Archive for March, 2010

Snapshots of PAX East

If You Can Read This Sign

Red-shirted Enforcers, the utilikilt wearing stasi of PAXes, waving us back as the doors slam shut on the third level of the Hynes Convention center. “Balcony is full,” one of them says, conjuring the crowd backwards along the skylit corridor. Later, when we try to make it in for the Penny Arcade panel, they will give us the same bad news. By Saturday evening, I’ll have learned to expect this at every panel I want to attend.

But Are You Impressed?

A curly-headed kid in a grimy T-shirt going, “Whoaa! Whoaa! Whoaa! Whoaa!” as he plays the 3D-enabled demonstration of Metro 2033 at the nVidia booth. His eyebrows keep jumping above the black 3D lenses like jittery caterpillars. He is playing terribly, unused to Russian FPS’s with their ruthless and reliably fatal consequences. He takes careful aim at a monster’s head, but the shot flies wide and hits it on its shoulder. It looks up from its meal, doubtless another American gamer, more startled than angry. The kid shoots again while dust motes dance between him and the monster  (“Whoaa!”) and now he has its attention. It charges, and because I’m wearing the other set of goggles and am standing over his shoulder, I start co-piloting as he calls out questions. “How do I melee?”

“Try right clicking! Middle mouse! I don’t know, get the fuck out of there!”


Tie Me to the Mast

I’m standing in a corner of the Compleat Strategist booth holding a copies of Memoir ’44, Ticket to Ride, and Carcassonne.  I’m explaining that Ken Levine, Soren Johnson, and Julian Murdoch have recommended each of these games, respectively. Surely those endorsements would appease MK if I brought this stack home? Tom Endo, my former editor at The Escapist and my wingman for this first day of PAX East, is giving me a knowing smile. “This is dangerous. You’re feeling it. You’re standing in a vortex of nerd energy, and you want to surrender to it. Maybe you should sleep on this.”

I Should Probably Buy It, Huh?

Time and again I see something amazing on a screen and ask, “What is that?” Tom says, “Bad Company 2.”

Bostonians Love It When People Do This

We’re heading a party at the TCS lounge and have no idea where the hell we’re going. As we pass the fire station on Boylston, I joke that we could go in and tell the firefighters that there’s a huge fire at the TCS lounge. Then we could just follow them. A moment later, Troy Goodfellow has knocked on the door to the firehouse and is getting directions from a stereotype: ruddy complexion and ginger hair, vowels that could span the Charles. Just as the fireman is about to go back inside, Troy turns to Jenn Cutter and says, “Now there’s your Boston accent.”

So Babe Wasn’t a Documentary?

Tiffany Martin is explaining why pigs are assholes and she hates them. “They’re not filthy or anything that people usually think about them. But they’re smart, and they’re always getting loose. And then you’ve gotta chase them, which is just a huge pain in the ass. It’s not like it is in the movies, where you’re running around with the Benny Hill music playing in the background. Pigs are smart, right? So they figure out what you’re up to. So you have to triangulate a pig and like herd it toward someone who can tackle it. Then you have to pick them up, and they make this sound. It’s like a human scream. Oh, and if you’re not careful, they’ll bite your hand off.”

Move Over, Saxton Hale

Tom Endo is explaining that he’d like to hunt coyote. “I don’t know why. I just really want to hunt one and, like, kill it, skin it, and, uh… I don’t know. Make a bracelet out of it. Or something.”

I Really Need to Do Something about My Weight… and Height… and Shoulders

Julian Murdoch, on meeting me in person. “My God, you’re a monster!”

Russ Pitts, on meeting me in person. “You’re huge. That doesn’t come through in your emails.”

Maybe Just a 1-Year Subscription

John Davison has just explained, during the “Death of Print” panel, that he was brought in to run GamePro because the owners wanted it to have an identity, to stand for something, at the end of its life. Jeff Green turns to him and says, “Wait a second. They brought you in basically so you could help this thing die with a little dignity, and you took that job?”

Somehow, Surely, You Could Make This Game Sound Less Interesting

At the APB booth, the producer is explaining what makes his game different. “It’s the three Cs – combat, customization, and celebrity.” In other words, approximately 1/3 of this product involves actually playing a game. In the background, it looks like a war has broken out between hipsters and cops, except that some of the hipsters appear to be cops. I see a firefight taking place amidst shipping containers. Despair threatens for a moment. Then he begins talking about character customization. One of the hipster character models appears on screen, her pants changing colors and style, her shirt getting longer and shorter. Then the guy working the demo machine zooms in on her narrow, sculpted ass and slaps Cartman sticker on her right butt cheek. I leave. I assume the third C, celebrity, involves an avatar sex tape.

