Angry Robot

Game Soundtracks

When I first heard hints of the Lost Odyssey theme song two years ago I played a short clip of it over and over again.

This is the full version and it blows my mind with the amount of beauty and emotion. Seriously, soundtracks are about the only kind of music I really seek out to listen to during the moments where I can actually sit down and enjoy music. This song just makes me feel so many things…I just find game music incredible and I wish there was more coverage of it in North America.

That is all.

Eye Exam Pt. 2

See the thing about this game is that it requires light – a lot of light. I had two lamps and an overhead light and it still wasn’t enough. When the camera can’t read the cards the screen tells you to place the cards again, but it took numerous attempts of various illumination techniques until the board would read the cards again. Time waster. Then the music…Oh god. It’s like twisted screeching pain echoing through the swollen stomachs of pus demons wailing in the night. It’s just really bad. I don’t even want to think about it anymore (thankfully you can turn it off but unlike on the 360 you can’t play your own tunes during gameplay).

The actual gameplay is super fun, at least to me, and it’s easy and fast to pick up even if you’ve never played a card game like Magic before or anything involving Mana and Hit Points. Like, you could basically just place cards down til one worked if you really didn’t know what was going on…The goal is to own five out of the nine squares which you do by simply standing on them. Each square is either Mechanical, Water, Fire, Earth, or Air (which looks like desert). Each card has an icon to tell its elemental alignment, mana cost, hit points and damage. Placing water cards on fire is bad because if they have low HP they die; the same goes for Earth in Desert/Air, Fire in Water, etc. Some cards don’t have elements so they can rock it anywhere. The big bad awesome cards have chains on them, which means you can’t use them until four squares are in play.

This easy-to-learn gameplay would be super fine if not for the constant card misreading and light issues with the camera. The mic on the camera also wasn’t super clear for me but that could have been my setup…though I doubt it.

The last thing that was bothersome to me was the length it took for the animations to occur. You can turn them off but the whole point of the game is to see them interact so why does it take so long! Seriously, you place the card and then it has to be summoned and then it goes into battlefield mode and then it strikes and yeah this all should just happen immediately! Summon and then strike should happen in like 15 seconds tops. Yeah, yeah patience, Luke, patience…Whatever! I needs me speed man! If I’m playing a card game, I need speed to make it awesome!

Besides all of the above silliness I really did enjoy the play. I wanted to play round after round and would have continued to do so if not for the need to play The Simpsons demo. If I had more time, well, could have played more but I definitely will be playing more Eye, which is weird since it does have so many bugs…but I guess it did win me over after all.

It had me at Triceptaur Behemoth…It really, really did.

Eye Exam Pt. 1

I just wrote this scathing (yet loving) account of my experiences with Eye of Judgment over the weekend and my computer crashed and I lost it. The emotions I felt from this were very akin to the feelings I felt when the Eye refused to read my cards or when two lamps and an overhead light were still not enough to illuminate my cards to the all-knowing, all-seeing eye. So I’m a bit perturbed by the whole thing.

The Crash or the Eye you say?

Well, let me retype this sucker and then you can be the judge of that.

The Problems with Game Journalism

Yes, I know that rants aren’t in themselves a solution, and yes I’m aware of new games journalism. And I’m not claiming to be the first person to perceive or write about these problems, nor am I doing a good job of backing up what I say with actual data. But hell, it’s a rant! Fuck you and your data!

Numerical scores suck

Agreed. They are pseudo-scientific and misleading. I’m not a huge fan of star ratings either, but they would be a mild improvement.

There is no category except gameplay


An IGN review will give separate numerical scores for the following categories: presentation, graphics, sound, gameplay, lasting appeal. To their credit, they qualify the overall score as ‘not an average’ of the category scores, but still: what’s the point? To make the inevitable comparison to film reviews, when have you seen a film review mention anything like this? Would The Blair Witch Project get a 1 in graphics? Would Citizen Kane fail in presentation because the credit sequence was boring?

If the cinematography is great or horrible, you mention it, but in most cases it’s not worth mentioning because the only important thing is how is this film overall. Putting gameplay on equal footing with ‘presentation’ and ‘sound’? WTF. But really, even graphics and replay value pale in comparison to gameplay. What does gameplay mean? What it feels like to play the game, right? What else is important? Which leads to

The industry is obsessed with graphics

GPU power!

