Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
Jepp: 1) Please keep critiquing games by building new ones :)...
Chris Kilgariff: Hey, This game needs to be a mobile phone...
Andrew: Just linked the book club to you, boosting your...
Futurama: Bender’s Big Score: if you’ve seen Score and felt that it’s a little heavy on the fan-service – hi. I’m one of those fans it was servicing, and it did it very well. I didn’t need that much Leeloo, and the songs were needless and clumsy, but other than that it was joyous.
I’m the sort of fan who gets an enormous kick out of the new theme tune, the triumph of bureaucracy, the explanation for how Gore lost the election, the obsessive retconning of the pilot episode’s pivotal moment, the cyclic timeline mathematics and the titular payoff at the very end. Speaking of the theme tune, have you heard the 1967 original? It’s surprisingly awesome.
“Are you free?”
“You have no idea.”
Dexter Season Finale: the only thing wrong with this season of Dexter (apart from the unaccountable soap-opera interlude that was Rita’s mother) is a certain character lapsing into a hideous crazy-stalker stereotype. But the finale got so much mileage out of the mess this created that I can almost forgive it. The scene with three people and a large black bag was almost unbearable to watch. More spoilerific discussion should probably go in the original comments thread.
But yes, fantastic. The leadup to this over the last handful of episodes is the best Dexter has ever been, and Dexter is itself near-perfect television.
“Let’s see if the best bed in Kaer Morhen can hold us!”
The Witcher: broken sexist porno that’s coming up in a lot of game-of-the-year lists, and got huge review scores everywhere but with us. You play a badly scarred grey-haired old man in leather trousers, to whom a procession of identically-shaped redheads surrender themselves sexually after three lines of astonishingly bad dialogue. Post-deed, you are awarded an achievement souvenir card showing the girl naked, just in case you didn’t already feel like a pathetic mysognist.
Somehow it’s even more wretched than the despicable Leisure Suit Larry games – the last of which revolved around date rape. The fact that Larry’s love interests even needed to be date-raped before they’d sleep with the idiot hero automatically makes them stronger characters than the Witcher’s.
It’s not that I can’t imagine what people see in the Witcher – I haven’t played it through, maybe it gets amazing after four hours of insufferable dross. I’m just appalled at what they can ignore. The huge script cutbacks before release have been achieved by simply deleting swathes of lines, so conversations are riddled with bizarre, glaring holes that not just make for abysmal fiction, but in many cases render events truly incomprehensible.
“Laurent ran guns for the resistance.”
“He won’t say – apparently they didn’t win.”
Ratatouille: I hate to be down on such a sweet film, but I’m so tired of that nervous kid clichÃƒÂ© and the angry boss who’s supposed to be funny because he’s short. Brad Bird has uncharacteristically little to add to those grating, ancient stereotypes, and the central conceit is just surreal.
The premise is a rat who can cook, and a kitchen boy who cannot, but the film has no workable idea for how the two can collaborate. It ends up inventing a physiological mechanic so utterly nonsensical that it’s downright creepy to watch.
The rat and dough physics modelling is fantastic, and it made me laugh perhaps twice, but it’s so far from the spark of The Incredibles.
Duke Nukem Forever Trailer: after ten years of development, the first movie of the incarnation that’s actually likely to be released has come out. It features no dialogue until, at the end, protagonist Nukem stands up and says, essentially, “I want to shit on you.”
I am at a loss.
Tentaculat: I discovered the joys of Dexter from this very site, and after watching season one, it became my favourite show, possibly ever. Thanks for spreading the word. Pushing Daisies was another good tip as well.
Jason L: Yeah, Rataouille is a bit un-Birdian. It's still good to see a Pixar film that feels 'Pixar' again after the schmaltz and glitz of Nemo and Cars. Anton Ego impressed me most - it's made clear well before the final conflict that he's not evil, just honourably inflexible and so that final 'fight' isn't the redemption of a modern villain, but a dialogue. That's not something I see often.
Iain: Oh, Tom. And you were doing so well.
As someone who actually completed The Witcher, I have to say that Alec's review is not just biased thanks to the stiff-assed "No sex please, we're British" attitude, but it's also factually inaccurate. What he's written shows that he's not even taken the time to get to grips with the basic mechanics of the combat. So it's not surprising he didn't like it.
