Hey Harvey!

Posted on Aug 16th 2017 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Downloading Blog Patch 1.3 80 Gigs remaining, patching, Prey, art, No Mans Sky, get off my lawn

The price of high-definition half-tucked shirts.  (pic from PlayStation.blog)

I don't think I know a single gamer that doesn't have some kind of backlog, some stack of games they want to play but have yet to do so.  I only half-joke about wondering why I'd buy any new game anymore, as I know at this point I will never actually play through every game I once intended to.  Strangely, I'm fine with that;  I'm pretty quick to move on to the next game if I'm not getting anything out of what I'm playing at the moment.  Trophies, Achievements, Leaderboards, and other virtual accruements hold no interest to me; I'm blessedly liquid in my gaming interests and can jump from one game to the next without getting caught in anything but interest or entertainment.

That being said, another recent development has made me very glad to be "behind" most of the time when it comes to playing modern games.

I finished Prey (PS4) this week.  Superb game!  I highly recommend it... now.  In fact a buddy of mine also finished it about the same time, despite having played it several months before me.  He got stuck in a progress-locking bug that was just patched recently, allowing him to finally continue.

The same guy picked up and enjoys Injustice 2, and wants me to grab it so we can play online together.  I will... once the "complete" edition comes out with all of the additional characters for the same price or cheaper.

Meanwhile, I've considered starting another file on No Man's Sky.  I sank quite a few hours into the game when it first released and really enjoyed it, but now I hear it is practically a different game, with more story elements, fast-travel, base-building, and a mission structure added over the last few patches.

Why do we buy games on release day again?

We all know games come down in price if we're patient.  On top of that, even Nintendo now updates and patches their games, fixing bugs and issues weeks or months after release.  Not to mention we get lots of "GOTY" or "Complete" editions one or two years out that has more content and is often cheaper than the first release.  Digital releases go on sale even more frequently than their physical counterparts, often bundled with other games.

Oh, I know I'm mostly preaching to the choir here; many at RFG have mentioned staying one or more hardware generations behind if for no other reason than simple economics.  By the time the new hotness is replaced in stores with something newer and hotter, the last few links in the chain get heavily discounted and can be picked up for a fraction of the original price.  I remember getting a Super Nintendo while some friends were just beginning to collect Atari, since the games for the 2600 were readily available and a couple of bucks apiece.  They bought a whole library of games for the same $70 my new copy of Axelay set me back.  (Kaybee Toys.  Only place I could find it.  Yeah, even then I knew I was being gouged.  Still love that game!)

To me, just as important as the economics is the "completeness" of a game.  Day One patches are now so common it's actually notable when a new game doesn't have one.  Performance and bug fixes, not to mention entire chunks of content are now added throughout the first year or more a game is released, coined as a "service" instead of a product.  This will naturally only get worse as the current generation of hardware is further split with higher performance machines like the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X One Xbox.  Box.  One.  X. 


Which is still all fine and good to those patient/broke gamers who know good things and cheaper goodies will come to those who wait.  But there is another angle to this I haven't heard much about, one that concerns me as a gamer who also considers his favorite medium to be as much a compilation of artistic and cultural expression as it is an entertainment industry.  If we want to call a video game "art," is that pre- or post-patch?

When George Lucas continued to alter the original Star Wars trilogy, many fans argued (and still do) that the first versions were the purest, and should be considered the "actual" or "real" versions.  Many of us agreed, many of us didn't care, and at least two of us were amazed Wilford Brimley played a sci-fi Gandalf and fought an original Planet of the Apes villain in The Battle For Endor.  Either way, most film buffs would agree that the first three Star Wars movies deserve some artistic merit for the medium, and that the Ewok movies were actually fever-dreams.

Now we have the same dilemma in gaming.  For example, let's take a classic that many who call video games art would hold up as a fine exhibit; Shadow of the Colossus.  But are we going to use the original PS2 version, the remastered and smoother PS3 version, or the upcoming PS4 version?  The latter undoubtedly perform better and have higher graphical fidelity.  And yet, it has been argued that the PS2 original, even though clunky by comparison, had more passion and creativity in finding methods to get the game to actually do everything it does on the PS2 hardware at all.  Is the later versions truer to the artists' intention because in some ways it is more fully realized, or the earlier because the constraints led to the original design?  Is an artistic expression diluted with tampering and reworking, or is art by nature fluid and in constant progression?  Is a snapshot of a moment the point of nostalgia and reflection, or is all creativity a process best unfettered by a static implementation?  And who is the arbiter of such decisions, the creator or the audience?

