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Death to the Games Industry 615

Posted by Zonk
from the damn-the-man dept.
Greg Costikyan has an article up on The Escapist railing against the current state of the industry. Bigger budgets, obese publishers, and creatively dead franchises that continue to see publishing are snuffing out the opportunity for innovation in an increasingly mainstream market. From the article: "For the sake of the industry, for the sake of gamers who want to experience something new and cool, for the sake of developers who want to do more than the same-old same-old, for the sake of our souls, we have to get out of this trap. If we don't, as developers, all we will be doing for the rest of eternity is making nicer road textures and better-lit car models for games with the same basic gameplay as Pole Position. Spector is right. We must blow up this business model, or we are all doomed. What do we want? What would be ideal? A market that serves creative vision instead of suppressing it. An audience that prizes gameplay over glitz. A business that allows niche product to be commercially successful - not necessarily or even ideally on the same scale as the conventional market, but on a much more modest one: profitability with sales of a few tens of thousands of units, not millions. And, of course - creator control of intellectual property, because creators deserve to own their own work."
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Death to the Games Industry

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  • No way. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Musteval (817324) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:25PM (#13455874)
    With such gripping, original, and sure-to-be-great games as "50 Cent: Bulletproof" coming up, I find this forecast completely unrealistic.
    • by sterno (16320) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:07PM (#13456322) Homepage
      I keep seeing this complaint about games. That we're evolving the technology, but the overall creativity of games is diminishing. So I ask, what exactly are people expecting, creatively that they are not getting now?

      I've personally been playing the same game for two years now with little change. I've not picked up Half Life 2 or Battlefield 2 because, frankly, there's nothing that new. I've been playing PlanetSide, and what it lacks in an uber cool graphics engine, it makes up for in large battle tactics that do not happen in any other game.

      So that's what I want to see, more games that blend strategy and first person combat in large persistent environments. What do you want to see?
      • by Tyler Durden (136036) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:54PM (#13456884)
        I keep seeing this complaint about games. That we're evolving the technology, but the overall creativity of games is diminishing. So I ask, what exactly are people expecting, creatively that they are not getting now?

        Errrrr.. if you're going to give people just what they're expecting then you're not being very creative, are you?

        A great video game does something that nobody expects and totally expands views of what's possible in the genre. Great people go out to create new expectations and mediocre people try to fulfill them.

        I grew up during the dawn of arcades. During that time, you'd very frequently see a new game come out and say to yourself, "Wow, I never knew they could do that," or, "Gee, I never thought of that before." (Think Tempest, Punch-Out!!!, Zaxxon or Dig-Dug for examples). Nowadays this feeling comes much more rarely, even considering the sophistication of modern games.

        Nowadays people are only willing to make safe bets on the games they're willing to put out. It's time the industry grew a pair of balls and were willing to create something for the sake of doing something damn cool and just hoping that potential buyers feel the same way. It's not all that risky when you're willing to forego bleeding-edge technology and instead focus on innovative gameplay to shrink your budget.

      • by blincoln (592401) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:55PM (#13456891) Homepage Journal
        So I ask, what exactly are people expecting, creatively that they are not getting now?

        Nothing.

        It's the overdone, familiar genres that make money. Therefore those are what most people are expecting.

        There is a vocal minority of gamers who complain that there are so few innovative games out there, but when they're actually released, they sell like crap:

        - P.N.03 (and its cancelled sibling Dead Phoenix) for the Gamecube
        - Rez and Ico for the PS2
        - Beyond Good and Evil
        - Battlezone and Sacrifice for the PC

        The only kind of oddball games I can think of that sold well recently were the original Soul Reaver (which seems to have been a fluke - its sequels didn't match its success), and the Metroid franchise, which is pretty much its own formula now anyway.

        What makes tons of money?

        - The newest FPS
        - The newest licensed sports game
        - The newest racing game
        - The newest fighting game
        - The newest knockoff of whatever is popular at the moment (e.g. GTA clones now, RTS games a few years ago)
        - Knockoffs of 25-year-old arcade games for cellphones
        - Movie licenses

        All of these have an implied "good" attached, e.g. Fight Club the Shitty Game is not going to outsell Soul Calibur 2 just because it's newer.

        If unusual games were profitable, there wouldn't be a shortage of them.
      • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @03:06PM (#13457011) Journal
        I keep seeing this complaint about games. That we're evolving the technology, but the overall creativity of games is diminishing. So I ask, what exactly are people expecting, creatively that they are not getting now?


        Adventure games.
      • by Rimbo (139781) <rimbosity@@@sbcglobal...net> on Thursday September 01, 2005 @05:11PM (#13458415) Homepage Journal
        What makes a game fun is the pattern it forms in your mind as you do things and get rewards for them.

        Building a business around these patterns is tricky, because the only certain way to do this reliably (without, say, getting a PhD in psychology) is to repeat what's been fun before. At first you have a successful game, then you have copycats, then you have a genre.

        The problem is that the patterns formed in the mind eventually become desensitized to the same stimulus over and over again. The genre must continually evolve or die.

        It gets more and more difficult to find new ways to trigger that positive response while still remaining within the confines of a known successful genre.

        The reason genres (such as FPS or RTS) developed in the first place was because the difference between each technological graphical breakthrough was significant to the player.

        What's happening now is that the graphical breakthroughs are no longer adequate. The calls for "creative" games, for genre-busters (e.g. Katamari Damacy) that are coming about more and more, are based on the fact that we, as game consumers, are starting to get bored.

        But until game designers find a formula to make a game fun that transcends genre -- meaning that it doesn't just copycat an earlier fun game -- this pattern will repeat.

        I am no psychologist, but I have an idea of what these principles would look like:

        1. Provide positive response for the basic activity of the game. Pac-Man slows to eat each dot, and you see and hear happy feedback with each successful dot eaten. Items in Katamari Damacy are plentiful and make happy sounds (and controller vibrations) as each gets sucked up. With an FPS, there is the flame and the sound of each blast you fire. Warcraft units click, light up and give you one of a number of obedient greetings as you select them.

