I'm a gamer from the 90s who was raised on games with cute characters in them, both the genuine, heart-warming kind and the cynically designed ones.
But despite me mostly being a Nintendo fanboy it was probably the holy trinity Final fantasy VII, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil that truly got me into gaming.
Now I play anything as I'm open to anything.
Favourite game of all time? probably a toss up between Mass Effect 2, Persona 4, Metroid Prime, Killer7 or Resident Evil 4.
Iím going to go out on a limb here and say that I donít think most people who have a heavy investment in video games have even seen Citizen Kane.† I havenít seen Citizen Kane, so maybe Iím just projecting myself onto the gaming communityÖ but I have a sneaking suspicion that not many have actually seen it.
So how did we get to this place where Citizen Kane became such an important part of game culture?† Who cares about there being a Citizen Kane of Video Games?† I bet most of you donít even give a shit about that film.
The Citizen Kane of Citizen Kane.
But let us give it the benefit of the doubt.† Letís see what this Citizen Kane is all about and see why itís important.† Now, like I said earlier, I have not seen Citizen Kane, but I have read a few things about it; Iíve also had Media Studies students talk at me about it, so Iím informed enough to talk about it in a way that isnít complete bullshit, but itís definitely me winging it.† Though Iíd say Iím more informed than most that demand the Citizen Kane of Video Games.
So what did Citizen Kane do for cinema?† Itís mostly understood that it took the format of cinema and used its quirks for dramatic effect.† It wasnít just a filmed performance: lighting was used to obscure the faces of those performing and scenes were shot in abstract ways to assist telling the filmís story and characterising the, well, characters.† So Citizen Kane was one of the earlier and high profile films to use cinematic techniques to make you feel things and communicate ideas.
This is all cool and interesting and all, but games have pretty much always done this from the very beginning.
The thing with cinema is that it is a recording of an organic and Ďrealí thing, and then cinematic and editing techniques were then invented and applied afterwards.† And more techniques were discovered with time and experimentation.
But games were just techniques from the start.† You have artificial visuals and making a player feel a certain way has to be achieved by using these game techniques.† Letís take Donkey Kong: one thing it does it gives you a hammer to make you feel stronger, but when you get the hammer a different, faster song starts to play and your man flails it around quickly, destroying all the deadly barrels.† And you know it isnít going to last forever, probably because you see another hammer further up the stage, so tension is increased.
Donkey Kong, The Citizen Kane of Video Games? †
This is one of the earliest games using gameplay techniques to get some emotion out of you.
So if games already kind of do what Citizen Kane does why are we - or whoever it is that bring this subject up - still not getting over this subject?
Is it Citizen Kaneís story?† I suppose we donít have many games about the rise and fall of a man; a story about having power and then losing it.† Itís a common story; itís one we see all the time in life and itís fairly well explored one in all mediums, though not so much in games.† I suppose the very nature of having a fall at the end doesnít suite games very well.† We want to win in a game, or at least be safe in the knowledge that we can win.† Perhaps video games will never be a good vehicle for that kind of story.
But heís another but; but, we have those Civilization games people like, and when things go wrong in those due to the decisions youíve made then you can get that experience.† Iíve had it while playing the multiplayer mode of Command & Conquer: Red Alert (while on my own against AI *sad face*) when everything just crumbled in front of me due to me not acting as I should have.
So, do people really want Citizen Kaneís story in a game?† I donít think so.† Itís a story frequently told and while it hasnít been told in games the result of one that did would just make it an interesting curio of a game, rather than, ironically, the mighty and actual: Citizen Kane of Video Games.
What is it?† What is it about this damn film that is so important to us?† Seriously?† Who the hell coined the phrase?† Who let the words ĎCitizen Kane of Video Gamesí bounce along their tongue and escape their mouth like a fat man in a hurry?† Why did they coin it?† To sound smart and cultured without having to actually think?
What does it even really mean?
Civilization, The Citizen Kane of Video Games. †Fact. †Just look at it.
