Thursday, January 28, 2016

A ghost story: Murdered Soul Suspect

I recently did something that I rarely do in a game.  I completed all the Steam Achievements.

That's significant because as you know, I'm not big on leader boards or stats.

The game is called Murdered: Soul Suspect.  The best way to describe it is a 3rd person detective story RPG.  I'm sure elsewhere it's classified as something else but my description seems the most apropos.

In the game you're in the role of a street thug turned cop named Ronan.  An interesting name that left me wondering if it had anything to do with the comic book character Ronan the accuser or perhaps a play on the term "Ronin," a feudal Japanese moniker indicating a Samurai without a master or the more modern interpretation meaning one who is "between jobs."  In other words, a little sketchy.

Regardless, Ronan is a fascinating character study who literally wears his heart on his sleeve.  He's a fedora wearing tattooed man whose ink is a record of a careening, tumultuous life.  One only brought into focus with the love of his life, Julia.

Sadly, as the story opens we find Ronan living a tortured existence over the loss of his beloved Julia.  But this is no time to grieve as he's now consumed with catching a deranged serial killer targeting young women seemingly at random in the sleepy town of Salem, Massachusetts.

Yes, THAT Salem and it's your first clue as to where this story is going.

As the game begins we find Ronan exploding out of a shattered 4th story window after a confrontation with a shadowy figure.  He awakens to find himself temporarily disembodied but that state soon becomes permanent upon the arrival of the Bell Witch Killer.  Shot 7 times with his own gun, Ronan must now solve the mystery of his own murder and in the process uncover dark secrets that have haunted Salem for centuries.

Quite a build up eh?

It is and it's worthy of it.  The story is intriguing with twists, turns and dead ends to thrill any devotee of the mystery genre.  Add in a tastefully done horror component supported by an eerie backdrop of a dark and gloomy Salem complete with lost souls, haunted houses, and frightful demons.

The game is gorgeous even on my creaky old gaming laptop ( circa 2008 ) and the controls simple.  You're led on a path similar to the Call of Duty campaign modes on the hunt for clues to your own murder.  On the way you'll find ample opportunity to complete side quests but be warned if like me you seek to earn all of the Steam achievements you must be methodical in your approach.  For me it took 2 playthroughs as there is no quicksave nor any way to go back once you've completed the final chapter of the game.

It's a casual game but it can be maddening at times.  For one, you have no onscreen map nor any way to mark your progress toward achievements.  Meaning you'll spend a lot of time running in circles to find the way forward and backtracking for that one elusive clue.

Then there's the demons.  I understand that a game in the horror genre has to have some kind of threat but they're all over the place.  It breaks the flow of the narrative and it's jarring to go from a casual detective story to a flurry of button mashing every 10 minutes.  

Still, even with the more "gamey" aspects, it's still more ghost story than game which explains some of its mechanical shortcomings.  My first playthrough was simply for the sake of taking it all in.  The second was purely for my own desire to see everything and in the process earn every Steam achievement.

All tolled I've spent a bit over 20 hours and enjoyed every minute of it.  I picked it up on a Steam sale over the holidays for a paltry $2.99 a mere 10% of it's normal $29.99 price.

With all that's good about Murdered: Soul Suspect I'd suggest waiting till Steam gets generous again.  $30 is a bit much for 20 hours of gameplay from a defunct studio.  You won't even find the game mentioned on Square Enix's site and as such any support comes from the fan base.  It's an orphaned masterpiece that leaves me wondering just what could have been had Airtight Studios continued on.

Keep it in mind if you're looking for something to play when the weather turns a little chill, the autumn leaves begin to fall and thoughts turn to things that go bump in the night..

Check out the video below for a taste of Murdered: Soul Suspect...

Thursday, January 14, 2016

I have a problem with Patreon

A word of warning, this is a little off topic for this blog but there's some things that need to be said.  In fact what I need to say is so important that I may cross post this on my other blogs.

Here's the deal.  

Over the past few years you may have noticed a lot of your favorite online personalities and podcasts migrating a good quantity of their content to the fan supported Patreon platform.  Now understand that I'm not saying there's necessarily anything explicitly wrong with that but it's led to a kind of narcissistic entitlement mentality that just rubs me wrong.

