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Old 1st Dec 2008, 07:42   #1
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Yes, Games Critics Understand Innovation

http://www.bit-tech.net/columns/2008...d-innovation/1

In reply to Keith Stuart's blog over at The Guardian about the critical reception to Mirror's Edge, Joe puzzles over the role of the reviewer and whether comparisons between games and film journalism can ever be fairly compared.

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Old 1st Dec 2008, 08:19   #2
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Indeed. Mirror's Edge is brilliant, but I couldn't really enjoy it when the game decided to end my wall-run inside a wall.
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 10:59   #3
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I'm dling the demo of ME, thanks for the reminder
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 12:57   #4
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Nice article Joe. Have to say that I find BT to be one of the better review sites. Have to agree as well that innovation is only worth something if you can access it. You need the basics to work very well so that you can enjoy the new ideas. Would chess have taken off as a game if every once in a while a piece moved on its own or disappeared or the board reset?
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 13:09   #5
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Nice Article Joe. I also agree that innovation in the industry isn't highlighted enough in the face of flaws. In the case of Mirrors Edge, I don't understand why IGN would knock the game for a mechanic you aren't suppose to fully engage in (Combat). Not to say it deserves a perfect just for being innovative. Plenty of games have tried new ideas and failed. It's not hard to understand though why the industry has become content with X FPS, X RPG, and X Racing game over the past few years with little to no changes when critics jump all over a game for deviating let alone building a brand new title from the ground up with a whole new style of play.
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 13:26   #6
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I Mirror's Edge a 9 partly because the innovation in the game deserved some credit. To nitpick about the combat is completely missing the point of the whole game and story.

To make a game that positively encourages avoiding combat at a time when all other FPS games involve variations on running round and shooting the crap out of stuff takes some balls, and DICE should be recognised for taking such a brave step - and EA should be recognised (shock! horror!) for supporting and publishing Mirror's Edge.

The games industry has slid into a rut of producing identikit, formulaic games - just like Hollywood and the music industry before them. And, just like the movie and music industries, they'll find that people don't want to be force-fed cookie-cutter crap. Activision might find that their recent announcement will backfire.

The success of recent non-shooter titles, like Mirror's Edge, LittleBigPlanet and Fallout 3 show that the public do appreciate innovation in games.

All we need now is for the developers and publishers to catch up with public sentiment.
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 15:41   #7
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I think there are still many ideas out there for games, but since the industry has fallen into the "casual gamer" hole they tend to recycle games because people still buy them. WWII games for example have been bled dry on ideas but yet they still produce the games because they sell. When I heard TreyArch wanted to do COD5 in a WWII setting I was a little pissed. WWII used to be my favorite war to learn about but now I can't stand it because it's been raped to death by the various industries. WWI, Vietnam and other wars have yet to be tapped into and because we live in an extremely politically correct world you'll never play a game from the opposition (Nazi army or Japanese army).

Yes, it's hard to make outstanding next-gen games but there are still companies willing to do it. Hideo Kojima is on my watch list because he's leaving the historical MGS series to make a new game full of innovation. 3DRealms has been MIA with Duke Forever because they want the best for their dedicated Duke fans. DICE before they sold out to EA put their love into BF1942. Capcom's breakthrough in the survival horror genre brought other amazing games. Squaresoft set the standards of RPGs to the extreme when FF7 came out into the world.

IDK. I personally think there are tons of creative minds wanting to blow us away with EPIC titles, but IMO it's all about the money now. I used to like companies like EA but now they've sold out to the stock holders and strong arm the gaming industry buying up rights and not producing the game. Gameplay has always been at the top of my list when it comes to what I want out of a game and yet IMO people trade gameplay for graphics. Look aren't everything...I mean if you date a model and she doesn't please you outside of her looks then what's the point of dating her?

Reviewers are educated writers with opinions and not everyone sees eye to eye on things. As for the film link, I've yet to see a stunning film that was based off a game or a game based off a film.
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 15:58   #8
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As a sometime games journalist I thought I'd drop my pennyworth in.

For starters, Joe is pretty much spot on with everything he has said. I've always found the comparisons between films and video games, be it as a creative capacity or in journalism, a bit vacuous. Frankly, whenever it is used it's usually as some kind adjunct to another argument - i.e. games need to be more like films to be "art", or games journalists should be more like "film critics" because they're all professional and so forth.

On the first, well, that's stupid because games are inherently different and that's a part of what makes them interesting. There's an argument to be had about whether games are stories with gameplay or gameplay wrapped in stories, but the answer is they can be either: it doesn't matter. As long as the end product is good then it's just another variation and variety is great.

