The Curmudgeon

I am planning to rent Red Dead Redemption, and I have kind of been hoping I hate it.

I know! That's a crappy way to approach a video game, but there it is and rather than hiding behind some artificial veneer of objective detachment -- not that anyone would really believe me anyway -- I'll just come out and embrace the fact that I usually wish companies like Rockstar and Activision would wither on the ripe vine.

Is it fair? Is it reasonable? Is it even justifiable? Frankly, I'm not sure.

I tend to be the kind of person who paints colors in broad strokes, and once momentum is carrying me toward a certain preconceived bias I am too often comfortable riding that wave of discontent straight through the breakers and on to shore. But, if I'm practical, realistic and for a rare moment unburdened by my knee-jerk reactionism, I have to wonder if Rockstar has really done anything but have kind of an inflated ego and a tendency to step happily into the mire of cultural controversy.

Maybe they are just the Quentin Tarantino of video games. Shameful self-promoters so wrapped up in the trappings of their own constructed image that they become almost caricatures of themselves, and yet at the same time irritatingly talented. I watched Inglorious Bastards with something very near the same kind of pouty reprehension that I have now, and in the end I was dragged grudgingly to something like a bitter admission that while the star of the film was clearly Tarantino, it was a fine directing job.

Of course, Rockstar isn't an individual. When I speak of the company, what I speak of is the aggregate of how they choose to portray themselves, but let's not pretend like companies don't end up creating identities. Let's also not pretend that Rockstar hasn't embraced controversy, and too often responded in a way designed to inflame and irritate. And, that all comes back to me sitting here kinda hoping Red Dead flops, subverting what I'm sure is the hard work of countless talented and otherwise innocent workers.

I don't necessarily like being this way, but I also don't think that I'm alone. I think a lot of people hide biases exactly like this, and worse try to pretend like they don't even exist. To me, that's actually a bigger problem.

Comments

I think that the Tarrentino reference is actually shockingly comparable, but not in the way you say. A lot of the time they are action movies that appeal to the base (Kill Bill and Inglorious Bastards), but they are not action movies made for the base (Transformers and Die Hard). While games like GTA4 appeal to the base and have some dumb qualities about them, they still have a good script with good characters. However if you take other games, oh gee I don't know cough*ModernWarfare2*cough, you get a dumb action game with a laughable plot.

hbi2k wrote:
ccesarano wrote:

...Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (taking a game whose... story was literature....

IMAGE(http://www.411mania.com/siteimages/lol-calvin_and_hobbes_31322.jpg)

Yes yes, anything from Squaresoft amounting to literature is typically a laughable concept. Even FF6 isn't that good.

But I've discussed this with my older brother (for his credentials, he's a well-read Historian whose library of books extends from The Counte of Monte Cristo to Shakespeare to George Orwell to J.R.R. Tolkien to J.K. Rowling, not to mention all the critical writing and historical books...in short, he owns a library and is to reading as I am to gaming). His thoughts are that Final Fantasy Tactics would have been better off as a book, where it could have gotten the credit for its story it deserved.

In some ways I agree, but I also disagree because, well, games SHOULD have good stories as well. They shouldn't be pigeon-holed to amateur writers copying their 9th grade notebook scribblings into a design document.

On the surface FFTactics (the Playstation one, mind you) is your typical good versus evil, but that completely ignores all the political and religious undertones going on. It is probably the most accurate recreation of the time period in any video game sans magic and chocobos. In fact, it gives a similar atmosphere to Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy (for those not familiar, George R.R. Martin, author of the current Song of Ice and Fire series, hated fantasy writing for its childish manner until he read Tad's trilogy, which showed him fantasy can be mature, and thus inspired his current series).

Even the story itself is a bit two-faced. You play the savior of the world sort of hero fighting the unseen greater darkness, but your friend, born a commoner who fought to the ranks of nobility, fights the political machine and saves the people. You are never sure whose side he is truly on until the end, when you find he is technically on his own against the entire system. The politics that come into play are well thought out and realistic, while the portrayal of the Church is accurate without being condemning of religion as a whole.

