Gamerly Musings

Where failed pitches go to shine.

Month: April, 2013

Donations Welcomed?

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and so I’ve finally built up the courage to come out and ask what people think about the idea. I’m thinking of adding a donate button to articles I post on this blog.

I know, donate buttons are taboo, and from what I’ve heard in the past this is doubly true for professional freelance writers. But I wonder if that taboo is breaking down as sites continue to close and ad-blocker cuts into the funds the still-running sites can allocate to a freelance budget.

I created Gamerly Musings with the subtitle “where failed pitches go to shine.” The idea was that this blog would afford me an outlet to still post articles and features that other outlets had turned down. However, I have not been using it that way very often. One of the reasons is that there are only so many hours in the day, and I am a fairly slow/methodical writer, so I prioritize my time for articles that will help sustain me financially, which this site doesn’t do.

Adding a donate button to articles I post here would give me the peace of mind to actually post more articles on Gamerly Musings. Maybe I did an interview with a developer that has a unique line of questioning, but my regular freelance sites already had someone interviewing them. Maybe I have a new perspective on a super popular game and editors don’t need more articles on that topic? Maybe it’s a new perspective on a less popular game that editors don’t think will bring in traffic so they turn down the pitch. I often hesitate to spend time transcribing or writing out pieces that my editors have already rejected. Even though this is my personal site, it is demoralizing to post pieces here when I’m devaluing my work.

Any articles that I put a donate button on would be original content, not re-published articles that I post elsewhere (not that I do much re-publishing here anyway). This would also be a donate button at the bottom of the article, not a payment requirement or a general donate button for the entire blog. Did you like something I wrote? Maybe you liked it enough that it’s worth a dollar? Maybe more? Maybe nothing at all? I would not expect to make very much from donations, it would more be an experiment to see if people are receptive to a per-article donation model.

But first, I want to hear from you. All of you. What would be the argument against adding a donate button? I see it as offering a way for people who like my original work to support it, and to get some (most likely minuscule)  compensation for work that wouldn’t otherwise be paid. I especially want to hear from other writers and editors, in a personal email if they don’t feel comfortable in the comments. I haven’t 100% decided that I will add a donation button, but I am leaning that way and would like some feedback as to whether that is something people would support or a terrible mistake.

Thank you,
Scott Nichols

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Bioshock Infinite: With Vim And Vigor, But Why?

***First of all, spoiler warnings and all that fun stuff. I’m going to write about Bioshock Infinite assuming you’ve played it and completed it. I won’t be extensively examining the ending or some of the major plot twists, but there’s a good chance I’ll make casual reference to them and just assume you know what I mean because you played it.***

It’s interesting having just recently written about thematic consistency in games and then playing Bioshock Infinite. The first Bioshock is one of those games that I would hold up as an excellent example of thematic consistency, where the environment, characters, combat, exploration, plasmids, and pretty much everything except the hacking minigame all reinforce the same general themes about freedom, choice, and having fun at Ayn Rand’s expense.

Bioshock 2, well, to be honest I stopped playing halfway through because those parts where you have to protect the little sister as she collects adam from corpses are just plain annoying. So let’s not talk about Bioshock 2‘s themes right now.

Anyway, back to Bioshock Infinite. Simply as a game, I love it. I literally played the entire thing in one sitting. One 14-hour long sitting from around 10pm to a little past noon the next day. The pacing is kinetic to the point where I just didn’t see any reasonable stopping points. Almost every goal that I thought would be a good stopping point turned out to just be another unresolved launching point for the next objective, and I loved that. Bioshock did the segmented story, with levels that embody particular characters, very well, and I was happy to see that Irrational wanted to experiment with something new for the structure this time. Well, the experiment payed off, for me at least, with the jumbled timelines/dimensions offering plenty of what-the-hell-is-going-on-ness to keep me curious mixed with a sense of continuity to keep me grounded enough not to feel completely lost.

But while I loved the act of playing Bioshock Infinite, there were also a lot of thematic and world-building loose ends by the time the credits rolled.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Post-GDC Indie Divide

GDC 2013 illuminated an interesting trend in the games industry, specifically among indie developers. A divide in the indie community has become more prevalent, perhaps in part because of us (I include myself at fault here) thinking of “indie community” as some unified thing when that term is woefully inadequate for the sheer variety of what is happening in games.