        2. Scale reward with effort. You can finish each screen without eating a single ghost, but if you really want the big points, you gotta try and eat all four! It's one thing to have a big enough Katamari, but let's try and really blow the king away with a BIG one... and how do you get that cat over there? It's fun to play Counterstrike and Warcraft, but it's more fun to win.

        The player must be allowed to do what he is trying to do. In other words, controls must be responsive, but Pac-Man (for example) takes this even further, to where you can turn into a tunnel even if you've gone a few pixels past it, without having to turn the other way. If there's a split-second delay between clicking the mouse and knowing that your weapon's going to fire (there may be a delay in firing it a la BFG, but you hear and see feedback as soon as you say to do it), you're going to get frustrated.

        Know what games follow these principles better than any others? Slot machines. Because they have to.
      • by donscarletti (569232) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @06:37PM (#13459173)
        So that's what I want to see, more games that blend strategy and first person combat in large persistent environments. What do you want to see?

        Ah, so in fact you actually do want Battlefield 2 (which blends strategy with first person combat in a large environment with persistant rank) but have been prejudiced against it because it has the number 2 after it. Battlefield 2 has a squad and commander system that makes it easy, intuitive and fun to play as part of a team. It also has been designed to make teamwork florish over individual work by its balancing of outfit kits and making vehicals heavily enhanced by additional passangers. Battlefield 2 may not be a revolutionary step, but it is a clear evolutionary step in the field of group tactics and team strategy. I picked up a copy three days ago and I am very glad I did.

        As for the other game you mention, Half Life 2. I found that game increadibly innovative in that firstly, it is the only game I have ever played that has physics simulation as an integral part of the gameplay and not just an afterthought. In HL2 there are puzzles (albeit not overly challenging ones) based on clever usage of physical objects with really great effect. It is the only game I have played where one's most powerful weapon is picking up part of the scenery with a special weapon and flinging it at enemies at high speed with accurate effects on impact. Later on it becomes the first game I have played to allow a players to hurl enemies at other enemies. Half Life 2 is also the first game to have a large section of it played in an unarmed semi-amphibious watercraft where one needs to both navigate an artificial canal and clear obstructions on foot in some fairly cool senarios at dams, locks and sluices. To my knowledge, none of these things have been done before, making HL2 far more innovative than it's predecessor.

        It occurs to me that much of the whining about lack of creativity in games at the moment is done by people who rather than judging it by its content, judge it by its enumeration. Get over the numbers and give the damn game a try; games need something to build on and a game is basically a sequence of numbers anyway.

  • by phloydde1 (528605) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:28PM (#13455897)
    pretty graphics
    good gameplay
    small budget ..pick two...
    • My choices would be 2 and 3. And I'd be happy.
    • IMO "good gameplay" is the only one that counts. But then I grew up on Asteroids (don't take that too literally).
    • by Jhan (542783) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:10PM (#13456345) Homepage
      pretty graphics good gameplay small budget ..pick two...

      <plug>And if the two you selected were budget and gameplay, choose Jeff Minter [llamasoft.co.uk]

      Minters games, even since the VIC20 days have

      1. Looked horrible
      2. Played awesomely

      I mean for Gods sake (and these are just some of the best):

      • Grid runner for VIC20
      • Revenge of the Mutant Camels (C=64, but Amiga version kicked rump)
      • Llamatron for Amiga with dual joystick control...
      • Tempest 2000 for Atari Jaguar. Could be the best game ever made.
      • Hover Bovver in all it's incarnations is always fun

      Games that are simutaneously incredibly hard and incredibly controllable and playable. The limit is not this piece of plastic in your hand, it's your own brain, directly connected to the game.

      Do yourself a favour and download the demo of Gridrunner++. Play it ten times. Don't stop because it looks like shite, don't stop because it's hard. You should now be a freshly converted Minter fan.

      And the man is a out-of-the-closet beastialist! What's not to love about that!

      </plug>
  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:28PM (#13455901) Journal
    We all know that Nethack beats the competition hands down!
    • I find it much more fun to play Zelda on ZSNES than any of the new games (HL2 and Icewind Dale were the only new games I finished, or even played for more than 5 minutes, for that matter). I spent countless hours of Super Mario on my gameboy, and that was way more entertaining than any game these days...
  • Marketing led (Score:4, Insightful)

    by carndearg (696084) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:28PM (#13455905) Homepage Journal
    I'm afraid when you let the marketeers out of their playpens and run an industry this is the inevitable result.

    The most important people in a game publisher or development house are the games testers because their input is most relevant to shaping the product as it will apear to the users - people like them. Sadly the "important" people are the marketeers.

    • Re:Marketing led (Score:3, Insightful)

      First step is to declare EA a monopoly. There is yet a standard Anti-Monopoly trust in the video game industry. Sure there is the Sherman Anti-trust act, but some politican needs to bend the same rules to apply it to EA.

      All these politicans waste their time talking about video game violence and bad values, they should wake up. They should break up EA and use the big company benemoth as a cornerstone example.

      If a democratic station like CNN is forcefully dominating all TV stations, Bush would have a fit.
      • In order to shift the current paradigm of the public's perception of video games as "kid toys" we would need an extensive publicity campaign to increase awareness of the artistic merits of video games as a creative medium. This would involve....marketing departments. Who's got the biggest of them all?

        EA. There is definitly a need for antitrust legislation in the vg industry, and on that I agree with you entirely.
      • Re:Marketing led (Score:5, Insightful)

        by provolt (54870) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:53PM (#13456192)
        No one up high gives a fuck cause it's video "games"


        I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that anyone who is 'high up' probably doesn't 'give a fuck' because games are completely inconsiquential.

        Personally, I'd be pretty pissed if our leaders spent time worrying about the amount of creativity in amusement activities. If you want more creativity in games, buy creative games. If there aren't any creative games, then don't buy bad ones and go do something else.

