Dvorak is at least partly right about the gaming industry

The big-time gamers are all up in arms over John C. Dvorak’s assertion that the game industry is dying. But he’s right an awful lot more than he’s wrong.

The games aren’t nearly as original as they used to be.Let’s track the evolution of the first-person shooter. Games where you run around in a maze and shoot everything that moves aren’t new. Castle Wolfenstein was a huge hit for Muse Software way back in 1981. The premise was simple: You’re trapped in a castle full of Nazis and your job is to shoot everything that moves and escape. Simple enough.

Was it the first game of its type? I don’t know. I don’t even know for certain that it was the first popular game of its type. But it at least proves the idea is is at least 24 years old as of the time of this writing.

Eleven years later, Wolfenstein 3D was published and released. It took the same premise and put it in a 3D setting. Its inspiration was obvious. And like its famous predecessor, it pushed the limits of the time: You needed a pretty advanced CPU to play it, and the better your graphics and sound cards were, the better gaming experience you got. In the early 1990s I remember people bragging about the slowest computer they managed to get to run Wolf3D.

A year or so later, Doom was released. It was considered revolutionary. The graphics and sound were better, and it required a better computer, but as far as a plot went, all one had to do was replace the Nazis with monsters and give the main character a larger assortment of weapons.

And that’s pretty much where we stand today. There is no revolution here. Each generation adds more eye candy and another layer of complexity, but the basic premise isn’t really changed since that 1981 game. Some people like that kind of thing and others don’t. Dvorak clearly doesn’t. I never really got into it much either. Once I got over the initial wow factor of seeing a computer-generated 3D world, I found I just didn’t enjoy it. I had a brief fling with a 3D FPS called Redneck Rampage. It used a recycled game engine, just replacing the original setting with a backwoods theme and replacing the characters with rednecks and aliens and playing off every stereotype in the book. I enjoyed the game mostly because I thought it was funny. Once the jokes wore off, I quit playing.

Whether this genre has been worked over to death depends on whether you like this sort of thing, I guess. And maybe that’s where Dvorak is wrong. Neither he nor I see the originality, but people enjoy the games and keep buying them. I don’t see the originality in country music either–to me, the songs pretty much sound alike, and the words are all about pretty much the same thing–but the country music industry is huge and it ain’t exactly shrinkin’, y’all.

Hrumph.

But maybe this is just a sign of a mature industry. One of my high school writing teachers was fond of pointing out that Shakespeare never wrote an original plot in his life. But the stories seemed new when he put new and compelling characters in new settings along with those tired old plots.

Some people will get bored with the FPS games and move on to another interest. Others will keep at it, no matter how bad or unoriginal the games get. The only question is whether the audience will grow or shrink as a whole over time, and if it shrinks, how profitable the genre will become.

I think part of the problem for both Dvorak and me is that we’re both old enough to remember the early 1980s, when new games would come out and the new games really did seem new. All told, a total of about 900 games were released for the Atari 2600, and of those, about 100 were really common. (Of the remainders, a very large percentage of them were knockoffs or sequels and some of them were so bad that they sold terribly, so nobody saw them.)

Most of us who lived through that time and were really into technology saw those 100 or so games and enjoyed them.

There’s another difference too. Those games were a lot simpler. That’s both good and bad. A really avid gameplayer will probably master the game too quickly and get bored with it. But a more casual gamer can pick it up and learn it and enjoy it.

A really good Civilization player will probably enjoy Civ3 more than the original because it’s more challenging. But I’ve come to prefer the first two, because I can still pick up the original and play it well. If I spent ten hours a week playing video games, it might be different.

The gaming industry hasn’t completely lost me. There are still a handful of games I enjoy: the Civilization series, the Railroad Tycoon series, and the Baseball Mogul series. I haven’t bought the new Pirates! yet, but I’m sure I will if and when the price comes down because I loved the original.

But I only pick up one or two of those games per year anymore, and I probably don’t play them for more than a few weeks when I do.

