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GameSetWatch.com is the alt.video game weblog and sister site of Gamasutra.com. It is dedicated to collecting curious links and media for offbeat and oft-ignored games from consoles old and new, as well as from the digital download, iOS, and indie spaces.

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Column: Hit Self-Destruct

COLUMN: Hit Self-Destruct - 'Obsidian - The Life of The Party?'

February 23, 2009 8:00 AM |

hsd03.jpg['Hit Self-Destruct' is a regular GameSetWatch column by blogger and writer Duncan Fyfe, focusing on alternative approaches to game criticism. This week, an abridged history of Obsidian Entertainment.]

Last week, weblog Kotaku claimed that more than 20 people lost their jobs when Obsidian Entertainment's Aliens RPG was cancelled. Though not confirmed, no one should have to look for any other reasons why that report was bad news. Selfishly, perhaps, I thought of some anyway.

Very little was ever said about the Aliens RPG, but I'm sure that I would have played it, regardless of whether it now gets completed. I've found that Obsidian Entertainment, compared to every other developer that makes party-based RPGs, has consistently had the most interesting and forward-thinking ideas about party members and dynamics, whether in games that I like (Knights of the Old Republic II) or ones that I don't (Neverwinter Nights 2).

If RPG parties don't seem like a design element fraught with weakness, consider games like Knights or Mass Effect wherein your character faces the greatest conceivable evil in the universe, but isn't allowed to take more than two people along to fight it.

No game fiction has ever made a convincing argument for why the world's biggest hero can't deal with having three guys around at once. Restrictions on party members are a tech limitation, presumably; in the isometric Baldur's Gate days, the limit was five. Still, there were always more characters available, so why not six? Why not seven? What can they possibly be doing that's more important than saving the world?

I think gamers largely recognise it as an issue of engine capacity or gameplay balance, but that doesn't make it any less of a logical flaw. Whenever the player character meets an exciting new person, he should never have to lamely respond "I'd love to have you on board, but I don't have room."

Party members haven't aged very well conceptually. Games used to present them solely as stat amplifiers and combat assists, but even as they developed voice acting and subplots and became love interests they still seem more often than not like accessories instead of personalities.

Column: Hit Self-Destruct: I Will Dare

February 5, 2009 4:00 PM |

hsdrockband.jpg['Hit Self-Destruct' is a regular GameSetWatch column by blogger and writer Duncan Fyfe, focusing on alternative approaches to game criticism. This week, he shares some Rock Band-related anxieties.]

The last time I played Rock Band, I was in someone's living room and the game was running on a PlayStation 3 hooked up to a HDTV and 5.1 surround sound system. Playing bass along with Blitzkreig Bop, a basic enough track that my mind has time to wander, I start thinking about the Ramones at the time they made this recording.

The original line-up were alarmingly dressed in leather uniforms and hammering out no more than three chords in New York dive bars with horrible acoustics. Their act was an aggressive endorsement of simplicity in an age of overcomplicated prog rock, delivered to a bemused audience. After the set Dee Dee, the real bassist, would get stabbed in the ass by a prostitute.

Here I am, 30 years later, button-mashing in time to the flashing lights with a look of grim determination. The biggest concern I have in the world is whether my cellphone is fully charged. My problem with Rock Band is that I overthink it. This is as close as I get in my life to rocking out, and that's a depressing notion.

Not that it should matter, since Rock Band isn't a rock band. It's a video game, and one I like. The mechanics are enjoyable in the same way that Tetris is enjoyable, aside from whatever fictional veneer is pasted over them.

I haven't committed to the game fully, however: I get into it exclusively as a casual party game and social experience. I don't own a copy, mostly because if I dragged a drum kit into my small apartment it would have to double as at least one additional piece of furniture. Keeping up with the franchise's additional instruments, accessories and iterations seems totally irrelevant to my appreciation of the game.

I like rock more than Rock Band and as much as I do video games. I tend to gravitate towards a lot of relatively unsuccessful indie or punk bands who spent a lot of their careers slightly above the poverty line, sleeping on urine-soaked floors during tours, or pulling multiple day jobs so they could afford to be in a band that they loved.

Either that, or they suffered from all kinds of internal conflicts, creative frustrations, ill-fated vacations on major labels and alcohol or drug problems, because they wanted to make music, which a majority of the population found to be inaccessible. Their music is why I like them in the first place, of course, but those circumstances, which I find so instantly endearing and relatable, are why I continue to think about them.