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Executive Editor for the fledgling alternative gaming news site, GamingDeath.com.

Aspiring game journalist, motorcycle enthusiast, villainous rogue, and lover of all things gaming.
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(The following blog was originally posted as an article on GamingDeath.com. You can find a link to the original here.) 

Video games, as a medium, are very much the product of an affluent, Westernized society. This is something we don’t think about nearly all that often: the concept that the technological advance of Western culture (and Japan, which bears many marks of Westernization) is solely to thank for making gaming even possible. Instead, we tend to take gaming for granted, when in reality there are few countries and cultures outside the developed world that have access to an infrastructure which even allows playing games, let alone developing them.

This is something I tried to keep very carefully in mind when I first started up Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta – Episode One, which I’d purchased on Steam. But it wasn’t enough to keep me from bursting out into laughter when my character suddenly fell through the ground, for literally no reason at all, and died. Or again when his over-exaggerated PS1-styled motions made me question what gaming generation I was in. Or even two hours later when the worst driving controls imaginable had me drunkenly bashing my character’s car into the wall repeatedly while the game told me to “Escape from the police”! I ended up enjoying it for the same reason I enjoy watching the 2004 Punisher film – it’s utterly terrible.

You see, Unearthed is the first ever game to be developed by Saudi Arabia’s first ever game development company, Semaphore. And as is to be expected from an industry just getting off the ground, the game is total garbage in nearly every way. Because if you give a Victorian-era English gentleman a modern day laptop and tell him to build a website, you shouldn’t be surprised if it comes out looking like a geocities fan page from the 90’s: too bright to read, and covered in shitty gif animations.

The basic concept for the game is sound enough: you play as renowned ‘fortune hunter’ Farris Jawad as he and his sister Dania (hijab intact, of course) travel throughout the Islamic world raiding tombs, shooting mercenaries, and solving puzzles as they work to uncover some kind of terrifying historical secret hidden by Ibn Battuta, the famous 14th-century Muslim explorer. It’s obviously a pretty blatant ‘Uncharted’ rip-off with a heavy Islamic flavor to it, but the gameplay is surprisingly varied and it should provide an interesting take on gaming in general, correct? And considering this is only the first episode of a five part series, that should inspire some confidence, yes?



Actually, no. Instead, what follows is a cogently comical mess that continues to remind you how green Semaphore really is at development. Jumping at a wall results in you dive-rolling out of the world and into death. The game has a zombie survival horde mode for no discernible reason. Invisible walls keep you from doing any actual platforming outside of what the game wants you to. The characters are modeled better than PS2 era characters would be, but act worse in cutscenes than Leon did in Resident Evil 2. Dialogue is drowning in spelling and grammar errors. The game tries so hard to make Islamic history sound interesting that it comes off sounding like a bad 80’s history special (which is especially funny, because in retrospect, it doesn’t seem that hard to do). There’s no dedicated button to control how fast you move running or walking; your speed is arbitrarily dictated by the game itself. There’s a sort of ‘free’ camera that will awkwardly move right back to its default location no matter how much you fight it. And these are just HALF of the things I could point out that are wrong with the game.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “Man, glad I’m never going to play that piece of stupid bullshit!,” right? Well, I don’t blame you, but there are a few reasons why I would argue that you should instead play this game as soon as possible. Crazy, yeah? Hear me out on this.

First off, yes the game really is THAT broken, no exaggeration. Which is actually kind of amazing in its own right and the game in fact deserves to be enjoyed solely on that principle. The gaming world has come quite a ways in just the past several years, and we often take for granted just how awesome that advancement really is, especially when we’re quick to criticize a game for having any type of inherent flaw or fault. Unearthed is fun because it’s incredibly disarming in how BAD it is, making you hard-pressed to take it seriously, let alone keep from laughing at all as the game bumbles from catastrophe to catastrophe. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had playing a game in quite a while, and it really has to be experienced to be believed.