Maybe Iím over-thinking it.† I saw a documentary about Woody Allen the other day which was just about him and his attitude to his work and his thought process and all that kind of stuff, and it got to the film Annie Hall.† It was a mature film that was a bit cleverer than and not as silly as his earlier stuff; more about drama and characters, and while watching I thought that it was a bit like Naughty Dog.† I thought that maybe The Last of Us is the Annie Hall of Video Games.† Why not, right?
So letís just put it to rest, simplify it and say Civilization is the Citizen Kane of Video Games.† Done.† Iíve not seen/played either of them.† Seems fitting.
ďA survivor is bornĒ. That is what it says on the back of Tomb Raiderís box; they also present that text quite prominently at the end of the game before the credits roll, and after finishing the game itís important to keep those words in mind when you play Tomb Raider í13Ö yes, Iím making the same distinction here as people do to Sonic the Hedgehog í06 and Prince of Persia í08. Fortunately, Tomb Raider í13 wonít have the same reputation as those two reboots.
Iím not going to be dwelling too much on the past of the series, as in many ways this Tomb Raider is an absolute triumph. Crystal Dynamics take Lara Croft, an icon from simpler time in video games, and make her one of the most relevant characters in gaming today. Many contemporary characters come to mind that inspire this new Lara but you canít help but think of The Hunger Gamesí Katniss Everdeen. Itís made massively apparent that she is an inspiration for the new Lara when early in the game you find yourself with a bow and youíre tasked to hunt a deer in the middle of a forest, like Katniss did; so even from the early on in the game they riff off something you may know in order to set a tone. The character trajectory is already set in stone from this point. You know things are going to go bad for this new, young Lara. She will go down a path she never intended.
Our new Lara finds herself somewhere south of Japan on a hidden island and it is up to you to, eventually, sort everything out, since everyone accompanying you seems to have their attention drawn to other things. But the dynamic between all the characters is strong and really creates an unusual relationship that is made more compelling in that you sometimes stumble across Laraís friendsí, acquaintancesí and enemiesí journals dotted around gameís environments which really fill out the characters you deal with, without them knowing. Itís here that the seriesí history is transformed into something much more interesting, with exploration being key to fleshing out the story. This island is full of things to discover.
Environments are approached differently here to past Tomb Raider games. There, the tombs you explored were like puzzle boxes that prescribed a lot of game logic that is silly but is also fun to dive into and figure out, where as with Tomb Raider í13, environments are designed in a way that comes across more natural and organic; they seem like real places. That does mean anyone coming to Tomb Raider í13 with puzzle/platforming expectations may feel a little let down by that, especially as the new Lara doesn't seem to have as varied move-set as she has had in the past to get around the environments, but there are what are regarded as ďOptional TombsĒ in the game that are slightly hidden away that do scratch that itch, though there are only seven of them and are quite small and can be solved relatively quickly. But they are a good addition.
A big change to the series is in the action and the combat. ďA survivor is bornĒ, remember, not an explorer, so action is a bit more prevalent now in Tomb Raider í13. When the action ramps up it is impossible not to see the influence the Uncharted games have had on Tomb Raider. Many say the Uncharted games have made Tomb Raider games obsolete but the reality is they've always been very quite different when you remove the Indiana Jones setting; they have always had very different priorities. Uncharted is a third person action game that focuses a lot on the combat and shooting and Tomb Raider í13 has essentially took the feel of Unchartedís combat system and applied it to their game. I have often felt the combat in Uncharted was too wobbly, unresponsive and unsatisfying due to your character being overly animated, and it is the case here in Tomb Raider í13, too, but since it has a big focus on exploration the game evens out a bit better and youíre rarely too far away from the game calming down and switching up the gameplay into where its strengths are.
