Wild Musing

Writing – Diary of a Budding Freelance

It Is No Longer Cool To Worship Graphics. But Why Not?

Back in the eighties and nineties it was all about graphics to the point where no one mainstream really seemed to question the fact that the first thing you looked at in a new game was the graphics. And games were often judged almost solely on the way they looked. Lately I have noticed a real shift in this attitude. It is not just that people no longer only look at graphics, the fact is people are now full of contempt for those that still have a touch of obsession with this subject. Tags like ‘graphics whore’ seem to be popping up everywhere. So why the backlash?

It seems to me that the bile directed at this group is due to the fact that people tend to think that they are responsible for the fact companies that mega pretty games with Meh gameplay. A lot of dedicated gamers grew up in the eighties and nineties. They are over the graphics issue, they watched it when the movement forward was at rocket speed, from Pong to Tomb Raider in just over twenty years. They are not gripped by the impressive but snail like improvements of the last ten to fifteen years. No matter what anyone says, Tomb Raider released in 1996 had a hell of a lot more in common graphically with Killzone 2 than it does with Pong (1972?).Graphics are just not that exciting anymore. In fact we simply expect them to be good, or I do, there is no excuse for them being poor. Bad graphics therefore have a chance of ruining a game but good ones will not make a winner. Not by themselves.

The problem is, I think, that gamers don’t believe that the developers have necessarily caught up with this concept. The general gamer has a fear that the devs are still listening to those stuck in the graphics obsessed past. They fear that their voice is being drowned out. So what is their voice saying?

Three main things I think ‘gameplay’, ‘storyline’ and surprisingly most importantly of all ‘innovation’. Older (don’t say jaded) gamers want to see something new. Something that has not been done a hundred times before. It seems to me it is not the engine designers or the graphics moguls that have the future of gaming in their hands. It may well be the ideas guys. The ones with the imagination.

Don’t get me wrong clearly a brilliant game has all of the important elements. Strong plot and characters, fresh ideas and gripping gameplay all wrapped up in a jaw droppingly beautiful package. But let’s be realistic, how often does that happen? Only in the top few games every year. The ones with the seemly endless budget. Most game simply can’t afford to do everything beautifully, no matter how much the devs may wish to.

So what are we prepared to sacrifice? On a personal level I am willing to give up a little sharpness in the color blue and being able to see the pores in people’s skin for an amazing new concept and a game that plays like a dream. Something to hold my interest. After the first amazing wow factor graphics become fairly peripheral, you honestly forget they are there. If you don’t then the game is doing something wrong. It would be like choosing a car because you like the color even though it handles like a slug and has no air conditioning.

Still, I think terms like graphics whore are a bit extreme. I don’t think gamers have that much to fear. I believe that they developers are getting the message now that we expect more than beauty from our games.

March 25, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

100% Anti Censorship- Can It Be Justified.

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both. Benjamin Franklin

I have always had a problem with censorship, ever since I read 1984 when I was a kid, I have squirmed about government interference in our lives. An argument for total non government interference would be arguing for anarchy, something I am also not comfortable with so I cannot say my stance on that issue is absolute but I have come to the conclusion that I am 100% against censorship.

You would think that would be a fairly easy decision to make and stick by but actually I have discovered that it is far more complicated than I at first gave it credit for. For example a big test of my resolve came with the recent news of a game from Japan that involved the raping of a woman and her two daughters. Yuck. I had to have a good think about that. Do I think people have the right to play this game? Through firmly gritted teeth, I have to say ‘yes I do’. Now before people start telling me what this means about my character let’s look at my reasons for this.

Do I support rape? Well clearly not. Neither do I support the killing of prostitutes to steal back your cash after you have slept with them. Or punching innocent people in the face or running them down in a car just for the fun of it. I am actually not even terribly keen on cheating at poker.