It's a story that really ought to be hoisted up alongside Bioshock, but never will be because the at-the-time target audience was all about Cloud Strife and Squall Lionheart. The audience that it could have appealed to wrote it off because they were either still too busy PC gaming or simply accepted that JRPG's weren't of their interest.

Though I can see why. Again, this excellent game with a fantastic story was given a sequel that was...well, the Never-Ending Story. Oh joy. That's so nice of Square.

But this is off-topic, unless it's good reasons to hold a grudge against a Publisher/Developer.

CheezePavilion wrote:

I was figuring the issue would be with wanting to not like the game that lead to Rockstar Spouse's discontent. That's what is giving me second thoughts about the game. I like people acting like, well, 'rockstars'; just don't turn around and act like 'The Man' towards your employees while asking me to buy into this image of you as a rebel with a cause.

Yeah, this is what I was alluding to when I said I was more concerned with them maybe being "the Wal-Mart of video games" than the Quentin Tarantino of video games.

Wuppie wrote:

I dont think that you can truly explain why something is worth the hype. Preference and excitement are too personal to be rationally explained (which you seem to want). And ultimately if you dont like the game (or are disappointed by it) then you will naturally believe it wasn't worth the hype - for example: I cannot understand the hype people have for Halo. Something I find derivative, boring and not worth spending the 6 hours to finish.

I would disagree with this, and I'm going off of a recent Joystiq podcast where they were talking about what makes a successful journalist/reviewer. To them, it wasn't about ranking it on a scale of 1-5 or 1-10, but more about being able to describe how the game made you feel as you played it, then be able to take a step back and look critically at what about the game made you feel that way. And then put that all into words.

Wuppie wrote:

I also can't explain why Mass Effect was instantly (and still is) my favourite game of all time. It is probably due to being my favourite game genre (RPG) set in my favourite fiction genre (Sci-fi). Add to this the changes in my taste in Sci-fi fiction (books and movies) over the years - Starting with Star Wars as a kid, Blade Runner, Babylon 5, Foundation series, Mars Trilogy (Kim.S. Robinson) through to Knights of the Old Republic just to name a few. This all being inspired by one of the very few things my father and I have in common - a love of Sci-fi - create some sort of alchemical mixture that leads to me identifying within Mass Effect so many themes, settings and characters that I love. Now if that 'is' a good explanation of why I love Mass Effect then great.

I say 'Yes', that is a good explanation. Not everything has to be quantified in measurable terms. Sometimes it's perfectly acceptable to say 'this game does not speak to my tastes' or 'there's an 'X' factor that I can't quite explain but I love it just the same'.

Case in point: Deadly Premonition. Objectively, everyone pans the terrible mechanics and graphics. Subjectively, everyone seems to love it and it has already reached cult status within a few months.

When I'm reading reviews, sure I pay attention to things like graphics, controls and whatnot, but I'm also trying to read between the lines and gauge if the overall experience will be enjoyable to me. That's part of the reason I jumped on the Dragon Age train - I enjoy deep character and story driven games, and I enjoyed the hell out of both Mass Effects, so I've come to have some trust in Bioware's ability to tell a great story.

That and I got the Collector's Edition for $30 with my buddy's employee discount.

I know where Big Daddy E is coming from, but all I can say is - I am having a total blast with RDR. I am not a Rockstar fan, but this game is incredible (at least at the 2.5 hour in mark, all I can do is gush). I can't wait to get home and play some more.

Elysium wrote:
I was figuring the issue would be with wanting to not like the game that lead to Rockstar Spouse's discontent. That's what is giving me second thoughts about the game. I like people acting like, well, 'rockstars'; just don't turn around and act like 'The Man' towards your employees while asking me to buy into this image of you as a rebel with a cause.

