The name's Tom. I used to work as an industry guy, and am currently on the hunt for my next paying gig. In the meantime, I'm working on a bunch of different projects that don't help me pay my bills. I write a lot. I'm a musician, although certainly not of the professional variety. I like trying new things and meeting new people. I'm still somewhat new around Destructoid, so sorry in advance if I don't know something I probably should.
About my blog:
I update daily (not really, but I like to pretend). Generally, my updates get pretty long-winded, but hopefully not to the point where they're unreadable. I'll wax poetic about whatever's on my mind, like current events in my life, things that are happening in the video games I like, or whatever happens to pop in my head that day. With a few exceptions, I write my entries the same day I publish them, so they're pretty fresh content-wise. It also might help explain the occasional typos. I do my best to avoid any errors, though.
About my work:
I worked at Harmonix Music Systems as a tester on a year's worth of DLC, The Beatles: Rock Band, Lego Rock Band, and Rock Band Network. Feel free to ask me questions about it, but remember: I'm still under NDA. Also, if you know of a job opening, please tell me about it. I'm flexible.
About my contact info:
Want to collaborate with me on something, big or small, related to the site or not? I'd love to. I like working on any project that I'm even remotely capable of working on, and would love to help you in whatever way I can. Feel free to PM me here, or otherwise send me an email at alakaiser(at)gmail(period)com. Even if you don't want to work with me on something, I'd love to just chat. I'm a pretty friendly guy!
What happened to that thing you did? You know, that one thing?:
I wrote an article that ended up getting promoted to the front page of the site, which is pretty damn cool. It removes it from my cblog archive, though, so I'm throwing a link in this here sidebar for the sake of an archive (and in case I lose the link myself).
(SPOILER ALERT: There are a lot of Lost spoilers. If you haven't seen the Lost finale, and you care about that sort of thing, move right along. As always, this is the only warning.)
Not too long ago, I wrote about ending something that is expected to lead directly into a sequel, or as I coined it, "Ending an Exposition". To sum it up for you, I said that it's important that ending something that appears in the middle (be it the end of a TV season, or the first game in an obviously multi-part series, or various other things) doesn't leave the audience with a shallow lack of resolution. Or, to really boil it down: the world needs more Mass Effect endings, and less Halo 2 endings.
What happens when something is done? We've reached the finish line. This is it. No more after this. We're packing up and going home. Ending something that an audience has invested a large amount of time into is always extremely difficult.
I'm going to assume that most of the people reading this know that Lost had its series finale recently, and the show is now gone for good. Many people have said many things about this ending. Some loved it, some hated it. Some people (like yours truly) fell somewhere in the middle. Lost was a show that thrived on a high mystery element, and many people felt slighted that they didn't get this answer or that one, be it what happened with Walt, who Sayid shot on the golf course, why did US Press Secretary CJ Cregg kill Jacob and Smokey's biological mother*, or about a million other questions that didn't get answered.
* - I joke, but I really do enjoy Allison Janney. I loved her on The West Wing, and any other show she pops up on, she does a great job. I saw a random episode of "In Plain Sight" (a show I do not regularly watch) last night, and she was on, giving as good of a performance as ever.
A bit of a primer on all of the stuff Lost did not answer. One little thing is not a big deal, but...
Of course, if you buy into the Damon Lindelof/Carlton Cuse theory of "Lost is about the characters," you probably greatly enjoyed the series finale. The show resolved everyone's time on the island, and while you don't know what happened to everyone who lived through the finale (LAPIDUS~!), you do get to watch them party in a church before Christian Shepard opens a door of light to reveal God as played by Alanis Morrisette (wait).
This all ends up boiling down to one major facet when it comes to a huge ending: you can't please everyone. Some people liked the endings of shows like The Sopranos or Battlestar Galactica, while many did not. Personally, I feel that Six Feet Under has one of the better conclusions to any story I've cared about, but I have friends who disagree.
And really, this shouldn't come as a shock. Often, I find myself not enjoying an ending just because, well, it's over. There is no more. Anything you may have wanted to see happen (like Ryo Hazuki kicking the crap out of Lan Di) no longer has a chance of happening. Particularly with Lost, that was a pretty big deal for a lot of people.
