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1:43 AM on 08.20.2010

Final Fantsy Om Nom: Crisis Core [Shortblog]

So here's the deal,

As I progress closer and closer to the launch of this site I'm rolling out, which will only be mentioned once more on this blog, I promise, I'm more and more considering doing this kind of thing for a living. This being writing for video games, whether that's writing scripts, reviews, blogs, podcasts, or comics; the possibility of games as a career is becoming more and more prominent in my mind.

And this contemplation of my future has lead to thinking about the life my future son might have, and this is where I arrive at the eponymous crisis of conscience. Do I allow my son to play games?



My, and probably many of your instinctual answers is of course yes. Let him experience the worlds that games can open, let his imagination run wild in them, let him blow shit up. But the immediate next thought, at least in my head, is that while games give so much, they also tend to impede or take. I truly believe that my social skills would be a great deal stronger had I played half the games I did as a kid.

So we arrive at an impasse, do I let him play the games he wants to, or encourage more sports and social stuff and build his people skills? Well luckily for me, we don't live in a world of absolutists (sith). I can let him have the best of both worlds, I can regulate his time.

But this introduces a third problem, that being that if I strictly regulate how he spends his time, I'm then solving what are really his problems for him. I take the responsibility from him, and he then loses out on how to think for himself. It's like being punished too much by overbearing parents, if they constantly correct what they believe to be problematic behavior, you lose your ability to do so on oyur own because you've never really needed it.

So here are my options,

- Let my spawn play games and possibly damage his people skills.

- Don't let him and close him off to some truly amazing flights of fancy, as well as betray a part of myself a little.

- Give him both and regulate his time and possibly damage his ability to improve himself on his own.

This isn't really much of a blog, it's more me spewing words onto "paper", but it's something I'm actually kinda concerned about. Now I realize I won't have to worry about it for a good ten years or so, but I feel it's something I might have to really consider. All this and I'm gonna have to feed the little fucker. Personally I'm owing towards kinda informing him of the consequences and then letting him make his own choice, but I'm genuinely interested which you guys would chose. And you can't chose my answer.

~ Om nom nom nom...

I read this shit over and it's really, really serious. Watch this, you'll feel less heavy-hearted.   read


3:06 AM on 08.18.2010

Agency and You. And Them.

So here's the deal,

I recently caught myself up on the awesome that is our pertaining-to-this-website's-writer-roster late Reverend. I listened to the lecture he gave at Berkeley about the difficulties of character development in games, and it got me to thinking, I should write a blog with a buzz word in the title. People will read it and think I'm smart. So here we are.



So yes. Agency and you. And them. In this case, them refers to developers. More specifically, the amount of agency they allow within their game. For thos of you who are like me circa last week and need a definition of agency, it's basically like a player's autonomy inside a game, their inherent ability to chose what to do because of a game's interactive nature. Anthony's talk was about the dissonance created when the player's agency and the protagonists interest don't line up, and how that factors into choice and story.

He focused mainly on how games deal with this dissonance, how much space they are willing to give a player in their story. For example, he mentioned No Russian and how it annoyed him when he was given no explanation for why he couldn't kill the terrorists right then and there and prevent the massive massacre which was acceptable and necessary to his character but monstrously evil to Anthony as a player. He also mentioned choices where neither option appeals to you, but you simply must progress because the only other option is to not play anymore, and how situations like that should be avoided.

To me though, these aren't a necessity, they aren't a hill every game must climb. I don't need a reason for a lack of agency, I don't even really need agency that much in terms of story, what I do need is skillful storytelling.

If a writer is skilled enough at their craft, they should be able to write the story and characters in such a way that your agency is never infringed upon. This is not to say that you, the player, should have infinite authority over your character or story, far from it. A skilled writer should never infringe upon your agency because they should be skilled enough at their craft to guide your agency, to manipulate it.



I wrote an article that followed this same idea a while back, where basically I wanted to be convinced that the evil choices were the correct; I wanted the writer to guide me down an evil path that I walked willingly, thinking I was doing good or ultimately necessary things.

We have a very unique opportunity with our medium to not only experience places and events which we normally wouldn't, but emotions too. Movies and books can do this as well; take for example your experience in that galaxy far far away. But with games it's different, you're doing, not seeing. It's one thing to see someone suck the life out of a 8 year old girl only to become more powerful.It's quite another to do so yourself. It's another entirely to do so thinking what you're doing is right, to really line up our emotions with what we're doing in a complete and ideally unnoticeable way.

