or: Another Reason To Talk To Girls At Parties

written by Randy Smith, September 2005

The gaming press and game developers have an arrangement: they make us into celebrities, and then they use our celebrity to sell their magazines. Everyone wins, except arguably the consumer.

So it happened that I found myself this past March at a post-GDC party at Lulu's San Francisco apartment chatting up one Margaret Robertson, Games Editor of the UK's celebrated game culture and review magazine, Edge. In addition to a fiery / ranting discussion about being passionately opposed to the saturation of violence in interactive entertainment or something similar, not to mention an hour or two of dry wit delivered in a charming British accent, so far this connection has scored me a couple of benefits.

The first was the inclusion of my intials on the back of a t-shirt as part of a "Top Scores" list of all game developers, ever. Despite pressing Margaret, I never found out what my score was, nor do I have any proof that this t-shirt exists. If you see it, my intials are RLS, and of 300, I suspect I'm down in the high 200's, but let me know.

The second and more exciting windfall arrived in the mail this past July, a box of 10 video games:

Well, it was actually only 9 video games, but we'll get to that part of the story later.

I had agreed to be one of five jurors for the yearly Edge Award. To quote Margaret:

All we're after is for you to have a look at each of the games, and decide which three you think do the most to move gaming on. The old (and rather cumbersome) name of the award was the Edge Award For Excellence And Innovation, and that idea basically still stands. We're looking for the games you think either introduce something new and valuable to gaming, or raise the bar significantly in terms of quality. Or both, of course.

I wouldn't want there to be too much dramatic tension, so here's how the Award turned out.

I'll be honest with you, I don't play video games much these days. Or at least, I didn't before I got this package in the mail. With my amazing producer skills, I quickly deduced the following schedule observation: with 10 games to play in 15 days, I would have to play one new game every 1.5 days, or in other words at roughly 100 times the rate I normally experience new games.

One reason I don't play video games as much as I did in my youth is because I now enjoy and seek out things such as girls, the outdoors, and parties. Another is because I'm a jaded fuck of a game developer whose industry insight immediately cuts through the thin veil of illusion, that which brings magic and joy and fantasy to the fortunate naive, straight to the underlying technology and probable development history, which is compelling in an entirely different way than how powerful the magic of one's mithril broadsword is, or who winds up being the separated immediate family member of whichever other character.

But the most prominent reason I rarely play new games is because games tend to be tediously trite derivations of a small handful of basic interactive paradigms and usually clumsily designed on top of that. I mean, if you pick a game at random from the shelf at EB and force me to go home and play it, I'll likely wind up in a frenzy of increasingly unfair cutting criticisms and frothing at the mouth about the general decline of gaming innovation. I wish this wasn't true, both for the sake of those around me who get splattered with the poisonous vitriol and because I'd rather have this not be the state of the industry, but sadly it is.

However, because I am a developer and feel a responsibility to stay current with those occasional examples of genuine innovation, I've always been jealous of people like Robin Hunicke, whose finger seems perpetually on the pulse of the frontiers of gaming (for example, check out her 9/10/05 post). How does one go about knowing every potentially inventive game that comes out? Is there a mailing list? I guess it pays to sift for gold instead of complaining about all the rocks. Note taken.

And so I was genuinely excited to get this package in the mail from Edge. Edge is a hip, reasonable, and well-written magazine, and here they were sending me their top 10 list of the most innovative games of the past year! They did all the research work for me! They even mailed them to me so I wouldn't have to locate or purchase them myself! Holy cow! I had sorta imagined that the games would be more of the sort that appears in Jon Blow's Experimental Gameplay Workshop, low budget and edgy titles whose interaction is based around some overlooked game system (such as Rag Doll Kung Fu) or a wholly unorthodox peripheral (such as Journey To Wild Divine), but instead Edge's selections seemed to meet some minimum bar of accesibility and production quality. In other words, they were largely conventional games, in terms of marketing and distribution, anyway.

Which isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the experience of playing these games and evaluating them for innovation. The effort grew into a joint 2 week long excursion between myself and some trusted friends, not unlike the fellowship of the ring, except that rather than journey the ends of the earth in a nigh-hopeless battle against evil, we sat on the floor and slogged through a pile of video games.

Please join us as we chronicle those days.


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All materials copyright 2005, Randy Smith