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Deep Critique Without Play

January 4, 2010

I’d like to offer you my opinion on a game I’ve never played. My opinions are based purely on the collective conscience and on my interpretation of the game’s play by viewing screenshots and photographs of it in development and in play. I heard its designer talk about it, and I suppose that should be enough. If not him (or her, in my case), certainly the many other people I’ve heard talk about it should suffice. I don’t know whether they played the game either.

Now, there are already a number of you wondering why I’d ever do such a thing. Perhaps you’re wondering why anyone would ever do such a thing. Yet, it happens all the time. In researching a game that it seems most haven’t played, I’ve now counted 100 negative comments in a row, not a one of which resulted from actual play. The conversation usually goes like this:

Me: Yeah, I am studying a bunch of games for my thesis, including Daikatana.

Critic: Oh my goodness. That game sucked.

Me: What did you think when you played it?

Critic: Oh, I didn’t play it.

Literally one hundred times without interruption. I counted.

This is curious to me. I suspect that a lot of the opinions on the game have more to do with surrounding drama (the advertisement, the articles, the personalities involved) than the actual gameplay. It was the game people were waiting to hate. On its release, it needed to provide only a few morsels upon which to feed, and a bad game meme was born. Play be damned. In pressing my 100 critics further, when I asked what was wrong with the game, only a very few people (10 perhaps?) were able to respond with concrete gameplay examples. Yet, in the rare instances where play was actually cited in their critique, the citations simply weren’t enough to warrant the wrath that the game received (and putting aside for a moment that all these play observations were second-hand). Bugs, AI issues, criticisms of design choices. These are universal design issues. Fail to die, keep making games, and you will have your own. The amount of wrath leveled at the game makes it sound as if it spurted acid directly into your nostrils upon installation.  Truth be told, it was the marketing that shot acid. The game was not that bad.

For me, the game that inspires deep critique without play is Train. It is fascinating to watch. Without having experienced Train, I see reviews and comments on its interactive experience. People suggest that my inclusion of one element or another was for some specific reason. They discuss “spoilers”, and there are none. Play patterns are assumed from photographs. Single endings are declared. Lack of replayability is stated as an absolute. Reasons for my design decisions are given as fact. In one recent piece, it was noted that I won’t provide the game’s rules due to an artistic drama which I was, apparently, trying to deliberately engineer. Of course, that isn’t true.

So, this whole process of deep critique without play is fascinating to me. By deep, I don’t necessarily mean that the critic discussed it at length, though that could also be true. I also mean that the critic pushed the blade with conviction into a wound he was not personally sure was there. It is telling that we don’t often profess our opinions similarly for things we loved:

Me: Yeah, I just saw Avatar.

Critic: Oh my goodness. That movie was awesome!

Me: What did you think when you saw it?

Critic: Oh, I didn’t see it.

You see what I mean?

I think of the dozens of comments I’ve heard about an artist whose work I love, Jackson Pollock. He throws paint at a canvas, no? Anyone could do it. Rothko paints imperfect rectangles over imperfect rectangles while Mondrian at least got the perfect right. Is this all these artists were trying to do? Could there be something more? (There is.)

It is something – something good, perhaps – that these works inspire critique without play. It is, after all, a contract we enter into when we choose to offer our works for consumption in a public space. It tells us of the impact they are making for better or for worse. It tells of the potential people believed they had for good or for evil (whether or not they lived up to them is immaterial). It tells us the passion of the audience. It also tells us about ourselves as a culture of game players immersed in a collective internet conscience. It tells us something interesting that we would offer opinions on the interactive creative work of others without actually having experienced that work at all.

To be among the critiqued is to find yourself a place with good company.

64 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2010 3:44 pm

    Great points!

    In the case of games, there is an additional issue at stake: accessibility. As much as I would like to play “Daikatana” at the moment, or any other number of old games, it is often the case that, for technical reasons, it is no longer possible or incredibly onerous. I think your insight might also be accompanied with the opposite question. If you cannot play a particular game, what sorts of things should you know in order to offer a deep critique without play and how would you go about doing that? Who should you talk to? What should you read? What should you look at? I think that by focusing on this side of the question, we realize how much meaning there is outside of the game itself.

    As a side note, you comments reminded me of the book “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read” by Pierre Bayard (Comment parler des livres que l’on n’a pas lus?).

    • January 5, 2010 1:08 am

      I think a lot of these games can still be played. On this computer, I have Doom which I play regularly. It is a matter of obtaining the products, getting the necessary patches and then having a play through. As an expert level game, Daikatana requires we bring something more to the table to be able to interact with it successfully, and I think that’s one of the ways in which it rubbed people wrong. Instead of counting that as a success (it’s expert level, and I’m not an expert), it was instead viewed as a design failure. I would argue that this was instead a failure to correctly assess the needs of the market. Wizardry 4 was likewise expert level and, if I remember correctly, sold the least of any Wizardry game.

    • January 5, 2010 8:47 am

      I actually have a copy of Daikatana from the original print run. I’d found it at a local Microcenter after they bought up Circuit City’s stock when CC went out of business. Apparently among that stock was about a million copies of the game. I picked it up off the shelf just so I could say I owned it.

      Fast forward to last night, where, having read this article and something else that both brought up Daikatana, I took it as a sign an pulled the shrinkwrap.

      I was surprised, and maybe a little happy to be able to tell Mr. Romero, that it runs on my Win 7 64-bit laptop and its modern hardware without a hitch and without compatibility set. It’s even decided to run at 1920×1200, even though the max settable resolution in the options is 1600×1200(mind, the fact you can set it that high when it came out so long ago is phenomenal programming by itself).

      Leaving that aside, there are alternatives that don’t really even take that much doing for a lot of older games. Early windows games can be problematic in some cases, depending on how they’re programmed, but a lot of my old DOS faves run like champs in DOS-Box, and a lot of the older Windows games that don’t “cheat” in the code work fine on modern Windows.

      Anyway, moving onto another thought: playing through Daikatana last night for a while, I’d have to agree with Brenda’s point here. It’s a hard game, but recognizing it’s a hard game, I don’t consider that a failing. the initial level has some enemies that are tough to hit, but that doesn’t make it bad, just difficult. The path out of the first area isn’t immediately apparent, but the solution is designed to present itself– you simply have to be observant and realize that the green goop isn’t likely to kill you if there’s an enemy patrolling along it. And so on.

      Actually, one of the things that helped me get over the whole “Daikatana sucks” thing and treat it more on its own terms was finding an old-old Gamespot article covering the development history:

      I don’t really know how accurate it really is, but it sets the game into a context that changes perception of it, at least for me.

      • January 6, 2010 1:18 am

        Awesome. You highlight one of the biggest issues Daikatana had – the expert play. As developers, we think of ourselves as the experts, and after a zillion play throughs, we are more like deities. It is a game that I am working my way through, and I found it surprising that it just doesn’t really deserve the wrath.

  2. January 4, 2010 5:18 pm

    I feel somewhat sheepish admitting that I’ve commented on Train without playing it (though at the time, I didn’t have much prospect of getting to do so) and instead going on a couple of what I thought were fairly authoritative reviews/discussions to meet the paper deadline involved.

