NYT: Making video game history

January 03, 2022

German Lopez, The New York Times:

Hades is the first video game in history to win a Hugo Award, the prize for science fiction and fantasy that has historically honored books, graphic novels and other written works.

The game, from the developer Supergiant Games, follows the story of Zagreus — son of the game’s eponymous god — as he tries to escape the Underworld. Along the way, he fights all sorts of hellish creatures and meets a wide array of characters, including the gods up on Olympus. He also uncovers family secrets and gains perspective on why his dad has made seemingly unsavory decisions.

The Hugo Awards’ inclusion of video games, which organizers are considering making permanent, speaks to how far the medium has come. In the early days of Pong in the 1970s or the original Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda in the 1980s, technology limited how much text a game could include. Today, a game’s storytelling can be its primary selling point, whether it’s a high-budget science-fiction epic like the Mass Effect trilogy or an indie game made by a small team like Celeste.

This news broke last December, but I was tickled to see it included in today’s NYT morning newsletter. Not only is winning a Hugo award a tremendous achievement for Supergiant Games and the medium as a whole, mentions of specific titles large and small — from Mass Effect to Celeste — by a publication as massive as the New York Times is particularly noteworthy.

One of the reasons I started Zero Counts in 2013 was to gather and (hopefully) elevate video game industry coverage from major publications. I felt the medium had every right to be taken as seriously as art, big business, and cultural touchstones and should be covered as such by the largest publications in the world. At the time, it was only happening in fits and starts, typically prompted by the latest console craze or ”Nintendo’s white Playstation 4“.

Coverage has changed a great deal since then, putting a spotlight on scandal, working conditions, earnings, and acquisitions. What’s more is that most major outlets have now hired staff focused on the video game industry — NYT’s Kellen Browning, Washington Post’s Gene Park and Teddy Amenabar, Axios’ Stephen Totilo and Megan Farokhmanesh, and The Guardian’s Keza MacDonald to name a few. Coverage of specific games still feels spotty, but short of a consumer warning, reviews may be becoming less critical. So when specific games are highlighted — namely indies — it magnifies the growing recognition of the industry and the importance and impact of the medium.

On that note, I think I need to give the Underworld one more run.

Anybody's Game

January 01, 2022

End of the year lists are pervasive as ever. We know they’re coming, but the wave seems so relentless that they’re both easy to ignore and easily read with indifference. The voices and outlets sprawl from big media to niche publications, from massive awards shows to independent podcasts. The beauty (and horror) of the landscape is that everyone can find a personality or outlet to align with — something that won’t challenge their opinions or taste. Validation!

And I’m a sucker for these lists! I used to pour over best of music lists, but the sheer amount of artists, releases, and my dwindling time to incorporate new music into my comfort zone removed my familiarity with most music lists. Books are much the same. There’s just so many.

Video games are approaching the same level of proliferation, but following the output still feel manageable to follow. I’m able to have some familiarity with the titles released throughout the year regardless if I’ve played them or not. To be fair, the majority of my media consumption is spent reading games industry news and listening to gaming podcasts. But even without a devout following of the world of video games, reading a review, watching a video preview, or listening to podcasters discuss a game in detail offers enough description of mechanics and/or fidelity that a general understanding of the experience can be perceived. Most games are judged on the merit of “fun” which is an extremely easy thing to feel, but an extremely difficult thing to create. I’d argue music and books require a deeper level of personal interpretation of the sonics, prose, and style that many video games do not. But even that is becoming less and less true.

Beyond fun, video games are so complex that breaking best of lists into categories similar to movies (and more) feels more appropriate — music, mechanics, narrative, art direction, systems, acting, etc. But even film falls victim to the singular “BEST MOVIE OF THE YEAR” generalization, and video games follow suit. And after reading a few of these lists, one typically finds that the same game is selected by a majority of outlets as “THE BEST”; hence, the inclination to ignore the list entirely or feel indifferent.

All of this is to say that this year felt… unique. “Game of the Year” lists came from individuals, were compiled by an outlet’s staff, voted on by jury, or debated through via a brackets. And the games that topped these lists varied wildly. Here are examples from major media outlets:

This observation may not be novel. This very well may have been a trend in years past. But briefly skimming the Wikipedia article for ”List of Game of the Year awards”, you’ll find a much more refined alignment of “Game of the Year” winners:

  • 2020: Hades, The Last of Us II, Ghost of Tsushima
  • 2019: Control, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Outer Wilds, Resident Evil 2
  • 2018: God of War, Red Dead Redemption 2
  • 2017: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Perhaps 2021 is an anomaly. Many AAA games were delayed due to the ongoing challenges of the continuing pandemic. Maybe this gave a little room for smaller or unique titles to spread their wings. Or perhaps this is a a natural evolution of where “games” are headed.

At the end of 2020, I wrote about the idea that video game masterpieces are becoming so wildly varied in experience that to compare two incredible video games is to compare “apples to fabric textures”. Video games are comprised of the same elements but now yield profoundly different experiences. Much like music. Much like books.

This year’s “Game of the Year” lists exemplify the changing landscape in not only vast array of great games, but how each one hits players/reviewers/outlets in different ways. Instead of a definitive Game of the Year, players now have a vast spread of opinions to consider that will not only validate or challenge their own justifiable contender, but a litany of incredible choices to fit their preferred experience.

Game Boy Advance, Mint

December 22, 2021

Game Boy Advance, Mint

This might be my favorite Game Boy Advance color palette yet! Initially, I attempted to use a shell by RetroSix, but was disappointed by the display mounting solution and bad branding. Thankfully, I was able to track down a (sold out) light blue FunnyPlaying shell — the preferred shell of most modders — which also fits the FunnyPlaying glass nicely.

The logic board came from an AGB-001 — the first run of GBAs produced in 2001. It was in extremely good condition, save a dirty power switch which prevented it from powering on, and a defective right-shoulder button. I believe this is the first AGB-001 unit I’d worked on.

Here’s a breakdown of the full mod:

Game Boy Advance, Sunset

December 21, 2021

Game Boy Advance, Sunset

The Game Boy Advance, Sunset was a commission build themed after a sunset. This was a challengeing build as I wanted to mimmick the gradient of a sunset. The buyer and I played around with several versions from reds, purples, and pinks, eventually landing on an orange shell, maroon buttons, pink LED, and white accents for clouds.

Unfortunately, I don’t have build notes from this unit.

GBA Daiei Hawks Restore

August 16, 2021

GBA Daiei Hawks Restore

When I picked up this broken Game Boy Advance, I had no idea what I’d come across. This unit was in particularly bad shape when I opened it up. There was a large amount of corrosion on the start/select pads and gunk throughout. The headphone jack also had large amounts of corrosion and was preventing the audio from being sent to the speaker. Needless to say, these issues have now been resolved, along with the following repairs and restorations: