My earilest memory is of playing a PC port of Pac-Man on my dad's computer. My next earliest memory is of playing a PC port of Tetris on my mom's computer. I've been happily and hopelessly into video games and everything to do with them since, and while I have my favorites - pretty much the entire Metroid series (except, you know, that one) - there are very few good games I haven't played and enjoyed.
Now that I've been here for a few months I guess something else should go here, so: I've set upon myself a personal goal to write and post a blog at least once per week. Sometimes, meeting this deadline means that those articles are not up to the standards I would like, and I'll simply shove them away unpublished and try again next week. More rarely, they turn out great, and up they go. Even more rarely, I'll actually feel very satisfied and accomplished, and will get all excited for the loads of attention I won't be receiving. The following blog entries are ones that I believe fit into the latter category, preserved here in order of appearance for my (but quite possibly also your!) amusement and enrichement:
Also, I mantain the monthly Cblog Analytics series, which tallies up a bunch of statistics and presents them in a simple and organized format. The results are always interesting and often surprising - all the math is done on my end, so no matter how number-phobic you might be, it's worth checking out! This year's entries are listed here:
So yesterday, bbain decided to try and start a super-neat list-off, reviving a 10-things-you-didn't-know-about-X trend that expired before my brief time here. The following is my attempt to blow a little harder on the rolling beach ball - I'd encourage you to pick it up and keep it going!
The following things are listed in no particular order; most of them are non-gaming related, chiefly because my habits and tastes are fairly pedestrian, so I hope that doesn't disqualify this from being interesting or anything
1. I learned an entire foreign language, and then forgot it. When I was ~6 years old, my dad got a job offer way above his current pay grade. The catch? We were in the USA, and it was in Germany. So, he dragged us along to Deutschland for 2.5 years, and I had the distinct privilege of trying to integrate myself into a small-city German school, the inhabitants of which had no sympathy or patience for a kid that didn't understand a word anybody was saying. Despite what seemed like their best efforts to stop me, I managed to worm my way through a couple of grades, and shortly before we forced my father to find another job back in the States, I was able to speak the language as fluently as a native of my age. One German-free summer later, though, and I couldn't remember a thing. Even when I took German classes in high school as my foreign language, the only area in which I seemed to have an advantage was the accent - funny how that works.
2. Once upon a time, I was a die-hard, rabid Nintendo fanboy. Even as early as the SNES, Nintendo was largely thought of as the one who made the "kiddie consoles;" my parents' consequent refusal to buy me anything else meant that while the other children were gawking at exploding zombie heads in Resident Evil and sniping each other's brains all over the walls in Halo, I was replaying Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario Sunshine again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and
Not that they're bad games, of course, but I had to stave off the jealousy and isolated despair somehow - and did so by convincing myself that everything anyone else has ever played is just bad, you know, and I've got the Nintendo console, which has all the real games and not your exploitative Grand Theft Autos and Devil May Crys. Soon, the acquisition of a gaming-capable PC introduced me to all the awesome I was missing, and an Xbox followed shortly afterwards - but those were some dark days.
3. Until quite recently, the only things in my entire (voluntary) literary history that were written after the 19th century were Harry Potter and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. My dear mother, being an English major herself, was one of the most instrumental forces driving me towards my present word-based inclinations. The downside: her primary interest is in 18th & 19th century British literature, so as soon as I was capable, I was getting nothing but large doses of Dickens, Austen, Bronte (& Bronte), etc. - the observant reader can see how the era's crippling fear of periods has seeped its way into my own writing style. Only after the acquisition of my shiny new Android smartphone and its handy-dandy Kindle app did I have the means and the inclination to branch out into more modern works, discovering super-fun modern writers like Terry Pratchett and David Foster Wallace.
4. I was diagnosed from an early age with a social disorder. Like, for-real professionals ushering me through a bunch of tests and speaking solemnly to my parents when they think I'm out of earshot diagnosis, not "well an online survey said" diagnosis. I admittedly feel a bit hesitant about including this, but it's been such a major influence on virtually every aspect of my life that I feel mentioning it is unavoidable. They call it PDD-NOS, which from what I understand is the medical term for "look, man, we got nothin'." What it essentially means is that I'm unable to grasp a number of "intuitive" social things that the neurotypical person finds second nature. Example: You know the "awkward" feeling? Where someone says or does something that makes you bite your lower lip, glance upwards, and go silent? I don't. I've had to "memorize" how each thing I or another person could possibly say or do provokes a certain response as if it were another page in my mathematics textbook, and either restrain myself or fake the appropriate reaction as is necessary. This becomes particularly troublesome with nonverbal language - a major reason why I've gravitated toward the written word as my preferred form of expression and communication.
