Bringing video games into an art museum would be considered an ambitious undertaking in years past, but visitors to a new Smithsonian opening of “The Art of Video Games” say it isn’t surprising at all.
The new exhibition hopes to explore 40 years of video games as art through interactive games people can actually play, pieces of gaming memorabilia and dynamic visual displays that highlight the artistic work done by developers. It is the first such exhibit to appear in a major museum and visitors of all ages on opening day were able to come away with feelings of nostalgia.
Groups of family members – parents and children, grandparents and grandkids – marveled at the exhibit and each took away something different.
“I thought it was pretty neat to watch the evolution of games,” said Kim, a mother from Columbus, Ohio. “I grew up playing Frogger on the Atari, but got away from games until my son started playing.”
“I thought it was amazing,” said Jimmy, a 21-year-old from southern Maryland. “I thought it showed the great history and beauty of video games. People will be able to come to the Smithsonian and still learn about video games and see the beauty in them.”
Jimmy’s mother, Barbara, wasn’t surprised to see video games being represented in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. While she said she doesn’t play, she has five kids who all played and see the different images reminded her of times when her children were young.
“We got our first Nintendo when (Jimmy) was 6 months old as a family gift,” she said. “The old stuff has an artistic feel to it when you look at where games are now. It brings back a lot of memories for me about when my kids were growing up.”
Some people thought recognizing video games as art was overdue. Brian, a 19-year-old from Pittsburgh who has designed some personal video games, thought “The Art of Video Games” exhibit is a good first step for the Smithsonian, but there needed to be more.
“I’m surprised it has taken 30 years for video games to be recognized,” he said. “This is a good first step and has a feeling of nostalgia. I would have like to have seen more about the pioneers of video gaming.”
His father, John, agreed and said he was a little disappointed the exhibit had such a narrow focus.
“Where are the tributes to the artists? What about the guys who have done the work?” John said. “I would have like to have seen more about the work behind the scenes.”
“The Art of Video Games” exhibition runs at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, until September 30. It then goes on a ten-city tour across the country.
Guest curator Chris Melissinos hopes visitors around the U.S. come out to see what video games are and what they have become.
“My hope is that people will leave the exhibition with an understanding that video games are so much more than what they first thought,” Melissinos said. “They may even be art.”
It is a writ of passage that when spring arrives, it is time for baseball season. In the video game world, “MLB12 The Show” (Sony) and “Major League Baseball 2K12” (2K Games) both arrive and ready to crack the starting line-ups of gaming consoles everywhere. Each franchise has been around for a while – 8 years for “2K12” and 6 years for “The Show” – but one is starting it age.
Pitching styles is a big difference between the two titles. “2K12” continues to use their gesture mechanic with the joystick controllers that relies on timing one circle to fit within another. The artificial intelligence has been fine-tuned so that batters will remember pitches and adjust accordingly, thus ramping up the realism level a bit.
“The Show” has added a pulse pitching mechanism that determines how accurate your pitches are within your target area. It’s all about timing, but only utilizes one button as opposed to moving the joystick in a particular way. Saves a lot of wear and tear on the thumbs.
Defense is straightforward. There are animation differences that I’ll get into later, but fielders move and throw with good precision. Both title use a scale to determine how accurate the throws get – “The Show” uses a circle; “2K12” uses a bar. Push a button to the corresponding base and fire the ball. Holding down the button longer makes for a stronger, but possibly inaccurate throw.
Zone batting is new for “The Show,” where the right stick determines your stride and swing while the left allows you to move your “sweet spot” to the area where you think the ball will cross the plate. “2K12” already uses a similar style to determine how hard you are swinging and where. It also will give pitch type hints as the ball is heading for the plate, much as a batter would be able to recognize a curveball from a slider. “The Show” also has a simple button swing mechanic if that is more your speed.
The animations and look of “The Show” really make it shine above “2K12”. Each player has a unique look and fluid movements in everything they do. Pitching, hitting, throwing and catching the ball all appear very realistic and natural. It is a visually appealing game and looks like you are watching an Orioles vs. Yankees matchup on television.
“2K12” looks less like a TV broadcast and more like … well, a video game. There are hiccups and stutters in some of the animation. Most of the players don’t look much different from each other. Balls hit near fielders will make sudden leaps into the glove or outfielders will jump slightly to one side before catching a fly ball. It isn’t as well polished as its counterpart and looks old.
