Thursday, January 31, 2013

The video game industry and microtransactions

Microtransactions are a fairly new business strategy as far as the video game industry is concerned. It's an innovative idea- charge less for the overall product, but include tons of extra downloadable content that may add to the overall gaming experience, and those who choose not to spend money on the downloadable content won't necessarily be unable to play or enjoy the "full" game. With this model, "Team Fortress 2", one of the most popular online first-person shooters ever, was able to drop its download charge completely and become free-to-play, because the extra downloadable content for the game was already making Valve ludicrous amounts of revenue on its own. Making it free to play opened the game's market to an even wider range of people, which led to increased sales in DLC.

Some companies are now abusing this model by releasing titles at full price ($50-60) and demanding the consumer spend extra cash on DLC by making it more difficult to play or even enjoy the full game without it.

Lots of people are excited about the imminent release of "Dead Space 3", but there's one aspect of the game that reeks of Machiavellian money-grabbing: there are three weapons in the game that cost nothing. Three. And one of them is only obtainable if you pre-ordered the game. There are almost two dozen others, but they exist only if you're willing to pay for the DLC. There are weapon benches in the game that allow you to create "modded" weapons. These are entirely DLC weapons. Sure, each pack is only around $1-4, but if you want to get every weapon, every $3 purchase adds up to an extra $26, in addition to the $60 you pay for the game itself.

If you enjoy any of the games that use this business model, do yourself a favor: don't buy into this kind of bullshit. You may have cash to burn, but business practices like these are totally disrespectful to the consumer. In fact, it's totally against the consumer; doing shit like this doesn't help gamers in any way. It doesn't improve the buying and selling process or the actual product. It doesn't improve gameplay experience. It strongarms consumers into paying more money than ever before for products that triple-A development companies like EA and Activision have been releasing for years, with no added incentive to the consumer. This kind of abhorrent fuckery isn't going to stop if the companies who engage in it don't lose money because of it- it's only going to get worse.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Myth of Originality

Lately I've been concerning myself with figuring out what my "style" is when it comes to writing fiction. I love science fiction. I love horror. I love fantasy, especially with the recent emergence of "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim", and "Game of Thrones" on HBO. I love writing stuff like this as much as I love reading, watching, and playing it.

Yet, I can't seem to shake the feeling that I'm cheating myself by sticking to those genres. I wish I were a good enough writer to write something beautiful about something mundane. Not that this world is mundane, I just wish it took more than something fantastical to entice me to write anything. I wish I could just sit down in front of my computer and write anything, anything at all, and be satisfied with it.

The thing is, everyone I talk to about this responds as if they've done so a hundred times before to a hundred other people: write what makes you want to write. Nothing else matters.

One of my classes had me read a book tonight called Uncreative Writing, which argues that uncreativity, unoriginality, and even plagiarism is a good thing.

I like that idea. I remember a short story I wrote for a creative writing class over a year ago about a woman who gets displaced in time because of a corporately-funded scientific experiment. There's a character from the same company who follows her to her chronological destination out of a sense of personal guilt. This character was British. One of my classmates sarcastically replied, "so this is a Doctor Who fanfiction, right? No?"

As a matter of fact that connection hadn't crossed my mind while I was writing it. I admit that I now see the similarities; the character is British, and traveled through time once. In every other conceivable way my character was a different man than the Doctor from the venerated sci-fi show.

More importantly though, who cares? "Doctor Who" is a show about a time-travelling eccentric with a British accent, but the concept of time travel or being displaced in time didn't start with the show. H.G. Wells published The Time Machine in 1895, the template from which most modern time-travel stories, including "Doctor Who", form new content through new context. Even earlier instances are seen in Hindu, Japanese, and even Hebrew myths. Hell, Wells' Time Machine even had a sequel published in 1979...written by a different author. I know it seems a bit obvious, since Wells has been dead for decades, but his story, not just the concept but the story itself, was picked up and continued by the mind of another writer because he wanted the story to continue.

I think lots of writers despair about their perceived unoriginality at some point. Maybe some people never stop doing it. Either way, writing is simply stealing. Writers steal things that happen in the real world. Writers steal semantic concepts in order to build upon them or destroy them. Plus "The Simpsons" have already done pretty much everything, so originality is just about extinct anyway.

