Monday, November 1, 2010

EGM 241 isn’t very good

I barely have the motivation even to complain about this terrible magazine anymore. It’s also so ugly I’m not bothering with any imagery.

It finally arrived, and rather late. As such all the game coverage is redundent. I read about Metroid in GameFan, and have since bought and completed it (I hated it due to the generic environments of jungle, lava, ice, desert and minecarts – well, one of those is a joke, but I leave it to you to work out which). The majority of the EGM “game” content is the usual badly written guff on games reviewed elsewhere earlier. The only thing of interest is a MMO zombie game, which gets an early preview.

This leaves the columnists and features. Brady Fiechter has a good piece telling those who complain about games being too short to shut the hell up, and I agree. Shorter games are better – I’m not living in some kind of minimum security prison where all I can do is play games, I have real life stuff, like eating and gun running for cash, to do in REAL LIFE.

Who the hell gave Jeff Green his own column? The guy spends a page bitching about how he has absolutely no coding experience and yet got a job as a game programmer/designer and then couldn’t remove a box from a game’s build. Insipid stupidity such as this (which I suspect is fiction), is not what I pay money for. And for that matter, who the hell is Jeff Green anyway and why should I care? And why would someone give a job to someone wholly unqualified for it?

The single decent feature in the mag is on indie film makers who make films about indie game people, be it chip tune musicians or developers. This was excellent, since it highlighted something I have tried to get the world to understand for years: the subcultures of gaming are deeper and more complex than anyone realises. We have bands of data pirates who trade illegally obtained code and physical hardware via dark underground networks. We have hip kids with their 4 channel sound-chips rocking it out at thumping Euro techno-clubs. We’ve got immigrants and hackers joining sides and fusing together their multilingual skills with the ability to REWRITE THE MATRIX (game code), so everyone can play games in their native language. Then we have incredible demo scenes from every country on our wretched little rock called Earth, many unknown outside of their areas. We have archivers, and preservers, and magazine scanners like Mort. Gaming’s undocumented underground is a resplendent flickering bouillabaisse of esoteric heroes and scoundrels, impossible to describe, maybe even impossible to understand. At least EGM is acknowledging that someone else is acknowledging they exist (why EGM isn’t writing articles on these groups themselves, I don’t know – but they should).

The rest of the features and interview are pretty godamned awful, a mixture of trite mediocrity and downright stupidity. Given how much I hate Bioshock and its vacuous story, and how moron-friendly its mechanics were, I really don’t want to hear anything Ken Levine has to say. Unless it’s to apologise for not giving me an inventory.

The worst offender was Michael Thomsen though, with his 3 page feature on... Well, I’m not really sure what the hell he was trying to say. Firstly, they wasted an entire page for some not especially good artwork, which again made the magazine look ugly. Even worse, there were no other images at all. In fact the whole of EGM is so poorly designed, I’ve now concluded they subscribe to GameFAN, and intentionally try to make their own magazine as ugly as possible, using GF as a template for what the opposite of ugly is. How can anyone, anywhere, in their right mind regard EGM as anything other than an absolute visual travesty? But back to the writing...

It started off talking about morality and the ambiguity of characters in games, which seemed like a good academic start. Unfortunately Thomsen never really gets to the point, highlights sub-mediocre games such as Haze (which should never be used as an example for anything other than crappy games), and then towards the end starts quoting Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazon – which seeing as I had to read parts for my philosophy and theology class, you're not going to win any points with me because, OOH LOOK, you’re capable of reading a long and complicated book. The entire thing smacked of pseudo-intellectual posturing.

His main complaint was that games are only about violence and shooting, which is demonstrably wrong given how many games differ from the formula of SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT. Look at Hover Bovver on C64, Trashman on the ZX Spectrum, Ecco the Dolphin on Genesis, Harvest Moon series, Aquanuats Holiday, Afrika, Flower and about a hundred other games (several on current gen hardware) I could list that deviate from the killing formula. The great fallacy generated by writers of today is that games prior to and including this generation are not capable of anything meaningful, and then whine, like schoolchildren, about games which adhere to the kill or be killed template.