That's part of it as well, but this was a short piece and I didn't want to belabor the point.

Oh my. That sucks. Might have to buy this game new or rent it just because of this. That really really sucks. Having been on a few death marches this kind of stuff makes my blood boil.

Unfortunately, the Rockstar Spouse situation is not an isolated incident. EA had it's own Spousal Situation as well.

And from what I've been told by friends and associates, much of the development side of the industry is like this. Especially if your a tester/QA.

I knew about the EA one. That was famous. The Rockstar Spouse was news to me. As someone who works in software development I can attest to this being the culture. Being expected to put in long hours, etc. I imagine my experience, however, pales in comparison to video game related jobs because of their deadlines and the crunching that goes on there.

Being expected to put in long hours is only natural given the realities of the industry; it's the allegations of not paying for overtime that stick in my craw. Too many people fought too hard for too long for labor rights in this country for me to feel good about seeing it tossed out the window. If you work as hard and long as some of these devs are expected to work, you have a right to expect to be compensated handsomely.

I disagree completely about long hours being "natural". It may be common, but it's not natural. It's a symptom of bad management and unorganized project management. It is possible to avoid death marches and forced overtime.

We're talking about people's lives. Depression, anxiety, insomnia, obesity and many other long term health risks associated with bad management and poor HR.

ccesarano wrote:

Yes yes, anything from Squaresoft amounting to literature is typically a laughable concept. Even FF6 isn't that good.

But I've discussed this with my older brother (for his credentials, he's a well-read Historian whose library of books extends from The Counte of Monte Cristo to Shakespeare to George Orwell to J.R.R. Tolkien to J.K. Rowling....

You know what all those works have in common? They're accessible. And the ones that aren't now (like Monte Cristo and Shakespeare) were at the time they were written, for the audience they were written for.

FF6 has a good story... for a video game. But even if it's occasionally less-than-subtle, it's a better story than FFTactics because at least I could understand what's going on. At least the plot is comprehensible and the characters aren't utter ciphers with no discernable motivations for the things they do.

Granted, any or all of this may be an issue with the translation and not the story per se. Maybe it IS great literature to a Japanese audience experiencing it in its original form. But the version we got here in the U.S.? Far from it.

I disagree completely about long hours being "natural". It may be common, but it's not natural. It's a symptom of bad management and unorganized project management. It is possible to avoid death marches and forced overtime.

I totally agree. The myth that game making has to dominate lives is entirely a self-fulfilling prophecy that people in charge happily perpetuate to their own benefit. It's not like every other industry out there that manages to succeed with 40 hour a week employees does so because it's so much less sophisticated than making a video game.

Every job has time pressures, deadlines and milestones. To imagine that game making is somehow unique seems totally unfounded.

For some reason I've been tracking Anna Quindlen lately.

Don't ever confuse the two, your life and your work. That's what I have to say. The second is only a part of the first.
You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.

Software engineering can be managed, though. I've worked in shops that flew by the seat of their pants and I've worked in shops that worked hard to practice Lean methodology. Teams that practice Lean can easily stay away from heavy crunch time. The reality is that we don't know any different because most companies / teams are very poorly managed. That's why as I get further along in my career I've become more and more interested in project management philosophy. I think good process and management can make a team happier, more productive and just plain better. I'd like to be helping make that happen, be that as a cog or as part of management.

I didn't mean to say long hours are natural ALL the time, just at crunch time. Most jobs have busy seasons and slow seasons; just ask an accountant around tax time, or someone in retail during the Christmas rush. Expecting employees to work more than 40 hours in a typical week is pure mismanagement and bad for productivity as well as morale.

hbi2k wrote:

I didn't mean to say long hours are natural ALL the time, just at crunch time. Most jobs have busy seasons and slow seasons; just ask an accountant around tax time, or someone in retail during the Christmas rush. Expecting employees to work more than 40 hours in a typical week is pure mismanagement and bad for productivity as well as morale.

