An Open Letter to Robert Kotick
Posted on Monday, July 12 2010 @ 17:16:06 Eastern
Dear Mr. Robert Kotick,
While I know you are a busy man as the CEO of Activision-Blizzard, I implore you to take some time to read this open letter to you, sir.
As a gamer for over twenty years, I have seen many trends come and go in our industry, some good, some bad, and some just totally unexplainable in terms of their popularity. From this, franchises were born through great perseverance and clever designs by the developers and publishers that you both control and represent in your company.
And a fine company it is. Activision has been a fixture since 1979, and that is over thirty years of producing and developing great games. Hell, video game aficionados probably have nothing but the utmost respect for Activision as an entity since it was the first independent video game developer in the United States. And no doubt that Activision will be a continued pillar of the video game industry, one that I doubt will be shaken too much by any criticism that the company has, or will, receive in the future.
But I must admit, the purpose of this letter is to list a series of complaints of your current business model. Ever since the announcement of the merger between your company, Viveldi, and Blizzard, I admit it was perhaps the most lucrative and interesting deal since the merger between Squaresoft and Enix back in 2003. The excitement of seeing great franchises such as “Warcraft III” and “Tony Hawk” under one roof meant for a powerful entity; a kind of super-corporation that possibly only rivaled a company like Electronic Arts in terms of it’s publishing power. It was an exciting time.
But I must admit in the past few years, the excitement has deflated into a mere roll of the eyes as it were to what has been presented to us. Since the merger, there has been much publicity of the dropped excess that your company decided to cut. From that list were a slew of new I.P’s and a number of risky movie games, including “Ghostbusters“, “Brutal Legend“, “Wet“, and “Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena.” While I admit that these games are not million dollar seller’s in retrospect, at the time many gamers on the more creative side were fairly upset over the dropping of these new titles.
However, what exacerbated this was your own comments on the new direction Activision is creating. You have been quoted in saying, on a cited source on wikipedia at least, that your goal for the company are games that“…have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million franchises.” An admirable goal indeed that will no doubt make the company rich in the short term. This narrow field of vision however is rife with pro’s and con’s that I do wish to address.
For the most part, you are looking at a rather substantial profit increase for Activision-Blizzard and it’s subsidiaries. Profit margins have increased steadily, and the market for your game franchises has no doubt tripled in the past three years, effectively harvesting more gamers per franchise than any company in existence, possibly surpassing the diehard fans of Nintendo franchises and the Halo Universe.
And from this have come some really good games and some impressive innovations have come with it. “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” has effectively revitalized the multi-player world with it’s level up/role playing style of customization. “Guitar Hero” had previously revitalized the rhythm market, and despite some criticism, the creating of games like “DJ Hero” have effectively brought more talent from the music world into video games. You also attempted to innovate with the “Tony Hawk” series, and you continually generate influence for Massively Multi-player Online games thanks to the updates and released of “World of Warcraft.” This is a really good track record, one that is overlooked by many who sharply criticize you.
However, from this narrow view of million dollar franchises, a few things are lost in the process. The first is what everyone cites; innovation becomes stagnant and almost non-existent. Since the merger, there has only been one noticeable new I.P created, and that is “Prototype.” Other than that, the constant releasing of the same core franchises, namely “Guitar Hero”, “Call of Duty”, “Starcraft”, “Diablo” and “Tony Hawk” has done something to these franchises that is a potential killer to sales, and that is over-saturation.
Consider this. Ubisoft’s “Splinter Cell” series was, back in the early 2000’s, released once a year for three years straight at one point. The “Prince of Persia” series, when it was rebooted by Ubisoft, ran from 2003-2005, releasing games yearly, with two handheld versions both coming out in 2005 at the same time as “The Two Thrones.” The reason why I bring these two franchises up is because as time went on, the quality of the two games began to wane on gamers. While the metacritic scores would show the series holding steady, that is the very problem with the games being released once a year. It becomes stagnant, boiler plate, run of the mill, as it were. It becomes generic and gamers become jaded.
Franchises that become jaded lose their luster and gamers begin to turn on them for something new or innovative. They won’t abandon them because of what made them great, but they become aware of this stagnancy for the most part. Note that I am taking about gamers, and not the general audience. I admit, we are a small and motley group, often quick to criticize and stubborn to change, but we make our opinions known, sometimes loudly, when we feel that there is a chance for something to change for the better.