5. My username is deriding a dead language about which I know almost nothing. Speaking of languages: "Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur" is a Latin phrase that roughly translates to "Anything said in Latin seems profound." When I was thinking about what to call myself, I wanted something that was 1. meaningful 2. not "tied" to any one product (i.e. not from a game or movie) 3. not too self-important and pretentious. The above fits #2 straight-on, contains meaning (as opposed to "[MLG] xXx_420SnYp3rTyL3R420_xXx"), and attacks its own self-important and pretentious connotation in a playfully ironic way. That, of course, is probably self-important and pretentious in and of itself, but since I literally don't know a single other thing in Latin (beyond a few English roots), I think it balances out.
6. I have an irrational discomfort toward providing information about myself. Yeah, it's an odd thing to say in the middle of a blog post dedicated to doing precisely that - but due to #4, another two of the things I was unable to comprehend were bragging (I couldn't distinguish it from simply informing) and knowing when to stop giving and start taking in a conversation. To compensate, I ceased doing either; a countermeasure which prevented me from being ridiculed and derided, but made approaching and communicating meaningfully with others that much more difficult. It's why I passed on doing an introductory blog when I started posting here - I felt (and still feel) that things like my name, face, and so on are irrelevant toward my purpose of stringing words about games together at least once a week. Hell, unless I'm forgetting something, I don't even think I've mentioned my gender yet (the gentleman in my avatar is not me, clearly.) This kind of article is good practice toward overcoming that, though - and being careful with my personal information online has arguably done more good than harm.
7. I do some amateur music composition in my spare time. And by amateur, I mean baby-level half-assed I-sure-hope-nobody-ever-sees-this amateur. Nothing I'm working on is finished and even less of it is good, but it's a fun little hobby - if I'm enjoying myself, it's worth it, right? Having been closely attached to an excellent band program throughout grade school, I please-oh-please-I-want-it-so-bad-please-please-d my parents into buying a composition program called Finale several years ago, and to this day, I still use it to dick around with things that I guess fall into the "classical" genre (orchestra, big band, woodwind quintet, piano, etc.), although in the crazy rules-and-standards-are-for-jerks modern sense. With virtually no knowledge of theory beyond basic basic chord structure, I'm unable to do anything but translate whatever pops into my head on paper (which happens about twice a season) - but maybe one day I'll finally wrap something up and post it on the Cblogs!
8. Despite this, I very rarely find myself listening to music. Outside of using the radio for longer car-trips, I never really have the desire to listen to anything - one reason, I believe, is because I can "play back" any songs on my mind that I want in my own head; something I had initially assumed everyone could do, but later found out was apparently something of an acquired skill. More strongly and somewhat more interestingly, though, simply listening to music either bores me or distracts me - either the piece is too repetitive and simple to engage me, or (if it's not) I'm too busy trying to hear every individual note and color, identify every new incarnation of the melody, and so on; I have a very difficult time just putting music in the background. Unless I specifically plan and dedicate time to examine something closely, the vast majority of my days go by without me coming into contact with a single external source of music - not including whatever's going on with a game I might be playing, of course.
9. I don't use any kind of social media. Seeing a pattern here? I signed up on Facebook several months ago under immense pressure from a couple of friends, and within a week, I'd completely forgotten about it. I already had other ways of keeping up with anybody who I felt was worth keeping up with, and every other aspect of the experience seemed to consist of people I've never spoken to trying to add me as a friend and lots of passive-aggressive drama I wanted no part in. I closed the account about a month after I'd opened it - again, the name and the face and the etc. lying about in the open internet caused me much more discomfort than the few paltry conveniences were worth. I have been thinking about hopping on Twitter some day in the future under this alias, but with precious few people to follow me, it doesn't seem like the right time.
10. I want to work for video games too !! ! There are a couple of reasons for me deciding to latch onto Dtoid as my next community, but quite honestly, this is the "real" one. The only thing I like more than words is video gaming, and the possibility of fusing the two into some manner of career, whether it's writing for or about the medium, is the very definition of "dream job." Will it happen? Who knows - but the Cblogs keep me writing and keep me reading, challenging me to not only find interesting sub-topics but present them in an entertaining fashion. That, and they provide a portal into a really-neat group of really-neat people - something which continues to become more valuable every day.