I don't know how long he had to review the game (and if he had a typical freelancer's deadline of a week to review a 60 hour game in, he would need either a) a time machine or b) three PCs, six arms, insomnia and a multiple personality disorder to get through it all), but if he wrote the review based on the first chapter (which is what his screenshots in the magazine suggest - and believe me, there are plenty more things that are more interesting things to take screenshots of in the closing chapters), he's painfully misrepresenting the game. And yes, the game and story does improve dramatically after the first four hours. By the time I was three chapters in (some 30 hours or so), I was playing the game for 6 and 8 hours at a time, because I really wanted to know where the main plot (which is mainly untouched by the regrettable script cuts) was headed. And the post-epilogue closing cutscene is one of the best end game head-fucks in gaming history, as the final twist turns pretty much all what you've learnt about the Witchers in the 60 hours of the campaign on its head in an instant. Judging the game after 4 hours without attempting to gain at least some insight into the game world and the fiction it's based on is akin to walking out of a film after 10 minutes and then reviewing it on national TV or radio: unfair, misrepresentative and an insult to the people who made it.
And really, it shouldn't be so surprising that people can overlook a few issues with the script. You've played Deus Ex. There not only did you have to overlook the appalling voice acting, the substandard textures and animation, plot holes you could drive tank regiments through and the fact that at the beginning of the game you're a multi-billion dollar super-agent who can't hit the side of a skyscraper with a pistol from 10 feet. And this is a game that's third on my list of all-time favourite videogames. In the trade we call it suspension of disbelief. Perhaps if The Witcher had had "Obsidian" rather than "CD Projekt" written on the box, maybe a few more UK reviewers might have afforded the game some... I know the phrase "PC Zone" is heresy around these parts, but you should really try reading their review, because they're the only major UK PC mag that got it remotely right.
Finally, about the sex. The game's not sexist. Geralt isn't a misogynist character, either. Anyone who's played to the point where he has to choose between a relationship with Shani or Triss (irrevocably ruining the relationship with the other woman) would know this. If I see anyone associate the world "Witcher" with "misogynist" without having played through the game, I will personally beat them around the head with a dictionary until they understand what the word actually means. And seriously, if you think that non-explicit consensual sex between two willing adults and a few digitally sketched nipples are inherently more offensive and immoral than graphically murdering Koreans in Crysis by grabbing them around the throat and throwing them through buildings like pathetic ragdolls, then you really need to book an appointment with a psychiatrist.
Sorry, ranted rather a lot there, but this whole Future/RPS vs The Witcher thing has really been pissing me off lately. There's a reason it's appearing on so many people's Top 10 of 2007 lists (including mine) - it's really damn good if you take the time to give it a fair crack. As I mentioned when Kieron did his "an hour with The Witcher" post on RPS, if you judged the first couple of hours of Planescape: Torment against the first couple of hours of The Witcher, it's not Planescape that wins. I'm not saying that the game turns into Tolstoy halfway through, but it's a heck of a lot more interesting and enjoyable than Neverwinter Nights 2 managed to be.
Kieron Gillen: To be fair though, it does crash a lot too.
True, but not as much as Neverwinter Nights 2 or its expansion, at least in my experience. My mean time between crashes with Mask of the Betrayer was about 20 minutes, and my PC's stability-tuned to hell and less than 10 months old. In fact, the only points when Witcher crashed after I installed the patch were when I was exiting the game. At which point it was really kinda irrelevant. It's all about the context, to be honest.
Tom Francis: Ooh good, I get to elaborate. I want to give you a proper reply, because you've put a lot of words into that, and I was half-hoping this post would elicit a good defense of the Witcher. But I'm not answering your criticisms of other people's articles because honestly, I don't know what they're doing here. I have nothing to do with RPS, I didn't review it for any Future publication, and I hadn't even read Alec's review until recently.
This is the first bit that sounds like it might be talking to me:
"Judging the game after 4 hours without attempting to gain at least some insight into the game world and the fiction it's based on is akin to walking out of a film after 10 minutes and then reviewing it on national TV or radio."
If so, I'm flattered that James is considered the equivalent of national TV. But it's a lot more akin to walking out of a sixty-hour film after four hours and saying, on your personal blog, "The first four hours were so bad I didn't fancy sitting through next fifty-six." Is that a grossly unreasonable position?
