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11:39 PM on 07.29.2008

A cast of thousands: The G-Man

First and foremost, there are mild spoilers ahead. To explain my interest in the character known as the G-Man from the Half Life series, I'll need to give a brief explanation of a few things. I'm a fan of a certain genre of fiction that many call “Weird” fiction. It's a term that I think was coined by H.P. Lovecraft, one of the forerunners and originators of the genre. Stories written in this style don't necessarily fall under horror, fantasy, or science fiction, but they are sometimes influenced by all three. The idea that ties the genre together is that stories within it all discuss something that is unknown or foreign. Oftentimes even after a short story or novel is finished, the reader will still not fully understand the characters or happenings of the plot. The sign then of a good piece of weird fiction is an overall sense of unnatural eeriness. Anyone familiar with the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, Lin Carter, Ramsey Campbell, or even Clive Barker can understand what I mean. And if you've played the games in the Half Life series, you'll already understand that the G-Man would fit nicely into a story of this style.

I really think that what the internet has done to the G-Man has only made him more creepy.

The main aspect I like about the G-Man is the sheer lack of information the player is given about him. On the most basic level, we as the player don't even know the characters actual name, as the title “G-Man” was simply the name of the character model used. Of the entire cast of major characters in the Half Life series, he is easily the one which garners the least amount of screen time, and yet he becomes the prime focus of the player’s attention. And it's obvious that he's not a character of little relevance, as he always seems to show up to progress the story. He is present at both the end of the original Half Life, the beginning of Half Life 2, and at key moments during the following episodes. But, every time he intervenes he never truly helps or hinders Gordon's progress through the game. It is because of this neutral tone his actions have that we as the player know little of him personally. We don't even know if he supports Gordon, the Combine, himself, or if he actually serves his “employers” that he sometimes references.

The mysterious nature of the character is stressed even further with what is easily his most memorable characteristic, his voice. With his odd pronunciation of simple words, and his extension of certain syllables he comes off as being unaccustomed to speaking, or at least to speaking the way Gordon and his friends do. This speech pattern instantly distances the character of the G-Man from the player, throwing him into the realm of the unknown, and we're reminded of this fact every time we meet him. In fact the player often hears his voice before he appears visually as if Valve wants you to intentionally focus on this singular defining aspect.

Nightmare fuel.

To once again connect the G-Man back to my earlier reference to Weird Fiction, I need to go into his apparent control over Gordon. Many short stories by the authors previously mentioned include antagonists in the form of all powerful deities or government officials. These beings often take the role of the enemy, controlling the actions of the main characters or using them as play things. The G-Man is almost a mixture of the two, with his apparent super human powers and his clean cut and professional look. While the Combine are the main physical threat to civilization, the G-Man is the antagonist of Gordon, or more specifically the player. Half Life, being a video game, requires a players input. Through the game we are given choice, or rather the illusion of choice as there is only one real outcome already scripted in the game. So when Gordon encounters the G-Man, he might as well be talking directly to the player when he mentions things such as the “illusion of choice.” The G-Man is the omniscient being of Half Life, watching over every action the player makes, leading him or her along in his little game. So really, whether or not the G-Man actually becomes a physical threat to Gordon in the future, he will always be the antagonist of the player, as he is lack of choice personified.

If Hollywood ever decides to ruin Half Life, Christopher Walken needs to play the G-Man.

So I guess I like this character specifically because of how little we know of him despite the great influence he has in the game. He is exactly the kind of villain I love. You never know what he's going to do, or what his true intentions are. Valve does a great job at creating a world with the Half Life games, without weighing anything down with lengthy cut scenes. We are given very little information directly, but a great amount of information indirectly so that people can search for answers in the story. I love characters in video games that cause some sort of reaction, and when I hear the G-Man's distinct voice stuttering “Doctor Freeman,” I can't help but sit up straight, stare at my computer screen, and feel a slight creeping chill as I wait to see what he does next.   read

2:39 PM on 06.03.2008

Late to the Party: Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

When Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne first came out I made the mistake of not buying it within a few months of its release, so unless I wanted to throw away a good bit of cash, I wasn’t going to play it. But, luckily Atlus reprinted the game earlier this year and I jumped on this chance to play this supposedly amazing JRPG. And after playing the game for about ten or so hours I must say I’m both impressed with the game, and disappointed that it took me this long to find a copy.

The main character.