    Then again, after speaking to you about the game in person, I feel somewhat confident in the use I made in that paper, for the most part, though thinking back on it, I’m not sure I directly cited the reviews as much as I should have.

    I find the note here about the rules point stands out. It did strike me as a curiosity that you asked we not catch the rule sheet in the photos taken, but it didn’t strike me as even worth being commented on, just as a simple request for whatever reason.

    Great post, lots of food for thought. I’d noticed this effect before, but hadn’t really thought about it to this extent– usually I’m too busy trying to avoid getting vaguely annoyed by it to pay it much real attention. I suppose, though, that one of the bright points is, even if people are doing it and getting all sorts of things ‘wrong’ or what-have-you, at least they care enough to talk, and that’s more than can be said for a lot of efforts.

    • January 5, 2010 1:11 am

      I think it’s totally okay to comment on the game. And though I’ve never personally seen Pollock’s The Deep, I feel comfortable commenting on the painting because I’ve really done a lot of work to explore it and see what others who had first-hand experience had to say about. My experience as a prof surrounded by other profs pushed me to question base assumptions and to gather info and form my own opinions. If I am unable to experience any work firsthand, I make that clear in my discussion of it.

      • January 6, 2010 9:40 am

        You’re right to be okay with it, I think. I’ve been thinking about what I wrote here over the last day or so since, and had some conversations about it while I was in class yesterday. We do, over the course of time and experience, develop something of a sixth sense about things, and it’s not always bad to trust that “Designer/Player’s Instinct”. To a degree, anyway. We do need to be willing to test it on occasion, though and give it a chance to be wrong, since that’s one of the ways we refine the instinct.

        I can think of two recent instances where I’ve made pre-judgements about games that have panned out. On the negative side, during Dragon Age’s development, I got the feeling I wasn’t going to be happy with it. The instinct was “From what they’ve shown of it, it looks like a standard Bioware title with a somewhat uninspired-looking fantasy setting”. Don’t get me wrong– I love Bioware games, but that was still the impression I had. I was prepared to be wrong or at least have fun with the same sort of game I’ve played before, and bought it after it came out and got rave reviews all over(which I’d also expected). And the game did pan out pretty much exactly like my nstinct told me and I haven’t really played that much of it as a result. On the flip side of the coin, Wet was generally panned by a lot of people, but I had a feeling it was a misunderstood game. I actually had to argue with the retail employee when i went to buy a copy– they wanted to sell me a used copy “because I’m certain you’re going to want to bring it back”. Well, it’s one of my favorite recent games.

        The point here is yeah, I do think you can– often– get a good impression of how a game flows once you’ve had enough experience with them, either as a player or a designer or both, and you don’t always need to play to understand, though you should still strive to play when you can(because ultimately you’ll get a better understanding that way).

  3. January 4, 2010 5:46 pm

    Having been on the receiving end of countless critiques – for drawings, paintings, writing, graphics, and games – the one thing I learned is that there is very little a critique can tell you that you did not already know, positive or negative. Reviews to me are like preaching to the choir. If you can tell me WHY you don’t like something about my work, that is much more important than just saying, “your game sucks.”

    The one comment I hate is “did you mean to do,” like “Did you mean to express the subject’s beauty in age through use of soft chiaroscuro shading on the wrinkles?” When you say no their hearts are broken, even if you add “but I’m glad you saw it like that.” People have a hard time believing their critiques can be their own interpretation of a work and that everything they see must have been what the artist was intending.

    Similarly, not everything an artist does needs to be a conscious choice. Art is as much about the artist’s subconscious as it is about the viewer’s. Sometimes an element of an artwork is just a subconscious decision, yet that reasoning is never accepted. Why must I micromanage my artistic decisions?

    • January 4, 2010 6:07 pm

      I know what you mean on the “did you mean to do that” questions. Most musicians avoid discussing their lyrics extensively, instead preferring to allow listeners to form their own relationship to the music. This can be hard for fans who want a definitive answer on what a song means. We have this idea that a piece of art has to be an artifact with one true platonic ideal (the author’s intent) and many false images of it (the viewers’ interpretations), but I don’t really see it that way. Novel characters only live in the imaginations of their readers, and games only play when they are engaged with by players. Art takes on a meaning when it achieves significance to the viewers, and the artist’s job is to enable others to have their own personal experience with the art, not to define the ideal experience that everyone else should be searching for.

    • January 6, 2010 9:46 am

      I glossed over this comment earlier, but I agree, mostly. Your point here about giving the WHY is actually one I went over myself recently. Originally I’d posted it to forums for a Beta test I’m engaged in to try and push various community members to post more useful opinions than they were clogging the boards up with, but it was good enough that I cleaned it up (a little) and re-posted into my nascent blog. Rather than reiterate my (lengthy) opinion here, I’ll just let those interested chase the link if they’re inclined.

  4. January 4, 2010 5:57 pm

    I think there is little doubt that, were it possible, many of those discussing Train at length would have played it. As it is not for most of them, they do what they can to assemble a mental image, and then discuss that image of the game. With Daikatana, they’ve heard that it sucked, and they have other things to concern themselves with now — but they trust what others say about it enough to believe what they’ve heard. The reasons are entirely different here (I can’t find a way to generalize it, and so can’t assume it’s a good thing in principle), but I follow what you’re saying — these are games that people find interesting enough to discuss and even judge, even though they haven’t fully experienced them.

    But what is deep critique without play, exactly, when stretched beyond games? Is it criticism from people who haven’t actually experienced the work, only heard it described or referenced? In that case, it would appear that the criticism applied to Jason Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Piet Mondrain doesn’t fall into that category, unless you mean that their work is criticized from photographs, where the texture of the paint, or translucent dimensions of the image cannot be appreciated. I don’t know the extent to which that is true or not.

    Or is even standing in front of a painting in person not necessarily ‘play’ here, if the viewer doesn’t appreciate the work properly, and thus doesn’t go through the mental process the work has the potential to inspire? Though I propose this as a possibility, I can’t really agree with this approach, as I feel it gives the artist too much credit by assuming that it’s not a fault with the work that the critic was unable to appreciate it properly. At least for me, accessibility is a virtue in a piece of art, and inaccessibility is valid reason for criticism.

    • January 5, 2010 1:14 am

      This is really true. I do, in fact, need to get Train out there for more people to play. It will be in Atlanta in February and then in various places in California in the coming months. I’ve had requests to bring it many places, actually.

      Regarding other media, I mean it exactly as you suggested – seeing a Rothko or a Serra or a Pollock first hand adds so much to our understanding. I think beyond that, though, we should question our assumptions a little deeper and wonder whether we’re right in them. If others think it might be something of value, is it? If we hear lots of bad stuff, is that necessarily true? Do we look deeper?

  5. January 4, 2010 6:41 pm

    Very interesting and well written, but there’s one thing I have to throw out there. I played Daikatana, and I honestly wasn’t aware of its reputation before I did, and it really did suck. The visuals are confusing, the controls are unwieldy, and I still don’t know what the story sequences had to do with what I was doing in the game.

