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On The Level: Standards and Practices

Posted on June 11, 2012 AT 09:23am

*WARNING! In this article I will be speaking ill of Skyrim! If you are going to prejudge I thought I would let you know to start your hate engines now. *

For a long time gaming was just considered a pass time for a few, and now gaming is more prevalent than it has ever been. Now geeks have gone from the living rooms, to the streets as gaming technology has progressed to the point where there isn’t really a target demographic that universally covers gaming. But as we are on the cusp of having games being considered a legitimate art form in our current zeitgeist, we are hesitant to take the next step: Defining our standards for awards. We are a society that exalts the successful and their hard work, but in order to award any feat we have to have standards. Much like the Oscars, we need to define what makes a good game and what doesn’t because when we give a game the coveted game of the year award, we are saying that for this year, this is the game that defines the current achievements for that year, that all the previous years of technological, artistic development has lead to this particular achievement. Now imagine if someone in the future goes and gets a past game of year and finds nothing but glitches and awful gameplay? We are all aware of Spike TV’s pitiful attempt to validate themselves as a legitimate award show for games, and I believe that last year’s award show had reached an all time low. And at this all time low they declared Elder Scrolls: Skyrim as the 2011 game of the year, an award it didn’t deserve and in no way shows the best of that year.

I want to make clear my position before people go jump to any conclusions. Skyrim is a good game and does deserve recognition but I want to put something into perspective for you. The average amount of money to develop an AAA tile is around $23,000,000 and with that money you can pay for a full college education, an average of $32,000, and send 718.75 students to school. You can pay for 383,333 games at the cost of $60.00 each, and finally the average amount of credit card debt per household is $8,500 and you could therefore pay off 2,710 households worth of debt. With all that said, Bethesda couldn’t spend any money to fix their game to be playable at launch? I don’t know what is more absurd: the idea that they couldn’t spend money fixing it, or the fact that gamers believe that somehow Bethesda is above criticism. In addition, a good portion of the fanbase is so zealous over their brand that any dissenting opinions are met with a barrage of hate and bile. Insults and death threats are the only reward for a reviewers honesty. No one is above criticism, no one has deserved absolute blind loyalty and if we are to become a legitimate art form then we need to establish the standards. If not for legitimacy sake, then because we need to give other gaming studios inspiration/pressure to work harder for that coveted award. So for consideration I would like to show some standards that we should adopt in our award shows.

1. No game breaking glitches at launch:

    While developing a game, the most important thing is to rid the game of any harmful glitches, but given the nature of software development, it is expected to have some glitches. However, this doesn’t excuse the massive amounts of people out there who have had horrible experiences with their copy of the game. At the time of writing, I can currently hear from outside my window the medley of Elder Scrolls fans screaming in protest against my brutal honesty. I can hear a few people saying, “But the glitches are funny!” Granted, a few of them are funny, but regardless of their hilarity, they are doing a disservice to the player. The whole point around their game was immersion. It’s about you falling into this world and discovering it’s secrets, and losing yourself into the lore. You really can’t lose yourself in it if the game keeps reminding you it’s a game. But it isn’t just about the glitches like flying horses, no, it’s also about the big ones like how the Playstation save files got so massive they were virtually unplayable. Understand that regardless of what I say, if you enjoyed Skyrim, despite its many flaws, then fine. I just want it to be understood that there was no excuse for letting out a game with this many glitches. Especially for such a high profile company like Bethesda. They want our money? Then work for it.

2. The state of the game at launch is what should be judged.

    With the ability to patch console games, companies have found an easy way to fix their games. While this is a great innovation for our industry, we should be fair to those who put in the extra time during production to make sure that everything works at launch. I understand that some problems can’t be seen until the player base has gotten their hands on it, like stress testing, or exploits in combo systems,  but the problem is that we should inspire companies to spend extra money and time to add content or fix any issues before release. When movies are released, they are what they are and aren’t updated until the DVD is released. Well, if we are to judge a game, we should have a cut off date for updates. That date should be the day it is launched.