If you don't know, Patreon is a an online platform originally created to help content creators (artists) generate an income from paid subscribers called "patrons."  In effect its purpose is to help starving artists starve a little less.  It's an old idea with roots in Medieval Europe where wealthy benefactors financially supported artists that would otherwise be unable to pursue their talents.  Imagine, for example, if  Michelangelo had never met Lorenzo de Medici.  Instead of his "David" gracing the Palaces of Florence, his toiling would have been lost to some nondescript block of stone lying about in a forgotten Italian quarry.

The concept is really that simple.  If you like what I do you should be willing to make sure I can continue doing it without the distractions of trying to earn a living doing something else .  That's the cold pitch but it's never served up that way.  It's always with copious thanks and admonitions that you don't "have" to pay but doing so somehow imbues your contribution with some higher calling. It's peer pressure among fans and it works pretty well since the target audience is usually a relatively intimate group.

While content providers that "exhibit" on Patreon may continue to offer a "free" option elsewhere, the fact remains that something gets lost when the best stuff goes behind a pay wall.  

Look, I get it.  In fact I'm painfully aware that making a living off a purely online presence is difficult especially if you don't have a big corporate backer.  Ask the average YouTube channel partner how lucrative the service is and the answer is usually in a denomination of pocket change.

Even big online presences like Slate, IGN and <insert website here> can't survive regardless of the quality of their content without "advertisus vomitus."

Which coincidentally is the argument we hear from podcasters who are now flocking in droves to the Patreon platform.  So much so that the word "artist" has been replaced with "content creator" on the site. 

Considering the bulk of available content now struggles to be called "art" it's understandable.  People may not like ads but they don't seem to mind paying a monthly "subscription" to get their content.

Apparently time has more value than money.  The older you get the more that rings true but the price of convenience often has a detrimental effect on the "art."

There are numerous examples of what I consider to be talented individuals on Patreon that would likely be in far less favorable circumstances if it didn't exist.  But what I consider talent isn't necessarily what the world at large finds valuable.  Meaning the content has to conform to those that patronize it.  It's a cover charge that only exists so long as you keep your patrons happy.  

That introduces the problem of losing a measure of freedom when your audience is too small.  Too few telling you that you're great too often can be a road to ruin.  You never get the opportunity to find out if what you're offering is really worth anything if your "inner circle" is just a cheering section.

I know that a few thousand  paid subscribers to a podcast on Patreon may seem like success and it is if all you're after is a cult following.  But the reality is that the larger world ignores you unless you've got something of real value to offer.

That means bucks and a few die hard supporters ponying up a couple of dead presidents every month isn't exactly a representative sample of your target demographic.  You're fooling yourself if you think the smattering of support you get is any indication of the quality and value of your work.  Sorry but accolades from your mom and your best friend don't count.

 You're still that guy on the corner strumming a guitar with his upturned hat sitting at his feet.  

Most people want to move on from that unless they just enjoy homelessness.

Let's get real here folks, even the worst late night infomercial has more reach than the most popular podcast.  In fact a bad infomercial is far more likely to get noticed than your Vlog about makeup tips.  

That's because people pay attention only to those things they can personally identify with.  Meaning, even if your message is pitch perfect you can fail because of your delivery.

It's a lot like George Lucas and Star Wars movies.  Everyone likes the originals and hates the prequels.  That's because ol' George is a better visionary than micro manager.  Episodes 4,5 and 6, those were collaborations.  The prequels? That was all George and the rest is history.

May we never see the likes of Jar Jar Binks again...

It's the same with podcasters who tend to start drinking their own Kool-Aid after a few years of relative success.  It doesn't matter if they call what they do a "show" either.  Doing Punch and Judy routines for a bunch of geeks watching on their smartphones is still a glorified Vlog.  

Add in a few loyal fans that cheer your every move and after awhile you figure your dues are paid.  Egos swell and soon the tip jar becomes a bonafide entitlement for what is still the same crappy content.

Better rustle up a good parachute with all your "winnings" because it's a long way down from that ego trip.

Let me offer an analogy from the real world that involves some folks similarly afflicted.  

In earlier incarnations of my life I worked a lot of different jobs even being a roadie for a rock band called Ground Zero for a short time. 

Now I doubt you ever heard of them but all the same they were pretty damned good with a lead singer that at times could rival the vocal range of Journey's Steve Perry.  They were talented, tight (in musical terms) and had a loyal following.  But even with all that, after 8 years of playing local bars and night clubs their fortunes hadn't improved.  