        The job of the government is not to ensure you are entertained. You could argue that it is the job of the government to provide schools that will teach you the difference between "cause" and "because", but that's an entirely different conversation.
    • Re:Marketing led (Score:4, Informative)

      by badasscat (563442) <basscadet75&yahoo,com> on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:15PM (#13456430)
      The most important people in a game publisher or development house are the games testers because their input is most relevant to shaping the product as it will apear to the users

      Huh? So the people that actually come up with the ideas, design the characters, the levels, the worlds, design the gameplay elements; then the people that program all that in, create the artwork, create the physical look and feel of the game, these people are less important than the testers? WTF? Without all those other people that handle the creative and production tasks before the testers, there would be no game!

      This is like saying the test audiences for a Hollywood film are the most important part of the filmmaking process. It makes no sense. They're more important than the writers, directors, cinematographers, editors, etc.? They most definitely are not!

      But this leads me to:

      And, of course - creator control of intellectual property, because creators deserve to own their own work.

      Who the hell is a "creator" of a game these days? Every game these days has many producers, directors, program managers, writers, coders, illustrators, 3D modelers, level designers, character designers, and other creative and management team members that all provide input in how the game will end up. These people work for both developers and publishers.

      Is this a bloated system? Sometimes. But there are a lot of people out there who like games like Final Fantasy and Grand Theft Auto and those games are not going to make themselves. A lot of people are involved. Take a look at the credits for even a simple game like Katamari Damacy sometime - it's huge.

      Creators do have control of their games, because these creators are collectively called "companies". All companies are are groups of like-minded people working on related projects (even if they're only related in that they're all for the same company). The company is the creator. Why should one person get to keep control of a game if he leaves the company, and nobody else who worked on it at that company gets jack? Is that somehow more fair than the system we have now?
    • Re:Marketing led (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ignignot (782335) * on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:19PM (#13456485) Journal
      When you see games like World of Warcraft reaching 4 million subscribers recently, I doubt you can really say the gaming industry is dying. Assuming 1/2 payed for the boxed game, that's 100 million up front, and at 13$ a month, another 520 million a year. That is almost as much money as Episode III got. There is simply no way Blizzard is spending half a billion dollars a year on the game, or even half that. I'd say that some companies are doing quite well.

      Yes we all bemoan the closing of some great software makers. Yes, may of the conglomorates churn out trash. However, there is a market for solid games that is expanding instead of contracting. Companies just need to be both innovative and aware of the current business environments. The days of programmer gurus acting as CEO are over. This indicates a maturing of the industry, not some loss. Marketers have their place. So long as the new heads of the gaming companies still listen to their programmers, and leave the creative development to the creative people, they will succeed. Companies like EA are destined to failure.
    • Re:Marketing led (Score:4, Informative)

      by AviLazar (741826) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @04:53PM (#13458195) Journal
      Game testers are not, by far, anyway relevant to the shaping of the product EXCEPT for: All they do is say "yea here is the bug" or "yea this is cool" but by the time the game gets into playtesters hands the game is already made. Too late to change concept.

      Pre-development is the most important. I was hanging out in a comic book store as a kid and some marketers came in. We all got in a group and they showed us concept art, storylines, etc. They asked for our opinion on what we would like to see in the game. We told them. That is where the consumer is most important.

      Yes marketers are VERY important. Do not belittle them because you are fedup with spam. These guys are trained to find out what the majority of the public want...it may not be what you want, but guess what they are not making their product for a minority....or do you play games like WoW, EQ, 1/2-Life, Doom3, etc? Then you fell for some marketers ploy.

  • by Sebastopol (189276) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:28PM (#13455907) Homepage
    The problem here is not about bloated, vapid monopolies stomping on creativity: programmers like Carmack will always exist, and will revolutionize the gaming industry through sheer willpower alone.

    I for one conjecture there just aren't enough good programmers in the world, otherwise we would see more games as revolutionary as Doom and Quake popping up on the interent.

    When is the last time a solid freeware game caught the imagination of millions? About 15 years.

    Don't blame it on corporations, blame it on the fact that genius is rare!

    Maybe people are just too demanding: they want something new every week and the gaming industry doesn't move fast enough to satisfy the short attention spans of young adults. WHy? Because you just can't write a winner every 6 months!!!

    Realize that inspiration only comes once in a great while, and for god's sake, find another hobby!

    • Oh, for god's sake. Look, just because you happen to think Carmack roxors your video card's soxors doesn't make him the be-all end-all of game development.

      This article is about creativity in game design. Carmack doesn't have much to do - indeed, doesn't want much to do - with game design. He writes the engines, and lets other people handle the gameplay.

      Oh, and incidentally, the last three games id software published were, what? Doom 3, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and Quake 3. In those three games, the mo
    • When is the last time a solid freeware game caught the imagination of millions? About 15 years.

      That's because with today's hardware and the expectation of modern day gamers, it is not economically feasible for a couple guys in their garage to make a massively popular game.

      Game development costs are huge. It takes as much or more money to make a AAA title as it does to make a Hollywood movie. And when an innovative and original title comes out and is met in the market with a yawn and no sales (Ico, Res, Katamari Damacy, Animal Crossing - great reviews, no sales), it makes it that much more unlikely that publishers will finance another one.

      It's not that there are original ideas are rare, it's that those ideas don't sell a million copies, and that's what you need to finance a game today.
  • by IcyNeko (891749) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:28PM (#13455908) Journal
    If they truly want to "challenge everything", they can start by bringing wing commander back and putting an end to the failure they call Ultima.
    • EA is responsible for breaking Ultima, including UO and Ultima 9. Ultima was probably the best computer RPG of all time before EA.

      EA also ended Wing Commander. Wing Commander II and III were amazingly great games. WC4 and the movie just ended it. Instead of going for quality, they went for quantity and fast-to-market. So they blew it - again.

      If RG hadn't sold out, and kept Origin as an independent company, all of this might be a lot different.
  • Uh, no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reality Master 101 (179095) <RealityMaster101@NoSpam.gmail.com> on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:29PM (#13455913) Homepage Journal
    And, of course - creator control of intellectual property, because creators deserve to own their own work.

    The person who pays for the work deserves to own the work. This is the same idiotic logic where we have photographers owning the rights to YOUR wedding pics, even though you paid for them. If the creator wants to own the rights, then the creator should PAY for them.

    Artists should have the same rights as any other tradesman. Does the carpenter own the rights to your kitchen just because he builds the cabinets?

