push.the.button

hi, i'm patrick klepek.
i used to be a reporter for 1up, mtv news, g4. i did work at EGM. we don't talk about that. i was (am?) obsessed with LOST. now, i report on video games for giant bomb.

To be or not to be

“I do not consider myself a feminist or particularly aligned with the feminist movement. I just know bullshit when I see it, and I’m tired of bullshit that involves the vapid, shallow arguments that crawl out of the comments section of every single website whenever this subject comes out. It feels like the same 50 people are just making dupe accounts across the Internet, and making sure to drown out any real conversation. Those people deserve a chance to be heard, and that includes the larger-than-you’d-think audience of women right here on Giant Bomb.”

I’ve received a fair number of questions about that paragraph’s opening line from my recent piece on the #1reasonwhy and #1reasontobe movements on Twitter.

There was precious little thought put into it, but clearly it stuck out to people, and maybe I should have given it more consideration before hitting publish. Anyone who follows my Twitter feed knows where my political leanings are. I’m as progressively liberal as they come, and proud of it. From my perspective, that obviously includes standing up and fighting for all manners of equality, whether it’s by race, gender, sexual orientation, what have you.

As a consequence, I don’t (didn’t?) consider myself a “feminist,” as it seemed like a bit of a stretch. My impression of the label was one of intense advocacy, an interest held above other ones. Like the paragraph notes, this was simply a moment where I smelled bullshit, and decided to comment on it. I do not otherwise spend my time considering the feminist movement, reading up on feminisms’ progress or lack thereof, and thus didn’t find it especially appropriate to take on the label. Instead, it just falls under my progressive beliefs.

Folks have suggested my line comes across as defensive, as though I’m afraid of saying I’m, in fact, a “feminist.” But I haven’t viewed it that way, and maybe I should? It’s certainly possible I view the label incorrectly, and thus framed myself in a way that isn’t representative of my views, since clearly I’m a champion of some or all of what feminism stands for. I’m open to feedback on the idea, even if it’s not an issue I’ve spent much time thinking about.

It’s odd to even be talking about this in the open, since one of the things Kotaku (then MTV) editor Stephen Totilo asked me to do was keep my political beliefs out of my writing and reporting. Clearly, I did a great job of following that advice as soon as I left!

(I also think it matters less these days, though I [largely] keep it out of my hardline reporting.)

Five Shorties for All Hallows Eve

Introduced a new thing at our annual Halloween gathering at my apartment last night where we screen a bunch of handpicked horror shorts before watching Trick ‘r Treat.

Here they are!

Thanks, G4

There have been three formative moments in my longer-than-you’d-think career.

  1. Being hired as the San Francisco-based reporter for MTV News, and writing under Stephen Totilo, who’s now the editor of Kotaku. Totilo was a brutal editor, and he savaged my work—an editorial beating I needed. I was a curious writer prior to working with Totilo, and I came out of it a reporter.
  2. Getting laid off from MTV News when the financial crisis of 2008 rocked the world, and gambling on a questionable job as an editor for G4’s The Feed blog. It’s where I developed an interest in being on camera, and met my friend Adam Sessler. (We’d met before then, but we were just colleagues.)
  3. Leaving a job that was breaking me at EGM and coming to Giant Bomb, where I finally found the place that perfectly matched my personal and professional interests. It’s been a dream ever since then.

I was employed at G4 for about a year or so, but it was an incredible ride. It’s a place that gave the appearance of being this big organization, despite only a surprisingly small number of people making it all work. The ambition was huge, and made it a pleasure to come into work. The merging of G4’s video capabilities with its editorial staff never worked out, and remains a tragedy. One of the early secrets to 1UP’s success was its connection to EGM, and that connection just never came together for www.g4tv.com and X-Play.

G4 took a chance on me a couple of times, and I’ll never forget it.