PAX Break

I’ve been in a bit of a writing funk lately that’s been really frustrating me, and now that it’s finally ending and I have a million thing I want (and, for my editors, need) to get down on paper, it’s time to take a break for PAX East. That’s about the only downside, however, to a convention for which I am very excited. Yesterday I made the trek across the Harvard bridge, over the “Smoot” marking and past a major fender-bender – actually, let’s make that a crumple-zone crumpler – and arrived in Back Bay to meet Troy Goodfellow and some other writers for dinner. On the corner of Mass Ave. and Boylston, a large man wearing a too-small Ghostbusters T-shirt slammed into me while playing on a handheld system, and I knew I’d found PAX.

Then I promptly got lost, having not noticed that there is a jog between Hereford and Dalton, so I kept looking for a through street which doesn’t exist on the north side of Boylston. But I eventually found my way thanks to a laconically polite BPD patrolman.

Anyway, I highly recommend PAX-goers check out these helpful guides from the Phoenix’s Mitch Krpata: food, sights, and getting around. One bit of advice is so important, I must repeat it here:

Please don’t take your picture outside of Cheers, attempt to speak with a Boston accent, or wear any New York Yankees paraphernalia.

There. Mitch just saved your life.

I should also mention that the Eastern contingent of Three Moves Ahead will be having a little breakfast get together on Sunday morning. I will be there, as will Troy Goodfellow and Julian Murdoch. One or all of us may be savagely hungover, but there’s nothing for a hangover like bracing conversation! Here is what Troy had to say about it.

After checking reviews, schedules and locations, I’ve settled on the Trident Booksellers & Cafe around the corner from the Hynes Convention Center.

For now, I am planning on Sunday at 10 AM for the meeting, but I may bump it as early as 9:30 depending on a number of things. Don’t be afraid to come late, and please let me know if you plan on coming so we can try to get a reservation or something a couple of days ahead. I may have to leave by 11 to help with something else, but no one has ever needed me around to have fun.

I strongly urge you to come to this meeting if you like strategy games, Three Moves Ahead, or just some of the guys who are on Three Moves Ahead.

But where else might you find me during PAX East? Here are some panels that I am likely to attend:

  • Penny Arcade Panel #1 – Main Theatre – Friday, 4:00pm
  • The Future of PC Gaming – Wyvern Theatre – Friday, 10:00pm (this is a long shot for me)
  • Kotaku and Croal: In Search Of The Best Games Ever – Manticore Theatre -Saturday, 11:30am
  • The Death of Print – Manticore Theatre – Saturday, 1:00pm
  • Naughty Dog LIVE – Naga Theatre – Saturday, 4:00pm
  • Podcasting (f)or PR – Naga Theatre – Saturday, 5:30pm
  • Everything … About Game Journalism – Manticore Theatre – Sunday, 2:30pm
  • Sequelitis Snake Oil – Manticore Theatre – Sunday, 4:00pm

What do I look like? Well, take a look at this gentleman here and picture him with a beard, a black topcoat (if the weather stays cold) and surrounded by less vibrant foliage. He will probably be standing toward the side or back of a room, looking like he’s asking himself “What would Darcy do?” (probably not attend PAX). That is me, and you should absolutely say hello. We are, after all, members of the same tribe.

The Ethics of Bloody Retribution

A few years ago I read Adrian McKinty’s Dead I Well May Be, which instantly became one of my all-time favorite crime novels. In addition to being a blood-curdling revenge story, it was also a collection of surprisingly lyrical vignettes to different worlds: Belfast in the waning years of the Troubles, a city of desultory terrorism and economic stagnation. New York in early 1990′s, disorderly, larcenous, crazed.  The poor Protestant neighborhoods of the Six Counties over a decade into the Troubles, desperately clinging to a precious few privileges over the Catholics.

McKinty had a knack for sketching sharp characters and scenes with just a few choice details. His characters spoke with different voices, but all filtered through the wry and fatalist gaze of protagonist Michael Forsythe. He had a soft-spot for the underdogs and hopeless fuck-ups, people who chose to trust and love despite being given few reasons to do either. And Forsythe himself, too young for the work he did and far too careless to understand the import of the choices he was making, was one of them. He was just smart enough to know it.