    Of course, I, like everyone, have mocked games I haven’t played…but in the case of Daikatana I feel safe giving a mighty thumbs down.

    • January 5, 2010 1:18 am

      Bryan, and that’s fine. You played. Though I’d go a step further and ask how long you played or if those initial things knocked you out before you got very far.

      I recall one of the Final Fantasy games had an interface I just could not get past. I referred to its character development screen as “crop circles,” and gave up before I got very far, possible shortly after attempting to navigate through the aforementioned crop circles.

    • January 6, 2010 1:19 am

      @Bryan I forgot to ask, how far did you get in the game?

  6. January 4, 2010 6:58 pm

    Unfortunately, I have been one of those critiques who wrote about Train without playing it. Looking back now, it feels like a mistake to me and I actually understand much better what the creator of a game can feel when people go over their game without having played it really. As hard as I tried to be sincere during my writing on the game, ultimately it makes no sense to share what we “guess” a game is.

    I’m still looking forward to see the game coming anywhere close to Europe!

    • January 5, 2010 1:16 am

      No worries. I didn’t mean to imply that people shouldn’t have written about it. I hope to bring the game to Europe at some point.

  7. bvac permalink
    January 4, 2010 7:52 pm

    Well, someone once said that 90% of everything is shit, and that applies to critique as well. My advice is to ignore that shit, and instead focus on the 10% of golden nuggets.

  8. January 4, 2010 7:53 pm

    I thought I wrote something about Train without having played it and was going to defend myself, but as it turns out it was all in my imagination. While you can’t directly critique a game without play (and for Train, it’s difficult to play it unless you’re in the right circles), you can refer to other people’s critiques. People are simply informal when they do so, so when they say “Daikatana sucks” they really mean “According to Brian, Daikatana sucks”. If you were a skilled enough reviewer, you might be able to draw conclusions about a game from a whole set of reviews (reviewer 1 says X, reviewer 2 says Y, and we all know X + Y = Z, so I can assert Z). There are subtleties here, because of the interactions of features in a game, and how it all draws together, but overall it’s broadly possible to make realistic conclusions about a game without having played it. I believe your problem is merely with the level of discourse about a game, and not whether the reviewer has played it.

    • January 5, 2010 1:20 am

      That’s a compelling point, and yes, were that the case, the discourse would be much improved. There’s a piece I’m currently reading on Daikatana which goes into the challenges that occurred during development. Having made a lot of games myself (both award winning and award killing), and I am impressed a game released at all.

      It is a very long piece, but worth the read:

      • January 5, 2010 3:43 pm

        I don’t know if you’d be interested, but the book Masters of Doom follows John Romero, John Carmack, and the people they worked with, starting before id Software and ending some time after the release of Daikatana. It’s a pretty good read that goes into depth on the development processes and personalities behind the games they made. Christopher Erhardt assigned it as required reading for incoming programming freshmen at DigiPen Institute of Technology back in 2005, when I matriculated. It let people see game development at its best (Doom and Wolfenstein 3D) and at its worst (Daikatana), and its focus on the developers and their choices made it a useful source of wisdom.

      • January 6, 2010 6:26 am

        Needless to say, I’ll be looking for a copy of the game now. I guess, to an extent, the echo chamber of “it sucks” made me believe that Romero must’ve completely failed in his attempt to make his magnum opus (IIRC *this* was going to be the kind of game he really wanted Quake to be). I never considered that it was the game he *really* wanted to make. Back then I suppose I figured he’d try again.

        Which brings me to two lessons I learnt which I missed on my original reading of the post and comments: The first, that if you haven’t played the game, you should add some sort of disclaimer, which would allow other people to know how far removed your opinion is from someone who has actually experienced the work. The second, that you shouldn’t necessarily listen to other people or communities that say a game is a waste of time, because they’re prone to not following the first lesson.

        I also wanted Masters of Doom when it was released and totally forgot about it. Great timing for the reminder!

  9. January 5, 2010 4:09 am

    I think the hate from Daikatana comes from a lot of sources. The shallow hatred of John Romero as a guy who “had it all” (game development success, popular girlfriend, long flowing hair) to the point he could get his crazy game idea funded by a large publisher. The awful marketing like Brenda mentions set a lot of people off. Plus there’s the ever-present need for people to “fit in” with others of their peer group, and all “real gamers” hate Daikatana. All these little pieces put together means it’s easy for people to hate the game, even if they haven’t played it.

    As an MMO designer, the peer pressure issue is very interesting to me. A lot of times sub-communities become echo chambers for discontent for a game. Someone will claim that “everyone” hates some change to the game, when they mean the active participants in a forum representative of only 10% of the playerbase. There were times when a design decision I had made was soundly panned by a lot of people, but I got a number of people saying they agreed the design change was necessary. The messages were private because they didn’t want to appear to contradict the crowd.

    Interesting issues to consider.

    • January 5, 2010 8:58 am

      I think you make a great point here. Daikatana really is a lot of peer pressure at this point. I hear it get blasted by people that were, say two years old when the game released. All they know about it is they’re supposed to make fun of it.

      I admit, I was in that boat for a long time. But then again, I also used to demonize Raph Koster when i was an SWG player and now he’s one of my inspirations– so sometimes we just have to grow up as gamers/developers, something that a lot of us never do (to be fair, a lot of us never do this as human beings, either).

      As I played last night, i found myself wondering what Daikatana would look like remade with a modern engine– say, as a Crysis total conversion or something. I also find myself wondering what would happen if you released it under a different name. Would people still hate on it? Would it be held up as a great game? In some ways, I wish I had the resources at-present to find out.

      I’ve also found myself considering what would have happened if the game hadn’t had the troubles it did. If it came out a little sooner, hadn’t had some of the challenges that impacted the development… that marketing could have turned it from being universally reviled into one of the (subjectively-speaking) greatest games of all time. that is, however, the problem with that sort of really bold advertising. It’s a two-edged sword.

  10. January 5, 2010 6:46 am

    This reminds me of two things:

    1) Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie Last Action Hero was more or less “assassinated” before it ever hit the theaters. So many people said it would be bad that, in box office terms, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet I think the movie is actually quite good, though not conventional.

    2) The assumption behind some of this is that the only way to really know a game is to play it. I disagree. I’ve seen so many people play games for a while, or (for tabletop games) play just one time, and still be clueless about the real nature of the game. And I’ve seen people who “only” watched a game being played, and talked to people who played it, and had a very good idea of the nature of the game.

    As a comparison, some people can read about something and then understand it or have a good idea of how to do it. Most people cannot get to that point without actually doing it or experiencing it. It depends on the how the person learns.

    Still, your point is well taken, it’s partly the herd instinct of the Internet at work, if people “hear” enough opinions they’ll often adopt them without really thinking about it. We get the phenomenon on Boardgamegeek’s numeric ratings, with people rating a game they’ve never played or even seen a certain way because most other people are rating it that way. And most people are quite sloppy in their speech, instead of (truth-speaker like) saying “I heard it sucked” they just say “it sucked”.

