Why we’re dropping the ball on mobile game coverage

Wednesday, 9 May 2012 07:44 GMT By Nathan Grayson

Nathan Grayson pulls no punches in his attack on the core gaming press, issuing a rallying cry to promote and support one of the most important sectors of our rapidly transitioning industry.

Here we are, largely ignoring the best and brightest on one of the most ubiquitous platforms in the world because… why? Are we afraid to expand our horizons the tiniest bit? If, as alleged journalists, can’t even be bothered to pick up a different rectangle than the ones we’ve grown accustomed to, then I’m forced to ask: what the hell are we doing?

I think I might be a bad person. I’ve played god, you see – and quite a lot, to boot. Oh, but that’s not the bad part. No, when handed said great power – the forces of birth and death literally at my fingertips – I may have manipulated it for cheap, slightly maniacal laughs. In short, I managed to, sort of on accident, tie a fully functioning ecosystem into an infinite suicide loop where spider-like plant aliens continuously birthed their young directly into the jaws of an evil jump rope monster. I accomplished all of this through gardening. Mars gardening.

The game? Waking Mars. At this point, I’d have to say it’s one of my favorite games of the year. And that’s only the beginning of the story.

So, having sown the seeds of life into the extremely fertile soils of certain demise, I fired up my jetpack and pressed on – oddly proud of my perpetual murder machine. As the hours passed, however, I found myself feeling legitimately terrible about my act of early game callousness. Mars, as it turns out, can be a pretty lonely place, and these twisted entanglements of otherworldly tendrils – obvious enemies in any other sidescroller – became beacons of warm familiarity. They were extremely skittish creatures, but I’d feed them seeds nonetheless – at first to make them multiply in an effort to solve puzzles, but eventually because I simply enjoyed their company. None of this was scripted, either. It just sort of ended up, well, happening.

I’ve never had an experience quite like that in a game before. I sort of completely despise spiders and anything that looks vaguely spider-esque. But then, Waking Mars subverts quite a few expectations – principally by, you know, being an iOS-exclusive. Conventional wisdom says it should be a nickel-and-dime-driven insult to your intelligence with less depth than a puddle located on the surface of the sun. But, as it often tends to be, conventional wisdom is wrong. So very, very wrong.

And yet, it continues to color the entire discussion surrounding iOS games with shocking cynicism. “They’re not real games,” core players clamor. “They’re just a bunch of cheap minigames vying to be the next Angry Birds.” And though we critics and in-the-know gamer types claim to be above all of that nonsense, I don’t think we actually are. After all, larger “core” gaming sites (VG247 included) tend to spotlight iOS titles only when there’s a convenient link back to the console/PC world’s heaviest hitters. Max Payne, Burnout, Baldur’s Gate, etc are getting iOS ports? Story! Battlefield 3’s been removed from the App Store because it’s garbage? Story! Team Meat’s Edmund McMillen makes a giant blanket statement that hardly applies to all mobile games? Story!

Meanwhile, mobile-focused sites tend to take a rapid-fire evaluative approach to the scene’s rarely reloading shotgun torrent of a release schedule. BLAM. Five reviews. BOOM. Six more reviews. KABIFFTHWACKPOWZOTT. Look, now all those games we reviewed are on sale! It’s a senses-overwhelming fast lane of announcements, releases, and reviews that – to be frank – mirrors the horrific organization of the App Store instead of making sense of it.

Waking Mars

Waking Mars is basically amazing, and available from the App Store for $2.99.

There’s no focus – just volume. Waking Mars gets just as much consideration as the latest Infinity Blade clone or half-baked yet fully priced port of something we all played ten years ago. And we can discuss how that might harm developers or cork up the platform’s nearly bursting bottle of original ideas with risk-averse cautiousness, but as games writers, that’s not where our allegiance lies. First and foremost, we’re here to provide a service to our readers, and in that respect, I’d say we’re doing a pretty awful job.

We’re a resource. We tell passionate players about things that interest them. Generally, that means games – good ones, mostly. And when something’s truly interesting or worthy of merit, we give it the well-considered discussion it deserves. Said objects of our chin-stroking affections don’t even need to be mega-seller money magnets (see: Enslaved, Psychonauts, Chocolate Castle) or unanimously beloved (e.g. Far Cry 2). And yet, here we are, largely ignoring the best and brightest on one of the most ubiquitous platforms in the world because… why? Are we afraid to expand our horizons the tiniest bit? If, as alleged journalists – people who are paid to uncover new, interesting, and relevant facts and ideas – we can’t even be bothered to pick up a different rectangle than the ones we’ve grown accustomed to, then I’m forced to ask: what the hell are we doing?

All of this in mind, is it any wonder that the Republiques of the world are failing to gain any traction? I mean, it’s very nearly ludicrous on paper. Here’s a highly cinematic stealth-action powerhouse with gobs of talent from Halo, FEAR, and, oh yeah, Metal Freaking Gear, and yet – unless some roving deity swoops in on the wings of a singing chorus of angel investors – it’s going to get an unceremonious boot from Kickstarter. “Maybe,” say many pundits, “it could’ve succeeded if Camouflaj announced a PC version straight out the gate.” Yes, because iOS is such an obscure platform.

So long as we cling to this outdated notion that iOS games can’t be smart or unique or capable of true depth, we’re holding our favorite medium back.

So long as we cling to this outdated notion that iOS games can’t be smart or unique or capable of true depth, we’re holding our favorite medium back. These tiny devices are – like it or not – the future of media, and yet, we’re treating them like something to be ashamed of or even feared. Actually, no, it’s even worse than that: we’re dismissing them. As ever, difference does not equate to inferiority. Rather, it opens up new, incredibly interesting possibilities. Mobile gaming will not peel back its tiny, innocuous facade to reveal a set of gigantic console-devouring teeth once it earns our trust. It’s another option, and it’s beginning to produce tons of interesting original content. So let’s talk about that.

But, to conclude, I pose this question: even if there was only one truly interesting mobile game, why wouldn’t it be worthy of further examination? Isn’t it our job as writers, critics, journalists and newshounds to be on the forefront of these things? “Up-to-the-minute” and “on-the-scene” shouldn’t preclude our coverage from having substance – sort of like how, you know, “mobile” and “quickly accessible” don’t have to come at the expense of depth. Waking Mars has a fully self-sufficient plant-based ecosystem that’s rooted in actual science. On Mars. And it’s really, really fun. Now try searching VG247 for an article about it. Oh, whoops. Maybe we’ll start paying attention now that it’s coming to PC, the oldest videogame platform on Earth.

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