Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week, the columns takes a look at awards and abstraction.
Ah, Christmas. Season of lists and contrived awards - we're all prone to that. But some folk, it seems, have just gone too far. It seems that not just a few folk are annoyed with decision of the Hugo Awards ( the famed and prestigious sci-fi awards) to create an award category for 'Best Interactive Videogame'. Top blogger Greg Costikyan isn't amused, and he's made a list to tell us exactly why not.
Does the idea even work, given the Hugo remit? Costikyan thinks not: "I assume this is restricted to fantasy/SF titles... but the game industry doesn't divvy up genre that way. This will be open to Age of Mythology but not Age of Empires? World of Warcraft but not World War II Online? Doom III but not Call of Duty 2? Is there a logic to that?"
Ron Gilbert meanwhile continues the grumpiness, suggesting that the big commercial awards ceremonies are all a bit of a waste of time when it comes to games. "In my mind," says Gilbert, "the only awards worth anything are the ones given out at the Game Developers Conference. They ooze with amateurness and lack star studded hip-hop style, but at least they are put on by our industry, for our industry and voted on by people in our industry." And you can't say fairer than that. Can you?
A game that seems to have gained renewed attention over the Christmas break is Binary Zoo's abstract shooter, Mono.
Both Only A Game and GameCrits have taken a fresh look at the 'Asteroids meets Robotron' game, and I notice that there's an interesting thought-piece tacked onto the end of the GameCrits discussion: "By breaking away from the cliche of a spaceship battle, the game becomes more about how it feels, and less about some sort of trite contrivance that may put off an audience largely uninterested in space battles. It also strips the game of the need for some sort of story to contextualize the events that occur, which removes an element that is often the weakest in a game."
The piece continues: "I'd much rather play an abstract game of geometric combat then one in which your piloting a ship against overwhelming alien hordes or some other implausible event. It's easy for a critic of gaming to put them down for having inferior stories, but it's just as easy to remove that target if it's unnecessary."
Which is a point that goes for all games made nowadays - why not just go for the abstract route? If your game is about the mechanics, why drape a story about faeries or gangsters over the top? Somehow there's a sense that abstract games are somehow 'retro', but I rather think that they're actually just stripping away our 'product-orientated' pre-suppositions and delivering what games really are.
Hardcore FPS players will recall the 'no textures' settings for the likes of Quake 3, removing the techno-goth veneer, and reducing it to a battle of reflexes in a pure-polygonal theatre. I can't help thinking: when that's what games are really about, why create yourself all that extra work? Can you do without it, after all? That approach doesn't work across the board of course, but a few games out there would definitely benefit from that minimalist design technique.
[Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]
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