In any case, Cliff Bleszinski astutely pointed out the divide in a blog post, which essentially characterizes the two most vocal sides as optimism and anger. I actually agree with that assessment in those terms, and I also agree with how the optimism angle is described.

“There’s this wonderful, organic, beautiful movement going on in the indie game space. The buzz is intense and all of those developers who have struggled for years to make personal projects, projects that push the envelope in unique ways, projects that are outside the norm.”

However, the other half of the equation has a more problematic description, attributed to having an “utter loathing and disdain for all things mainstream and triple A.” To his credit, Mr. Bleszinski admits that he doesn’t understand the anger. Targeting triple-A games is part of it, certainly, and I can see how someone could confuse it solely as that, but that is also a misunderstanding of where the loathing and disdain are actually directed.

To understand where the ire is aimed we need to first understand who this second group of indie developers are. These are the disenfranchised developers. Queer developers, women developers, people of color developers. This is the Twine movement and a desire to see video games live up to their potential to tell more diverse stories and be used more often as an autobiographical form by a wide range of creators and life experiences.

When Andy Schatz talks about the rise of indie developers during the IGF awards and that “the system we’re fighting kind of likes us now,” he is quite right in one sense. In an industry sense, being indie is “in.” Self-publishing is getting easier on Sony and Nintendo consoles by the day, and Steam’s top-selling list consistently includes indies right along with the triple-A. It’s also not uncommon at GDC to watch as developers at established studios gush praise for indies. It was difficult to talk to some developers without an almost envious adoration for FTL, Kentucky Route Zero, Cart Life, Gone Home, or 140 getting mentioned at some point. If the “system we’re fighting” refers to the general marketplace and publisher culture, yes, indies have made tremendous strides and will only continue to expand in the coming years.

But for the group of developers who are often portrayed as simply being angry and bitter, the “system we’re fighting” is a bit different. It’s a fight against established social systems and attitudes that they are more interested in, and games become the perfect weapon in that fight through their ability to build empathy through interaction. It is an area where the industry, and culture as a whole, have not made huge strides, and so the “indies are on the top of the world!” celebration seems premature in that context.

Other indies are not immune from criticism in this context, so it is definitely not a matter of being anti-triple-A; though triple-A games are the most frequent offenders in that area. Indies that are seen as “projects that push the envelope in unique ways, projects that are outside the norm,” will usually still be based on prevailing gameplay conventions. For example, 140 is an innovative rhythm platformer that is amazing for how it incorporates the beat of the music into jump timing and platform movements, but the actual platforming and level layouts are still fairly standard for the genre. That doesn’t make it bad, I totally think it deserved the audio award for how it all comes together, but to a certain perspective that firm adherence to convention at its core could make it less interesting, and that is totally fair.

(Just to be clear, I haven’t actually seen anyone say anything negative about 140, I’m just using it as a hypothetical because I’ve got that game on the brain after GDC and am blanking on remembering any specific arguments people have made.)

As for where my own opinion on this phenomenon sits, I love all of it. I love that the industry is expanding and shifting toward a more independent model. Triple-A won’t be going away, which is also great, but the greater accessibility to tools and distribution for indies is healthy and necessary for games to grow as an industry and avoid another crash.

At the same time, I love that there are developers addressing more serious social issues through games, because there is a ton of work still to do in that area. They have entirely legitimate concerns with how the industry still operates, especially in terms of diversity, and to simply write them off as angry at triple-A games does every game creator a disservice. I also have an optimistic streak in me, so I want to believe that the expanding of indie games will lead to more games like Lim and Dys4ia. And watch Twine, because that scene is on the cusp of exploding into more mainstream consciousness and becoming the new 2D pixel-art platformer of the industry.

I believe that there is room in the industry for all of this, and that each perspective of developer can learn from the others. But first we need to understand what those perspectives are, which is why I wrote this in response to someone who didn’t seem to understand that. It is also entirely possible that I’ve misinterpreted some perspectives, and I welcome a response from anyone correcting me. This is just how I saw the trend at GDC, and it makes me think video games are heading in an interesting direction. I am very excited to be a part of it as it all unfolds.