    • You can start by not being an idiot and negotiating this beforehand.
    • The person who pays for the work deserves to own the work.

      It depends on the way the work is done. I have no experience of working in the games industry, but it sounds to me like what this guy is talking about is a shift toward independent developers producing games and then persuading a publisher to distribute them: that is, a move to freelance game design. In this scenario, the person who designed the game should own it, because they did the work without assurance of earning any money from it.

      This is the
      • Re:Uh, no (Score:4, Informative)

        by Reality Master 101 (179095) <RealityMaster101@NoSpam.gmail.com> on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:57PM (#13456236) Homepage Journal
        Unless they negotiated a contract with you in advance, that's bullshit.

        Nope, that's the (US) law. Copyright law specifically gives the rights to the photographers, and you are forbidden from making copies without their permission. You have to negotiate these things in advance, and a lot of photographers flat-out refuse to give you any rights. You have to go to them for prints. This is why it's often hard to copy a photo at, say, Kinkos. They're under pressure from the Photographer unions and fear being sued for copyright infringement.

        It sucks, but there you go.

        I had a debate about this once from a professional photographer (a horse photographer, in fact), and she went on and on about how prints are the only way she makes any money, cameras are expensive, etc, etc. Boo freakin' hoo. The rights still shouldn't belong to her if it's MY money paying the tab.

    • Artists should have the same rights as any other tradesman. Does the carpenter own the rights to your kitchen just because he builds the cabinets?

      Wrong Metaphor.

      If I ask a carpenter to design a kitchen and I pay him for it, does he have the right to go to other houses and install the same kitched?

      The answer is... it depends on your contract. The answer should be yes.

      The gaming industry right now is evolving into the music and movie industries. To get published you have to sign away your life to a publishe
    • Uh, yes (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Thangodin (177516) <elentar AT sympatico DOT ca> on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:10PM (#13456354) Homepage
      Paying for it is one thing, but what many distributers do is nickel and dime the original game development company to death...literally. The guys who came up with the game get to finish the game...maybe. That's about it. The lawyers swoop in and pick the corpse clean, dismantle the team, take all the tools and intellectual property they can find. The distributer then bangs out a couple of expansions and rides the franchise into the ground. You'll never see another great game from that team because the team no longer exists.

      The risk is borne entirely by the original developers, who often have a near finished product developed with their own time and money when they sign the deal. Then the distributer begins to load on extra conditions and unnecessary delays, and does some creative accounting when the game ships to make certain the people who did the work get the least money. The company that developed the game goes down in flames under the weight of the development debt, and the distributor walks away with all the money.

      So, no, the creators do not get paid. In fact, they were the ones who paid for the damn thing in the first place!

      What I've just described is EA's business model. The amount of anti-competitive maneuvering in the game industry is incredible. EA just bought Renderware and are now killing it, in an attempt to break Rockstar games. Why compete with better and more interesting games when you can just kill them off, by yanking their tools out from under them?

      What the industry needs is a free and open source suite of tools and engine components that nobody can buy, but that anyone can use. If the little companies want to win, that's where they should start, by pooling their resources, because anything that is commercially owned can be bought by your biggest competition, and building your own engine and tools from scratch is just too damned expensive.
  • Meta (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Baldrson (78598) * on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:29PM (#13455915) Homepage Journal
    When I was working on the PLATO system doing some of the first networked games [geocities.com] something that seemed to get people's attention was the idea of a per-contact-hour royalty. We worked this idea to our advantage in a meta-game called "Meta" which let you accumulate Metas -- a unit of currency -- which you could take between games. The player would accumulate Metas when the author of the game accumulates pennies (basically a gain of 100 to 1) -- however the player can also accumulate (or lose) Metas during play and can take Metas so accumulated to other games. Now the rules of each game are different, of course, but the idea of getting people to pay by the contact-hour with Meta is that you can get a group of game authors setting up an ecosystem of sorts, with the goal of making the whole ecosystem more valuable per contact-hour.

    Ultimately, there has to be a tax imposed by the Meta system to remove Metas from circulation just as governments control demand for fiat currency by demanding said fiat currency for legal tender (primarily tax payment) -- but the principle should work to let small game authors get a presence and make money if the rules of their game are more appealing to the players than other games.

  • by Omega (1602)
    Death to the Games Industry...Death to the demoness Allegra Geller!

    Sorry, couldn't resist [imdb.com]. :)

  • Hot air (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MBraynard (653724)
    The industry is growing quickly, outpacing the size of Hollywood. Yet the industry is 'dying' as more and more people are now buying gaming-capable systems - not just consoles but cell phones - and the growth spreads across all demographics (older people, women) to nationalities (China).

    Just because you can make a good game, Warren, (or can you - blackandwhite) doesn't mean you are somehow an economist in of the industry.

    These wankers should stop paying attention to the 'industry' and just look at themsel

    • Re:Hot air (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:53PM (#13456195) Journal
      "These wankers should stop paying attention to the 'industry' and just look at themselves and ask - 'How can I make the most money possible?'"

      Unfortunately, this will not always drive innovation. If you have consumers who desire innovation, who will take a stance and NOT purchase games that don't innovate, then it might happen.

      Unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there who either
      (1) don't place a high premium on innovation or
      (2) are young, and don't realize that the 'new' game they're playing is redundant.

      Faced with the choice of purchasing a sequel to get at least *some* new gameplay, or not purchasing any games at all, most video game players will go ahead and purchase the sequel.

      Game developers understand this, and take full advantage; furthermore, production costs for a sequel can be much lower than an original game. Finally, non-innovative games are attractive because they engender less risk.

      When a developer asks, "How can I make the most money?" the answer is, a lot of the time, "By putting out a tweaked version of a previously successful game."
  • I recently began playing (and, in some cases, re-playing) many of the old text-only games from Infocom. I'm reminded of what a rich gaming experience many of these companies were able to provide in such limited computing environments. Quite honestly, some of today's major "blockbusters" can't hold a candle to some of computing's earliest computer games (you could probably say the same about Atari & Intellivision vs. certain PlayStation and Xbox games).