The two things we need to take into account when making our decision on this issue are: when you are playing a game you are not actually doing those things, it is not real. I have shouted this long and hard and as big a test of my belief as this nasty little game is, I cannot back down from that now. It is not real, it is playing, no one gets hurt.

The other thing is that I don’t have the right to inflict my moral judgements on others, who am I to say the line has been crossed? If we are not 100% anti censorship then whose hands do we put the decision making process in. I am afraid I just do not think that there is a safe enough pair of hands available. I may well be able to find someone who agrees with my morals entirely but who says my morals are exactly correct and where does it leave the rest of you?

I am sure this game will not be the only thing to test my resolve on this issue, some people have a funny idea (in my opinion) of what constitutes fun, but whatever comes along I am going to fight for the freedom for grown adults to play it if they wish to. Then (if it is bad enough) I will hope like hell that the majority of right minded people don’t want to play it and it fails miserably in the financial stakes.

That is the best I can do, I am afraid that in a straight out fight – liberty wins over security every time for me.

March 21, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

The Console Wars: From A Totally Non Fanboy Point Of View

I must admit until recently I did not realize the true extent of this ‘war’. I knew that my cousin seemed to be rather disparaging about my new PS3 and my PS2 before that come to think of it but it as I already owned a 360 and a Wii I did not really think much of it. Then I started to visit sites such as N4G and quickly, much to my horror, became aware of the fact that ‘war’ really is a good analogy for this phenomenon.

Don’t get me wrong there is nothing like a bit of good hearted rivalry to spice a subject up but a lot of these guys are far from good hearted about it. The discussion gets downright nasty and personal.

Anyway, I decided to look, from a completely neutral perspective, at each of the big three consoles (we will leave handhelds out of it because Microsoft can’t play) and see if any of the fanboys are actually justified in their stance (if not their general demeanor).

The problem is that you can see this competition a lot of different ways. Is it all about sales? About the power of the machine? About the exclusive games available? Value for money?

You would have thought that sales would be a reasonably easy statistic to research effectively but you would be wrong. There are different figures for each country, then you need to decide wether you mean life time sales or are you only interested in recent figures? Lifetime sales in the USA indicate that Playstation is winning that war but not with its latest edition the PS3 but with the PS2. That is hardly surprising as it has been around way longer than all the rest.

How about if you are only interested in recent figures? Well, how recent are you talking? For 2008 Nintendo kicked butt in the US. But the Xbox 360 has sold extremely well over a longer period of time. To confuse things even further latest figures for this year show that in the huge Japanese market PS3 is, it must be said for the first time, starting to kick some tail. It has been top of the hardware sales list a few weeks in a row now. Very confusing but I am sure some fanboys can put me right on all this with their unique spin on things.

Let’s move on to the power of the system, though after some quick research I can see tears (and flaming) ahead. Which is the most powerful console? The first thing we can do is eliminate the Nintendo, it is not, nor was it ever meant to be, the most powerful. After that it becomes very confusing with fans of both consoles claiming the crown. I looked to Gamespot to try to throw some light on the question without bombarding me with fanboy spin. It be fair they seem to think that the Xbox 360 may slightly shade the PS3 on graphics. But even they put in the proviso that game developers don’t seem to be using the PS3 to its full potential.

Games on the PS3 do tend to be blurrier than their Xbox 360 counterparts, but the PlayStation 3 games can look just as good as the Xbox 360 games when developers put some effort into it

Again if I have totally misrepresented any console here I am sure the Fanboys can put me straight.

How about exclusive titles? Again not as simple a question to answer as you may think. Are we talking simply numbers? It would seem important to take into account the quality of the titles too wouldn’t it? And then you are deep into subjective territory. Not a good place to be when there is a war going on. But still we have to try so donning my helmet and flack jacket I try to talk mainly about titles that are stirring up a lot of anticipation.

