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    Friday, March 25, 2011
     Simulated Skill Part 3 - Dan - 7:59:49 AM EST

The third and final installment in our Simulated Skill series deals with the elephant in the room - the inevitable issue of gaming culture. Does there truly exist two different gaming cultures - console and PC? Or is that distinction irrelevant in this age of cross-platform development? And to what extent does the larger, console "culture" affect the development of cross-platform games?

Koki: Consoles are the fast food of gaming. Watching TV and friend on XBox Live invites you for a quick CoD match? Pick up the pad, play a match or two, go back to watching TV. At least playing on the PC forces you to get off the couch, which in itself is a commitment.

Briareos H: About the culture? Well, many games are made to require at least some part of core involvement (last examples which come to mind are Red Dead Redemption and Dead Space) - but there is no denying that console gamers who were not raised on PC approach games differently.

With console gaming, there is that looming atmosphere that you can put the pad down and forget about it altogether. When I think about PC - about my PC - there's a much closer relationship of which games are part on a personal matter. It's nerdy and quite more asocial, it's linked to the proximity of the screen and controls, to the fact that you use the PC for just about everything leading to a sense of entitled freedom. And when this freedom is arbitrarily restrained by forced distance from the game and your control over it, it feels unpleasantly touching and makes you moan over "consolisation" - objectively or not.

Sulphur: But hang on. Most of every gaming generation was raised on console games - consoles were literally the starting point for gaming - except for the select PC nerds and geeks who were completely entranced by the PC and their C64s and Spectrums and Amigas and nothing else.

I don't know about you, but when I played Mario on the NES it wasn't so much about having fun as it was to be single-mindedly driven to the end of the level. Putting down the pad? My pad? Impossible, unless I wanted to fling it at the TV. When I played Descent on the PC, it was about being single-mindedly driven to find the mine reactor and blow it up. Letting go of the mouse and keyboard? My mouse and keyboard? Impossible, unless it was to snap the keyboard on my knee in a fit of rage as I got swallowed up in a great apocalyptic fireball five times in a row.

You're making the mistake of attributing behavior to ownership. There's no doubt there's an impact that a system as isolating as a PC has, but it doesn't change a child's behavior completely. A normal, socially active child does not become a closed-off geek by virtue of his interest in computer games. And vice-versa, if you a nerdy child who suddenly started liking console games it wouldn't make you more socially active either.

As far as 'looming atmospheres' go, I really don't see how the couch vs. chair argument works today. Some people prefer gaming on their couch, some people prefer gaming in front of their PCs on the chair. The couch people could be playing something like, well, Dead Space 2 on their couch. And the PC guys would prefer playing the same game on their PCs. The same goes for Bioshock, or Metro, or any other multiplat game du jour.

I don't see any forced change in atmosphere honestly, unless the game in question was fundamentally gimped to be easier and played in spurts on the consoles.

Briareos H: Basically, I'm one of those people to whom consoles are inherently social and just don't click the same way as the asocial pleasure of computer games. Dark room, alone with your game - the kind of experience you had with Super Mario when you were a child. For sure, the line between social and asocial gaming is getting blurred by the ability to play anywhere with whatever platform - still - through everything that's been said before about the interface and design, consoles and console games seem to encourage a lot more that open and lean behavior which I find so less immersive.

Sulphur: I'd buy the 'console gaming isn't as deeply engaging as PC gaming' thing if console games were a completely different and more casual beast than PC games, but they share far too many games, game types, and experiences in common for that to be true.

Wormrat: What's next, the claim that you have to watch movies on your PC for a truly intimate experience? Don't blame the couch for people's lazy habits. You might be able to blame couch-TV distance for low FOV settings, though.

Subjective Effect: I absolutely think that defining skills as Player and Simulated is important, and it is a spectrum even though there are no games that use pure Player Skill, though there are some that pure Simulated Skill (those that present no challenge). Until now the nature of controllers has meant that the mapping of actions across different platforms has been quite varied. The keyboard and mouse combination offered so much that the early D-pad controllers, like the NES ones, just couldn't.

