More Fun in my Inbox

•April 22, 2008 • 12 Comments

Howdy Kevin, how are you?

I know there’s a good chance that you might not even fully read this message (or reply to it, for that matter), but I needed to vent.

Just a quick tip for you — Next time you review a game, could you please actually, you know, review it? Words simply cannot describe how amazingly painful it was to watch your “review” for Condemned 2: Bloodshot.

Were you out of ideas? Were you severely close to the deadline? Did you suffer some sort of brain damage prior to the review?

A quick recap of what needs to be present in a review:

*Unbiased opinion
*Unbiased presentation of various game features and mechanics
*Unbiased list of pros and cons
*Other general information that is provided to the viewer in order for them to make up their OWN mind

What’s more, a video review should be nothing more than an audible text review, coupled with video. Had we transformed your video “review” into a text review, we would have been left with absolute gibberish.

What happened to the plot? The story telling? The script? The voice acting? The graphics? The gameplay? The audio? Did you forget to review all that?

What SHOULDN’T be in a review:

*3 minute montages of various game clips that hold no significance to the actual review
*Stupid attempts at what can only be described as a “YouTube’esque” videos
*Closing 15 second statements that are something like “This is a good game that will leave you with memories”

When I watch or read a review for a game, I’m doing so in order to decide whether or not I should purchase a game. I don’t watch video reviews for pathetic attempts at horror, comedy, or any other nonsense you can think of.

I suggest that you make your way to GameTrailers.com, and observe their review for Condemned 2: Bloodshot. Take some notes, and try a little harder next time, because “reviews” (and I use that term loosely) like yours are the reason why GameSpot is slowly, but surely, turning into the piece of trash that we currently have today.

Best Regards,

*****

______________________________________________

I’ll have the author of this message know that last week’s CAT scan was conclusive: the brain damage is only mild.

Flawed Genius

•April 21, 2008 • 4 Comments

Some months back I saw the film Across the Universe with my best friend Anthony, and I abhorred it, much to Anthony’s shock, since he loved the spectacle of it all, relishing in its excesses while I gawked at its cheap awkwardness. It’s one of the few things on which we disagree, and that difference in opinion still crops up in daily conversation. He accuses me of comparing it too closely to my beloved Moulin Rouge and not recognizing its ambitious vision; I accuse him of buying into a high school textbook version of the 60s and ignoring the film’s insulting, campy use of Beatles classics and the emotionally empty romance at its core.

Take a peek at rottentomatoes. It’s a divisive film amongst the critics too. Yet Stephen Holden’s review at the New York Times makes an observation so true and so incisive that it gave me pause. I quote:

Across the Universe captured my heart, and I realized that falling in love with a movie is like falling in love with another person. Imperfections, however glaring, become endearing quirks once you’ve tumbled.”

In two sentences, Holden has captured the essence of how I feel about some of my favorite games in the last year. During the recent employee exodus at GameSpot, I seriously worried that I could become one of the jaded journalists I see at events, sipping at their vodka while spreading general negativity to anyone within earshot. They would have us believe that there’s nothing really special anymore, even in the face of proof to the contrary. And yet, I have been so lucky in the last year to play games that made me fall in love with them, almost unnaturally so. It’s been years since so many games tugged at my heart in such a short time, and like Holden, when I fell, I fell hard.

One of those games led to one of the most controversial reviews I’ve written: Assassin’s Creed. In November, when I first played the console versions, I was convinced I had experienced something so special and so unique that it could be one of the greats. It was a game with flaws, to be sure, but as a world, as an experience, as a piece of entertainment that was so wonderfully…”meta,” I felt it was transcendent. I have played it three more times since my initial playthrough, and it never stops giving me chills. Like Holden, I’d tumbled.

The critical reaction surprised me. It was only the second “9” I had ever given, and one that I never questioned, not once. To give context, the first was for Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, and I worried for days that it was the right choice (the great Matt Rorie, well-known in the office for being an insanely tough critic, completely backed me up, which made it easier to rest at night). With Assassin’s Creed, I felt we had been graced with something extraordinary.

As a critic, it’s easy for me to dismiss drubbings for a game so deeply wonderful to me with the suggestion that it’s simply “misunderstood. I don’t really believe that, not really. I do believe, however, that this is a case of expectation vs. delivery, and perhaps this is what contributed to my adoration. I had seen bits and pieces of AC in action, but I’d payed little attention to it, as I do for most upcoming games. It’s tough enough to exist in the now without getting caught up in the future, though I’d be lying if I said there aren’t things I get excited to play when I hear about them. Assassin’s Creed just wasn’t one of them.

