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The blech of "Home Theater Gaming"


Camp
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One of the reasons I'm so enamored by LCVG is the fact that it has a take-no-prisoner gaming first attitude (though, most recently it's been humor first, gaming second :) ).

 

I still hang out at HTF and read the game section at the AVS forums because I was introduced to gaming forums via my interest in home theater. While it's nice that those popular sites have sections dedicated to games there are some major problems with mixing HT people with gaming people. I find myself really getting pissed off reading statements like "_____ would be a great game if only it had 16:9 support" or "the Gamecube can never be considered a serious game machine as it has no support for discreet 5.1".

 

Technical improvements in games are always welcomed. I think 16:9 support, HD & 5.1 surround should be the minimum expectation for developers starting a new project. That said, it's my opinion that NO GAME should be discounted for lacking any of these HT-centric features. I tend to take that opinion one step further by lowering my estimation of any individual guilty of dumping on a game for lacking support for a certain technical feature. Anyone who overlooks the gameplay for lack of technical features is looking to show off his/her HT and cannot be considered a 'true gamer'.

 

Over the years I've done my best to shoot down these HT first critics but support for my opinions has never been overwhelming. I'm first a fan of good game design and I will struggle to make others appreciate the art of interactive software production.

 

I'm just curious if I come across as a crazed zealot when defending games lacking HT-related features? I would assume most of you agree with my core arguement but I would love to hear from various takes on this topic.

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I wholeheartedly agree. Too many HT gamers criticize a game solely for its lack of widescreen, progressive scan or 5.1 support, and might even decide such a game isn't worth playing. Or, conversely, praise a game with those features before playing it. Those are all nice additions to a game, and can make a good game great, but good-looking shit is still shitty. I've often wondered why such "gamers" will wax rhapsodic about NES games, yet bitch that newly-released Game X is 480i, and thus "teh suXX0rs".

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King Kong doesn't have 16x9 or 5.1 support either, and that doesn't stop me thinking its a great film. It seems odd that people who profess to want to experience their stuff the same way that the artists designed it for would be like that, but you're right that many of them are.

 

They are probably related to the f*ckwits that gave Jaws a 5.1 remix to give the other speakers have something to do, or those that changed the UK release of Gosford Park from 2.40:1 to 1.78:1 so that their widescreen tv was filled.

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I've never understood this myself, and I really had to assume that it was just people who never bothered to play games before and wouldn't know a good game if it rose up and consumed a butt cheek. One of my other issues besides asshats at the old digs, actually, was this. People would go off about how some limp ass game was so awesomely amazing just because it had 16x9 and DTS.

 

Stuff that was as crucial as graphics to the success of Tetris, naturally :roll:.

 

Gameplay should win out every time. But it seems really, really weird when it doesn't. It seriously strikes me as odd, but I guess for quite a few people a game system is less a hobby and more a toy to show off their HT. Waste of money in that case, if you ask me.

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Set Jeff Kleist on them, I say.

 

For all the guy's faults, he does a much better job than most of hammering home that Buffy was meant to be watched 4x3. This is the same for games that don't want to offer 16x9 options.

 

Wider is only better when its meant to be that way.

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I've ranted & raved about much the same thing a good number of times "elswhere". High res graphics/sound do not make a bad game good. They can make a good game better looking, make it a better total "experience", but it can't make it /fun/ if the gameplay sucks.

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Of course, this isn't entirely a new phenomenon in the world of HT. How many people bought frankly crap films like The Haunting (I know I did) purely because the sound mix made a good demo. There's no difference between that and buying a dire game just because it runs at 720p really.

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I wouldn't avoid a game I thought I'd really like simply because it was 4x3 only or lacked a progressive scan mode. I'm curious about such things, and if there were two games I wanted equally and one had some HT-driven advantage over the other, that would more than likely be the one I'd lean towards. It's really not much different than more traditional HT "software" -- look at how many people on the HTF cry out for DTS on every release, for instance. I look at games, at least to an extent, in the same way I look at DVDs -- I have a decent HT rig and like to take advantage of it, but at the end of the day, all I want is something that's passibly nice looking/sounding and that I think I'll enjoy. If it has a 16x9 mode or six channel sound, hey, all the better, but y'know...forest...trees...all that stuff...

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Right on, Camp! I couldn't agree more. Gameplay is the thing (the ONLY thing) that ultimately separates the good from the bad in videogaming. You can throw in all the whizz-bang bells & whistles in the world, but if the gameplay ain't happening, the game is not going to succeed.

 

There's a lot of truth to the old adage... "You can't polish a turd!"

 

BTW, I still regularly pick up and play (once a week or so) Montezuma's Revenge and Miner 2049'er on my ColecoVision... games that are about as lo-tech as you can get, but you know what? They're every bit as much fun as they were when I bought them back in 1983.

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The best performing game is the one that balances the CPU and the GPU so that they are both running at maximum efficiency. The problem with this is that even in Europe where the HDTV market penetration is close to 15%, that still means that the rest have only ordinary TVs. Plus, most console developers cannot afford to buy everyone in the company their own personal HDTV to put in their cubicle which further decreases the likelyhood of a game shipping with HDTV support. Often at the end of a project features are cut or sacrificed in order to meet the almight gold date. Because of the previously stated circumstances, that usually much means HDTV support goes bye bye.

 

Actually, a little known fact, Developers may even do a little trick where they actually shrink the screen they render to and then blow it back up and paste it back to the screen. This gives a cheap anti-aliasing like effect plus reduces the fill-rate cost.

 

In conclusion, until HDTVs become more mainstream most games will not support it.

 

And on the gameplay is king note. Of course gameplay is king, but most people won't buy your game if it doesn't look good on the back of the box. (Which is why some games put only cut scenes on the back of the box) :)

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Plus, most console developers cannot afford to buy everyone in the company their own personal HDTV to put in their cubicle which further decreases the likelyhood of a game shipping with HDTV support.

 

Developers do not need to buy HDTVs...they can simply run their games at HD resolutions on a PC monitor. I think they have more than enough monitors. ;)

 

I wonder if the "15% market penetration" you speak of is concerning widescreen televisions and not high definition sets. Perhaps there is a little confusion of terms here. That would make more sense as widescreen PAL options have been pretty widespread for some time now.

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I'd actually be surprised if it was a low as 15% for 16x9 adoption in Europe; here in the UK they just don't do 4x3 TVs over about 21", and haven't for several years. Most TV broadcasting is shot for 16x9; indeed its in the BBC Charter that they have to where possible.

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most people won't buy your game if it doesn't look good on the back of the box.

 

Which indicates more of a problem on the consumer end of things than anything else, really.

 

You know, I'm not sure that it's fair to characterize this as the consumer's fault. What else does Joe or Jane Consumer have to go on? I'll answer that question myself -- franchise appeal or, if they're lucky, word of mouth. That's it.

 

Gaming "journalism" and traditional sources of information (like retail outlets) have carefully made themselves irrelevent by training the consumer to ignore them.

 

Retail stores frequently are staffed by goofs that will give you an attitude or shockingly bad advice. IIRC, Romier overheard a drone pushing a guy to an Xbox purchase -- who made it clear that he wants Japanese-style RPGs.

 

Two weeks ago I was in an EB and heard a conversation between the staffer and a guy on the fence over Outlaw Golf. The staffer told him that the coolest thing about Outlaw Golf is that it has the entire Mortal Kombat fighting engine built-in for wild fights on the links.

 

That's retail stores. Now, how about certain sites and magazines that inflate game scores of their console of choice? Especially your single-platform sites and magazines. After a few stinkers, your average consumer is going to be trained not to rely on sites and magazines anymore.

 

Then there are the types of sites and magazines that, if their reviews were children at the YMCA pool, they'd all be in the shallow end wearing inflatable ducks around their waists.

 

And, hell, I'll say it -- unlike the games I enjoy, I don't like to be seen with the average gaming magazine. They look designed to appeal to 12-year olds. And I bet Joe and Jane Consumer might avoid them altogether for that reason.

 

And let's not forget that some companies can't be bothered to even put the facts on the back of box. Anyone remember Max Payne advertising System Link support on the back of the Xbox version?

 

I know it's popular for the industry to blame any deficiencies (real or otherwise) on "market demands" but come on, we don't need to echo it. If the consumers are poorly educated -- and they are in any industry -- I would argue that they've been trained to be very poorly educated by the gaming industry and the surrounding community.

 

Lest it escape anyone's attention, we have two opportunities before us. The new opportunity is LCVG (including both the site and the forums) and its potential to reach Joe and Jane Consumer as well as the jaded gamer who is tired of relying on poor sources of information.

 

The other opportunity is the one you always had -- listening to your friends and acquaintances and giving them advice and food for thought that they can really use.

 

-j

 

(was this OT? Apologies and please move it if so)

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I don't dispute your points for a moment, Jay. Far from it. You are absolutely right. I'm just referring to the fact that most consumers get lured by graphics over content, not necessarily due to shots on the back of boxes. It's the same problem with movies, where flashy crap tends to rule over a good story (rarely, very rarely, both can be achieved (i.e. Matrix or Half-Life, for me).

 

Game store employees are just awful. As if they're about to not recommend a game somebody is thinking about buying, thereby not dropping money into the store's coffers. Not a chance. I see it happen all the time around here.

 

Magazines are likewise terrible. I sincerely hope nobody would ever trust a review posted in Nintendo Power or the official X-Box magazine or its PS2 counter-part. I mean, geeze, c'mon. The only mag I have ever found halfway mature was Computer Gaming World and I think that's gone downhill a little bit of late.

 

You're right about LCVG's potential, I never even realized that until you said so. I think the non-starred reviews is also going to be a big plus too, since it will let the writing tell the story and make people see why a game is good or bad rather than just checking a star review (or, god forbid, representative faces) and deciding based on that.

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Danger Will Robinson! Danger!

