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    PQ | Features | Mailbag | Dec 3, 1999

PQ Mailbag
Week of: 12/03/99

It's Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Quakemas..

Everywhere you go.. That's right, children, Quake 3 Arena is on the verge of release, hopefully everywhere by Sunday, December 5th. And it's December already, so that means Christmas (and other religious holidays) is/are almost here! Remember, give Q3A as a stocking stuffer! Grandma will love it!

H0ld0v3r! C0mpl3x0r! Div3rs0r!

Yes, I don't usually print holdover mail, because it usually doesn't apply, but this week we got an outstanding letter on last week's editorial on complexity and diversity are in games, so I'm printing it, and you can't do anything about it!

From: The Upright Man
Subject: Complexity? When did we ask for that?

Requiem has made several excellent points in his editorial, "The Importance of Complexity and Diversity in Today's Games." It seems to me that he is correct in every assumption and his argument is as Haribo said, "the best editorial (i.e.: the one I agree with most whole-heartedly) I have ever read on PQ." (Well, that is probably stretching it, Lowtax's article on lawsuits was pretty good.)

Anyway, Bryan Elrod says that "Now [gamers] want to be challenged to bigger and more complex things." I think that he is right. The gaming community (in general) does want more complex things. At least, the existing community wants this. He says earlier that "the time of TEACHING people how to play FPS's is gone," and he is perhaps correct. I think, however, that Requiem, Ted Vessenes, Bryan Elrod, and others who responded to the editorial missed a vital point.

In the purification of FPS we (meaning I) don't want simpler objectives, or easier puzzles. (Look at how many people played Zork for 3 years straight just so they could say that they beat it.) What we want is a simpler interface.

First, it is a well known fact that software developers don't know how to make "user-friendly" products. (Okay, it isn't that well known, I mostly just made it up, but it proves my point.) Developers are experienced computer users. Any of you that have tried to explain how to install a CD-ROM driver in DOS over the phone to your grandmother probably have a good idea what the knowledge gap between average users and developers is. Many people (or at least all the ones that I work with) feel that the software developer makes the game or software difficult on purpose. (Some of these people also think that Bill Gates is the Devil, but they might be right on that one too.) But more often, the developer has merely forgotten what it was like to be on the other end of the software. To the developer, the game is easy, but to the gaming community it is impossible and we cry out, "We want something simpler!" So the developer makes a game where there is a room filled with things to shoot at and thinks that the gamer will be happy. But the developer has missed the point.

Second, gamers are not stupid. (Okay, some of you have read the PQ Mailbag and you have ample evidence that this is not true. But if we define gamers as the group of people out there who don't send in the failed pic of the week every week and have never asked id Support where they can get a warez copy of Quake 2 and who don't live in California, then we have at least six people who we will call intelligent gamers. (Yes, flame me about the California thing, it will prove my point.)) These gamers will master any game out there if it measures up. As Requiem pointed out, the gaming environment, if it is good enough, will give any gamer a reason to spend however much time is necessary to learn how to beat the game. I would wager that if all the keys on the keyboard, the mouse, and all the buttons on the joystick or gamepad and a headset were needed for a game, if the gaming environment was involving enough, it would still be a best-seller. But it would be even better if with all that complexity, the interface could be simplified to the point that the average user could spend only a few minutes getting into the game and then 40 hours mastering it. Racing games seem to be the best designed when it comes to this: You can always get more performance out of your car when you switch it to a standard transmission, but it is a lot easier to learn the courses with an automatic.

So what is the point? We (all six of us) want an easier interface in a more complex game. We want the game to be so engrossing that we play for 24 hours straight before taking a snack break, but we want the interface to be so simple that even a 6 year old (one not as bright as Chris Gillot's nephew) or Jeff K. can play it. We are not asking for this because we cannot master a more complex interface -- we do not want to go back to the Nintendo gamepad. We just want everyone to have more fun and more control. If it requires a few extra keys to allow certain actions that is just fine, but if the actions can be done just as easily and more intuitively by a simpler means (e.g. the character misses the jump and the software makes the character fling out his or her arms to catch the wall and pull him or her up instead of having the player press another button to effect the same) then it should be done in the simpler way. "Action" keys that serve multiple purposes and software assisted movements are a good beginning. But the end result should be a streamlined, intuitive control that helps you make it through the game's environment instead of causing you to curse your lack of coordination. (I can't press all six keys at once!)