It would seem a statement of simple fact to say that the Xbox 360 has the most exclusive titles in terms of lifetime. Of course, it has been around a bit longer. The thing is PS3 is undoubtedly hitting a purple patch in this area in 2009. Not counting the ones that have already hit the shelves such as Killzone 2 and Halo Wars, things seem quieter from this point forward for Xbox 360 owners than their Playstation 3 counterparts . They have vague promises about titles such as Alan Wake and some other lesser lights. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list just a general feel.

PS3 owners are drooling over Heavy Rain, Uncharted 2, Infamous, Bioshock 2 and even a slight hope that Gods of War 3 will make the shelves this year. Nintendo has by far the most exclusive titles coming out in 2009, simple as that, though possibly not the most hotly anticipated.

So after my little research, where do I now stand on the question, which is the best console? I will tell you, I stand very firmly, as always, in the camp signposted ‘So glad I own all three consoles’. Probably fairly predictable really, why on earth would you not want to have it all, there is just so much fun available on each of them.

March 21, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 16 Comments

No Sex In Games Please-We Are American

Working on the gig I have at the moment which involves writing about games I have become quite the campaigner against censorship in games, you are likely to hear a fair bit about that in the future. I have also learned quite a lot about the way sex is used in video games. I thought I would share some of my thought with you.

In actual fact it is not just America but actually most of the Western World that has a problem with sex in games. It just opens a whole can of worms, I covered the early versions of ’sexy’ games in the first part of this series. I would now like to move into the more modern era and see how attitudes to sex in games and the depiction of sex itself has changed over time. And the truth of the matter is that this rather depends on where you live and your culture’s attitude to such things. America seems to be the least tolerant, quickly followed by the rest of the Western World. Japan on the other hand does not seem to worry about anything to do with sex, to the point where even the most liberal of us worry if things can go too far.

Let’s start with a character that actually managed to create very little controversy anywhere, just wonder at her awesomeness and awareness that people could consider video game characters sexy. At the beginning of the modern era we see Lara Croft (if you do not acknowledge Tomb Raider as the start of the modern era then you are too young to have an opinion.). This little lady changed the way people thought about video game characters forever, as author Damon Brown puts it in his book Porn and Pong

In Lara well adjusted men were contemplating sleeping with a bunch of pixels, lusting after a digital diva that didn’t exist -and actually admitting it to other people. Lara represents the first time America fell in lust with the idea of someone in a video game.

Even though there was no actual sex in the game Lara changed our attitudes to sexuality in games, they were becoming sexy in more than one way. Years later when Playboy did its first spread of video game characters, Lara would not be in it but make no mistake without her it would never have happened.

It would take the GTA titles to really make people sit up and take notice of sex in games again. Grand Theft Auto Three would cause comment because of its scenes with prostitutes. This franchise had the most disturbing sexual overtones to any set of games yet. It was probably the hint of violence with the sex that took it to a new level. As most of you know you could pursue the prostitute and kill her to retrieve your money. Was this justified in a game? A few things need to be taken into account when answering this question.

The first one is that the game already had a mature rating. It is clearly not designed for children. So the question of whether the sex is appropriate for children is no more relevant than it would be with a mature rated movie. This brings me to the second point. The sex in GTA is in keeping with the plot of the story and the character you are playing. If this was a movie it would probably be praised for its gritty realism.

The next time the GTA series got into trouble was to involve the subject of interactive sexual content in a game. The ‘Hot Coffee’ scene that was accidently included in San Andreas is too famous for me to have to recount here, suffice to say that accident or not, this game gave the gamer the first chance to actually participate in the sexual act since Custer’s Revenge. It went down like a lead ballon with the campaigners. There was a huge backlash against the series.

It is probably due to this backlash and a desire to avoid a repeat that Fahrenheit or Indigo Prophecy as those of you in the States know it, shipped without the interactive sex scene that people in every other country in the world would be able to play. It is probably fair to say that though the culture of America is very similar in a lot of ways to that of countries like Britain and Australia, the latter two do not have as many fundamentalist Christian pressure groups. It is probably the slightly more religious basis to the culture that stopped Americans from seeing this content.