    Seriously...I remember the thrill of buying a 16K R

    • Well, of course, the massive quantity of new games makes it inevitable that there are lots of turkeys. There are still quite a few fun games out there for Xbox, PS2, and even Gamecube. (N-Gage, not so much.) Of course, it seems to you that there was a much higher percentage of good games back then, but that's mainly because - guess what - you don't remember or replay the bad games!

  • Most creative industries reach this cookie-cutter, shrink-wrap product stage because people just buy it.

    Why innovate or take risks? The business model has evolved to a guaranteed-sales stage. People are stupid. They're happy with top production values and no emotional depth or innovative concept.

    Please stop buying crap, people!
    • I dont think any of us are willing to pay that much for a game today. If anything, games should be going down in cost since the market is so huge. Bump games down to $20-30 each. I would be more inclined to buy repeats this way.

      There is no way in hell im paying $60 for another Halo sequel, or Gran Turismo 30.

  • For some reason I am reminded of this movie.
  • Wow, (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tomstdenis (446163) <tomstdenis@gm a i l .com> on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:32PM (#13455957) Homepage
    I've been saying this for years now.

    "what" new textures?"

    And now someone else repeats it and it's brilliant insightful news...

    The problem is this isn't a game specific problem. Most of industry is based around re-hashing last weeks ideas. And last weeks ideas are re-hashes of two week ago ideas, ... etc

    Look at TV? When reality TV shows really blew up we saw quite a few genres [love or hate em] like fear factor, those dating ones, etc.

    Now it's all the same BS. We're in the 12th season of survivor $PLACE and the great race is getting set on sound stage C.

    Why do people watch this crap? Because it's what's on TV. People would rather watch crap then nothing! [News at 11!!!].

    Imagine this, why do people buy Intel machines? Because it's all that's out there [e.g. Dell, Gateway and HP].

    Totally amazing that the EXACT SAME problems occur in computing and TV, two totally unrelated fields... And now people are realizing it's happening in software and games too.

    Shocking!

    Tom
  • by provolt (54870) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:33PM (#13455959)
    This doesn't really seem like a problem. If there are enough developers that feel that they don't want to work for a giant company, why not start your own?

    The main reason not to start your own company is that you are risk adverse. Big companies are also risk adverse. It's a natural thing. Why start your own company, when you can work for an established company? Why try a new game format when you have a formula that makes a lot of money.

    There might be other reasons not to start a new company. Many developers are not business types. That's fine, find a business type and make them a partner. If no business type will touch your business plan, then that probably is your answer as to why such a company doesn't exist.

    I think there probably is room for smaller game development shops that make lower budget games. However, if that's what you want, then buck it up and start your own businees. Don't just piss and moan that someone else should do it.

    As for me, I'm going to go play some Unreal Tournament and wait for Civ 4 to come out.
    • This doesn't really seem like a problem. If there are enough developers that feel that they don't want to work for a giant company, why not start your own?

      That's not really the problem. Imagine the following: Before, all it took to be an author was a cheap printing press. Today, books must come with an extremely expensive and rare cover design. Not because the cover actually adds that much to its creative value but because customers have gotten used to it and can't really imagine buying a book without one.
  • Looks like the article forgot games such as Half Life 2, Doom 3, Far Cry, World of Warcraft, UT2004, Call Of Duty and Splinter Cell.
    These are excellent examples of creative products, which made millions for the companies, and still do - especially WoW.
  • Doomed eh? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Shadow Wrought (586631) <shadow.wrought @ g m a i l.com> on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:33PM (#13455968) Homepage Journal
    We must blow up this business model, or we are all doomed.

    No pun intended?

  • by rAiNsT0rm (877553) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:35PM (#13455977) Homepage
    C'mon! Derivitive, cloned, and licensed crap doesn't equal great games?!? Get Out Of Town! From all the "unbiased" reviews all you need is either FPS, Stealth, Sex, Violence, or a rapper to be a hit.

    The game industry for some reason is set up to mimic Hollywood... and for even more puzzling reasons people think this is a good thing. Morons. The 360 and PS3 will do nothing but ensure that big dev studios keep cranking out the same FPS/Sports/Licensed garbage en masse as they are "safe" genre's and are fairly guaranteed returns when development costs are through the roof. I mean, who wants to take a risk on an "innovative" or "fresh" title when millions are on the line?

    God, I so hope Nintendo mops the floor with the 360 and PS3 so the industry can get back to some semblance of innovation and gameplay. When will morons get sick of their damn FPS clones and crave a real game... do people even remember what a totally new and innovative game is like anymore? Hint: GTA:[insert city name], Doom[insert roman numeral], Madden[insert next year], etc. are NOT innovative!
  • It's interesting that the author chose to write an article with a main point that games shouldn't have to be all about the pretty graphics, and then put said article on top of pretty graphics that make it hard to read.

    Black on white: it works. White on peacock? Not so much.
  • For years the movie industry was predicting that the game industry would overtake them. And once it did movies would just give up and suck. Now that Games are king, they suck too. Wowie.
  • by mrbooze (49713) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:35PM (#13455992)
    This doom and gloom stuff from game industry people is becoming officially tiresome. So the game industry is becoming like other mass media industries. Whatever. Just because Hollywood spits out Fantastic Four or War of the Worlds doesn't mean someone still isn't making lots of smaller perfectly good independent films. And it doesn't even mean that the big budget hollywood films are always bad. (Though IMO they generally are.)

    I could really give a crap about the latest Madden release or Final Fantasy XXXIV or most of the big gaming franchises. I still find lots of games coming out that I want to play, more than I even have time to play.

