Monday, January 20, 2014

Does the Steam Box Confuse Anyone Else?

I don’t understand the Steam Machines. I know I can’t be the only one, but for some reason this annoys me. Not the Steam Machine; the total confusion. The root of my problem is, ‘who are they for, why do they need to exist, and what new aspects to gaming they will bring about?’. I’m just at a total loss.
I'm going to sit here until someone explains it to me
When I first heard about the Steam Machine rumors, I couldn’t help but laugh. I knew Valve made a ton of money from Steam, but why they would make a box built around that platform was mind boggling. I just chalked it off to fan rumors used to explain the total lack of new Half Life.

But time when on, and the rumors picked up steam. Then one day I saw the concept for a goofy looking controller that looks about as comfortable as a colonoscopy and I was like, there is no way this can be real. However, Valve admitted that they were partnering with other companies to make the box(s) with said controllers previously shown. 
This can't feel good
 So at first I expected one or two boxes; an entry level machine and a top of the line box that does everything including making pancakes. But for some reason I got 13 boxes. Made by different companies. With different specs. Different prices. Different designs (one that even rips off the PS4). And I was like ‘What!?’ And Gabe was like ‘What?’ And I said ‘Huh? What are you doing?’ And Gabe said ‘Not making Half Life 3’. So I tried to read the specs of the boxes, which turned out to be pointless because not only are they quite different, but some companies haven’t even finalized what’s in the boxes, and I don’t have time to read through 13 different specs that will change. So I gave up, believing that the Steam Machine is not for me.
The PS4... I mean Steam Box
But why not? Why should I give up? This should be right up my alley. A box dedicated to the Steam-verse and all the great things it offers. I should be all over this. It’s like a PC with a console interface. And that’s when it hit me. It is a PC with a controller. I have a PC. And I could buy a controller for it if I wanted to. In fact, everyone who has a Steam account has a PC, and I’m sure that some have controllers too. If I wanted to play using Steam, I could have done so for years. So why is Valve making boxes now?

The answer to that question was the Steam OS. Like any other OS made by any other company, it’s supposed to be the ‘be all end all’ OS. Great! So why can’t I just buy the OS from Valve and use that instead of Windows from now onwards? I could install it on my PC, get the Valve controller (or plug in my PS4 controller) and call it a day. Why do I have to shell out up to $6000 for a Steam dedicated box? I just don’t get it. Why Valve. Just tell me why?
Valve, now might be a good time remember the story of Icarus
I’m confused, frustrated, and feeling like an old man. I’m way outta my element with this whole concept. I’ve tried reading about it. I’ve watched videos were smart people discuss the machines, but none of it makes sense to me. I’m at a loss. I don’t use Steam, and unless the PlayStation brand goes away permanently, I don’t really see myself using Steam anytime soon. I don’t get it, or why Valve is doing it, and I have to come to terms with the fact that like Sex in the City, I will probably never understand what the hell is going on. I’m rising a white flag of stupidity. Valve, go easy on me. And please, for the love of God, just tell me if you have given up on the Half Life franchise. I won’t care if you have. It’s the not knowing that hurts.
This man feeds on your tears

Monday, January 13, 2014

Stop Wasting My Time!

Over the last couple of weeks, while surfing through the internets, feeling the wind in my hair, the smell of 1’s and 0’s in the air, I stumbled across a couple of articles; this one, this one, and this one. I clicked on these articles because their topic of discussion (the first two about Naughty Dog and the last about Half Life 3) was of great interest to me. So when I clicked upon the links, I was frustrated to find that not only were these articles speculative bordering on inane, but complete wastes of time.