    • January 6, 2010 1:22 am

      Hi Lew,

      Regarding – “2) The assumption behind some of this is that the only way to really know a game is to play it. I disagree.” I would disagree with that point as well. What I’m suggesting is that if you’re going to critique play, then I believe it’s important to provide a critique based on experience, or to at least identify your framing of the work in question.

      Another interesting point you made me consider – the term “it sucked” isn’t really a critique at all. It’s merely an insult. I value the commentary you provide on games because it is anything but that.

  11. January 5, 2010 4:56 pm

    Here’s a game that all “real gamers” hate: E.T.

    The Atari 2600 was my first console, and E.T. was one of my favorite games. I was surprised to learn that the entire world hated it and that it was considered THE game that brought the video game market crashing down. But most people haven’t played it. They just “know” that it sucks.

    Like Corwyn, I also purchased a copy of Daikatana, partly because I wanted to have my own copy, but also because I read the occasional article that suggested it was actually a pretty good game. I still haven’t opened it. It’s good to know it still runs on today’s computers.

    Of course, critiques of unconsumed media isn’t specific to video games. I know some film fans who told me that a movie I saw was horrible, and when I asked about a specific scene, I was told that they hadn’t actually seen it. They just know.

    I would say that E.T. and Daikatana are names known to everyone who is passionate about video games. There are genuinely bad games that are also well known among gamers. I’m not sure how “to be among the critiqued is find yourself a place with good company”, though.

    • January 6, 2010 3:44 am

      I have to admit a dirty little secret, too…. I liked E.T. for the Atari 2600. People pan it now, and I’ve heard the stories, but I thought it was a passable game especially when compared to a lot of other games. Sure, it was no Yar’s Revenge (made by the same guy!) but it was fun enough. 🙂

      Only part I really hated was getting stuck falling back into a pit. Just required you to be a bit more careful with the joystick when you tried to get out. 🙂

      • January 7, 2010 5:16 pm

        I had lunch with Howard Scott Warshaw a couple months ago. He’s an amazing guy and, yes, E.T. was not nearly as bad as was written about it. Blaming the Crash of 1984 on that one game is absurd as there was bountiful blame to be placed upon the retailers and not just the game manufacturers. And many other games were at fault. Atari 2600 Pac Man was worse, IMO.

        One note from me about Daikatana. Most of people’s issues with the game came from the first level (mosquitos and frogs… a swamp) and the sidekick AI having problems in some areas. What’s amazing is that anyone who has played the game multiplayer is usually impressed with it, and if you co-op through the game, there are no sidekicks, and the experience is different. I wouldn’t say it’s a better experience in co-op, but if you don’t want to deal with sidekicks or story, that’s the way to play. It’s one of the last games to feature every kind of option for multiplayer in it, including a new mode called Deathtag that was taken from the days of Doom and Dwango.

  12. January 8, 2010 1:13 am

    Interesting follow up to this by Grayson Davis on Beeps and Boops.

  13. January 9, 2010 9:30 am

    I meant to post this the first time I read this, but I’ll do it now: one of the few people who *has* played Daikatana, and criticised it, is Alec Meer of Rock, Paper, Shotgun. I remember the piece fondly… =)

    • January 10, 2010 4:47 am

      Not actually. Buried in the second paragraph to the end: “I didn’t get far into it”

      • January 10, 2010 6:02 am

        At least he played it. It’s another issue altogether when you start saying that anyone who has criticism about a game needs to play all of it before they can make any kind of pronouncement about it’s relative merits (or lack thereof). Making use of your film critic comparison, wouldn’t it mean that the opinion of any critic who “couldn’t finish the film it was so bad” shouldn’t be listened to?

  14. January 10, 2010 10:58 pm

    I was going to suggest “How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read”, but I guess someone got there first! (Which, ironically enough, I started and haven’t gotten far into).

    I agree with some of the comments that I think you can get a certain sense of what a game is like through playing only part of it. However, the more you play a game, the more your ideas surrounding that game develops. For instance, I recently played through CoD: World at War for a research paper. After the first few levels, I think I had a good idea of what the game was like. However, before playing the game, I had my own ideas about what the game would be, but was surprised to learn new and in many cases different things by playing it. The thing is, with most games, you simply can’t predict how the game will play on paper. You can look at the rules and understand how the game works, but as any designer knows, you don’t really know anything about your game until you actually play it (especially as regards emergent play). And the most surprising thing about the experience? I felt like playing it to the end and couldn’t quite determine why.

    This is not something you can gain simply by reading. What reading about something will do, however, is broaden your understanding of it because you will get to hear what other people have said about it, things that maybe you wouldn’t have thought of.

    Also for the record? I did see all of Avatar, and I started hating it about halfway through. Now Steven Colbert insists it is the best film ever made because it made $1 billion.

  15. January 11, 2010 8:02 pm

    Just from looking at it, Daikatana did something that hardly and games did with the FPS (by looking at the gameplay though, I would say it was worthy of being a FPRPG) at that time, give an interesting story and a unique element of RPG gameplay, such as having a leveling system and the use of sidekicks (kind of like party members in an RPG, IMO). I haven’t played the game, but it looks good! I’m not going to let peers who haven’t even given it a taste tell me it was a bad game, shame on them, and praise to this blog post!

  16. Philippe Patenaude permalink
    January 11, 2010 11:04 pm

    Hello there. well I think that Psychochild got a point here. I’ll take for example the people from my country. I’m from canada ok and most of the people around here hates the SUCCESS STORY. When they’ll see a guy who believe in himself and he’s like: My game will be awesome because me and my team are the best in the world. Those who have nothing to do but playing games and complain, be sure that they will try to move out this self confidence from you. Why? because they’re jealous they don’t want success story.They want your place in the history but they don’t want to work hard on a project. It really makes me sick because right now I’m working on my demo reel as an 3-D Animator and I’m like: I’m sure that my demo will kick ass and I’ll work for someone famous one day. And guest what? Everyone in my class say that I’m a snob , big head blablabla…. Of course I’m not the best animator in the world, of course I still have a lot to learn but I believe in myself and that’s a sin when you’re selfconfident. Mr.Romero is cursed now because of his success back in the days. It’s like If he’s the only director who made a so called bad game. Take for example Shinji Mikami he’s an amazing director but when he made P.N 03 it wasn’t that good but hey it happens. 2 years later he made Resident Evil 4 and everybody was like wow what a genius. Those who praised the game are the same guys who said that P.N 03 was bad. So I’m just asking to myself why does people can’t leave Mr Romero alone for a while? I’m sure that his games will be awesome and the reviewer who said that Daikatana was the most horrible game in history will be same who’s gonna write that the new Romero’s game was a piece of art.

  17. John Cotterell permalink
    January 13, 2010 7:19 am

    I played the demo of daikatana. It was awful, but it was the green level with green critters and obstacles you couldn’t see very well (IIRC). I was expecting to be blown away by the demo, even if it meant taking it from one of the better and more accessible levels. If you can’t find five minutes of great gameplay to promote a game, expect a flop.

    About the same time, ‘messiah’ came out, the demo blackscreened on about 50% of machines. It flopped despite being an awesome game ….so i heard, I never even got to play it. 🙂

    Compare these to the demos of quake 3 or max payne, both of which left my jaw on the floor, and resulted in a quick purchase.