Once, after most of the TV “talent” (the phrase that was used at G4 for those who blabbed in front of a camera) had gone home for Christmas, an opportunity arose to interview director James Cameron. This was just days before the opening of Avatar, and his connection to Ubisoft meant there would be a chance to talk to him for X-Play. No one from X-Play was around, though, and I hadn’t left for my annual trek back to the Midwest. X-Play producer Wade Beckett came up to me out of the blue, and asked if I wanted to interview Cameron. What does a person say in this situation? A person says yes.

I stressed about it all day. It wasn’t clear if Cameron would even show up, and if he did, there was every reason to believe it would only be for five or 10 minutes. By sheer chance, I was being given a shot to move up the ladder at G4, since I was considered one of the people on the web side capable of sitting in front of a camera every once and a while.

Cameron not only showed up, but he showed up a whole 45 minutes in advance, and we had a chance to casually talk about Halo, Aliens, Avatar, and a whole host of other topics. It was cut down to a video that only lasts a couple of minutes, but I didn’t fuck it up, and this lead to X-Play giving me the chance to be one of their E3 hosts. That was huge.

The result was a version of E3 that I’d never been a part of before. Waking up at 4:00 a.m. for a 10:00 a.m. shoot, learning what the hand signals are for bullshiting before a commercial, spending hours under hot lights—it was all stuff that would eventually prove vital when coming to Giant Bomb.

To steal a cliched phrase, I wouldn’t be where I am without G4. It was and is a great group, even if it never realized its full potential. Good luck to everyone who got bad news today. You’ll be fine. I don’t know what G4’s going to become, but thanks for being what you were.

Honesty

“klepek, you are the biggest hipster i know. That why you are upset? glad someone close to you died, GB improved.”

I’m used to courting abuse on the Internet. It’s part of the job, though one that takes getting used to.

This guy (or girl, I suppose, but let’s be realistic) has every right to convey the underlying sentiment behind that comment. Since the passing of my father, I’ve been in Chicago, and haven’t been part of Giant Bomb’s regular video and audio features. Maybe he just wasn’t a fan of my opinions, voice, or mannerisms.

That’s okay.

As a personality on the Internet, that’s a criticism I have to be prepared for. Some people are just not going to like me or how I act, and that’s 100% alright. You, as a reader, do not have to like or enjoy me, but as someone who trades on their personality, at some level, I have to respect your opinion on the matter. It’s my job to filter the useless criticisms.

I’ve adjusted my mannerisms in some small but important ways over some legitimate complaints (like, say, pronouncing ostensibly correctly, or interrupting people out of excitement), but there are limits, and being someone who is a reporter, a commentator, a critic, and often a mixture of all three means people are going to have an opinion about you, too. That opinion will not always be a good one, and more often than not, the people who want to share their opinions are the ones with unflattering ones. I’m also of the mindset that if nobody dislike you, you aren’t doing your job right.

Again, that’s okay. It has to be okay. You only get better with criticism, and even someone who is blasting you with hateful nonsense is, I suspect, doing so from a place of heartfelt critique, even if their way of expressing it ends up muddying their point, and prompts a reaction that dilutes it.

One of the first things I tell young writers is to read everything people write about them. Don’t ignore it—bathe in it. The good, the bad, the downright awful. It’s the only way to get stronger, and you’ll come out of the experience better for it, tougher for it. Plus, you eventually realize people aren’t that creative with their lines of attack, and you’ll soon recognize when strings of useful words are written down. I’m only 27-years-old, but I’ve been doing this long enough to jokingly be a “veteran,” and still read all I can.

If that sounds a bit like the job of a game designer shifting through player feedback, you’re right. It’s roughly the same, it just means you’re trying to parse useful thoughts from someone saying you suck. This process doesn’t work for everyone, and I’ve long considered that maybe the entire approach is one that’s deeply flawed, in which you internalize a set of thoughts and beliefs that ends up deceptively muffling you.

I’m a work-in-progress, though, and so is my work.

