August 2007 Archives

Mighty Ponygirl wrote a post linking to and critiqueing a review of Metroid Prime 3 in Variety. In general, I agree with her. The review seems to largely miss the point of the game and gets a lot of things wrong, and from what I've played of Metroid Prime 3 so far I expect to completely disagree with the reviewer's take on the game.

Yet I come here not to bury the Variety review, but to praise it.

A few months ago there was an article in the New York Times discussing the peculiar unanimity of opinion in the assessment of video games. The Times article discusses a study done by Ben Shachter of UBS that showed that there was a strong correlation between review scores for games and sales. High-scoring games sell well, low-scoring games sell poorly. The same correlation doesn't exist in other media, where, for instance, critically acclaimed movies may sell poorly while movies that get panned by critics may perform well.

There was a lot of discussion of the article when it was published and speculation as to why this correlation might exist. My pet theory is that it's brought on by a general lack of diversity in the audience for video games. There's a pretty unified set of criteria for what makes a good video game, much of it focused on the technical side of things (How crisp are the graphics? How responsive are the controls?). Certainly, there's a little diversity of taste among gamers, some players prefer RPGs, others like shooters, some place a lot of value on the story in a game, others skip past all the dialogue to get to the action. But within a genre there's broad consensus about what makes a game good or bad, a consensus that doesn't seem to exist as much in other media.

What I like about this review is that it approaches Metroid Prime 3 as a casual gamer might. The reviewer doesn't seem to understand Metroid's genre conventions, so he's able to write a review that questions the game's value from the perspective of someone who doesn't necessarily know or agree with the criteria by which most of the gaming press judges games. Most reviewers agree that Metroid Prime 3 is a fantastic implementation of all the things that make a Metroid game good; the Variety reviewer questions whether those things, well-implemented though they may be, make for a fun game from his perspective.

I think this review is an important step in the growth of the games industry. If the market for video games is going to expand, it's going to mean a lot more people playing video games who don't agree with the current consensus on what makes a good game. I may think Metroid Prime 3 is a fantastic game, but I don't think it's a game for everyone, particularly not a lot of the casual video gamers that Nintendo appears to be attracting with the Wii. For those gamers, a review that says "Metroid Prime 3 is the best Metroid Prime ever, and if you enjoyed previous Metroid Prime games, you'll love this one," is far less useful than a review that says "This is Metroid Prime 3. It'll be hard to understand if you haven't played prior Metroid games. It requires quite a bit of skill and dexterity, it's very non-linear, and it's focused on exploration. It does not hold your hand. You will be thrown into the game with only a basic explanation of what the controls are and will be expected to find your own way to the goal. In fact, often times the game will not even tell you what the goal is and you'll have to feel your way around in the dark just to figure out where you're supposed to be going. If the only games you've played are Wii Sports and Mario Party, Metroid Prime 3 will probably not be a very fun experience."

This review doesn't appear in a mainstream gaming magazine. It appears in Variety, an entertainment trade newspaper read by a broad audience, many of whom may be interested in video games but few of whom would describe themselves as gamers. In that context, it makes sense that the review is written the way that it is, with a casual gaming audience in mind.

As more people begin to play video games, we're going to see less consensus on what makes a game good. We're also going to see the media react by producing reviews that reflect that shift in taste. That means there won't be the same pleasing unanimity in game reviews that once existed, but it also means a greater diversity of opinions and an expanded debate on video games as a medium, which I think will be healthy for the industry and for consumers.

On the other hand, there's also the possibility that this is just plain a bad review. There's a narrow line between "writing a review that targets a casual audience" and "writing a review that treats a game as though it's a casual game when it isn't." I think the former is legitimate while the latter is puerile. Just as you'd look askance at a film review that critiques a romantic comedy for not having enough explosions or special effects, a review that criticizes a first-person adventure like Metroid for not having enough mini-games is just a bad review. Also, a review that targets a casual audience and is actually written by a casual video gamer is legitimate, as the review is likely to be an authentic representation of the reviewer's feelings. A review written for a casual audience by someone who's actually a long-time gamer is suspect; you've got somebody reviewing a game not according to how they feel about it, but according to how they think others will feel about it. In this case, the reviewer, Tom Chick, has a long record of game reviews, mostly for gaming media, stretching back to at least 2001. This leads me to think that he doesn't actually fail to grasp Metroid Prime 3 to the degree that he claims in the review, but is instead playing dumb for the Variety audience.

Still, I think reviews that subvert the dominant game-review paradigm are, on balance, a good thing, and something we're likely to see more of. Even if this particular one is stupid and wrong. Also, Metroid Prime 3 is awesome.

Dewey, Cheatham, Howe, and Weinstein.

I just got an e-mail from the chairman of my law firm. Apparently, the big international law firm that I'm planning to work for next Fall will soon be merging with another big international law firm to form a huge international law firm. The gargantuan two-headed giant that will soon be my employer will have roughly 1,200 attorneys worldwide and annual gross revenues of around a billion dollars. I am both excited an anxious about it; excited that this will give me more exposure to interesting new practice groups, anxious that the process of merging two giant New York offices over the next few years will not be fun.

I'd prefer not to mention the name of my firm, the firm we're merging with, or the new name for the joint firm, just to keep my Google profile low. Nonetheless, I will say that, should this merger go through successfully, I will be working at a firm named after the Republican governor of New York who famously did not defeat Truman in 1948.

I am unreasonably excited about Metroid Prime 3. Why unreasonably? I've been eagerly anticipating the game's release since last November, counting the days it comes out from the moment we got a firm release date. And yet I have not finished Metroid Prime 2, nor have I even gotten very far into it. In the 9 months I've been squirming in anticipation for Prime 3 I've never booted up Prime 2 to give it another try. And it isn't that I found Prime 2 particularly bad, though others have so found it. I only played a tiny bit of the game before getting distracted and wandering off to do something else. Yet, for some reason, Prime 3 excites me to no end.

In my quiet moments, I acknowledge that the most likely reason for my Prime Excitement is that I am hoping that it will fill the empty void in my heart that is at present aggressively not being filled by exciting Wii software. The Wii has certainly had some fun games, Twilight Princess, Trauma Center, Wario Ware, and Super Paper Mario, to name a few of them. Well, most of them. And I do get a lot of use out of the Virtual Console, a fabulous service that allows Wii owners to discover exactly how many shooters were released for the Turbo Grafx-16 (the answer, it turns out, is "quite a lot"). Still, the Wii has unquestionably lacked for Grade-A exclusive titles (Twilight Princess was simulataneously released for the Gamecube and the Wii, Trauma Center was a remake of a DS game, Super Paper Mario was originally going to be a Gamecube game and was only Wii-exclusive because Nintendo is very actively trying to forget the Gamecube, and Wario Ware, while an excellent mini-game collection, has the misfortune of being the best in an over-crowded field on the Wii. That's a fancy way of saying "Nine of every ten games released for the Wii are mini-game collections, and most of them are unplayable"). I remain optimistic about the Wii's prospects, and I continue to believe that Nintendo stands at the cusp of revolutionizing the video game market. But, though I am a Wii-vangelist, months of mini-game collections have left me in need of something to bolster my faith, which has led me to cling to hopes for Prime 3.

By all accounts, Prime 3 looks incredible. Reports have, so far, been glowing about the Wii controls, which could lead to more and better-designed first-person shooters on the console. The gameplay videos that Retro Studios has been releasing are suitably exciting, and the plot teasers, which hint of Mother Brain factories, phazon enhancement devices, and plans within plans, have only gotten me more excited. And yet...

I'm a little concerned about the direction it seems to be heading. First Jeremy Parish's 1Up preview back at E3 implied that the game seemed linear and mission-oriented, in contrast to prior Metroid games's free-form exploration. Since then there have been lots of reassurances that, no, the game is still just as much about exploration as it always was, just on a grander and more diverse scale.

I remained cautious, but optimistic; Parish's preview broached the possibility that the game was heading in an exciting new direction, merging Metroid's feel with Halo's hard-core FPS sensibility. That seemed exciting, as I'm always interested in change and innovation in video games. But now the other shoe has dropped with Shane Bettenhausen's preview, also at 1Up. Shane is far more of a hard-core FPS-type than Parish, and his preview, while generally positive, reveals the crucial flaws in attempting to attack the FPS market with Metroid. First, the Wii lacks the graphical prowess that the 360 and PS3 can bring to bear, putting Metroid at a notable visual disadvantage when compared to, for instance, Halo 3. Second, the Wii in general lacks a strong multiplayer backbone, and Metroid Prime 3 lacks any sort of multiplayer. I love Metroid's single-player experience to death, but it strikes me that it will be very difficult to sway hard-core FPS players with just a single-player game, fantastic though it may be. Finally, as Shane hints at, story-telling in Metroid is different than story-telling in Halo and other FPSes. Retro's experience so far has been in revealing fairly simple stories through bits and pieces discovered in the environment while exploring, and if Shane is right this experience hasn't translated well into producing modern FPS-style dialogue-based exposition.