I can’t understand what Thomsen is trying to say. I’ve already established that non-killing games exist, and unless he’s a fool, he must realise this too. So I can only assume he’s moaning about... Your motivation to kill in games? I mean, does he want games with the same amount of killing, but better justification for it? Or does he simply want the games he highlights (such as Red Dead Redemption), but without the killing they already have? Couldn’t he go and play a non-killing game as highlighted above? Or rather than a farming sim, does he specifically want to play a Bioshock game without shooting? Because I'm sure there’s indie FPS titles with little to no shooting. The whole argument is like a surreal catch-22, since there are games where characters are well rounded, and there are games where there isn’t killing, or less killing, or killing which is to a degree justified, and even if it isn’t justified, this is the entire point of that specific game – it seems absurd to criticise something for being precisely what it wants to be, and you wanting it to be something else (when that something else already exists in another form), rather than simply saying: I don’t like it when these things exist at all. He seems to have intentionally targeted games with killing and silent protagonists, which is those games whole raison d’etre, then complains that he wants a game where you don’t only kill, ignores games which aren’t about killing (of which there are many), bemoans games which have poorly formed protagonists while ignoring those with strong characters (Deadly Premonition for one), and then to finish he references a book so long and so complicated most of his readership are unlikely to have read it and will likely assume him to a) be intelligent and b) know what he’s talking about simply because – HEY! - he can read Dostoyevsky. Well that entire journey into absurd bullshit doesn’t wash with me.

MT could be my least favourite print journalist this generation, and I have suspicions this particular article was written by the sauce. What the heck was he talking about? Do I even care? Maybe I should post him a box of my games? The kind of games which extremely enlightened cognoscenti such as myself have experienced and know to be what he demands. Maybe he should stop suckling the PR teat of Irrational Games’ (which he said was a disheartening experience). The fact he felt under whelmed by Bioshock Infinite proves to me he could be a kindred spirit, I just need to kidnap him for re-education.

I lack the motivation to explain any further why this is now an even more disappointing magazine than EDGE, which at least has a bulky page count, occasionally weird covers, and an artificial glossy sheen to it. If EDGE is like a warthog masquerading as a woman, then EGM is like EDGE without the make-up.


  1. I, personally, still think Sketcz should temper the vitriol, because when he focuses (Michael Thomsen), he's tough. I would add, on top of that pile, that Michael wants the games presented TO HIM, ON THE FRONT PAGES OF WEBSITES, AND ON TOP OF METACRITIC in order to get to them. If he wanted exploration and community without punching, he could drop the shooting sandbox games and pick up Love-De-Lic-and-spinoffs' work, My Summer Vacation, Animal Crossing, or Magician's Quest. Puzzling without sword-swiping? Switch out The Legend Of Zelda and God Of War for Machinarium (all but once), the The Neverhood series (again, mostly), or the Syberia games. Contrast the faceless Starcraft 2 drones with Little King's Story's. If Irrational doesn't make the games he wants...why doesn't he pledge allegiance to someone else?

    Turn that withering gaze to Levine and his work next time! (I'd love to read a takedown.)

  2. In fairness, I agree with MT in as much as I too would be frustrated if all the games I found or was told to view repeatedly put me in the role of mindless shooting. What irked me is that there are alternatives, and as a writer it's his role to find, document and publicise these better examples of gaming, rather than complain of their absence or dearth. I walked away from the feature not having learned anything, and were it not for my massive experience with games, I'd have the wrong impression of gaming. But like I said, I feel that with the right form of hypnosis and intravenous pharmaceuticals, we can have him come round to our way of thinking.

  3. Jeff Green was at Computer Gaming World / Games for Windows magazine for a good while as editor-in-chief. He had a bit of a column at the end called Greenspeak where he routinely used self-deprecating humor to illustrate whatever he wanted to talk about. It's actually not bad reading, in my mind.

  4. > And for that matter, who the hell is Jeff Green anyway and why should I care?