I am still shocked when the game’s most vocal critics accuse it of being repetitive. I think it’s joyous, beautiful, and there are moments where I still get breathless–even during scenes, such as assassination monologues, that others mark off in the “con” column. I don’t see countryside travel on horseback as fluff and filler, as some do, but rather, as necessary to establishing pace and encouraging exploration. Exploitable AI? Sure; one of my own criticisms is Assassin’s Creed’s clockwork artificial intelligence and mission design, which you can almost hear ticking underneath the game engine. I think some folks see that “gamey-ness” more than others, because on the surface, the game is so alive with activity. AC’s stealth AI doesn’t strike me as any less contrived as what you would see in Manhhunt 2 or Hitman. But I do think in a world so impressively alive, that its a mechanic that feels… mechanical.

But it’s a small criticism, and like with most games, Assassin’s Creed’s entertainment value is irreparably tied to how willing you are to suspend frustration. It never occurred to me that some players, insistent on plowing through the softer side of the game to get to the good bits, were missing the extraordinary moments at its core. I don’t think I would enjoy it much either if I hurried to finish it, but as the weird ending proves, getting to the finish line isn’t really the point.

That said, I recognize that not everyone is on the bandwagon, and aspects of the game I see as transcendent are frustrating to others. Nor could I ever suggest that it’s a perfect game. In fact, the more I play, the more I wish I could provide a list of suggestions to Ubisoft for the next installment, though by imagining such a thing, I immediately overvalue my own opinion. In a future post, expect to see such lists, though I don’t expect anyone to take them seriously, or want anyone to take it as a sign that I think my opinion matters any more than someone else’s. I’m graced to be in a position where people read my work, for better or for worse, but it’s still something that amazes me–that my love of games and of the written word could lead me to such a place.

Since that review, I’ve worried I might get a reputation of overscoring, but after thinking on it long and hard (and, secretly, thinking WWGKW–that is, What Would Greg Kasavin Write?), I stand by everything. If I like a game, that doesn’t make it a 9, after all; but it’s scary to think that I’ve given out three 9s this year. And who knows–they may be the only ones. But all three of them (No More Heroes, Okami, and Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core) are titles that made me fall in love all over again, and considering one of them already did that for me a year and a half ago, that’s mighty impressive. After such an outstanding year, 2008 has tossed a lot of special games our way, as if to announce that it has no intention of falling under 2007’s shadow. It isn’t that I am handing out high scores like candy (and I’ve given plenty of low ones and middling ones as well–many more of those, actually) as much as that I am so privileged to play amazing games sometimes.

It’s when games fail to give me chills that I need to worry. If you see me at a hotel bar at E3 some night, swilling martinis and bitching about David Jaffe’s attitude or Peter Molyneux’s accent, splash the martini in my face and remind me that if games stop being special, I need a new job.

I’ve Been So Lax

•April 7, 2008 • 10 Comments

I’ve been so incredibly busy I have had no time to update my blog, so for all two readers hinging on the next comment, I apologize in advance for not keeping you up to date. Just trying to keep my head above water as best I can. So let’s see if I can narrow life down into a few short blurbs.

Gaming

Yes, indeed, I’ve been playing a lot of games for work, and a few for fun in those small moments I can make time. I played Assassin’s Creed again, this time on the PC, and I returned to the 360 version as well for the fun of it. I’m confused by the achievements, though: there is no way I haven’t performed 50 counterkills, yet the achievement stays locked. Darnit! Will I ever find every flag? Unlikely. I’ve also been returning to several games I never finished. I played through Prey on the PC, but never finished the 360 version, so that is almost complete. King Kong has made its way back in. And Two Worlds, for all its technical shortcomings, intrigues me. 

Yeah, Two Worlds, which was on sale at Target for $19.95. It’s the poor man’s Oblivion, but you know–it’s got a terrific RPG core surrounded by absolute nonsense. Awful visual performance, terrible collision detection, broken quest waypoints, a bad minimap, unresponsive controls, rotten voice acting, and bad dialogue (I hope I never hear the word “mayhaps” spoken out lout, ever, ever again). Yet it’s addicting and interesting for reasons that are hard to put a finger on. I think it’s that the game itself is good–and the technology that brings it to us is terrible. We don’t use the word “polish” in GameSpot reviews, but that’s exactly what Two Worlds lacks.