Something I've discussed with my old man before is that people expect salary jobs to be exactly the same as wage jobs in terms of hours. My Dad has the tendency to put in 60 hours in a week at times, sometimes more if he does work from home, but to him that's what it means to be on a salary. If that's what the job demands of him then that is what he will do. However, at the same time there is an extent of fair treatment he expects from his bosses, as well as expecting that, for his hard work, he will be climbing the ladder at some point.

Unfortunately one of his bosses is a bitch, gave him a bad review though all the faults are actually due to her incompetence, and now my Dad is stuck where he is. As a result he's starting to look into working elsewhere.

In a lot of ways I agree. If you are working a salary, then 40 hours a week is your base line. If you have to put in 60 without overtime, well, that's what you do (of course, considering a salary is likely earning more and gaining more benefits than a wage earning over time with those same hours...). It is also this spirit that I feel is what pushes countries like America, Japan and China ahead economically.

Granted I don't know the specifics of how Rockstar is treating their employees, nor am I saying the current game development structure is a positive thing. If they could abandon the two-year cycle and just work on a game until completion, well, that would be so much better. A company should try and manage their projects so they CAN be completed in a 9-5 work day, only requiring the 60 hour work week on occasion.

DSGamer wrote:

Teams that practice Lean can easily stay away from heavy crunch time. The reality is that we don't know any different because most companies / teams are very poorly managed. That's why as I get further along in my career I've become more and more interested in project management philosophy. I think good process and management can make a team happier, more productive and just plain better. I'd like to be helping make that happen, be that as a cog or as part of management.

Hear hear! This is true for all industries, not just gaming.

DSGamer wrote:

Software engineering can be managed, though. I've worked in shops that flew by the seat of their pants and I've worked in shops that worked hard to practice Lean methodology. Teams that practice Lean can easily stay away from heavy crunch time. The reality is that we don't know any different because most companies / teams are very poorly managed. That's why as I get further along in my career I've become more and more interested in project management philosophy. I think good process and management can make a team happier, more productive and just plain better. I'd like to be helping make that happen, be that as a cog or as part of management.

Couldn't agree more. I think part of it is just the particular industry--gaming is still a relatively new field filled with smaller companies, and a lot of the people running the projects are former game developers who are used to the chaos. As an aside, I spent about seven godawful months working at Nextel way back when, and the software development department was run by a former engineer. He was, by all accounts, a really good engineer, and an utterly terrible manager. For him, getting work done was about sitting down, figuring out the problem, and just doing it yourself, since he'd been with the company since they were pretty small and that's how things used to be done. The company had become much larger and the projects had become significantly larger in scope, but he still couldn't wrap his head around the idea of following a process.

My assumption is that a lot of the gaming industry works the same way. You've got people who were never in any way trained to manage a process suddenly in charge of everything, and they don't have a background in things like good CM procedures for checking code in and out and doing metrics to help allocate resources and things like that. These are guys who started out with a couple friends throwing code together, and now they're managing 100 people without the skills to point them in the right direction.

And yet these are people in command of tens of milllions, and in an industry backed by shareholders after a profit it really does make me wonder why you hear about crunch and badly managed projects so often. That's in addition to a little thing called the wellbeing of your employees, which looking at it in a cold way you could say employees are replaceable with so many people around.

I agree wholeheartedly that Rockstar are shameless self-promoters and controversy-courters to boot, but let's not forget that they largely make excellent videogames.

GTA4 is far from the best game ever made, and it has many flaws, but it's still head-and-shoulders above the vast majority of it's contemporaries. For all that you (or I) may hate some aspects of the game, it's a cultural and technological landmark title. It's undeniably a 'good' game, even if it's a game that you didn't enjoy.

Shouldn't it all be 'about the games', rather than whether or not the makers are overly self-aggrandising?