Does this mean we shouldn’t shame those who act so crass and inappropriate? Of course not. That’s part of the beauty and danger of the Internet age, and these kinds of posts have a useful function for society. That said, please don’t Internet Detective this guy. I only mentioned his comment to make a larger point.

Nothing about the above comment gets under my skin. I decided to share it on Twitter not to disgrace the person behind it, but to call attention to its patent absurdity. I mean, who the hell says that? People have said some shitty things about me on the Internet, but that one takes the crap cake. They’d have to do something a whole hell of a lot worse to get a real reaction out of me.

Please don’t try, though.

(Update: The person in question has since apologized.)

30 Days o’ Horror: 2011 Edition

Horror movies are the best, you guys! Logically, October is also the best. Even though I’m watching horror films all year long, when October rolls around, I tend to go overboard with things.

You’ll notice there are very few horror “classics” on this list—Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, Alien, etc. I’ve seen all these movies way too many times. The point of this month-long exercise is to purposely expose myself to as many movies as possible that I haven’t seen. The rare exceptions here are movies like The Blair Witch Project, which I haven’t watched in years because it effin’ terrifies me.

Many will be hard to find! Many of them you may have to get a hold of from strange, exotic places! I have, however, done my homework and picked all of these from solid sources. They should be pretty terrific films. It does bum me out that I can’t recommend some of my favorite scary ass movies from the last few years in the list, so I’ll do it here: Martyrs, [rec], The Entity, Them, House of the Devil.

Have fun! Turn the lights off! Get yourself a drink! I know I’ll need one.

October 1: The Beyond

October 2: Street Trash

October 3: Triangle

October 4: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (note: trailer is spoilery of kill scenes)

October 5: Night of the Creeps

October 6: Castle Freak

October 7: Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence

October 8: City of the Living Dead

October 9: The Hitcher

October 10: Frontiers

October 11: Shivers

October 12: They Came Back

October 13: Without Warning

October 14: The Thing (remake)

October 15: The Woman

October 16: Dead Heat

October 17: Yellow Brick Road

October 18: The Changeling

October 19: Burnt Offerings

October 20: The Blair Witch Project

October 21: Paranormal Activity 3

October 22: Psycho II

October 23: The Nameless

October 24: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

October 25: Altered States

October 26: In the Mouth of Madness

October 27: Society

October 28: The Stuff

October 29: Apartment 1303

October 30: Evil Bong 3D

The Beer Test

"The true test of a game’s narrative is whether I’m willing to go grab a new beer while a cut scene is going on."—me, on Twitter, being snarky.

I’m joking—mostly. I’ve just finished Crytek’s Crysis 2, a game supposedly taking narrative seriously enough to hire a screenwriter. I have little knowledge of Crysis beyond aliens and a magical suit, myself a Mac-bound computer user. Plus, with Crysis 2 debuting on consoles, I expected a decent summary.

Er, nope. Still, I’ve heard Crysis' story was hardly water cooler worthy, but as someone who will play or watch anything with an alien (Independence Day is, no joke, one of my favorite movies—everever), Crysis didn’t have to do much to keep my attention; it only had to, at least, explain itself a tiny bit.

I knew something was afoot when a seemingly critical cut-scene (non-spoiler: meeting Gould) appeared, which propmpted me to lay the controller down and have a sip of beer. “Drats, ” I said. “Empty.” Instead of waiting for the cut-scene to finish out, I moved up from my seat and headed to the fridge for another beer. And then it stuck me: I’ve stopped giving a shit about what’s happening, huh.

Crysis 2 explicitly told me I should stop caring when it slapped “press A to enter game” seconds after starting the campaign. And the prompt never disappears. Homefront was similarly offensive, yet I’m supposed to believe these games are taking their storytelling seriously? And that’s without laughing at the concept of cut-scenes to begin with.

I’ll forgive Crysis 2 on some level, as the “cut-scenes” are basically maps with voice overs, allowing the game to load in the background. That’s not clear at the start of the game, however. “Press A to enter game” rather bluntly suggests the part of the experience I should care about does not exist there.