Your dropping of “Brutal Legend” for example showcases this. Dropping the title, then sueing Double Fine for a breach of contract after you readily dropped the game for $15 million dollars, claiming that the developer was still in contract. What is worse, your newest “Guitar Hero” game, “Warriors of Rock,” seems to have gleamed a similar art style seen in “Brutal Legend”, a game that has you play heavy metal songs in a heavy metal fantasy world. The similarities are a bit too jarring, to be frank. Even worse is your current predicament with Infinity Ward, the former developer of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” and “Modern Warfare 2.” While I will not discuss the issues of this here because I do not know all of the details of this case, but it is turning into a media quagmire for your company.
As it stands though, your narrow focus as I have said seems like a short term grab for profit over the long term rooting of franchises and fostering innovative titles in the coming years. Video Games is a business that was forged on risks and creativity. Your own companies history shows this, and I hope that in the future you forego this current model of business and take more risks in the future. Over-saturation and lack of innovation can keep franchises, and gamers, constantly yearning for more changes to them, and eventually turn their backs on what they once beloved. I do hope that my words reach you, Mr. Kotick, and that at the very least, you take some of these words to heart, as unlikely as this may be. I do hope to see great things from Activision-Blizzard in the future, and new I.P’s in your pipeline to revitalize your hardcore fan base.
Thank you very much sir,
Robert “LinksOcarina” Grosso
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National Poetry in Your Pocket Day
Posted on Thursday, April 29 2010 @ 13:19:37 Eastern
And now for something bleak...
Clouded mind, clouded judgement,
trapped in a thick black haze,
consuming, controlling my very thoughts,
stuck in an endless maze.
No entrance, no exit,
no opening in my gaze,
trapped to wander endlessly
for the rest of my days.
And as a bonus, a short story for you all!
Thank You, Joe
Joe Calvo, 45 years old, a businessman, dead.
Unsure how he died. People said he just collapased in the middle of the sidewalk. Most likely a heart attack or something. Someone attempted recussitation but it was definitly too late.
And like that, it’s another weak case.
Death is death at the scene, but after so many cases, dealing with the run of the mill gets boorish after a long while. Id rather something along the lines of the macabe, a body torn in half, a severed arm or two. Sadistic yes, but after twenty or so years as an active coronor, I am sick of the simple stuff. Sure, a stabbing or gunshot here and there and I get called in to remove the corpses of the victims, but even then that’s no longer shocking unless if it’s something really tragic, like a child.
Poor me that Joe wasn’t a child. He was also pretty fit to have a heart attack, but you can be a muscle-bound freak and have your chest burst open for steroid use, so only toxicology will report this. So run of the mill. So boring. I pack up Joe for his second to last ride, his black suit now over his cold eyes. I’m alone today, a beautiful day it is too. A sunny day in Spring, with green grass rising above the knees of passerbys and goldenrod flowers sprouting like weeds along the cemented pathways. A day I won’t enjoy because of Joe. Because of a 45 year old in the back of my van.
No, thanks to him I get to enjoy the sterilness of the whitewashed rooms, the artificial heat of the flourescent lamposts as I scribble the facts and start the embalming. My greens and yellows become fluids that would make others regurgitate their lunches. A collage of chemicals to keep up the facade of living for Joe. To keep him fresh. Life-like. Always a pain to deal with.
I pull into his new home. Security wasn’t even around, probably wading through the grass on this lovely day, listening to music or basking in the sunlight. I pull the van up to it’s space. Nice and steady, because I don’t want to distrub Joe’s rest, even though nothing will.
I open the back door with my vinyl hands, the touch almost non existant yet still cold. I see his black suit, covering him, like a plastic blanket for a deep sleep. I guess I can be jealous of him. Jealous of Joe, at least a bit. He doesn’t have to work anymore. Unlike this now. I guess I shouldn’t be happy. It could be worse. I could be Joe.
I clutch the zipper to gaze at his face once more. Morbid curiosity I guess. No one else will view Joe now. What struck me was that his eyes were open when I did, colored yellow as if he had jaundice. His mouth was agape, his teeth brandished.
He bites into my safety suit. His teeth can’t cut through the tinfoiled fabric. They never learn I guess. I push him off and Joe goes down hard, still trapped in his new suit. I see Joe trying to grab the zipper, but he won’t pull it down. They never do. Not in time at least. I take my pocket knife. Swiss made. Standard issue to all coronors now, along with the tinfoil lined safety suits. One quick jab in the head and he is down. Fully dead. Totally dead.
