After over two decades of gaming, and having become a cynical, tired bastard. I have mostly withdrawn from the luster and fluster of the AAA console scene. Could not find solace in the Indie world. And instead found refuge in my Retro roots.
As a hobby within a hobby, I always analyzed, considered and questioned the video game industry and it’s gamer community. And that’s why I’m here.
Critical Analysis is a series of critiques focusing on analyzing games and what they are trying to achieve. It is not intended as a review and as such is better read by those already familiar with the game. Spoilers will not be omitted.
The Stanley Parable is a game like no other. It tries to pick apart gaming conventions as we know them. It also tries to challenge our own perception of a video game.
Do not let the Narrator fool you, the game has no storyline, it has a pretext of a story as a means to carry its thesis. The disjointed voice in the game known in-game only as the Narrator, voiced brilliantly by British voice actor Kevan Brighting is used as a metaphor for both the game and its creator.
The game takes place in the dull halls of an office building. Though it makes intelligent use of its limited assets and color palette, the majority of the environments are uninspiring with a few notable exceptions. Possibly a result of the game’s origin as a Mod and also as a means to convey its message in a sterile environment. This results in any playthrough length to be fairly limited, with the average time of ten-twenty minutes to get from the beginning to any given ending.
Though initially appearing intelligent, the concept of the game tends to fall to pseudo intellectualism and the usual trap of imitating the object of its commentary. For example, in one of the game’s many possible endings, you are required to arbitrarily press buttons for a total of four hours. In its effort to show you both the obscurity of an ‘art’ game and the repetitive monotonous actions we are frequently told to do in video games, like grinding levels in an RPG, the game does exactly the same. This is also present with the game’s Steam Achievements, one of which requires you to play the game for the whole duration of a Tuesday, another expecting you to play the game five years after you last played it, and another seemingly ‘unachievable’ achievement having its requirements randomly tweaked by the developer after every update.
The illusion of ‘breaking’ the game may hold for the first hour through and the first couple of endings you run into, but wears thin if you persist, as it becomes apparent that without the Narrator disapproving your actions you are simply following the usual narrative, developer predetermined paths of other choice driven games. The game offers no answers, no solutions to the gaming tropes it comments upon, it simply emphasizes their existence. Tropes which should be familiar to avid gamers either consciously or subconsciously and should have been expanded upon or given a better perspective. The writing, almost always delivered from the voice of the Narrator, is generally well written and smart, but occasionally stumbles on its own arrogance in assuming the players intend. The game often appears arrogant and full of itself in other aspects of its design, and too much in love with the novelty of its own concept.
The Stanley Parable succeeds in delivering its message, but it sacrifices it’s own integrity as a game in doing so. But the game has the possibility to give you as much as you are willing or able to take from it. It can last as little as the couple of hours it would take you to get through most of the apparent endings, or many hours as you rummage through the game for every possible Easter egg and secret. It can be very illuminating and thought provoking as it can also be very boring and telling you of things you already know.
The game’s greatest failure however, is in its existence as a product. When the original Mod, and even the game’s own demo, do a better job of conveying the message of the game in a more concise and even entertaining form.
The Stanley Parable is a game worth playing if only due to its novelty alone, but it is not a product worth buying.
I’m not sure when was the exact moment I finally realized that my love for JRPG’s was lost, it was some time after playing Infinite Undiscovery. But let’s take it from the beginning.
Growing up in Europe, meant that I missed out on a lot of the JRPG’s of the 8 and 16 bit era. Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI? Some of those and many others didn’t make it to Europe until digital distribution and many years after their original release. Importing was close to impossible for a kid from a poor family back in those days. And for better or for worse even as a child I avoided piracy despite living in an environment where it was thriving. I didn’t get to experience some of the genre's greatest until many years later.
“Europeans were not deemed worthy of this game”
Beyond that, and partially because of the language barrier, for a time, I wasn’t even sure what a JRPG was. I had heard the term ‘RPG’ and I considered games with top-down views to be RPG’s. Games like Zelda and Gargoyle’s Quest defined the genre for me. Though as time went by I became more aware, it wasn’t until 1997 that I finally, I finally fell in love.
Technically the first game I played that deserved the definition JRPG was Defenders of Oasis, a Game Gear exclusive, it was included with a bunch of games a friend loaned me along with his Game Gear, I played it maybe less than an hour, and then forgot about it.