Oh, and I am finishing up Silent Hill 0rigins on the PS2, though I already played it on the PSP. For the love of God, don’t be cutesy with your game names, developers and publishers. skate., Driv3r, 0rigins… just… just… stop it. Time to move past the cliches. 

Frustrations

Yeah, things in the office are tough, though I like to hope that there is light at the end of this tunnel. All this behind-the-scenes mumbo jumbo isn’t my strong suit. I left behind corporate shit so I could write about games. Sadly, all that corporate shit is what makes the company a company. For now, I just play and write, and do a lot of it. But there’s still some overhanging discomfort in that place, and I hope it disappears soon, or that Luigi sucks it up in his vacuum. I feel like it is surrounding me a lot of the time right now and I am trying to shake it, but it’s almost impossible. Do you ever get that black cloud that hangs over your head, all the time? I have that. Where are the Care Bears when you need them?

It’s hard to hold on, but I keep doing it. I love GameSpot. I moved thousands of miles to be there. But when you see so much negativity aimed at you because your name is attached to this thing–this word, this entity, this website, this pile of code–it’s tough. I am grateful to Justin Calvert, Ricardo Torres, Aaron Thomas, Shaun McInnis, Chris Watters, Lark Anderson, and all the other people that help ease the burden. But I miss Jeff, Alex, Ryan, and even Frank Provo, who I don’t even really know but churned out excellent work and was a rock of consistency. 

What I can’t do is make everything like “the good old days.” All I can do is try to make the right here and right now the future “good old days.” And you know, for all the slights, and the work, and the cloud, and the anxiety, I hope that I am part of something future users will think of that way. Otherwise, I am wearing pig masks for nothing. 

What I’m Listening To

Gil Shaham playing the Barber and Korngold Violin Concerti

What I’m Watching

Various shows via Hulu, found at http://www.hulu.com. They’ve got a lot of streaming bugs to work out, but when this thing is finally up and running at full speed, it will be the future of TV. Really. I am not just trying to be cliche. 

What I’m Eating

Thai food. I am addicted to basil. 

Who Contacted Me

Two old coworkers: Mike Gonzalez and Rob Smock. Mike is an awesome guy and needed to know if he could use me as a job reference. Mike is hilarious–totally inappropriate, completely secure, and funny as shit. He has a story about a lima bean that I simply can’t reprint but that is possibly the funniest thing I have ever, ever, ever heard. Perhaps someday, when I am drunk, I will tell you that story. We actually had a sort of game to see who could gross each other out more with descriptions of gross sexual acts (him telling straight ones, me telling gay ones), though he would always win, since nothing fazes him.

Rob was my officemate, and also a high class guy. We got addicted to http://www.amiright.com, which is a repository of misheard song lyrics. I got an email from him reminding me of our favorites. Our all-time best is a line from Everything But The Girl’s “Miss You,” which includes the line “And I miss you, like the deserts miss the rain.” The lyric was misheard as “Tiramisu, as the dessert’s quiche Lorraine.” Classic.

So to end this entry, some reprints from our favorite collection of misheard lyrics, all interpretations of “Invisible Touch” by Genesis. This isn’t even close to the full list.

Misheard Lyrics:
She burnt the house down then she wants to talk shit
Original Lyrics:
She seems to have an invisible touch yeah
 
Misheard Lyrics:
She seems to have a fizzy mound of touchy.
Original Lyrics:
She seems to have an invisible touch, yeah.
 
Misheard Lyrics:
She seems to have a imperial contrac-tion.
Original Lyrics:
She seems to have an invisible touch, yeah.
 
Misheard Lyrics:
She seems to have a medieval touch, yeah.
Original Lyrics:
She seems to have an invisible touch, yeah.
 
Misheard Lyrics:
She seems to have a physical attraction.
Original Lyrics:
She seems to have an invisible touch, yeah.
 
Misheard Lyrics:
She sees a hat and crazy for a top shirt
or
She seems to have a physical attraction
or
She seems to have a physical attraction
Original Lyrics:
she seems to have a invisible touch yeah
 
Misheard Lyrics:
She seems to have an easy-boil tough shed.
Original Lyrics:
She seems to have an invisible touch, yeah.
 
Misheard Lyrics:
She seems to have an eenveesable tooch, yah.
Original Lyrics:
She seems to have invisible touch, yeah.
 
Misheard Lyrics:
She seems to have an invisible budgie.
Original Lyrics:
She seems to have an invisible touch, yeah.
 
Misheard Lyrics:
She seems to have an invisible dog sh*t
Original Lyrics:
She seems to have an invisible touch yeah
 
Misheard Lyrics:
She seems to have an invisible top shelf
Original Lyrics:
She seems to have an invisible touch yeah
 

Owies, Baptisms and Birthdays

•March 23, 2008 • 12 Comments

The day was supposed to be different. I spent the good part of it shopping. Tonight was my best friend Anthony’s baptism (he has journeyed for many months to become one of the Roman Catholic faithful), so really the day was about him. I went to the local mall (Bayfair) to get some new clothing, and ended up getting this really nice red-and-black striped shirt from a place that caters to those that like to dress like pimps. Yet I loved the stuff I saw, and even bought a colorful hoodie too. New pair of shoes to go with, a card for him, and a gift (Thrillville for the PS2, which I hope he likes). The bad news? I grabbed a cab to come back, got prettied up (oh, and I bought a new pair of black socks), and called another cab to go to the BART station. Rather than call the main number I usually use, I called the driver directly, he showed up, and we drove away.

Problem was, at the corner of 159th and Liberty he ran right into the back of someone else, which resulted in the most insane interaction between two people I have ever seen. He spoke little English, yet managed to express his irateness (how he believes he’s in the right is anyone’s guess), while the plump woman he bumped had a few things to say herself. Miraculously, I was wearing a seat belt, which I often forget to do in cabs. Neither of these people seemed concerned for my health–least of all the cab driver. And if either of them felt injured, they certainly didn’t express it. At this point, I was still sort of flabbergasted at the whole thing, but my neck and chest were hurting like crazy, not a surprise since I had been in an accident before, when I was about 24 or so, that required a few months of chiropractic visits. I wasn’t sure what to do–try to get to the city for the Baptism service or go to the hospital. I decided to go to Kaiser and called the cab dispatch… who didn’t even know what had happened yet. They sent another cab to me and the guy drove me to Hayward Kaiser while I gave all my information to the dispatch lady. I’ll never know if the police went to the accident scene or not.

I wasn’t there long. The female doctor was nice, I got seen pretty quickly and got some Vicodin to show for it. I still feel weird and I feel tired and I feel shaky and I feel worried because I didn’t mean to disappoint Anthony. But most of all, I think I just feel like sleeping. This has accounted for close to four hours of my night. I just got home. I am not sure what one really does next. Call the cab company and complain tomorrow? I guess I need to find out if they pay for the medical bill–they should, I suppose, though I only paid a co-pay tonight. I am not sure how any of that works, though I guess I should find out tomorrow.

Oh, and tomorrow is Easter and it’s my birthday. The only time in my lifetime my birthday will be on Easter. Yay for turning 36.

Heart = Broken.

•March 19, 2008 • 17 Comments

Isn’t it funny how loving someone inevitably turns to hurt?

I am alone again.

I Am a Sick, Twisted, and Fat Individual

•March 18, 2008 • 9 Comments

From: *************@netscape.net
Sent: Mon 3/17/2008 8:10 PM
To: Kevin VanOrd
Subject: hm

I was just wondering what kind of? twisted sick person you are, to say the ‘coolest’ way to kill someone ( sure its only a game, but I think you ‘get my meaning’ here yes ? ) is to sneak up behind them and slit their throat ?? ( Manhunt 2 )

I know people who play these types of sick violent twisted games have no life ( including but not limited to sex, real jobs or real lives ) ,but come on you gotta be kidding here..It seems you have sold your soul to the ‘devil’ <haha> ,? if you really think games like this are ‘cool’ … You really should consider getting out more often , you might live? longer if you lose some weight ( darn jelly rolls ).

Is it wrong that now I want a jelly roll?

Bully 360 = Steaming Pile of Shit

•March 17, 2008 • 4 Comments

Trying to run around and do extra tasks and unlock some of these achievements. And edge closer to 100% completion. More lock-ups, freezes, and absolute stupidity. I don’t know whether Rockstar or Mad Doc is responsible for this absolute piss-poor job of QA, but it’s a shame that a great game has to be buried under an avalanche of horrendous technical problems. And if I read that BS regarding them being confined to older machines, I will scream. Rockstar, do you want me to send a photograph of my serial number? Would that inspire you to take some responsibility?

Seriously, it’s a technical nightmare and if I were either of those companies, I would be ashamed.

/end rant