Lost's Terry O'Quinn (John Locke) had a good quote about endings on the behind the scenes look at the series that aired before the finale. Sadly, I can't seem to find the quote at the moment, but to paraphrase, he said something along the lines of "At the end of the day, you just want to be able to close that book and say, 'Man, that was awesome.'" Satisfaction is always important in forms of entertainment, but it's doubly important with an ending. The unfortunate truth is that what satisfies some will not satisfy others, so it becomes more about the message you want to give your audience at this point.
Lost ended with a message that I've interpreted to be about finding your soul mate, or whatever else. The Sopranos ended in a fashion I can only describe as, "Make up your own damn mind." To slowly walk into video games, well...
Suddenly, this gets very difficult.
It seems as though many of the games I'd want to use as narrative examples in video games suffer a pretty big, and pretty similar flaw: they all have that "it's over, but..." ending. Often, this is the kind of thing that appears after the credits, as if this is some sort of reward for watching the names of a bunch of developers scroll on your screen while you do something else for a few minutes.
Some of my go-to examples like Dragon Age resolve the present conflict, but are obviously setting up to expand the franchise (and for full disclosure, I have Awakening, but I haven't completed it yet). Mass Effect 3 is not yet a reality, but my understanding is that it's supposed to be the final chapter for Commander Shepard. Bioshock barely had anything resembling an ending (and I haven't played Bioshock 2).
It seems as though tying the idea of an ultimate resolution into video games just isn't compatible with the current culture of narrative-based video games. Everything makes room for a sequel, seemingly, and continues to do so until the franchise is no longer profitable. At that point, you might get a final game, but this feels unlikely. I can't come up with a single example of this happening.
I'd love to tie this into one of my personal favorite games from the Playstation era, Metal Gear Solid, but even that had Revolver Ocelot talking to Solidus after the credits, and that series is still going. I could go to the Final Fantasy series, but for the most part, those games tend to have the "Hollywood Ending"*
* - Which, if you are unfamiliar with this term, I'd advise you to watch Robert Altman's "The Player". Really, you should watch that movie anyway
I am at a complete loss for coming up with a game that concludes for good -- in any variation of quality -- without adding some tag on the end that makes it possible for them to keep going afterwards. This, sadly, is leaving me without a good conclusion for this essay (which I suppose is fitting), and has me wondering if any series has successfully given a message of completion. If you can think of something, I'd love to hear it.
And since I didn't properly conclude this entry, here is a Youtube video of Buddy Rich and Ed Shaughnessy playing drums on Johnny Carson. It is awesome. I hope this ending is satisfying for you, the reader.
(And just as a quick post-script: yes, Lost has plenty of room to rejoin the island, perhaps with the adventures of Hurley and Ben, but we had an actual resolution. I mean, most things have room to revisit a series unless the ending is something like "and everyone ever died, the end.")
(Also, if you haven't seen this yet, get on it. Like, now.)
Hopefully you got the title reference before clicking into this entry. I love me some Dave Grohl.
I always work under the assumption that no one reads this blog. Everything I write is stuff that I am personally interested in, and putting it into large chunks of words makes it easier for me to reach an understanding of those interesting things. That anyone does read these words is merely a happy coincidence, and one that I genuinely appreciate.
So, when I see a comment like this one on yesterday's entry, I take a step back:
Whoa. Not only did this fellow read that entry, he read my "about me" sidebar. While I did cover my bases by updating that thing a few weeks ago, suddenly I find myself conflicted. Originally, I started writing these things to see if I could keep a daily (well, once per weekends) blog going for any amount of time, and while my results were not entirely what I had hoped for, they were promising.
I don't think it comes as a shock to anyone that writing - and more importantly, writing frequently and in large quantities - is difficult, especially if it's merely a hobby as it is for myself.* The concept of doing stuff on a deadline, however, is something that is prevalent in all facets of most of our lives. Most obviously, this is something that will be a part of your career, whatever that line of work may be.
* - I did try an English/writing/whatever it would've turned into major in college for a semester or two, but it wasn't for me. I have a hard time allowing a hobby to turn into a career, which is why I don't have a degree that lets people know I am good at writing words. For similar reasons, I don't have a degree in making music (my other passion).
My self-imposed deadlines were mostly to keep me sharp during what I was hoping would be a brief job hunt, that hasn't gone as well as I'd like. I'm not worried about it - I haven't slowed down, and I will find something eventually. In the meantime, however, I refuse to let myself turn into mush.