In case anyone reading this doesn’t know the specifics about this game, you take the role of a nameless high school student who soon finds himself in possession of demonic powers. Very early in the game the world experiences what is called the “Conception,” which is essentially a doomsday like occurrence which leaves most humans in Tokyo dead, and a myriad of demons take their place. The protagonist, or “Demi-Fiend” must then make his way through the ruined Tokyo to find out exactly what has happened and if there are any survivors. This story is then told through extremely cryptic pieces of dialogue, and like many great JRPG’s, the player is left with very little understanding of what is actually happening. But to be honest, there’s so much more to this game then just the story.

Apparently Dante makes a cameo, which is both odd and awesome.

Being a character in a world full of demons, the roles of your party members are naturally filled by said demons. The gameplay is almost Pokemon-esque in that you have to recruit other demons for them to join your side. Once they agree, they can be summoned and dismissed at will to allow the player to create a party for any specific encounter. Although what really gets me about this concept is how you attain these other demons. You don’t capture them, or get them as rewards from battles; you actually have to convince them to join you mid battle. Basically, Atlus included negotiation as a key part of the games battle system. The player must usually eliminate all other enemies from the battle, and then choose to talk to the enemy and ask them to join. Sometimes the demon will ask for money, items, or even ask questions which will lead them to either join or continue fighting. In addition, certain demons get special abilities such as “seduce” which give them the opportunity to do the same. The whole system is something we’ve seen in games countless times before, but it adds so much more depth to the actual capturing of the demons.

Atlus mascot Jack Frost runs the main shop the player will frequent in the game. This has led me to the conclusion that every store needs to be run by an albino midget with a blue jester hat.

Another aspect to Nocturne worth mentioning is the amount of input the player has on the main character himself. Anyone who has played the more recent entry in the Shin Megami Tensei series Persona 3 will understand the kind of depth the series has. You can hand pick which stats increase with each level, thus defining exactly what sort of character he will be in combat. But more importantly than this are the dialogue options. I’m currently only about ten hours into this game and it seems that with every bit of important dialogue, I get to contribute somehow. While the options may be somewhat binary at times, with the main character either being a cool guy or a dick, it’s much more choice then many other RPG’s.

With all that being said, I’m not exactly sure what the point of this post is. I kind of just stumbled upon this game when I saw on Play Asia that there had been a reprint, and have been completely blindsided by the coolness of this game. And just as a side note, please warn me if you mention any spoilers from late in the game, I still have a good bit left to play. If you like JRPG’s and haven’t played Nocturne, you should definitely consider picking this up before they sell out again.   read

9:39 PM on 05.26.2008

So I finally beat Lost Odyssey...

After a few months of playing it, and after two or three week long breaks, I finally beat Lost Odyssey. I was trying to get most of the side quests done beforehand, but I didn't realize how much that entailed. With my immortals in the upper seventies, and my playtime around 65 hours I still had a good bit left to do. Up to the end I was still surprised at how much I like this game. I didn't expect too much after Blue Dragon's overall meh-ness, but I really enjoyed the story. I can't remember the last game that punched me in the face so many times with the concept of mortality. And when a good story is mixed with what is essentially an SNES RPG with pretty graphics, I am a very happy person. I just wish the book containing all of the "Thousand Years of Dreams" short stories would be released in the US.

So am I late to this party or was everyone overwhelmed by the length of this game as well?   read

10:20 PM on 05.15.2008

Seriously Konami?

You're charging $600 for the Metal Gear Solid 4 bundle? I've been waiting for further information on this bundle and whether or not it would be coming to the US, but now that it is, I can't see spending that much money.

Please someone correct me if I'm wrong, but we're supposed to be getting another MGS4 bundle which includes an 80 gig hard drive, a dual shock 3 controller, and the basic version of MGS4 for $500 right? So for an additional $100, we get half the hard drive space, no backwards compatibility, and a pretty paint job. Am I missing something here? Are they planning on selling the "extremely limited supply" of these bundles to anyone willing to spend the cash only to release the better bundle days later? I'm a fucking sad panda now. Ah well, as long as I can get a PS3 to play MGS4 I'll be happy.   read

12:48 AM on 04.30.2008

Gaming's Guilty Pleasures: Dynasty Warriors

Awesome hair, Awesomer beard.

My first experience with the Dynasty Warriors series began with the second installment of the series. Think back to the holiday season of 2000. Myself, I was still early in my high school career and was lamenting the launch of the Playstation 2, as I had almost no money. This of course didnt matter because the system was impossible to find. But there came a time of salvation, a day I still remember perfectly to this day. I had heard that my local Media Play, which at the time was still in business, was going to be taking pre-orders. If I remember correctly it was a Saturday. Not having a car my grandmother agreed to drive me out soon after the store opened to see what the situation was. We get there, we walk to the customer service counter, and I ask, Are you taking pre-orders for the Playstation 2? Fully expecting rejection I was met with a simple Yep. But, the overwhelming joy from this initial success was quashed with the explanation that I could pre-order, if and only if, I bought a package which included three games, a memory card, and an extra controller, the total of which came to around $500. Thinking my life ruined, I turned to leave, my heart broken, my dreams shattered. But, what was this? My grandmother grabbed my sleeve as I went to leave, pointed me to the list of release games and said, Go ahead, Merry Christmas. Then, giddy as a little school girl on amphetamines, I poured over the list of games. The first game I chose was Tekken Tag Tournament, the second I dont remember, but the third was a little game which sounded somewhat appealing that I had briefly heard of in the weeks beforehand. That game was Dynasty Warriors 2. Little did I know, that when my grandmother said Merry Christmas she actually meant she was going to hold on to the system until December fucking 25th. This wasnt too big of a deal, as I had a friend who received a PS2 at launch, and I spent many days that winter at his house immersed in shitty launch titles. Time passed, and the PS2 moved into the back of my mind. Then Christmas break rolled around and eventually Christmas day. I ripped that damn box open like a fat kid tearing through a triple layer double fudge chocolate cake. With the system hooked up, I began going through my games. The first disc to grace my console was none other then that of DW2.

What you don't realize is that half the enemies still haven't registered on screen.

Not knowing what to expect from this mysterious game based on Chinese history/mythology, I made my way through the menus. Started my first campaign, or rather Musou, and picked the character Guan Yu. This was of course because of his amazing beard. The first battle started titled The Yellow Turban Rebellion. There I was, as Guan Yu, amidst massive battle already in progress. As I came across a group of enemy combatants I tapped the square button and swung my utterly gigantic halberd, thus destroying upwards of five enemies in a bright flash. No blood, just the sound of metal on metal and a bright light. The enemies dropped to the ground, and disappeared. Long story short I made my way through the battle, slashing my way through hordes of enemies, and absolutely loving every minute of the amazingly campy cut scenes. It was an orgy of death and cheese unmatched by anything I had seen at the time.

This was the beginning of my love affair with the Dynasty Warriors series. And while I get more then enough enjoyment from playing it myself I have to mention the importance of the co-op play. If I remember correctly it wasnt until the third installment that I really took advantage of this mode. And this was of course offline co-op as KOEI has seen fit to still not give us that much, so you can picture the split screen nightmare that was Dynasty Warriors Co-Op. The already hectic gameplay, which was usually plagued by enemy models popping in and out of sight, was made even worse. But it didnt matter. Because of the simple, basic setup of the controls all we needed to do was move forward and mash square and triangle respectively. Now you may be asking yourself, why would I do this? Why would my friend and I put ourselves through this overtly mediocre gameplay? Because it was fun. We could chill in front of the t.v., play through our favorite battles, and love every minute of the cut scenes which, to this day, are campiness manifest on screen. It epitomized exactly what a co-op experience is meant to be in a time when co-op was almost non-existent. It didnt matter that we usually couldnt see what was happening, we had the major strategies for the battles memorized and we went through the motions. It was an excuse to get some people together and do nothing, an excuse to actually gather around a console and all play the same game at the same time.

I couldn't find a screenshot of DW split-screen. This should give you an idea of what it's like.

But even when you look at the core game of any Dynasty Warriors game, its not as bad as people make it out to be. Admittedly it is hard to defend it without making the games sound really repetitive and boring, but I think focusing on the core battle mechanics misses the point. I have yet to play any other game which gives me the same sort of feeling as any entry to the Dynasty Warriors series. The games throw me into the middle of an ancient battle with literally hundreds of enemies whom I have to defeat. Its chaotic mayhem for reasons both intended and not. Do they milk the series somewhat with the constant expansions and things of that nature? Sure, but I just choose to not buy everything they sell. Will you ever catch me arguing that Dynasty Warriors 6 is better then the Metal Gear Solid series or that it tells a better narrative then Bioshock? Fuck no. But I will always say that the games have provided me with a genuinely fun experience, and sometimes, thats all that matters.   read

11:04 PM on 03.26.2008

"The Ultimate 50 Cent Experience"

Ok, so news has been floating around lately that a sequel to 50 Cent Bulletproof is being made. This alone was a meaningless bit of information for me, considering I had absolutely no interest in the first abomination in disc form. I was fine with this; bad games are released all the time. This should be nothing new for me. And believe me I paid no attention to these ramblings until I happened across a post on Kotaku which linked to an IGN interview, a post which did horrible, unmentionable things involving the new games storyline and my brain. Ill write the quote from the Kotaku post, but first I feel it is my duty, dear reader, to tell you to close your browser. Close your browser and do not come back to this page. In fact, do not go to any page involving this game as you may inadvertently stumble upon these world destroying words. So it goes.

...what's inspired the title is, 50 and G-Unit are putting on a sold-out performance somewhere in a fictional Middle Eastern setting. This is where the 'blood on the sand' comes in. They put on the performance; the people are pleased, but the concert promoter stiffs them and doesn't give 50 and G-Unit their payment.

So, of course, 50 isn't going to leave until he gets paid, so he hassles the concert promoter,
[saying] if he doesn't come up with the money now, there will be consequences. And instead, the promoter offers him a very valuable gift - something that's valuable to this particular country - a diamond encrusted skull.

So 50 gets the skull, and as he's about to leave this war-torn country, when they're ambushed and the skull is taken. They escape the ambush, but they're without the skull. So 50's motivated to get what belongs to him. So basically, throughout the game, he's trying to track these people down and find out who they are and why he was ambushed"

Blood on Sand? Seriously? Blood on Sand? Is that honestly the best you people can come up with? At least the first title made a bit of metaphoric sense, in that Fidy was obviously meant to seem Bulletproof with his raptastic feats of manliness. But Blood on Sand? How long did it take the writers for this game to explain this title to their superiors? You see its called Blood on Sand because theres blood.and it falls on sand.because theyre in the desert.and they kill people.while drinking vitamin water.

Ok, terrible name aside, this story leaves us with some burning questions, why is a concert promoter giving away national treasures? Why does the game take place in a war torn Middle Eastern country? Are they trying to be culturally relevant? What are these mysterious consequences Fidy speaks of? Why am I trying to make sense of a game staring 50 Cent? For fucks sake Ive seen better stories in movies at 3am on the Sci Fi channel.

Thank you development studio behind 50 Cent: Blood on Sand. Thank you for making any argument I will ever make supporting the idea that video games could possibly have some sort of actual meaning moot with a single game. Honestly, if I am ever in a heated debate at any time in the future concerning art and video games, all my opponent has to do is mention this game and I lose. You have single handedly altered how I view some parts of the gaming industry. Im going to need to play Passage repeatedly for three hours to cleanse myself of this experienceand drink some vitamin water.

While reading further into the interview on IGN I found this gem of a quote,
we're not just throwing together another game. We took the time; we invested in some really good tech, some really good writers and we created some really compelling gameplay that will definitely deliver the ultimate 50 Cent experience.

Oh believe me Mr. Producer guy, I cant fucking wait.   read

8:36 PM on 03.16.2008

Piracy - Reaper or Savior

So I guess I'll try my hand at another blog entry.

Piracy has always been a hot topic in the gaming industry, especially in the PC world. It seems that every day we are seeing PC centric developers doing one of two things. Either they blame piracy for low sales as their earnings decline, or they become more and more console centric with every game. Ive even heard recently that Epic, known for making the popular Unreal series of shooters, will develop their next version of the Unreal engine for consoles primarily. This came as quite a surprise to me coming from a company which was built on an empire of PC games. So the question is this, what effects do piracy actually have, and what can PC developers do about it.

A friend of mine recently introduced me to the work of Matt Mason, who published a book in January concerning piracy, and his ideas are quite interesting. One major point which stuck with me was the question concerning what a company is actually selling. Basically, whenever a company is confronted by piracy, they need to ask themselves, What product are we actually selling? The problem I think many PC developers have is that they see their business as selling plastic discs, instead of selling interactive experiences. This is similar to the way Mason describes what happened to the record industry. Large record companies became too focused on selling CDs, and forgot that theyre supposed to be selling music. They didnt realize that the form it took was not the point.

In addition to this pinpointing, it is recommended that the companies involved try to compete with the pirates instead of combating them. By blaming pirates for all of the problems of the modern gaming industry, a lot of developers are essentially calling their audience evil bastards. This isnt exactly the way to win over the hearts of the gaming world. What developers need to do is very similar to one of the outcomes described by Mason in the war between record companies and pirates. As file sharing became more popular, along came iTunes which provided the exact same service as a torrent but for a price. Apple sells its customers the convenience of a torrent in a legal method of download. They competed with the pirates and have made millions because of it.

What this eventually comes down to is this, more devs need to take advantage of digital distribution. If a company wants to make money with a PC game, they need to not sell it like a console game. Make it as easy to download a game from its official site as it is to find a torrent and see what happens. One doesnt need to be a hardcore PC gamer to see the success of Valves Steam program. They, like Apple, are competing with the pirates and raking in the money because of it. I am not condoning the piracy of PC games, or trying to argue that it has had no affect on the sales of said games. What I am saying is that things change. A capitalistic society is one which is constantly being thrown new technologies which mess with the norms of production. The widespread acceptance of high speed internet connections is just another new technology. PC developers need to stop complaining about it and start using it to their advantage. Thoughts?   read

8:28 PM on 03.15.2008

Thinking - 10/10

Ok, so Ive been a reader of Destructoid for probably about a year or so now. I never made an account here because I never really had any good ideas for blog posts, but Ive visited regularly for news and to listen to the podcasts. Ive always meant to begin a blog but never knew what to write about. Hell, I havent even set up an avatar, profile, etc. yet. I never really had to say anything until recently.

Ive been one to casually scroll through the comments of certain news articles to see what other people think. Mixed in with the usual cries of first, posts of outdated internet memes, and mindless nonsense one could usually find intelligent comments actually discussing the topic at hand. And as Destructoid game reviews have become more frequent, Ive always read those which interested me. From hearing a certain number of the editors of this site in the podcasts and reading their posts on the site, I think I can assume that most of them are not utterly stupid. From what Ive seen at this site these people know what theyre talking about, and are at least somewhat devoted to the medium because theyre willing to put this much effort into what is essentially just talking about video games. This mindset I have is why I cant understand the reaction to a lot of the recent reviews.

I finished reading Reverend Anthonys review of Condemned 2: Bloodshot about an hour ago, which he gave a three out of ten. Oh, and of course we cant forget the glaring FORGET IT tag which is displayed below. And from a large number of the comments I feel I can safely assume this is all most of you read. I cannot understand the value so many gamers place on the number at the end of a review. They are arbitrary and meaningless tags which reviewers have been forced to place at the tail end of any write up because so many people are too dim to come to their own conclusions. And if somebody finds they disagree, I welcome anyone to please explain to me the finer points of the differences between a 9.0 and 9.5. I would honestly like to know what defined quality in games warrants that half point. You want to know why you cant answer that question? Because the goddamn number is fucking arbitrary. Its meaningless and should have no effect on how you view a review.

I guess a better example of this mass of nonsensical reactions would be the recent review of Patapon. If one simply reads the text, you know the actual review, the message is that Patapon is an above average game for the PSP that is worth playing; that it has its faults, but is at the very least worth trying. But, whats this? A 6.5? Sound the alarms! Amass the armies of the internets! Fanboys unite for an evil has risen in the land! He goes by the name Jim Sterling and he must be destroyed for he hates innovation! Why, for the love of whatever invisible man in the sky you believe in, why must you people be swayed so much by a number? He might as well have given the game an oil stain out of trash bag. Oh no, but Patapon obviously deserves a ham sandwich out of trash bag, you obviously dont know how to play the game. Its a fucking arbitrary number; we each have our own idea of what a certain number or percentage means when it comes to reviews, get the fuck over it. All each of us can know is our own perspective. Dont get pissed off because you dont have the capability to understand another persons perspective.

To close, Id like to mention Im about half way through Condemned 2 right now, and you know what? I like it. Its not perfect, but Im diggin it. Do I agree with some points in Reverends review? Yes. Do I disagree with some points? Yes. Does this slight difference in opinion affect my opinion of him as a writer for Destructoid? For fucks sake no. I read his review, understand why he doesnt like the game, and have gone about my business. I guess what Im trying to say is this. A certain number of you people out there need to stop fucking caring about this bullshit. Stop letting these goddamn aggregate review sites decide your game purchases for you. Stop fucking worrying about a single meaningless character at the end of a review and start worrying about the body of text which precedes it. I feel that chances are nobody is going to end up reading this, but from what Ive seen recently regarding some of the community on this site, that doesnt bother me at all.   read

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