Scorpia is back

I’d hardly call Baldur’s Gate a detour. To me, it seems like a natural evolution of the Bard’s Tale/Wizardry/Might and Magic paradigm: turn based combat, a party of adventurers, an over-arching plotline with side quests, etc. etc. I still play BG2 and ToB from time to time. I think that they, Fallout 1/2, and Planescape mark the high points of the entire genre.

I agree with you here, but it should be noted that Baldur’s Gate changed a lot of what an RPG was and how it was presented and played. This may be exactly why it opened up the genre to the mainstream audience so well, I don’t know.

Then again, it might have been that it didn’t really open up the genre to such a large new audience, but being that it was the first new high-production-level RPG after a lengthy drought and many proclomations of the genre having died that led to its success, which was really the just the inevitable result of the focused purchasing power of fans of the genre. It’s not as if there were other RPGs on its level competing for their buying dollar at the time, so rather than RPG Fan #1 buying RPG X and Fan #2 buying Y, everyone instead bought BG.

Heck, that may have contributed to its critical success as well. It sold in huge numbers for an RPG (especially at the time of its release), it was different from the RPGs before it and so in its own way it changed the paradigm; the conclusions drawn were that 1) It has to be a great game and 2) It is the wave of the future of RPGs. It’s what gamers want.

It might also be worth nothing that BG1 simply needed to be praised in the gaming media because it needed to not only sell copies, but it also needed publishers and developers to take notice of it. If Game Journalist X was an RPG fan (and given the time of BG’s release and the limited genre selection of PC games also at that time, he/she probably was), then well before it was released, Baldur’s Gate represented not only hope for the rebirth of the genre, but in a way its success or failure was going to be seen by the industry as the linchpin of any possible RPG revival. If it didn’t succeed, it was felt likely that the RPG genre really was dead.

If I was an RPG fan writing in the gaming press at the time, it would be awfully hard to keep that bias from slipping through not only into my coverage and ultimate review of the game, but from myself and my personal enjoyment of the experience of playing the game itself. In other words, if I really wanted to like the game and I felt that I and others really needed to like the game, I’d probably give the title a very large margin for error. I’d probably end up not even realizing that I wasn’t having as much fun as I was making myself think.

I’m not sure that BG1 was so much what gamers wanted then as much as it was they just didn’t have much of a choice at the time.

I think her site was one of the first I discovered upon my introduction to the Internet.I was even a paying member before I realized that was not the normal way things were done.

Enjoyed her reviews and usually agreed with them, and I never liked the BG combat system, never finished the game because of it…

Lots of gristle here for us oldtime “old CGW > new CGW” for us to chew on

As one of the game journalists writing about RPGs at the time, your comment definitely is cause for thought. Yeah, I could completely see how the game would lend itself to scoring well, and providing more enjoyment than it might otherwise have, more because it was such a change from what had come before. However, at the same time I can say that I spent many many many enjoyable hours playing that game to the detriment of my friends and family, and if the game wasn’t really that good, I would have been more likely to spend more time writing good things about it rather than playing it.

I actually remember Mr. PCG EIC Whitta insisting that I play through the entire game to the end before I could compellingly fight for it to win the award for RPG of the Year in that year’s PCG Awards issue (as I recall, the game launched in mid-December). I played it non-stop and finished it, and then kept playing it until I got all the side quests. I fought tooth and nail to make sure it was RPG of the Year, even though several of the other editors weren’t convinced. I finally won that battle, and never regretted it. Sure, there might have been a slight lean of bias toward making a bit of a bigger deal about the game than might have strictly been necessary because of the newness of it, but any of that bias paled in comparison to the gameplay, storyline, and depth. I firmly believe that it captured the hearts of the gamers because it was a brilliantly built game more than the fact that it was a breath of cool air among a desolation of quality RPGs at the time.

-Michael Wolf, AKA Phoenix (Figured I’d use my real name. I gots nuthin’ to hide!)