I've been making sure that I'm frequently challenging myself while I'm unemployed, so that when I get my next gig, I'll be prepared to jump right in. This blog is one of those things, and teaching myself how to play a guitar (with aid from Youtube, admittedly) has been my big challenge for the past nine or ten months (I wasn't going in blind, but my ability was remedial before I bought my electric from a then-co-worker). Overall, I'd say it has been going well. Maybe I'll upload a video for your amusement one of these days (then again, maybe not).
Don't take this for anything beyond its face value, but self-improvement is one of those things I never stop thinking about. There are few challenges I look at and think to myself, "I will never be able to do that." Sure, I'll never play for a Major League Baseball team, but I can still work on my hitting so I can reliably hit the ball where I want to hit it. I'll never sell out an arena with my music, but that doesn't mean I can't improve as a musician.
Even in video games (oh no, the video game tangent), I always have room to improve. I may never win tournaments at Street Fighter, but I certainly have not come remotely close to my limit in that game. My only major phobia is a colossal fear of heights, so about a year ago I decided that before I am 30 years old, I will go skydiving. I like the idea of facing a (debilitating at times) fear head-on. Maybe now that I put it in writing, I'll actually do it, too.
So what does all of that have to do with this?
While I'm sure it was not meant to be taken that way, I see this comment as a challenge. In an attempt to improve myself further, I will once again attempt to update this here space daily, with one small qualifier. Currently, I am involved in some all-day activities on Fridays with a few friends, so I can't reasonably keep a normal amount of sleep in my life while also updating six times a week, so I will cut that to five times. Every Monday through Thursday, expect daily updates. Friday, expect nothing. Saturday and Sunday, expect one update (don't know which day yet, and it might change!)
This might last a day, or maybe a week. Maybe it'll last for years, I have no idea. All I know is that it's Beyamor's fault. I hope you're happy.
(As a side note, a call for content would be awesome. If you've been reading this blog regularly, -- first of all, thanks -- you know what kinds of things I feel comfortable writing about, so if you can think of anything you'd like to see me talk about, help me! Coming up with daily prompts (which I usually think up that same day) can be difficult if I run out of them. I have enough for at least a little while, but any help is good help. This entry excluded, I like to stay as close to video games as possible, given that this is a video game website after all, but I may venture outside of that realm, as well. This is a lot of commitment for like a handful of regular readers! And really, Shenmue's non-ending still makes me angry.)
Ahh, the blank canvas. Scourge of all writers. Killer of students. The greatest form of torture to someone working on a deadline. This is what I've been dealing with for the past however-long. For those of you who follow this blog, you've probably noticed a lack of letters, words, paragraphs, and entries in this here blog. I'm not here to apologize (really, I'm not required to update this, but I prefer to), but rather explain how this came to be. I'll end up in a video game related tangent, don't you worry.
As I hope is clear, I do try to put a decent amount of effort into whatever I upload to this site, as I don't like to come across as misinformed, ignorant to what I'm talking about, or just downright stupid, even if all of these things are true at various times. So, when I start enjoying a lot of things that don't directly involve video games (like reconnecting with old friends I haven't seen in years, or finally buying an amp for my guitar), some stuff falls behind the wayside.
But enough about me, let's talk about what video games I am playing.
Actually, to be accurate, it's fair to say I am monogamous in my video gaming, currently. I have found a home with a large joystick in my lap shooting balls of fire at not-quite-racist-but-totally-stereotypical "world warriors". Yes, I'm talking about Super Street Fighter 4.
It was more than a personal victory than it should have been when I realized I could consistently beat online players who use the same exact tactics at all times, even when it's clear they don't work.
Outside of music games and MMORPGs, fighting games have been able to ruin my ability to enjoy multiple games at once like no other genre. Ever since I was a little kid playing Street Fighter 2*, the games have always appealed to me for a variety of reasons. The gameplay is always solid, sure, and the games are usually well-done, but there's definitely more to it than that. And no, I'm not just talking about balance (though that is important!)
* - Sidenote: how many games out there have only increased the sequel count by two in nearly two decades? Yeah, I know they didn't exactly rest on their laurels during that time, but this has always struck me as hilarious.
