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1:47 PM on 09.28.2010

More Than Just Noise: Great Roles of Voice Acting

Voice acting is an art; a shapeless sound structuring that must convey countless emotions through the tone and delicate minutia of one’s voice. Many mediums, film and videogames in particular, must remember this. However, whereas film typically has the advantage of specific, nuanced body language to assist them, videogames must rely almost completely on their voice actors to convey emotions along with some rudimentary graphical enhancements (like JRPG character drawings or full 3D cutscenes). This makes voice acting that much more important and that much more difficult for videogames, where the emotion of a scene is carried by the acting.

With that in mind, I’d like to point out some of my personal examples of voice acting in videogames that go above and beyond to create the most impressive examples of the art in this medium.

Bioshock, 2007, Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Highlighted Roles: Armin Shimerman as Andrew Ryan, Peter Francis James as J.S. Steinman, and T. Ryder Smith as Sander Cohen

Bioshock, character-wise, is all about the villains. Through their villainy, fragile psychology, and spontaneous violence, they represent what has become of Rapture: the very people that helped shape it, the top of the intellectual and financial elite, are now the ones that stalk the halls like cruel animals. Andrew Ryan, J.S. Steinman, and Sander Cohen all are the very best that the verbose linguistics of Bioshock has to offer, each having their own specific nuances that make them not only treacherous, but sometimes eerily sympathetic.

Ryan cultivates his objectivist philosophy to create a gestalt of Rand-ian ideals; a self-made man, a man of amoral sympathies, a man that chooses rather than obeys. He is in the same vein of characters like Charles Foster Kane where even in defeat, he is still a powerful force, a cyclopean statue of personal ideals and discipline. Shimerman nails not only all of this, but the slight Russian tendency in Ryan’s voice, making the rough sensuality of his voice that much more xenophobic.

J.S. Steinman, unlike Ryan, is a psychopath rather than a sociopath; like Lynch or perhaps even Hannibal Lector, his calm nature hides a large amount of menacing violence. While performing a routine surgery, he goes off his rocker, yet hums while vivisecting some innocent person while a nurse screams in horror. When finally encountered, he screams without humanity: “Ugly…Ugly…UGLY!”

Sander Cohen, much like Steinman, is totally insane. However, he doesn’t shout barbarically nor does he espouse his personal morality and motivation; he is simply an artist. Smith nails Cohen’s delicate psyche, almost whispering sweetly to Jack so that his violent outbursts in response to those who “betrayed” him are juxtaposed much more strongly.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, 2008, PS2
Highlighted Roles: Yuri Lowenthal as Yosuke Hanamura and Troy Baker as Kanji Tatsumi

Persona 4 has no shortage of good voice acting (as well as some bad), but the roles that stick out to me are Yuri Lowenthal as Yosuke, the main character’s best friend, and Kanji Tatsumi, a teenager that uses a façade of ruthlessness to hide a delicate, feminine side. JPRGs typically work in the same vein as anime, using melodramatic performances to sell the often cheesy script, and Persona 4 is no different. But it’s the skill that Lowenthal and Baker have that really sell their characters.

Yosuke, as a character, is pretty boring. Not to spoil too much, he’s a typical best friend in an anime; clumsy, dim-witted, and a talky foil for the main character. However, Lowenthal, as one of the more experienced anime VAs, brings a delicacy to the often over-wrought script. Yosuke is at his best when he’s at his worst, with moments of denial and anger being very effective.

Baker, rather than bringing a dignity to a stereotype, he forges his own persona with Kanji, who never sounds like himself when he’s trying to sell the punk aesthetic he tries to embody. When he yells or insults someone, it often sounds rather forced. It’s the moments of levity and comedy that sound natural; the camping trip antics are so much funnier because of Baker’s work as Kanji, whose ambiguous gender identity issues shine through thanks to his great talent and broad strokes.

Half-Life 2, 2004
Highlighted Roles: Merle Dandridge as Alyx Vance and Michael Shapiro as the G-Man

Half-Life set the standard for the FPS back in 1998, but it was Half-Life 2 in 2004 that set the standard for characters in videogames. Each character has a personality that is not simply limited to stereotypes, each being vivid, imaginative, and most of all, very well acted. In particular, Alyx Vance, typically referred to as the greatest female character in games, and the G-Man, one of the most mysterious figures in the medium, are examples of terrific voice acting.

Alyx is a character that requires a very broad range, with her emotions and motivations having to transfer to the tabula rasa that is Gordon Freeman; we relate with her. She’s a character that isn’t a character in the traditional sense, but rather a human being. She’s funny, intelligent, and independent without being annoyingly so. The dignity and realism that Dandridge brings to Vance is terrific, with her voice serving as the lone companion to City 17’s urban sprawl that Freeman must crawl through.

The G-Man on the other hand is atypically inhuman. His actions, his tones, and his voice are all unreal and unnatural, making every sight or sound he makes one of uncomfortable ambiguity. The odd inflections, the emphasis on syllables that shouldn’t be emphasized, and the bland bureaucracy of Shapiro’s voice make the G-Man not only mysterious, but also frightening. Juxtaposed against the very likable Barney, also voiced by Shapiro, and we see the dynamic range that he brings to the table, with the G-Man being the very best he has to offer. After all, we all still recall the line that made Half-Life 2 so immediately effective:

"Wake Mr. Freeman. Wake up...and smell the ashes."   read

5:35 PM on 09.27.2010

Halo and Videogame Emotion

Author's Note: It's been a while. Sorry, college and a music blog takes up a lot of time. Anyways, finally got around to playing/thinking about some games, so here we go. Have a seat kids, this might be a long one.

Halo is one of those franchises, like many people, I couldn't give less of a care about. It's a typically blandly-designed first-person shooter that really likes to think that you care about what's going on, but forgets that they have to actually be interesting and have characters you care about to do so. That's why ODST and Reach speak to me so much more than 1, 2, or 3 do; the series isn't being weighed down by Master Chief, a character that couldn't be less interesting even if he was even given a name or face in the first place. Yes I know, he represents the soldier, a faceless man that fights for the humans at the expense of his humanity, blah, blah, blah. The thing Bungie forgot is that Half-Life beat them to the punch and they don't realize that giving one-liners and no kind of motivation basically destroys any allegory or symbolism, whether it's about games, perspective, or war itself. In other words, you can call things the Pillar of Autumn or give alien races sweet names, but the fact that the story and characters are already superficially useless, it doesn't matter.

ODST is a game where the story does not matter one bit, which might conflict with what I just said, but give me a minute. ODST is a Halo game in name, but instead of putting you in the boots of a virtual superman, incapable of being killed unless you pump up the difficulty, you're just a man. A human being. Not a cyborg, an android, or even a possible hard-ass. You're just some guy with a half-assed armor suit and some shitty weapons. So through a vulnerable perspective, we see the brilliance of Halo: ODST's real narrative power: the city itself. New Mombasa is falling apart and we see that through the Rookie's eyes. Flashing police lights illuminate streets where roving mobs of alien enemies are waiting to tear your fleshy body apart.

Giving the player a set of stakes is part of it, shifting perspectives is another, but the fact that they finally show instead of tell makes ODST's story the last thing we care about. We can skip the cutscenes, because they aren't important. What is important is seeing and experiencing the city and it's trashed highways and remnants of civilization for ourselves through the eyes of a real human being. Gordon Freeman isn't a great character because he's emotionally resonant or relatable; he's a great tool to experience City 17 because Valve knows that giving him a voice and a presence gets in the way of what's really important: the world and characters around you. Ostensibly, you are Freeman just as you are the Rookie, and through your eyes, not someone we don't give a shit about's eyes, you see the danger and desperation for yourself. You feel it.

What I'm getting at is that Halo does many things very poorly: level design, boss fights, character development, coherent motivations, interesting dialogue, real emotion, etc. However, what is contained in sparse moments within these games, the first three included, is a very unique emotion only capable of being brought out by videogames. Halo, the first one, isn't a bad game (none of them really are bad, just bland), but for the most part, you're going from one uninteresting wide-open area, killing the same two or three enemies, and then moving on to the next wide-open area. Snore. However, at certain points, there is this shimmer of brilliance.

At the end of the game (SPOILERS), you find yourself at the odds of the ever-inevitable end-game self-destruct sequence. However, you have about 3 miles of close-quarters combat ahead of you and not much in the way of weaponry at this point. Then you realize two things: A) You have a warthog and B) The score is making your heart pound through your chest. In that moment, with the unique mixture of circumstances, time restraints, and the music garnishing it with a particularly effective crescendo, you slam your finger on the trigger, get the warthog moving, and you tear out of the collapsing building hitting every enemy you can along the way. (SPOILERS OVER) The excitement, the moment of realization, everything all comes together to make a moment that is only capable of being made by videogames.