    So yes, shocked, shocked I am to discover marketing and profiteering going on in this establishment. But so the fuck what? If you're in the game industry and you don't like games with billion dollar budgets and bleeding edge graphics, then make your own damn game on the cheap and publish it yourself. What's that? It's hard to get reliable income that way? Oops! Welcome to the entertainment industry. Where independent filmmakers have for decades been living on ketchup soup and maxed out credit cards to try and get their films in front of people.
  • As long as you have to get shelf space at a game store, stores will go with what has worked in the past and products from major companies. When we see game consoles with built in Rigths management that can download games from online then indie games will boom.
          Lets face it, the most imaginitve games come from nintendo, one of the 500 pound gorilla of the industry, who can afford to be creative. Small developerds can only get shelf space making copies of grand theft auto.
  • I've been playing video games since the Atari 2600/286 PC, and guess what: the industry has always been like this. 90% of the video games ever released are derivative, unoriginal, poorly thought-out crap. The ratio of good games/crap hasn't changed substantially in 20 years. Fortunately the industry manages to produce more than enough fun, original games to keep people interested.
  • by Andrew Cady (115471) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:43PM (#13456070)
    I took another look at Day of the Tentacle recently, via the free software ScummVM. The game feels like it was made by an animator with aspirations of film-making -- with a programmer offering only a little assistance. Entertaining writing, consistent and attractive visual style (far better than anything created through a 3D graphics card), childish game-play... but it was a kid's game.

    Games are made poorly probably because they're made by the wrong people, viz.: programmers. Game production should perhaps be something like movie production -- the programmers should correspond to the set designers, not the director or writer.

  • I recall and interview back when Doom III was being developed. Something about Carmack indicating being tied to the first person shooter genre because of the popularity of Doom, Quake, etc.

    I can see how a publisher can become known for a certain game genre almost like an actor can become typecast. I can also see how business considerations can put heavy pressure to "stay with what you are known for".

    Don't know the answer. Perhaps companies that are doing well can decide to risk capital in exchange for ex
  • The problem is that once something becomes technically feasible, the market demands it.

    True, some developers spend most of their time working to reach the new bar set by the hardware developers, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

    Take the case of id Software's Quake 3. The engine was revolutionary at the time (like all of Carmacks work), but some argue that id games are all the same; they are reincarnated to fit the current market. Well, that may be true, but this sort of technology helps others

  • And don't forget to stop treating the employees like disposable wage-slaves.

    Insane hours, outlandish conditions, high turn-out, it WILL come back to haunt you. I got out, I was tired of having 60-70 hour weeks scheduled by management routinely .

    They are squeezing the life out of their people, because they know a fresh batch of naive workers comes out of schools every year, eager to get into the glamourous biz. It's how it is now, it's not a sustainable way of going at it.
  • by cbreaker (561297) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:48PM (#13456133) Journal
    The same old tired arguements like this tend to reappear in 6 month cycles. "New games suck. No creativity."

    I call bullshit.

    In the entire history of video games, there's *always* been the leading games with something new, and dozens or hundreds of copies. How many games appeared that were similar to Pac-Man? How many games were similar to Pole Position? How many games were just like Mario Bros?

    You can't point at today's games and say there's a problem. This has always been a "problem" (I don't think it really is one.) When a successful formula is created, a lot of people follow because it's what people want. FPS's became immensely popular - and people wanted more. Game publishers were happy to accomodate them.

    Think about it in terms of the technical aspects. A game like Doom wasn't really very original. You killed monsters in an A-Z fashion to the end of the game. The only reason it gets recognition is because it was one of the first mainstream FPS games. But it was really evolutionary - we have two eyes, we see in 3D, and so it makes sense to make 3D games as soon as computers are fast enough. There were lots of 3D games BEFORE Doom - especially in the arcades (albiet many of them utilizing vector diaplys.)

    It's all been a big process of building on top of the ideas that other people came up with. This isn't a bad thing, it's a GOOD thing. Little steps. There will be a fair share of crappy games, but that's always been the case.

    To say there's been no creativity in games of recent times is to admit that you haven't played any.

    I mean, what do you expect from games? If you're looking for the Holodeck, you need a reality check.
  • Indie Games (Score:5, Informative)

    by wviperw (706068) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:49PM (#13456137) Homepage Journal
    FTA:

    "but in gaming, we have no indie aesthetic, no group of people (of any size at least) who prize independent vision and creativity over production values."

    Umm [igf.com], yeah [indiegamescon.com] we [indiegamejam.com] do [slamdance.com].

    I think there is a lot more than this author admits to. Why do you think there exists open source 3D engines like Ogre3D [ogre3d.org] as well as a ton of websites devoted to game design techniques , etc? Yes, the indie scene could be bigger, but it is by no means non-existant.
  • by Rahga (13479) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:50PM (#13456158) Homepage Journal
    Looks like the author, Greg Costikyan [costik.com], is operator of a cell phone games company [unplugged-inc.com] that made a movie license game called Mean Girls: Wannabe [unplugged-inc.com]
  • Hey, good luck with that.
    After you're done rescuing the games industry from creative death, perhaps you can let Hollywood and the music industry know how you did it because both of those much older more established industries have gone down the exact same path dictated by unstoppable market forces.
  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:52PM (#13456186) Homepage
    There's a fool born every minute.

    Gaming's not dead. It's not dying, either. It just seems that way to people who've been through a few decades of iterative improvments yielding diminishing returns. People get old, they grow up, and they realize that the games they're buying today don't offer anything new. Well, so what?

    There are new suckers being born every minute, and Doom 3 is NEW to them. The industry can just keep selling the same old crap to young new gamers who don't know any better, and a few years later they'll come out the other end of the process, just like the author of this article has now, jaded and thinking that everything's the same old recycled ideas and crappy invocations that have lost sight of the fact that games were supposed to be fun. They're right, of course, but as long as there's enough fools being born every minute, the industry can sustain a business model of cranking out unimaginative crap updated with the latest graphics engine.

    That might not mean that the industry has much to offer YOU, the veteran gamer, but you can still enjoy a game of PacMan, of Pitfall!, of Super Mario Bros., of any game that you've ever enjoyed. New games may suck to you, but you're on to the old tricks. If the games were truly better then, why ever leave that era?

    Why must you always buy something new in order to have fun? Rejoice in the fact that you'll never have to buy another video game and revel in the library of great console and PC games you've enjoyed for years. Free up that entertainment budget and put it towards your retirement.
  • by infonography (566403) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:55PM (#13456209) Homepage
    Everybody in for a chorus of 'Dead Thing Pie!' [geocities.com] as well as storm the castle of the evil (but lame) game developers.