The combat not being up to the standard of the best third person shooters isn't a massive issue as it does fit with the tone of the game. Lara is a young woman who has never been in this kind of situation before so giving her the ability to be an efficient soldier from the start would be odd. Unfortunately, they have took this combat system, which is designed in a way to fit a particular character which then fits the context of this story being told, and tried to craft a multiplayer experience with it. This is another example of when publishers have forced a multiplayer mode in a game that just doesn't need one. It just doesn't work.
When you make these kinds of multiplayer games you need to have tight controls with surgically crafted mechanics to stand up to the big guns in this genre. You canít take this flabby combat system and have opponents rolling around a map like everyone is trying to play a shooter on a bouncy castle and expect anyone to have a good time. As a bit of occasional knock-about fun it kind of has some merit but the game has unlocks and ranks like those found in most online shooters. They expect you to actually pump a lot of time into this mode to unlock the rewards; itís designed to waste your time, and I would recommend anyone steer clear of the online multiplayer portion of the game. It is everything wrong with game development right now in 2013.
The only problem with Tomb Raider í13 is that it is very much a game of 2013. As well as the tacked on multiplayer, you will - by the end of the game - have started to unlock new stealth kill abilities which undermine the tone of Tomb Raider í13. What started out as a tale of understandable desperation soon turns into gleeful murder. You fight your way through armed men by throwing dirt in their eyes, anxious shoves off cliffs and desperately picking up a rock and swinging for the bastards; but by the end you are sticking your climbing axe into the top of a guys skulls and unloading half a machine gun magazine into a downed enemy. It doesn't fit and comes across as a product of being a game released in 2013 for 2013ís gamers. Itís only there to look bad-ass in trailers and not to create a unified game where everything fits. I hope they have the confidence to move away from that with the inevitable sequel.
But overall the game is a success in many ways. Lara Croft is now a character with some depth and a strong personality. When bloggers do lists of good female protagonists we will certainly see this new Lara Croft amongst the likes of Jade from Beyond Good & Evil and April Ryan from The Longest Journey, which is a great thing we can take away from Tomb Raider í13. ďA survivor is bornĒ and long may she continue to survive as this new Tomb Raider has the potential to be one of the finest in its genre again.
Iíve been going to the library quite a lot lately. I used to go to study, as Iíve recently moved towns, and into a busier house back with my family and getting any work done from home was difficult. I get terribly distracted at the best of times and overhearing loud conversations, having the latest Rihanna album pumping in the next room or even just having my ten year old sister come and interrupt me and enquire about what Iím up to, then interrupt me again while I explain what Iím doing, and then tell me about whichever friend sheís fallen out with this week for hours. Not actual hours, but whatever measure of time these conversations last it is removing hours from my life. Iíll die younger because of that craic.
I know this is first world problems; Iím not really complaining. Iím just giving some context to why I like to remove myself from this situation.
But I donít need to study anymore as my next module doesnít start until February next year, but I still go to read or do some writing with a bit of peace. People are noisy and obnoxious, and I have a very small attention span so it helps me be a bit more productive.
Well, thatís the idea, but unfortunately that ideal of the quiet library doesnít seem to exist for me now. The main area where most of the books are displayed doesnít have any seating and at the back of the room is a busy section with thirty or so computers, and there is another section down a long hall which does have a large table and chairs is right next to one of the entrances and a helpdesk, so there are people coming, going and enquiring all the time, which also distracts me.
The only option I have left is a large room on the second floor called The Sanctuary. Perfect. A sanctuary; I like the sound of that, itís exactly what Iím looking for.
Essentially itís a large room with a number of sofas at the back and four tables scattered around the room, along with six computers lining the sides, three on each side.
Unfortunately, the environment is ruined by people. There are two women in their early to mid twenties on the sofa, huddled over a mobile phone talking loudly about some happenings on Facebook; there is some guy on a PC in a white t-shirt watching Tupac videos and spitting some rhymes along with him, and there is an elderly bloke across from me with his woolly socks over his trousers, proudly and regularly burping and farting like heís doing us all a favour. And itís at this moment I find this library exactly like Xbox Live.
I donít have an Xbox 360 anymore (RIP) so it was here that I was reminded why I donít play online so much anymore. People having conversations with the mic un-muted with someone else in the room; someone playing their music over the mic, and others being absolutely quiet until they let out an earpiece-shattering belch. It just ruins my enjoyment.
I sound like a grumpy bastard, I know. I never used to be and itís kind of new to me and Iím not sure how to express it properly. Being close to 30 and dealing with this kind of grumpy-ness is like being 14 and dealing with unwanted erections.
But I digress.
But other then reminding me people are dicks, it also reminded me that, well, people are dicks. Online gaming, and more specifically Xbox Live, has come to develop a reputation that we are all aware of. You know, all the racist, sexist, homophobic comments and general dickery that I pointed out above. If I spoke out against any of those people in the library, like if I told the old bloke to be a bit less anti-social and ease those farts out, you know, work that sphincter a bit, Iím sure I would have been called something really offensive if I wasnít a straight, white male; if they didnít say something I suspect they would have thought it, and with the protection of anonymity that comes with XBL it would make those thoughts more likely to leak out.
What Iím trying to get at is why is Xbox Live singled out for the worst part of human nature when even a particular day at the library can bring out the rude? As I pointed at before, anonymity can exacerbate social situations but theyíre not the root cause.
I dunno. Maybe XBL does attract a slightly higher proportion of wankers, but that didnít seem to be the case when I first joined back in 2006. I met loads of great people playing Gears of War, and some I still speak to. Iíd jump into a game and speak to pretty much anyone and usually got a fairly positive response but as the reputation of the XBL gamer became more and more infamous I stopped turning my mic on for online sessions unless I was with someone Iíd previously met, because of dicks I heard about on the internet and didnít come across first hand very often.
It just makes me wonder if the XBL gamer stereotype is a self-fulfilling prophecy. People who arenít arseholes are jumping in games with their mics off and not communicating with each other, and the mouths ruling; theyíre winning. Maybe if I stopped thinking of myself as above the community I could rediscover a love for online gaming by just turning that mic on again because online gaming in 2006 was brilliant.
I may not have a 360 anymore but I may just wipe the dust off my PS3 mic and see if there are any cool folks out there.
There is no doubt Robert Florence opened a can of worms with his Table of Doritos article over at Eurogamer. Most of us know about the article. It was about the relationship between the games press and PR. I wonít go into the contents in detail as you can read it here.
Now Iíd rather be here writing about how awesome Persona 3 is or what I think the direction horror games should go in, but considering what has gone on this week in regards to the gaming press I feel I have to address it.
It has been a disappointing week for someone on the outside, as a reader of the games press; as a member of the audience. I feel let down. I feel that in certain sections of the press there is a lack of respect for its readers. So a number of those readers donít deserve that respect with them being the types of people quick to insult a reviewer if you donít hit the right score, but many, many others silently take on board what has been said in your work. You are trusted. ďIíll wait for the reviewsĒ is something we all hear and read, time and time again.
So when one games journalist practically advertises a game on a personal account to win a PS3 and follows it up with a tweet genuinely not seeing a problem with the practice then we clearly have a trust problem. Iím amazed that this journalist couldnít see a problem. Even if you plan to donate this PS3 to someone else so you donít really get any gain, you still advertised something; not a personal endorsement of something you love, even if it is, as doing so through this kind of stunt looks dishonest. It shows a complete lack of respect to those who follow you on Twitter through liking your work.
This lack of respect also reared its head over at Kotaku where Stephen Totilo rather shamefully talked down to a concerned gamer; the whole situation bringing back memories of when certain newspapers and proper journalists werenít acknowledging the corruption the rest of the population could see during the Leveson enquiry and continued to peddle long lens shots of Suri Cruise or whatever. And here, showing all the bits in a limited edition Xbox 360 was more important than something many readers are currently quite concerned about.
Looking at what Iíve already written I can see that I may be preaching from a high horse, sneering down like a king at a pauper but I do understand how the lines can become blurred in an entertainment press and PR relationship. Weíre hits on some counter, weíre Likes on Facebook, and weíre bullies with bad grammar on Twitter. Weíre statistics.
We are not the personalities you have to deal with day to day and weíre not the people you generally have to maintain some kind of relationship with. And games PR are probably as passionate a gamer than anyone, I mean who else wants to work in the games industry at that level other than a gamer, so having something you both care about in common will likely end up in friendship. This is a persistent relationship that you just wonít have the majority of your readers, so I can see how a relationship with PR can become quite strong, and I totally believe it to be unintentional; people with the same interests connect.
I know this comes across as a buzz kill as some may say itís only video games, we shouldnít be taking them so seriously, but some of us do really care about them. Some of us may look up to some of you as thinkers. The ones whose career it is to think about games and pass those thoughts to the rest of us who perhaps donít have the time to analyse for ourselves due to pesky day-jobs but one of those thoughts may strike us and makes us realise something we never noticed before in a particular game. Then we apply this theory, whatever it is, to other games and start to demand better.
Itís through good criticism you can potentially help make better games, but your readers need to trust you or itís all for nothing.
From the outside it looks like there is a lack of self-awareness in the gaming press with their relationship with industry PR and all I'm asking is to just take a step back every-now and then and consider if you're closer to the industry than you are your readers.
Iíll just say it up front now; when youíre talking about Resident Evil 6 itís hard to not to mention Resident Evil 4. Itís especially hard for me; as to me, RE4 is a game I judge many action shoot-y type games against. I think itís a true benchmark game and after playing the RE6 demo it shows that Capcom are having trouble living up to it.
I think everyone knows the problems with RE6. Weíll start with Leonís section of the demo. Capcom is reported to have wanted to go back to the seriesí roots with Leonís section of the game. Perhaps even harking back to RE2 where intimidating atmosphere and survival horror are the focus of the experience but you donít really get that, but what you do get is the worst of both RE2ís and RE4ís worlds. You get simple corridor environments with not a lot going on. I know itís hard to build up the required tense atmosphere within the contexts of a demo but with Leon and Helenaís abilities I doubt it would ever get as tense as it needs to be to remain engaging. During the section where you are locked in one particular corridor, waiting for a door to open and hordes of zombies burst through the windows to attack itís supposed to be a desperate fight until you can escape, much like on the original Left 4 Dead while waiting for an elevator to come on No Mercy. But since Leon and Helena have such strong melee attacks then youíre never that tense or scared. Iím actually pretty sure Leon could single-handedly deal with all of the zombies with a simple kick to the face then smash their squishy heads with the Diamond Cutter while staggered. Taking the RE4 Leon, then making him more powerful, then putting him into an even more linear game does not make for much fun.
Then, we move onto Chrisís section of the game, which is basically Gears of Resident Evil. But you know what? If it was good I would have been fine with that. Imagine Gears of War but with a lot more eccentric monsters. Itís already kind of there with the stretchy arm guy that pulls you out of cover. Imagine if they removed enemies with guns and just had mutated freaks with weird abilities. Imagine if Shinji Mikami was still on board of the Resident Evil ship. Iíd be so on board with that even if it isnít anything like a traditional Resident Evil game.
But it isnít any of that. What we have is Gears of War but with none of the intuitivism. I canít get over the gameís cover system. Itís shambolic. What is it you do again? Go next to a chest high wall? Hold the ďpoint gunĒ button? Then press X/A to toggle (yes, toggle) between taking cover and popping up to shoot. Iím not one to want uniform controls over all games in the same genre but that just feels unnaturalÖ maybe youíd get used to it, but itís a needless obstacle.
And of course you have the enemy AI, which on multiple occasions on my play through the gun toting zombies jumped out of cover and lurched across the environments like a duck on a carnival shooting range and let me effortlessly take them out. Itís a disaster.
Iím not even going to go into Jakes part. Itís basically somewhere in the middle of the other two characters play styles and has all the same problems accept itís also really fucking dark. I canít decide whether that makes it better or worse, not being able to see the tragedy
But you know what? None of that is the worst thing.
I sometimes struggle to articulate why Iím not a big fan of Resident Evil 5 (though since RE6, it has gone up in my estimation). I usually just point at the compulsory co-op ruining the horror for me and leaving it at that. The game is, at times, as interestingly designed as RE4 with regards to the environments at least, so why is it that I donít think that highly of it?
Playing RE6 and watching some of the trailers made me see whatís missing from RE6 and RE5.
Itís not funny anymore.
I think Resident Evil 4ís humour is a bigger part of what makes it what it is, and what makes it so special to people, even if they donít realise it. RE4 has a humour that doesnít diminish the horror, it compliments it. Itís incredibly Sam Raimi in tone. RE4 jumps from being chased around a claustrophobic and remote village by a chainsaw wielding bastard to being chased around a castle by monks in elaborate gowns with a ball and chain. In another moment youíre running away from the animated statue of a power hungry midget then panicking in the dark, narrow corridors, figuring out how to deal with the chilling and seemingly indestructible Regenerators. RE4 makes you laugh as much as it gets under your skin, and RE5 didnít do that. RE6 certainly doesnít.
Some of the same elements are there in RE5 and 6, such as the silly melee finishers but there isnít the tonal shift. Itís just all mixed or ill thought out, such as in RE5 with the African guys in grass skirts, or Diamond Cutters where the game wants you to take it more seriously. Ultimately, thatís that problem. RE6 wants you to take it seriously if the cut-scenes are anything to go by; all the shouting and drama, but not the unbounded imagination that its predecessor had.
And I do believe that is the problem with the series now. If it was funny; if it had the Raimi style, the creepy, funny, oddly endearing tone to it I think I would still have liked Resident Evil 6, despite its awful controls and nose dive in the quality of level design. I think I would of still held a candle for it if it stayed funny.
I want to thank Polygon. I want to thank them for clearing my eyes. After watching the trailer to their documentary which left me blinking deliriously I have just now opened my eyes to what I should be doing in my blogs, and thatís changing peopleís perception.
And I know Iím the only person who can do this, now. When I was 10 years old we learned of the Vikings and how they came to Britain and purged the existing settlements from Northumbria to East Anglia; burning fire and bleeding death was all there was. When asked to describe and colour in a Saxon village I took my red felt tip pen and painted the ground a violent red, to symbolise the blazes and the running blood that were sure to spread, as history dictates.
All my classmates drew green grass; their perception narrow, literal and uniform.
My teacher, also confused, shouted at me for colouring in wrong, but I knew my perception was right and beyond his comprehension even at a young age.
I continued to challenge peopleís perceptions when I used to draw comics as a teenager, where I would take a man and who is an angry by nature and give him blue skin. Not red skin, the colour of anger, passion and warning, but blue. This, I feel, would challenge you becauseÖ of oppositesÖ andÖ stuff.
I must admit, even after studying The Simpsonsí skin colour for over 10 years I dunno whatís going on there.
Finally, as I stand in the kitchen, thinking about what to write, getting a drink, I realise even I still get my perceptions challenged. In my hand is a glass of cream soda, but itís not ordinary cream soda; it is green; bright green, like the green of a traffic light. Not clear in colour like all the other cream sodas, but green.
You take a drink and you go ďmmm, tastes like normal, clear cream sodaĒ and then you look at the glass and its fucking green!
So the point Iím trying to make is I want my blog to be a bottle of green cream soda, and I will endeavour to this. When I think about games now, I do so in the kitchen with a glass of green cream soda, looking out the window with my eyes crossed and really challenging perception. I have to do this for the three people who read my blogs, and if I donít then who will? All the green grass colour in-ers?
No. I donít think so.
My kitchen floor could do with a clean, but like Polygon made me see there are many eyes to clean first. There are other eyes to massage and challenge, and I believe only I can do that.