I leave you with this inspiring bit of text I got from Google images, containing words taken without permission from Jim Jarmusch, in order to convey my point in a way I wouldn't be able to do otherwise:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Less than half bad: A Resident Evil 6 Review

Please help me I'm addicted to Resident Evil

Also, here's my review of "Resident Evil 6." I gave it a resounding "meh" out of ten, with extra marks for decent dialogue and character development. I know, I'm as surprised as you are.

Whenever it gets uploaded to I'll send a link. Until then, here's the review, sonny Jim!

Less Than Half-Bad:
A Resident Evil 6 Review by Matt Raebel

Boot up “Resident Evil 6” for the first time and you’ll see an opening sequence that cost about as much as the national debt of Mozambique. It’s a game that practically shouts at the top of its lungs, “look at me! Love me! Please God, somebody love me!” It’s a desperate move on Capcom’s part to recapture its hardcore fans left disillusioned after the mediocre “Resident Evil 5”, as well as the credibility and relevance of the series. Unfortunately, it makes many of the same mistakes as the previous installment.

It was either use the money to end a genocide or animate this shot of some steamy car windows.

The graphics are quite impressive when you’re looking at the things the developers wanted players to look at, like character models and monsters. On the other hand, the environmental graphics in some areas look like they came out of a PS2 game. I mention the graphics first because Capcom clearly put a lot of work into making sure this game was visually thrilling. Also there’s a monster that looks like a sapient pile of disembodied breasts. Didn’t see that one coming, did ya?

Lol- for when no other word will suffice.

The multiplayer and's there. What else do you want to know? It's as solid as it's ever been, and there's a new mode in which one player takes control of an enemy "J'avo" and tries to hunt down the other player, who controls an "agent", one of the main characters. The thing is, not everybody picks up "Resident Evil" games for the multiplayer aspect, so it's not for everyone. However, everyone will have a different experience depending on what they like and who they play with. I played with two different people, and both times I had a different experience. It's a very capable mode of gameplay, but the fun of it comes from who you play with, so if you're really curious about the multiplayer of "RE6", I'd recommend renting it and giving it a spin with some friends before you commit to buying, because I personally can't vouch for what it'll be like for you.

“Resident Evil 6” breaks its core gameplay experience down into three campaigns, each designed to cater to a specific gaming experience. First, there’s the supposedly spooky campaign headed by old hand Leon Kennedy and newcomer Helena Harper. Next, there’s the action-boom-‘splosion-gunzzzzz-kill campaign a la “Resident Evil 5”, with Chris Redfield reprising his role as a heavily armed man-gorilla. He is supported this time by a former comrade, Piers Nivans. The third campaign, intended to be the story-driven one, is headed by the now-badass Sherry Birkin (who hasn’t made an appearance since “Resident Evil 2”) and Jake Müller, the mercenary son of fallen antagonist Albert Wesker. I would put spoiler tags around that or something, but since Capcom used that fact as a major selling point, doing so feels futile.

As usual, the cardinal sin of modern “Resident Evil” is the presence of way too many quick-time events. No boulder-punching shenanigans this time, but there’s a required quick-time event for pushing a monster into a meat grinder, which…metal, I’ll give it that. Very, very metal. There’s also a sequence in Leon’s campaign where you have to perform quick time events so Leon can find his keys. I wish that was just me making a dry joke, but no. You have to mash buttons so f***ing Leon can find his f***ing keys.

He’d have an easier time finding things without a haircut that renders him legally blind.

Despite the sheen Capcom forced into every aspect of this game, it proves ultimately an ineffective distraction from its many faults.  Oddly enough, the gameplay seems to have taken more than a few pages out of the books of “Dead Space” and “Left 4 Dead” respectively. The best thing Capcom did in that realm was give the player the ability to, finally, move and shoot simultaneously. However, there are enemies in Leon’s campaign that feel like shameless copies of “Left 4 Dead” monsters, especially the thundering fat ones that look exactly like "L4D" Boomers. There are sequences where you’re on the ground about to be swarmed by zombies, reminiscent of the “Dead Space” sequences in which the player had to shoot the weak points of an alien tentacle as they attempted to drag poor Isaac off-camera. The difference is that when “Dead Space” did it, it executed such set pieces with expert pacing. “Resident Evil 6” doesn’t.