I was beginning to think I was the only person left who remembered Mr. Yuk.
And now at least two people in this thread remember it.

Those stickers were everywhere in our cleaning closet when I was a kid.
(Anyone remember the product, "Janitor-In-A-Drum?")

I can still hear the Mr. Yuk theme song in my head.

"Mr. Yuk is meaaann....Mr. Yuk is...GREEEEN muahahahaha!"
"When you see him you'll know quick
Things like this
Make you sick..."

I was starting to think it was just a Western Pennsylvania PSA campaign thing.
Or maybe it was?

Uberstein wrote:

I was starting to think it was just a Western Pennsylvania PSA campaign thing. Or maybe it was?

"He" is originally from Pittsburgh, but then went national. We had him all over the place out here in Washington.

LightBender wrote:
Uberstein wrote:

I was starting to think it was just a Western Pennsylvania PSA campaign thing. Or maybe it was?

"He" is originally from Pittsburgh, but then went national. We had him all over the place out here in Washington.

Might be why I most definitely remember him. My wife even still has the local phone number memorized.

Late to the party, but having picked up RDR last night after consistently not being impressed or even enjoying previous Rockstar games (read: all of them, even Bully), I'm quite smitten.

There are little things that annoy me, but the overall delivery and the ability to allow me to choose to be infamous or famous is what ultimately sold me on it. After investing 4 hrs into it last night, it's a great mix of MMO features with a rich western movie setting, and I do not have buyer's remorse. It's only the 5th game of the current console generation that I've bought release week, and that's saying something.

I'd love to be able to hold publishers and developers to my moral standards, and only buy from those that make the grade, but I'm afraid that's impossible. Instead, I do the best to buy games that allow me to make choices that reflect my morals (which is probably why games like Bully and GTA don't appeal to me). Sure, I'll make some bad choices or completely miss the mark on certain games, but if I don't try, then I may never know.

Does that mean a studio can't completely burn me? No, it doesn't. But I'm a person, and I'm complicated.

trueheart78 wrote:

I'd love to be able to hold publishers and developers to my moral standards, and only buy from those that make the grade, but I'm afraid that's impossible.

Why is that impossible?

wordsmythe wrote:
trueheart78 wrote:

I'd love to be able to hold publishers and developers to my moral standards, and only buy from those that make the grade, but I'm afraid that's impossible.

Why is that impossible?

Truth? I honestly think it would make me a hypocrite if I tried to do that.

But then there's a difference between your own moral failings and willingly supporting the moral failings of others, isn't there? Can you both lament your own shortcomings and refuse to encourage the shortcomings of others?

wordsmythe wrote:

But then there's a difference between your own moral failings and willingly supporting the moral failings of others, isn't there? Can you both lament your own shortcomings and refuse to encourage the shortcomings of others?

My first question would be, how deep do you dig when investigating the morals of a company? Do you stop at the public image (like the company's handling of controversy), or do you dig deeper? Because once you dig deeper, the likelihood that you find something questionable increases.

That right there is the issue I deal with.

I'm not saying there aren't companies that I won't support. There are.

trueheart78 wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

But then there's a difference between your own moral failings and willingly supporting the moral failings of others, isn't there? Can you both lament your own shortcomings and refuse to encourage the shortcomings of others?

My first question would be, how deep do you dig when investigating the morals of a company? Do you stop at the public image (like the company's handling of controversy), or do you dig deeper? Because once you dig deeper, the likelihood that you find something questionable increases.

That right there is the issue I deal with.

I'm not saying there aren't companies that I won't support. There are.

How much you want to invest in investigation is a personal choice, but I think you realize that with knowledge comes responsibility.

Clemenstation wrote:

I oftentimes find myself hoping that a game will suck just because I don't want to buy it.

RDR is not one of those games.

Yes! Me too. I have a pile of games I bought that I am trying to get through. And I don't need one more.