I remain excited about Prime 3, though that excitement is perhaps a bit more muted. I still have a pre-order down, I still plan to play through it as much as possible before passing judgment. I worry, however, that in making something that tries to be both a Metroid game and a modern FPS they might have created something that doesn't do either very well.

Patents Pending

For some reason I'm signed up to take Patents this Fall. For the life of me, I can't figure out why. I don't have a technical background, so I can't take the patent bar. I can't recall ever having any particularly strong interest in patents. Yet, there it is, right on my schedule, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 11-12:20. I even put it at number 5 on my course request list, with Copyright as an alternate. But I'm actually interested in copyright law, and Copyright doesn't conflict with any classes I want to take more. I'm signed up for a seminar on the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which requires students to be enrolled concurrently in an intellectual property class, but Copyright would have been both more interesting to me and a more natural fit for the seminar.

So, the question again: Why did I request Patents? It's a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a sorting algorithm.


Sorry about the lack of posting lately; I wrapped up my job at the end of last week, went straight from that to a pair of friends's wedding in Ithaca over the weekend, and have been entertaining my sister, who's visiting from out of town, since Tuesday.

While on the Air Train on the way to pick up my sister at Newark International Airport I saw a fellow with an ID badge hanging from his pants pocket. This is not abnormal in and of itself, as most buildings in New York require employees to wear ID badges for security purposes. What was interesting was the fellow's name: Dave Hume. I was half tempted to, at the next train stop, grab his luggage, run away with it, and shout over my shoulder at him, "The circumstances of justice do not obtain, loser!" Of course, since I'm neither violent nor larcenous, and certainly wouldn't become so simply for the purpose of making a joke about a philosopher, I didn't. Also, in the grander scheme of things, the circumstances of justice DID obtain. So I sat quietly humming to myself and waited for my stop.

Pseudo-Review: Stardust

If in the near future you find yourself in need of entertainment and possessed of several hours to kill, I can not recommend the movie Stardust heartily enough. It's a delightful fantasy based on a children's novel by Neil Gaiman, who also wrote the screenplay. Cleverly written and fun, it's highly reminiscent of The Princess Bride, and I might even argue it's somewhat better than its spriritual predecessor. It would be a great way to spend an afternoon even if its present competition wasn't Rush Hour 3. As is, it's probably the best thing you can do right now in a darkened room.

Hot Boron Action


According to Sitemeter, I get a small, but consistent, number of people finding this page on google searches for the words "slut of boron." I can't even fathom what that could be about. I looked for the phrase myself and found no clues as to what they could be searching for. Any ideas?

. . . And of course, now that I've used the phrase here I will only get more people finding this page by looking for boron sluts. So if one of you who does get here through such a search doesn't mind explaining in comments, I'd be delighted. Well, probably not delighted, but edified at least.

New York Minuet

Dianna has been polluting the discourse on Cementhorizon lately with her tales of sunny Pacific Northwest friendliness. In an effort to clean up the fetid, cheerful mess she has left behind, the bloggy equivalent of a Superfund site littered with good-nature and high-spirits, I present the following tale of an encounter I had this morning in New York City:

It's my last week on the job at The Firm. I'm wrapping up one last project before I leave, writing a chapter for a book The Firm is publishing. This morning I attended an informal meeting with the other interns working on the book. After a brief chat I headed back down the stairs to my office. On the way down I started talking to one of my fellow interns who was at the meeting. I'd never seen her around before, but I'm not super-social so I didn't think too much of it.

She got off on the same floor as me. There aren't a lot of interns on my floor, so this was somewhat unusual. We kept walking.

She works in the office immediately next to mine.

We were still engaged in conversation when we reached our offices. I asked where she goes to school. "Columbia." We had the same professors, took the same classes, and didn't know each other.

The conversation next turned, as it inevitably does in New York City, to housing. "Where do you live?" she asked.


"Oh, I'm on 113th! What's the cross-street?"

"About halfway between Lexington and Lennox."

"Really? That's where I am. I'm in 685."

"...I live in 685 too."

"Get out! What floor are you on?"

"The fifth floor."

"Really?! What apartment number?"


"I'm in 55! We live next door to each other!"

We've been living next door to each other for two years, attend the same school, went to the same classes, and worked for the same law firm in offices that are right next to each other, and I didn't even know who she was until today.

And on top of that, I still don't actually know what her name is. And hopefully she doesn't know mine; there's only so far you can trust people, even co-workers/classmates/buildingmates. In fact, especially co-workers/classmates/buildingmates.

Note: I've changed all the numbers and names above related to my address. Thus, why it won't make sense if you try plugging it into Google Maps.

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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