Thursday, September 24, 2009

Our Children Must Be Bred To Master Pokemon

Since I got a pretty positive reaction from my post last week about raising a child, I thought I'd say a bit more about that most blessed of childrens' fantasy entertainments: Pokemon.

When I was growing up a misunderstood little nerd in a small town, I had lavish daydreams in which I obtained joyous revenge on those kids (and teachers) who tormented me. I fantasized that, when they picked on me, I could summon a swarm of killer bees to terrify them.

Yes, that's right. Killer bees. Can you imagine anything so lame? So faceless and uninteresting? It makes me wish I could travel back in time to beat up my younger self and take my lunch money.

Happily, 21st century children are spared such indignity. When they feel put upon and need an imaginary friend to fight for them, they are provided with an assortment of AWESOME creatures. Whether you want your spirit animal to be a dragon, a yellow rat that can shoot lightning out of its ass, or a pink, orb-shaped pop singer, it's there for you. And you can get a card with a picture of it. And a stuffed version. And watch TV shows about it.

Do you think anyone would watch a half hour series about a swarm of killer bees that wandered around and learned valuable life lessons and made honey and occasionally totally stung some farmer? No. I don't either.

Remember, we live in the 21st century now. We don't grind our own wheat or make our own clothes or lance our own boils. Why should we make our own imaginary monsters? Especially when the Japanese will do it for us for entirely reasonable prices.

Pokemon provides both the awesomeness of loyal monster slaves and plenty of food for the child mind's odd desire to memorize long, meaningless strings of information. (Pokemon are the baseball statistics of the new millennium.) This odd world is the best thing we have provided for children since vaccination. If you don't understand the appeal of Pokemon, you don't understand childhood.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More News About Avernum 6

I just posted on the Spiderweb forums more news about our newest game, Avernum 6. It's taken longer than it should have to give hard infoz, but the process of actually writing games tends to drain most of my energy.

More humor posts coming shortly.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Properly Molding the Gamer Child

I grew up a serious gamer in a family of people who really, really weren't. I was, while loved, regarded as an oddity. A peculiar mutation. Harmless, as long as I was kept from sharp implements and encouraged to not discuss such concepts as "armor class" or "hit points" at great length.

But now I am, if the calendar is to be believed, an adult. And I am raising two small daughters (one 3, one 7) who are showing their own gamer instincts. Though, these days, their Pokemon and Nintendo obsessions only make them "normal."

However, as a gamer parent of gamers, I am finding that the rules of our household are different from what I grew up with.

For example, there is a sacred, almost sacrosanct right to be able to save one's game. When I need a daughter to put down her DS and do something, she always gets one or two minutes to save her progress first. It is only in the cases of extreme lateness or severe punishment that she is forced to shut off the game with her progress lost. It is the Ultimate Sanction.

(Also, when you quit Animal Crossing without saving and start up the game again later, a cute animal comes out and severely lectures you for your carelessness. It is in this way that I outsource my disciplinary duties to Nintendo.)

Also, my children are allowed to play educational games almost without limit. However, my ideas of what makes a game "educational" might differ from those of the stick-in-ass types that normally determine these things. My seven-year old girl is allowed to sing on Rock Band as much as she wants because it forces her to read the lyrics. Also, her cultural education will be incomplete without at least some exposure to Elvis Costello.

And I have long felt that high-end raiding in World of Warcraft has a strong educational component. It requires strong organizational and teamwork skills, not to mention people management. At least, that is the justification I am going to give when I pull her out of bed on a school night to tank an instance for daddy.

I strongly encourage both girls' fascination with Pokemon. Pokemon provide fulfillment to every human being's basic desire to have an army of monsters. Also, Pokemon spend all their time fighting each other, which is good. For what other reason would one want to have an army of monsters?

Yes, we have truly created a new world. An exciting, technological, shut-in, pasty world. Now, if you will excuse me, my daughter is old enough to realize that there is something called Dungeons & Dragons, and she wants in. And you think I'm going to trust some wormy, unseasoned, prepubescent Dungeon Master to run her first campaign? Not likely.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Some Kind Words About DRM. For Once.