That, and it has the old “RE” penchant for bosses that just don’t seem to want to die. It’s kind of cool when they come back the first time after supposedly kicking the bucket, but after five or six different set pieces, it starts to feel like the boss is just trying to get attention, like that one person at the party who gets way, way too drunk but refuses to go home, or at least have the common decency to pass out in the downstairs bathroom so nobody has to put up with them until they're sober. This is especially intolerable in Leon’s campaign, where the main villain of the game is fought and killed. And killed. And then killed. And then eventually killed. Then, finally, killed.

One more thing about that campaign: Leon doesn’t walk, he struts. He struts specifically so that he can show off his ass as much as possible. I noticed this early on in the game, but for the rest of it I couldn’t ignore it. It was hypnotic, like a Newton’s Cradle. I guess props to Capcom for doing that with a male character for a change.

Speaking of, Leon once again proves to be little more than a scowly-faced generic badass with a  haircut that covers about three quarters of his field of vision. He's got even less personality now that he's not a sarcastic dick in addition to being a generic badass. Instead, he sticks to dramatic one-liners. He's a book you can now truly judge by its cover. The pages that weren't blank have all been ripped out. Disappointing, though literally every other main character more than makes up for it. Especially the female characters.

I need to break things down for a second here: well done, Capcom. Seriously, slow clap for you. You finally figured out that you don't need to hypersexualize every female character ever. You even figured out that female characters are more interesting when they act like people, instead of walking, talking vaginas!

Instead we get tit monsters.

The female characters in “RE6” are rational, assertive, and in some cases more competent than their male counterparts. Better yet, none of them are love interests for male characters. They still have the appearance of women from a Victoria’s Secret catalog, but Capcom has managed to turn them into interesting characters. Honestly, “Leon’s” campaign should be called “Helena’s” campaign, because more than half of it is Helena leading Leon around by the nose. Sherry Birkin is depicted as an intelligent government operative who's hard as a coffin nail without becoming a fetishized “Lara Croft” figure (although the unlockable adult version of her childhood sailor outfit is, admittedly, downright creepy).

“Resident Evil 6” is the first installment to the series in which meaningful dialogue and character development occurred since the underrated “Code: Veronica”, although “6” has the advantage of good voice acting, and an absence of shrill gingers with daddy issues. Much of the dialogue between partner characters remains overblown and melodramatic, especially the Leon/Helena campaign.

Chris’s campaign deals with his previously understated personal battle with posttraumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependency stemming from the death of many of his subordinates. It is his friendship with a former teammate, the player-character Piers, that allows him to finally stumble off the barstool and get himself a nice warm plate of catharsis. The Jake and Sherry campaign follows the two of them coping with being the offspring of their respective fathers, Albert Wesker and William Birkin, two former major antagonists of the series.

I want to emphasize the latter campaign in particular, because I truly believe it was the most substantial thing I experienced while playing this game: the friendship between Jake and Sherry builds gradually, as any real friendship would. The scenes with these two are authentic and compelling, and everything that Capcom, and the game industry at large, should strive for. As far as what specifically the “Resident Evil” department of Capcom should strive for, there is one segment early in Leon’s campaign in which he and Helena hold up inside of a gun shop with a few other strong-willed survivors. There was a moment when I was taken aback by how much fun I was having, how immersed I had become…how I finally felt like I was playing a decent zombie game.

Taking it solely for what it is, RE6 is not a bad game. As a Resident Evil game, it's still not as good as it could be, but based on how it was designed it's clear that Capcom is at least attempting to move in the right direction. If Capcom wanted to use this game as a “sample platter” to see what works and what doesn’t, more than anything else they should keep doing what they did in Jake and Sherry’s campaign. Capcom should be encouraged to make more games like “Resident Evil 6.” Perhaps it’s still not quite “there” yet, but even if this game took Capcom a step back, it also took them one and a half steps forward.

Chris-dono approves of RE6.


-That guy what runs this blog

Thursday, January 3, 2013

No, don't f*** the haters.

Whenever somebody creates something new and posts it on the Internet (ooo topical!) there tends to be a couple types of comments that always show up in response, amidst the others. They sound like this:

Commenter A:  Meh. It was better when "The Simpsons" did it.
Commenter B: Omg SO KOOL!!! Screw da hatrez! u and me besties 4 lyfe!!!!! :D :D

The second type of commenter actually concerns me more than the first. I guess it's because while the first commenter succeeds only in publicly acting like a grumpy douchebag, the second commenter is contributing even less. 