    But are we the buyers are to blame here. Beyond that the market has fragemented. Anyone who expects that there will a killer game that everybody would like is a fool. The tastes of the market are far to varied now. That games are getting lame is because people buy lame games. I have noticed that on Broadcast TV it's sucks. That's because the people who were interested in good shows were willing to cough up a few bucks a month for cable/Sat. Now cable and Sat are starting to suck because of torrent and netflix.

    What's it mean?

    [Shrugs]

  • So is this a third person shooter?

  • by rbonine (245645) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:02PM (#13456285)
    It's just that most game companies take the easy way out and try to make the game as pretty as possible while skimping on gameplay.

    Look at Diablo II, for example. When it first came out - in 1999 - it was a sprite-based anachronism and was slagged for its lack of 3d graphics. Now, six years later, there are still 30,000 or more people playing it every night on Battle.Net. It was on the top 10 sales list for years.
  • by unfortunateson (527551) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:18PM (#13456472) Journal
    Big screens, entertainment rooms, etc. make playing games on even a 19" monitor on your desk less than optimal. This makes people more likely to want to play games on a PS42, Xbox reloaded, etc. From the developer's point of view, a known platform, where you don't have to adjust to resolutions, video card limitations, etc. etc. is a big boon.

    What sucks about developing for the consoles is the locked-down marketing environment, where you've got to get approval and shelf space from Microsoft and Sony (Nintendo? Nintendon't).

    That immediately raises the baseline costs, which justifies a bigger budget to try to pull in a bigger audience, and make those licensing fees a smaller percentage.

    The PC market still makes it possible to have low-budget, high-fun games, such as Hamsterball Gold (yeah, it's basically marble madness, but well done), that tar-ball game I forgot the name of, FreeCiv, etc.

    And there's work being done there, as described above. It's not dead, but it's not mainstream.
  • by EEBaum (520514) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:21PM (#13456509) Homepage
    Lately it feels like game developers/publishers want to be movie directors. Perhaps if we'd get rid of cutscenes (bless the developers that let you skip them) and put that budget toward the elusive "fun," it'd be a big step in the right direction.

    Most games with cinematics that I play end up feeling like I'm running around fulfilling someone's to-do list. I end up saying "Forget that. YOU take the magic gem to the wizard!" and dropping the game. I think that removing the "well, you NEED to do that in order to see something pretty, and we need you to see something pretty in order to justify having made the cutscene" factor, games could start to return to being fun.
  • by Rycross (836649) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:25PM (#13456560)
    Sometimes I have to wonder if the fact that game designers are avid game players doesn't help the fact. Most of the time, when I talk to people in our game developement club, their original and creative ideas involve taking x game and adding feature y. Said feature y probably comes from game z.

    It makes me wonder how much having a large game library hampers your creative process. When you're exposed over and over to certain ways of implementing game ideas, do you tend to think out of the box less and less? I see this a lot with software too. How many open source projects are truly revolutionary, and not just a better implementation of something that already exists?

    One of my friends told me that the creator of Katamari Damacy, possibly the most creative and innovative game in the past couple of years, had never played video games (and actually hated them). Is this true?
  • by serutan (259622) <snoopdoug@geekazon . c om> on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:47PM (#13456811) Homepage
    Buried in all the ranting are some practical ideas:

    If you develop games the right way, the fearless way, the independent way, your costs are drastically smaller. A few thousand unit sales will pay the bills.

    develop for open platforms, not proprietary consoles.

    work in small, committed teams

    find our market ...through the excellence of our own product, through guerilla marketing and rabble-rousing manifestoes.

    Sounds good, but people are already doing these things. The problem seems to be that gamers still buy most of their games from big distributors. In other words, mass marketing Works, just like in any other industry. So I think a realistic attitude would be to accept this as a fact of life, write better quality games for the discerning few who will buy them, get used to making less money and having more freedom, and quit whining about what the majority does.
  • Scratch an itch (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SnprBoB86 (576143) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:56PM (#13456908) Homepage
    If artwork and technology are causing exponential development costs, developers need to work smarter.

    Right now the game industry is in a transitional phase where great graphics are expected, but hard to produce. The solution is to make it easier to produce great looking games and Middleware is the key.

    Middleware solutions are growing fast and have enabled spectacular feats. GTA3+, for example, runs entirely on RenderWare with a proprietary background-loading/streaming system. Rockstar took existing technology (RenderWare) and existing game play stuff (racing, 3rd person shooters, crazy-taxi, etc) and blended them together with something new and unique and CREATIVE (a vast, free roaming game world). Sure the development costs were high for the GTA3 series games, but I can bet you that had they been forced to reimplement RenderWare, there would be no GTA3 games to play today. The cost would have just been too prohibitive.

    Now that Rockstar has come up with this free roaming world game play style (and people clearly enjoy it) either rockstar, or someone else, should release the technology as middle ware and poof, its now easy for people to add new innovations to that.

    There needs to be more art-related middleware such as http://www.speedtree.com/ [speedtree.com] and improved tools such as ZBrush (being used for bump map creation in Unreal 3) from http://pixologic.com/home/home.shtml [pixologic.com]

    A lot of time is spend reproducing work. We need to work smarter, not harder. We need public domain high resolution 3d models for common real world objects, character model generation software, facial expression engines, animation engines, tons of stuff!

    There is a big itch that people need to start scratching! And you can make a lot of money doing it.

  • Same old same old (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jparker (105202) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @03:16PM (#13457117) Homepage
    I've been working in the game industry for 5+ years. My current title is Lead
    Programmer/Designer. I've put out 6 titles, all mass-market crap. I know what
    I'm talking about, and I know what Greg's talking about. And frankly, I'm tired
    of hearing it. Don't misunderstand me: he is right about the absolutely sorry
    state of the industry, but wrong about its *relatively* sorry state.

    Consider the movie industry: I'm sure that most people reading this didn't go
    see War of the Worlds because Tom Cruise is, like, ya know, so cool and all,
    but there's millions of people who did. Most of the problems Greg's pointing
    out aren't truly problems with the industry, but problems with mainstream
    consumers. Yes, all of us in game development would *love* a return to the days
    when only the hardcore bought our titles, and we were communicating directly
    with a horde of fans who grokked what we were doing. But now things have gone
    big budget, and you can't make a game with a few guys, a vision, and a garage.
    You can't count on your players grokking your vision anymore. You can't even
    count on them knowing what grok means.