  18. Ken Rolston permalink
    January 13, 2010 9:02 am

    ‘Deep critique’?

    I’m unclear. Were all these 100 statements from critics?

    When is a creator not responsible for the response of his audience to his product?

    When are his audience’s responses invalid?

    If these were self-anointed critics responding, then I might feel patronizing about the patent absurdity of statements like ‘I hated the game, though I never played it.” But I might not doubt the validity of the audience’s response implied in such statements.

    Daikatana was a product that failed. I don’t doubt the judgement of its audience.

    I played the demo. [I presume we accept playing the demo is playing the game… though that may be reasonably in dispute here.]

    The experience was forgettable. I can’t remember much about it other than moving around and experimenting with weapons.

    But I can remember being told I would be made John Romero’s bitch, and I do recall, vividly, the self-aggrandizing and tiresome media hype, and the genuinely appealing and ambitious game experience values promised by the creators [like companion narrative for an action-shooter].

    Those were the memorable features of the product. Broken promises and disappointments… actually, more like indifference and obscurity.

    Perhaps your 100 critics in a row were speaking critically strictly about the game qua game… in which case, it does seem a bit silly. But it also seems plausible and valid that they were talking about and dismissing the product.

    Harry and Michael Medved has a lovely book, ‘the Golden Turkey Awards’, subtitled ‘the Worst Achievements in Hollywood History’. I taught film in high school. I have seen very few of the films discussed, but I would feel justified in accepting and transmitting their judgements, even without having seen the films in question.

    Here’s my response from another angle.

    How I WISH I had never seen ‘Van Helsing’. I saw the trailer. I knew it would suck. Why did I let anyone drag me to that movie?

    So. If I can tell ‘Van Helsing’ will suck from a trailer, couldn’t I also tell a game will suck from reviewing its advertising and publicity?

    Again, if you are only talking about Daikatana’s game systems, or game presentation, then those might be hard to speak meaningfully about without first-hand experience.

    But maybe not.

    If a game is bad because it looks like ass, then a single screenshot may be a valid text for review and response.

    What was I saying? Oh….

    Daikatana is a memorable game. Lots of people remember the name, and that it was a game. QED.

    The memories appear to be uniformly negative.

    That the negative memories may be unrelated to its game features may not be particularly noteworthy.

    Or, to a game development community, it may be profoundly noteworthy. And an object lesson to study for those who would be wise.

    [BTW: I’ve brooded a bit over the classes of ‘games’ and ‘products’. Most games that critics may discuss are products, and have audiences. Even when the games are distributed free, the user pays time to play them, and so are meaningfully thought of as audiences.

    But for ‘Train’… where you can’t get the product to play it… can you be an audience? If there is no product, is there no audience response… much less an INFORMED audience response?

    Yeah. I don’t know.

    Perhaps the audience can only be the audience of the ACCOUNTS of the gameplay of ‘Train’. That’s more than a bit odd.

    People like to have responses to creative works… I think an audience and its response are a definitional part of a creative work… but it’s a bit awkward figuring how to classify such responses in the case of ‘Train’… at least by contrast with conventional game, book, movie, or similar products.]

    • January 16, 2010 2:41 pm

      “Those were the memorable features of the product. Broken promises and disappointments… actually, more like indifference and obscurity.”

      And yet, we saw the same thing with Fable. Molyneux put the hype machine in overdrive, promising a game that would revolutionize the way we played games. What we got was… a pretty standard RPG with the same good/evil dichotomy that BioWare had already released a year earlier. It was a big letdown at the time. (Then Peter promised an open world, and pregnancy, and puppies for Fable 2… and I didn’t see too many people saying “wait… what about all those broken promises from Fable 1? Why are we still believing this man?” It was just more fanboys drooling over the next game.)

      And yet, Molyneux isn’t nearly as villainized as Romero.

      So, I think it’s far more than just game hype. The audience is clearly willing to forgive a game that just had poorly-crafted marketing.

  19. Willi B permalink
    January 13, 2010 12:54 pm

    This is where, unfortunately, you approach hypocrisy.

    Oh – people say negative things about your game without playing it… but do you allow the people access to it? On the level Columbine did? NO.

    Post the rules, list the components, and put yourself up for critique instead of trying to use on the spot performance art enhancement. My boardgames illicit their reactions regardless if I am in the room and yours should as well.

    You are now the biggest hypocrite to walk the planet. Post the rules and component on the Geek to your artistic creations or stop whining. My guess is that you are afraid of it getting slammed for more appropriate reasons… like, regardless of art, it doesn’t hold water purely as a game.

    Then, you argue, it’s not designed for commercial gain and cannot be judged with commercial games.

    If that is the case, why not RELEASE THE RULES?

    Instead, you don’t post the rules and cry about everyone taking jabs at it without playing it.


    • January 13, 2010 1:04 pm

      Hi Willi,

      Actually, I’m not whining. Lots of good stuff has been said about Train. My game can stand up just fine whether I am in the room or not. I have decided to make just one of them on purpose (like someone might make a sculpture or a painting), and do not post the rules because I don’t want there to be an electronic version of the game. Those are both pretty simple things.

      Sorry this seems to have upset you so much.


  20. Willi B permalink
    January 14, 2010 4:27 am

    So…. what of the other games? You have yet to put rules out for any artistic pieces.

    It seems you have to be concerned about something more than what you are stating to me.

    You simply cannot have it both ways… and I cannot see what the objection is to a potential electronic game – this isn’t the kind of moneymaking game that would possibly be ripped or one that people would re-create.

    My purpose here is that I am reading your book and reading your blog and you say, “don’t judge it ’til you’ve played it.” But we can’t play it. So, you can see where this leaves us – wondering, “why?”

    The upsetting part to me, beyond the hypocrisy, is that you are a voice (albeit an unpublished one in the non-electronic field) for board game designers. Even if you do not wish this to be so, it is true.

    My guess is that the rules to your games aren’t innovative in any way (thus holding games back), you wouldn’t represent the hobby as well as an established designer (Dr. Knizia is my preference), you couldn’t get published by the mainstream non-electronic industry (you have no credits), and performance art is more likely what the games are… (more glass, anyone?).

    However, without a ruleset, I guess I’ll never know for sure.

    Some of us may want to do the very thing you are attempting (however, with innovation on ALL aspects of the game), but would probably acquire a track record of success before putting such things out. I wouldn’t say one peep to you if this was an electronic game. But it isn’t… it’s that field that you seem to disrespect.

    Your claims are unjustified. You are making excuses. Even Ebert made a movie.

    • January 14, 2010 10:26 am

      Hi Willi,

      Thanks for your comments and the clarification of them. I’ll clarify a few things that might make this more palatable, too. I am surprised to be considered a voice for board game designers, really. That’s probably a good place to start, so here goes….