  5. Exactly, Sketcz. I feel like certain forumgoers are more trustworthy than 95% of games writers for that reason.

  6. Haven't picked up the EGM, and given your review (and my own feelings about the uber-swift decline) I probably won't. BUT. I feel the same way about game length that you and Fleicher do. See latest two entries:

  7. Sketcz gets too overdone with his ridicule for modern games. I get it, you don't like Halo, summarize it in one sentence. Droning on and on makes you look foolish. And why the knock on Metroid veiled in this conversation? Why didn't you comment on it during Jave's entertaining and thought-provoking diatribe earlier in the blog? I clicked on this conversation to hear why I shouldn't buy EGM (as I too think they are overly-intellectual and lack the humor that drove me to them during their epic run), not find out your opinions on Metroid: Other M. I also will note that as a hardcore Wii owner, so I am overly defensive and apologize as such...but hey, how else would I be a proper *shudder* Nintendophile (god I hate that term with every fiber of my being).

  8. I only played Other M long after the post was made.

    Anyway, pick up Kirby's Epic Yarn, I'm rather psyched for it. It's only getting a European release in a while though, so I'm forced to wait. But I've been hearing good things from forum posters which I trust (mainly that it's devoid of a lot of BS that other modern games/platformers have).

  9. I'm a Wii owner, too. That doesn't blind me and shouldn't blame anonymous up there: Other M is HORRIBLE.

  10. I generally have nothing against you, sketcz, and I don't feel one way or the other about EGM, but I hope you don't expect anyone to take this flavor of criticism seriously. this is honestly on the level of the vitriol the sub-20 set spew on the net every day. you've done professional writing before; acting professionally could do you some good.

  11. On game length: games also cost, on average, $60 a pop. I may not have unlimited time to play games, but I also don't have an unlimited budget. More time for my dollar isn't inherently a bad thing, don't paint it that way.

    On being oh-so-intelligent: I'm proud of you for reading Dovstoyesky. Really, I am. It's an incredible feat, I can assure you. And I, having not read him, must clearly be an idiot and automatically assume that anyone who has must be a genius. You see right through it, though. Where would I be without you?

  12. @anon1:
    "you've done professional writing before; acting professionally could do you some good."

    Sorry good sir, blogging in my opinion is not something you get paid for, nor do I get paid for this, nor would I want to get paid for blogging, therefore professionalism doesn't come into it. This isn't my profession, you have to understand, so therefore I am behaving as I do at any other non-profession based time: nauseatingly caustic towards anything I don't like. You'd probably find me more amusing if we met in the bar after work for me to vent eloquent vitriol.

    I did not write a scathing column in a print magazine which I was paid to write and which people would pay money to buy - as you say, this is the internet. I'm going to continue using blogging as a stream of conciousness outlet, and will continue to criticise EGM until one of 2 things happen:
    1) They stop being diabolically awful. The relaunch issue was great, what followed have been terrible.
    2) My subscriptions runs out and I don't feel like I've wasted my money.

    I have 3 issues left. Though to be honest, I dislike it so much I haven't the energy to even bother any more.

    I'm always amused (bewildered?) when people raise the topic of professionalism regarding my internet escapades, when I do this outside of my office work time.

    I am always surprised when people still say they pay $60/£40 for a game new (and I want to help remedy this). I don't have first hand experience of the US games market, but in the UK there are massive specials a few weeks after release, discounts, the second-hand market, plus lower-priced-than-average websites where you can save sometimes 30% or more on a new purchase. in the UK always sells at less than RRP. Seriously, wait a couple of weeks and then buy a game after it gets reduced.

    If you're still paying $60 then you're too impatient to find a better deal. Is being a first day buyer worth that extra $20 or so?

    Waiting for price reductions not only means paying less, but any patches that need to be made will have come out (hello Bayonetta), and you'll have access to forums of people who can give you an honest opinion of how it plays (I didn't buy AvP because of several forums comments which pointed out things not found in print reviews).

    Last week I completed Brutal Legend. I have no shame for having waited over a year to enjoy it. The game is as excellent right now, as it was on release day.

  13. Second post.

    @anon again:
    I can't tell if that Dostoevsky comment is aimed at me or EGM. As I said, I only read sections for my philosophy class. My comments on it were that I felt the EGM author was trying to be a little too cocky in his article, especially since it felt out of place and most people wouldn't get the reference, apart from to acknowledge: hey, the author reads big books.

    He needed cutting down to size, so I stepped up and did so.