work and success. This realization did not make me want to go sell my collection and sponsor a homeless person. The situation really just made me feel embarrassed at my obsession with material things. I could be in her shoes, after all. I was sitting there, in my warm car, that morning pleased with all the money I had just wasted on 'cool things'. She was standing outside, freezing her old bones off, hoping to eat and warm up. It just made me think.

I have worked with numerous charities over the years, and I have even coached Special Olympics twice; I would say I am a fairly charitable person. I don't think this was a wakeup call to my more charitable side; it's already awake and doing just fine, thank you. It was merely eye opening. In fact, I don't even have a point in mind with this. With my previous blogs, I have set out to illustrate a point. This one is more just contained rambling, however.

Do any of you ever feel any degree of guilt for you comfortable lifestyle? If so, what did you with it? 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The paradox of modern game design (Spotlight: Crysis 3)

I am currently playing through Crysis 3 on the Xbox 360. This is a brand new game that was just released yesterday (2/19). This game was developed by Crytek and published by EA. This is not a small, niche game. This is a AAA shooter from a very talented developer and a [I]giant[/I] publisher. As we all know, AAA games have a very large budget--I was unable to find the exact number, but it seems Crytek usually have a budget of between 10-30 million--and usually have a large number of people working on them. They're a 'big deal', and they're made as such. Herein lies the paradox, though. Even with all this money and manpower thrown at them, AAA games are still often extremely vapid, or they are riddled with annoying bugs and problems. This blog will be speaking to the latter.

This game is buggy, dudes; that's all there is to it. Right from the very first level there are very annoying sound issues. The sound cuts out frequently. This seems to be worse in cut scenes, but it is certainly present during gameplay, as well. Nothing can take you out of an experience more than having the experience break down around you. I am reminded every 30 seconds or so that I am playing a buggy video game. The frame rate on this level is also inconsistent. The rain in the outside segments is clearly too much for the game to handle on consoles. It would be much better if they reduced the visual fidelity a little bit to make it run smoother. Consoles aren't PCs after all, and there is no way for a person to change the graphics settings.

It is also my understanding from those that I have talked to--I haven't played it enough to form an opinion on this for myself yet--that the multiplayer is also full of issues. The previous Crysis game, Crysis 2, had some of the most severe latency problems that I have ever seen in a console FPS. It sounds like this game continues that legacy. As I said, though, I cannot fully endorse this view yet; I will need to play it more to make a proper judgment on the multiplayer.

My mind is boggled that these issues made it past testers. I can understand that the frame rate drops were excused. That is a fairly common problem--especially with those types of effects. And it's honestly not too egregious to just overlook. The only reason I found that to be so annoying, is that the sound was already grating on my nerves, and my patience was completely spent.

I do not know the actual decisions, timelines, or contracts that led to this game being released in such a state, so take what I am about to say with a grain of salt; it is merely an educated assumption. I believe that EA rushed this game. I don't see how anybody that has poured all their time and energy in to making this game could want to release it in such a state. It looks bad for the developer and the publisher. The majority of people just don't care about these things, though.

The bulk of their audience will go buy the game at full new price from Gamestop or Walmart. They will barely notice the issues, and trade it in when they're done. Many video game consumers have barely any knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes. Many, in fact, barely even know what company makes what--much less what specific team makes it, not just the publisher. These companies get away with things like this because we, the consumers, don't hold them to a higher standard. They can still be rewarded for their laziness.

It's really a shame that the industry has turned into the 'big business' game that it has. I am hopeful about the changes that have happened over the past year, though. I'm not naive enough to say that Kickstarter can change everything, but I think it at least has a chance to make a ripple. Kickstarter allows for a completely different interaction between creator and consumer. It also presents an opportunity for the vision and quality of the game to come before the financial tight ropes that these big publishers tend to project onto the companies they publish for. I'm excited that there is a growing alternative to the EAs and Activisions of the gaming world. Hopefully someday it can grow enough for the bigger companies to take notice and make some changes. Oh wait, Call of Duty and Madden still come out every year. Never mind, the big companies won't be changing. :3

Games influence on our perception of reality

Do games have an influence on how we perceive reality? Can they change the way we observe and react to a situation? This is something that I have thought about from time to time for quite a while. It was just last week, though, when I finally noticed a prime example that has been right in front of me for quite some time.

I was taking my nice, and somewhat leisurely, walk from the far parking lot of my university up the hill towards the science building. I was walking up in that oft-abhorred ten minute break between classes. As I was making my way towards my destination, I was surrounded by professors hustling and bustling off towards their classes--some were moving from one to another, others had just arrived and were merely starting their day. It was at this point when I noticed that I had seen everything that was going on around me before. This was not a sudden bout with severe deja vu, but rather a realization. I watched these people run this same routine every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I, likewise, watch another group of professors go through their routines every Tuesday and Thursday.

I thought it was quite funny how these people do the same thing week after week. They wear the same jacket; they wear the same hat--certain ones always carry a briefcase, too. They also all have their own quirky ways of walking and interacting with those that pass by. The Physical Science professor is always smiling and shouting out greetings to those that he passes as he skips his way towards his class. The Religion History professor has his nervous waddle down the hill as he tries to find the awkward balance of eye contact to ground staring that he is comfortable with. Their personalities really shine through in something as simple as walking to their class.

I'm sure that by this point you're all wondering: "What the hell does any of this have to do with video games?" Well, I'm to that point now, and congratulations for sticking it out this long. This whole scene--once I became aware that it was happening--immediately reminded me of countless hours spent playing The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. For those that don't know--and shame on you, by the way--this Zelda game runs on a constant clock throughout its repeating three day period. The NPCs in the main town actually have daily routines that they will carry out whether you are there to see it or not. They will leave the house at the same time, head to the same destination, and walk in the same goofy--yet personality revealing--way every day.

The reason this event stuck out to me so much had nothing to do with it being special--in fact, it was anything but; it was really just a slice of life. It was made special to me, though, by my association with a video game that I have spent countless hours on and hold in very high regard. It also really cemented--in my mind, at least--that video games can and do change our perception of reality. When you spend a lot of time thoughtfully interacting with something, it only makes sense that it can have a long lasting effect on who you are. It may not have an enormous effect, but it does sink in somewhere. This can certainly be true for other forms of media as well, but due to the large time investment and interactive nature of video games, I think their effect is more potent. I look forward to the next time I am meandering through a boring and uneventful day, only to find myself perceiving my reality in a way that wouldn't be possible without video games.