She dissed my nigga Green, BG1, and Fallout2. Eff her.

I’m glad you enjoyed BG1, Michael. Thinking about it now, I hope my posts don’t come across as some sort of rationalizing on my part concerning how something must have been going on with BG1 and the media since I didn’t like it and I can’t possibly be wrong. I know you didn’t take that meaning from what I said, but I wanted to make sure and get that clear while I was thinking about the possibility.

I know BG1 was a good game, made even better for the simple fact that it stood relatively alone at the time of its release. If it was a bad game, it wouldn’t matter if it was all there was or not. It would still have been a bad game, and a bad game would not have had the impact that BG1 ended up having, and I understand that.

I was really just using this setup as a springboard for launching my little theories into the Qt3osphere for discussion. Does the gaming media have more influence than might be suspected? I think it does, though I’d like to believe that it doesn’t.

As an example other than Baldur’s Gate and out of the RPG genre in general, I love classic adventure games and wish they were still around in greater numbers at the level of quality they once were. Part of me can’t help but think that the media constantly proclaiming the genre to be “dead” became a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. Heck, most people believe that to be an accurate statement in spite of the fact that there are several very traditional adventure games released each year. Granted, the majority of them aren’t very good, but every now and then one pops up that deserves some recognition and doesn’t seem to get it.

I have to think that when such a thing happens, the media is reluctant to report on it because their declarations that the genre is dead (as well as their perceptions, be they based on personal preference and experience and/or on their perceived awareness of the preferences of the gaming audience), won’t allow them to.

Take Runaway, for example. By all accounts, it was a quality adventure game released a couple of years ago that made little to no splash in the major gaming media. It can’t be because it was a bad game, because it was quite good. There is even a sequel on the way. The only reasons I can imagine that it didn’t get much in the way of coverage in the mainstream gaming press are those that I’ve just described, and the press doesn’t feel that the genre has a large enough audience to warrant devoting space to it in their various publications.

Because of this, it will be extremely difficult for the genre to ever make a comeback. While I’m sure we all agree that the days of the adventure game being a staple of the industry are forever over, I’m not convinced that the market for such titles is so very niche and tiny that the genre should not get coverage in the mainstream gaming press.

What the adventure genre needs is exactly what the RPG genre got with Baldur’s Gate - a high profile title of sufficient production quality and mass appeal that it warrants a feature here and there, a preview, maybe an interview with one of its developers, and a fair shake with a complete review. It’s my hope that we’ll get that game with TellTale’s new Sam and Max. I’ve already read a few minor features on it in some of the larger outlets and as long as TT do not drop the ball when they deliver the first episode, things may start looking up for the struggling genre.

My point with all of this was just to start a discussion concerning, I suppose, the power of the media to influence development. If the media as a whole repeatedly tells its audience what it thinks gamers want, then at the end of the day how much of what they want is actually coming from the gamers themselves, and how much of it is coming from what they’ve been told over and over again - and, perhaps most importantly, how much of that perceived desire goes into the decision making process when a new project is being pitched to a publisher?

I never really liked Baldur’s Gate. Much like Temple of Elemental Evil, I think it was a great new engine surrounded by an appalling lack of an interesting game. Also, I’ve seen a lot of BG fans add a “for the time” qualifier to their opinions when the subject comes up nowadays…

Still, I suppose it’s a good thing that the game was so wildly overrated (as I think it was) since Bioware and its licensees went on to create BG2, Planescape: Torment, the KotOR games, and the Dark Alliance offspring – all which I enjoyed a lot.

Baldur’s Gate didn’t “save” RPGs, or turn them on to a new audience. It’s a great game and all (we gave it “Game of the Year” over Half-Life), and it was a hardcore game that sold extremely well. But it probably wouldn’t have been produced had it not been for a game released a couple of years earlier.


If you want to point to one game being the most important RPG, there you go. It expanded the market. It also took it in a multiplayer direction and, more with Diablo II, showed how the MMO could/would take off.