Since my fiancee enjoys racing games where the two of us can race, if I’m ever out somewhere and I see two copies of a cheap racing game that looks decent and offers network play, I’ll get it and a couple of USB steering wheels. I imagine she’ll want to play a lot at first, and then it’ll become something we do occasionally when we might otherwise go to the movies.

The gaming industry changed, and in doing so, it lost John Dvorak and it’s probably written people like me off too, because I only spend $50 every two or three years on games.

Dvorak seems to think the gaming industry needs people like him. And that’s the only point he makes that I’m not wholeheartedly ready to agree with. The gaming industry is very different now than it was when I was 15 and playing games a lot, but it’s also a lot bigger.

Another entry from the Clueless Dept.

Someone else who needs to buy a clue. I normally don’t have a problem with John Dvorak, and frequently I actually like his stuff. He’s not as clueless as some people make him out to be. Dvorak’s not as smart as he thinks he is, but one thing I’ve noticed about his critics is that they usually aren’t as smart as they think they are either.
Dvorak’s most recent Modest Proposal is that we fire all the technology ignorami out there and then, essentially, throw away corporate standards, let end-users run anything they bloody well want, and basically make them administrators of their own machines.

I’ve got a real problem with that. Case point: One of my employer’s executives recently brought in his home PC and insisted we get it running with remote access. Only one problem with that: He has Windows XP Home. XP Home’s networking is deliberately crippled, so businesses don’t try to save money by buying it. A sleazy move, but a reality we have to live with. We got it to work somewhat, but not to his satisfaction. He’s mad, but mostly because he doesn’t have any idea what changes went on under the hood in XP and doesn’t know he’s asking the impossible. But he’s perfectly competent using Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. He’s also very comfortable ripping his CDs to MP3 format–he’s got one of the largest MP3 collections in the company. He’s competent technologically. But he has no business with admin rights on his computer.

The same goes for a lot of our users. The record I’ve found for the most spyware-related files installed on a work PC is 87. These aren’t the technical ignorami who are installing this garbage. It’s the people who know how to use their stuff, but they love shareware and freeware. Maybe some of it helps them get their work done. But these people are the first to complain when their system crashes inexplicably. And I’m expected to keep not only the corporate standard apps like M$ Office running, but I’m also expected to support RealPlayer, Webshots, Go!Zilla, Gator, WinAmp, RealJukebox, AOL, and other programs that run ripshod all over the system and frequently break one another (or the apps I’m supposed to support).

If the users were completely responsible for keeping their systems running, that would be one thing. But install all that stuff on one computer and try to keep it running. You won’t have enough time to do your job.

Dvorak argues that people like me should solely be concerned with keeping the network working. That’s fine, but what about when some Luddite decides to ditch all modern apps and bring in an IBM PS/2 running DOS 5.0 and compatible versions of Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect and dBASE? Unless there’s already an Ethernet card in that machine, I won’t be able to network it. And the person who decides a Macintosh SE/30 running System 6.0.8 is where it’s at will have a very difficult time getting on the network and won’t be able to exchange data with anyone else either.

Those scenarios are a bit ridiculous, but I’ve had users who would have done that if they could have. And someone wanting to run XP Home absolutely is not ridiculous, nor uncommon. If my job is to network every known operating system and make those users able to work together in this anarchy, my job has just become impossible.

As much as I would love for people to use Linux in my workplace and something other than Word and Outlook, the anarchy Dvorak is proposing is completely unworkable. It’s many orders of magnitude worse than the current situation.

This is just wrong too. Yes, New Englanders, I know about heartbreak. I’m from Kansas City. At least your Red Sox have posted more than one winning record in the past 10 years.

Anyway, not only are the Royals’ glory years over, they’ve forgotten where their glory years came from. They’ve once again denied Mark Gubicza entry into their Hall of Fame. Who? In the late 1980s, Mark Gubicza was the Royals’ second-best pitcher, behind Bret Saberhagen. Injuries did him in the same as Saberhagen (only a little sooner) but he’s still among their career leaders in wins and strikeouts.

And after spending 13 seasons in a Royals’ uniform, the Royals had a chance to trade Gubicza for hard-hitting DH Chili Davis. But you don’t trade a guy who’s poured his heart and soul into the team for 13 years and stayed completely and totally loyal to it no matter how much it hurt, right? Gubicza said yes. Gubicza went to the GM and told him that if he could make the Royals a better team by trading him, to trade him.

Chili Davis hit 30 home runs for the Royals in 1997. Then he bolted for the Yankees.

Meanwhile, Gubicza blew out his arm for good and the Angels released him. He pitched two games for them.

It takes a great man to tell the team he loves that the best thing he can do for them is to get traded for someone who can help the team more. That was Mark Gubicza. They don’t make ’em like him anymore.

But even more importantly, the immortal Charley Lau was once again denied entry. Who’s he? He was a journeyman catcher who spent his entire career as a backup and whose career batting average was .255, but that was because he had about zero natural ability. He was a genius with the bat, which was how he managed to hit .255. More importantly, Lau was the Royals’ hitting coach in the early 1970s. He spotted some skinny guy who was playing third base because Paul Schaal couldn’t play third base on artificial turf and their first choice to replace him, Frank White, couldn’t play third base at all. This skinny blond fielded just fine, but he was hitting terribly. Lau asked him what he was doing over the All-Star break. The kid said he was going fishing with Buck Martinez. Lau put his foot down. He told him he was going to stay in Kansas City and learn how to hit.

“He changed my stance. I had been standing up there like Carl Yastrzemski, but the next thing I knew I looked like Joe Rudi,” the kid recalled. But he started hitting. By the end of the year, he’d pulled his average up to a very respectable .282.

Soon Lau had every player on the Royals standing at the plate like Joe Rudi, and taking the top hand off the bat after contact with the ball. And the Royals created a mini-dynasty in the American League Western Division.

What was the name of that kid, anyway?

George Brett.

If it hadn’t been for Charley Lau, George Brett would have been nothing. The Royals probably would have never won anything. And they probably wouldn’t be in Kansas City anymore either. Who puts up with 30 years of losing, besides Cubs fans?

Charley Lau belongs in their Hall of Fame. Even if nobody besides George Brett and me remembers who he was.

AMD, hoaxes, and trends

There are reports of problems with the AMD 760 chipset. The Register reported this week that Gigabyte ran into problems with its AMD 760 design, and as a result there’d be a delay in the release of 760-based boards. AMD and Gigabyte are now denying this and saying there’ll be 760-based systems in time for Christmas. The Register seems to get it right (and before most others) more often than not, so this is probably a story to watch. Problems with the 760 aren’t inconceivable, but then again AMD is really on a roll lately.

Five bad Web trends. I think John Dvorak pretty much has it right here.

I think I need to do some cleanup to the left. People don’t want a portal from me, they want questions and answers and useful tidbits, and if I can manage to be entertaining occasionally that helps too. I’ll leave the “news from around the Web” to others. This isn’t a portal but I’ve probably got more stuff there to the left than I need. (The book cover stays; this is, indirectly, an advertisement for the book. I notice when I’m keeping up my notes, book sales are about double what they are when I’m not.)

On to Dvorak’s other points: I’m not for sale, nor do I lock you into frames, nor do I plan to go anywhere. Traffic isn’t an issue now either; I run maybe 1,000 hits a week. So I go 4-for-5. Not bad but I want better.

I wonder how many will fall for this Internet hoax? One of my coworkers received e-mail to the following effect:

Due to an expected unusually high turnout this year, election day will be split into two days. Republicans will vote on Nov. 7. Democrats and independents will vote on Nov. 8.

I don’t know where that leaves Libertarians and Greens and Reforms. This is the biggest load of bull ever (and not just for that reason), but it’s curious. One could argue that this mail will do no harm, since if anyone who’d fall for that line is probably too ill-informed to have any business voting anyway, but…

I finally got my registration card in the mail today, so I finally get to go vote against Dick Gephardt next week. I can’t wait. (One of the best things about living in South St. Louis is that every two years you get to tell Dick Gephardt he should retire.)

And the ACLU says it’s OK to sell your vote… As long as you’re just swapping Gore votes for Nader votes. Hey, it’s the ACLU. This needs no comment from me.

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