I sigh a bit. At least we had some excitement now. At least Joe made things interesting again. Thank you, Joe. Thank you for that.
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Modern Myths, Interactive Adventures
Posted on Thursday, April 22 2010 @ 14:37:28 Eastern
Throughout my years in school, even to this day, I have always been fascinated by the stories of mythology and legend. The fantastic stories of Greeks like Perseus and Odysseus to Athurian Legend have been great facets of shaping my psyche on storytelling and narrative, as well as my current interest in the genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy to this day.
Now, a lot of people have at length discussed how Mythology has played a part in a ton of mediums, such as Movies like Star Wars, to even comic books like Superman and Batman. Some had allusions to mythical tropes and storylines (Star Wars is the best example, since it follows the typical “Heroes Journey” archetype proposed by Joseph Campbell, which he called the monomyth.) to even making outright references to the stories of old. (Comic Book characters like Wonder Woman and Thor being prime examples of the use of myths such as Norse gods and the Amazonian warriors.) Many have claimed that these mediums have become the “Modern Myths” of today; stories that follow the patterns of the heroes and villains of old and project the trials, tragedies and conquests of subsequent characters. Even fantasy and sci-fi fiction has followed in this footstep.
But to take it one further, video games have been doing pretty much the same thing, creating their own mythologies with the ever growing cast of recognizable company mascots that crop up every year. In the past twenty years, every character in a game has transitioned from a nameless nobody to at the very least a named, recognizable sprite. And this has gone on since the NES debuted with Mario, (renamed after being called Jumpman, for example.) Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong being prime examples.
But what make these characters transcend is their own mythologies. Perhaps the most well known is from “The Legend of Zelda” series, that since the first games created has, until a few months ago when Nintendo finally admitted that it didn’t exist, has had debates by legions of fans over the chronology of the entire games catalogue. While bringing up a dead issue like this, as Nintendo has officially said that there is no timeline in the games, it also brings up a major point about how Zelda has become another monomyth; the fact that fans still debate the timeline even after this move was made shows this higher thinking of the overall storyline.
The character of Link also follows the typical tropes; from a young boy to an adult, he undergoes a series of trials to uncover keys and tools to rescue the world from a terrible evil, and in using his tools he overcomes physical and mental obstacles. This is basically the Hercules of Hyrule, but instead of using brute strength, poison tipped arrows and a tunic made of Lion hide, Link’s arsenal includes bombs, the Hookshot and the Fairy Bow.
Link’s adventures are just one example of the individual stories we can see. RPG’s have typically been forerunners of this entire concept, JRPGS and Western RPG’s alike, from “Persona 4” to “Dragon Age Origins” also follow the monomyth theory with similar results. This is also why the art of story-telling has become the integral part of an RPG game, because the method of telling it is the same, it is what is added that makes it a worthwhile journey; the interaction between the companions in your group, the decisions you make in game to achieve your goals, and the eventual confrontation between either an ultimate evil, or a personal one.
This is especially seen in games with a degree of choice in them. One of the best examples I can think of is “Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Calibur.” (As a sidebar if you own a Wii or a Nintendo 64, do yourself a favor and get this complex and awesome strategy game.) The game has you follow a young adult who, through dialogue choices and conditions in battle, can make him go on various different paths in a complex story arc which involves tactical battles and strategic fighting. One of the subplots in the game is the relationship with your characters father, a shamed knight who killed another noble because he was protecting your childhood friend, and the future king, from an assault. Because of this your relationship with both your friend and father is destroyed, and during the game, you can either seek vengeance, or choose to kill your father mercilessly, penance, to reconcile with your father, or despair, by killing your father in self defense. None of these decisions are easy to make, and the paths to them can change the fabric of the story immensely, making your character chivalrous, tragic, or an even more personal villain.
It is moments like this that truly show us how mythology tropes can translate into the moments of a video game. These moments shape the story for the final confrontation in many ways, and change the outcome of the game for those willing to sit through a long play time. But what makes this possible is how many games have developed this mythology behind them. First Person Shooters and Platformers are other examples. A game like “Halo” portrays the Spartan Master Chief rather well, showing his plight in what seems like a losing war against a superior foe. But the efforts of staunch yet unlikely allies, former enemies reconciled for a similar cause, and even an eventual self sacrifice, resonates a chord with people. Any problems telling a story and characterization aside, the structure of a deep mythology is already present in a game series that has already expanded to the realm of RTS’s and expansion series involving other characters other than Spartan 117.