And speaking of TV broadcasts, a tip of the cap to the announcing team of Gary Thorne, Steve Philips and John Kruk on “2K12.” Their banter seemed fresh and timely, referencing the right things and never sounding boring. Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell and Eric Karros for “The Show” sounded stale and repetitive. Some of their phrases sounded exactly the same as last year, and there were a couple of games when I wondered if Karros had gone out for a pretzel and just never came back because he was heard so infrequently.
Franchise mode is back for each as well as allowing you to create your own player and work him through the ranks. “2K12” offers a “MLB Today” mode that lets player play games at the same pace as their favorite MLB team. But that means you can only play one game a day in that mode and doesn’t allow you to play past or future games.
The new “Diamond Dynasty” mode for “The Show” seems geared more for a fantasy franchise baseball fan than someone who wants to play a game. There are baseball cards, budgets, and customizable team logos and colors. If you are a stats nut or someone who likes to micromanage, this might be right for you.
The “Perfect Game Challenge” is back for “2K12” with a twist. In previous years, whoever got the first perfect game of the season using the title won $1 million. This year, the first eight perfect games will get the chance to head to New York City and compete in a live tournament for that top prize.
“The Show” is Move ready, bringing motion controls to every aspect of the games. They have also tied the PlayStation 3 game with the new PS Vita handheld console. Games can be saved to the Cloud on one console and downloaded to another for continued playing. For die-hard video baseball games, this mean never having to stop even when you are away from home (provided you have a Vita).
The biggest drawback to “The Show” is that it is a PlayStation exclusive title. If you own anything other than a PS3 or Vita, you can only play “Major League Baseball 2K12.” Fundamentally, it is a solid, but visually underwhelming, title that will be enjoyable.
But if you have a choice, “The Show” brings together realistic mechanics with outstanding animation to create an “at the ballpark” feel that outshines its competitor. All I need now is a hot dog and a frosty beverage to make the experience complete.
“MLB12 The Show” is available now only on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. “Major League Baseball 2K12” is available now for the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PS2, Nintendo DS, PSP and Microsoft Windows. Both games are rated E for Everybody. This review was done playing both titles on the PS3 as well as playing “MLB12 The Show” on the Vita.
Recently, a Twitter follower of mine reached out to chat about the ongoing controversy over the ending of Mass Effect 3. He also asked me about my opinion on a new Smithsonian exhibit, The Art of Video Games.
This is a modified transcript of that discussion. I thought it was a very interesting talk on a couple of different levels. One, it shows that meaningful discussion can be done online in an age when trollz and haters would rather run rough-shod over a topic. And two, from a philosophical point, it shows that there can be multiple views on a subject – and none of them have to be wrong or right.
Since this was done all on Twitter, I combined the more lengthy conversation that was originally broken up into 140 character or less tweets.
Follower: Have you been following the fallout from @MassEffect 3? There is a pretty big protest movement right now to change the ending.
Me: I have. an interesting debate at The Art of Video Games exhibit in DC about it. who has ownership of content? dev? player?
Follower: Does it address the implied contract of trust on content between player and developer? If one side breaks a promise, what happens?
Me: depends on who controls the art? the artist or the end user? what about books & movies? and what promise was made?
Follower: For Mass Effect, developers promised a dynamic ending which took decisions into account. Based on the endings, they sorta lied.
Me: true enough. I agree the ending was .. weak. but demands that the ending be changed are weird to me.
Follower: The idea of controlling art seems weird. Art tends to be a way of communicating an idea or emotion through a medium. Where is the art located? Is it in the physical piece or in the interaction with the piece? The artist has a responsibility to construct the communication in a way where it is understood to a great range of people. To me, the communication is the art, and cannot be owned.
Me: ha! funny that we both used the same word almost simultaneously. and the question of “what is art?” is tough. does the artist decide if it is art? or the end user/viewer? I guess my problem lies with the apparent attitude of fans. if I go to a restaurant for the promise of good food and don’t get it, I don’t demand the cook make it better. I just take my business elsewhere. eventually, the cook learns or goes out of business. but I will defend to the end the fans right to speak out about a game. it is the demanding of a better ending that is weird.
Follower: I do see where you are coming from. I just didn’t like purchasing a product based on promises, then finding out they didn’t keep them. For art, I feel everyone can make the decision for themselves what art is. All it requires is for them to understand what art is to them. If art really is a form of communication, like I assert, then the quality of the art, and success, is judged by the audience. Though for the idea of a company not telling the truth, I think there is a difference between qualifiable traits (good, bad) and traits that can be directly measured. In video games, when there are traits that can be measured, and promised to be there, but are absent, then I really believe the fan base has just cause to ask for what was promised. Just my opinion, of course.