      – I love board games and have a ridiculous collection of them that I play regularly. I love the non-digital medium, and it is my preferred form of play. I have non-digitally prototyped all my games – all of them – before they head toward digital. I have a deep respect for the medium, and was originally planning to do my thesis on Knizia. I have tons of research on him, respect him deeply, and have no desire to even put myself on a level with him. That’s not my intent. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m crazy about board games, and that I believe there’s a deep connection between that world and the digital one. I mean, I got started in RPGs. I still used d20s and d10s in my original digital designs. I know – and tell every designer that knows me – that board games can teach non-digital designers a lot about co-op play, pvp, progression and reward and social media among other things.

      – The article is about Daikatana. I added in my comments about Train to show a personal comparison. I wasn’t whining; just offering an observation. The challenge with Train is that there is one of it and one of me. I decided to make singular versions of all the games in this series just because I could. I was interested in the concept of singularity having made games that were duplicated into the millions, and this literal once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a game without commercial pressure (because my paycheck was coming from academia) was one I put to use. That is the singleness. However, it being programmed takes that away, as it does with the other games. With Train specifically, there are certain procedural gaps in the game that require user input. So, if it were programmed, it would be your Train, not mine. I wanted there to be only one. Uncommon? Yes. Games don’t have to be commercialized and mass produced to be games. I believe the rules to be the core of the game. Duplicating them breaks that. I hope you get a chance to see Train or the other games. The experience of play comes in the one-time play of it, the complicity
      of the player without their knowledge. The dawning realization of what they’ve done. That only happens on-location, not because you’re thinking about rules and dice rolls. I don’t have to be there.

      – I never intended to release Train or any of these other games. After talking with other game designers about it at Project Horseshoe (, I promised them I would talk about it publicly once. I did so at a little conference, and there was a reporter in the back of the room from The Escapist. That’s how Train got released. I had actually already made a previous game in the series which I’d also never talked about. It was a design challenge, and even now, I have other games I’m working on, digital and non-digital, designed to stretch my wings so to speak. I made one recently with a friend that will never see the light of day. We did it because we love games, and between two game designers, sometimes a game will rise.

      – On the can’t play it part, the games will be in Atlanta for the Art History of Games conference. Afterward, they’re headed to California. I’d still like to know where you are based (feel free to email or we can arrange a call), so that you can have a chance to see the games yourself.

      Interestingly enough, the comment that most bothers me is this one, “it’s a field that you seem to disrespect.” Willi, I love non-digital games. I can’t tell you how core they are to me. One of my most prized possessions – the thing that made me fall in love with games – is my white box D&D. I mean the medium no disrespect. I just wanted to make some games.



  21. January 14, 2010 5:52 am

    Brenda, as a teacher I sometimes have students write game reviews, and explain to them that no one cares whether the reviewer liked the game or not, they want to know WHY the reviewer thought it was good or bad. “It sucked” doesn’t say why. But so many people (especially younger ones) have been taught that their opinion is just as good as anyone else’s, regardless of circumstances, that they spout their often-half-baked opinions and think they’ve done all they need to do. The Internet encourages this immensely, in part because of anonymity.

  22. Willi B permalink
    January 16, 2010 2:51 am

    I thank Dr. Pulsipher for his input… but I am not half-baked in my thoughts. I actually have benefited from his seminars and thank him for the time and sharing of his knowledge.

    Ms. Brathwaite –

    We all love logic as designers. So here’s where logic falls apart to me:

    You create artistic board games that have an intention. Many would you call you an artist as well as a designer. I do as well.

    However, an artist, if that is all one wants to be, would play these creations with only friends, co-workers, and family members. Beyond that, one becomes an artist AND X.

    Ms. Brathwaite, what is your X? Why do you creations, board games, not go to the BOARD GAME CONVENTIONS? Why do they not get put on the one site known to all board gamers,, when all others do?

    My solve for X is still ongoing. Impressing the video game industry? Some level of fame? Some credit as an artist? I don’t exactly know.

    I do know this: whatever the motive, people are going to be influenced by playing the game.

    My concern is this (having not played any of your creations, I do not know how founded this concern should be): Some will play it, not having played any newer board games (aka progress), find it illuminating in topic yet nothing new in mechanics… and believe we are still in the stone age of non-digital game design.

    It’s all well and good that you make a great visual and sensual experience, but I don’t buy FFG games because of their bling – their games themselves might as well be Diplomacy for the most part with added unneeded confusion. Thus, I don’t buy them. My concern is that your mechanics are not showing the progress that the artistic design, from what most say, does.

    Is this what the hobby needs? Will it help or hurt the hobby’s growth?

    If this were Knizia’s work, I wouldn’t be concerned about the games being put forth because I know that he will show a mechanic that Joe Average won’t know. Dr. Knizia has a track record.

    This is where I find it a bit disrespectful. If you had laid out a bit of your abilities in the form of prior non-digital published works, I could say that the concerns were eased. The Wall Street Journal knows about your game, but the people that actually know board games do not. It’s like me showing of my clay pottery to someone that goes muddin’ in Georgia.

    The real critics that count are waiting. Those people that actually know board games. Not the people that know video games.

    I asked to play Train last year at either Origins or Gencon, but those possibilities did not work out for you. It is understandable that you could not make it.

    Surely, though, you could have tried to hook up something with your co-author or another of your contacts from your considerable career to take this or another of your games to an actual board game convention at some point up to now… to see how actual board gamers feel about it. If not, one begins to question the reasons why you haven’t done so.

    Solving for X looks a lot easier the more one knows. Can you finally be honest about your reasons?

    PS – I love the book. Ian was a great analyzer at Protospiel. Lew rocks.

    • January 16, 2010 3:50 am

      Ouch, please don’t insult me. “Can you finally be honest about your reasons?” implies that I am and have been lying. That is unacceptable, okay? I have been very candid and open with you regarding these games.

      Let me answer your concerns raised here.

      Quoting you:

      “However, an artist, if that is all one wants to be, would play these creations with only friends, co-workers, and family members. Beyond that, one becomes an artist AND X.”

      When someone decided that Pollock’s painting was interesting, what was his X? He made a painting. I made a game. I’m not trying to become something extra here. I have been a game designer since I was 15.

      “My solve for X is still ongoing. Impressing the video game industry? Some level of fame? Some credit as an artist? I don’t exactly know.”

      I made the first game so I could teach my daughter about the slave trade. The others I made as design exercises. That’s it. There is your X. Then, people heard about them. I am not trying to impress anyone. In fact – and Ian can tell you this – I was more surprised than anyone by the game’s reception. Compared to my other games, I don’t think Train is going to out-achieve the games in the Wizardry or Jagged Alliance series, and I would be greatly surprised if it does.

      Again, I just made some games for the challenge of doing so and to teach my kid what school failed to. I don’t know if it is these games that brought me on your radar, but I had a long and award-winning career before I ever made them.

      As for bringing the games places, Ian is welcome to do so. My fall – changing jobs and moving across the country – was the most stressful time I’ve experienced in my life. There was no time to do anything optional. Also, bear in mind that I didn’t make the games for design validation. I made them as design exercises. I don’t feel a need to drive them everywhere to be validated, though I am happy to bring them places if people desire (and my work allows).

    • January 16, 2010 6:53 am

      I’ve been subscribed to the comments on this post, so I’ve been following this discussion.