Dead I Well May Be turns into a nightmare journey for the second act, and that gives way to a chilly, purposeful series of killings in the third act. By the time it ends, it has become a triumphant tragedy, the dead bodies piled high after glorious vengeance. Forsythe goes about his work with compassion and understanding, but not an ounce of mercy. It’s exhilarating to see it unfold.

The strength of that book made me a McKinty fan, but it didn’t take long before I started to worry that Dead I Well May Be was a flash in the pan. Hidden River, the story of a disgraced Royal Ulster Constabulary detective trying to solve a friend’s murder in Colorado, had its moments but was ultimately a dud. Not a single character was appealing, and the story behind the murder was devoid of any sense or import. The Dead Yard, the sequel to Dead I Well May Be, was a crushing disappointment.

McKinty seemed to be straining so hard to recapture the magic of Dead I Well May Be that he was turning into a parody of himself. His prose crossed that line from lush to purple, and his use of foreshadowing began to smack of narrative laziness. Rather than showing anything interesting happening, he just kept promising that interesting things would, eventually, happen. Most of them in another book.

The final part of the Forsythe trilogy, The Bloomsday Dead, was better than his other efforts but still a far cry from Dead I Well May Be. He never managed to make the case that Forsythe’s was a story that needed continuing, and the conclusion to the saga relied on a couple predictable twists and some unconvincing behavior on the part of some of the characters.

So I had just about written McKinty off. He’d produced one great novel, one decent one, one mediocrity, and one disaster. However, I gave him one last shot with his latest novel, Fifty Grand, and I’m thrilled to find that he is once again near the top of his game. This is easily his best work since Dead I Well May Be, and is also a marked departure from his other novels.

Fifty Grand is superficially a revenge mystery. A Cuban detective, Mercado, illegally leaves the country to find out what happened to her father when he was killed in a wealthy Colorado town.

That’s just the backdrop, however, for a story about class and illegal immigration. We know that Mercado is a smart professional and a first-rate cop on a fifth-rate police force, but in America she is nothing. Posing as a worker from Mexico City, she is given the choice of being a sex worker or a cleaning lady. The local police turn a blind eye to the illegals who are building their city and serving its elites. The human traffickers who run the immigration operation treat the workers as indentured servants. For everyone else, the Latinos are invisible. Just a bunch of Mexicans, whether they’re Mexican or not, here to build houses, clean them once they’ve been built, and occasionally to screw in them for money.

There is a scene where Mercado witnesses the sheriff administer a savage beating to her boss, Esteban, in front of her and another maid. After the sheriff drives off, Esteban tries to stop crying as he shakes with fury in the driver’s seat of his Navigator. He starts muttering that the sheriff couldn’t do this to him, he was an American citizen. Then he starts to cry as he says that all this, from Colorado to the Pacific, used to be Mexico. And he weeps.

Poignancy and irony are laced throughout this scene. Characters can be aware of the artificial distinctions and prejudices that are the bedrock of most discrimination, yet their ubiquity still makes those characters complicit in inequality. Esteban gets treated like shit because he’s a Mexican, and his reaction is to feel outrage because he’s an American citizen. It’s okay to abuse and humiliate illegals, he accepts that, but it’s outrageous to ask an Hispanic American citizen to accept such treatment. He accepts that American citizenship grants him superiority to the people who come over illegally from Mexico, but then he denies that Americans have any moral right to the southwest that they took from Mexico at gunpoint. Esteban, a Mexican, a citizen, and a trafficker, is mired in contradictions, chafing against a racist regime in which he is complicit.

This is a McKinty novel, however, and there is still a lot of room for lyrical violence and bloodshed. He sets the tone early with this passage, as Mercado tries to explain why she is out to avenge the murder of a man who abandoned her as a child.

Revenge is a game for pendejos. Hector says that tit for tat is a base emotion, from the lizard brain, from way, way down. He says we’ve evolved beyond revenge. Witnesses at executions always leave dissatisfied, and he would know, he’s seen dozens. But it’s not about feeling good, Hector. It’s about something else. It’s about tribal law, it’s about the restoration of order. Entropy increases, the universe winds down, and one day all the suns go out and the last living entity ceases to be. It’s about accepting that, accepting that there’s no happy place, no afterlife, no justice, just a brief flowering of consciousness in an infiinty of nothing–it’s about seeing all that and then defying the inevitable and imposing a discipline on chaos, even as the boilers burst and the ship goes down.