 

A couple of times now I've raved about games I consider to be brilliant (Rez, Ikaruga and Frequency to name three) to work collegues. Said workmates now refuse to trust a single word I say about games, as its bound to be more "weird Japanese shit" rather than the GTA imitators and Gran Tourismo sequels that "normal people" like. Sometimes we despair at the quality of the titles that appear to sell well, but its often the case that our favorites genuinely aren't as well liked as the generic stuff.

 

Mind you, a lot of this is down to the cult of the realistic. Stick any 20-something male in front of a game and tell him that he needs to drive the car as fast as he can and he will understand what to do. Stick someone who isn't used to abstract weirdness in front of most Nintendo games and they will either complain that its aimed at kids, or just completely fail to see what the point is.

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Your mates are the ones that are wrong, Frequency is an awesome game. I have had similar problems though. One friend I introduced it to thought it was the dumbest thing he'd ever seen. Another bunch of us played it four-player and toasted a whole evening doing so. So it varies.

 

The problem is that these games sadly aren't as accessible as your "drive fast" games and actually require work in to get pleasure out. Frequency is NOT intuitive in the slightest, but it's totally awesome when you get the mechanics straightened out.

 

Too bad people are so fixated on the instant pleasure principle. Then again the single best gameplaying experiences I have ever enjoyed have been while standing on a Dance Dance Revolution machine in the arcades, so what the hell do I know? ;)

 

The Japanese market is less scared to try to innovate than the North American I find sometimes. While that doesn't always work, at least they make the effort. The majority of N.American releases always seem to be FPS games, sports titles (at least we have a curling title now :P), and RTS'.

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Mark and Iain, you both make good points. I wrote what I wrote because too often those points are made without the depth and shades of distinction you two made.

 

As for Iain's problem about people's reactions "weird Japanese shit," well, that's what we're working with. To continue with the film analogy, I know people who turned up their noses at Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon because "the costumes were great, the acting was great, the story was great, but I can't stand the fantasy elements." These same people see no problem spinning up Legally Blonde or Charlie's Angels in the home DVD player.

 

My suggestion for those people (or, as a friend refers to them, "The Great Unwashed") is threefold:

 

1. Always temper your recommendations and opinions with your knowledge of them. If a friend says he hates comics, you wouldn't drop ten volumes of Sandman in front of them and expect a revelation. You would loan them The Adventures of Barry Ween and maybe Garth Ennis' Welcome Back, Frank Punisher trade paperback.

 

2. Keep at it.

 

3. Know that some people are unreachable. For example, I cannot get into Japanese-style RPGs. I hate them. It may be a personal failing or a personal preference -- either way, I'm a waste of time to try to convince otherwise.

 

Always keep this last one one your mind. You don't want to turn off an acquaintance because of your proseletyzing. If a friend comes back after you recommended Final Fantasy and says it was horrible. that's a good thiing. You now know their limits.

 

Make sure they understand that it's a well-made game and it's a shame they didn't like it. Then make sure they understand that you understand their reaction and your future recommendation will be tempered with that knowledge.

 

-j

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The problem is that these games sadly aren't as accessible as your "drive fast" games and actually require work in to get pleasure out.

 

Great point. But one of my favorite series of books is incredibly inaccessible. The first couple of times I read the series (20 books) I read with the book and the following things at arms reach:

 

- A mariner's glossary

- an atlas

- a web site translating key foreign phrases

- a children's "cut-away" book of a line-of battle ship

 

How's that for inaccesible? With so much entertainment competing for our leisure time, I understand that a lot of people aren't willing to make the committment necessary to enjoy what I like.

 

Again, the answer is to keep at it -- and maybe work up to a point where you can sneak it in.

 

-j

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I wrote what I wrote because too often those points are made without the depth and shades of distinction you two made.

 

Which illustrates perfectly why this place rocks though. :Rock: Also, any excuse to use that icon.

 

I hear more people complain about the subtitles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon than anything else, to be honest, which is a shame. Bad dubbing can sink any movie. They think that's bad, they should check out Iron Monkey (which I think is great :P).

 

The comics thing I disagree on, I think they should check out Creature Tech, but then again, Creature Tech is kinda wacky itself. Shame about the Japanese RPGs, I can recommend some good ones. ;)

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Retail employees suck, huh? Come shop at my store. We're the real deal. Do my guys know everything about every game? No, but we don't claim to either. If unfamiliar with a title they're encouraged to throw it in a system and learn about it -with their customer. They're pretty good though...and getting better.

 

Stores who employ people who don't know shit are just hiring "bodies" to fill their schedules. They're obviously shooting themselves in the foot and not recognizing their staff is the most important tool they have.

 

That's really all it takes to distinguish the good retailers from the rest. The managers who invest in their people (and hold them to strict standards) are the special ones.

 

I'd disagree a bit about the influence of gaming magazines. I totally agree with all the observations about the state of today's gaming media (inflated reviews, 12 year-old look, etc.) but I am always surprised by the sheer number of people who mention reading about a game in a magazine. Kids and adults alike regularly read these things. I'm confident of that.

 

I haven't touched a gaming magazine since the fall of NextGen (tears!) but I can tell you lots of people are reading the dredge left on the market.

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