In the end they fell victim to their own egos fed by a small cadre of rabid fans and groupies that convinced them that they were better than they actually were.  Adversity is a great teacher but it's easily drowned out when you've got a bunch of buxom beauties stroking your leather pants.

When a real opportunity came along they were too content and drunk on their tiny bit of fame (among other things) to recognize it.  Ultimately, none of of the band members became even a footnote in musical history.  

It's the same danger that Patreon "podcasters" face.  If what you're offering isn't bringing you the riches you feel you deserve it's entirely possible that you really don't deserve them.  It's hard to accept that despite our furrowed brows and devotion to our ideals that nobody really gives a damn.

Hey, that's life, move on or move out.  

From an artistic point of view that's the perfect use case for Patreon.  Get your stuff out there and see if anyone bites.  

That's fair but instead of looking at Patreon as a market test I see a lot of these "podcasters" treating it like an entitlement.  A demand for recognition of their "craft."  A milestone of their legitimacy.

Which leads me to my issue with Patreon or rather "podcasts" on Patreon.

The most irritating thing about online "personalities" moving into the arena of crowd funding is the inevitable speech (whining really) just before they launch about how unappreciated and under compensated all their valuable hard work is.  It's the ultimate form of blowing your own horn and frankly it's disgusting.

Dean Martin said it best, "You're nobody till somebody loves you..."  

Hey, I've got no problem with anyone trying to expand their reach but for god's sake drop the guilt trip.  I don't want to hear about how deprived you are because I know at least a dozen people worse off that still manage to do more for the world than your stupid podcast ever will.  

You're not being forced to move into Patreon to survive, you're just looking for another revenue stream.  Nobody goes there without having at least some level of following.

Appreciate what you have instead of whining about what you don't, shall we?  Let's drop the pretense and the whining.  You're not an artist bringing greater light to the world.  You're just a freaking podcaster blathering on about makeup or regurgitated editorials about video cards.  

Realize that just because Patreon has allowed itself to become the crowd funding source for what is often mediocre talent doesn't elevate what you're doing just by being there.  Only good content with a receptive audience can do that.  

It's not a birthright.

If you're really offering value you won't have to beg.

Don't get me wrong, I really don't hate Patreon or what it's trying to do.  There are legitimate "artists" out there deserving of your support.  By all means give till it hurts and then give some more.  

However, I sincerely doubt Walter Cronkite would have ever considered podcasting, on its best day, anything above cub reporting let alone "art."

Regardless of what all the experts say content isn't king, distribution is.  Look at the most popular YouTube channels or even television for proof.  I'd be willing to bet that of all the available content out there less than 1% of it is worth anything to you.

In Patreon terms, however, it would be a boon to capture such a niche audience.  But that audience is small much like the groupies that followed around that band I roadied for.  If that's all your shooting for then rock on, just don't quit your day job.

If you're after more, however, I caution you to keep a foot firmly planted in reality.  Patreon will not make you a household name and a niche audience will not elevate the value of your content.  Put out the tip jar if you must but for god sake get over yourself.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

New Year, new stuff...

Christmas has come and gone and so has the New Year's hangover.  Now we enter into the winter doldrums where the only thing interesting is who'll be playing at the Super Bowl next month and of course getting in some quality time with those holiday deals we got from Origin and Steam.

In my case I was treated to a gift of a Codemasters humble bundle that included such gems as Dirt 3, Grid Autosport and some badly needed Grid 2 DLC.  A welcome addition to my game library to be sure but the next surprise came in the form of GTA 5 and a few days later Call of Duty Advanced Warfare.

I'm not sure what I did to deserve such grand treatment but I'm certainly appreciative even if my hardware wasn't quite able to take full advantage of my fortunate bounty.

That was until I found a brand new GTX 970 under my tree.  
Christmas hasn't been this good to me since I got my first electric train at 7 years old.  

There's been a lot of suffering over the past few years and it's managed to filter down to my gaming.  Streaming has been nearly impossible with a 6 year old Nvidia GTX 260 and video editing wasn't much better.  That meant instead of having fun I spent a lot of time waiting.  Then I'd wait some more and when something finally happened there was always a good chance things would go south.

I deeply appreciate the gifts I've been given and I intend to make full use of them.  That means better videos, more streaming and newer games to talk about.

So I send out a special thanks to Shotglass for making my life a lot easier and to all of you who drop by this blog and my YouTube channel just to see what I'm up to.

Happy New Year!

Now get back to your game!