Quick panic-edit: I wouldn't consider anything below even approaching spoilers, hence the title; however, I cannot guarantee that you are not the kind of person who would consider "Rico kills some bugs" as a bite of information that completely ruins Starship Troopers, so if you don't want to take my word for it then read at your own risk and I cannot be considered liable for etc.
So, by now, you've probably seen the ending to Mass Effect 3.
Fortunately, I'll be doing my utmost to stay far, far away from that topic - instead, I want to go a bit more general and write about why the third installment of Bioware's space-epic whipped me me into its little space-bitch, and why I'm incredibly happy it managed to do so.
You see, this is actually my fifth pass at writing an article about my Mass Effect 3 experience. When I finished the game on Friday (having stayed up until 6 AM, of course), I was subsisting purely on the unstable vibrations of a two-hour adrenaline rush, brought on as much by fatigue as by what I'll be trying to describe below. My feelings were an appropriately twisted and contorted jumble of conflicting thoughts and emotions, so I stumbled into bed without changing clothes and hoped to sort it out over 10 hours of sleep and the mid-afternoon breakfast-lunch compensation to end all meals.
13 hours and 5 pounds later, I'm here at my computer, fingers poised over the keys, mind racing, tongue quivering, emotions storming, eyes blinking at wind velocities, staring at a blank word processor and writing absolutely nothing. For what I'm pretty convinced is the very first time in my entire life as a gamer, I'm unable to form any kind of conclusive opinion on a game. So I write "I don't know what to think." I erase it. I write "When playing Mass Effect 3 I..." and then erase it. Okay, screw this. More sleep, try again tomorrow.
Academically, there's not much ambiguity. In a typical review analysis, I'd remark how the combat and progression strikes the sweet spot between the first two games, providing plenty of excitement, depth, and challenge; I'd say how the writing continues to strike eight hits for every miss, compelling me to care about the game's many characters and their uncertain fates; I'd note that, except for a certain 10 minutes I've promised not to mention, the story successfully and satisfyingly ties up all three games' worth of dangling, variable plot threads in a neat little ribbon. Incredible game, would recommend, neat/10, generational landmark, monumental achievement, etc., etc.
So, thought I, once again meeting the blank, indifferent glow of my monitor with an equally vapid stare, why the tits do I keep impulsively backspacing every time I try to say so? I tried to think about the moments I remembered most. A picture of me lifting bad guys out of cover and flinging them cartwheeling into the skybox as I danced my squishy Adept between and around hostile projectiles emerged, and then sunk just as quickly. It was replaced by moments. Story moments. These moments triggered emotions. "Bad" emotions. This scared me.
I've experienced the "OH YEAH MAN WE'RE GONNA F**K SOME SHIT UP" feeling before. This is not of note. I've bro-fisted the screen before. This is not of note. What I haven't done - and I mean this quite literally, as in "have never ever" - is been pissed at a fictional character for their fictional actions. I've been mad at writers for being jerks to their characters, sure, but (to try and avoid spoilers), when given the option to punch a supposed ally in the gut and order him/her/it/etc. the hell off my ship when he/she/it/etc. does something not very nice, I did so, in complete and total violation of my character's (and, as I like to play and would like to think, my) better judgment and usual manner.
I didn't do it because I wanted evil points, or because I'd thought I'd divined what'd happen shortly down the plotline, or because I'm one of those people who hits all the interrupts (you know the type). I did it because I wanted to. Once again, this has not happened in a game (or a book or an etc.) before, but the significance did not strike me until after I had spent several days distancing and detaching myself from Mass Effect 3's universe. Similar occasions - feelings of immense frustration, loss, hopelessness - began to pop into my memory as I half-consciously began to make words appear on the page. That adrenaline rush I mentioned earlier? That kicked up and into full swing as the game's final mission kicked off, triggering an imperfect but powerful marbling of complex and conflicting emotions which spiraled across my mind, filling the deep void left by the fact that I had no f***king idea what was about to happen..
I could die. Everyone I'd met could die. Things could go well, and we're better off than we were, but I can clearly and distinctly see all of my efforts marching the galaxy straight down the proverbial U-bend. And - this is the kicker - I cared. I've felt the rush of excitement as Luke runs the Death Star's trenches; I've held my breath in anxious anticipation as Frodo tumbles around the narrow precipice of Mt. Doom; but never in my life has a work of fiction not only compelled me to feel tense about "how it could go wrong," but also made me purely, genuinely, 100% afraid that I would lose people. Liara's immense information-based power is no longer applicable. Joker's prodigious plot armor could finally snap. Thousands of guns (along with my Shepard's vagina) may never see another Garrus-certified calibration.