Secondly, even with everything going to shit right from the get-go, you can tell that a ton of love went into producing the game. It boasts a whopping 21 languages of subtitles and voice-over to choose from, and you can really feel the enthusiasm the creators have for the Islamic world, culture, and history, even if they try a little too hard to make you love it too. It’s just great to see them having so much fun in creating their game world, which makes it a little sad that it obviously doesn’t translate to the game being any good. Still, I found myself greatly appreciating the game itself and the tiny development team’s effort regardless of how ‘good’ the final product may have ended up.

Lastly, and this is likely the most important point, is that this game represents the first major effort from serious gamers in the Islamic world to get a gaming industry off the ground in that culture and society. Games are great in that they can bring people together from all walks of life to share stories and experiences in ways no other medium can, and restricting that to a western-centric world will only stifle the evolution and growth of the artistic medium. Having more voices and perspectives feeding into the industry and community can only be a good thing, just as it has been for film and literature. I personally have nothing but respect for these guys in attempting to do this entirely on their own. Who cares if their first game is total crap!? They probably tried harder in developing it than most people will ever try at anything in their entire lives! Get them some money and support so they can build up their industry and - for God’s sake - actually become skilled at game development.

The game is $4 on Steam right now, and for that you get three hours of awesome gaming. Take it from me. Go download the game on Steam, grab a beer, and strap yourself in for this Kafka-esque disaster of game design, because it’s a damn bumpy ride.

(Mr.Popadopoulis is a writer and editor for the fledgling gaming blog site Gaming Death, where he goes by the name Kaleb Medel. You can find this article and others by Mr.Popadopoulis and his friends on the original site. Check us out!)
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(The following blog was originally posted as an article on GamingDeath.com back in August of 2013. You can find a link to the original here.)



Four months ago, I stumbled up the staircase in our house and down the hall to my bedroom with my cellphone still clutched in my hands, before brushing open the door, traipsing across the carpet, and dropping my rear onto my bed. In my mind, it felt like my entire world was starting to fall apart, that the four walls of my humble chamber were slowly closing in on me. I sat there crumpled up, my eyes still stuck on the phone, unsure of what to do with myself, let alone of how I was supposed to move on with my life. For complicated reasons to lengthy to recount here, I had just said goodbye to my best friend for what I knew would be the last time.

My friend and roommate Harry sat working at his desk by the opposite wall, turning to see me emotionally collapsing in on myself. He asked me a few questions, trying to get a sense of what was wrong, and like the demure jerk that I was, I rebuffed most of them. No, I’m not doing very well. I’d rather not talk about it. Because everything sucks. I just don’t want to have to think. No, I’m not going in to work tonight. I don’t care.

Harry stared at the darkness outside the window quizzically, silently for a few minutes before finally replying: “…Do you want to play Persona 4?”

“…Sure.”



Ten minutes later, I had called in sick to my graveyard-shift job, we each had a cold beer in hand, and I was tromping through a dungeon that resembled a strip joint with my rag-tag party of teenage characters, cutting down monsters and collecting loot. There was something inherently comforting in strolling through that other world, like going on an adventure with close accomplices. It had nothing to do with going somewhere with less complicated problems, or where things ‘made sense’ – these four friends were fighting for their lives in a twisted dungeon, trying to save the life of another and get to the bottom of a supernatural murder-mystery, all the while holding down schoolwork, jobs, and social lives – but more to do with being in control of that other world, of the ability to handle situations and issues within this closed environment, surrounded by friends, while my own mind and soul worked through my real-life issues of sorrowful loss. Whatever the case, it got me through that first and most painful of nights as I came to pick myself up and carry on through my sorrow.