Platformer Brawlers like “God of War” “American McGee’s Alice” and “Metal Gear Solid”showcase other examples of twisting stories in their own way. Each is based off a myth, fairytale or an espionage caper, and each presents characters, items and references from their source materials. This hybrid of reverence to the source materials and the addition to the stories presented creates a new mythology line to follow. The exploits of Snake, Alice and Kratos shows how mythology not only influences the designs and names of video games, but also the types of stories that can be told with an emphasis to the “one vs. many” aspect of them. Each has its own clever spin on what has come before them, and keeps the old myths, as well as creates new myths, for younger generations.
Now some series it is harder to translate into this monomyth theory, but that can also be said for other mediums as well. Mythology follows characters on personal journeys, finding solace, vengeance or just living, or entire worlds in epic clashes and constant turmoil against some opposing force of “evil.” Racing games while usually paper thin and about the racing in the end, do not typically fall into this category. Neither to sport games nor simulation games for that matter, they are typically about the mimicry of real life. In many ways, mythology is more of a gateway to a fantasized world than an experience of a present day phenomenon. A good myth transports you to a world that does not exist, an experience that can never happen, but is parallel to our own, be it technology seen, characters explored, or journeys travelled.
But those interactive adventures are important none the less, as they remind us that mythology is still present today. I truly believe that video games, more so than comic books and movies, can be a gateway to truly exploring the potentials of storytelling tropes found in established mythologies from around the world. Many of the games above, “Zelda”, “Halo”, “Persona 4”, “God of War”, and so forth already have established worlds that share devotion by millions who have experienced them. The story may be the same, but how it is told and presented is how mythology, and storytelling as a whole, survives for an eternity. You don't just read the myths here, you experience them, shape them, and enjoy them in a way that was never imagined before.
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The Narrative of Video Games (Version 2)
Posted on Saturday, April 3 2010 @ 10:53:04 Eastern
This is a re-write of my Narrative of Video Games Blog that I have tinkered with for the past few months. Enjoy it guys, this is the entire article in full.
Today it is hard to imagine a world without video games, let alone the style of ga... read more...
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Finally going somewhere!
Posted on Thursday, February 18 2010 @ 16:27:56 Eastern
It's been a while since I posted, but I have been busy.
With two new jobs....that are pretty awesome.
The first one is a teaching position with middle school kids that have high functioning (and in some cases lower functioning) ... read more...
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The Point of Pointlessness: Or How I Stopped Worrying About the VGA's and Dropped This Bomb
Posted on Saturday, November 28 2009 @ 10:12:04 Eastern
As the holidays draw closer to us, three things happen. One, a ton of shopping for your respected holiday, but it Christmas, Chanukah, or Festivus to name a few, will likely get done. Second, you’ll get fat with all the food you will eat. Al... read more...
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Games Are Not Art: Response and Proposal
Posted on Wednesday, October 28 2009 @ 13:39:17 Eastern
Video games is such a diverse medium that it is somewhat easy to forget that differing opinions, however alien they may be to your own, are welcome for a critical debate. Recently, a forum user named Melaisis posted a rather interesting article title... read more...
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Arnold J. Toynbee
Posted on Monday, October 5 2009 @ 12:23:05 Eastern
Normally I don't do this, but frankly i'm tired and I figure if you guys like me, you can share in my pain.
For the past three weeks I have been preparing for writing an annotated bibliography on one Arnold J. Toynbee, a contemporary ... read more...
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The Narrative of Video Games, Part 1
Posted on Friday, September 18 2009 @ 09:11:53 Eastern
Today it is hard to imagine a world without video games, let alone the style of games many newer generations have become accustomed to. Like in “Back to the Future, Part II”, the scene where Marty McFly plays “W... read more...
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At a Loss
Posted on Tuesday, July 28 2009 @ 13:10:42 Eastern
I have no right to complain about life, since I have lead a decent one compared to most, but I am just at such a loss as to what I even want to do with myself right now.
Ive been attempting for a year to get into teaching full time, and so... read more...
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