And even though this has nothing to do with the “beer test,” I’m going to groan anyway: please stop putting important story elements in collectables. I don’t give a shit about achievements or trophies or gamer points, but I do care about understanding the world around me. There’s an important layer of plot to Crysis 2 (is that where the screenwriter’s work went?) that I wasn’t aware of until after the game was over. They were hidden in collectible emails, things I found a handful of times by accident. Man.

(You know what I’m talking about, Resistance 2.)

Anyway.

What’s worse, the “beer test” is easy to pass, especially since most cut-cenes are pauseable now. The more dramatic application is the “pee test,” in which a game/movie/book grips you enough to put off doing the most essential of bodily tasks, seeking just a few more moments in the narrative’s world.

That’s a whole ‘nother story, though.

It’s Not Your Fault

Locke: You saw the film, Jack. This is a… this is a two person job, at least.
Sayid: This argument is irrelevant.
Jack: Sayid, don’t.
Sayid: Jack.
Jack: Don’t. It’s not real. Look, you want to push the button, you do it yourself.
Locke: If it’s not real, then what are you doing here, Jack? Why did you come back? Why do you find it so hard to believe?
Jack: Why do you find it so easy?
Locke: It’s never been easy!
Kate: Maybe you should just do it.
Jack: No…It’s a button.

The Internet had a meltdown last night, following the evening launch of Sword & Sorcery EP for iPad. The Superbrothers and Capybara Games pixelated adventure includes a novel implementation of Twitter, one which the developers claim was intended to encourage player collaboration. Whenever a piece of dialogue appears, all of which are under written within 140 characters, you can share it with the world, complete with #sworcery hashtag. Within moments, everyone was #sworcerying, resulting in Twitter timelines filled with the game’s wittiest bits (“Bark!”) shared over and over and over again.

If you didn’t know what Sword & Sworcery was—heck, even if you did—the resulting flood could have been annoying. Cynically, though understandingly, the criticism quickly turned towards the game itself, figuring Sword & Sorcery had been crafted with an auto-Tweet function, ala Uncharted 2, wherein the game would send a short message to your Twitter friends after simply completing a chapter. That’s not the case, and I couldn’t help but laugh a bit at the folks, many of them good friends, getting upset.

The developers have only said the Twitter functionality in Sword & Sorcery was an “experiment.” I can’t assume the goals of the developer, but the resulting action did two things: create awareness for the game using content within the game itself (writing) and simultaneously expose a double standard about sharing that’s typically blasted against social networking driven games like Zynga’s FarmVille.

Consider the title of this blog, Push The Button. It holds meaning for what’s happened here. You do not have to share anything in Sword & Sorcery. It’s entirely driven by players. So far, I’ve opted to not share anything I’ve encountered, even though my Twitter account’s configured. Every few seconds, however, you are given the opportunity; the “tweet” button appears, taunting you. It only takes a single press and, voila, you’ve shared a humorous quip with the world. You’re not forced to see its impact on your Twitter feed; it just disappears into the virtual void. But it exposes an important relationship between designer and player and, also, game and player. Sword & Sorcery manipulated a bunch of players who more than likely would tell you they eye-roll at FarmVille players on Facebook.

The reason I laughed at anyone upset over the #sworcery phenomenon was because they had no one to blame but their own friends for falling prey to one of gaming’s most fundamental mechanics: push the button. We all want to push the button; pushing buttons, at least until the last few years, has been our foundation of interaction. In this case, the temptation to push becomes exponentially more taunting; Sword & Sorcery exists on a touchable device. You’re supposed to push! Push! Push! Why wouldn’t you want to press it…you know, at least once? 

When it comes to pushing buttons, players don’t have much will power. It’s understandable; we’ve been wired that way and Sword & Sorcery decided to play us like a fiddle. Well done, puppet masters.