ODST's city is the same kind of amalgamation of meta-narrative and gameplay that make unique situations only games can give you. For another example, we have Halo 3's first scarab fight. You're to face a seemingly impenetrable purple beast crawling with aliens that have way more guns and friends than you. But, beyond all of this, you have a mongoose, a small vehicle capable of driving you and only you, and you have a ramp that will possibly launch you onto the beast. There is only one thing to do. The moment you gun it and fly onto the scarab, abandoning your vehicle in mid-air and bombarding Covenant with rockets while you fly into them, you have yet another moment of pure excitement and unhinged emotion as you tear apart the scarab from inside. For once, it's not Master Chief doing it in a cutscene; it's you doing it on your own.

Recently, Reach, the newest Halo game, did the very same kind of thing. (ENDING SPOILERS) All along the way during the game, your poorly-defined confidants are being picked off all around you, and for the most part, you don't really care. Sure, the story, is telling you that this is bad and that this planet and you yourself are heading for a dead end, but as a laser-rifle-toting badass called Noble 6, you don't care. The story is contradicting the gameplay with its cutscenes full of motivations you don't actually have and being told that you care about characters you don't even know. However, by the end, you are alone. The Covenant have won. You, for the first time, feel what the story has been telling you to feel.

Any objectives you previously had are done and done without your thought; they're an afterimage and a memory the moment they leave your screen. However, the end has only one word to offer you: Survive. It's not an order or an objective or even a challenge; it is all you have. Suddenly, you laser rifles are useless in the face of a massive hoard of enemies. When your hit, you health doesn't rebound. A bullet hits your visor; it cracks. A sword comes through your stomach and you don't get your shield dropped or a flashing health bar. You get a moment of curious mortality and you fall to the ground, unable to "Survive" as the game urged you to do. You have failed, just as each Noble in front of you. With your sacrifice, others were able to live on. You feel not as a cog in a machine, but rather as a human being fulfilling something worthwhile. (SPOILERS OVER)

These moments are special and belong only to the medium Halo exists in; making a movie about it would only serve to insult it. Sure, you can watch Master Chief fly through space, say a witty line, and then blow up a ship with a giant bomb, but the part you really care about is the moments where you get to do such improbable tasks. You feel the isolation of Mombasa, you feel the excitement of the Scarab battle, you feel the mortality and sacrifice of Reach's ending, and it's all hidden under a game that's really more about running-and-gunning through generic aliens. Halo may be a franchise that many hate, myself usually included, but for these moments alone, they have showed me things I will always remember, no matter how terrible their boss fights or level designers are.   read

6:28 PM on 03.22.2010

Why Sex Should Be In More Videogames

It will sell.

Ah, what? I have to write more? Fine.

Sex is a topic I'm finding that more and more people are unwilling to discuss or dissect intellectually. The act isn't exactly considered public domain, so speaking about it so non-nonchalantly in public or in private (as I tend to do for one reason or another) seems to indicate a complete lack of respect for the "sanctity" of the act, despite its placement at the forefront of almost everything we as culture partake in.

Advertising. Films. Magazines. Television. Politics. The Internet. That's hardly scraping the surface, but it almost encompasses the entirety of what we intake as people, and yet we seem not to fret so much when a half-plastic woman is advertising Miller Lite or a dude that seriously needs to reconsider certain aspects of his choice in clothing (or lack there of) selling, well, clothing. Or rugged male "scents" because they're just such animals.

Sex can be dirty, filthy, sacred, loving, hateful, and any other amounts of basic adjectives, but what sex is to most people is taboo; people are unwilling to partake in discussion about sex unless with the closest of friends. Ever had a talk about how you ejaculated in like 30 seconds your first time to your Mom? Neither have I (but that's because I ain't a bitch...okay, yes I am...) Ever asked your online friend what the best way to get a girl aroused is (Hint: It isn't just sticking it in)? If you have, I hope you know what you're getting yourself into.

What I'm getting at though is that as much as we find ourselves surrounded by it, it is an ironic societal conceit that bedroom stories or discussions of yours and others' anatomy is meant to be kept either to yourself or extremely quiet. Why? Well, the most obvious is that no one really wants to hear a discussion going along the lines of " then she like starting working her..." behind them when they're trying to listen to the lecture going on, thank you very much mister I like tribal tattoos and Japanese characters that sits behind me in Humanities...

But for the most part, this clinical gaze that we find ourselves adopting in public translate into the entertainment we partake in; unless it's HBO, we don't want to (well, some people don't want to) see sex occurring on television, but they are perfectly fine with heads getting blown-off by Bald Space Marines and CG fight scenes where bones break through skin.

So when a videogame like Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins, or killer7 have sex scenes (and in the case of killer7 and pretty much all of Suda51's games, intense sexual innuendo and discussion), people jump all over it. The "Sexbox" "scandal" (have to separate them to emphasize how ridiculous both aspects of that title are) outlined that most people that aren't directly involved with videogames don't really want to hear about games selling sex to children.

Apart from being uninformed band-wagoners, people that take issue with sex in games, or really any form of media, are pretty ridiculous; it's simply amplified since it is occurring in a new medium. However, this brings me to my real point (I know, took long enough, didn't it?): there needs to be more sex in videogames. Period.

My point is that sex is underused in a way that devalues it. I'm not saying that if every game had a sex scene in it that we wouldn't become accustom, if not totally desensitized to the images, because we most certainly might. However, I tend to adopt the Alan Moore approach to story-telling, in that we see so much other "taboo" around us, such as gratuitous violence, so why don't we see the sex?

Sure, sex can be used to arouse a person, but at the same time, by simply implying that the scene occurred, for the most part, devalues the act. We have so many stories that center around violence that display every drop of blood without a hint of remorse, but even stories, especially videogames, that center around sex have nary a sex scene in it. Why?

Why not push it to the forefront? Why not make it a serious subject and put it right on the page or screen as it was just like any other scene. To crib again from Alan Moore, in his comic From Hell, he has numerous, graphic sex scenes. By numerous, I mean at least more than three (probably more than 5 now that I think about it...). When I say graphic, I don't mean violent or vulgar, I mean you see a woman place an erect penis onto her vagina and then slide it into it.

Do they have a revelatory discussion while doing so? No, not really, but what is important is the sub-conscious image that we can now associate with their relationship. The scene in question, which occurs literally in the first few pages, is neither used for arousal nor is it the last one you'll see. The scene is a clear-cut sex scene that is not crude, vulgar, pornographic, or really even arousing; it's sex, with no inhibitions, but also no tongues tucked in cheeks.

When was the last time you saw anything with more than two sex scenes in it that were not pornographic? From Hell has a ton of sex in it (as well as a ton of violence, but that's another matter), and yet it is not a pornographic comic. In fact, it is one of the most highly praised, if not the highest regarded, comic book of all-time. And Alan Moore wrote Watchmen and V For Vendetta, so that's saying a lot.

What it comes down to is that we, as an audience, and developers, as the suppliers, need to cut the giggling*, cut the shit, and say "Yes, we have sex. Here is some people having sex. Here is what that means. Here is why it is important to the story and why it is not simply being used to sell the game." Think about it: when was the last time you played a game and were actually surprised by a sex scene that occurred? I mean, really, when was the last time you played a game without fully knowing that there would or wouldn't be sex in it? Probably a while, unless you're just completely uninformed (which if you are, no biggie homes.)

Also, it would allow for more tits (and muscular abs and cocks and all types of great stuff for all the ladytypes and homosexualtypes out there. Also tasty hip bones, ankles, and collar bones, and all that other stuff some women and men are oddly attracted to) which is always a good thing.

*Seriously, I when I saw Shutter Island the other day, a scene in which mentally-ill patients in a dungeon, the saddest thing you could ever fucking see, was giggled and "whoo-ed" at simply because they were nude. WHO THE FUCK GOES TO A HARD-R SCORSESE FILM AND GIGGLES AT GENITALS!?!? Grow the fuck up movie-going audiences. Also, don't boo the ending because it wasn't all fairy-dust and giggling cunts.   read

7:52 PM on 01.26.2010

The Future: Games Are Art Now! It's Awesome!

Hello friends.

If you are reading this, then that means my invention worked; I now can send objects, electrical signals, etc. BACK IN TIME. It only took a few years after the breakthrough of the Anti-Heisenberg Generator to truly punch this kind of Time Manipulation through, but it seems that I might have finally done it.

Now, before I go onto to send a notice to Harvard Medicine or UCLA the cure for cancer AND an AIDS vaccine, I have a much more important issue to tackle; videogames. Yes, we still have them in the future, and they're pretty sweet. We've got Final Fantasy XVII coming out next year, Team Fortress 4 has been dominating internet cafe's for quite a while now, and Call of Duty 8: Modern Warfare 7 tackled the deep socio-political issues of World War III. I'll get back to you once we see the release of Half-Life 2: Episode 3 next year.

However, obviously the best thing to happen to society in this future I live in is by far the realization that games are indeed art! Hooray! I remember my Great-Grandfather telling me stories of the Great Internet Flame Wars and the Neo-Crusades, and I just remember how terrifying it must have been for people like you good people. I mean, who knew who was right? We're talking important stuff here. Videogames are serious business.

I remember after the release of Denizen Bane, the world stood up and took notice of the power of videogames. Sure, kids now days simply can't appreciate such a masterpiece, which used pure gameplay to get across the most moving story ever told by a videogame. It is surely remembered just like Gears of War 2, which taught us that shooting wives in the mouth is a sad thing, and since it was written by an actual writer, that means it's good. You might think that the previous sentence was grammatically awkward; not so. In the future, we no longer speak English.

Rather, we type it very in a very broken fashion and ad whatever emoticon we wish to get across and it plays upon a digital screen that rests on our Diabetes-induced wheelchairs for all to read. In fact, just typing this letter is taking me so long, I've actually already slept for two nights and see no end in sight.

Oh how I take pity upon you poor people of 2017 (I really hope I put the right number in...). How terrible it must be for you people to not know whether or not games are indeed taken seriously by the media. Afterall, if the media takes sex, violence, and people's personal lives seriously enough to pervert them all for ratings, why shouldn't they do the same for videogames?

Well, when you get this letter, you will truly see how beautiful the future is. Not only have we resurrected Benjamin Franklin AND Arnold Schwarzenegger, two of the greatest Presidents of American History, but we have also reanimated Roger Ebert, given him the ability to talk, and even he agrees! He finally has consented to the gaming population, and wept upon the ending of Halo 6, which is often recognized as the pinnacle of shooting things in slightly-open corridors. How did we resurrect them? You ever read Ubik? Kind of like that, but much shinier.

You see, the future is a beautiful place, where we all know exactly who's right about all subjective matters at all time. Internet geniuses are treated as royalty, despite their naivety and lack of Post-Primary education, and these great men/children are given charge to what does and does not indeed suck. Currently, the new James Cameron movie (You know, the action movie that is charading as deep-thinking film-making) is voted at the top of the FIMDB, with the new Tarintino film at a close second (Hint, people sit around a table and talk about out-dated pop-culture).

However, your concern is not films, as they are called in the future after film students everywhere decided that the term movie is out-dated as it is not pretentious enough, but rather videogames. Now recognized to be at the fore-front of artistic expression, we all rest easy knowing that we can simply go onto the internet and read an article and steal the opinion of the author and use it as our own to make our own arguments. After all, arguing on the internet is now not only productive, but indeed is seen as PMC work in fueling the on-going Second Great Flame Wars: This Time It's Personal.

The future is a beautiful place indeed. It is a place where you can say indeed a lot and not be seen as a douchebag. It is a place where the internet is not only the authority on all subjective issues, but also a haven for future pornography and the selling of penis-enlarging products (Although, now that I think about it, it hasn't changed that much...). And most importantly, videogames are taken seriously, because at the end of the day, a medium is only validated once an ambiguously large number of people we've never met say it is.

With love,
the Future

(P.S. Can anyone give me Jim Sterling's e-mail? I need to warn him about the great assassination attempt at E3, where he attacked by angry [i]Assassin's Creed II[i/] fans. Surprising that they were actually able to do something that wasn't whining...)   read

1:03 PM on 12.12.2009

Love/Hate: World War II

Perhaps it's my bleeding heart for times long gone or my need to gobble down fun facts like I was some sort of historical Cookie Monster, but whatever the reason be, I am a History major, and I specialize American history. Now, when it comes to America as a nation, one time shines a grim spotlight upon the once separatist nation: the Second Great War, or as it's better known, World War II. I don't think I need to go into the details of this conflict, but for those of you with an outside view on things, it was basically the last time that we didn't start a war we were involved in, and was definitely a high-point for us as a nation; after all, because of our involvement, the Allies were able to overcome the Axis powers.

Now, I'm not one to think it was only because of us American, G.I. Joe heroes that the war was won for what basically amounts to the "good guys", but I will say that they Allies would have been in an even rougher spot than if we didn't become involved. However, it seems many game developers, movie studio executives, and literary authors, almost all of them being American, have forgotten that there were other nations in the war apart from the U.S., Japan, and of course, that good old punching bag of 20th century history, Germany.

I say this because, without a doubt, almost every property that is based upon the darkest days of history are all primarily about Americans, and their struggles against a tenacious Japanese nation and a Jew-hating Germany. However, very rarely do we see the other side of things, or really, any other side at all.

Why is that?

Well, for one, no one in their right minds like Nazis. No one. Nazis represent the epitome of historical evil, and only a bigoted, racist, ubermensch of a force such as the Nazis could overshadow a tragic nation under the most-notorious sociopath of all-time, Joseph Stalin. Hitler's regime made people forget about the U.S.S.R (Well, Hitler and the fact that they were allies...), and Stalin killed over twice as many people as Hitler's Horrific Concentration Camps.

We have seen the evils of Hitler and his Nazis time after time, and that's not to say that it's lost it's effect, after all, we're talking about the worst genocide ever seen by history this side of Christian Theology, however there comes a time when other angles should be explored. Whether it's terrific games like Valkyria Chronicles (Number 8 spot? HELL YES.) or terrible ones like Velvet Assassin, or really even just pretty good ones like Wolfenstien, I think we've got the idea; Nazis are evil.

However, that is one of the things that I hate about videogames, and really, basically all of entertainment as a medium; we never get to see it from a German perspective. Unless it's a film like Inglorious Basterds, where a sympathetic Nazi officer is one of the main characters, Nazis are painted as larger-than-life, Captain America-era goons that stomp babies for pleasure and eat their cereal with the blood of homosexuals (Not that they aren't like that in the Tarintino film, but I digress).

Despite what many will claim, while the majority of Nazi officers were inhumane swine, there were many foot soldiers who were simply the victims of circumstance; forced to fight a war for a country they loved but a government they hated. Nazi Germany sought turncoats and their family almost as much (well, okay, not that much, but a lot) they sought the Jewish. There was no "hopping the border"; it was fight and die for your country, or you and your family will be arrested, or worse, killed on the spot.

I'd love to see this angle; a Nazi campaign in a videogame from this perspective. A game where you are are playing the role of a German soldier who must fight a war he doesn't believe in. Or even better, how about a campaign as a complete and utter beats of a man; a true-blue Nazi. It can be a character piece about the state-of-mind of a man who has been turned into a faceless, nameless cog in the machine of Nazi Germany because of Hitler's charismatic performances that literally turned a nation of normal German people into a group of Ultra-Nationalist Bigots.

To switch countries, but not sides, how about a game based upon a Japanese perspective? A game about a man who is bound by a code of honor and sent to fight the Americans in Guerrilla Warfare. He could be sympathetic character, or rather, he can be a brainwashed machine, angered by the American Internment Camps, or rather, it could be post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki, and he could seek vengeance against a nation that killed thousands of civilians.

We will rarely see these, and that's a shame, because these are things we haven't seen much of before. People are reluctant to build any type of story based upon an enemy that society has deemed, and for good reason, irredeemable, even though often, a serious, fair treatment of taboo subjects such a sympathy for historical enemies make for some incredibly great stories. Hell, just look at Arrested Development! Half that show is incest jokes! And it was the best show television has ever produced!

Joking aside, there are a few examples of games that really surprise me in terms of how they tackle the War we're all so obsessed with reliving. One of these is very recent in fact: Call of Duty: World at War. As the black sheep of the series, being lodged between two of the largest games of all-time, I thin kit's unfair to pass upon such a wonderfully under-rated game.

That isn't to say it's without it's flaws, but I think that one half of this game is the greatest Wold War II FPS I've ever played when it comes to the narrative it tells, and really, now that I think about it, the intensity of the thing. I'm talking about the Soviet side of WaW, which for my money, is the best depiction of the USSR soldiers that games have ever offered, which is in stark contrast to the rather hackneyed, jingoist American side, which is decent in it's own right.