The answer, of course, is Keith David.  The Arbiter of Everything.  Were it so easy.  (Pic from IMDB)

I don't hear much about the debate over "games as art" anymore.  It could be argued that is a positive, as if it is now more obvious video games are as valid as an artistic medium as film, music, prose, and other forms.  But I'm concerned the real reason is because so many games are no longer a static, observable, interactive expression, but instead a consumption service.  The painting on the wall is now a never-finished canvas where the artist is constantly updating the picture.  The movie stops, retcons characters and events, and then continues as it insists the current film is the better version.  The book updates the raw edge and unrefined emotion and rewrites itself as more plain and cohesive.  The song's artist decides from now on an extra bass line and guitar needs to be added every time the song is played.

Hey, nobody wants a broken game.  As mentioned before, my friend couldn't even finish the one he bought new until it was fixed several months later.  But when we allow the backdoor of our games to be left open for developers to continue tweaking, the economics can eventually overtake the artistic integrity and a 'finished' game is only a placeholder.  Our future interactive video game museum has a version number attached to it.

Perhaps that is how all art will develop.  The ubiquity of gamification results in everything being quantified and tracked, measured and scored.  If numbers aren't going up, there is an assumption of failure, and therefore a constant pressure for forward movement is always looming.  Perhaps the rest of media will slowly integrate into this system, and in a hundred years there will be little difference between film, music, prose, color, line.  Will they all be interactive, all in flux, all assumed to be progressing because they are always moving?  Will everyone be considered an artist refining another's sandbox?

Video games are now more notable as an art form beyond their uniquely common trait of interactivity.  Now, it is the first medium to truly embrace consumption as its means, as opposed to finding value in its own completeness as a thing to be appreciated.  The process is now the point, instead of the product.  As in all art, whether this is a positive or a negative is in the eye of the beholder.  Much could be said in defense of either.

I for one lament what is at the expense of what was, but then I'm also just getting old, and my kids will experience wonders I can only imagine.  Our past games forged the bedrock for these future experiences, and there is inherent value in being a building block.  What is eventually built, and its value, that is beyond our immediate scope.  Perhaps all we can do in the meantime is hold up that which is beautiful, valuable, and worthy to be experienced in our time.  What is art, if not sharing an experience?

In the meantime, I've got a few hundred games left to share with my kids before we're all putting in contacts with microchips and making Mario jump with our thoughts.

Which is so much better than the last version that required you to actually use your hands.

Patching... Smiley

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Art reflects society and videogames are quicker to adapt then other forms of media. We live in a world of constant change and this is given rise to the games as a service mentality. Overwatch and failed for Evolve and just some of the examples of what is to come.
Great article! I love a good think piece. I'm of the mind that art is like everything else in the world, constantly changing and evolving. I remember hearing a similar idea in an episode of NPR's Radiolab not too long ago. It was about how kids aren't taught to write in cursive anymore and barely write anything longhand these days. All their homework/reading is on computers and the Internet. Some people were really upset at this, but others accepted it as simply the evolution of human expression and how we exchange information. I wrote a physical letter to my brother last month, the first time I'd hand-written anything that long for the first time in probably about a decade. I was shocked to discover a. how much my hand ached afterward, and b. how crappy my penmanship had gotten lol.

It is a little sad that we're losing things like writing in script and games that are complete and (mostly) bug free on release date. Developers using patches as loopholes to meet deadlines really sucks. When I moved, there were several big PS4 games I couldn't play for several weeks because they required big patches and my room wasn't wired for internet yet. But at the same time, none of the older things truly go away. We can still play the old games and read documents on good ole parchment. With technology comes new ideas and wonderful new business models. AR and MMOs are incredible things. Heck, even a game as old as Burnout Paradise, one of the best racing games ever, in my opinion, was a vastly different and expanded game a year and a half after it's release, and most of the added content was totally free. I think it's important to appreciate all artistic things as products of their time. People are pretty good about keeping that perspective with literature, theater, paintings, even TV/movies, so it shouldn't be any different for games. It's all about embracing the new while preserving the past. Unfortunately, the games industry is still young and has so far been notoriously bad at the latter. Thankfully, with so many independent people out there doing the good archiving work the industry itself won't, I think it'll all turn out ok. The only ones that lose out really are people like us, the collectors. Digital only games, HD/GOTY remakes, and games-as-a-service things like Destiny make collecting in the future a chaotic and arguably pointless endeavor.
Excellent article.