X-Play in general. One of their big demands seems to be that every game simply must have multiplayer. If a game comes along that doesn’t include a multiplayer component and isn’t a critical hit type of game (which they always rate well, regardless of the fact that similar games are usually trashed, but that’s a whole other can of worms), they will knock it severely for its lack of the feature. It doesn’t matter if the game lends itself to a multiplayer mode or not - they’ve come down firmly on the stance that multiplayer is the future and the now and they make the claim, repeatedly, that it’s what gamers want.

Slight derail here. I don’t recall ever bagging on a game because it lacked multiplayer. Nor do I know of any mandate from G4 editorial stating that “critical hit” games need to be reviewed well. Believe it or not, X-Play generally lets the reviewers state their opinion and submit the star rating without any fuss. I think I’ve only been contested a few times.

As for Scorpia, I didn’t have a problem with her Baldur’s Gate review because I largely agreed with it. I remember when the game came out and I was so excited to play. After spending a number of hours with it, the whole thing just let me cold. BG2 is a different story. Great game.

I remember her Darklands review. I liked Darklands a lot, but I can respect a difference of opinion. However that review was filled with such vitriol, especially concerning the character sacrifice at the end. I couldn’t help but feel she was completely missing the point. I think to a certain degree, her focus on the raw mechanics of the game (stats, drawing little maps, etc) blinds her to some of the other things that games can offer. It’s like watching a movie and only commenting on the special effects and art direction. Shit analogy I know, but hopefully you get my meaning. I dunno. I wasn’t sad to see her go.

But wait, I remember the raging debate on Usenet about Diablo – it’s not really an RPG! Yes it is. No it isn’t. You’re stupid. No, you’re stupid!

Does even exist anymore?

It does still exist! The volume of traffic is tiny now of course but its still there.

And action RPGs are action RPGs. And thats Diablo. I will concede that it took the rogue/nethack/whatever game mechanic and polished it up so well that it practically created a new niche/genre. But. The people, myself anyway, longing for games like IWD, BG2, Fallout1/2, PST havent been getting their fill from shit like Dungeon Siege, Sacred and Titan’s Quest. They just are not the same kind of games.


Where have all the Ultimas gone?

I too did not like BG, but enjoyed BG II. Kind of a trend.

I enjoyed Scorpia’s work quite a lot. But re-reading the Might and Magic piece on her site, I can see that the style was fine for the smaller more focused cadre of gamers at the time. It’s my belief that the game community changed, and she failed to move with it. Nothing wrong with that, just not commercially viable.

That said, I have very fond memories of reading her work at the time, and looked forward to seeing it each month. And I find myself thinking that kind of detailed in-depth review mix of hint and examination of minutae would really add some value if it could work it’s way into the current environment without becoming the whole point of the review.

edit: 100 posts! woot! Nothing next to the thousands most of y’all have but quite a lot for me given how long I lurked before working up the courage to post!

Could not agree more with this statement. As an avid CRPG player going back 20+ years to the days of the Atari computer and Ultima I / Wizardry I, I’ve seen the cycle of RPGs rise and fall numerous times. But since Blizzard introduced us all to Diablo, the CRPG has been prominent and shows no sign of fading into the background again any time soon.

Yes, single-player RPGs may not see as many releases as they did in the heydey of BG, Might and Magic and the countless Diablo clones, but Diablo introduced legions of fans to the idea that multiplayer gaming could be fun, and most MMORPGs of yesterday and today directly benefited from Diablo’s influence on gamers.

For all it’s simplistic clicky goodness, Diablo had as big or bigger of an impact on the RPG genre as DOOM did on the FPS genre. It’s a defining game of the genre.

I never met Scorpia personally, obviously–even when Wilson brought in a large grouping of CGW writers for a conference, she did not attend–but I always respected her work. I was never as impressed with her replacement.