Graphics historically is a handy way of evangelizing games. I’ve shown games to non-player friends who are wowed, and you hear “it’s so lifelike” “it’s like being in a movie” and so forth. But really, graphics are more important as a way of selling hardware, and it is not the game journalist’s job to sell hardware.

It’s a facile point, but great graphics do not a great game make, nor do they really convert people into gamers. What does convert people are fun, accessible games. The Wii, notoriously the worst of current-gen consoles in the graphics department, has done more to expand the reach of games than the last twenty years of graphics development.

What’s more, obsessing over graphics, like obsessing over CGI in film, conditions people to prefer new games over old, and so leads to a general ignorance of game history.

Down with Previews

Games journalism is unhealthily devoted to upcoming releases rather than current or past releases. I’m far too lazy to do any kind of quantitative measurement, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about: the bulk of coverage on mainstream games sites is screenshots, trailers, ‘hands-on’ previews and pre-release gameplay footage. Articles in the ‘news’ category are more often than not release date announcements. Actual reviews of current games are drowned out by all of the preview hype. To say nothing of in-depth, quality ‘features’ that might take a bit of work and research.


You read a few previews and I’m sure you’ll see a phrase like “I’m sure they’ll fix it before the game ships.” You can’t criticize a game that hasn’t shipped yet – all you can do is hype it. Constant previews are of no benefit to actual players; they’re beneficial only to the developers and publishers. They are promotional material. And we gamers internalize all the hype, and we’re giddy with anticipation for games years in advance.

This is ultimately counterproductive to everyone in the industry, since the constant hype creates inevitable disappointments when we actually play the game, and it doesn’t have sex with us and deliver us to the promised land. Which makes us cynical about the whole process. That’s not to say that previews have no value. It is interesting to know what games are in development. But it shouldn’t be the bulk of the coverage.

That brings us to the next bullet point…

You are more than a press release delivery pipe

We get the press releases here too, and it’s sort of a running joke that you can predict the articles on a couple large gaming blogs based on what press releases have recently gone out. The PR companies send out the releases and give you access to their FTP site from which you scoop out the screenshots and then post them in a nice, pageview-inflating ‘gallery’ on your site. Everyone wins except the reader.

Press release journalism isn’t exclusive to the games world, but that doesn’t make it any better. Those of us doing sites and magazines or whatever should be acting as filters and not pipes. And that takes a little work separating the relevant from the ir-.

Games journalism is out of sync with actual players

The average Canadian gamer is 39. Now picture a 39-year-old reading IGN, gamespot or even GameFAQs. Picture them watching ‘Xplay’ or ‘Attack of the Show’. They do so with gritted teeth.

Now, what’s happening with that average age number is that the vast numbers of older, casual PC/online gamers, those who play the odd game of Tetris or Solitaire, are skewing the number way high. I’m sure the average age of a console gamer is way lower.


But that said, the essential truth is that the gaming audience is much larger and more diverse a group than is served by the mainstream gaming media. This is probably the biggest problem facing the industry, and it’s not necessarily the journalists’ or the publications’ fault, but it is something that they (we?) need to address. There is a problem with the age range and gender of readers targeted by the mainstream sources (obviously young male). There is also a growing hardcore-vs-casual divide, made all the more obvious by the massive growth of casual gaming thanks to the DS and Wii. When the mainstream sites actually review casual games, they often do so with poorly-veiled condescension and resentment. Go read a review of The Phantom Hourglass to see some examples of this.

It’s fairly easy to see how the age and gender problem can be solved, and in fact the growth in games coverage by the mainstream non-gaming media (such as newspapers) is helping to alleviate it. But I don’t know exactly how we best serve casual players, or even get them to read what we write. How do you appeal to someone who plays only one or two games? How would a regular casual game reviewer not themselves be a hardcore player? The terms ‘casual’ and ‘hardcore’ would have to be unpacked a little more, but that’s not what I’m on about right now.

That’s enough for today, huh? I’m sure there are many more problems, and any of the few I’ve given here could be discussed at much greater length. But my attention span ain’t what it used to be…


Erik Wolpaw Interview

Rock, Paper, Shotgun interviews the writer of Portal (who also worked on Psychonauts):

In defense of games, I want to point out that the writing in plays, including everything by August Strindberg and The Lion King, is 100% pure crap. So we’re doing better than they are even though they have the benefit of mostly not being about space marines.

Lost Planet

I’m superthrilled to introduce a new weekly comic, The Adventures of Eyeless Max, by Toku. Welcome to the Robot, eyeless one and Unnamed Flying Thing!