Reading the comments in Youtube or Reddit, for example, can be a soul-draining waste of time for people who have the audacity to make creative works for an Internet audience, not an insignificant factor being that the practice of trolling is still alive and well. Still, saying that just because you like something the credibility of negative feedback in all forms is automatically negated...that's kind of worse than trolling, if you think about it. 

I understand what people who say "screw the haters" are trying to do- they want to uplift a writer, or actor, filmmaker or whoever by encouraging them to continue doing what they do, while assuaging potential discouragement from negative feedback. What they're actually saying is that negative feedback is "bad." There's nothing "bad" about negative feedback, unless it's done purely for the shallow thrill of trolling. Negative feedback is just as valuable to a creative entrepreneur as positive feedback. The latter helps you figure out what works, the former tells you what makes people want to hit you with things.

A lesson Nicki Minaj should have learned long ago.

You don't lose anything by encouraging an artist. Even one who sucks now may find the smallest bit of encouragement just nourishing enough to keep them going until they've improved enough to create something worthwhile. Who knows? Years down the line, they may create something that ends up being your favorite song, movie, or book...and you won't know that same struggling artist you encouraged years ago made it until you hear it on the radio, or read about it in an article that a friend emails you.

On the other hand, an artist doesn't gain anything by shutting out negative feedback...actually, nobody gains anything by discouraging negative feedback. So no, I don't think you should ever "screw the haters" if you want honest feedback on your work. Just as a hater might be biased against something you do, somebody who praises you may be biased towards what you do. Both are fully capable of praising or criticizing you for reasons completely separate from how good you are at doing something; that kind of thing is why listing your mother as a reference in lieu of former employers won't get you a job. You have to weigh both ends of the spectrum evenly if you want to truly benefit from feedback, which is one of the best ways for an artist to improve her/his work.

This isn't World War II. The things you say aren't going to get anybody killed, like in those hilarious, oft racist propaganda posters.

Somehow I doubt these were his last words.

So this is my blog

Hello, and welcome to my personal little corner of the Internet!

Until I get content to put up on this site, I am declaring this my first published contribution to cyberspace. I suppose if you're reading this you're either:

1) Someone I already know
2) Bored
3) Somebody looking back years from now, after I've become a huge A-list celebrity, digging for my very first blog post which case, congratulations! For all your hard work, prepare to be unimpressed.

Yahtzee Croshaw, who has proven to have had a consistent influence on my own writing style, once said that he only got to the point he's at today because he spent "eight years throwing shit at a wall, and finally something stuck." Consider this website my own personal shit-covered wall.

I try to write every day. Writing capabilities are like Dr. House's legs: stop exercising them, they'll lead to a Vicodin addiction.

I'm working on a few things at the moment, including what I dread to think may be yet another unfinished novel in the form of several disjointed chapters about a (literally) cold-blooded mercenary, a naive scholar and his party of sellswords and personal assistants, and an original world inspired by "Skyrim." Don't roll your eyes just yet- it's not a fanfiction, it's an original story based on original characters. It's actually coming along not so terribly, in fact. Exerpts from that project, as well as others I may tinker about with, are among the content I may feel compelled to post on this thing.

Additionally, I'm trying to get a small business venture off the ground in which I write short stories for people, about those same people (or anything they want me to write about, if they prefer). If I get permission for the commission, and if those paying me are cool with it, I may post some highlights for the amusement of you, the reader.

If you're more down for a bit of substantial, facts-based writing, I've also been a staff writer at a site called for almost two years now. I write reviews, editorials, and other stuff. I always have things planned, but keep checking this site if you want to see my latest updates, in addition to all the other consistently amazing and life-changing stuff I'll be posting up in here.

If you're here just because you enjoy my charm, there'll be content for you, too! I'll probably end up posting rants and interesting articles I find while stumbling around the Internet.

These are examples, but by no means the limit to what I may or may not post. This rudimentary Photoshop image, for instance.

Hope you enjoyed that, if for no other reason than my ridiculous sideburn-less haircut from three years ago. Check back soon for more things!