Me: I agree the fans can ask. it is up to BioWare whether they want to listen or not. did you see someone filed a complaint with the FTC? that’s taking it too far, IMO. btw: thank you for keeping this civil and intelligent. very refreshing.
Followers: Thanks for the intelligent responses as well! I’m not too familiar with FTC regulations or the laws, but I think there are lines of communication that can first be explored. Getting the FTC should be down the line, not first resort. Lawsuits…also last resort.
Me: on that, we can definitely agree.
Follower: Something I have to ask you, in the interest of art! What do you think art is, and how it is possible for video games to be art? I love finding points of agreement with everyone!
Me: that’s a tough question for 140 characters. there are some things in museums that I don’t think is art. there are other forms of express that will never be in museum. video games belong because they are this generation’s form of expression. It probably doesn’t make sense to most people, but games like Journey are artistic expressions in game form. they tell a story through action, music and visuals much like theater. does making them interactive somehow lessen the artistic expression? I don’t believe it does.
Follower: Your response is thoughtful, but does circle around the idea of art. It sounds like art, for you, is an expression. But of what?
Me: that is different for the creator and the end user. I may create something that tells one feeling for me, but someone may get an entirely different feeling from it. neither is wrong. art is subjective and up to the individual it touches.
Follower: I agree that art is subjective. But what is it being subjective about? I know when I go to an art museum, I get lost in the styles and sometimes the beauty. It always brings me back to what art is, and probably what art means. If video games are art, this allows for art to be interactive in a very meaningful way. The creation of the art would come from the interaction, making the art something owned by both developer and player. The game itself, to me, would be like calling paint and canvas art. Something about it would be incomplete. I hope that makes sense.
Me: it does and I agree. if I look at a painting by Picasso that I don’t like, does that mean it isn’t art? or that it just doesn’t speak to me. the art should be owned by the devs and the player, but each may have their own way of interpreting the “art.” There are games out there that the devs likely thought were artistic, but were really bad. to me I’ve seen artistic elements in games, but never considered a game as art. performance art is a whole different animal.
Follower: I agree. The game I played which was supposed to be artistic was El Shaddhai. Heard good things about it. But it is just style w/o a coherent story structure or fun! Well I need to get going. Gotta go play with my daughter. Take care man!
Me: enjoy daughter time! and thanks for the thoughts! very well done.
The digital download for the PlayStation 3 is a beautifully rendered and wonderfully scored adventure through a world that is mysterious and vague. But it is hard even to call it a game because the action takes place along a predetermined path and has no real consequences of failure.
It begins with the player’s character being dropped into a wasteland of sand and ruin, and it is his task to find out what happened and what his lot in life is.
The environments are stunning. The sand flows like water, and the player literally ski down dunes, spraying red granules in their wake. Broken buildings jut out of the sand and huge columns rise above, beckoning the player to find a way to the top.
Players will also find some water areas to explore before their adventure culminates with a snowy climb to a mountaintop. The entire world has a fluidity and calmness that makes it relaxing.
The artistry is magnificently done, with just the right amount of gravitas. It would be almost Zen-like if the landscape wasn’t the result of some historic catastrophe.
Your character is tasked to discover what happened to the civilization that was here before the great cleansing. Ribbons act as keys to unlock walkways — touch one and it glows, making bridges appear. Or find a glowing light that acts as a beacon to show you bits of history and lead you along the way.
There are locations that allow the character to commune with the spirits of the world and unravel the mystery of the disaster. The ghosts of the past also show you that you are now part of their ever-expanding story.
There are some dangers present in the game, but they are only minor inconveniences. Your character cannot die, cannot attack and cannot speak. He can jump and call out with his special identifying note. His only hope is to press on to his goal.
And here is where I think the title breaks down as a game. There is no sense of achievement or competition. The character walks, slides or flies along a set path of ribbons and lights to the ultimate conclusion. Can you ignore them? Sure, but then the game doesn’t progress and you are left wandering in the same area until you trigger the next scene.
The much-vaunted multiplayer mode online allows others to join your game without prompting. But they serve no real purpose other than to be a sidekick for your journey. Interaction takes place through the single note each character can sing, but what does it all mean?
I’m not asking the title to be a first-person shooter or a real-time strategy game. But a game that is short (each play-through lasted about 90 minutes) and leaves me shaking my head in confusion is not a game.