"Defenders of Oasis. The first JRPG I (technically) ever played"
No, the first JRPG I really played was the original Suikoden for the PS1.
I remember it like it was yesterday. A chilly October afternoon, I walked into one of my then usual haunts, an independent games store, and there it was, sitting on a shelf. I didn’t know what to make of it at first. I was looking for something closer to what I was used to, a shooter, an action adventure, but for some reason, maybe due to the anime characters on the box art, maybe because of the funky name (I pronounced it Shi-koden back then) I decided to take a chance and took it home.
It was one of the best gaming nights of my life, I managed to completely lose myself in the world of the game and the Hero’s struggle to free the land from an oppressive Emperor.
At some point, I paused the game and got up for a pee break, as I walked out of my room, I noticed this sliver of light across the hallway wall emanating from the front door window. It was morning. I had played for the entire night.
That was my first all-nighter, I had stayed late to play games before, but that was the first time I stayed long enough to see the sun rise. That didn’t put me off from playing, nor did my stomach growling since I hadn't eaten anything since the noon before I bought the game, I went on to play until 11:00 am, until I was too exhausted to go on.
I finished the game sometime in early November, I even restarted halfway through so I could look for more Stars of Destiny. Despite the early euphoria in my relationship with the game, after I finished, I felt that it was all in the past, never to be repeated. Little did I know…
"The Cover Art for the PAL version of Suikoden"
In November 17 1997 Final Fantasy VII was released in Europe, a few days after that I was in a games store (a retail chain this time), looking for my next game. The woman in the store there suggested this hot new game to me, Final Fantasy VII. I was dismissive at first, I heard of Final Fantasy before, but I had no great gaming experience to associate it with. I opted to try it. I remember saying (like a tool) “Hmm, I just played an RPG, I shouldn’t play another RPG right after” as the words came out my mouth I realized that, yes I had just played an RPG and it was awesome. But I continued to be dismissive “Can I skip the intro?” “Sorry, you can’t skip the intro” So the intro wasn’t skipped. And thank god for that because the music was captivating and the graphics (for the time) were amazing. Fortunately I did the right thing and walked out of that shop, on that fateful November day with Final Fantasy VII in the bag.
Final Fantasy VII went on to become my absolute favorite game between 1997 and 2001 (only surpassed by Suikoden II), it is still my second favorite game to this day.
After that my love for JRPG’s was cemented, I went on to play many of them on the PS1 and beyond, even managed to play Xenogears a game that never made it’s way to Europe by having a friend loan me a US PS1 and a copy of the game, he himself had borrowed from someone else (many years later I bought that same copy from that person). I loved all of them, from 97’ to the mid 00’s I was satisfied by almost every JRPG I played, even Shadow Madness! Only Jade Cocoon and Lost Kingdoms disappointed me.
"I even liked this game!"
I think my affection started to wane at the tail end of the PS2 era. By that time I had played a lot of JRPG’s, and managed to make up for some of the classics I missed due to my location. I don’t remember when I started to notice the tropes, when the cliché actually became a cliché, when the storylines with insipid idealism and the power of friendship started to piss me off so much. I don't know if they were always there, or if only now I started to notice them.
I keep thinking that maybe it’s me, that JRPG’s haven’t changed, I’ve changed. I'm an adult now, while JRPG’s still try to cater to my 14 year old self. I can’t relate to the teen protagonists anymore, their spiky hair and their huge swords seem silly to me. I keep thinking that I have grown but they haven’t grown with me. Maybe that’s it? Maybe it isn't? But the love is just not there anymore, any JRPG I play these days disappoints me.
From Xenoblade Chronicles to Ni No Kuni, my problem is not the gameplay, ignoring certain random repetitive tasks required by some games, usually only encountered on the venture for that fabled 100% completion. No, the characters, world and storyline are my problem, the very reason I got so attached to the genre, the very reason I fell in love. Even my attempts to play older games end up in disappointment, I gain far more enjoyment from western RPG’s these days; like the Witcher or even Dragon Age than anything from Japan. Their more somber, serious storylines are more attractive to my current self, than convoluted melodrama.
"Must... Not... Break... Screen..."
Like an old married couple however, that has been together for so long it doesn’t know how to be apart, even if all the love is gone and they can barely hold a conversation. I still play JRPG’s, almost masochistically so, I keep looking for that game that will make me feel how I felt those 97’ honeymoon nights.