***

There are particular games forever etched upon my mind for their aid in getting me through some of the darkest moments of my life. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas helped me work out my frustrations in moving to a new town during high school, where I had zero friends and was bullied by the other players for being last string on the football team (apparently just trying my hardest wasn’t good enough). In my first year of college, on the night of a massive, emotionally-charged break-up with a longtime girlfriend, I pushed my homework off for a day so I could delve into Zelda: The Minish Cap on my recently dusted-off GBA. A couple of years later, upon returning from a semester studying at a sister college in Seattle and leaving all of my new friends with a heart-breaking goodbye, I spent my Christmas break losing myself in the desert wastelands of Pandora in the original Borderlands. Along with countless other stories I could tell, I know you gamers out there could likely drown me in your own stories of painful loss and stressful life situations in which some of your favorite games helped you to cope and pull through.



The level on which videogames function allow them to work in this way for a whole host of separate reasons, most unique to the medium itself. The concept of immersing yourself in another world that can ensnare sight, sound, touch, and mind is enough for some people to be able to completely forget about their problems and lose themselves to the game. For others, it’s simply about being in a world where you actually have a sense of control, and where failure is dictated by mistakes on the part of the player that are clearly relayed and explained visually. For some, it’s merely the comfort of friendly and familiar faces, of being able to spend time with those that you can connect with through their personalities and stories, even if they aren’t real in a physical sense. Other people enjoy being able to focus their peripheral mind and senses on an enjoyable story, challenge, or quest while their inner mind works out whatever real-life issue they’re dealing with. Whatever your personality type, as long as you’re not so frustrated and challenged that the game is detestable, games can at least provide a comforting distraction or encouragement from other issues, if not outright providing a platform in which we can work through them.

As games have continued to evolve in their artistic and storytelling capacity, they have even come to infringe upon books and movies in the way they can affect those in the grieving process. Certain games these days, such as the aforementioned Persona 4, are interested in exploring the lives of ordinary people, in explication and discussion of personal and social issues that affect us from day-to-day. Some of your characters in that title consist of: a young tomboy girl inwardly obsessed with her own beauty, attractiveness, and overall acceptance as a woman; another girl, shy and reserved, struggling to break free of the oppressive family she is part of, where heirs are expected to continue running the family inn (oldest in Japan) for their entire lives; and a belligerent young man who can take on whole gangs by himself, but who hides feminine qualities and struggles with a questionable sexual orientation that is purposely left ambiguous. As other games have begun to explore these and other more personal issues, they become much more relatable to the average person, and can even function in helping us deal with these issues, just as literature has been doing for centuries.

I often write of the many benefits gaming can have on our daily lives, usually tied to how games have evolved over the past few decades, but none are more meaningful to me than this particular topic. As I stated in the article about comedy in games, life is a difficult and beautiful mess, a jumble of both good and bad memories and experiences, of ups and downs that build us up into the people we are. The better equipped we are to handle those experiences and challenges, the more we grow and mature as people, and the more we can beneficially contribute to not just building our own lives, but the lives of others. I see no greater benefit to videogames than the incredible and numerous ways through which they can teach us to be human: how to love, how to laugh, how to be a friend, how to care for and support others in good times and bad, and how to handle the complicated and occasionally overwhelming world that we live in. I know for certain that as they grow to better equip us to deal with, and to see us through, our most difficult moments in life, they will continue to contribute to a better society and enrich our lives.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my security office in the wee hours of the morning, editing with the help of some melancholy jazz. I happen to be in one of those places in life again, and the past few days have been really rough. Coincidentally, a job where you have the wonderful amount of free time to write that I do also happens to be the worst for these situations, as I can easily spend countless hours just stewing in my own emotions if I’m not careful.

Luckily, I just grabbed Metro 2033 on a Humble Bundle sale last night, which I’ve been meaning to play for a long time. I think I’ll be okay.

(Mr.Popadopoulis is a writer and editor for the fledgling gaming blog site Gaming Death, where he goes by the name Kaleb Medel. You can find this article and others by Mr.Popadopoulis and his friends on the original site. Check us out!)
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