“Journey” could best be described as art, an experiment or entertainment. The environments and artistic renderings will leave you breathless. The story, on a very high level, is one of ruin and rebirth.
But as a game, it is sorely lacking in any meaningful interactivity or consequences. It is a game on a rail — one that just passes you by.
“Journey” is available through the PlayStation Network as an online download only. The game will be available on March 13 in North America, March 14 in Europe and March 15 in Japan. It is rated E for Everyone. This review was done using a provided download code for the PlayStation 3 and played multiple times.
The third and final installment in the franchise finds Shepard once again facing off against the Reapers, a race of sentient machines bent on eliminating all intelligent life in the universe. This time, the Reapers have come to Earth and Shepard must rally alien races around the Milky Way to destroy this mechanical menace once and for all.
As in other “Mass Effect” games, players take on the role of Shepard and have many options to make him (or her) any way they want. Six different classes, from soldier to sentinel, emphasize different strengths and biotic (telekinetic power) abilities for each character.
More inclined for combat? Choose soldier or infiltrator. Would rather use biotics? Go for an adept or engineer. If you are looking for a good blend, choose vanguard or sentinel.
Each class offers combat bonuses, like cryo-ammunition, or physical attacks from your mind, i.e., shockwave that knocks over rows of enemies. The options allow players to find a character that best suits their style of play.
How you play also affects character development. The paragon/renegade bonuses are back from previous titles that rate how Shepard talks to and treats others. Being helpful or friendly raises your paragon rating while being abrasive or uncaring raises your renegade rating. Both affect how you are treated in the future and alters choices that can be made later in the game.
All these player options serve as the backdrop to an epic story that has been eight years in the making. Players who have previously played “Mass Effect 2” can import characters that allow storylines to continue and choices made in that game to be reflected in the new one. New players will get into the major plotlines quickly and easily, and won’t feel like they are missing anything.
The game will have players hopping around the galaxy as Shepard gains allies and supplies from the multitude of races in the Milky Way. Of course, Reapers and Cerberus, a terrorist organization bent on human supremacy at any cost, cause problems for Shepard and his crew along the way.
Old friends return, new alliances are made and players will make choices that determine their ultimate success or failure in defeating the Reapers. Despite all the side missions and interactions, the main point remains taking back Earth.
Planet scanning for “treasure” returns, but is vastly improved over what it was in “Mass Effect 2.” Rather than having to survey and mine each planet for resources that may or may not be there, players can scan the system and find loot much faster than before. The treasure can be war assets (which are important in the final scenario), artifacts that can be sold or traded, intelligence about different factions or fuel for your spacecraft – a welcome change from an experienced player’s perspective.
Invariably, there will be combat. Whether you choose to concentrate on biotic powers or weaponry, you are going to have to pick up a gun and shoot. Weapons have a good selection of types of pistols, shotguns, rifles and sniper rifles, and are fully customizable with add-ons that grant better accuracy, more ammo carrying capabilities or extra damage to certain types of enemies. Add in biotic abilities that grant advantages or increased damage by your bullets and you are ready to take on the galaxy – literally.
The ammo is parsed out with thermal clips and is interchangeable between weapons, which is really helpful when you run out of one type of ammo. A single ammo pickup fills up all your weapons capabilities and ammo can easily be found on dead enemies or sitting on shelves.
Shepard isn’t alone either. Along the way, friends and comrades will join his quest and two are selected for each mission. They also have special powers that can be used in concert with Shepard’s own abilities for devastating effects.
Each potential squadmate corresponds to a particular class, so players can select those that either compliment or contrast with their own depending on the mission parameters. Plus, they are often good for funny banter.
The environments are rich and varied. Each scenario looks unique to the planet it is located. The artwork is detailed down to variances with each alien race. The universe feels alive and the other races don’t look like human rip-offs. It makes for a game that looks absolutely gorgeous.
However, all isn’t perfect in the universe. There were some unusual visual glitches throughout the game with camera angles. Characters were looking in the wrong direction, people would disappear during dialog, and one instance where a character turned their head nearly 180 degrees. While not vital to the overall gameplay, those visual tics took me out of my immersion in the game and made for an unwelcome distraction.
In addition, if you are playing with the Xbox 360 version, the game allows you to use the Kinect device to issue commands to Shepard and squad members. You can voice direct weapon switches, abilities and actions.
Protip: if you don’t want to use the Kinect, unplug it from your console. More than once, conversation in the room where I was playing had my characters doing things I wasn’t expecting them to do.