I don’t know if my love of JRPG’s will return, I don’t know if they will return as a my favorite genre, maybe I’ll spend the rest of my gaming years trying to find something that can’t be found. But I won’t stop trying, using my precious memories as my fuel.
Backwards compatibility on consoles was first introduced in 1983 with the Videopac G7400 (what was going to be Magnavox Odyssey 3) which saw a very limited European release. Only a short year later Atari added the feature with the Atari 7800, which also saw a limited US (this time) release in 1984 but was later fully re-released in 1986. Making it the first globally released backwards compatible games console. Even before those two consoles, backwards compatibility was available through a module for Atari 2600 game cartridges since 1982. Released by Coleco for it’s own ColecoVision which spurred a legal battle between Coleco and Atari.
“The first backwards compatible console. Isn’t it cute?”
Despite it’s early introduction, and excluding adapters such as the Genesis/Mega Drive, Master System Adapter and the introduction of backwards compatibility in the handheld market by the Game Boy Color. Backwards compatibility did not become a mainstay and a selling point with consoles until the PS2 reintroduced it in 2000.
“Backwards compatibility. Sort of…”
With the enormous success of the PS2 (155 million lifetime sales) an entire new generation of gamers was introduced and perhaps spoiled, by the convenience of backwards compatibility.
Unlike many other console features, backwards compatibility has no negative effect on the consumer, it’s presence can only be beneficial, it’s absence inconvenient. With the PS2 the feature had become a common point for discussion and a major selling point for consoles that succeeded it. Gamers could now move into a new generation without leaving their previously build libraries behind.
“The Playstation 2. The King of Consoles”
Alas the future was not as rosy for backwards compatibility, and dark clouds started to gather as early as the succeeding generation.
First the Xbox 360 cunningly promised backwards compatibility with the original Xbox ‘top selling games’ in Microsoft’s 2005 E3 Press Conference. In the end, and after several updates only about 270 Original Xbox games were backwards compatible and varying across regions. With some titles suffering glitches and bugs to this day. Incidentally, a limited selection of original Xbox games was made digitally available through the Xbox Live Marketplace. With prices that sometimes doubled the used physical copy going rate.
"Beware the tongue of the devil"
Sony, in its own 2005 E3 Press Conference promised that the PS3 would be backwards compatible not only with it’s PS2 older brother, but with it's PS1 grandfather (an industry first). To the appeasement of many gamers. Sadly the joy was short lived, since by the time the console made it’s way to Europe, due to a desperate attempt at cutting costs after a floundering launch in the US and Japan, the newly manufactured PS3 consoles removed the Emotion Engine chip from inside the ensuing models. Subsequently severely limiting PS2 games backwards compatibility (software emulation was also dropped for later models).
The original Japanese and US 20/60GB models are sought after for their complete backwards compatibility, fetching good prices on eBay. No European market complete backwards compatibility model exists. But PS1 compatibility has remained in all models including Slim and Super Slim. On the digital front, through the Playstation Network several PlayStation 1 and 2 Classics had become available to download for the PS3, PSP and eventually the Vita. Also several PS2 games (usually as compilations) saw HD releases in fully boxed retail form and price.
"I took some of its guts out, but is still my baby!"
The Nintendo Wii was the only truly backwards compatible game console of its generation, including controller and memory card support. Though recent models have dropped Gamecube compatibility to cut costs. Nintendo also introduced some of it's old library digitally through the Virtual Console, some games released in some regions for the first time (Super Mario RPG in Europe ex.).
With one foot into the eighth generation of consoles it looks like backwards compatibility has become a want of the new minority ‘core’ market and it’s not the selling point it used to be only a generation ago.
The Nintendo Wii U following in the Wii’s footsteps seems to be the only true backwards compatible console this generation. Microsoft claims that backwards compatibility means you're going backwards (though has since theorized adding it through the cloud), and Sony promises to allow at least a slimmer of backwards compatibility through its much touted cloud system.
"This guy thinks you're backwards. He also now works for Zynga..."
Of course as much as the lack of physical backwards compatibility is nothing more than an inconvenience the fact that our digital games can’t be transferred to the new systems for no reason other than because. Is a travesty.
The reason backwards compatibility, a very welcome feature has become so irrelevant for these big companies, is not only because "only 5% of users play old games" but also, because through digital means or otherwise, they want to sell you the same games you already own, again, again and again.
If you are one of that 5% that plays old games, and you want keep playing your old library while you build a new one, better be prepared to make a lot of space under your TV set. You're going to need it.