    Video games have surged in popularity like no other medium. It took centuries
    for the novel to achieve its current form, and decades even for relative
    newcomers like film and comics. Games, as a medium, aren't ready for the
    mainstream. In these other media, the early creators had a long time to develop
    and tune techniques of expression free from the constraints of profitability.
    (Of course, most of them were also quite poor; more on this later.) Video games
    haven't had this time. The entire medium is just barely alpha-quality, and yet
    the money drove it mainstream. And, like any other medium, the majority of
    casually-interested consumers don't prize the same things that hardcore fans
    do. That majority has the money. They don't care about gameplay any more than
    they care about a good script, but they love pretty graphics the same way they
    love Tom Cruise.

    This leaves developers with a choice. (Yes, Virginia, we do have a choice.) In
    fact, there are 3 choices:
    1) Side with the mainstream and the money. This is what almost everyone is
    doing, and what Greg is railing against.
    2) Fuck the mainstream. Make good games. "But what will we eat? How will we
    pay rent?" Yeah, those are problems. Deal with it. No one is going to make
    realizing your personal vision easy for you. You're going to have to go out on
    a limb to do it. Is it uncomfortable? Yes, horribly, but it's utterly
    ridiculous for someone to claim that the industry is unfair because you have to
    sell 100,000 titles to be profitable and there are only 10,000 people who want
    to play the game you're making. That leads us to option number 3.
    3) Get better. The best creators, in any medium, appeal to both the mainstream
    and the hardcore. Shakespeare was popular in his day, across many strata of
    sophistication. So is Katamari Damacy. So is Animal Crossing. Find a way to hit
    both crowds. Is it easy? Hell no; it's next to impossible. But it's what you
    have to do to be great.

    Now, I'm being a bit hard on Greg. Some of this is made harder by the way
    publishers (and retailers, etc.) treat creativity. (i.e. they hate and fear
    it.) They've fed people pabulum until the masses believe it's ambrosia, and
    that's a crime against a medium I love with all my heart, and I will never
    forgive them for it. But it's *our* responsibility as creators to show the
    masses there's a better way. Is it easy? No. Is it profitable? Not likely. Is
    there an alternative? No.

    I'll fall back on a favorite quote: "Neither individuals nor corporations have
    any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or
    turned back, for their private benefit." - Robert A. Heinlein, "Life-Line"
    That holds the same for the legal courts and the court of public opinion. It
    holds even if the clock of history is moving in in the
  • by Robotron23 (832528) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @03:54PM (#13457495) Homepage
    Ultima Online was a game EA pretty much turned into a failure inside of a year. It originally belonged to a smallish firm called OSI, which was tied to Richard Garriot, who invented most of Ultima's concepts. UO was one of the first MMORPG's and was very popular...until EA took over.

    As soon as Richard Garriot sold up, OSI was referred to sarcastically as O$I by a great deal of UO's playerbase, it was a joke at first...till the real changes began. One of EA's first updates to the game was "Publish 16", a large patch that basically Diablo-ified much of UO, changing the game mechanics profoundly. It also encouraged farming/hyperinflation, you had to have like a million coins for decent armor. Then came Age of Shadows, which pushed these changes further, introduced materialist crap like Bulk Ordering and customizable housing. One of the sole good EA-additions in my opinion was champ hunts - you gather up like 5-8 people and spent like 3 hours in Felluca (Pvp realm) fighting tonnes of monsters.

    Not to say that the playerbase weren't fussed before that. I knew a lot of dudes in UO that believed that 1998-9 was its "Golden Age", anything after that was just spoiling what was the first truly brilliant PVP game. Anyway, by 2004, nothing was untouched by EA, even the previously tough gain system was fucked with...and users began to leave. An employee at EA was sacked for duping in game and selling gold/items on eBay. A lot of the guys I spoke with before I quit in spring were just staying for the 7th year vet rewards (I think they turned out to suck aswell). Since then they've brought out more expansions, andcreated more crappy incentive items/clothes (pixel-crack as many users called em' :).

    Point is, is that EA generally fuck most things up, usually after a decent start. Take Medal of Honour Allied Assault, it was EA produced and marked the beginning of a swathe of WW-2 (later Vietnam/Gulf war) themed FPS's. But it was a geniunely good game, and if EA hadn't made about 2 expansions and then another 3 or 4 MOH games to follow it then it would have been remembered as a standalone hit, not just the start of something which would later come to derision among many magazines and websites.

    Here's my suggestions to how games can improve :


    Cut the budgets to about 1/10 their current size.


    Keep staffing teams very high, allow brainstorming sessions within dev teams. In the case of RPG's, use literature as inspiration - all a good RPG needs is a story and gameplay. If you care for the characters/plot twists then your playing a great RPG.


    Stop making sequels. Even GTA is starting to get somewhat spoiled now - because labels just force programmers to make sequels too soon and too quickly. Make a maximum of 3 games in a series. Further to this, stop making copycat FPS's.


    Do away with lengthy working hours, and put little or no pressure on the devs. EA's games suck for a reason - too many wage-slave caffiene fueled all night coding sessions.


    Yeah, bring Wing Commander back, and also bring back real-cinema cutscenes like we saw in C&C Tiberian Sun. Who cares if the actings a little cheesy? Wing Commander IV rocked because Mark Hamill and that dude from Back to the Future put their all into a canceled TV series. If a canceled TV series can do that much for a games cred, think of what a well-planned, filmed production could make - a legend perhaps?


    Petition for EA's breakup. Its too large, too cumbersome and obsessed with profit over innovation. Gaming can't be allowed to go the way of music - where big firms make crap...and get away with it.


    Lastly, stop paying attention to graphics. Focus 60% on gameplay/plot, 25% on sound and 15% on graphics/overall look, scenary etc. I'd prefer a plot akin to FF7's than some shiny windscreens and nice scenic views.

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