I'm behind on both games and consoles. I don't own any of the current gen consoles (Xbox One, PS4). I find it hard to justify spending ~ 270 on a PS4 Slim considering I have a backlog of several hundred games on my older systems and not at all enough time to play all those games.

Same thing in terms of games. I never spend more than 15 on a game. Hell, 90% of my games were bought for less than 10. Same reason. Huge backlog, silly to spend 60 on a new title when I have hundreds waiting at home.
I always thought that buying games on release day is akin to buying new tech on release day; You are an early adopter, and thus should expect trouble.  Of course that attitude was developed back in the early to mid 2000's on PC, when all kinds of day one patch/DRM fun was to be had.  Only three installs allowed on that copy of Fallout 3?  Yep.  Now consoles are homogenizing to the point where the only real difference I see between them and PC is the choice of controllers and the community behind them, and only one of them lets me play the games of old without having to decide which console needs to leave my coffee table.

Regarding remakes, I like to think that video games have the better end of the stick.  Granted, there are a lot of counter examples, most which have to do with nostalgia (FF3 looked fine on the Famicom!), but look at Metro 2033 and the remake, creatively titles Metro 2033 Redux.  Not only did the devs up the graphical intensity to "amazing," they fixed level transitions (or zones) so that they would be more seamless, making for a more immersive experience, and thus more to the devs original intent.  The one movie example that comes to mind with "original creator intent" has someone taking the gritty and slimy atmosphere of a backwoods warlord's hangout in Jabba's palace and placing within it a dance routine that wouldn't look strange on a network television reality show.

Very nice article, Jess. Very nice.  And as always, too much for me to comment on in a few paragraphs Wink
Man, excellent article.  I love digging into the medium a little more, and really thinking about it.  Sadly, I think you're right.  With the advent of patching and near-constant fixes, the "finished product" is always prone to being a moving target.  And sure, in the past there have been revisions to games, often reflected in subsequent print runs, such as the various iterations of Revenge of Shinobi, or the infamous version 1.1 of Ocarina of Time, but those were the exception, rather than the rule.  For my money, I'd rather have the ORIGINAL version of something, unless a subsequent release is essentially the same, but fixes game-breaking bugs.  Otherwise, while HD remakes are fine, I generally like to experience a game the way it was intended to be experience.  Of course, I say that, having grown up in the generation of less than stellar arcade ports, many of which unintentionally changed gameplay elements due to limitations of the platform or lack of time to make things the way they should be.  Notoriously, PAC-MAN for the Atari 2600 fits into this category.  But at the same time, as much as that game is rightfully maligned, it's still playable and interesting as a curio from its time.  If that were released in a similar climate to the current day, it would have received terrible reviews, and had a day-one patch you'd have to download to the cartridge via a 1200 baud modem connection, and it would have taken an hour to download the 1k map updates to fix the game so the courses more accurately reflected the arcade version.  Personally, I prefer to play the janky original version, despite its flaws, because that was a picture of what was possible at that time, and a reflection of the industry in some ways.  We've lost some of that in the modern age.

bomba has a good counterpoint, however.  If the dev vision isn't possible to achieve because of either technological hurdles, or impossible deadlines, these kinds of things get fixed to where you can play the experience that the creative team actually envisioned, rather than the day-one version that is usually borked in some fashion.  But there's a fine line between a dev making things right, and making things different.  And the Return of the Jedi example is spot-on!  I loathe the updated scene.  The original dance sequence, however dated it may appear, had a darker, grittier feel to it that fit within the context of Jabba's palace.  Just like in the original film, Han Solo not shooting first, and walking across Jabba's tail in the deleted scene, really minimizes how much of a bad dude Han Solo was, thus nullifying a lot of the mystique surrounding his character, only a short time into the film.

This is where indie devs can really make a difference.  Because most of them aren't on strict timelines, and nearly every project can truly be a labor of love, they can take their time with games and make them work well from the start, and the artistic vision they bring can come through, with hopefully only a handful of tweaks to potentially make later, to ensure the game doesn't crash and become unplayable.  But hey, that's only the perspective of a 40-something "old guy" who's less than thrilled with the state of modern gaming, outside of the Nintendo Switch.  Now get off my lawn! Tongue

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