The strength of USSR campaign is in the trio of characters that lead it: Dimitri Petrenko, Reznov, and Chernov. More than any other trio of characters in any other World War II game, they symbolize the different types of USSR soldiers that existed. Reznov is a charismatic, heartless leader who has a grudge against the Nazis and a stern way of leading, Chernov is the hesitant, frightened man who is picked on by Reznov for being a coward, and Petrenko is the faceless soldier who never dies and never defies orders given to him.

You see, you as Petrenko are given no way to respond to Reznov's horrific, if not totally badass, enjoyment to killing Nazi; you are voiceless, faceless, forced to carry out these orders, yet unflinching and unquestioning to any order given. To a certain effect, you have no conscience, much like Reznov. But unlike Reznov, this is not because you are amoral, but rather you have been trained to never question such orders, especially against such an irredeemable foe.

Chernov serves as the players conscience, the man who is seen as a coward by his comrades, but in reality is a deep-thinking, questioning soldier who fights for the fear of losing his own life to both the Nazis and to Reznov himself. SPOILER ALERT, after spending much of the game believing your allies and Reznov that this man is merely a hesitant coward, you find his diary after he is killed, and in it, it is revealed that he has always seen the Reznov's actions as extreme, and to a point, evil, for the way he revels in his enemy's death.

These three represent the different kinds of people that fought the war for the USSR; some sought vengeance for the Motherland, others followed their orders, and some wished they could turn away from the atrocities they were witnessing upon both sides of the fence.

In the end of the game, after raiding the Nazi stronghold, Petrenko is mortally-wounded by a dying Nazi soldier, who is summarily eviscerated by Reznov, and despite your grave wounds, Reznov asks you to place the Soviet flag upon the pole; the final act of Petrenko is an order from Reznov. He sacrifices his presumably dying breath to follow an order by Reznov; that is the kind of steadfast belief these people had in their cause.

When it comes to WWII, we've seen it from every possible angle of the American side, but we rarely get to see it from a different perspective, and I truly am thankful for a game like World at War for taking a step toward seeing something different. After all, the Soviets may not have been America's enemies, but they we're surely almost as inhumane as our enemies, and it's great to see this kind of depiction of them in a game. A damning, yet sympathetic depiction that truly shows the faces that a war can create. Faces of inhumanity, faces of skepticism, and sometimes, faces of nothingness.   read

4:00 PM on 11.12.2009

Quality vs. Length: An Observation

How many times will we have to hear about Modern Warfare 2? Well, a lot, and this blog is no exception; the biggest game of the year also happens to be the shortest (Not really, but BURN). However, at 5 hours, it's also the most jam-packed, adrenaline-filled, action-packed adventure of the year, surpassing even the likes of Nathan Drake's sophomore attempt. It's well-paced and it never holds up until the last shell cartridge hits the ground, even if the "No Russian" level is the game's only misstep (Various people, Rice and Rev in particular, have gone into why). But I'm not here to talk about "No Russian"; I think we all know where we stand on it at this point; I'm here because this game, as well as others, begs a few questions about the length of a game and it's relation to the quality of the experience.

Now, let me get off of MW2 for a while to talk about a few other games, one of those in particular being Portal. Remember Portal? Of course you do; it took the gaming world by storm only two years ago and has yet to leave the collective consciousness of the videogame-playing audience. Well, the biggest complaint about the game was that the game was too short; at a terse 4 hours (and that's being generous), it was an experience that was brief to say the least. But in my opinion, and in the opinion of basically everyone else on the planet by this point, is that it's brevity was the best part about it. Well, okay not the best part, but it was the perfect length for that game; it never overstayed it's welcome and it left the player satisfied with the experience after completion. The mark of a great game is the desire to have more of it and still feel as if the experience was enough to qualify the time you put into it.

Portal and Modern Warfare 2 stand together as the very definition of "short but sweet". These games simply work at the length that was appropriated to them, and if they were cut down or bulked up at all, they would lose a very big of their appeal; their ubiquitous nature. Let me use an analogy: you have a peanut butter sandwich. Now, you only have so much peanut butter you can use, but you have tons of bread you can use. However, you know that the peanut butter will be spread perfectly over a single slice and simply folded in half; the bread-to-butter ratio is perfect. You could use two slices and make it a bigger sandwich, but by doing so, the bread-to-butter ratio becomes 1:2. God forbid you make the ratio 1:3.

Modern Warfare 2, Portal, and games of this ilk are the perfect 1:1 ratio; a set amount of gameplay (peanut butter) spread over an appropriate amount of time (bread). In terms of narrative-lite shooters, the 1:1 ratio floats between 4 to 8 hours, where as other games like Half-Life 2 or Bioshock have enough gameplay differentiations and plot to make the 1:1 float at a much higher place; you have an equally satisfying experience, but it lasts longer. In other words, as a purely single-player affair (say the buyer doesn't have Xbox Live or internet capabilities), Bioshock has more economic value than Modern Warfare 2.

Since quality is a subjective thing, the measure of economic value for videogames is their length of able enjoyment; Modern Warfare 2 has 5 hours of fun for 60 USD and Bioshock has 12 hours of fun for 60 USD; in this case, the obvious choice would be Bioshock. But this scenario brings us to the big question: does economic value, determine the quality of a game? I say no; absolutely not. This is not an argument about modern reviewers or something, God knows they go through enough undeserved chagrin to cause a mass suicide. No, this is about the relationship that this article is titled over.

You see, if we are to measure a game's economic value through the amount of enjoyment that can be derived from it, then we are leaving out the biggest part of the equation; some games are too damn long, and therefore, are less valuable since the overall experience is underwhelming. Take for instance the difference between Persona 3 and Persona 4; both games are equally long, both floating around the 50 to 60 hour mark, but I'd say without a doubt that Persona 4 is the better game. It's a matter of pacing; in Persona 4, you are always moving forward, and not very often are you going through the same motions week after week like you do in Persona 3.

Plot is doled out in generous chunks and special events like camping trips or school trips happen frequently, always giving the player a goal; a mark to show their progression. In Persona 3, which is by no means a bad game, and is in fact one of the best JRPGs on the PS2, but you spend much more time in Persona 3 just going through the motions with no events coming up anytime soon than you do in Persona 4. If Persona 4 is the 1:1 ratio of a 60 hour JRPG, Persona 3 is the 1:2 ratio; you still have a good amount of peanut butter, but sometimes you feel like there might be just a bit too much bread.

You see, length and pacing are synonymous with each other; in my mind, they occupy the same space. You see, Modern Warfare 2 is a much more intense game then Uncharted 2, not because it's any better at pulling your adrenaline strings (A train barreling down on you and nearly falling off an icy slope are both cardiac killers), but because the experience is so much more brief. This is not to say Modern Warfare 2 is better than Uncharted 2 or that Uncharted 2 needs to be shorter, but that the marked quality of Modern Warfare 2, intensity, is elaborated due to it's brevity.

Much like MW2, Uncharted 2's primary quality, it's roller coaster nature, is perfectly fitting for a more protracted, 13 to 15 hour experience. You see, its the set of falls and climbs, slow parts and intense parts, that make the experience so much more fluid. Uncharted 2 is extremely well-paced for such a cinematic, action plot-centric piece; if the game were only 5 hours, you'd be left with a mouth full of peanut butter, which takes a really long time to get off the roof of your mouth (and even after, the taste sticks with you in the worst way...). You would lose a big part of the impact; the fact that, in the vein of Metal Gear Solid 4, it's a globe-trotting adventure. If it were only 5 hours, it'd seem much too brief.

You see, games can only have so many gameplay innovations/types and plot points to support the length of time that they occupy; if you don't find that tasty 1:1 ratio, then you could be left with a game that feels like a sandwich that lacks substance. It would have too much bread.   read

11:37 AM on 11.07.2009

The Elephant in the Room: Sexuality in Videogames & Persona 4

Videogames, as I've said before, are a very young medium; we have only some bare bones examples of what true, magnum opus videogames can be; ones that can get across the theme or message of themselves more effectively through the interactive medium than if they were anything else. When you look at the highest rated games on sites like Gamerankings or Metacritic, we see the obvious ones like Ocarina and Super Mario Galaxy, which are respectively, the very first successful venture into 3D Action/Adventure and the most polished 3D platformer of the current generation (and by extension, all-time pretty much).

These games deserve this recognition not because of their excellent narratives (Nintendo and Narrative for like a square block and a circular hole), but because of their achievements and advancements in terms of gameplay; I don't think I need to go into the laundry list of innovations Ocarina sported or the absolute perfection that was Galaxy. But while we certainly have matured vastly in terms of gameplay, we still are growing in terms of game-specific narratives, which range from cinematic abortions (Lost Planet for example) to the top tier of meaningful storytelling (Braid, Silent Hill 2, Shadow of the Colossus, etc.). We have yet to find that one title we can all latch onto and say, yes, this is the sign that we have come into our own, not as a "Citizen Kane" to show the world, but as an achievement that the gaming world can look upon as the prime example.