      My apologizes if I’m off the mark here Willi B, as this isn’t meant to be provocative, but I’m guessing that a lot of the frustration here is that Train, a game that very few people have actually played, gets more press than even the most successful and innovative games coming from traditional board game designers.

      I won’t say that irritation is not justified, just bear in mind that directing it at Train may by shooting at the wrong target. It does seem quite unlikely that Brenda, a nearly 30 year veteran of the video game industry, feels the need to posture and hide Train for validation. It’s not her fault a large chunk of video gamers have little or no knowledge of designer board games; most likely it’s just an issue of accessibility, but that’s a discussion in itself.

      I can’t really see any conclusion here other than that she is being entirely forthright about her reasons and responses to your criticism.

    • January 16, 2010 1:17 pm

      I have a couple of deep issues with your statement here, to be honest.

      1. “However, an artist, if that is all one wants to be, would play these creations with only friends, co-workers, and family members. Beyond that, one becomes an artist AND X.”

      …what? There seems to be a basic failure of logic with this premise. An artist only ever creates for themselves and those immediately around them, or they become an artist-plus-something else?

      Except that the entire basis for a wide majority of the arts, at least as we understand them, and we’re taught to understand them in this day an age, is communicating something with the world at large. Evoking an emotion, exploring a concept, making a statement– the communication differs from person to person, but it’s always there, because the basic underlying foundation of art is putting something of yourself into your work and then putting it in front of other people. There’s an argument to be made that this is still “artist-plus-X”, but I don’t see how it can stand up when that X-factor is really a fundamental element of the artist in the first place.

      The point being, I think you’re looking for some underlying motivation where there’s none to be found or does there have to be one to find, so of course it’s confusing you. Brenda already described her motivations for the game– that’s really all there is, I’m sure.

      2. “My concern is this (having not played any of your creations, I do not know how founded this concern should be): Some will play it, not having played any newer board games (aka progress), find it illuminating in topic yet nothing new in mechanics… and believe we are still in the stone age of non-digital game design.”

      This just disturbs my sense of correctness on all sorts of levels. You admit this concern may be totally unfounded having never played the games. You’re concerned that some of the people that do play it may not be familiar with new board games. You’re further concerned that because of this, they may not see anything new about the games and jump to the conclusion that all board games are mired in the past? And… then, I’m guessing, they’ll hate board games more and go back to digital or something, I guess. And, of course, this means it’s bad that, going by what the rest says, that Brenda’s work has gotten some notoriety and other people’s has not.

      Honestly, I scarcely know where to begin, but I guess I could start by saying that while I’ve not gotten to play Train either (I’ve seen it, and spoke with Brenda about it, but it was not the time and place to play it), it think that you’re entirely missing the point of the game. Who, aside from intellectuals, cares about the mechanics? The game certainly doesn’t seem to be about them except as a vehicle to deliver the experience, which ultimately seems to be the entire point of the game. Why do the *mechanics* have to be innovative when the game is about the aesthetic experience(and probably some dynamics thrown in)?

      And why this precious defensiveness about non-digital games? Games are games are games. Games are about sharing experiences, not about secreting them away for the chosen few to enjoy and ruminate about. Do you really think the bulk of the people who see Train are really going to blow off non-digital games to a greater degree after playing with it? I doubt it. Is this really going to somehow change because someone that “knows board games” gets a chance to write about it? I also doubt that. Is this really about you being upset that someone you see as being a video game designer has gotten more press on a non-digital game than people you respect as non-digital designers? I doubt that, too, but have to admit it certainly seems like it.

      Honestly, I would expect the concern to be unfounded. I would expect people who play Train that don’t know non-digital games to become more interested in them after playing it. Why? Because it’s an interesting game that suggests uses for games that intrigue people.

      Overall, though, I think you’re just plain missing the point of Train. Why isn’t it on BGG? Well, to start with, it’s not really a board game. Non-digital, yes. But I’d not call it a board game. There’s also just sort of a question of “Why?”– Brenda’s already said she didn’t make it to be some famous game that everyone talks about, and she’s not gone to any particular lengths to publicize it. She just takes it where people ask to see it when she can. Which leads me to my final point, really: where there’s smoke, there’s fire. By whatever fluke people have managed to see the game, the fact of the matter is that whatever one thinks about it in relation to more entrenched names in digital gaming, people see something here to talk about, pure and simple. Sure, you personally may think this is unfair to others. But that’s life and not Brenda or Train’s fault. One way or another, Train deserves the attention it’s gotten. Attention, I should note, that I’ve personally seen turn some student’s minds towards non-digital design where they weren’t interested before(and that’s without playing it).

      Anyway. We’re all gamers and designers here(well, maybe not all designers, but you get the point). It’s an oft-maligned and misunderstood passion in the first place, we don’t need to be sectioning ourselves off from each other, and we should be happy for the successes of our brothers and sisters in the field– it makes things a little bit better for all of us when the mainstream culture takes hold of something one of us does and says something positive. Defending perceived kingdoms doesn’t help anyone, it’s just not that kind of medium.

    • January 16, 2010 3:09 pm

      “However, an artist, if that is all one wants to be, would play these creations with only friends, co-workers, and family members. Beyond that, one becomes an artist AND X.”

      I actually thought Brenda was very clear on this point. She created the games for herself only, shared them with some close friends and colleagues, and then was influenced by them (those who actually had played the game) to go public with it. This was not the creator’s intention, it’s just something that kind of happened. Emergent publicity, if you will.

      “Is this what the hobby needs? Will it help or hurt the hobby’s growth?”

      As there is only one copy, Train is clearly not a “hobby” game, so I’d expect it will have little influence on the hobby’s growth. It does, on the other hand, seem to be having a very positive effect on the intersection of games and art.

      I’m wondering if the real concern here is that you’re insisting that any artistic game must necessarily be innovative in its mechanics, as opposed to innovating elsewhere (such as the ability to communicate with and transform the player). Are the mechanics of Train innovative? Depends on how you look at it. In one sense, not at all — it is a pretty conventional roll-and-move game with minimal choices and a few cards. In another sense, it is one of the only board games I’ve seen (not counting tabletop RPGs) where part of the game requires the players to interpret the rules as part of the play experience. I’m not sure that counts as “mechanics” but I would certainly say it has innovative play dynamics.

      “The Wall Street Journal knows about your game, but the people that actually know board games do not. It’s like me showing of my clay pottery to someone that goes muddin’ in Georgia.”

      You seem to assume that Train is first and foremost a hobby board game, rather than it being primarily a piece of art (and thus, it should be promoted primarily to Eurogamers rather than to other artists). What if it is the reverse?

      From time to time, my wife shares with me what she is learning about human physiology. Every now and then, I hear from her something that I think would make a great game mechanic. Does that mean that it’s wrong of physician scientists to not present at GenCon, because some of it may be of interest to hobby gamers? It’s really not the primary audience, nor is it the primary audience of Train.

  23. Willi B permalink
    January 16, 2010 1:11 pm

    Mr. Stickles –

    Should Train receive more press than new school designs in general, than my point of concern seems to be one that is valid. If it were not for Settlers press, I would say that Train made more press than any new school design.