3. The game should be a retail copy, not one submitted specifically for consideration.

    This is very similar to the previous number but this time, I want to address publishers who will do anything for a good score for the game. To prevent people from attempting to circumnavigate the last rule, the judges should obtain a retail copy and not one that is submitted by the company that may have been fixed after launch. If there isn’t a physical copy then download a copy of it and play it before the first patch.

4. All aspects should be judged equally, if there is both multiplayer and single player campaigns and one of them isn’t as good as the other then the game suffers as a whole.

    For those of you who read my articles, you already know that I believe a game should have one quality to them above all others and that’s unity. There are games out there that are mainly played for their multiplayer elements, which is fine if you enjoy them, however they have a very awful single player. Wouldn’t you like it if both the single player and the multiplayer were equally fun? First, this will improve the overall quality of  the game by allowing a more diverse experience. Second, if the servers are down you can play the single player unimpeded and use that time to improve fundamental skills for playing.

5. Treat the candidates with some fucking dignity!

    Okay, this isn’t about the games, or the industry, but about Spike’s VGA. During any award ceremony, some of the candidates take a while thanking people and so they are “played off” with a little music to remind them that there are more awards to get to. Well, the VGAs have decided to take a crude twist by having a man dressed as a soldier run out and “teabag” the winner if they take too long. NO. Simply no. These people have worked hard on their game, some of them sacrificing sleep, food, friends, family, sanity, and their well being, simply because they believe in what they are doing and when they finally get some recognition for it from their fans in front of the whole world they get teabagged all because they took a bit longer just to say thank you? No. This is not how we recognize their contributions, this is not how we dignify our medium! If we want to be taken seriously we are going to stop childish FUCKING PRACTICES LIKE THIS AND START TREATING THEM WITH SOME FUCKING DIGNITY!

6. Categories that honor games that had exceptional elements. Best Art, Best Game Mechanics, Best Level Design, Best Sound.

    The categories have always differed between the commercial award shows like the VGAs and the more official Game Developer’s Conference awards. Despite their similar intentions of honoring the industry, the GDC awards take the approach of representing the best of the industry as well as the people in it. This is an idea that we should adopt to the more commercial of award ceremonies. Consider the movies again, they try and honor some of the more interesting of achievements like special effects, make-up, soundtrack. This is usually used to recognize movies that aren’t really best movie material, but did something of special note. While the GDC awards also awarded Skyrim game of the year, it did recognize the awesome game mechanics of Portal 2.

7. All games, across all platforms, should be honored and considered for game of the year award.

    It is a common notion that only AAA games can win game of the year, which is one I can understand to a point. At first you think, well they are vastly better games than the games that don’t get as much development money. I find that to be arbitrary at best because having fun  dictated by how much money is thrown at it is elitist at best. There are plenty of games out there that are fun and interesting and have a very low budget. I’m not really talking about obscure internet games either, but games like AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! A Reckless Disregard for Gravity!, and On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness EP.1 that are fun and exciting but didn’t have the AAA funding that some games have. With new technology and tools, anyone can make a good game on a low budget if you know where to look. Now there are indie companies sprouting up everywhere that pull out high quality games that are starting to compete with AAA titles. Winning an award as a company is already exciting and has its benefits, but winning game of the year for an indie studio will establish them in the eyes of the community for future projects.

When an award is given, it is not just a way of recognizing good work, it is about making a statement to the world. An award can say, “This is the work that defines this year, and validates the years it took to create it.” That among all the work that was presented this year, that the game that wins game of the year represents the highest achievement of that year. Not only that, but how we present the award shows dignity and respect for the candidates. I’m not saying that we have to be too serious, all I ask is that in the end we show the world that games aren’t just fun, but they leave an impact on our lives.

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