Inception, for example, was very good at this. I felt the way the characters felt the entire way through. When *Infinitesimally small spoiler alert* they all woke up on the plane at the end, I even felt as if I myself had just awoken from a dream even though the characters and I were effectively awake the whole time. This unfortunately, is where movies have the leg up, though, and it's kind of counter intuitive. Because movies aren't interactive, because we don't have to chose and because we don't have to bring our morals into their situations, it's much more easy to accept everything the movie is telling you because it's not happening to you, it's happening in front of you, around you, the situation is not asking you to bring in your morals and proceed as you would.



Games have a harder time.of this obviously because they have to compete with a player's moral code and opinions and principals. The solution is to pull just enough wool over our eyes to cloud your vision of the writer's actual agenda while giving you enough to think everything is proceeding normally. Unfortunately this is a very difficult balance to strike.

The crux of my point is this; most people chose to harvest the Little Sisters because they operated under the excuse that they were just doing it for the power or to act like an asshole, but imagine if Bioshock had convinced you that harvesting was the right thing to do, in stead of just leaving it up to your decision.

I really want this to become a reality too. I want to do evil thinking I'm doing right, I want to explore emotions that I wouldn't normally explore not just for the sake of a break in convention, but because the game made me think they were the right emotions to feel. I want a game to basically perform inception on me. I want to feel these emotions, I don't want to chose them anymore. And of course I want to have the subsequent and mandatory matrix philosophy arguments afterwards about the illusion of choice.



To me, this is the area where games can expand the most, I would even say the future of emotional gaming if I were a less modest man. We've had games that can show us, we've had games that can move us, now we need games that can convince us.

~ Om nom nom nom...   read


2:59 AM on 08.17.2010

Danke, Merci, Xie Xie, Gracias, Arigato and Thank You [Shortblog]

So here's the deal,

For those of you who pay attention, it's been over a week now since my last post, and that interview doesn't technically count as my own. To that end, I apologize, I like to think I'm more committed to this blog than that. The only reason that I can offer is that I've been conceptualizing a lot. I've recently been putting the finishing touched on a concept for a website I'll be rolling out some time in the near future. I won't post a link for two reasons, first because I prefer to believe I'm above shameless self promotion, and second because the domain name isn't actually mine yet. Anyway, the planning stages of this endeavor are much more involved than I originally believed, mostly because those planning stages involve teaching myself to draw from scratch. Yeah. Turns out I can't diffuse artistic ability from another's brain simply by literally putting two heads together. That shit needs to be practiced.



Anyway, the real reason I'm writing this blog is to thank you. Yes, you. Since I joined Destructoid, I was much more insular than I thought I would be; I focused completely on my own work here and very little on anyone else's save for a select few. I realized that this approach was both isolationist and selfish, so over the past week or so I've really forced myself to read your blogs and comment meaningfully, to share in this community in a more substantial way than just the occasional rant.

What I discovered is rather wonderful, although not unexpected. It takes very little effort to get deeper into a community in which I thought myself already quite entrenched. Commenting and conversing with you people has been even more rewarding than I expected, and just as easy. It is not a grind at all to make myself part of the comment roll and actually get to know each of you a little better, and for that, I thank you.

You proved to me that this truly is one of if not the greatest communities on the web. I was essentially a lurker for the last couple weeks. Now I like to think I'm a contributer, and the transition could not have been easier or more gratifying. Thank you Destructoid, thank you for showing me you are every inch the community that you're lauded as, and welcoming a complete stranger you've known for the past five months.

~ Om nom nom nom...   read


4:08 AM on 08.09.2010

A Night of Drinking and Game Narrative

So here's the deal,

A couple months back, back when I was just a wee lad taking his first steps into the big, scary, and often awesome-laden world of the c-blogs, I wrote a rather inflammatory post about how story in games was an absolute necessity. I have since reformed my view, I now view it as more of an extremely delicious peppercorn seasoning on top of a game steak. The thing is, I could never really see the main reason behind a story, apart from the obvious plot. I always kind of thought there was an extrinsic benefit to it all, something that wasn't as plainly obvious as all the exposition and character development.