One of the biggest problems I had with Street Fighter (or any fighting game, really) back in the day was that I never had enough competition. Once I got to the point that I could beat my friends regularly (well, one of my good friends always kept up with me), there wasn't much more beyond that. I don't think I need to discuss how bland of an experience Street Fighter is while playing against AI.
Now, back in those days, the arcade scene was big -- let's say big enough, actually -- around here that I could have conceivably gotten better by playing in arcades, but I was too young back then, so it's almost like me talking about how I never got to see the Beatles perform live since I wasn't alive in the 1960s. I was stuck playing with my friends, who inevitably burned out on the games. Naturally, this leads to me burning out on them, as well.
As I grew older, I still appreciated fighting games, but never really played them. Sure, I had Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast (who didn't?), and I had a brief (and I do mean brief) love affair with Tekken 3, along with a bunch of other stuff mixed in at that time, but none of those games lasted very long. For the majority of the past 15 years or so, I've probably spent the most time with Soul Calibur, and that's only because my friends seemed to think they could get good at it. Of course, they were viewing the game in the light of Ninja Gaiden rather than in the light of Starcraft that (in my opinion) they should have seen it in, so they lost, I ran out of competition, and got bored again.
This is the kind of mentality a lot of my friends had, albeit in a more friendly manner. And yes, I did beat that guy. He could have very easily beaten what I was doing.
Once I entered the realm of the internet, I discovered just how good people had been getting at these games over the years. Things like "Evo moment #37" way back in 2004 (the fact that I can say "way back in 2004" without being sarcastic makes me pretty sad, by the way) appealed to me in the greatest of great senses. Sure, I wouldn't be able to do that in a million years, but it's moreso an example of me realizing how much potential there was that I had never even seen.
At that point, the floodgates of information poured open for me. I discovered David Sirlin's infamous "playing to win" series and wondered how on earth people could disagree with that stuff, found shoryuken.com and picked out whatever info I thought was interesting, and sought out high quality videos of other people playing video games (and really, that's a point of no return).
Of course, this was all six years ago. I had no fighting game that I enjoyed. I tried to enjoy Guilty Gear XX #Reload on my Xbox, but it never really "clicked" for me. I wasn't really enjoying it, and even though I could go online with it, I never really found a community to play with. Randoms are only so exciting (especially since I was losing pretty handily at that one).
After that, I played Dead or Alive 4 for a bit, and I had a good group of friends I rolled with on that game, but we were all basically playing it because it was our only option on the Xbox 360. That XBLA version of Hyper Fighting was depressing.
Then Street Fighter 4 happened.
Yeah, this game (and its sequel/expansion/"thing that should've been DLC/a patch"/whatever you're willing to call it) certainly has its flaws (a bit too defensive/slow for my tastes, really unwelcoming for new players, links will ruin your brain), but it was finally a game I clicked with. When it first came out, I was in the middle of a crunch at work, so it kind of fell by the wayside, but it was never out of my mind. Once I heard about Super Street Fighter 4, all hell kind of broke loose in my mind. To make matters worse/better, PAX East was like a nail in the coffin.
At PAX East, once I discovered the large amount of people playing SF4, that was it. As luck may have had it, I was already in the process of buying a Mad Catz Tournament Edition stick from a friend of mine also attending the expo (and they are as good as everyone says, really), but that didn't even matter once I sat down in freeplay. If that weekend hadn't been one of the busiest weekends of my life, I probably would've spent the majority of it playing Street Fighter, and I would've lost a lot. I've been bit by the bug, and now there's no turning back.
Not to mention, I have a good group of people to play with even at home now! Yes, online has its share of issues, and playing with lag is always unfortunate (though that is a topic for another time), but this random site called destructoid.com seems to have a decent core of Street Fighter players that are enjoyable playing, and have skill levels ranging from "I can beat them without trying" (Nishant I love you) to "What the hell did they just throw at me?", and everywhere in between. If you spend some time in Destructoid's IRC channel, you'll find a match eventually. Go in with the right attitude, and you'll also learn a lot.
So, thanks guys. You've probably added at least a month to my unemployment. I hope you're happy.
(And just for you regular readers: Bioshock, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Bioware, Lost, Mad Men Shenmue 2's ending sucked.)
While perusing the recaps of yesterday's blogs (brought to you by the always awesome cblogrecaps who are awesome and no I am not just saying that because they topsauced me yesterday), I came across this entry by Om Nom On Souls. First off, while I don't venture too far outside of this here blog very often (except for my frequent presence on Destructoid's IRC channel), I do know that ONOS is particularly awesome, and you should click that link and read that entry. It's good.
Also, as you can probably guess, it got me to thinking. Not directly about good and evil, mind you, but choice in a more general sense. Choice is one of those things that has compelled people for almost as long as people have walked this planet. Do we have free will, able to create our own path as we see fit, or has it been written in stone for eternity that I'd be typing these words right now? Was Oceanic 815 always destined to crash, or did changeable events lead to this happening? It's definitely unnerving (to me, anyway) to imagine a situation where everything in my life has already been predetermined.
I don't want to get more philosophical than I need to for this, but it's unavoidable to some extent. Choice is one of those things that comes up time and time again when discussing storytelling through video games, and I'm sure it'll remain a topic long after I hit the giant button underneath this text box. Usually, choices are represented in a binary fashion of good/evil, and in the past, it was taken to extreme. I can save that burning bus full of orphans, or I can slow down the rate at which those orphans die the most agonizing death possible - stuff like that.
Some developers (like the perennially-mentioned-in-this-blog Bioware) have pushed the envelope a bit further in that regard, making sure that even the most altruistic action you think you can take can lead to negative consequence (in my opinion, I think Mass Effect has taken this a bit too far, but that's a topic for another time). On the opposite side of this, many games have tried to add incentives if you choose be Jim Badguy. Generally, this comes through increased stats, items, abilities, etc. Whatever makes your life easier, at least in the short term. (As I'm sure many of you know, harvesting the little sisters in Bioshock actually was a net negative compared to saving them in the long run, and yes, I did just mention Bioshock again. Is it the fall yet?)
I'm trying to stay in the habit of throwing images with relevant quotes into these essays just to break up the monotiniy of the WALL OF TEXT, but I'm having trouble coming up with related images that aren't just from the same references that I always use. So here, have a Rush song.
Of course, there's a lot more to choice than good and evil. Dragon Age presents a variety of choices that have no clear "this is the real good, and this is the real bad path," and it opens up a bit more to the interpretation of the player. I've heard stories from friends about how they played through the game while developing a role for their character, similar to how they might make a character in Dungeons and Dragons (or anything else that involves roleplaying).
This is interesting, but I hold the belief that the game should present all of the challenge without me creating my own rules outside of the program I'm currently running. Most of the choices I made in Dragon Age were the ones that either gave me the most benefit, the "best" possible ending, or were simply the most difficult choices to make (for example, if there was a choice I could make only if I had a good enough persuasion, that was always my first choice. As an added bonus, that usually tied into my first qualifier anyway).
The other issue is that these decisions usually don't have any significant impact on the game, as I griped about yesterday. Say you choose to kill the Rachini queen in the first Mass Effect. After that happens and you return to the Normandy, you get chastised by the Council, and then you continue your mission. If you choose to save it? You get chastised by the Council, and then you continue your mission. Either way, it has no impact on the rest of the game, and only serves to change a few lines of speech in its sequel. Naturally, this could change in the next game, but I can't speculate on something that doesn't really exist yet.
This is all too common in games, especially ones that are "all about the choices you make." This does make Bioware the main offender (and it's worth noting, the only reason I talk about Bioware so much is because I really do love the games they make), as the choices you make are mostly pointless. For the most part, all of these choices have cosmetic effect over a few lines of speech here or there, but the lasting effect - the impact - is rarely there.
Sure, you have to choose whether Ashley or Kaidan dies, but why do I care? This particular point ties back into what I discussed yesterday - in that I don't care about these characters at all - but it also became even sillier when Mass Effect 2 was released and neither of them are playable anyway. Granted, I haven't played through the game where Kaidan is alive, but I'm going to make the safe assumption that he shows up in the same place that Ashley does, and serves more or less the same role that Ashley does in that context. If I'm wrong, feel free to correct me.
Choosing for the sake of making a choice isn't the correct way of going about this. Adding meaning to these decisions is vital. Given the nature of developing a video game, a narrative-heavy game will never fully be able to escape a limited set of paths you can take. I don't consider binary options to necessarily be the kiss of death for making decisions, although it may not be the best way of going about it.
And honestly, just creating an impressive back story for these decisions isn't enough. Sure, that's a benefit (and one I would never belittle), but it's not the whole story. I guess I could put it like this: make me scared to choose the other option. This isn't necessarily the only way you can succeed at creating impact, but it is probably one of the simpler methods. I wasn't scared about killing the Council instead of a massive amount of innocent people in Mass Effect, since they were replaceable, and they were all jerks anyway. Oh, you mean I can cause the demise of these intergalactic, xenophobic leaders who don't seem to realize that I'm saving their asses? Nah, let me kill all these innocent people instead. Impact, not cosmetics.
And please, don't make me wait two years (or longer) for a sequel where this impact presents itself. Have I ever mentioned the Shenmue blue-balling in this blog?
(SPOILER ALERT: There are spoilers of the current season of Lost, Justified, and Treme in this entry, as well as spoilers from older seasons of Dexter. If you're not current on these shows (or even a week or two behind), but care about spoilers, avoid this entry until you are current. There are no more warnings after this point.)
Son of a bitch!
For no reason other than being unemployed (still!), I've found myself watching a lot of television shows on top of my usual gaming habits. While this may seem like a rather mundane way to begin an essay, this is actually somewhat outside of my realm of normal behavior. I'm by no means opposed to television - in fact, I quite like it. For several years, however, I chose not to watch because "I have other stuff I could be doing."
Well, that's not the case right now, and I'm glad it isn't; there are some mighty fine shows on TV right now. Primarily, my TV time is focused on three shows: Lost, Justified, and Treme. These three shows are vastly different in significant ways, but share a few common themes that separate them from the majority of other shows I've seen lately (although I hear Breaking Bad is good, and I'll certainly be ready for Mad Men's return).
Of course, this isn't about TV shows. If I wanted to review them, I could do it pretty quickly. In fact, I will: good but inconsistent, took a few episodes but is really flying high right now, absolutely fantastic on all levels, but might get bland quicker than I'd like (fans of The Wire are currently yelling at me about how wrong I am).
Now that that's out of the way, let's get to my real point - one of the biggest things these shows all do is develop their characters. One of the most important things you can do when telling a story - yes, even a non-fiction story - is to present it to the audience in a way where they develop a bond with the story's key players. This goes beyond the words that come out of their mouth, but the way they react to things, the small mannerisms that are a core part of who they are, and countless other things that need to be taken into consideration (although not necessarily obsessed about).
The two main writers of Lost, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have spoken about how they feel that Lost is first and foremost about the characters. While that may not be true in practice, it's a good ideal to stick by. Looking at the characters still currently relevant on Lost, most of them possess enough qualities to make them seem "human" in a way where the audience cares about what happens to some or all of them.
Certainly, I found myself moved by Jin and Sun's unfortunate fate, and I've found myself the most curious about what will happen to Hurley in the long run. I want nothing more than for Kate's Lost career to end with a bullet in her head, but I know a few people who do still like her. Desmond, of course, is awesome, as is Lapidus, who totally isn't dead.
Justified is a bit more top-heavy in its character development, putting the majority of the focus on Raylan Givens (although not all of it), who is played brilliantly by Timothy Olyphant. Raylan started off the series coming across as some kind of Superman character who always was three steps ahead of the people he was chasing, but as the season has progressed, we've discovered the things that can reduce him down to the level of mere mortal. There was a good moment in this week's episode - one where Raylan was without his signature hat the entire hour - where he reached for his hat upon entering a building, only to realize that he didn't actually have it on. Those minor details are a good way to develop character, even if the entire audience isn't going to notice them.
People do lots of dumb s*** because it's easy.
Treme is a bit of an outlier, in that there's no real central plot. Each of the main characters has their own personal conflicts (and in a city like New Orleans after the storm, conflict was not in short supply), but they rarely overlap into a more major theme - outside of New Orleans itself, of course. Rather than tell a traditionally focused story like a crime drama in Justified, or a whatever-the-hell-they're-doing in Lost, Treme's whole existence is seemingly based on characters and characters alone.
No other show I've seen (and before you ask: no, I have not see The Wire, yes, I know it is awesome, yes, I plan on watching it eventually) is capable of staying compelling with as weak of a key conflict as Treme. The best way I can describe it for someone who hasn't seen it is that it basically is several "side story" level stories from any other show matched together. You've got Antoine, a struggling musician trying to make ends meat while sleeping around town, Janette, with a mostly flooded house and a restaurant she can't really keep up with, Creighton, a professor in a school that he doesn't seem too thrilled about who is suddenly becoming a Youtube celebrity, and several other interesting characters.
There is one character, however, who seems to have polarized the show's fans. Davis comes across as a holier-than-thou, too smart to realize how dumb he is personality that just doesn't resonate with most people. It always feels like he's a bit too unaware of what's going on around him, and while people like that do exist, they're not usually popular characters in stories, especially when portrayed as an important part of the story. From this week's episode, it looks like we're still having the layers of Davis peeled back, and we were showed a bit of how Davis manages to get through life (his ability to persuade is incredible).
Of course, having good characters isn't necessary for a show to be compelling. A show like Dexter gets by having bland, one-dimensional characters that take cop drama archetypes to a bit of an extreme. It succeeds largely due to the suspense it creates through the plot, rather than any character not named Dexter Morgan developing in any meaningful way (unless you count what seemed like an interesting subplot for Doakes until they killed him off in season 2).
Naturally, I mention all of this to give a frame of reference to discuss character development in video games, a part of the narrative process that seems to be completely ignored in the majority of games. The most popular example with my friends is Final Fantasy 8, where everyone not named Squall is more or less meaningless to the game, and the only development Squall experiences is going from "emo kid who doesn't want to be bothered" to "emo kid who doesn't want to be bothered, except by Rinoa" (I'm overgeneralizing, but not much).
Excuse me, I'm looking for some sailors.
The list of good or great narrative-heavy games with terrible character development is staggering. One of my personal favorites from days gone by, Shenmue, is full of characters that were seemingly cut out of construction paper, be it Ryo (the protagonist!), Lan Di, Nozomi, or whoever else. They're all one-trick ponies with no real reason to become attached to them (except for Ryo, who is an inconsistent zero-trick pony who you are forced to control for the majority of the game). As I've discussed in the past, this issue is augmented by the fact that the series was never completed.
As far as games that are moreso praised for their writing (and that I've actually played, sorry Heavy Rain and Half-Life, I'll leave you two to the comments), a game like Bioshock gets by through the means of not really creating a protagonist. Usually in games where you follow a plot, you're never given any motivation for walking into those obvious traps, other than "you have to or the game won't finish." I won't spend time discussing how Bioshock gets around this, as that has been discussed many times by many people. The game succeeds by being moreso about the antagonists of the game, and while they aren't necessarily the most interesting characters in the world, the real interest comes through discovering the methods they screw around with the nameless, faceless, voiceless protagonist.
Mass Effect (and really, most Bioware games of the same nature) is a bit of a mixed bag. You can develop Shepard in a few different ways (good thing!), even though it ultimately has no bearing on the rest of the story (not-so-good thing!).
The people around him/her are inconsistent, as well. For checkmarks in the "good" column, I'd commend a character like Mordin, who we discover throughout the course of ME2 is a lot more interesting than just a doctor who is good with a gun. Not to mention he's a great singer. For characters that crossed over from the first game to its sequel, I'd surprisingly give kudos to Wrex. While he seems like a very typical meathead for the most part (which is mostly true of his species), there's enough going on under the surface that gives him a decent amount of depth. Meeting him in Mass Effect 2 and discovering his forward-thinking ways to help unite and save his people was refreshing, given that my main memory of him from the first game is his single-word greeting of Shepard.
Most (not all, but I'm not discussing everyone for the sake of brevity) of the cast outside of that isn't so wonderful. I feel like Ashley could have been a more interesting character, but she never really gets beyond just being an annoying xenophobe in either game. Jacob is pretty one-dimensional in a similar way that Doakes was for most of his run on Dexter. I happen to enjoy those characters to an extent, but if he shows up in the third game, I hope they do a bit more with him.
I wanted to end the body of this essay with an example of a game that has good character development across the board for the key players, but I really can't think of any game that really hits a home run. Even the games that rely heavily on archetypes seem to mess it up somewhere, usually by not spending enough time on it, presumably for the reason that most developers assume that to develop a character, you have to be in a conversation that doesn't actually use the main mechanics of the game itself (be it the combat system, the puzzles, or whatever the "core gameplay" is). It's a shame, because I don't feel like this would be a difficult task to complete. Writers have been creating compelling characters for thousands of years.