Over the years, a lot of criticism has been thrown at DRM. (Which means Digital Rights Management. Which means tinkering with music and video games to try to make people actually pay for them.) A lot of that abuse has come from me. But I think this all this shouting at Electronic Arts and the RIAA might be starting to be a bit much, since DRM, at the heart of it, has a noble goal: To keep thieves from stealing things.

But I recently noticed one little place when where I think making games pirate-proof is resulting in a better world for everyone. In the interest of fairness, I feel obligated to point it out.

(Edit: When I say "pirate-proof," I mean "So difficult to pirate that nobody bothers," not "Impossible to pirate.")

Let Me Sell My Stupid Used Games! (Or not.)

When Half-Life 2 came out, around eight hundred years ago, I vented to everyone who would listen about how angry its new rights management scheme made me. You had to sign in through a Steam account (which, at the time, did scary things to my computer). And, to me far worse, your game was attached to your account, keeping you from loaning or selling it. This new game future seemed to strip too many rights away from users, and I wanted no part of it.

Lately, though, I've been finding that this is exactly the future I am living in, and I've been extremely happy. I'm having a great time, buying fun games for fair prices. I'm just doing it on the XBox.

The rights management in PC games is still generally hostile, punitive, and self-defeating. Requiring an internet connection to play a single player game or limiting the number of installations does nothing to prevent piracy (as hacked copies are always easily available from BitTorrent) but plenty to hurt legitimate customers. And piracy is rampant, no matter what. So the PC world is still screwed. (And there is increasing evidence that these problems are spreading to the iPhone.)

All I Want Is Fun, On the Cheap

But on XBox live, over the last month, I'm played Shadow Complex ($15), Defense Grid: The Awakening ($10), and I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 (a ludicrously low $1). These games are all seriously fun. They also have impenetrable DRM. I don't have to be online to play, but I can't sell or give away my copy. There's no piracy on XBox Live.

When the inability to share (or pirate) a product comes with a low price, I don't mind anymore. Defense Grid is ten bucks, and it's giving me more than ten bucks worth of fun. Sure, I'm at Microsoft's mercy, and I don't "own" the product, but hey. Ten bucks. And the manufactures can still make a nice profit at that low price (though probably not much lower) because ninety percent of its users aren't stealing it.

No DRM. But Plenty Of Injustice.

Compare that to the games I sell. I charge $28 for a new game. I would LOVE to charge ten bucks. But, to stay in business, I'd have to triple my sales, and that won't happen. Would sales go up? Sure. Would they TRIPLE? Almost impossible.

I have minimal DRM. People can transfer their registration to someone else if they want. I even have a one year money back guarantee if someone is unhappy. I've tried to be ethical in all the ways I want as a consumer. The result? My games get pirated like crazy, and I have to charge a lot to stay in business. I have a situation where honest people have to pay lots of money to subsidize the people who rip me off. The good people pay to buy games for the bad.

This, of course, infuriates me.

What I Wish I Could Do

I'm not going to be writing games for the XBox, sadly enough. My sort of games just work better on PC and Macs. But if I could snap my fingers and give myself the same absolute control over my games XBox Live has over theirs (in return for lower prices), I would. The freedom of the current system is nice, but it comes at too high a cost. The unfairness is just this side of intolerable, and it's only getting worse.

DRM is fair if, for what the corporations take, we get something in return. One of the problems with eBooks is they take away the ability to loan or sell the books you buy online, not to mention the lack of a satisfying physical object, and they still charge the same price for the book. What nonsense! Make the price of the books low enough to make people not mind what they are costing and I promise you the eBook business will improve.

DRM Has Its Points

DRM has developed a terrible reputation. Heck, it's earned it. But remember, the purpose of DRM is to prevent free riders (aka self-justifying weasels and morally damaged scumbags). None of us like being told that we don't deserve free things, but it's still true. If DRM enables products to be sold for a price that is cheap to users and fair to developers, it is something we should all grab with both hands.