    Ms. Brathwaite –

    It seems to me when you make the decision to take games like Train to a convention, you are not merely doing them as “game exercises” any more.

    When you have journalists in a room and win awards based on your “game exercise”, are you not competing with others that are up for the award?

    To win an award, you have to show a game… and you are showing the game.

    Your reasons for not publishing your rules online seem disingenuous. I’m sorry if I disagree with you, but I think anyone that analyzes this logically would have to come to the same conclusion.

    If I were not trying to impress anyone, I would not have put my game in front of journalists.

    Then again, if I were to create an art game in a chosen field, I would have established myself in that field first as well.

    • January 16, 2010 2:16 pm

      Willi –

      I grow tired of this conversation.

      I put Train in front of no one. Sometimes games find their own way out, and that’s what happened with Train. In my career, I have impressed plenty, and have no interest in that. In fact, making games about these topics was actually daunting to me. It was the most personal design exercise of my life, and it was a good process.

      To win an award, you do not need to show a game. I was nominated for and won the award for Train because people had played it in the places where it was invited to go (note that I didn’t invite myself). I never did any kind of publicity run with Train. Every place it went, it was invited to go. People paid for my travel so I could bring the game to be seen. I remain surprised and humbled by its reception.

      And this: “Then again, if I were to create an art game in a chosen field, I would have established myself in that field first as well.” I have been making games for 29 years, games that won over 100 awards. I think I established myself. I don’t see the lines you see. Games are games are games.

      I am done talking about this now.

  24. January 16, 2010 1:48 pm

    I did not mean to imply that any particular opinion here is half-baked. (Though some may be, of course!)

    One of the duties of Brenda’s former job as chair of game design at SCAD was to publicize that department. TRAIN has certainly achieved that, whether it was her intention or not. This publicity may be even more effective insofar as SCAD is an art school, and TRAIN has been treated as something of an art object rather than as a traditional game.

    Sometimes games become more than their designers intended (or even like). Can there be an “emergent meaning” for a game? Perhaps TRAIN ought to be evaluated as art object and publicity vehicle as well as non-traditional non-electronic game.

    • January 16, 2010 3:13 pm

      “TRAIN has been treated as something of an art object rather than as a traditional game.”

      As it probably should be. Look at the places where Train has been invited to go. Academic institutions. Museums. A conference on art history and games. Clearly the game is exploring in a different direction than Reiner’s mathematical mechanics-driven games.

      It’s a big world out there. There should be a place for both, no?

    • January 16, 2010 4:13 pm

      Hi Lew,

      Good to hear from you as always, and yes, that is certainly true! Ah, the duties of a Chair.

      With Train and the other games, there was reservation on the part of the publicity machine. No one was out there saying, “Wow! Look at what Brenda’s doing,” until the outside press got wind of the project. It’s safe to say that with this series, SCAD PR was quite cautious. Nothing was said. Nothing was done. Only after Train won an award did anything appear about the series or the games on its website. I think they were concerned about the series’ reception and its potential to backfire or be misunderstood.

      [edited to add this] So, although the games have been in production since February 2008, the first time they were mentioned publicly by SCAD was in a press release on their site announcing Train won the IndieCade award. That was at the end of November 2009. By then, I was already at my new job.

  25. Willi B permalink
    January 16, 2010 9:06 pm

    I’m sorry that you cannot be bothered to answer such annoying questions. You did nothing to publicize your games.

    Including the blog, website and Wiki. I think I’ll try that the next time I wish to remain anonymous. You are so right… yet so very, very wrong.

    Call me crazy, but I still believe in truth over brother(sister)hood.

    If you ever want truth, you have my email…. but first you have to honest with yourself.

    Video design is done in teams… your individual contributions, outside of indie design, can seldom be measured outside of those at the organization you work for at the time. That’s why the board game market is DIFFERENT. You usually sink or swim on your own.

    It’s not worth discussing with you any longer, unfortunately, because you are not ready to be truthful about too many of your own issues for whatever X reason you may have. I am sad that you are representing the lowly board gamers – they are so beneath you that they need to pay your airfare and lodgings to see your games… and are such thieves that they would steal your magnificent creation in a video form (really? Honestly? Come on. Puh-lease.)

    • January 16, 2010 9:35 pm

      Congratulations, you’ve succeeded in moving past seeming like a conscientious objector with a point firmly into the realm of Just Another Internet Troll.

      I’m glad you’re not representative of the board game designers I’ve met over the years, and I think that’s about the last thing of even passing politeness I can say, so I think I’ll just leave it at that. Good day sir.

  26. Willi B permalink
    January 17, 2010 12:27 am

    Trolls don’t make points… but I can see the fan club has rallied and I will not post here in regards to this again.

    I thought I made very good points to a person that didn’t didn’t seem like they were being honest, but I did it with points.

    But, I am no troll and have said what I thought were valid points and will post on this topic no more. Perhaps a few people are thinking I have made a good case. Others not.

    As I said before, I really like the book and hope to play your creations at some point.

    Thanks for hearing me out despite the disagreement.

  27. Griffin permalink
    January 17, 2010 3:56 pm

    You make a lot of good points here.

    It’s hard not to judge a book by it’s cover, given that’s all you really get before you buy it. You might flip through a couple of pages first, but you don’t really have the ability to judge it before you read it.

    Saying that something looks crappy, or that you hate their marketing is totally different. But people should at least state it as such. “Their commercials make me sea-sick” vs. “It sucked.”

    I don’t want to see Avatar or District 9 because they both place real questions as hypotheticals. “What if we segregated our society and harshly judged those who looked or acted different?” “What if we acted like dicks to indigenous peoples?” Etc. In effect, I’ve seen both of these plotlines several times and it just gets boring.

    • January 19, 2010 12:30 am

      Posing real questions as hypotheticals is a way of bypassing people’s mental blocks against facing difficult social challenges in society. They avoid the subjectivity and preconceptions inherent in real-world situations that people already know well, and allow people to view the same issues from a second perspective and with an open mind. This in turn allows people to reflect back on the real world and consider their beliefs, while ensuring that dialog is internal to the audience, not external, where it is likely to be blocked out and prejudged.

      Without using this tactic, the audience’s perceptions of the work would be much more heavily colored by their perceptions of the theme, and it wouldn’t be as effective as a tool for escapism. I suspect that most science fiction and fantasy fans would prefer this sort of indirect take on social issues. It links very closely with the appeal of science fiction and fantasy in general.

  28. January 19, 2010 8:47 am

    I’m fascinated by some games but I rarely play them – however I’ve usually watched them played. Usually it’s a Let’s Play which gets some really good comments from the players.

    A good example with Daikatana:

    The Let’s Play archive is a treasure trove for this 🙂 (and some mirrored ).

    I think this isn’t exactly a replacement for playing the game yourself, but it saves a lot of time if you want to see some infamous part, or see how others play the game (especially if, like Daikatana, it is so difficult you can get killed easily on the first level).

    I agree, need to play to criticise properly – forming that criticism is still hard though, especially if it is picking out bad things from the game and making an example of it in some way.


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