There are plenty of surprises throughout the game. Major characters will die, entire species will be eliminated and every plotline that you can think of will get resolved.
The romance options are back and causing a bit of controversy. Early critics of the game are lamenting the same sex romance possibilities, but with a universe as big as the Milky Way, anything can happen.
And without giving any spoilers, the ending was a bit of a letdown compared to all the excitement that goes on before. It left an unsatisfying aftertaste but is only a minor detraction from the entire adventure.
“Mass Effect 3” does a great job of answering all the lingering questions in the ME universe and gives players the best chance to determine their own fate as well as the fate of the galaxy. It is a fitting end to a wonderful trilogy that put the player’s in the driver’s seat from the very beginning.
Mass Effect 3” will be available March 6 in North America, March 8 in Australia, March 9 in Europe and March 15 in Japan. It is playable on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 360 and Windows PC. It is rated M for Mature (17+) due to blood, partial nudity, sexual content, strong language, and violence. This review was done playing as a paragon infiltrator and as a renegade adept on a review copy for the Xbox 360.
“Mass Effect 3” will be the culmination of a galaxy-wide story spanning eight years of development and millions of fans around the world.
With the third and final installment, Commander Shepard is in a battle to retake Earth from an advanced race of synthetics, known as Reapers, which want to cleanse the Milky Way of all intelligent organic life. Developers from BioWare planned the series to be a trilogy so everything from the first two “Mass Effect” games has led up to this climax.
Casey Hudson, executive producer of the “Mass Effect” series, said having an idea about how the story was going to develop gave his team “the best of both worlds.”
“On one hand, we knew where things were going so we could build these huge story arcs in the first one, and even in the second one, that would get resolved in the third game,” Hudson said. “At the same time, we were able to be pretty flexible in developing it mechanically so that as we started to really like certain story arcs and characters, we could build those in more and let players get more enjoyment out of playing.”
With more than 40,000 lines of dialog in “Mass Effect 3” alone, developers were presented with an unusual challenge. How to turn this massive game with all of its player involvement and lore into something that would satisfy their burgeoning fan base, yet remain accessible to players who were just discovering Shepard and the “Mass Effect” universe.
Fans of the science fiction/fantasy genre are very familiar with how trilogies end. Whether it is Darth Vader tossing the Emperor off a balcony or Gollum falling into the lava and destroying the One Ring, you can be sure of two things: there will be a dramatic twist at the end and really big things are going to happen.
Hudson said the way the “Mass Effect” series is built allows experienced players to continue with the stories they’ve already worked on, but also provide entry points for new players to get quickly acclimated to the tale and begin their own adventure. As with “Mass Effect 2,” players who have saved characters will be able to import those into “Mass Effect 3,” changing some dialog and missions to reflect actions taken in previous games.
New players are quickly brought up to speed through some introductory missions and different dialog from experienced players. But Hudson said new players shouldn’t feel like they are missing out on anything.
“The fact that it is a third story means that’s where you get to decide the fate of entire civilizations because we know this is the third of three,” he said. “If you are coming in as a new player, those plotlines are established but you also get to make the biggest decisions in them. For existing players, it’s mind blowing that they’ve gotten to know people and characters from a given species that they can choose to wipe out in Mass Effect 3.”
“That was the real fun of developing Mass Effect 3. This is the beginning of all the biggest things you get to do in the Mass Effect series and then everything comes to an end that you define as a player.”
Defining the parameters of the story and all the dialog choices that are identified with the “Mass Effect” series ended up pushing the limits for Hudson’s team. Since this is the final episode, everything needs to get resolved and all the questions need to get answered.
Hudson said despite allowing players to be in the driver’s seat on how those big story arcs get decided is what the fans of the series really enjoy. Which species live and which species die? What major character doesn’t make it to the end and who is there for the final battle? Players, new and veteran, will both have those choices to make and the emotional baggage that goes along with it.
“The team was really pushing to put little bits of fun even in the final days. [The game] ended up being bigger than what we thought it would be,” Hudson explained. “Whether you are a really passionate fan about the fiction or you’re fairly casual about it or you’re new to it, it should be a great story for everybody. We tried to build it as a story regardless of how familiar you are with the ‘Mass Effect’ universe.”
“This is really the biggest parts of this series. That’s what the whole story’s about.”
“Mass Effect 3” will be available March 6 in North America, March 8 in Australia, March 9 in Europe and March 15 in Japan. It is playable on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC. It currently does not have a rating from the ESRB.