Back with news

Ho hum, a human is a busy creature, and apparently the first thing I cut when I’m busy is blogging. This is a fortunately non-pressurized medium, though, perhaps because of the singular publication model: no need to edit, print or publicize yourself when you want to write. Nice.

Anyway, as a brief explanation for the latest month-long silence, I offer thee this. In other words, I’m going to Gencon this year with the Forge booth if everything goes well. There’s quite a bit of planning involved with all the flight plans, hotels and, foremost, preparing products for the convention. I’m going to perchance discuss my products in greater length later either here or some other medium, for now it’s sufficient to say that I’m being pretty busy writing and producing the games I want to sell at Gencon.

I’m still hoping to write the blog as well during the summer months, though. The first order of business is to write more extensively about different flavours of fantasy gaming, which topic has stood open for a while now after my latest post. A big topic, but I’ll tackle it soon.

Menu screen from the gameMeanwhile, a bonus actual play report: as a part of my recent research into video games from the millenial times (games from 5-10 years ago are both cheap and plentiful, a good reason to focus your video game hobby on those) I’ve been playing American McGee’s Alice during the last couple of days. The game seriously sucks! I mean, I’m really rather glad that I didn’t make that game. The disappointment was that the concept at first glance seemed nice and poetic: bloody remake of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland suits me just fine, especially if you mix in some suitably titillating mature content and a nice psychoanalytical story about a teenage girl working through childhood trauma by bashing her inner demons in the head with a cleaver. Sounds fine to me. I mean, just look at that menu screen picture, doesn’t that seem like the kind of artistic /trashy/dramatic horror stuff I’d like?

The game itself, however, is actually a linear platform jumping / shooting game built on the Quake engine. It’s horribly pretentious, full of badly written dialogue and visually clumsy as hell. I have nothing against the game being an action title (even if I think it’s a weird direction to go with the narrative premise), but it’s full of annoying instant death jumping with a difficult control system and boring fights with weapons that either home in automatically or are impossible to aim. I wouldn’t mind the subpar action stuff so much, but the chosen technological basis combined with the pretentious writing pretty much means that there’s no artistic merit in the game: the characters are the unexpressive polygon combinations you get by not having actual artists draw anything and they move clumsily. Of course there’s nothing interesting in the movement, either, as it’s just jumping from platform to platform without any particular significance. Stupid waste of time, playing this.

I’ve been uncommonly positive on the video game form during the last year, perhaps because I’ve hit on so many surprisingly decent games. American McGee’s Alice is more like what you’d expect computer games to be like: vapid, clumsy, unchallenging and written by a 5-year old puritan geek.

5 Responses to “Back with news”

  1. Joonas Says:

    That’s interesting. I remember being very impressed with Alice back in the day. The general consensus was positive as well. Maybe it warrants a re-visit, then.

  2. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    I find this interesting as well, mainly because the game seemed so lame in comparison to mainstrays of the first-person shooter genre. (I played quite a bit of Doom and Quake just last year, so I’m not exactly running on nostalgic vapors here.) It seemed surprising to me that somebody actually wasted all that money on a game so utterly average, and even more so that some folks apparently indeed find some joy in it. Makes me wonder what’s going on.

    Any recollection of what you found interesting in the game? I realize that somebody who plays computer games regularly wouldn’t be bothered by the clumsy polygon graphics, but did you think that the gameplay was the least bit tense? Weren’t you bothered by the pretentious dialogue that had nothing to do with the game content? I was, myself, at first bemused and expectant, thinking from the very first scene that while the game obviously wasn’t very well thought out artistically (writing and visuals of the game are both a tad embarrassing to my eye), it might still provide an insight on modern first person shooters. (I’m really rather weak with them, I couldn’t handle the new mouse-based targeting model when it first came out, so haven’t really played anything with great intensity since the Hexen series.) It was pretty surprising how the game managed to be so lame in that regard as well; bad aiming model, too much platform jumping with instant death to really maneuver against enemies, stupidly fast enemies, too few of them to find an old-style slaughtering rhythm… makes me wonder what were the aesthetic standards the game was built to fulfill at the time, surely the designers had something in mind.

    Really, what the game most reminded me of are the lame cd-movie games they made in mid-90s; those were similarly implemented with the wrong engine and without anybody apparently having any idea of how to make a fun game.

  3. Joonas Says:

    Oh wow. I remember that Alice was very fondly received, precisely because of the asthetics, the trippy plotting and – indeed – great gameplay. I’m pretty sure just the premise of a violent take on surreal Wonderland had a lot to do with its initial reception. I never finished it myself, but I did play something like three quarters or so. I recall many sections of the game fondly and have been thinking of going back.

    Maybe time hasn’t been very kind to it or maybe it never was that good. I think that there weren’t very many third person action adventures for the PC back then, so maybe it just hit a niche at the right time.

    In case you haven’t seen it, here’s Pelit magazine’s review from back then:

  4. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    Don’t take me wrong here – a big part of the interest in me writing about the computer games I play is in the fact that I’m far from an expert (I think it’s interesting, anyway) – I guess I wouldn’t be considered a computer game hobbyist by most, even, considering how I might spend three months without playing anything, then going at Alpha Centauri three days non-stop (happened last month, actually) and only very rarely playing anything really current.

    So I’m the first to confess that it’s not like I know anything about this topic, really – Alice might be a great game and I just don’t realize how it’s supposed to be played because of dropping out of the active player base in 1996. I thought that for a first-person shooter you had laughable main weapons during the first three, four stages of the game (as far as I got before getting bored), combined with really quite too few enemies to make for good pacing on the action. (I tried the game on two different difficult levels, too, to find out whether there was something wrong with that.) The platforming and puzzles are also clumsy and meaningless, just speed-bumbs with no meaningful engagement or challenge. And the moronic cut-scenes with dialogue straight out of Whitewolf field manual for semi-literate geeks didn’t help much… you know what, it seems that I start raving whenever I describe the play experience in this game. Quite unreasonable when I’m sure that I’ve played worse. I guess I’m just not inured to it anymore nowadays, when I play at most a dozen new video game titles a year, and more than half of those seem to be for different consoles instead of the ol’ PC.

    That Pelit review was pretty interesting, nostalgic even. Thanks for linking it! It also reminds me lively of why I stopped reading the mag around the turn of the century – the experiences of the writers simply didn’t match with mine anymore, it was just too weird reading all that fawning about the newest action platformer when they should have known too well that the genre hadn’t factually gone anywhere for three, four years straight. The writers started feeling like idiots or fakes, ignoring the bird’s eye view on the developing computer gaming culture in favor of acting as the advertisement venue of big entertainment conglomerates.

    Heh, I’m just dripping ire when discussing computer gaming, aren’t I? Let’s agree that I won’t write anymore about bad games before I tell about my further experiences with Shadow of Colossus, which I’m still in the process of finishing.

  5. Playing the Witcher « Game Design is about Structure Says:

    […] as the way I keep up with roleplaying games, literature, comics or even boardgaming or cinema. The last time I played a PC game made this decade I was less than impressed, so that didn’t start any new […]

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