The famous ESA study states that “50% of gamers are women” (technically 45% but let's round it up, everybody else does) and for all intends and purposes that’s probably true, but instead of taking things said on the internet at face value, let’s look into it.
The ESA (Electronic Software Association) is composed by the biggest players in the industry which means Publishers and Console Manufacturers, the same Publishers that say things like this, market their games like this, and release games like this, while supporting causes like this.
The ESA is not an international trade association is an American based association, and the study in question is specific to the American audience, with that context let’s look even closer. The 'study' was not really a standalone study but part of 'Industry Facts' that are supposed to make the industry look good and hopefully entice further investment.
"Electronic Software Assholes"
Try as I may, I can’t find any facts about the study, and where that information comes from exactly, there’s no data on who was hired to make it, what process they used, what sample data, nothing. For all we know the entire thing is nothing but a PR concoction on ESA’s part, and given how much it contradicts their own business behavior, it may as well be.
Regardless of the validity of this specific 'study' however, and while using anecdotal evidence, 50% of gamers being female sounds about right, if by “gamer” we consider the wider side of the spectrum and include games like Farmville, Snake, Solitaire and Angry Birds or anything under the umbrella of Interactive Electronic Entertainment.
But then again those kinds of games are not accused of being sexist, games closer to the multimillion highly marketed AAA line are.
"The pinnacle of gaming"
So I ask you? Do you think that 50% of the millions of players that play FIFA/Madden are female? Do you think that 50% of Call of Duty players are female? Do you think that 50% of game convention goers, game blog/forum posters, Xbox Live/PSN players, and general AAA gamers are female? Using your own experience whether you’re a guy or a gal you can answer that question yourself, using my own experience I have to say no, more like 10% if that.
Publishers (and for the most part Developers) worship only one god, and it’s not the god of misogynistic chauvinism, they worship the god of $$$ if their routine sacrifices to that god are anything to go by.
If they make games that sexually objectify women, then there’s clearly a market for them, far bigger market than those it will probably offend.
"The one true god"
But let’s face it, sexism isn’t suddenly a video game thing, sexism is rampant in our society and other media. Anthropologically speaking, the uneven divide between man and woman will always exist despite our progress as a society.
But due to the diverse audience between both sexes and across ages, in other media, there’s a lot of balancing out, for every “Shake your Booty” music video there’s another with some guys flexing their pecks, for every Miyazaki film there’s a Charlie’s Angels, not that equal objectification or tit for tat makes it all OK, but in those media there’s also so much more in between.
"She kissed a girl and she liked it, female empowerment or objectification? You decide"
The AAA industry is not diverse, the majority of games are about killing things in various different ways, the best selling games are sports and competitive military shooters if I was to make an analogy, I’d say those are boy’s toys. And worse than that, whenever a game tries to diverge from that path by delivering something else, it usually pays the price with abysmal sales and apathy from the gamer community, because at the end of the day, for all our complaints and feminist support, our $$$ ends up in the same place.
"That's where our money goes"
So yeah, let some games be sexist, you can’t change the things that resonate with male adolescence (or adult males with adolescent minds) there will always be guys out there who desire and are willing to pay for a game about a bikini wearing, zombie slaying, cowgirl.
If you read this far and you’re a woman, you may think that my message is that, market realities are the way they are and boys will be boys, so you should leave it at that, there is no problem and you should give up. That’s not true, there is a problem and you shouldn’t give up, but you should fight the right battles, demonizing games for being sexually objectifying, is not going to make them go away when there’s so much demand for them from a male dominated audience, sex sells.
"That's not the right battlefield"
Your energies are better spend in praising games that do it right, and also by looking into the actual industry itself which is also grossly underrepresented by women. Get more women into gaming (the AAA kind), get more women to work in the industry, that’s how you organically solve the problem. And by that I mean diversify both games and audience to the point where the odd "look at boobs" game will not get much attention. In time that will happen naturally, and the audience will diversify enough for the concept of a AAA game that’s only and all about a romantic story becomes a reality. In the short term meantime however this community wide demonization of certain games by some women of the feminist brigade and white knights probably serves as another way to alienate more women from the industry, if the message from the ones on the inside is that this place is a boy’s club, if all you show them is how things are wrong why would they join?
And if you're here, if you are passionate enough to talk about games, then there's still must be something worthy about this old hobby of ours.