Wolfram|Alpha: Systematic knowledge, immediately computable.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain!

Who can forget the climax of the great film "The Wizard of Oz", when Dorothy and her companions realize they'd been hoodwinked: The "Great and Powerful Oz" turns out to be an ordinary little man, until then concealed behind a curtain and using mechanisms to animate what turned out to be nothing. We as PC gamers have seen an analog in some recent games: Homefront and Brink spring to mind. Both hyped up as "the next big thing", both turned out to be largely turdelicious, and are effectively dead games scant months after their release.

Prime examples of hype meeting reality. I shared the skepticism of many at the marketing of these two games, and even with low expectations, shared the disappointment of many in what was delivered.

Now, clearly, like or dislike of a game is a personal thing. Opinions should be expected to differ. There will always be outliers of both in the overall appeal of a game. Technical objectivism aside (e.g. incredible visuals, realistic AI, realistic sound, etc.), some may find delight in another's bomb of a game. I can think of one myself: I found Frontlines: Fuel of War to be an enjoyable single-player game. No world beater, but my experience was better than I expected, by a good margin, than what I would have thought based on critical and gamer reviews.

In that vein, the subject of one of my recent entries (I) Don't Believe the Hype, Red Orchestra: Heroes of Stalingrad, will very likely have great appeal to some gamers. Certainly it will, if only through cognitive dissonance, to the Red Orchestra brand faithful.

Nonetheless, that entry seems to have hit a nerve. Comments (all but one particularly obnoxious one published at the time of this entry) lean toward support of the entry, or neutrality. The expected ad hominem or two is of course sprinkled in.

Sadly, perhaps the most interesting discussion at this time of the entry, to be found in the TWI forums, cannot reliably be used to judge the response from gamers. Even adjusting for the expected bias by forum posters there (no indictment intended or implied - one should expect a bias toward a game franchise in the game's forums), the rank censorship going on clouds the view. Posts positive toward the entry are generally summarily deleted, with threats of bans bantered about, while those negative are generally left to stand. Insults and ad hominem toward those not toeing the line are treated similarly compared to those foaming at the mouth with glowing statements. Same in the Steam forums by TWI appointed moderators. Laughable, were it not for the chilling effect it has on open discussion.

It does remind one of the movie scene. The curtain has been pulled back. The reaction of the Great and Powerful Oz is most telling.

I've been apprised of veiled threats against some beta testers for allegedly "leaking" information. Well, at least if this is happening it is information, and more than the developer themselves seem to offer the community and other potential purchasers of the game. I have been quite clear with persons I know that are in the game's beta to not reveal anything violating their NDA to me (unenforceable as it is - TWI might want to invest in proper legal counsel next time, and use care in post NDA statements to participants), and as far as I can tell, no one has violated any part of their agreement, certainly not in any actionable manner.

Perhaps if the pulling back of the curtain had revealed something appealing, such caustic reactions would not have ensued. I have no plans to purchase the game on release, as I've already stated. I will, however, be happy to respond to the many requests for a full review if at least one of the local gaming group does buy the game. Despite my distaste for much of the community shared by others, and the apparent hyperbolic marketing of the game, I won't let that get in the way of an objective review. I am always willing to take a new look, and learn new things, when it comes to games.

Case in point: Had you asked me a month ago my thoughts on ARMA II, I would have been dismissive. My only experience was with the "single player" mode of the game. Quoted for a reason: to call it such is a gross misnomer. It is more like a sandbox to familiarize oneself with the mechanics of the game. Nothing more. As a game "mode", it is horrible.  Pulled kicking and screaming into the multiplayer mode, my eyes have been opened. While the game certainly has its quirks and bugs, its verisimilitude can at times be strikingly effective in its immersion. The "add-ons" and mod community provide bits and pieces that allow the game to become more than the sum of its parts, and to me represent the finest example of a "moddable" game I've yet played.

I'm not nearly deep enough into this very deep game to do it justice in (an already requested) review. When I feel like I have enough measure of the game, I will write one.

Stay tuned...



  1. That is a good analogy. And I agree that lots of modern games have not lived up to the hype before release. I and lots of my gaming friends are getting tired of feeling ripped off paying fifty bucks and more for games that suck. I'm almost to where I will only buy a game if it first has a demo. Don't know about red o - not my kind of game so have not followed the drama you talk about. PLEASE do review arma ii.

  2. @ Anonymous 7/23/11 01:30 :
    Thanks. I plan to review the game, but it itself is very deep, and deeper still with the add-ons and mods. I am first going to write a "noob's experience with ARMA II", giving my first impressions of real play with a clan where I started to really understand the attraction to the game. Once I've had some real time with it, a full review.

    Two things I can say for certain: You must be willing and able to devote a chunk of time to get into the game - a mission can last many hours, this is not a "jump in and frag for half an hour" game. Not unless you are killed that fast. Second, you must devote some time just to understand the mechanics and controls. This is not a typical kiddie FPS. It is deep and complex. The initial exposure can be daunting, but the effort to push through results in an incredibly rewarding experience.