On the latter, it presumes that all film critics live up to the ideal that's espoused and that's obviously not the case. You only have to look at the number of "best British film since that other POS we called the best was" taglines on posters to understand that. Just like any other field there are good games journalists and bad ones and though it would be nice to think people at the top got there on merit, a lot of **** floats to the top, too. Something that, imho, we're far too tolerant of in the UK. Too much mediocrity, nepotism and general mutual gratification going on, not enough reward for just being good at what you do.

As a footnote, I find the accusation somewhat amusing since I'm sure other people have said the exact opposite about games journalists, that they're too quick to gush about supposedly innovative titles at the loss of perspective.
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 16:40   #9
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which ones got the 10s again joe?

might be worth looking at those again for the holidays



not really the best place for such a suggestion but perhaps Bit could to a collection of best value-for-money games for the holidays.
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 16:53   #10
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As a footnote, I find the accusation somewhat amusing since I'm sure other people have said the exact opposite about games journalists, that they're too quick to gush about supposedly innovative titles at the loss of perspective.
While that may have been the case a couple of years ago, it probably isn't applicable now - if only because there is currently so little innovation going on in gaming.

Activision's tacit admission that creativity and originality have no place in games development just goes to show how corporate games have become over the last few years.
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 16:54   #11
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which ones got the 10s again joe?

might be worth looking at those again for the holidays
IIRC: Half Life 2: Episode 2, Bioshock and Braid.
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 17:08   #12
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IIRC: Half Life 2: Episode 2, Bioshock and Braid.
Exactly right, though as I say in the column opinions do change over time. There are games I look back on now and think should be closer to tens and so on.

Oh, Left4Dead - if only I hadn't been on holiday when you were released!
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 17:27   #13
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Oh, Left4Dead - if only I hadn't been on holiday when you were released!
You turned your back on the zombies...

And they only got a nine!

We henceforth ban you from ever going on holiday ever again. Ever again.
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 18:09   #14
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+1

After all, Joe, this was your second holiday this year. Such extravagance, especially in the face of a zombie invasion, is unforgivable.
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 19:17   #15
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Spot on Joe, I can agree with you on this one. Though some may say it's unfair, I pretty much rely solely on a games review from you instead of IGN or elseware because when someone tells me how a game is I want them to be honest and not a hype-infested flame fest. I honestly would have never even considered purchasing Braid had I not read the review, and I was most certainly not dissapointed.
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 22:40   #16
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Brilliant article
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 22:49   #17
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Joe you highlight some points, but do you really answer the question? Just because a reviewer nit-picked certain aspects of the game, doesn't mean that it wasn't 'innovative', or that it should be highlighted just because it was different... The fact of the matter is, this is entertainment. Was the game 'fun' or not?

Whether or not innovation has anything to do with it, is a matter of taste... and that can vary wildly. Different and innovative aren't necessarily the same thing. Was the game different? Yes. Was it innovative? Yes and no, maybe, sorta kinda? That's the key here. It would only be considered truly 'innovative' if it brought something to a genre and 'heightened' it to another level of either: 'Quality', 'Fun', 'Experience', etc.

I think the biggest problem with the game, was the fact that it's one of those 'polarizer' type experiences. You either Love it, or Hate it. The people looking for a particular experience (shooter?) were put off by the poor combat experience. Those who came to the game with a more open mind over what to expect, enjoyed the puzzle type (if that's even an apt description) of the chase sequences.

Whether or not it was 'innovative' is a real quandary. Is it even possible to define what would be 'innovative' for a particular genre... Can you even categorize the game itself into a particular 'genre' in the first place, of which it could then be compared against. The fact of the matter here, is that there's so many lines that haven't been crossed yet. So many experiences yet to be had with this entertainment medium that haven't been explored, everything that hasn't already been done will be considered 'new'.

Does that mean it should be reviewed better automatically because it did something different?

No.

It just means it should be 'noted', and then compared against the whole point of the process being: "Was it fun?"
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Old 1st Dec 2008, 23:08   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Article
Keith points to the IGN review
I think this is where he went wrong.

Out of interest, are you guys planning on making a database somewhere with all the games you've reviewed? Sorted alphabetically/by score/date/etc and limitable by platform/etc?

Great article BTW, I think this sums up well how different game reviewing and playing is from reviewing and watching films.

EDIT:

Also

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Nobody would mind the shaky camera and so forth
What planet is this guy from?
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Old 2nd Dec 2008, 01:46   #19
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I read both Keith's blog and the IGN review, before reading this article further. Also read the posts above me.

Quote:
For me, this raises a couple of important issues and Iím going to go out on a limb and say first that the comparison is flawed because films are intrinsically more shallow than games. There are some truly deep and re-watchable movies for sure, but for audience involvement and commitment itís hard to beat a good computer game.
I don't agree with the section in bold, for exactly the reason you write just behind it.