Are there any games out there that do that? No, not really. Things have come a long way though. Anyone who remembers Swashbuckler back on the Apple II series can see how much easier the gaming interface has become. (For those of you who do not remember, it required something like a million keys for sword movement, and another several for foot movement.) In the world outside of first-person-shooters (yes, there is one) the gaming interface has been improved greatly from the days of Mystery Mansion. Take a look at the top-selling Myst and Riven: Point, click, point, click. Engrossing as can be -- no replay value, but no complex hand-eye coordination either. What we really want is a cord that plugs into our skulls and allows us to control everything with thought. We want Stephenson's "Metaverse."

In the meantime though, the FPS gaming community is trying to give us what we are asking for (otherwise we wouldn't keep playing), mostly in the form of mods -- Team Fortress, and total conversions -- Half Life. For example, THQ for Heretic II builds on a great interface (Heretic II has 20 times the amount of control with the same basic key configuration as Quake 2) and increases the complexity of the game by at least a factor of 10. (Yes, I know that Heretic II is not really a FPS.) Lucasarts certainly has shown that an increase of complexity in the story and ease of use in the interface can be achieved: Compare Dark Forces with Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight.

So, in conclusion, Novus and Requiem are both right, in a way. Gamers do want simplicity -- not in the sense that we want first person 3D solitaire (but I bet that will come around sometime soon) -- and we do want complexity (but not 101 keys, the mouse, and a ouija board to accomplish it.) When the complexity of the story and the puzzles spills over into the interface you end up with a game like Ultima 8 -- a turn off because you have to spend more time than you should missing the same pixel to pixel jump with inadequate control over your character. When a game goes the opposite way -- lack of complexity in the interface spilling over into the gameplay -- you end up with King's Quest 8. (Couldn't we have had better camera control and a better end puzzle?) But when you find the middle ground, that perfect balance, well, then you have . . . um, Heretic 3?

Well, until the hardware is available to plug into the computer like Tron, we will all have to sit back and wait -- and while you're waiting, you might as well go finish Zork.

Holy moly. Now you see why I printed it? Exactly. I don't think I can follow that up with anything except what I said last week. I can't believe someone bothered to type all of that up, to send it into PQ, but thank you!

Hellchick: Maybe he meant to send it to the New Yorker but accidentally put in our address instead. Ha! We win!

Bad NIMF! Go to your room!

This report card is pretty sad.. I think we'll have to have a talk with your teacher! LeeMon blessed us (sanctu, sanctu) with his Report Card for the National Institute on Media and the Family, showing them exactly how bad they failed the reality test.

From: Jon Koppenhoefer
Subject: Violence and Video/PC Games

Thanks for the editorial; you made some very good points and stole most of my thunder. It's just as well, since I vent too much about this issue (and others).

Some brief comments are still left for me, however. Lieberman is definitely out of turn and should be addressing the sad state of parenting in America instead of trying to crimp my freedom and liberty to enjoy myself however I please without harming others. Some quick points here: sociopathic violence in any age group precedes the appearance of video games. I'd suggest that violent sociopaths are drawn to video/PC games, not created by them. (Did Richard Speck play Doom? Did John Wayne Gacy trip out on Quake? Of course not. What, then, caused them to step outside the pale in such bloody fashion? Television? Radio? Movies? Bad karma?)

Blaming video/PC games for the violence committed by so few begs the question "Why didn't more people flip out?". When millions of youth, young adults, and adults play violent "entertainments" ranging from military simulators to FPS, we've got to wonder why things aren't even worse than before. FBI statistics for the past few years show some crimes have declined while others (including murder, I believe) have not. Any correlation between this national phenomenon and the purchase/use of violent video/PC games? Nobody has really studied the point, I'm sure.

So long as Lieberman and others shed more heat than light on this "debate" by grandstanding for the parenting crowd (who refuse to accept responsibility for their child's upbringing and values), we'll never really know how to deal with violence in video/PC games.

We may find that they are helpful channels for unspent aggression stimulated by daily social confrontations. Humans are hard-wired with the "fight or flight" response to threats and aggression, but modern social rules permit only "flight". Most of us are subjected to emotional and even physical aggression by our employers, our parents, and others who dominate us by monopolizing power. Institutions do this constantly and consistently, in small but pervasive ways: when was the last time you felt really good, i.e., "empowered", as a citizen or a consumer in the modern world? Few of us have any constructive means of taking the "fight" option; most of us just flee or endure the will of others. (If you disagree, so be it, but ask yourself the last time you ever won a dispute with the telephone company, city hall, your parents, or your employer.)