Asking myself why this only happened now and not during Mass Effect 2's caps-requiring Suicide Mission, I guessed it was some combination of the stronger central narrative, the extra 20 hours of character development, and the fact that this really, really is the end, and continue to believe so; but the point stands that I felt things - real, tangible, complex emotions - which no creative work on the planet or beyond has ever been able to coax out of me. Dig further, and the reasons are not unclear - were I to break each Mass Effect entry down and scrutinize every aspect of its making, of course I'll spot cracks and bumps and a good few big gaping holes; but panning the camera back to the cohesive whole, all I notice is the incredible and colossal scale and ambition on display - and, perhaps more importantly, its variability.
I'm not going to tell you what my Shepard was like, or what she did and chose. You don't care. I don't care about yours, either, and, along with old-fashioned good writing and character development, that's the better half of why my for-real hands were for-real shaking over the potential fates of these not-for-real individuals. I am far from the first to note how the 1,000+ variables that Mass Effect 3 takes into account, whether as massive as a character who could've been dead for 2.5 games or as subtle as a single word in a single line of dialogue, amplified across what is now almost 70 hours and 3 complete narrative arcs, shape and color my playthrough in a way that's unprecedented in gaming and irreplicable in any other kind of media. But I will be far from the last.
During the next two days in which I tried and failed to put my thoughts into words, I didn't feel happy. The game dominated my mind - I was constantly distracted, trying to process my feelings. It wasn't dissatisfaction; it wasn't anger. I had no clue what I felt, except that I was convinced I could never go back and play Mass Effect 3 again. Doing another playthrough but picking different choices would amount to little more than an academic exercise, in which I play against my "true self" for the sake of measuring differences.
As the new week opened, I began to recognize the emotions as sadness and melancholy - my personal journey is over, and I can never experience it like that again. When I read a book, or watch a movie, or even play the average game, I am getting the "same" thing as everybody else who did likewise. Interpretations may differ, but the world and story remains there, like a photograph I can revisit. While, from a technical standpoint, Mass Effect is no different, my mind treats it as if I'd lived it; as if it is not merely a record, but an organic memory. However illusionary such an effect may be, it is still profound and unique - no work of fiction has affected me as deeply in as many ways, and even with decades of potential in video gaming, I'm not entirely convinced anything ever will again.
And yet, at this moment, I am currently 16 hours into my second run of Mass Effect 3. I didn't punch that person in the gut this time.
Since I'm still trying to figure out just what the hell these feelings I've walked away from Mass Effect 3 with are, it'll be a short blog this week. I bought the last Humble Indie Bundle some time ago, but somehow just noticed the little entry called "Cave Story+" sitting on my Steam list a short couple of days ago. I'd always meant to play it, having read glowing reviews of the WiiWare version upon its release, but it always slid back into that huge indie-game-pool of "oh I'll get around to it some time." Oh, man, do I regret putting it there.
The "story" half of Cave Story had an intriguing way of sneaking up on me. I begin in a room called "Start Point," which leads me into another room called "First Cave." Proceeding a short distance downward, I pass a few obstacles, obtain a weapon and then go back up. I interpret this as a conventional but well-executed "natural" tutorial, familiarizing and acclimating me with game's rules and structure; I thus expect the game's draw and progression to be Metroidvania-like, with stages labeled and ordered as "caves," and some light, harmless plot sprinkled across the surface. Oh, cute bunny-people - yeah, that seems about right. I assume the increasing volume of words is merely some oddly-paced exposition.
Then somebody drops the word "killed," and things start to get dark.
Being a huge sucker for games with good stories and presentation, I can't say I'm surprised at how quickly and easily Cave Story drew me in, as I booted it up having read about how I'd receive just that - but there's something about a game that eschews those "surprises" and radical genre shake-ups for rock-solid design and a compelling yarn that flips on all kinds of otherwise rusty happy-switches in my mind. There's a comforting feeling about slotting into this kind of title; one that has its unique little moments but whose greatest strengths lie in taking familiar concepts and executing them to perfection.
Sure, its world isn't nearly as sprawling and labyrinthine as a Metroid map, being separated into a handful of discrete segments with only a few booster power-ups to complement the prescribed sequence of new weapons and abilities, but exploration isn't its focus - Cave Story is a much more driven game, carried along by the constant forward momentum supplied by its focused plot. It nails both the moment-to-moment gameplay bites and the all the various curves and flowing shapes that comprise the big-picture pacing - soaring over a long gap by using the recoil of my own machine gun is a thing of beauty, and only once (when I had to collect a bunch of dogs) did I find myself edging towards disengagement.
It's a game which doesn't need to do something big and flashy to prove itself - unlike many titles, my memory of it is more constant and fluid, built off feelings and generalizations rather than specific moments. The wow-factor that is ordinarily triggered by a huge set piece or head-bending plot twist is instead diffused across the entire experience - sure, it had its "oh crap" moments, but for the most part, my pleasure and satisfaction came almost by-the-minute. Nearly every area was filled with little instances which caused me to think, "neat;" here's a character! Here's a new weapon! Here's what that weapon does when you level it up! Here's a new plot development! Here's a new area! Check out this awesome music! Look at Balrog's adorable toaster-buttcrack!
Since it's 1. freeware and 2. dirt-cheap when it's not, I doubt anybody who clicked on this blog hasn't already played Cave Story, so it's probably time for me to stop preaching to the chiptune-choir; but, in the unlikely event you've yet to discover this little modern classic, go. Play it. It defies criticism - the only one I could possibly throw at it would be a lack of depth in its mechanics, but I'm more convinced that such simplicity is the point. In this age of blockbuster, multi-million dollar extravaganzas, a retro-infused masterwork like Cave Story is the best kind of antidote - worth every minute of its five-year development.
As someone who likes to think they could be classified as a "writer" (if only under the broad definition of "somebody who writes,") I honestly believe that the only situation worse than not being able to write is not being able to write anything good - but even still, four weeks of blog-abstinence is a little much for me, so I'll try and sidestep the issue by addressing a little question I had mid-month: daily recaps are super-handy, but what does the Destructoid Cblog community's output really look like over a long period of time?
In answer, I present to you this experimental and (hopefully) inaugural edition of "Cblog Analytics," in which I comb carefully and lovingly through the month's expressions, exclamations, examinations, expoundings, and excretions for precious numerical data to compile, calculate, and serve hot & fresh in a simple and straightforward format.
For this month, I'm relying on the tried and tested method of scrolling down the blog index and counting things by hand, so it is entirely possible there are inaccuracies present in this data; I have also omitted a couple of planned stats, which include but are not limited to "new bloggers" and "longest blog." Going forward (and assuming this is a thing you guys would want to see more of), I'll be noting and tracking data on a day-to-day basis so that, come month's end, I'll be able to include some deeper things, along with more visual supplements - and, of course, if there's any other information you'd like to see for March, post it in the comments!
But that's enough introduction. Let's go:
A total of 505 blogs were posted this month!
The most-blogged day was Tuesday the 14th, with 26 blogs!
-Which happened to be Valentine's Day! Guess love (or lack thereof) really does perk up the collective muse
The least-blogged day was Sunday the 18th, with 8 blogs!
On average, there were about 17 blogs a day!
-A simple trend-line on the graph below indicates a fairly minute drop across the month, and a quick glance at the per-day data does confirm that more days were hitting the 20-blog count earlier in the month than later - perhaps the "freshness" of the month prompts Dtoiders to lay their pens to the digital paper, as it were?
The most popular Bloggers Wanted topics were Improvement and Endings, both prompting 24 blogs each!
-I would say "everyone's a critic," but that'd be a cliché, so, instead, I'll cleverly avoid that trap by noting that saying "everyone's a critic" would be a cliché. Rhetoric! However, most of the people speaking of game endings talked about their favorites, so perhaps negativity isn't the easiest fuel for writing after all
The least popular Bloggers Wanted topic was Beginnings, prompting 12 blogs!
-A personal note: I literally cannot recall a moment in my life where I was not immersed in gaming, nor a moment where, after subsisting with mild and casual play, I suddenly realized, " VIDEO GAMES," and then invested myself fully into the medium. Were I to guess, I'd say this phenomenon contributed toward the topic's lack of attention
In total, 77 blogs were written under a Bloggers Wanted prompt! That's about 15.25% of the month's blogs, or a little over 3 out of every 20!
The flavor of the month was Mass Effect, which was written about 15 times!
-When you look above at there being 505 blogs, having 15 be the largest number centered around a relatively narrow topic seems a bit odd - but I guess it just highlights the staggering diversity both in video gaming as a medium and in the thoughts, interests, and experiences of the Destructoid community. Runner-ups were the Resident Evil, the PS Vita's release, and the eternal back-and-forth on used games, piracy, and DRM
It was also the most commented blog, with 39 comments!
The shortest blog was Delete, by nabokovfan87, which consisted of the following text:
"Seriously DToid... I can't delete a blog?"
-Another blog (0gaddsaf, by Justin Annett) consists merely of the text "0," but, judging by the comments, there used to be words there, so I'm discounting it
The most prolific blogger was StealthMaster, who pumped out 12 blogs (that's an average of 3 per week!)
-Cblog Recaps are not counted, but all other serials (like FNF) are, under the rationale that serials still exist for the purpose of "creating" content under a certain topic or theme, while the Recaps merely seek to sort and organize the day's blogs
-For the Bloggers Wanted stats, I begin with the first week in which a day of the month appears and end with the last full week of the month, assuming the week begins on Monday and ends on Sunday
-For the flavor of the month, I do not count Bloggers Wanted topics, but the blogs themselves are factored in
-There is still some inherent subjectivity in deciding what constitutes a "unique topic," so keep that in mind if there seems like there's some obvious category that I've ignored (although feel free to tell me)
-For shortest blog, entries whose primary content consists of 1. pictures or 2. links are not considered
-Statistics are not intended to impart any kind of judgment or opinion in and of themselves - If I have any personal thoughts, they are noted below each statistic
Well, now that I've done a bunch of soapbox-y, preach-y three-pagers, how about a nice, short, soapbox-y preach-y segment with lots of pictures? I was tempted do do this entry on Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but having already spent my biomechanical energy on the Sarif piece, I figured it'd be better to revisit a game that's not quite as recent.
Oh, how many words I could extract out of Far Cry 2. I never seem to hear it spoken of kindly; people (rightfully) tend to recall the sparse narrative that, like a horrible boyfriend, opens up with a bang, but shows up again only once or twice, stumbling around drunkenly for a bit before rushing through the obligatory motions and hastily bowing out the door; they can only seem to remember the bloodthirsty roaming guards, who would DROP EVERYTHING to chase you to the ends of the earth, even especially when you were working for them; they always mention its painfully repetitive missions, which only break up the identical go-here-kill-this jobs by inserting identical go-here-get-pills tasks in between.
And yet, Missed Potential: The Game remains one of my favorite games of 2008, second only to Fallout 3 and the incredible Grand Theft Auto IV, thanks to the very thing in this blog's title: Location. Far Cry 2 positively nails it when it comes to setting, from the mosquito buzzing across the main menu to the torrid sunlight dancing across the lush savannah grass to the half-naked mercenary rolling on the ground, crying in Afrikaans for somebody to put out the wild flames that have engulfed him and the fifteen square meters around him. Nothing in the game - neither the increasingly-grimy weapons and vehicles that require continued maintenance, nor the fiddle and drum-laced soundtrack, nor the rough map and fuzzy GPS, nor the minimalistic UI - escapes without being run through its blood-and-coffee-colored filter.
Oh and fire, don't forget fire
I hate to drop the word "immersion," since it makes me sound like a lesser order of hipster trying to convince you why my preferences are so superior in ways you just can't understand, man, but there's simply no better term to use. It's rare enough that we see games with the kind of pervasive thematic consistency that courses through every micron of their presentation, but Far Cry 2 coats it all in a slick, tight layer of AAA polish that elevates it above something like, say, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., whose rough frays and edges continually poke outside the suspension of disbelief, popping the fragile bubble in which the game tries so hard to encapsulate me. Far Cry 2's repetition definitely is tiresome and its hyper-aggressive inhabitants are indeed infuriating, but - crucially - my frustration with them rarely pulls me out of the dark and twisted world its designers have crafted.
I could drone on and on and on about this, but my insistence on providing due reverence would stifle any entertaining witticisms I could provide just as much as it would bore you to death; so, instead, I'll go and take a few in-game shots and annotate them - somewhat in the spirit of an expedition to a foreign land, you could say.
While the grand vistas are certainly impressive...
The details are even more important. Little things like the player's arm stretching out to grab some ammo...
...and the visceral intimacy of plunging your machete into a wounded enemy stack up, enhancing the player's sense of physical place in the world despite not being immediately apparent.