I think I actually stumbled across it. I think I may have found the answer to the question that's been nagging at the back of my mind ever since I started playing games. And I found it in I think the stupidest possible way. I'd like to preface this however with the fact that I realize that I'm maybe and probably like the last person to come across this little tidbit of gaming closure, so if you think you're happy with your relationship with story in games, I invite you to get out of my blog. Forever. Don't even take a bagel. That's right, I'm an asshole now. WHAT OF IT?!?!?!? Ahem - However if you are curious, stick around, there's a story coming up. With alcohol. Then Barf. Pumped yet? Me too,



So yeah, today we start of with a story. And I'll introduce this one like every single one of its preceding brothers with the same joke that I for some reason think is still funny: Pull up a chair kids, cuz it's about to get narrative up in this bitch, BRING THE PROSE!!!

It's a sunny friday evening in a little Canadian town called Vancouver. The sun was out, the birds were chirping, and the pompous assholes in their Prius-es with their "BC - The best place on Earth" vanity plates had their noses turned decidedly upward. Young Om Nom was on his way to Commercial street to meet up with some friends, the plan for the night included copious amounts of alcohol followed by some hopefully productive time at a nightclub. And when I say productive, I mean sexually. However, the night took a turn for the worse when young Om Nom was peer pressured into "catching up" with his not-nearly-as-far-ahead-of-him-drunkwise-as-he-thought friends, so he hit the Bacardi like... something that gets hit really hard. Now sufficiently sauced, young Om Nom left the house with his friends and - POOF! that's where young Om Nom's memory kinda ends. Oh right, I promised mention of barf. Well there was some splatter on young Om Nom's shoes and a pretty terrible taste in his mouth when he woke up the next morning. He kinda connected the dots. You enjoy young Om Nom's pain don't you, DON'T YOU?!?!?

Now what was the point of that mildly entertaining story? Well it's either that or a severe case of seasonal affective disorder that put me in the mindset or lack thereof which led me to my revelation in the way I look at story, which I promise is forthcoming. You look confused. I'm not surprised. Bear with me, you're almost there.



Yes, it was either the resulting massive drop in brain cell count that followed that night or the fact that it's cloudy in Vancouver for the first time in about a month that's put me in the cerebral slump that resulted in this finding. Basically for the past several days, I've been unable to focus on anything other than what I'm staring directly at. My world has been completely tunnel visioned to the point where the days are kinda starting to blur together in my memory. It is all together a very odd feeling.

I promise the sentiment I'm trying to express is far less emo than the following sentence, but over the past couple of days, I feel like I've been living a life without context. With a near-complete lack of ability to acknowledge or contemplate the existence of anything that's not right in front of my face, this past weekend was a complete blur, devoid of any motivation to really do or think about anything.

Essentially, my life over the past while could have used what I've discovered a good game story provides: context, setting.

Red Faction Guerillla is an example of a game that does not do this well, but perfectly illustrates my point. The story in RF:G is very secondary to the gameplay, it's more just a passing reason to do what you're doing than anything else. And in this particular case, that's completely fine. The gameplay is strong enough to sustain it as a game, story is not needed. A story would be a bonus, but it's not necessary. This is the nature of our medium; the inherent interactivity means that we don't need plot development to enjoy ourselves, gameplay can sustain us.



Here's what a story would do though, were there to be a prominent one in RF:G. It would give the game universe a much more solidified setting; it would give it a context. I'm only mildly aware that I'm on Mars at all, and I'm completely unclear on my character's specific motivations or those of the people around him. Insert a story, and suddenly all these problems go away. You have a universe that feels lived in, a universe that feels solid, a universe grounded in a setting in stead of floating passingly through an indeterminate one.

I tend to find that in games that have very little story, I consider the in-game universe to begin and end with the portion of my character's life that I have control over. It's like, when I turn off or finish the game, that universe no longer exists because there isn't enough context to sustain that universe when I'm not in it. My perception of reality has been very similar to the story in RF:G, a mere reason or cause for me to be where I am or do what I'm doing at any given moment, nothing beyond that.

My normal perception of reality can then be compared to a game like Oblivion or Mass Effect, where story and plot are near paramount. Those universes feel lived in, they feel like they could be real in some far off galaxy. I'm very aware that the story of that game happened before I got there and will continue after I leave. The planets or towns feel like they are inhabited by actual people, whom I am completely aware have things to do outside of show up to enrich my playing experience every so often. There's enough information there to sustain that universe's existence past the confines of my time in-game, and completely enrich the time I do spend in it.