So we play video/PC games and get back a little bit of our own autonomy. We may not win all the time, but at least we're capable of more than just sitting down and taking whatever's dished out. Refreshed from a wonderful round or two of Quake II, during which I've totally blenderized a few hundred antagonists, I'm ready to re-enter the real world and behave properly. My incipient ulcer is subdued, my migraine is gone, my blood pressure has returned to normal. All's right with the world.

The industry is cutting its own throat, however (love that metaphor). I just saw a new TV commercial for some videogame that argued--facetiously, I hope--that the people who play the game can't keep from flashing back on it while in the real world. Some puttybrain was walking around the city at night, hallucinating scenes from the game while viewing normal, harmless street scenes and people. The vendor claims that this will happen to you, too, if you buy and play the game. Are they right? Why would they want to be? This plays right into Lieberman's hands and should be withdrawn from airplay.

One last point: in my quest for more and better SPQ2 maps, I've lost a file from Neil Manke's Soldier of Fortune series: one takes place in a jungle at night, the other in the desert (Desert Bloom, I think). I've got the coconut monkey series (Paradise Lost, Dry Gulch, Saving Private Monkey) and two ice-bound SOF maps.

PC Gamer does not have these maps. Any suggestions?

From: Selwyn Hatherell
Subject: NIMF Report Card Editorial

For an article that did not take sides, I thought there was a distinct lean towards supporting Quake and the gaming community in general in the overall language use and impression given. Not to say it was not an excellent editorial, or did not make some valid and educated points, but for an article that came across as wanting to be an unbiased review of a review boards decision, the heavy irony/sarcasm in his language;

- "...The two killers played Duke3D and Doom, not Quake. (Of course, this may be irrelevant to the senator, as he may subscribe to the popular "if A played B, then B caused A to do C" logic.)..."

- "...Honestly, this is the first time I've ever heard of skinning being used this way, and it makes me wonder if Senator Leiberman isn't either a very sick or very misinformed man. Most of you have played Quake. You remember the graphical quality of that game. If I scan a picture of a high school cheerleader in there, and stamp it on the Ogre, how "realistic" is that going to look?!?"

Not just these quotes concerning the Senator, but the overall tone of the article gave me the impression that although the author attemped to write an unbiased article, his own prejudices may have crept in through no fault of his own.

However, none of the above negates any point he made in the article, and for the most part it was fairly balanced for and against the NIMF.

Just being podantic :)


Hellchick: I would make some comments here, but our copies of Q3:A have just arrived. Ooohhhhhh....(drooling)

From: Bronwyn Bennett
Subject: Re. Report Card on the NiMF

I would like to congratulate LeeMon on writing one of the most balanced editorials in regards to this topic i've read in a long time. For once we haven't got a biased 12 year old ranting about how he is just a normal little boy who gets off on the strippers in Duke3d, but this in no way affects the rest of his life. Nor do we have a self righteous old man preaching about the "good old days" when Pong was the most violent game at his local bowling alley. Thankyou LeeMon :)

However, i do believe that LeeMon has missed a few points (and by the sounds of it so too has the Senator Joseph Leiberman). Both parties seem to agree that parents should be taking a more active role with their kids. And i couldn't agree more. However, LeeMon states "Both groups strongly believe that parents have to take a more dominant role in what their children watch, listen to, and play". This makes it sound like TV or movies or music or games cause people to perform violent acts - ie "the obligatory Columbine reference". You can hardly lay the blame for this tragedy on any or all of these forms of media. I'm sorry, but no matter what you want to believe bands such as Marilyn Manson and Cannibal Corpse do not inspire youths to kill others any more than Quake inspired me to find a rocket launcher and begin to hunt down ogres, or movies like Face Off inspired me to attempt to blow up my city (Sydney, Australia btw).

Parents should be taking a more active role with their kids by not allowing them to come into contact with the weapons that are used in the acts. Parents should be taking a more active role with their kids by knowing where they are going at night, by keeping them off the streets, and by keeping them away from drugs, and violence within the community. If parents are incapable of doing even these most basic acts of parenting, then what their kids are watching / listening to / playing are the least of their concerns

[FV] possum

From: Alex Tsai
Subject: NIMF Report Card


Well, I'll have to speak my two cents on this issue as well.