Movies can be truly deep and rewatchable (...then how can you say they are intrinsically more shallow than games...).
Games can be replayable but as far as storyline and immersion is concerned, they are a far cry (no pun intended) from movies. Storylines in movies are more intricate (and they have to be, because it's one of the means to capture the audience, whereas with games you can still frag away, even without a storyline).
The storyline in a movie can be deep and have multiple layers, but more importantly: some movies really touch me, and I know I'm not alone. I've had to grab a kleenex on numbers of movies, and I never had that experience with any game (I'm not very into RPG or MMO, so maybe I might have been looking in the wrong place).

If you will, there is a spectrum of different media. On the one hand, we have old fashioned books, on the other hand we have games. In most ways, movies go inbetween the two, somewhere halfway the spectrum.
More to the point, they are different media. If the game-movie comparison is flawed, you shouldn't have made a comparison either (like Keith did). If a comparison is flawed, it usually means the comparison holds no water, apples and oranges.

When talking about the art of games, critics have the right to say what they feel about it, because art is very personal. In my view, some reviews of games are not as revealing about what the game is like, but who the reviewer is.
I think that's also why Keith posted a blog instead of an article. It's personal, you don't have to agree with it, but he reached his goal if it was making you think about it.

Quote:
Do games critics need to understand how important innovation is?
Yes, but they also need to tell how much fun a game is (agreeing with kt3946).
The gaming audience is in some ways different from the movie audience, and the reviewer has to take that into account when reviewing a game. The one thing movies and games have in common is, they both have to be entertaining in some way. The difference lies in what is entertaining in each of the media: we are not looking for a deep/overwhelming experience, but for a fun experience.
[It's hard to make this point come accross, because some action movies resemble the same basic experience some FPS games offer, the difference lies in interactivity (games) versus immersion (movies)]


In regard to Keith's post: in both games and movies, there are notable examples of the better sequel and the better original. It's not crazy to say a game can be improved upon in certain aspects if it can.
Reviewers and gamers are influenced by their expectations, and sometimes you have to "grow into" a game to really appreciate it (I'm not sure how long this would typically take), I know some of my favorite albums only became a favorite after listening to them a number of times. Each time you experience something new, and when the whole makes sense it's a great pay-off.


And I agree with UrbanMarine when it comes to gameplay and less focus on graphics. Looks indeed aren't everything, especially if you consider that after playing a game for a week, maybe two weaks, the graphics aren't what it's about. Gameplay is. Graphics are a selling point, gameplay keeps gamers playing a game. I wonder what happened to Crysis...
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Old 2nd Dec 2008, 02:52   #20
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You've definitely not been playing the right games for story, there are some incredibly complex and emotional stories out there in gaming.

I think what Joe means when he says movies are shallower than games, is with a movie, you just sit there and watch, sure some films have twisting plots that take concentration to understand, but in the end, it doesn't make difference on how long it takes you to get to the end. With a game, the continuation of the story or just the continuation of the fun, is dependant on the player. If something makes that difficult or annoying, like say a bad camera, bugs or annoying controls, then it's going to mean the game will last longer than it has to and get frustrating.

A lot of the argument this guy is making falls down with the quote I made above. Lots of people complain about shaky cameras. If I see a film which uses the POV perspective (you know, the ones where the people in the film are the camera men) it annoys me immensely as I don't feel it adds enough to the film to warrant the annoyances it brings into it. Going back to Joe's discussion of Indy IV, the fridge annoyed me, the tree sequence annoyed me, well Shia annoyed me in general. These are all little tiny points that turn a film I would have quite enjoyed into a film I wouldn't be unhappy not seeing ever again.

So really, game reviews and film reviews are very similar, it's just Keith doesn't realise it, and those little niggling points add up a whole lot more due to the longer length of a game and it's higher level of interactivity. That's why they're more apparent in a game review, because they're more important to me in games than they are in a film. Innovation is definitely not ignored in the gaming reviews, it's just it doesn't come around a whole lot in this industry, and when it's mired by bad points so the game isn't fun at all, then it doesn't matter one bit. A game isn't there to be innovative, it's there to be primarily fun. Innovation can add to the fun of a game because it's something new, it gets boring to do the same thing over and over, so a fresh approach can relieve the monotony.

The thing with Mirrors Edge is it's something that some people will really hate, so it can't be given an amazing score by places like IGN because it has to consider that not everyone will enjoy it enough to do more than play through the story once. When reviewing a film it's also done from the perspective that you don't want need to watch it over and over to get your moneys worth, with a game, replayability is a massive point because they're much more expensive than going to the cinema.
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