I'd love to hear if any of you have examples of games with good (not even great!) character development. I definitely haven't played every critically popular game that relies heavily on story, so hopefully you guys can fill in some of the blanks for me.
I'm not particularly good at re-sizing, and I couldn't find an image with decent dimensions. Sorry.
Let's face it, everyone: the most popular game on the Xbox 360 isn't actually a game. If you look at your list of friends at any point of the day, you're more than likely to find at least one or two people to be playing this. While other games come and go with the tides, this game never goes out of style, and is constantly being refreshed with new content.
I am, of course, speaking of the one and only Netflix. Since this service has launched on the Xbox 360, it has taken over everyone's spare time, and (in my mind) gave credence to the thought that the console is more than just something to play video games on - it has a legitimate argument as being an important part of any home media center.
We have a problem, though. Netflix, the most popular game on the Xbox 360 by leaps and bounds, has no achievements. Achievements, such a necessary part of Xbox 360 games that even Final Fantasy XI has them. People, we can't allow this to continue any longer.
Here is my modest attempt at making some worthwhile achievements for Netflix. I'm trying not to deviate too far from current achievement conventions (showcasing features from the game, rewards for "critical path" usage, and so forth), so don't expect anything too crazy.
For added fun, I've made the title for every achievement a quote from a movie or TV show (with a heavy lean towards movies). Some are iconic, some are merely famous, and some are rather obscure favorites. See how many you know!
Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. - 10 G
--Add a movie or television show to your instant queue.
You're gonna need a bigger boat. - 15 G
--Add 25 movies or television shows to your instant queue.
I loved you in Wall Street! - 30 G
--Add 50 movies or television shows to your instant queue.
If you build it, he will come. - 10 G
--Invite someone for a party watch session
What the **** is the internet? - 30 G
--View a movie or show that you added to your instant queue from netflix.com
It stinks! - 10 G
--Rate one movie or show.
I have always depended on the kindness of strangers! - 15 G
--Rate 25 movies or shows.
Whoa. - 30 G
--Rate 50 movies or shows.
Worst. Episode. Ever. - 25 G
--Watch any movie or show with a rating of two stars or less, and then rate it.
There's always a choice. - 25 G
--Watch any movie or show with a rating of four stars or more, and then rate it.
And the Oscar goes to... - 15 G
--Watch any movie that has won an Academy Award for Best Picture. (pending legal sign-off from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)
Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. - 50 G
--Watch an entire season or series of a TV show in a single day.
Do you know what your sin is? - 20 G
--Watch any movie or show classified as "Sci-Fi & Fantasy"
That rug really pulled the room together, dude. - 20 G
--Watch any movie or show classified as "Comedy"
You trying to say Jesus Christ can't hit a curveball? - 20 G
--Watch any movie or show classified as "Sports & Fitness"
Hang on to your turban kid, we're gonna make you a star! - 20 G
--Watch any movie or show classified as "Children & Family"
But...this one goes to eleven. - 20 G
--Watch any movie or show classified as "Documentary"
What kind of place is this? It's beautiful: Pigeons fly, women fall from the sky! I'm moving here! - 20 G
--Watch any movie or show classified as "Foreign"
A man once told me that the only causes worth fighting for are the lost causes. - 20 G
--Watch any movie or show classified as "Drama"
Some people are just born with tragedy in their blood. - 20 G
--Watch any movie or show classified as "Independent"
Movies don't create psychos, movies make psychos more creative! - 20 G
--Watch any movie or show classified as "Thrillers"
Where we're going, we don't need roads! - 55 G
--Watch 1000 movies or TV shows.
There. It's not a comprehensive list of all of the achievements you could make for Netflix, but this should be enough to ship achievements for this, the most popular game on the Xbox 360. Currently, the gamerscore adds up to 500. I figure since this is more content than an XBLA title, but isn't actually a game, this is a good compromise for your score.
If you have some awesome achievements (complete with quotes!), throw them in the comments and I can try to balance them in. Remember, though: try to keep them within the standard flavor of Xbox 360 achievements!