As for who dissed what/who? She was a reviewer. They’re opinionated people by nature, and dissing is half of what they do. And no one person can ever be right 24/7, 52 weeks a year. Even Shakespeare got some bad reviews.

So long as a reviewer disses intelligently and with some kind of rational explanation for their opinions, I have no problem with it. As for whether she was “wrong” about this game or that–meh. For my point of view, it takes real stones to stand up to the masses (or to massive marketing campaigns) when writing a review. Scorpia was old school–she didn’t let anyone dictate her opinions to her, or give “star ratings” which could be wiggled based on how many advertising dollars any given corporation had to spend.

She played each game through and assessed its strengths and weaknesses on its own merits, standing alone. She wrote detailed reviews about the experience of playing, and gave excellent hints and tips for games she was enthusiastic about.

If the gaming world “moved on” from her style of reviewing? The industry has been poorer for it.


I don’t think the gaming world moved away from her style of review as much as the style of games changed and I think that she developed a bit of a negative bias against the newer crop of games.

You have to review a game based on its own merits, not whether it’s good because it’s like the old-school RPGs or not so good because it belongs to the newer style.

And really, I sympathize. I am disinclined to like some of the newer games simply because they’re not more like the older games I loved. Clearly, I don’t represent the target audience anymore for many of the newer games being made.

I think Mr. Green may have come frightfully close to living a videogame nerds ultimate fantasy.

“What? You didn’t like Baldur’s Gate? Here’s something else you might not like; You’re fucking fired. Clean out your desk, you dumbshit plebe.”

In literary criticism (as well as other forms, I suppose), there is always some debate on what form is the proper criticism. Should the reviewer judge the work on what it does, what it attempts to do, or what it ought to do? It’s a dubious action to fire a critic solely because she’s “lost touch” or has a “negative bias against newer” whatever. Now, as Jeff Green stated, Scorpia had become a bit belligerent, and (not his implication) possibly she got a little full of herself; well, then, there’s a reason to fire a critic.

But with all the reviewers and editors here, I’m surprised the “out of touch” argument is carrying this much weight. Look at Deus Ex and the polarity that has among some critics (noteably Tom Chick v. the world). The reason is because Deus Ex didn’t focus itself and therefore may have flummoxed critics with expectations of what it should be, but it also may have gained much undeserved praise from those who judge a game by what it attempted to accomplish, regardless of how well it accomplished all those goals.

Mark makes an interesting point here about whether a critic should reflect what is currently popular or uphold some personal standard. I believe the latter, and that’s what I think was Scorpia’s strength. Of course, if a critic becomes intentionally contrary to popular opinion, then their review is as worthless as a gushy press release.

I can’t speak for Mr. Green per se, but I don’t believe that’s exactly what he said. I believe he was trying to say that Scorpia really had only one contact at the magazine, which was Johnny Wilson; she worked for/with him personally, had a long-standing relationship of trust with him, and found it very difficult to find common ground with other staffers when he was gone.

This happens to professional writers all the time when editors switch jobs, especially if they have a strong personal style. Most editors develope a “stable” of writers who they trust and respect; it is often difficult for a new editor to run a previous editor’s stable, so often they “clean house” when their predecessors leave. For that matter, writers also have been known to jump ship with their old editor to new publications; it’s actually not all that common for any writer to be more loyal to a masthead than they are to the individual editor.

In Scorpia’s case, I believe that there were additional problems. But speaking as someone who was there toward the end of her heyday, I am not so sure that she was “full of herself”–I’ve never met a writer yet who would refuse a free expenses-paid trip to San Francisco out of arrogance. There was something else going on there; I have no idea what it was, but it was all very mysterious. I would suspect that she was pathologically shy, or there was some issue with her privacy or identity. Heck, for all I know she was a pseudonymous female alter-ego for Johnny Wilson. Lol…which would explain why she never wanted to show any pictures of herself! I don’t think Johnny would have made a good drag queen.