Why this year was my first successful GDC (and maybe my last)

I’ve had the pleasure of attending the Game Developers Conference for several years now, free of charge. Almost everyone else forks over hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars for the same privilege. And it’s exactly that: a privilege, one that I’ve come to realize I’ve been misusing, to my own detriment, because of the wrong priorities—albeit ones that have been largely out of my control (which I’ll get to in just a minute). GDC 2011 was the first GDC where I embraced what I should be: a student.

For five days, I sat, listened, took notes, and tried to let everything sink in. You shouldn’t have to be a respected game designer to talk or criticize videogames, but you should understand how they work and the processes behind their creation. The tension between games writers and developers has more to do with a fundamental misunderstanding of each side’s job, one that each could stand to learn more about. Many (most) developers are not given much access to the press, but GDC provides an excellent venue for the opposite. For reasons I think are entirely reasonable, that doesn’t much happen.

There was a meme going around GDC this year called the “no badge club,” in which several fellow colleagues reported not having enough time to even pick up their badge for GDC. Rather, they were swamped with appointments to check out games and publisher events surrounding GDC itself. There were enough games, from Batman: Arkham City to Battlefield 3, that you could avoid GDC entirely.

The problem? You can’t blame them. The games are around, other websites will be covering them, and not seeing them out means missing out on potential hits. Well, that and gamers probably want to hear more about what new villains are coming to Arkham City than moral reflections on social games. Of course, if you never expose readers to those ideas, they can’t demand what they don’t know is there.

What I’m saying is that it’s all very sad; a missed opportunity. I don’t know if there will be another GDC where I’m able to indulge nearly as much this year, but I hope so, I truly hope so, because I absorbed more over those five days, knowledge that is directly applicable to my understanding, writing and reporting about videogames, than I’ll ever get from the next year of publisher-driven press events.

LOST + Dead Island = this

The (71?!) Games I Played And Finished In 2010

2010 was a good year for well-designed games, though I have to admit that very few experiences embedded into my subconscious (like Flower did) after the credits. That’s a blog for later, but I wanted to share my second annual documentation of games I played and finished throughout the last year.

All told, the list includes 71 games. 

Holy shit. 71 games.

There are a few caveats, of course.

  • I’ve included some tiny, short (usually Flash) games in the mix.
  • There’s no way to really “beat” Rock Band 3, only to play a ton of it.
  • Downloadable content gets counted as a separate experience.

As for the list, here goes:

January
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
New Super Mario Bros. Wii
VVVVVV
Every Day The Same Dream
Machinarium
No More Heroes 2
Dante’s Inferno

February
Mass Effect 2 
Heavy Rain One
Button Bob

March
God of War II
The Misadventures of P.J. Winterbottom
Klonoa (Wii)
God of War III
Beneath a Steel Sky (iPhone)

April
Just Cause 2 
3D Dot Game Heroes
Mirror’s Edge (iPad)
Splinter Cell: Conviction
Sam & Max: Episode 1: The Penal Zone

May
Alan Wake
Super Mario Galaxy 2 
Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

June
Green Day: Rock Band
Bit.Trip.Runner
Red Dead Redemption
Split/Second
Sin & Punishment: Star Successor

July
Limbo 
Metro 2033 
Crackdown 2
The Secret of Monkey Island 2: Special Edition

August
Transformers: War For Cybertron
DeathSpank
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game
Shank
Comic Jumper
Metroid: Other M
Dead Rising: Case Zero

September
One Button Arthur
e7 
Far Cry 2
Halo: Reach
Super Scribblenauts
Rock Band 3

October
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions
Freedom Bridge
Walk to Die
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Get Home
Medal of Honor
Super Meat Boy

November
Costume Quest
Kinect Adventures
Kinect Sports
Dance Central
Call of Duty: Black Ops
GoldenEye 007
Kirby’s Epic Yarn
Donkey Kong Country Returns
The Incident

December
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Disney Epic Mickey
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
Costume Quest: Grubbins on Ice
BioShock 2: Minerva’s Den
Cut The Rope: Holiday Edition
NBA Jam
Give Up Robot 2