As of now, Braid or Shadow of the Colossus are those games which we call into action when videogame narratives need defending, so some say we already have the Knight in Shining Armor title, but to me, we are still missing a few pieces that we can add to the unfinished thematic puzzle that are Braid and Shadow of the Colossus. While Braid is about the power one human being can achieve, Shadow of the Colossus is about how trust can lead to destruction. These are lessons every medium has to tell at some point, and thankfully, we have tackled them very early on in the videogame time line, however, as I said before, there are other themes that need to be explored for myself, and others, to be satisfied and say that this is it. One of those themes is sexuality.

Now, modern society as a whole has yet to mature to a stage of tolerance and acceptance in terms of the treatment of sexuality in communities, with even the most open-minded nations still not tackling the issue. Now, as a citizen of the United States, where homosexuality is still not accepted by the majority of people or outright hated by others, so it's very hard for a medium as young as videogames to tackle such an issue. Japan is no more ready to do so; on a whole, the Japanese still have an extremely shallow idea of other cultures, homosexuality included. So with the two largest developing countries basically unready to tackle the subject as a whole, I get the sneaking suspicion that it will be a while before we see commentary on one of the biggest issues in the free-world.

However, with the debacle over Modern Warfare 2's lovely anagram (F.A.G.S.: Fight Against Grenade Spammers) and Rev's recent Rant, I have to put my two cents out there. As a Floridian, homosexuality hits very close to home; after all, out Governor, Charlie Crist, may very well be a closeted homosexual. We recently had an election on whether homosexuals could have civil unions, which was, sadly for me, turned down; not because I'm a homosexual, but because I'm surprised we, as a society, still have not come to terms with the existence of homosexuality.

The hardest thing to tackle about homosexuality is the fact that it is a sexual subject, which are a sort of taboo in most places. People are unwilling to discuss sexual topics on an open forum simply because of the immaturity of the people that surround it; i.e. people that use the word "gay" as an insult. I tell you all of this not because I want you to hear me ramble about modern sociopolitical issues (this is a videogame site after all), but because this is the climate that surrounds and permeates the videogame industry.

This is not to say that modern societies will have to accept homosexuality before we see videogames that tackle the issue maturely, but what I will say is that the indifference to the subject and the unwillingness to discuss it is what is holding developers from discussing the topic. However, that said, that does not mean we haven't had at least a couple of examples of mature discussions on the topic, my favorite, and my pick for best example yet, is one many of us are familiar with: Kanji from Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4.

Now, let me preface this by saying that I am extremely impressed with Persona 4; it tackles quite a few issues that resonate very loudly with it's primary audience, that audience being teenagers. Persona 4 primarily deals with the High School experience, with each character having to deal with the stress and issues that come with post-adolescence. For Kanji, that issue was not homosexuality exactly, but rather gender identity.

Kanji is an extremely masculine character, as well as being the obvious melee fighter in your group; in a way, he's basically the JRPG's teenage version of Francis from Left 4 Dead. However, this is juxtaposed by his true inside character, which is that he has much more in common with what society generally considers femininity; he likes to sew, he has an attraction to cute things, etc. However, the clincher, and the beginning of his true gender crisis, is his obvious attraction to Naoto, an androgynous character who is hiding the fact that he, in fact, is a she.

However, at this point in the game, neither you nor Kanji know that Naoto is in fact a woman, which leads him to questioning his sexual identity, which is resolved yet called into question at various parts in the game. Now, I don't believe Kanji is actually a homosexual, which I think is the most important part in understanding Kanji as a character; he is sexually ambiguous. He never really shows any attraction to any male other than Naoto, but also never really shows any attraction to any female other than Naoto. I think his crisis of gender identity is simply amplified by the existence of Naoto, who's own gender crisis multiplies Kanji's.

Two characters in one game, Kanji and Naoto, say more about issues of sexuality and gender than basically all of videogame history before it. That is why I choose that game as an example of mature sexual discussion, yet I am still holding out for a game that puts that subject at the forefront. However, until then, I'll have to deal with the medium's state of either malignant indifference or ignorant homophobia; but at least I have Persona 4 to remind that some people are trying, and in the end, that's what really counts.   read

2:19 PM on 11.02.2009

Boredem: The Ultimate Motivator

Holy. Fucking. Shit. Three words, three sentences. That's how damn bored I have been for weeks on end. Why? Well, in short, I'm flat-ass broke. More broke (Yes, broke, not broken.) than a redneck's backyard car. More broke than eggshells on Halloween night. (Thanks you prick kids. I'll hunt your asses down and make you lick that shit off of my car...) More broke than an old PC jewel case that you stepped on by accident one day. More broke than...well, I'm as broke as I am out of analogies. However, between checking random forums and swearing I'll finish the last chapter of Valkyria Chronicles, I've been slowly working my way through my established catalog of games.

So far, my Wii and PS3 (barring that damn cheap last chapter of VC...) collections are totally beaten, meaning all I have left is my backlog of old PS2 JRPG save files (Kill me now...) and my good old collection of NES, SNES, and Genesis games. In fact, before deciding I was actually bored enough to write a new blog (Just kidding...), I beat Mega Man X3 for what seems like the 20th time. However, I also have games I've never even touched for more then twenty minutes in my collection, many of which I'm working my way through.

In fact, the last games to feel my wrath include Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, by far the hardest Castlevania of all-time, but also my personal favorite after beating it, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, which I think is actually superior to the first Zelda, Ducktales, and even Vectorman. All of these games were ones I was very familiar with, but not one of them have ever been beaten. It's really a freeing sense, like I'm getting a monkey off of my back; after all, I spent upwards of 5 bucks on each, which isn't much, but when you consider my collection of NES and SNES games (Let me count them, hold on a second...43 games. 24 on NES, 21 on SNES), that shit adds up.

This isn't to say I have an amazing collection or anything, but I do have more than an average person. However, unlike the average person, I actually have been going through these and beating them slowly but surely. Why is it that we buy these older games, play them for 15 minutes or so, and then never pick them up again? Perhaps it's simply the differences in design that games from the past have, maybe its their extreme difficulty, maybe their charm wears off soon since we have newer, more advanced technology now, but whatever the reason, we nickel and dime ourselves to death on these things.

Not that that is a bad thing, but sometimes I wonder if I buy them to play them or just the have them. I'm not really a collector or anything, but there is a certain appeal of seeing that cart or that box on your shelf; in fact, sometimes I think that is my true motivation for not pirating games; I have nothing to show for it. Are we that fickle? It seems like everyone with a camera and a false sense of nostalgia is just waiting for the chance to show off their collection of NES-era videogames, as if it's some sort of badge or rite of passage.

In fact, I'm no less guilty of these odd practices than anyone else, however, let me defend myself. When I bought Mega Man 6 a couple months back, it's not because I wanted to finally finish my NES Mega Man collection (Well, okay, it was a factor), but because I really, really like Mega Man! Much like how Jim Sterling's amazing show points out, sometimes I wonder if the easy access to emulation programs has lessened the value of older games. It seems like not many people see the value of owning these treasures anymore, especially when about 90% of purchasers will never actually beat the games.

Whatever the case, it seems that these old carts have been turned into mere legends, people talking about them, yet never actually playing them. When was the last time you beat Super Mario Bros. 3? Have you ever even best it once? Owned it even? Sadly, I'm going to guess that people will either say no, or simply lie and say yes to keep their cred intact. I'm included in the category; I own it, but I've never actually beat it. I get stuck on the last Bowser stage, which is quite a bit better than the majority of people out there.

Remember the days when beating Super Metroid in under 3 hours was a badge of honor by which many people judged if you were a true gamer or not? What happened to that? Whatever, enough nostalgic ranting. The point is that it is a sad day when absolute, soul-crushing, apathetic boredom is my motivation to beat what are general considered classics. However, the worst part is that is that it's almost worse then those who don't value oldies at all, or rather on the flip-side, evangelize them and say gaming has gotten worse. There I sit, in the middle, but at least I'm actually playing Mega Man 2 instead of bitching about it.

Also cocks.   read

11:19 PM on 10.28.2009

Left 4 Dead 2 Demo Impressions

Screams of putrid lucidity that mesh together in the air to form the grating physical manifestation of barbarism itself. People turn on each other, each more narrow minded than their counterpart, savagely scrawling their hatred upon whatever they can find. A thick, pungent air of fear and ignorance cloak the Earth like a fog. Radiated men eat the flesh of radiated men, and there is the most beautiful silence, never to be heard. That's right, I'm talking about the reaction to the days, hours of waiting for Valve to release the Left 4 Dead 2 demo. (I ripped off Bukowski! Im uh riter!)

Was it really that bad people? I can't recall the exact day it was supposed to be out, but I'll give a generous guess of Tuesday, or rather, October 27th. Here we are 2 days later, and we have what we waited so long for. 48 hours. Jesus Christ. What were they doing all that time? Probably last minute server correction or playtesting that ran late, which is actually a good thing...why are we bitching about this again? As if bitching about waiting 48 hours to play a 45 minute demo of a game that's coming out in another 3 weeks anyways, now we have PC Elitists writhing in pain over the fact that Xbox 360 users got the demo first and for free. Holy shit, someone start a crusade, cause God forbid inferiors get to do things mere hours before we do! Isn't this how wars racial cleansing gets started?

For Christ sakes, why is Left 4 Dead 2 itself the least talked about thing on the topic of Left 4 Dead 2. First you have idiots that want to boycott it's too similar? They might stop supporting Left 4 Dead? It's a full retail priced "Expansion Pack"? Whatever the argument, they're all bullshit. Think it's too soon for it to come out? Tell that to people that have been waiting 2 arduously dry years for even the slightest inkling of information on Half-Life 2: Episode 3. Boycotters: go back into your hole. PC Elitists: don't be so petty (As if the fact that you had any interest in the game before release you wouldn't have pre-ordered it anyways). Bitching about delays: It's called patience, virtue, etc. On with the show.

Now that it's finally out (Longest two days of my life! I've never had to wait for things before!), we can talk about our first impressions of Left 4 Dead 2 from the side of regular joes. What do I have to say about it? Well, my word on anything isn't necessarily going to tip anyone's hand or drive mobs to go buy the game, so who gives a fuck. But, for what it's worth, here's a little preface on the subject of where I'm coming from on this thing; I love Left 4 Dead. It's a game that has to balance being a First-Person Shooter, an increasingly overpopulated and increasingly stale genre, and being a Zombie property, an equally increasingly over overpopulated and increasingly (exponentially I might add, hold Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland) stale genre, and it pulls it off better than any other game has to date.

If you're unfamiliar with the story of Left 4 Dead, join the club; no one knows what's going on, where it's taking place specifically, who these people are, how any of this began, or how it may end. And you know what? Good. In fact, I'm willing to say, as far as I'm concerned,Left 4 Dead may be one of the first games to completely rely upon non-linear characterization to tell a story, and it does it well. You see, a story is only as interesting as the people in it and what they have to say, and in this regard, the characters of Left 4 Dead are stunningly realized, Three Dimensional people that you genuinely care about and like.

Now, lots of people will cry fowl when I say Left 4 Dead has a good story, but what they consider story, I consider filler. You don't need cutscenes, dialogue boxes, conversations trees, or any other thing to tell a story; all you need is a few people talking like real people in revelatory banter that doesn't sound like revelatory banter and a rich, textured setting, and Left 4 Dead has these things. Everything is darkly ambiguous, with no knowledge of where the zombies came from or where the survivors are going to go, much like the survivors themselves; you are trapped alongside these poor souls as they try and light up the dread with some fun conversations or reveal what they feel with smartly-written and perfectly delivered dialogue. Yeah, I like this game.

I tell you all of this because Left 4 Dead 2, from my first impressions, retains basically everything I just ejaculating all over mostly. It's too early to tell for right now, but basically most in-game chatter has been cut down a bit, save Ellis revealing something about his friend Kieth in the first saferoom, which I won't spoil here. The writing on the wall is still here; not as good as the masterful Crash Course campaign of the original, but still good, funny, revealing stuff. As for the characters, the most important element of Left 4 Dead's anti-narrative, they fit right in.

It seems Valve took particular care to make every character for Left 4 Dead 2 almost nothing like the previous brilliant characters, meaning there is no bullshit. These people are completely different and very interesting, and I'm dying to find more out about them. In fact, the place where you learn most things about them is between the lines of whats provided; it's the little things. Ellis is always getting into trouble in the intro movie, Rochelle pushes the pistol off of the map shes reading; things like this show us who these people are better than any dialogue can. Rochelle pushes the pistol off instead of holstering it because shes a rational thinker; get a plan, then action, much the opposite of Ellis. Nick and Coach are equally fleshed out, but I need to get to the game part of this game, but suffice it to say these people are likable, relatable, real people that are dying for more time in the full game.

How does Left 4 Dead 2 play? Well, in fact, extremely well. It seems that since the release of the last game, Valve has tightened things up a significant bit. Big things first, there are the new special infected, who are awesome. The Jockey is the most instantly noticeable, as he will no doubt be on your head within minutes of the demo. All of the new special infected add something to Left 4 Dead 2 that really makes a motif of weight noticeable; stakes. Now, with uncommon infected like the armor-clad riot zombies that must be shot in the back, which is easier said than done during a horde, and three new special infected along with the old, ever-present three, as well as walking witches and deadly tanks, every corner is treated as a challenge. Sticking together is more important than ever before, and it works.

Continuing what I stated earlier, there is a gameplay motif of weight that I'm sensing personally, and while probably not strictly intentional on the part of Valve, I sense lots of things that add weight to the experience. There is the added stakes of a ton more enemies, but there is also the new weapons as well. Melee weapons are extremely satisfying and visceral, even if a bit archaic, but more than that, guns pack a much more noticeable punch, and this is due in part to two things; added power and new enemy reactions. The guns, while new and pretty and fun to use, are also very different then before; sure they're basically the same style weapons, but they're all feel much more powerful, with the SCAR in particular being a semi-automatic kick in the chest to undead bastards.

Also, like I said before, enemies react differently than before; not in the way the move, that's basically unchanged, but it's all in the new level of violence. Now, in most games, this means nothing, but zombies offer something that most enemies don't: fragility. These things, now three weeks into the infection, are falling apart. They'll rip you to shreds in seconds, but a shotgun blast to the stomach will create a satisfyingly large hole in the chest filled with viscera, gore, and bone that will make an Aussie burn their national flag. Blowing off limbs and the subsequent recoil is such a terrific indicator that the gun your using is a gun, not a plastic imaginary toy that goes "bang"; this is a bullet-spitting, zombie-gibbing son of a bitch machine, and it feels good.

Added to this continuing motif is the movement of you and the undead, which seems much different. For one, the undead seem a bit slower than in the first game, and much in the same way, you do as well. This isn't problematic in any way, as much of the design of the campaign is based upon tight corridors and rooms that chute you through the campaign at a brisk, intense pace, with only a few sprawling moments that feel all the more large in comparison. What it comes down to, is that while small and hardly noticeable, Valve may have adjusted the movement, but in a way that improves upon Left 4 Dead, which could sometimes feel a bit floaty when the momentum of your character seems a bit odd. It's idiosyncratic for series to say the least.

There are lots of things about the map itself that I want to talk about, but I'm not going to spoil it for you here. Suffice it to say, this is one of the best-designed maps that the series has offered to date, with an incredibly intense crescendo event that raises the stakes of the campaign in a way that is unlike any other before it, including Crash Course. The levels are well-designed, well-populated with zombies, and weapon pick-ups aren't limited to "find all three second tier on one desk"; instead, you can find any random amount of any tier weapon lying around, including melee weapons, which include police batons, machetes, frying pans/skillets, and even a Gibson SG.

Well, before this post gets too long (like every other one of my blogs), let me just say, this is the game we've been waiting for, distilled into two brisk, adrenaline-fueled stages that highlight most of the new aspects of the game to come. It's still far from what we're getting on November 17th, but it's enough to bet that Left 4 Dead 2 may just surpass it's predecessor in many ways; go and check it out if you have any interest in good games period. Also, this applies to Left 4 Dead as a whole, play it with friends. Not public people you'll never talk to over the mic; play it with people you know, friends in real life or over the internet, but playing with real buds is what really makes the experience, because when you're shooting a Jockey that is riding your screaming friend like a Coin-operated mall machine, it's euphorically fun.   read

6:43 PM on 10.22.2009

Growing Trends: Defending Linearity

Of all growing trends in videogames, the one I've noticed the most is the insistence upon open-world settings or nonlinear adventures. I'm not complaining for the most part, I tend to like Open-world action games like inFAMOUS and Prototype because they give you the option to go off the beaten track and collect orbs or do side missions; break the tension between story missions. However, sometimes, it can be quite bothersome, such as in FarCry2 and Red Faction: Guerrilla where the driving becomes absolutely tedious and obsolete.

However, I'm not here to talk about Open-world games, but quite the opposite; linear adventures. It seems that the biggest complaints levied against purely single player experiences is the lack of multiplayer or the linear design. Now, the lacking multiplayer is a purely economic complaint, as the lack of said multiplayer has no effect upon the narrative and gameplay of the single player game. However, since it's a critic's job to "review" a game, a part of which is measuring it's economic value, I won't complain too much.

However, it blows my mind that people carp about overtly linear design. Many people say they feel constrained or "on rails" when playing a purely linear game, which is an odd complaint to me. When I play a game, the way I approach it and play it is based upon it's design concepts; I don't go into Uncharted: Drake's Fortune hoping that I'll get a helicopter to surf above the jungle. In Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction looking for an open-world space setting. I'm looking to play a game that is very specifically designed and paced, which I feel is an advantage of linear experiences.

I recently played Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (I don't own it, but I played about 4 hours of it), which is a purely linear adventure. The game is paced in a way that it gives you these incredible set pieces with great action mixed with kind of quiet parts based upon fun platforming and some minor stealth (The purly stealth section is awful...). It's the changes in pace that really highlight why linear games still have a place in today's market; they are able to control/illicit certain emotions and such much more effectively since they have complete control over where you go and what occurs around you.

The freedom is in the player to accomplish these tasks however they like, and that I think is something that open-world games often advertise but don't really capitalize on. A very big complaint of FarCry 2 is that the game is laconically paced, and as such gets very tedious very quickly. This is because there are basically no set piece moments or areas that are specifically designed for certain actions. Sure, you can take the route of "you make your own set piece", but these moments, while more spontaneous and natural, don't feel as nuanced or frequent.

Take for example Uncharted 2: Among Thieve's train section, where you have to take out enemies by taking advantage of the curving of the train tracks. It's brilliant, and it's extremely fun and exhilarating, and it's just one of the many moments of the game that do such an action-packed set piece. Since the game is designed around the set pieces, they flow and play incredibly well, where as in open-world games, the missions are made to fit the game, meaning there is much more freedom in how you can accomplish the goal more often than not, but the variety and spontaneity of the moments is severely lacking compared to linear games like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

Now, I am not a person that judges a game's merits off of graphics alone or really almost at all, but nonetheless, the linear experience also allows developers to create a much better-looking, bug-free experience that will not distract players form the gameplay. Take Prototype for instance, which is a very fun, if not flawed, open-world game. Even though it was released in 2009, it looks much worse than Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, which was released in 2007. Now, many games do not look anywhere near as good as Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, but that's the beauty of it.

With a linear game, developers are able to accomplish much more than open-world games because of the games singular nature. Take Grand Theft Auto IV for instance; as it stands, this is easily one of the best-looking open world games, if not the best-looking open world game, of 2007. However, even still, it couldn't compare to other linear games in many respects; textures, especially inside environments, were mushy and blended into one another, animations were sometimes down-right terrible (playing pool, executions, etc.)

Now, these days, they're looking much better, like inFAMOUS, which is probably the best example, but even that game has it's problems; pop-in textures plagued collection, characters looked blocky and unnatural up close, and then there are the glitches. This is the biggest problem with almost any open-world games presentation; bugs and glitches. I don't think I need to go into the many times people would walk into/onto one another in Grand Theft Auto IV and inFAMOUS, or how often in inFAMOUS you would get stuck between geometry.

The main point is that linear games still have a place in today's market; not everything has to have a nonlinear/open-world aspect. Most of the time, the mechanic just feels tacked on anyways, like Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood's two (count 'em) open-world areas where you can do side missions. Why wasn't this applied to the rest of the game? Because linearity is still valid. NOt everything has to offer up this element of freedom, which basically amounts to a drive between story missions.

When done well, open-world design is an attractive thing, but in the same way, so is linearity. While non-linearity gives the player freedom to do what they want, when they want, linearity gives the designer the freedom to do the what they want, when they want, and just like film and music, it's always a treat to experience something that someone else's creative mind can bring us. Not every game has to be a Choose you own adventure affair; sometimes when the adventure is given to you, a pre-determined path can offer up some of the most brilliant gameplay and scenarios you'll play in a game.   read

2:23 PM on 10.15.2009

You Are Not Alone: Gaming Habits/Idiosyncracies

Following on the coattails of my "Gaming Pet Peeves" article, I have chosen to talk about something that is not a rant for once: things that I, and hopefully others, do in games or while playing games. Hopefully it'll be a "It's sad watching people eat alone" situation (Go watch the HAWPcast if you don't get this, it's a great show!), where everyone seems to agree that they do these things as well. Anyways, let's start off with a strong one!

1. Walking away for a while? Turn that controller off!

This is to all of my conservationists out there: yes, I am one of you. Being a person who lacks a proper rechargeable battery for my Xbox 360 controller as well as no long USB cable for my PS3 controller, I find that if I am to walk away from the game for even a couple minutes, I have to turn the controller off. Period. If I don't, then I'll crucify myself later thinking of all the battery life I wasted while away. Now granted, not only does the PS3 come with a rechargeable battery in the controller (Come on Microsoft, get with the times!), but I would also be using that battery life if I was there playing the game anyways, I don't think of any of this while in the process of turning off my controller/plugging it into a power source.

Now you might be asking yourself "Hey Canti, what about your Wii! Surely you feel bad about wasting 2 AA batteries' energy while away! Why not turn it off?" Well, with every scenario, there is an exception. You see, as completely flat broke as I am now, I did once actually have a job which afforded me the opportunity to purchase all types of neat stuff, including a Nyko Charge Station for my Wii, just one of many absolutely killer accessories produced by Nyko in lieu of the lack of Nintendo support (Nyko Light Gun Attachment > Nintendo's Wii Zapper). Well, this allows me to just smack that Wiimote onto the charge station without a second thought or shred of guilt. Freedom is a beautiful thing...

Although, this begs the question, why feel bad for the PS3's rechargable battery when you don't for your Wii's? Well, other than the fact that I have no actual answer because it's a completely illogical habit, think about this: the Nyko Charge Station is attached directly to a power source (My wall outlet), where as the PS3 must be on since the controller attaches to it directly to charge. This means I must have it attached to the PS3 itself via USB while playing, meaning I need a pretty long USB cable, which I don't have, meaning, I have to either kneel before the thing to play it while the controller is attached to the PS3 or I have to switch it out for the regular SIXAXIS, which I hate for certain reasons compared to the Dualshock 3 (lack of rumble = lack of sufficient weight in your hands...). It's a completely illogical habit, but I'm sure plenty of people besides me do this.

.2. I've fired one or many bullets! GOTTA RELOAD!

Yeah, I know tons of people do this. It doesn't matter if you fire an entire clip or just a single round, after you fire your weapon, you have to reload it. Why? Who knows? You just have to do it, or else you'll spend a few seconds between enemies incredibly uncomfortable for some reason. It's an urge that is beyond logic or reason, truly, it is even beyond good and evil (That's for my dawg Nietzsche!). No one really even has a reason to do it, in fact, I'd go as far as to say there is no reason. It's just our natural instinct for preparedness or against wastefulness.

When you think about it, in real life, to reload a gun after firing one bullet is pointless, hell, even dangerous! Think about it: to replace that one bullet you shot, you have to eject the clip, dig a single round from your pocket, thumb it into the clip, and re-insert the clip. It's not like in a videogame where you discard an entire clip, yet only lose however many bullets you used. This is called a change for convenience sake. (We wouldn't want some of the guns from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare to have even longer reload times, would we?)

Anyways, back to the original point, there is no real reason to do this, we just do it. In fact, I'd say that you're a weirdo if you don't do this!

3. There are default names? I've got to use them for continuity sake...

This is a little less widespread I believe, but I'm one of those people that have to use default names in RPG's, even if they sound like crap. (I'm looking at you DAGGER...) I feel odd if any of the characters have different names than their default ones. In fact, I'm so ingrained to do this, I will look up the default names on the internet if the game doesn't provide them, like in any Shin Megami Tensei game that isn't Digital Devil Saga.

Beyond that, for the sake of consistency, if there are no default names available anywhere, I'll use the same one for every single game, as long as it's a JRPG: Shinji Ikari. Some of you will recognize this as the main character if Neon Genesis Evangelion, in which case, good for you! Now you know what a vagina I am, naming myself after the girliest main character in anime history, and that includes female protagonists! Why do I do this? I don't know, I guess I like hearing "Ikari-kun" over "Johnson-kun"...

This has got me into some odd situations though (I'm talking Awkward Penguin worthy ones here...), such as in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3. Before finding out about the default name over the internet, I named my character Shinji Ikari. Since some characters will sometimes call you by your first name, I'd get called Shinji every once in a while. This wouldn't usually be a problem, but later in the game, you get a character named Shinjiro, who goes by Shinji for short...This results in some awkward dialogue ("Shinji! Help out Shinji-san!" etc.) Why do I continue doing this anyways? I can't stop, that's why. I'll bet there are some others that share my pain as well...

4. Karma System? Damn...Well, I'll do Good first and then Evil...

Now this might just be my natural urge to please people (odd since all I seem to do is rant about things that piss me off...), but I always play the good guy. It doesn't matter if it's Mass Effect, Bioshock, Fallout 3, or inFAMOUS, I always play the good side first. There's something about getting a nice, appreciative "Thank You!" that gets past the six inch lair of cynicism I keep around my heart and affects me. I like it, even though I know it means almost nothing in the fact that it's a fictional character.

In fact, most of the time, like in the case of Mass Effect and inFAMOUS, I have yet to go back and play Renegade or Evil simply because it's hard for me to be an evil bastard. Something about just ruining a guy's day by murdering his family just kind of takes the fun out of it for me. I'm what the /v/ community would call a "Moralfag", but I can't help it; I like playing the hero. This doesn't mean I'm totally beyond doing evil things, like pickpocketing/stealing in Fallout 3 or getting the Evil ending in Bioshock, but most of the time, I can't take being an asshole.

Now I know lots of people are going to scratch their heads at this one, but I honestly have a hard time being an evil character; being chastised for my actions by the random strangers whose lives I ruin really gets to me, even though they're simply electronic constructs. Now, I can indulge sometimes, like rampaging in Grand Theft Auto IV or electric dropping off a building into a crowd in inFAMOUS, but for the most part, I have a better time playing the good guy, and I'm betting I'm not alone.

5. Visual Progression turns you into a Completionist

Now this relates to the Obsessive Compulsive "reload" habit, but if there is visual progression for a game's side missions, like the map screens of Prototype or inFAMOUS, then I have to beat every single one. There's something about seeing every event as a gold medal in Prototype or seeing a completely letter-free radar in Grand Theft Auto IV that really gives me a sense of accomplishment I need. Now when it comes to side quests that don't get acknowledged in some way, like in Mass Effect or Fallout 3, I usually don't care; there's something about seeing that map, with everything on it done that really makes me feel satisfied.

I think the game that really does it for me is inFAMOUS, a game I really like simply because it shows the progression of your, well, progress! You see every piece of each island completely free of gang control, and you feel like you've really done something. Add in finding most of the blast shards and Dead Drops, and you've got me hooked for hours. I need to see that 100% in my save file. It kind of reminds me of my long-time love affair with Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland, in which I beat all three save files available with 100%, and then re-beat them in the alternate hard mode where you have half the normal health bar to add another 100%. Why? So I can see 6 "100%" on the screen!

It's a crazy what people like me will do to get everything there is, as long as it is acknowledged at some point. Take Super Metroid for instance; at the end, you get a time and a percentage of item pick-ups. If I see a perfect "5:00:00" or "4:00:00" with a "100%", then I'm in heaven. I hardly speed run that game simply because it almost feels like a punishment to be told I didn't get everything, even if I did it faster. I really hope I'm not alone on this or else this is going to awkward...   read

5:29 PM on 10.12.2009

If You Do Any Of This, Stop It Now: Gaming Pet Peeves

I'm sure we all have our pet peeves, such as the sound of metal scratching metal, someone saying "bro" a little too many times, the sound of someone smacking their gum, etc, and I'm also sure through the advent of Online gaming, we have all heard/seen our fair share of things that continue to infuriate us. Maybe some of the things I'm about to go into will piss some people off just by reading it, others because they actually do it, but you know what? Who gives a fuck? Let's hop to it:

1. Use of the term "W + M1 Pyro" or any other variation

If you play Team Fortress 2, then you have no doubt come across dumbasses that berate Pyro players with the term "W + M1" or anything like that. For those of you who don't know what this means, it is referring to the controls "w", which moves the player forward, and "M1", which sprays the Pyro's flames. See how brilliant they are? They took the control scheme and turned it into an insult! Reminds of Elementary school kids who don't curse coming up with rhyming insults to people's names.

The term is meant to imply that the player is doing nothing more than rushing into a group of enemies like an idiot and getting free damage/kills. This means the player is obviously a shitty Pyro and therefore must be reminded of this, even though most of the time, the Pyro gets the kills because the dumbasses don't know how to, oh I don't know, kill him. Even if the term wasn't completely obsolete by the fact that you could just have easily not said anything and killed him like any normal person would, it's also probably the most obnoxious shit to ever leave a person's mouth.

Pyros are not any less legitimate a class to play than any other, for when played properly, he/she(wink) is one of the most important classes in the game in terms of support. The Medic's job seems just as one-dimensional, yet you don't hear people bitching about them; in fact, Medics, if the option is enabled, don't even have to hold a button down to do their job! It all comes down to dumbasses being dumbasses, which is their prerogative, but how about we just call a moratorium on the phrase? While we're at it, also shut the hell about the Backburner.

2. Use of the term "GIRL GAMER"

When did it become such a taboo to be a female and use voice chat? Hearing the voice of a female in a game elicits one of three reactions by people in the game: 1) People tell her to shut up and sarcastically call her a "GIRL GAMER", 2) Be polite to her, strike up conversation with her, etc. in hopes of getting a girlfriend, because, you know, that will happen, 3) Completely ignore her. What is the world coming to when the best reaction out of the three is to be ignored completely?

The term "Girl Gamer", besides being totally stupid (We don't call male game players "GUY GAMERS"), it's also absolutely fucking obsolete. If you have a girl who won't shut the hell up about being into games, or having a cute boyfriend, etc., then tell her that she's an Attention Whore, because that's what she is. Do the same for any guy that comes on and won't shut up about his girlfriend, but that's another story...

This also applies for the ladies; women, please, for the love of God, do not refer to yourselves as "GIRL GAMERS". I use capslock to reiterate the sheer obnoxiousness of the term. You are not "GIRL GAMERS" just as we are not "GUY GAMERS"; we are just people that play games, that for the sake of simplicity, call ourselves "Gamers" (Although the term is getting thrown around a little too much for my taste...). I don't think I need to continue it any further: guys, don't call anyone a "GIRL GAMER". Girls: Don't call yourselves "GIRL GAMERS".

3. The Boyfriend

I think we've all run into this guy: he's the guy that wants every single one of us desperate nerds how awesome he is because he has a girlfirend, as if that made him better than any other person. He will remind everyone by talking about how he was "hanging out with [his] girlfriend today" and such, and constantly remind everyone about her existence.

Do I really need to go into why this is annoying as all hell? I think it really comes down to this: no one cares. No one gives a shit about you, your girlfriend, how cute she is, how awesome it is to have one, or really anything else that involves your personal life that no one fucking asked about. If you have a girlfriend, good for you, good job, I hope you two are happy together, but don't tell everyone about it; speak when spoken to.

These guys tend to also be the ones who think they relate to girls that happen to be in the game because they aren't hitting on them since, you know, they have girlfriends and all. If you want to talk to someone, male or female, there's no reason to make it sound like you have been allowed to speak to them. All in all, people, no one cares about your relationships on the internet, or usually in real life. I have my personal life, you have yours. Keep them separate.

4 The "Brainiacs"

This goes out to all of you people that think you are Nietzsche-lite Supermen; you're not. No one cares that read through "Atlas Shrugged" after you played through Bioshock and read the wikipedia on it and claim to understand it. No one cares that you read "novels" that continue your favorite Science Fiction property's canon (Halo being the lowest common denominator). No one cares what your GPA was/is (You're lying about it anyways), no one cares about how many AP Exams you passed or what your SAT scores are.

These are the people that get into endless debates with other people during the game about shit no one asked them about. Things like the moral obligations of piracy, the sacredness of the Star Wars trilogy, how good the last episode of Battlestar Gallactica was (Not anymore, I guess), or anything else. Just because you used a big word half-correctly doesn't make you smart; it means you speak english.

Really, here are some steps to prove how intelligent you are on the internet: Step 1: Write down a plan. Step 2: Rubberband that to a Dildo. Step 3: Shove it up your ass, because no one gives a shit.

I'll go into more later; right now I have to stop or else I risk dying from the rage-induced clotting in my brain.   read

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