I'm sure it is an insult to the developers, but I'm confident that with time and extensive counselling, they'll come to terms with the distaste of a writer they've never heard of and who didn't review their game. If not, perhaps the devastating scars I've inflicted on their psyches will serve as a reminder to - next time - put some of the good stuff within the first four hours of the experience.
If you don't want me to call a game that treats women as collectable cards awarded for fucking them 'mysoginist' - or even 'sexist' - I'm happy to call it 'disgusting', 'repugnant' or 'despicable' instead. If there are men you can bone for a similar reward later, there might even be some grounds for the distinction.
I'm glad to hear that in its sixty-hour running time there is one occasion when one of the twenty-two women frantic to sleep with you has an objection to you screwing one other concurrently with her, but I'm not convinced it excuses the four hours of abysmal porn-film-level sexual surrender I've tolerated first-hand.
Even the 88% PC Zone review - which is presumably based on significantly more than the first four hours - notes that the women exist "primarily to be conquered, sexually or otherwise".
It's not the same sort of criticism as "my aiming reticule seems oversized for the level of training I imagine my character to have been given". And substandard textures aren't quite as essential to the Deus Ex experience as a mutilated script is to a character-driven RPG.
Also I quite like Deus Ex's textures.
I'm going to assume the Black Isle comment, mildly offensive as it was, wasn't aimed at me, since I've never completed or commented on any of their games. I've only played the first hour or so of Planescape, but for what it's worth, they were funny, macabre and intriguing. Playing further is one of the many better things I have to do than trudge through another fifty-six hours of the Witcher before I'm allowed to say what I thought of the four that put me off it for life without being hit with a dictionary.
Richard: "Somehow itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s even more wretched than the despicable Leisure Suit Larry games - the last of which revolved around date rape."
Bit of a correction. Shit as the last Larry game was (1,2,3 and 7 are okay, and all of them are pretty harmless), that doesn't happen. The scene in question (I'm guessing) involves Larry playing a drinking game with a girl to persuade her to let her hair down for an 80s teen movie style makeover, after which she initiates the sex scene bit without any pressure from him.
In that 'hilarious' sequence, the joke isn't Larry forcing herself on him, but the sweet/innocent/restrained/whatever character suddenly pulling out a strap-on dildo and asking him to use that instead. The punchline, if you can call it that, is that Larry can't be bothered with that, and sticks it on her teddy-bear instead when she switches off the light, causing her to freak out when she realises.
Still shit. Still really stupid. But not date rape. Like all the games, the puzzles revolve around Larry trying to win the different girls' affections by solving problems and providing tokens. The closest the series ever gets to that is with a character in the seventh game who drugs Larry's drink to knock him out and steal his money.
What makes MCL offensive is a bit more subtle. The structure of the whole series involves Larry going after his One True Love in a given location, with an eye on finding love rather than a quick shag. His pursuit of the other girls is intentionally disappointing, either because they've no interest in anything other than a casual romp in the hay, or his attempts to woo them end up in rejection and humiliation. Usually the latter.
Only in MCL (and to some extent, the atrocious Larry 5) is bedding the girls treated as a mission objective per se. Usually, it's 'luck' that the result of these dalliances is some object or similar that he later needs to get the aforementioned One True Love, with the player intended to be thinking "Ah. Okay. I got this champagne, so now I need to..." rather than the much more cynical, miserable "If I sleep with her, I'll get the champagne, which I need to..."
MCL flat-out went down this route, saying "And in this level, you've got to seduce... these three!" And that was by far the most miserable, misogynistic part about it, to the extent that there's whole conversations about how he doesn't even want several of them - one bores him senseless, one is psychotic, another (the one mentioned above) turns lesbian as a result of meeting him. It's a horrible, horrible, horrible game that the developers should be ashamed of.
But not one with date rape.
Iain: As I say on my blog http://barkandbyte.b... ...go-on.html I'm not really specifically trying to single out Alec, you or RPS at all, so please don't take what I said personally - I'm not trying to pick a fight here; you just happen to be in wrong place at the wrong time, talking about the wrong game that I rather enjoyed and am a little mystified as to how the rest of the UK press seems to have treated it. It irks me. I know I should stop giving so much of a shit about these thing, but I'm only human. Unfortunately...
I'm more raging that the general way the print journalism is run doesn't generally make it easy for games that require a lot of time to review to actually get the time they *need* to be reviewed properly (which is what the 10 minute film review analogy is about - can you honestly judge a film or a book on the first 10% of the narrative? No, so why would doing the same with a game be somehow okay?). Especially so if they happen to be from out-of-the-way developer without the track record of a someone like Valve or Bioware - it makes games like The Witcher very easy to dismiss with a hand wave, before you've even attempted to give the narrative a chance.
""The first four hours were so bad I didn't fancy sitting through next fifty-six." Is that a grossly unreasonable position?"
Not necessarily, horses for courses and all that, but it is if you're actually reviewing the game for a publication that will affect the sales of the game (which I grant you, you're not), and I'm not saying that Alec bailed on the game after 4 hours either - it's just if you've completed the game, you could get that impression from reading the review. I've reviewed the game twice incidentally, (for videogamer.com and PC Plus) and I was fortunate enough to be given enough time to play through the campaign before I had to commit to an opinion - and (I hope) it shows in the score I gave it and my review text.
To be honest, I don't mind if you call The Witcher sexist, disgusting, repugnant or despicable. I just don't agree, because I've taken the time to get immersed into the fiction of the game and understood that the Witchers occupy a social limbo similar to that of a Roman Gladiator in the game world: they have an ugly, dangerous job that renders them sterile and they're revered and reviled in almost equal measure by humans and non-humans alike. Like with gladiators, "servicing" women is one of the few perks of their place in society, and if you played past the first three encounters you'd notice that it's actually the WOMEN that predominantly initiate the sex, because bagging a Witcher is seen as a feather in their cap and gives them bragging rights... when in Chapter 3 you hear people shouting "A witcher! Lock up your women!" as Geralt passes in the streets, it's because the wives will go out of their way to sleep with him, not the other way around. There are several occasions where the women are clearly using Geralt to intentionally spite other characters. But you're not going to know that if you give up on the game too early...
You're quite within your rights to not like the game and the material it touches upon (sex, racism, intolerance, moral relativism) but half of me thinks that a lot of peoples' objections to the game are more to do with their own preconceptions and prejudices than the game's merits themselves. If you don't like the sex cards, don't sleep with the women. It's that simple - very few of the encounters are actually compulsory (if any are at all, though I've not extensively tested the theory).
It's like getting morally outraged with GTA 3 for being able to kerb crawl prostitutes and then beat them to death with a baseball bat to get your money back. You have a *choice*, you know. I've been playing videogames a very long time now (24 years) and personally, I quite like having a game where the total extent of your interaction with other characters isn't restricted solely to murder and where your choices have more of a moral spectrum than deepest black and purest white. But hey, that's just me. What do I know?
Tom Francis: Richard: Ah, okay. I was taking Walker's word for it to some extent. Can I change my reference point to 7 Sins? I'm pretty sure that one involves genuine date rape - I seem to recall they actually advertised the game on it in the trailer.
Iain: If you're not saying Alec only played it for four hours, and you're not saying I reviewed it for anyone, who did something wrong? And if it wasn't me, can you take it somewhere else? You say you're not trying to single anyone out, but I wish you would - lumping us together is just confusing. Who is this mystery person who thinks it's okay to review a game on the basis of the first 10%?
I know it's the women who generally offer themselves to you in the Witcher, rather than vice versa - in fact that's exactly what I said I found so distasteful about it. There's something I find really unpleasant about indulging in a fantasy where every woman is a slut for me.
Whether I sleep with them or not, its that empty sluttishness that offends me. An excuse for it in the lore doesn't make it any less repugnant than a porn film that adds "In this world, cable repairmen occupy a social limbo similar to that of a Roman Gladiator." And if the fact that "the wives will go out of their way to sleep with him" is supposed to make the writers' attitudes to women seem better, I'm not surprised we're not seeing eye-to-eye on this.
Iain: Sorry, Tom - this has turned into a bit of a clusterfuck. I've not said what I was trying to say very clearly and it's my fault, because I've somehow crudely merged a disagreement of opinion with some observations I've made about the imperfections of the system in which we write reviews, which I apologise most profusely for.
They're separate subjects, and as you say, perhaps here isn't the place to discuss it... so it's probably best if we don't continue here. I've tried to clear things up about what I was trying to say a little on my blog (http://barkandbyte.b... ...-hell.html) Comments welcome, via MSN or otherwise.