And where is Japan in all this? How have they fared with sex in games in the modern era? Well, while we are debating the presence of tasteful alien sex scenes in the game Mass Effect some Japanese are legally playing what can only be termed as rape simulators. Nobody seemed to be at all bothered about this until someone tried to sell a second hand copy on Amazon to a British audience This caused a massive furor.

Back here in the Western World though, taking the vocal minority out of the equation, most people seem comfortable with sex in games so long as its inclusion is not obviously just there just for its own sake. Some don’t care even if it is, though most of those are likely to be under the age that is legally required to purchase the game. The average, mature gamer likes strong storylines and realistic layered characters, if this includes a bit of sex and sexuality then so be it.

March 12, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kid can Play Games If He Follow Geneva Convention- People Still Moan

I do not usually consider myself to be the type of person who has activist leanings, maybe it is age, maybe it is just that something I enjoy is threatened, I am not sure, but either way this whole censorship thing continues to really bug me. So I thought I would highlight and comment on a story I discovered this morning(cheers to lear over at Digg who bought it to my attention) that shows that other, imaginative solutions can be found to the banning of violent content in video games.

A Canadian couple were determined to give their 13 year old son some rules of engagement when he was playing on his Xbox and they were not the ones you might expect, like time limits and making sure he had done his chores (though I am sure they have those rules as well) they were the perfect rules of engagement for the game he was playing, the rules of the Geneva Convention. Evan Spencer was allowed to play the game with his mates as long as he showed an awareness of these rules and where possible, within the limited scope of the game, used them to direct his play.

How very sensible and imaginative. Mr Spencer admits “Part of it was that I wanted to discourage him from getting the game. I just thought, ‘Hey, he’ll never read the Geneva Conventions.’ ” An understandable assumption but having been a child who wanted to play a game I could have told him that a little thing like that was not going to stop him. Evan printed the convention, read it and passed a quiz from his father to demonstrate that he understood them. Then he was good to go. Mr Spencer adds “In a sense, I wanted to make him aware that there’s a lot more about World War Two than just pointing and shooting,”

Now to this point this story is all very feel good and a great way to start my Saturday morning, and then I read the comments section. Fair enough there where a lot of people praising the move but still there were nay sayers determined to stick the boot into video games and Mr Spencer. Some of them were quite mild, pointing out that there is not actually a lot of opportunity to use the Geneva Convention in these games. Well that may be true but don’t you think that it misses the point? Whether or not Evan actually gets much chance to use them in COD is kind of irrelevant here. Surely the fact that he has engaged with them and now has an understanding of them is the issue. All because of a game. Mr Spencer used it as an opportunity for self directed learning, fabulous. Teachers would jump at the chance.

Other comments took my breath away, especially the oft repeated contention that this was lazy parenting.

Bob F from T.O., Canada writes: Lazy Parenting 1.0… Nice job… Pretty much sounds like Mr Spencer needs a spine. Wonder if he will let his son start smoking pot as long as he doesn’t inhale?

For one thing that analogy is so flawed as to actually be nonsensical but it is the accusation of lazy parenting that really fries my brain. Please, someone explain to me how this is lazy? Mr Spencer and his wife have evaluated the game, sat down together and discussed the issues and come up with a parenting tactic that is both imaginative and thoughtful. I guess Bob F thinks uttering the one word “no” so his kids can go out and play these games behind his back is less lazy. Mind boggling.

But this story is such a positive one that I do not want to finish on that negative note so I will give the last word to the eminently sensible Mr Spencer “This is the 21st century and a part of the universe we live in now.”
Indeed they are and responsible parenting like this will hopefully reassure people that parents are up to the job of looking after their children in this area and let the rest of us get on with enjoying our games.

Thanks to Sarah Boesveld for the original story that was publish in the Canadian Globe and Mail.