This neatly describes nearly every McKinty protagonist’s motivation. They are not history’s winners. They hunt the privileged and powerful, the people who will resort to violence and betrayal when they have nothing to fear, who cite the law when it is on their side, and who cry for mercy when they are on their knees with a gun pointed at their head. In this universe, justice is a mirage, a trick played on the downtrodden. The only safety is in the promise of retribution.

One Move Behind – Standing Athwart History Yelling "Stop!"

I am not an optimist. I am skeptical of most changes and need to see evidence that my fears are unfounded before I can abandon them. So when it comes to developments like Facebook gaming or microtransactions, my instincts say that there is great potential for these to be negative developments. This is the source of my misgivings during this week’s Three Moves Ahead.

Quality of Life

When it comes to Facebook gaming, I must concede that my objections have very little to do with the likelihood that we will see good games on that platform. It has everything to do with the kind of gamer I am, and the way I prefer to live my life. Selfishly, I am afraid that gaming will increasingly move into an arena for which I have little patience: the social network.

Right now I have four tabs open in my browser: Gmail, Google Reader, Twitter, and the WordPress editor. Whenever I momentarily come to the end of a line of thought, I flick to one of the other tabs. It’s a reflex at this point, one I don’t completely feel capable of controlling. I struggle with the fears that Nicholas Carr described in his Atlantic piece: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

…Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets’reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link. (Unlike footnotes, to which they’re sometimes likened, hyperlinks don’t merely point to related works; they propel you toward them.)

These are serious areas of concern for me. I am often struck by the sudden fear that I’m not developing as a writer, because I’m nowhere near the reader I used to be. I use the same couple sentence structures and the same “go to” turns of phrase because I’m no longer capable of noticing things like sentence structure, or hearing the way a particular choice of words can change the texture of a thought. My eyes dance to and fro, the nouns, verbs, and modifiers strobing like runway landing lights in the expanse of the page. The general meaning of a paragraph quickly becomes clear. Its particulars are vanish as my attention moves on.

Engagement has become more a fight than it used to be. I sometimes feel like I’m living in “Harrison Bergeron”, unable to form a complex thought because something always happens to break my concentration. Right now, for instance, the Twitter tab shows a (5). Five tweets have appeared on my feed since I last checked it. I badly want to go see what they are, even though I’m not really interested. I’d rather stay here and keep writing.

To an extent, Facebook is my line in the sand. I fear its endlessness, and the social economy that drives users to toss notes and gifts at their friends, exchanging daily updates with people that they are not particularly close to. With my prestigious collection of insecurities, and my predilection to get addicted to just about anything, I can almost guarantee that my relationship with Facebook would grow unhealthy. Add Facebook gaming to that mix, and I’ll end up with another perpetually open tab on my browser. Another drain on my already atomized attention, potentially worse than the others.

When I play a game, I don’t want to be “sort of” playing a game and sort of chatting with my acquaintances. I want to be playing the game. When I get back to my apartment tonight, if I still have enough energy left, I’m going to clear my desk, hook up the racing wheel, and do a Formula 3000 qualifying session at the Brno circuit. The only thing in the world that I’m going to care about for a half-hour is my car and the racing line. Everything else will be gone.

And when I’m done with that, I might turn off my computer and sit down with the novel I’m reading, or perhaps continue with the organizational history of Napoleon’s Grand Armee. If I keep playing, I might lose myself in Clear Sky some more, or I’ll try to salvage my Prussian campaign in Napoleon: Total War. Perhaps MK will want to continue our game of Sins of a Solar Empire. But whatever I do next, I will be all in.

The Myth of Progress

It may be that the days of this type of gamer are already numbered, and have been for quite awhile. But inevitability isn’t synonymous with desirability. Rabbit may be correct when he says that people have already voted for Facebook gaming and microtransactions with their dollars and quarters, but that doesn’t mean they actually want a future where that is gaming’s dominant form. But by their very nature, these little casual games and microtransactional models can give rise to the tyranny of small decisions. We’re about to change the course of an entire industry and a young art form based on nickel-and-dime whims, and I think there’s a huge danger there that should worry people who love videogames.