This is a zebra. Gameplay-wise, its contributions are insignificant - it will run when I approach it and fall over when I shoot it or hit it with my car, and nothing else. From an aesthetic standpoint, though, it's another out of the dozens of elements that serve to make Far Cry 2's Africa so singularly believable and (here I go again) immersive.
Look and sound isn't everything. The brutal and satisfying gunplay is an element that does not so much add to Far Cry 2's locational coherence as it prevents a subtraction - were the shooting anything but great, any clunkiness, floatiness, or other failing would instantly tear me "out of the game."
Similarly, the sense of freedom provided by the open-ended nature of the missions furthers the impression that the game's environment is a living, reactive place, rather than a static, artificial gallery.
The tension in the cease-fire zones is palpable - everybody has a gun and nobody likes you.
The sense that a firefight could erupt at any second is made even stronger by little taunts thrown your way - "We both know you ain't gonna do shit" when you point your pistol at somebody, for instance.
The fire propagation system possesses an interesting duality - it serves to both show how fragile Far Cry 2's natural world is, highlighting the wanton barbarism of its warring factions...
...while, thanks to its tendency to also engulf you, serves to emphasize the cruel, unforgiving themes at the heart of the game's design. Oh, and if you'll let me take off my elitism hat for a second - it's also f*cking awesome.
And really, that's what makes Far Cry 2's setting so impressive to me - it can at any time (and sometimes simultaneously) be beautiful, detailed, and alluring; expansive, indifferent, and living; cruel, merciless, and overpowering; and, most of all, absorbing, captivating, and - one last time - immersive. Location doesn't get much better than that.
Oh my, those last two bits I've written were awfully dry, weren't they? I mean, this is still going to be a totally srs blog about totally srs things - I'm completely starved for good topics and then a blog gets written and I don't agree with some parts and that's totally not how it works and my god I can't just let this sit here and THESE WRONGS MUST BE RIGHTED - but I'll try my best. A dick joke in the title's a good a start as any, right? (As this post is a direct response to the blog linked below, I'll assume you've glanced over that article's finer points, or maybe even read the whole thing if you're a super cool person)
I'm honestly a bit hesitant to strap on my high-brow argue-boots and stomp around the well-worn "what game length is best length" Astroturf, making only a few more insignificant marks among the hundreds of much more comprehensive and well-stated opinion-prints, but as much as I may want to issue a bunch of half-hearted excuse-mes and I-know-you've-heard-this-before acknowledgements in what is no way a means to try and not write a proper intro paragraph, I can't help but lay down the wholly subjective law on something as crucially fundamental to game design as the amount of time a player is intended to be enraptured in front of the glowing screen. Fortunately, kona, in his nice little essay on this very subject, has given me a wonderful set of points to counter and work off of, making the part where I organize my thoughts much simpler and straightforward. Thanks, man!
As noted, games these days do seem to be a lot shorter than in the past. As noted, a significant contributor to this trend is how much useless, redundant, cumbersome, and/or repetitive ass-poo is being excised as our standards rise and our technology advances. As noted, game designer's continuing insistence on aping Hollywood narrative structure necessitates more truncated campaigns in order to better serve the story's pace. This is fine. "Length" in and of itself means little when that extra time is spent trudging through identical corridors and hobbling back and forth across the same barren, static landscape - "filler," as it is often referred to in modern parlance.
What grabbed my attention, though, was this little sentence - "Quite simply, if games are to truly make the next step and finally offer up our 'Citizen Kane,' there needs to be more care put into storytelling." I could write a whole article on this notion - I probably will on another slow week - but the next assertion, detailing how shorter games would more easily accomplish this, I just can't accept. The thing about Citizen Kane - why film critics adore it as frequently and vigorously as young viewers (like myself) wonder what the hoopla is for - is that it's not simply a good story, but that it's a brilliant film, taking advantage of the medium's unique qualities to craft a means of portraying Kane's meteoric rise and decaying soul that you simply can't do any other way.
Pictured: Another timeless, evocative masterpiece of film, for what are many of the same reasons, I assure you
If a video game is going to achieve that same significance, it can't be content with plucking out and flash-cloning the same kind of storytelling methods; it has to present its narrative - if the best way of doing what it wants to do even falls under the category of narrative in the first place - in a way unique to its own qualities of interactivity. Restricting itself to a shorter structure simply because that's what movies do, and movies are, you know, pretty good sometimes, can only stifle, if not completely prevent, that kind of achievement.
