Hello, I'm Trevor Johnson, also known as Canti-sama. I like to write about things including videogames (that should be paramountly obvious at this point...) music, film, and anime, so what you see in this blog is just one part of my pretentiousness! I'm a nit-picky bitch when it comes to basically everything, so excuse me if I seem like kind of an elitist, even though I try not to be. If I had to sum up who I am, I would do it through top 5 lists, so how about we a do a few right now! But before that, since DTOID tends to remove frontpage posts from my c-blog, here's the list of my frontpages, which I thank everyone very much for!
Top 5 Favorite Videogames:
5. Fallout 3, PC
4. Mega Man X, SNES
3. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, PS2
2. Braid, PC
1. Shadow of the Colossus, PS2
Top 5 Favorite Albums:
5. Death From Above 1979 - You're A Woman, I'm a Machine, 2004
4. Radiohead - O.K. Computer, 1997
3. Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92, 1992
2. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam, 2007
1. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation, 1988
Top 5 Films:
5. Brazil, Directed by Terry Gilliam
4. Fargo, Directed by Joel Coen
3. Fight Club, Directed by David Fincher
2. Shaun of the Dead, Directed by Edgar Wright
1. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Directed by Sergio Leone
Top 5 Anime Productions:
5. Spirited Away, Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
4. The Big O, Directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama
3. Cowboy Bebop, Directed by Shinichirō Watanabe
2. Neon Genesis Evangelion, Directed by Hideko Anno
1. Fooly Cooly, Directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki
Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks PSN Name: MetalLink1979
Wii Friend Code - 8089-7286-5497-4717
XBL - Metal Link 904 (Note: My Xbox 360 is in possession of my brother, so this is no longer technically my XBL Tag)
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."
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.
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 "...so 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.
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.
(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...)
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.
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.