March 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Charge Me With Neglect! Elance Triumph

Well the bad news is I have been very remiss in keeping my blog entries up but the good news is that is because I have been run off my feet with decent (read no dodgy SEO) writing work. And without exception the work has come from Elance. So haven’t I come a long way from where I was?

I know I am probably sounding like an advert for this place by now and that was never my intention so lets have a look at the downsides of the Elance world. Their charges for bidding are just a bit silly. You pay nearly ten bucks a month for being a member of the site but for that you do not get unlimited bidding, only 20 a month. I have found that, this month at least, this has not been enough. I think most people starting out will experience the same problem. So you have to buy more ‘connects’ and already you have paid them twice.

They then charge you 8% of any fee you earn on the site. So this is the third time they have been paid. I am not sure how this goes if you are the provider but I figure they are charged somewhere so Elance is earning money four or five times on the pair of you. Genius! As a business it must work stunningly well for them and the thing is it is still popular. Why?

Well, for me the answer is that it works. Yes its charges are daft and annoying but it beats the crap out of having no work. I would rather have a nice juicy fee for them to take 8% of than nothing at all. Basically, like it or lump it, it is the sole reason I have not had to go supply teaching and have been able to sit the snow period out in the comfort of my own home, doing what I love. And making really rather decent money out of it.

I am starting to get a bit of work in through word of mouth and trust me I will not be crying about not having to pay Elance a big cut. But, bottom line, I would have had no word of mouth without them.

A quick summary of my recommendations for getting to this position. Do not work for crap money, in fact don’t even bid on those jobs, you cannot compete with those people coming from the countries with a much lower cost of living and you will just make yourself miserable. I no longer even look at $5 an article jobs (she says with what is probably supreme over confidence). Also, once you are slightly established only bid on jobs that are going to improve your current position i.e. they pay more or they are on something that you would enjoy writing about. I write an awful lot on video games now, which I love.

I may, in time, be in a position to move away from Elance but at the moment it is serving me very nicely. Oh and Guru? Probably works well for a lot of people but in the time period I have been using it there seems to more of the dross and less of the good stuff. May just be coincidence or could be something about the way it markets to or charges employers. If I notice a difference I will let you know.

February 5, 2009 Posted by | Elance, Guru, SEO writing, Uncategorized, Writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Quick SEO Laugh

As I am ridiculously busy on a huge project (as well as trying to keep my regular customers happy) I am going to have to resort to an earlier topic to put together a blog today. It is one that I promised to come back to though,so all is well. I mentioned in an earlier post that I was on the lookout for some funny SEO writing. This one really tickled me today because you can literally see the guy struggling as he tries to find enough words about this crap game to fulfill his brief.

The series has expanded since then with the addition of Pet Vet 3D Animal Hospital Down Under. The “Down Under” part of the title is the critical differentiator, in that it refers to Australia. Not satisfied to drive on the wrong side of the road and have their toilets flush in the wrong direction (save your emails – I know this is a myth, but hey, you try writing these things if you think it’s easy)

I wonder if his employer even noticed.

His opening where he is describing at great length his childhood dream of becoming a vet and the reading of lots of lovely books on the subject, in a desperate attempt to get the word count up also tickled me.

Well, I enjoyed the books immensely, as did millions of other readers. But to anyone interested in becoming a veterinarian, they may as well have been titled “Long Nights and Long, Dung-Covered Arms” or “Long Nights, Awake and Working.” Not for me, mate. Give me a nice warm office-based nine-to-five, please.

Fabulous. And if you are the author and you happen upon this blog I just want say I am not sure if you sold any of your employer’s games for them but if it is any consolation you brightened up my afternoon.

January 27, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Freelance Writing Ethos.

When I first started this caper I used to look at all the profiles of writers who knew exactly what they could bring to a project with envy. People were chucking around terms like value added and I really did not have a clue. I certainly had nothing approaching an ethos or a mission statement but as I have gone through the process I think I have started to develop one. I am quite sure that it is not fully formed yet but if I was pushed for an ethos now I think it would go something like this

I produce quality products. I do not copy sections from the internet or re word other people’s articles . Inserting a bit of spark and personality is my specialty.I love to write and anything I produce will reflect my genuine love of language.