The reason that I come down hard upon these articles is because of the leaps made by the authors surrounding their subject material. The first two articles, written by Giuseppe Nevla for DualSHOCKERS, chose to embellish upon a Sony Computer Entertainment Italy Facebook post that contained an image of a PS4 controller made out of coal with the caption ‘Naughty’ in it. From here, he goes on a journey, of what I can only assume was epic proportions, to claim that there might be some hint at a Naughty Dog game reveal in the coming days. He bases this on nothing substantial, and makes leaps so huge that the Ancient Aliens guys would be embarrassed by him.
Giuseppe essentially wrote what this guy does for a living.
Giuseppe’s next article is essentially a retraction of his previous article of 48 hours earlier. He tried to clothe the ridiculousness of said piece by exclaiming that because of the festive season of the holidays, and Sony Italy being the only Sony site that chose to celebrate this, was the cause of his, and apparently many others, confusion. That annoyed me greatly. If he were honest (I made leaps and bounds for internet hits), then I would not have cared. However, to pretend that his readers are so stupid that they would believe that he wasn’t trying to fish for hits is insulting. Hell, the comment section below his second article seems to read like it’s all Sony’s fault that these articles were written. What the hell is wrong with those people? Sony didn’t force Giuseppe to write nonsense. He did that all on his own.

The final article that irked me was Dylan Zellmer’s article on Half Life 3, or rather, why Valve may never make one. Instead of pointing out the painfully obvious (between Steam and their new ventures in hardware, Valve have no monetary need to make games anymore), he chooses to focus on a quote about the importance of level design, and how multi-player experiences might be more valued than that which was found in Half Life games from a developer’s point of view. It’s an interesting quote, that actually might reflect how this new style of development may be influencing the next installment of Half Life if Valve ever choose to make one, but by no means can one say that this can be interpreted as why Half Life 3 may never come out. It’s not even the full quote. It’s taken in complete isolation, used to promote the dialogue of the article, and probably has nothing to do with any game Valve may be making. By manipulating the source quote, Dylan has shown quite an apt that would make political extremists proud.
G Man was not amused.
Thankfully, Dylan provided a source for the quote for his readers to read through and make their own minds up. But the fact that the entire article (a Washington Post blog post), in which Gabe Newell is interviewed by Andrea Peterson about why Valve is the way it is as a company, has been misconstrued by an author using his views instead of the facts of the article (which doesn’t even mention Half Life 3) to write speculative jargon should be embarrassing to both author and However, like my good buddy Giuseppe from a couple of paragraphs above, Dylan’s articles comes off as a fishing for hits expedition. Cheap and a waste of precious time.

There have always been people writing nonsense (I’m sure I’ve done my fair share of it), to get readers. There is nothing wrong with that. People should be allowed to write crap so that it is no longer inside of them. However, they should not be presented as news articles. Leave the speculations to blog posts, where all three of these articles belong. There is no need to claim this as news. If you write well, about real news topics, then you will get the hits you deserve, and the recognition that may lift you up to a better place. Until then, leave speculative tat to the blogosphere.
In this case mine.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What’s in a Voice?

Voices can tell you a lot about a person. Sometimes people rush through their words, blending them into an incomprehensible mess, leaving the speaker breathless. Other times people stress each syllable, emphasizing the individual sounds in the words to stress a point. Voices can be high pitched, nervous sounding, betraying a sense of unease. Other times, a voice can be deep, effortlessly filling a room, commanding attention. Voices are important, and when a character has such an identifiable voice, it is difficult for the viewer to accept a change. In this case, I talk of Big Boss, from Metal Gear Solid.
A worn looking Big Boss
Back in 1998, with the power of the original PlayStation, game technology was limited, and to get the full motion capture of modern games, such as The Last of Us, was not even a factor in game development. Characters were blocky, with full facial features limited to CGI cut scenes. However, Hideo Kojima, creator of Metal Gear, never chose to add CGI cut scenes in Metal Gear, choosing to stick with in game engine cinematic, not taking the gamer out of the experience. So how were the game creators to provide some character to these blocky avatars? By depending upon the actors providing the voices to flesh out the various personalities involved.

The poster child for the Metal Gear franchise is Solid Snake, the better half of the two leads, with the other being Naked Snake/Big Boss. David Hayter has provided the voice for both Snakes since 1998 over 9 games, with the sole exception being in Guns of the Patriots where an Old Solid Snake (David Hayter) has a conversation with Big Boss (Richard Doyle). However, after 15 years of David Hayter, Hideo Kojima sees fit to drop him in favor of 24 star Kiefer Sutherland. When I first heard this rumor, I found it incredibly amusing. I really enjoyed 24, and a large part of that was because of Kiefer, but I never expected this ‘news’ to become real. However, come June of this year, it became official that Kojima had done the unwanted and dropped David Hayter.
David Hayter
My initial reaction was one of disbelief. How could anyone other than David Hayter play Snake? But then the trailers came out, with one or two lines from Kiefer Sutherland sneaked in. It’s been six months since the announcement and still little can be heard of Snake’s new voice leaving some to question how the VO for Snake is coming along and if Kiefer is any good in the role. But why should this matter for anyone, let alone me? It’s just a game.
Kiefer Sutherland
Well, Metal Gear Solid changed the way I play and view games. Up until then, games were just a fun pastime that consisted of Sonic the Hedgehog and Spyro the Dragon, but there was nothing meaningful in those games. It was essentially save the princess story line, with the princess substituted for either animals, dragons or crystals. But Metal Gear Solid changed everything for me. There were characters that had voices, talking about intricate plot details that mostly went over my head, forcing me to pay attention to the little scraps of information I could understand. The gameplay was intricate, with weapons that felt real (at least real for the time), boss battles were fun (Psycho Mantis anyone), and Solid Snake was so cool. It wasn’t that Snake was beating down the nameless commandos that littered the levels with ease, or that he took on a tank, a Cyborg Ninja and Metal Gear. It was his gravelly voice that made him stand out. It was his voice that gave his featureless face character.

David Hayter brought strength to Snake. There was a sense of ease about the character. He may not have been in control of every situation, but you got the impression that he was not to be trifled with. And when someone had the upper hand on Snake, you knew that the solider was planning some way of overcoming the current obstacle. In Metal Gear Solid, Solid Snake is a solider annoyed by the industrial war complex, tired of being dragged into battle to clean up other people’s messes. In MGS4, Solid Snake has become an old man, tired of continuously fighting, but driven to leave a better world for the next generation. The character had grown, his face had weathered, and his voice betrayed the frailty within. Snake was a dying man; years of war and smoking had done their damage. David Hayter changed his voice entirely to make sure that there would be no doubt that this was Solid Snake, but a Solid Snake at the end of a very long, and arduous journey.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention David Hayter’s excellent work in MGS3, arguably the best game in the series. MGS3 follows the exploits of Big Boss, but before he had earned the title of Big Boss. At the beginning of the game, Big Boss was cocky, knowing he was a good solider, but foolishly believing he is better than most. His voice has a sense of unearned calmness. He’s a man who believes to be in control, but really has no hold over the situation, which falls apart around him very quickly near the beginning of the game. From here, Boss is beaten, battered, betrayed, shot, tortured, humiliated, eventually learning the truth behind his mentor’s actions. By the end of the game, Boss sounds defeated. There is no arrogance about him. He is in a state of immense thought, saving his few words for matters of consequence. This follows through into the next game Peace Walker, which has Boss trying to ascertain the truth of his mentor’s actions, and to decide for himself if they were right. David Hayter did the character and his journey proud, evolving the voice to suit the situation.
Ready for some new Metal Gear!
So now we enter a new era. Kiefer Sutherland takes over one of gaming’s most iconic roles from a man who built it up. Let’s hope he knocks it out of the park. If it’s half as good as Jack Bauer, then we are in store for a hell of a ride. And who’s to say that David Hayter won’t return to voice Solid Snake one day in a future game? Until then, I have the old Metal Gears. I’ll be able to replay through all the excellent games in the series, and MGS2. I’ll be able to listen to forgotten dialogue, and remember information long since trivialized to the far reaches of my brain. I, like always, look forward to Metal Gear, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store this March in this new era of Metal Gear.