Why the HELL does anyone even bother even bringing up the so-called fact that games impede judgement, cause people to do violent things, and other crap like that. For Christ sake, I've played games like Doom, Wolf3d, and now Quake2, Quake3, Unreal Tournament...since grade 4, and I haven't even THOUGHT of going out and killing someone. Sure, I may have gone "I'm gonna get you, you stupid SOB," but most of the time, it's just jokingly. I'm not going to go pick up a gun, run off to school, and kill everything in sight.

Sure, the Columbine killers may have been playing Duke3d and Quake, but hell, I've been playing those games for years, and I must say I'm pretty damn good at them, and still, I haven't gone out and killed anybody. Is it fair to go out and blame the software companies, because these people go out and kill people, and they like their games?

Hell, why not go sue some grocery store, they ate oranges from there, or some crap like that. The simple truth of the matter is, these games do not affect the majority of players. I ask you, the staffers-have you ever thought of packing up a gun, and going postal?

I ask the readers-have they done this?

I ask every other person that's played "violent" games, have they done this?

Liberman or however you spell his name should go and take a look around him, wake up, stop trying to get cash off the industry and stick them out of business because you don't like them for some very disturbed reason.


From: Sam Fahmie
Subject: NIMF Editorial, good points

LeeMon did a very good job with that editorial. He didn't go on ranting or flame the NIMF, he was very coherent and understandible. He even gave them credit where credit is due. I think it is true that stores should exercise a lot more control over who they sell games with specific ratings to. My friend was carded when he bought Kingpin. I certainly hope they are not letting anyone under 18 buy that game, one which I think is pushing it as far as it's violent content. Don't get me wrong, the gameplay and the graphics are great, but I think that the last thing the gaming industry needs right now is a game based on being in a gang and killing people out of purely malicious and hateful intentions. In most games, you are fighting "bad guys" who are not (or at least not totally) human. If you do fight human opponents, it is rarely a case of killing for the simple idea of killing them. In Half-Life, you only had to kill the marines because they were trying to kill you, so it was a self-defense issue. Of course, deathmatches involve fragging other "humans" but most people don't look at a deathmatch as killing people (those that do need psychiatric help), but rather as a competition against other people, which is what it really is. In any case, no game is going to cause a normal person to become more violent. The only people who are going to be affected adversely are those who's minds are not mature enough to clearly differentiate between reality and fantasy (as LeeMon mentioned), and those who are already having mental issues that could make them succeptable to that type of thing. Also, as LeeMon stated, the whole issue comes down to the parents. People cannot ignore the fact that the gaming industry (especially the FPS section) is booming and very popular. People like computer games, so it really isn't a good idea to go on saying that it causes violence. A vast majority of people who play these games are in not at all adversely affected by them. They are not going to be so willing to give up something they enjoy so easily because some parents do not want to have to police their children's gaming habits. The fact is that people see the kind of violence that happened at Columbine and want an answer to the ever-present question "What could cause these boys to do this?" People initially want to blame the parents and home situation, but then all of the spin doctors are starting to blame violent video games. It has to be these games that causes violence. Uninformed people cling to this theory very eagerly because to them, it seems like a valid point. Also, parents don't want to have to police their kids. If we get rid of violent video games, that would solve the problem right? Parenting is a hard job, it always has been. Eliminating violent video games carries too high of a cost (the livelihood of so many people) just to make parenting a little easier. There are issues in the industry that need to be worked out, but lets not go so far as to say that games are an instigator of violent behavior. Anyone who plays them knows that it isn't true.

-Sam Fahmie

From: Bruce Riegel
Subject: Report Card for the NIMFf

Wow! A fair, well-written editorial on Planetquake without the use of ad-hominem attacks or four-letter words! My sincere congratulations to LeeMon on the exceptional article.

Bruce Riegel

I think that pretty much sums it up. While we don't have a NIMF here in Canada (at least I don't think we do, I may be wrong), it's something everyone has to consider. When we hear about all first person shooters being banned from sale to minors in Germany, or not even being put on sale in other countries, it's quite important. While I don't accuse anyone of censorship, it's obvious it's happening. Sadly, the only time anyone really notices is when it happens in the United States. Still, fight those book-burning politicians!

Hellchick: Better yet, let's fight politicians by burning them! I always got "does not play well with others" on MY report card. I wonder why. (slaps Spyke and takes away his candy)

Incoherence and responses on page two!

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