I strongly believe that top notch writing can add value to a website or product and help increase profit. I also believe that poor writing can harm the image an employer is trying to create and therefore cost them money. That is why I will strive to give them a product that is of exceptional quality every time.

I don’t think I came into this expecting to have to convince people of the power of words. I suppose as a former English teacher I should know better than anyone that not everyone appreciates how important language is. But somehow I expected that if someone was hiring a person to write for them then they would understand this truth. Some people seem to think that any words will do. The way these people totally underestimate the power of language still astonishes me.

This freelance writing thing has really focused me on the pleasure of earning a living from something you are passionate about and so far I declare this career change a success.


Digg!

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Elance, Gaming, Getting published, Guru, Uncategorized, Writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Small Victory For Me- Writing For Guru And Elance

It looks like there really might be something in this holding out for decent money and delivering quality. Yesterday I got this letter from someone I wrote for on Elance

Dear Michelle,

If it was possible, I would give you an eLance standing ovation. The article was exactly what I wanted. I decided to skim over the article late last night and all of a sudden my already exhausted eyes perked up and by the end of the article I was watching the trailer for World of Goo and looking where to play the demo. The only thing I need you to include is just your name at the end of the articles so my readers will know who to thank for such engaging articles. Keep up the excellent work.

If you think I am showing off, you may be right. It is just that I am a little proud of myself and my two Staffordshire Bull Terriers don’t seem to care. By the way I highly recommend the Indie game World Of Goo. A fabulous achievement by the little guys. Huge budget of $10 000 and second on the amazon best seller list at Christmas. Imagine the envy of the tens of millions of dollars game developers.

Anyway, getting back on track. Remember the people I politely declined for offering me a silly small amount of money for my writing (if not you need to read this post https://michellejbuss.wordpress.com/2009/01/14/silly-offers-for-your-writing-politely-declining-guru-employers/ Well, I’ll be darned if they did not get back to me this morning accepting my original offer. It just goes to show you sticking up for yourself not only feels good it can win you customers.

Of course my original bid was still pretty low because I need the experience in writing eBooks, and they need the whole sixty pages in a week, eek. I best get started, I will let you know how it goes.


Digg!

January 17, 2009 Posted by | Elance, Gaming, Getting published, Guru, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fair Pay For Good Writing- Good News Guru/Elance Update.

Just a short up date on how our two favorite writers for hire sites are treating me. To be honest things are on the up and up. Even though I spent today plugging the virtues of timeshare in Florida, I have some real hope of a job writing some quality stuff for a reasonable rate from an employer on Elance.

It is writing content for a new website that is not interested in SEO; they are interested in a good reader experience. Wow, what a novel idea. How refreshing is this statement?

Firstly, I am not looking for SEO writers who optimize their articles for search engines sometimes at the expense of the quality of their writing. Rather, it is precisely quality writing that I am looking for.

Wonderful. And for once that statement does not seem to be followed by rates that make it obvious they want this quality at the same price everyone else is paying for crap. Like we should be grateful that anyone cares about quality at all and should , in fact, perhaps pay them for letting us write it.

So the idea seems to be that I write a column three times a week in my own area of expertise, about 500-700 words. For the week’s work they will pay $100 USD if they agree to my quote which they seem to be doing. This is obviously not a fortune but it sure beats the tripe out of $10 for 1200 odd original words. now I am still a little sceptical that everything will work out as it seems to be but I am hopeful. If it all goes wrong I shall of course crawl back here with my tail between my legs and tell you all about it. For now though, it seems that holding out for a fair deal and continuing to stress the quality of your work may bring results on these sites. I will be pleased if that is the case.


Digg!

January 9, 2009 Posted by | Elance, Getting published, Guru, SEO writing, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment