November 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
I’ve read several posts from technology bloggers lately on their experiences at the new Microsoft Stores. Many encountered ill-informed Microsoft employees, but the employee I talked to at the flagship Times Square store was in a whole different league.
I was struggling immensely to type using the Surface’s Touch Cover, and I thought part of the problem was that I couldn’t find any trace of a system wide autocorrect feature. The employee next to me (we’ll call him Mr. Microsoft) wasn’t talking to anyone, so I asked him how to enable autocorrect. Mr. Microsoft first looked for the option in Word’s menus, and when he failed to find one there he looked in the general system settings to no avail. He then replicated the problem, trying to input the word “the” which displayed “thr” on the screen.
Puzzled, Mr. Microsoft asked me, ” that should say ‘the’ right?”
“I think so.”
“I’m really not sure what to do. Well anyway what do you think of the Surface?”
I restrained myself from beginning a rant.
“You’re asking the wrong guy. I prefer Apple products. Since you asked I think the form factor is awkward and I don’t understand why the RT version has a desktop at all.”
And then the unthinkable happened. The guy who is supposed to be selling the product agreed with me.
“Yeah I personally wouldn’t buy one either.”
It gets better. After a brief pause, Mr. Microsoft looked at me and said, “I mean I just have no use for one. I already have a MacBook Pro.”
I was speechless, but it didn’t stop there. He noticed the iPhone 5 in my hand.
“Hey are those still on back order? I’ve been trying to get one for weeks.”
“Umm…I’m not sure,” I said, double checking that his shirt did indeed say Microsoft.
“I bought mine through Verizon. If Apple is sold out you should try the carriers. Who is your carrier?”
“Well I got an unlocked 4S that I use on T-Mobile. I was planning to use my Microsoft discount to get an iPhone 5, but don’t tell anyone!”
Whoops, sorry Mr. Microsoft.
I decided to push him a bit. “You should use that discount to get an iPad while you’re at it.”
“Nah that would just be obnoxious.”
I asked him how sales of the Surface were, and he somehow still managed to criticize the product he was supposed to be selling with his answer.
“They’re good, lots of demographics are buying it. People like it because it has Office. I mean even though it’s sluggish and it’s not the best tablet on the market, Office is a big deal for some people.”
I thanked him for his help and left the store. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, and very fortunate that none of his supervisors overheard our conversation.
Microsoft, you might want to double check that your sales people show just as much enthusiasm for your products as they do for your competition.
November 2, 2012 § 3 Comments
Tonight was a special night to be a USC School of Cinematic Arts student. The film screened in our Theatrical Film Symposium class was the marvelous Flight, starring Denzel Washington. Our guest speaker was none other than director and USC alumnus Robert Zemeckis, whose name adorns the building where I have spent the vast majority of my college career.
Flight is a character study about addiction. After a heart pounding first act in the air, its pace becomes more measured as Denzel Washington’s character is slowly consumed by the weight of his own lies about his substance abuse.
I couldn’t help thinking back to another character study concerning addiction I experienced this year: Rockstar Games’ Max Payne 3. I had some problems with the game when it was released, and tonight I was once again reminded just how wide the gap is between the expression of a serious subject in film and in games.
Max Payne 3 was not slow and measured, it was an unapologetic Rambo-esque romp. The aesthetics highlighted Payne’s struggle with substance abuse, but his inner turmoil never found its way into the moment to moment play. I mowed down enemy after enemy without a thought. I was not Denzel, I was Stallone.
And there’s the rub. The game may have meant to be about addiction, but in reality it was about killing people, like so many of its peers. Why do so many games start with noble ambitions but resort to asking the player to perform heinous tasks?
The only answer I have been able to come up with is that it is hard to sell a player on a serious subject without exciting moment to moment action. But you know what, the same goes for film, yet big studio films like Flight are still made.
As game designers I feel that we have a responsibility to join our aesthetics and mechanics in a cohesive package. They cannot be about different subjects, just as a film’s direction and editing cannot tell different stories.
While I believe games capable of tackling serious subjects, Flight served as a painful reminder that here they have yet to take off.