Nor am I convinced that having millions of new gamers taking up the hobby is a good thing. It depends. If I thought the rise of free-to-play models and Facebook gaming were going to bring a flood of new players into gaming as it exists right now, I’d be more excited. But I think this might be a Chinatown situation: we can’t bring new players to gaming, so we bring gaming to new players. We redefine what “gaming” means, and then call the new people who like this easier, more accessible activity gamers, and we say what a great thing it is for the hobby. But nothing has really changed. We share little in common with the newcomers, and their games have little in common with ours. What has changed is that our market share just got smaller. That rarely means anything good. Just ask Ensemble.

Now Rabbit mentioned that a lot of the counterarguments resemble the anti-console arguments that PC gamers used to make. That the rise of Xbox would spell trouble, and would hurt gaming. And obviously, the industry has survived and flourished even as the PC has receded as the dominant platform and consoles have moved onto more and more of what used to PC turf.

Or has it? I don’t find myself wanting for good games to play, but I also can’t deny how much I identify with this comment that Ken Levine made on Twitter: “Innovation wise, the aughts didn’t really hold a candle to the 90s.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the decade of the PlayStation and the Xbox was also a decade of slowed innovation. We were right to worry ten years ago, and many of our fears came to pass. That we’ve learned to live with the new reality doesn’t mean it was all for the best.

As we consider what might turn out to be the most significant change in the game industry since the Famicom, we should ponder the ramifications, and what we stand to lose.

Reviewed – Napoleon: Total War

My first-ever review is up at GameShark, and it’s a fairly positive one for Napoleon: Total War. This assignment was something of a treat, and is probably a poor representative of the reviewing experience as a whole. Napoleon: Total War is a good and very enjoyable game, and I’m still wrapping up some campaigning in it even though the assignment is over. I was happy to have an excuse to plow over 40 hours into the game.

I am sure I’ll jump onto the “I hate reviews” bandwagon the moment I have to review a real dog of a game. But for now, it’s a fun change of pace.

As I was in the process of assigning a score to this game, I found myself thinking about the kind of reviewer I want to be. It would be nice to have a reputation for being tough but fair, but somehow I think most reviewers probably aim for that. It’s maybe more important to have come to terms with how I react to games.

On the Three Moves Ahead before last, or maybe it was during the after-party, Tom made the comment that he got the feeling there weren’t too many games I hated.  On reflection, that’s very true. I actually like most games I play. I’m the sort of person for whom a lot of things just don’t get old. Sometimes, when I’m putting my car key into the ignition, I still kind of marvel at the fact that I can drive. I got my learner’s permit ten years ago, but the feeling of privilege hasn’t entirely gone away. I feel the same way when I sit down to play videogames, especially when I can say, “It’s for work.”

So it takes a lot to make me dislike a game. Huge disappointments, like Rebellion, Rome: Total War, or Empire: Total War, can usually get me there. Pissing me off is another good method. I thought GUN was a good game until it all went to shit in the third act, and that final act erased just about every ounce of goodwill. I’m a little allergic to hyperbolic praise and self-importance. I enjoyed Far Cry 2, for instance, but I can’t say I really like it. It was a beautiful and exciting open-world shooter, but it was also murderously repetitive and kind of shallow. I end up judging the game more harshly because of how it was received, and for its own very limited ambition. I have not been kind to Modern Warfare.

But for the most part, I love gaming and like most videogames. I just don’t think many of them are excellent. I really loved playing Napoleon: Total War, and really do think it’s probably the best Total War title in quite awhile. But when it was time to consider flaws that really bothered me, I didn’t have to look hard to find them.

I’ll have more to say about Napoleon. I really did like it quite a bit. So I’ll close with the reviewer’s typical request: read the text. The score doesn’t perfectly reflect how I feel about the game, or how I personally weigh the game’s elements. It reflects a slightly more cold-blooded assessment.

Easy There, Tiger, That's a STRATEGY Game

Eagle-eyed Civ-aholic Troy Goodfellow spotted an odd subhead on GameSpy’s Civilization V preview that promised, “It’s not just for the hardcore anymore.” This brought Troy up a little short.

It’s not? When was it? Is Civilization a hardcore game for hardcore people? I tweeted my curiosity and was met with a nice chorus of replies from friends and colleagues. Former PC Gamer Editor in Chief Gary Whitta pointed out that Civ gives him migraines, and of course it is hardcore; anyone can pick up a shooter and know what to do. Kombo’s Tiffany Martin said that I was seeing the game from inside my strategy gamer bubble where Civ is positively user friendly compared to, say, Hearts of Iron.

Reading this, I felt a mixture of bewilderment and outrage. Because the Civilization series has always made a point of keeping the door wide open for anyone who is interested in giving it a try, and it still gets written off as a niche title because it is a strategy game.

This touches a raw nerve. I still remember a community of gamers that seemed less picky and less intimidated by genre barriers. My friends and I were thirteen year-old renaissance men, talking Civ at morning recess (my friend CJ once proposed that we discuss “Feats of the Phalanx”, because the quirky rules of Civilization sometimes led to a phalanx wiping out a modern battleship or artillery), describing TIE Fighter dogfights over lunch, and chainsawing our way through Doom by night. Mindless, savage violence comprised no more than a third – well, definitely not more than half – of our gaming lives. Strategy was just another kind of game, but not another kind of gamer.

I still don’t really accept the categorization and audience-splitting that is widely taken for granted, especially because so much of it seems arbitrary. To my way of thinking, Civilization is more accessible than a Call of Duty, Team Fortress 2, or even an Arkham Asylum. Those games all presume motor skills and intuition that have been honed by years of 3D action gaming, but good luck if you didn’t grow up playing games like that. Acquired tastes like Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, and any JRPG are treated like general-interest videogames.

“But those involve basic skills,” you say. Most gamers can use WASD or dual-analogue sticks to drop the crosshairs on a target, and anyone can press the buttons required to advance the story in a JRPG. True, but what does a game like Civilization really entail?  Not on the intermediate or advanced difficulties, but at its most basic.

Not a lot. No motor skills, certainly. And the game is wonderfully self-explanatory. You start in the Stone Age, you build a city, and then it asks you if you want to research The Wheel or Hunting. It doesn’t require a lot of insight to figure out what those technologies might let you do, and the game makes sure to tell you the specifics right there in the research window. And that’s pretty much how Civilization rolls. Common sense takes you 85% of the way, the game’s own tooltips and help text take you the last 15%. All you have to do is make some plans, try to think ahead, and play along.

But the moment a game, any game, asks you to do those things consciously, it gets the marginalizing treatment. Which is ridiculous, because these are no more special skills than walking or speaking. You can’t get through a day without hatching a plan or adapting to circumstances.

On Three Moves Ahead, I think there’s a good reason that Tom Chick jokingly calls every game he happens to like a strategy game. Maybe he is just trying to bother Troy by bringing up shooters, but I suspect he has a point. The games I engage with are the ones that force me to strategize and live by my wits. It doesn’t matter if they are shooters, flight sims, or wargames: if it demands planning and tactics, I probably like it.

Now you could argue that these other genres have proven to have broader appeal, either through sales or through the readership drawn by articles covering them. But I can’t help but think we’re in the presence of a self-fulfilling prophecy here. If people are constantly being bombarded with the message that a game is somehow for an elitist niche audience, they’re going to be turned off well in advance. Eventually they might decide the entire genre is for specialists, with no room for the mildly interested novice. Then we get more articles that begin from the position that a game or a genre is flawed because it is too hardcore and too demanding, and something different should be done to convince more people to give it a try.

We can’t be pushing developers to make strategy games for people who don’t like strategy games, but that’s what we’re doing when we say that Civilization is somehow suffering from a major accessibility problem. Do you honestly think anyone would have run a preview where someone asked Infinity Ward, “So, some people really disliked the fact you had to control your character and shoot other characters in a modern military setting. How are you going to fix that problem with Modern Warfare 2?”

I’ve always considered convincing people to try new things to be a part of my job. There are a lot of reasons why someone might not like EU3, but when I wrote about the game, I tried to show the reasons why someone might love it, even in spite of those obstacles. Fourteen years ago, my friend CJ begged me to give Civilization a try, despite the fact that it sounded lame, because Civilization is not a name that promises action and excitement. But I tried it just so he would shut up, and that experience changed my life.

The irony of the story is that I was basically right about Civilization. It was a civilization builder with square units and cities on tiles. I built granaries and invented simple tools. There was no action, and no excitement in the sense that I usually used the word. It turns out I didn’t really know what I would like. That was my problem, not Civilization’s.