The fact that movies are (or perhaps were, depending on your perspective) the primary form of entertainment for gobbling up all our hard-earned free time, on top of being the second most advanced form of visual media, is likely the reason why we can't stop getting away from the need to do what they do, but there's a little something else I'd like to divert your (probably already-wavering I'm sorry man I'm trying) attention to, and that's the humble "book" - feel free to look it up on Wikipedia if the term's unfamiliar. There are some that you can boldly charge through in a couple of hours' time, but for the most part, if you're one of the six or seven people left on the planet who reads with regularity, you're going to eat up a few chapters, put it down, come back later, consume some more, etc. Sound familiar? Just as a novel's length does not preclude it from "hav[ing] some decent character arcs," the same applies to the video game.
Perhaps what seems like a growing impatience for lots of words on a page has some relevance; the CNN article kona cited indicates that gamer attention spans are horrid at best and shamefully abysmal at worst, informing us that that only 10% of ~23 million players finished 2010's quite lengthy (and quite excellent) Red Dead Redemption. And yet, while he attributes the blame to developers who don't know how to focus their storylines, I can't help but feel a good bit of it simply falls to people's inability to stick with and finish something that's not movie-length, be it a video game or something completely different. Should, then, developers chop off the ends and move toward shorter narratives simply because that's what 80-90% of gamers don't have the time or patience to become so absorbed? I can't think for a moment that such a thing is a good idea; it'd be an arbitrary limit borne solely out of monetary and market concerns, which are two things that (for a pretentiously elitist snob like me) need to stay far, far away from developers' creative direction unless absolutely necessary.
Two of Metroid Prime's biggest strengths are how its world slowly opens and expands as you grow and evolve and the sense of personal presence and consequence - something its relative length actually augments
Then there's this little bit - it's mentioned that older games used to be harder, and were thus "lengthier" not because they were filled with more content (however repetitive and bland) but because when you played one of those games, you died. A lot. In many ways. Then you ran out of lives, and then you had to start the whole level -if not the whole game - over from the beginning. Difficulty is an equally important and fundamental limb of a game's anatomy that I'll try not to lovingly caress and dissect in this piece, but the go-miss-restart-go-miss-restart-go-miss-restart-oh-suck-it-game mentality has faded away because it's an incredibly frustrating way to play a game; a tenacious little leech of a hold-over from the arcade days where the objective of the designer was to prevent you from finishing it so you'd feed the machine more coins and allow the greasy pizza shop owner to buy himself a prostitute and a new bottle of shampoo. In a time where challenge was quite literally the only incentive to continually play a game, that was okay; but in this modern era, when developers actually want a person to experience everything their game has to offer, intense difficulty (primarily as a means of extending a game's length, that is) is a design choice equally as lazy and artificial as tossing in four context-less fetch quests in a game's second act.
Kona concedes in the last paragraph that the Skyrims and Mass Effects are fine and deserve their place, and likewise, there are plenty of people who take the very things I've lamented above and make shining gems out of them, from Uncharted's captivating nods to adventure films to Super Meat Boy's gleeful delight in making the player hate everyone and everything around them, but thing about each of these games is that they don't really seem to think about length. They know what they're doing, and they do just that, adding as much as they need - no more, certainly, but also no less. VVVVVV, agonizingly frustrating as it may be, remains engrossing not because it makes me want to punch several holes through my monitor, take a sledgehammer to my computer, burn all the little pieces in molten lava, and then buy another so I can do the same thing all over again, but because it's varied and creative level design means I'm constantly encountering new surprises and twists on its simple base mechanics. Portal kicks butt despite its short length because it chooses to feature only two (okay, three and a half) characters and deliver them over a focused arc, while Red Dead Redemption, mentioned above, includes loads and loads of colorful individuals, painting a narrative tapestry that's necessarily longer but all the more detailed and captivating for it. Neither is wrong, and neither is right; neither is the "way" to do it, and neither is the "way" not to do it.
And yet, writing off these longer games either because the majority of people don't have the time or patience or because of some rose-tinted longing for the past is, I say again, a painfully arbitrary and stifling limit on the creative potential of the medium. Imagine what'd happen if they tried cutting out more from the film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings because movies aren't "supposed" to be two and a half hours long. Madness.
(Okay, yeah, you could've gotten rid of Aragon's elf lady; seriously what was that all about)