For this reason console games never even tried to be like PC games, for the most part anyway. The gaming ethos was quite different. But with the current console controllers (all the way up to Move) being so close to being K&M equivalents we shouldn't see such a difference anymore.

The ability to action Simulated Skills was much rougher, more raw, before this generation of controllers and, I believe, led to the "I win" buttons. And this is why I think dumbing down was/is the fault of consoles - hence "consolitis". This isn't a platform "war" this is a discussion about the fine differences in gaming that are generated by platform differences.

Briareos H: I still think it all boils down to two things: the targeted audience and the interface. I want to highlight that there are multiple examples of 'recent' console games which generally contradict my argument about being targeted at more social audience - for the best - and as many examples of PC-only games which do the opposite. That's where I think the line has blurred along with the general tendency to socialize gaming (rather than consolise) on all platforms.

Still, the interface is everything but a non-issue because it impacts how the same information is provided to a player which can both be sitting 3 metres from the TV with a gamepad or 50cm from the screen with keyboard & mouse.

Consolisation is not an excuse however for the trend of making everything explicit (and more generally tailoring the experience and contents to an 'ideal' player response rather than making a knowingly flawed game based solely on your vision and expecting the player to bend it somehow). Maturity in the videogaming economy is more to blame here.

Bakerman: It's not really consoles' fault that we don't have deep, meaningful, heart-wrenching moral dilemmas in games; heck, I've never experienced that on any platform. (Caveat: I'm a relatively young gamer, so I wasn't really around in the halcyon days of the 80s and 90s... maybe PC games were way better back then. I've played Deus Ex and Thief though, they're two of my favourites.)

Anyway. I do agree with you; the skill spectrum isn't all-inclusive. But to me it's an important part of the trend away from the kinds of games we like. What I'm going to take away from this thread is another useful way of looking at the interactions in games. Not the be-all and end-all but something relevant.

Sulphur: I'm not really asking for real heart-wrenching moral dilemmas in Bioshock and its ilk - though I'd love to have had them - but I'm saying that choices you had to make in SS2 locked you down to a character path and gameplay type because cyber modules actually weren't in plentiful supply, whereas in Bioshock the choice you made had ultimately little to no consequence to your gameplay path because Adam was plentiful anyway.

Eldron: I don't think these bad choices were so much related to "consolitis" as it was to bad design choices, much more consequence-filled and harder games exist on the consoles. I mean, I'm one of the people that think it was the biggest mistake ever to leave out any consequence to the way that you could just pick every power available and buy everything in bioshock, but I'm just not seeing any point to blaming it on consoles.

Sulphur: But consolitis is exactly that at the end of the day for PC users, isn't it? 'Bad design choices'? I guess part of it's attributable to SS2's poor sales and Levine & Co. addressing its perceived faults of complexity, like giving the player the freedom to completely screw themselves over, to reach a broader audience with Bioshock.

It's bad design choice, but why were these choices made? Especially when Levine knew that SS2 garnered critical acclaim and a cult following and therefore knew that most of it wasn't broken? Why was it simplified in so many ways, from glowing quest items to map markers to no inventory to lack of consequences to choices?

Answer: to be immediately accessible and to appeal to everyone it targeted right from the get-go, teenagers to adults alike. PC game devs tended to do their own thing and end up appealing either to the masses or to a niche back in the day depending on how complex and different their games were; but when you develop for consoles as well, your audience's age range expands significantly because younger demographics are built in, and patience for something as slow-burn or complicated as Thief and SS2 with younger audiences is limited.

Yakoob: Looking glass died because it couldn't survive on the critical acclaim achieved via those "not broken" design choices.

2K made millions while winning the hearts of thousands of fans thanks to the critical acclaim of the "broken" design choices.

Papy: I qualify BioShock's gameplay as average. Yet, I rate it as one of the best game I ever played. The reason was there was consequences to my actions. There was, for example, Tenenbaum thanking me several times, as well as what I perceived as a change of attitude toward me, but more importantly there was the safehouse. Seeing those little girls was one of the greatest reward I ever got in a video game. And that's what made my choices to save them meaningful. In my opinion, SS2 had a much better gameplay than BioShock, but BioShock was overall a better "experience".

Briareos H: Let's not forget that the way the game teaches you its mechanics is also very important, and was quite different between both games. It contributes a lot to the difference in feel and what people have attributed to consolisation while it's basically just devs being stupid/driven by their publisher.

A little example: If all I knew by the first fourth of Bioshock was that I could harvest gruesomely the Little Sisters or not at all (much more interesting choice), if I only discovered by myself through scattered audio logs that there was a way to rescue them, virtually launching an enormous optional sidequest to gather the tools and plasmids needed to rescue the sisters - quest that relied solely on player initiative (no update in the game log) - the end result and my drive to find that way to save them while thinking "wow this was not advertised by the game at all this is awesome" would have been delicious.

No, here you have that artificial choice from the start. Okay whatever, I'll save them because in the end I'm sure you wouldn't make harvesting them the most interesting option, Ken.

Games where every player is expected to "experience" all the narrative has to offer or hell, even the true ending, is a trend which has been rising parallel to the last generations of consoles. Hence the understandable confusion and terms like "consolisation" when it is not.

When you look at Dead Space 2 credits, the list for QA testers is longer than the list for developers. Well I say fuck them. Developers should abide by a rule: if more than 80% of all QA testers see everything the game has to offer on their first run, something is wrong with the game.

Sulphur: That's the Warren Spector argument of forced linearity down a prescribed path being worse than open gameworlds with multiple paths and options, isn't it? I think there's space for both in the market, what with Half Life 2 and the like not suffering so much for all their forced linearity.

I think it's fair to say that the dumbing down aspect of consolitis here at TTLG is tied to very specific games built as multiplat titles -- namely Deadly Shadows, Invisible War, and latterly, Bioshock. These games changed quite a bit in comparison the their PC-only predecessors to suit the platforms and audiences they were going to be on, and people have been raging on about these changes for years - nerfed gameplay like unified ammo, climbing gloves, merged skills and augs, etc.

That's an intellectual dumbing down that wasn't seen in the original games, but it did come about with the advent of the multiplatform sequel. Was that coincidence three times in a row, or was it planned because of something else? I'm going with planned, because I think they wanted to appeal to a lower baseline (the built-in demographics guaranteed to be on the consoles) than the PC exclusive titles did.

Papy: To me "consolitis" is more about all games following the same current models rather than any particular characteristics. With computers, we always had a broad range of games, from the very dumb almost press forward kind of games, to games demanding a lot of learning and a lot of thinking to play them. Consoles, on the other hand, were more or less always on following the formulas that were the most popular at the moment. Of course, there is a general trend because of limitations and general attitude, but I think those are relatively minor points.

Bakerman: Some games rely on maturity rather than (or in addition to) intelligence, which is where I think the typical 13-15 year old fails. It takes a certain level of maturity to enjoy a measured, slow-paced experience that requires thinking and initiative. While I do agree that many a 15 year old is capable of understanding a game like that, I just don't think many would enjoy it. It's kind of like wine... kids hate it (and I still do!), but as you age your taste changes, and though you haven't become more able to taste the wine, you just enjoy that flavour more.

Papy: People don't play video games for the same reasons. For some it's because they want to relax, for others it's because they want to feel good about themselves, or to have a tool for their imagination, etc... I believe the demographic of consoles and computer are different in big part because of the general environment. Playing comfortably lay down on a sofa, 15 feet away from a 50" TV (meaning a much smaller part of your field of view compared to a 22" monitor seen 18 inches away), in a room where you are not necessarily alone, is generally a very different experience than playing on a computer. A console environment is great when you want to relax without thinking too much, it's not so great for something competitive or difficult and requiring all your attention. So people will more or less choose their gaming system based on their own need.

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