In it's most boiled down form, my point is this: a well constructed story, and the exposition that accompanies it, should give the player the feeling that the events, people, and places in a given game are not simply there for their sake, that the existence of those people places do not simply begin and end with the player's glance.

In a sense, we are lucky in that we have a medium that can produce titles that are exceptional without even coming close to touching a story, plot, or exposition, and that is why those things are bonuses. But in another sense, story and exposition are completely necessary. To me, it's very difficult to create a living breathing universe without some kind of story telling, and a living breathing universe is a major asset to any game deep enough to support one.

So there it is. A night of barely remembered drinking and two days spent in mentally suspended animation have yielded a difficult to understand and almost unnecessary point. And apparently some passing Beyamor-calibre self deprecation, me for the win. Seacrest, out!



~ Om nom nom nom...   read


6:16 AM on 07.18.2010

Gaming's Biggest Failure

So here's the deal,

I would like to start by saying that the past week spent without a single post was a cold and frightening one indeed. It's the longest I've gone without posting something over the last 5 months, and I endeavor not to repeat a feat so heinous. On that note, hello destructoid, it's been far, far too long. How was your week?

On a more self-centered note, shut up, I don't care how your stupid week went, Om Nom's turn to talk. YAY! Prepare to be slapped with opinions both ridiculous and repetitive. Yes, slapped.

So if you've read more than three of my blog posts over the past 5 months, you'll know that I think the most important thing a game can do is make you care. Whether it's about the story, the characters, your actions, your reputation, if you care about any one of these enough, that caring can pretty much carry you through any negatives a game may present, within reason of course. I was contemplating this when I stumbled across a major omission from this list. Across my entire time playing video games, I have never cared about my or one of my protagonist's mortality in the context of a game.



This is I think the cause of many of the statements regarding gamers' apathy towards mortality. Not only do we tirelessly slaughter countless other "people" in games on a daily basis, but more importantly we rush into this slaughter with no concept of self preservation, at least not for the right reasons.

You don't hate being killed in a game because you've just died, you hate it because it's inconvenient. It means you have to back-track, you have to lose ten minutes of hard played game time, or your stats have to take a hit. The fact that your character, an established being with feelings, opinions, and motivations all their own, has just died is completely secondary to the fact that you're gonna have to clear that fucking room again or beat that fucking boss again.

And this to me is completely unbelievable. How is it that in the near four decades spent playing games have we not come across a single title that makes us care about the only thing that has remained constant over those 40 years: ourselves?

The player is the only constant in gaming, it goes without saying. The only thing that every single video game in history has in common with every other is input by the player, and somehow, the little detail about making them care about themselves or the characters they play got lost in the mix.



There is only one game that has created a character so vivid and influential on my own values that I took time to consider their input or existence in the game as separate from my own, and that's GTA IV. Nico Bellic was so... real that I felt bad for him, not for myself, at the end of the game. In my ending, it was Roman who died, and I felt worse that Nico had lost a family member than I as the player and Nico's controller had.

If a game could make a player genuinely care about their avatar's capability to die, whether that avatar is a faceless hero or a full fledged narrative character, it would add unparalleled depth to any story or choice making system. Suddenly, it's not only what do I want, but what do we want. Are we fighting for the right reasons, am I right or is he? These questions would force a player to look deeper into their character's fundamental personality and views and weigh them against their own. This would be the closest we could come in real life to DNA digivolving or that process that merged megaman and his operator in the god awful American mega man anime that was on like 7 years ago.

Unfortunately though, no game has gotten to this point yet; no game has reached that most crucial junction in this process and made me feel bad because my actions while controlling a character got them killed. And why is this? Is it because there are no worthy characters? Of course not, Nico Bellic was more than capable of supporting this kind of caring, in fact really any likable character can, but it is literally the second most constant part of games that is the biggest block to this incredible opportunity: the game over.



Those words live in infamy with us. They mean insufficient skill, they mean bad luck, they mean inconvenience, they mean you're dead, they mean, simply, that you failed. Except they don't. Our worst affectable (I think that's a word) consequence imaginable is really nothing more than a minor inconvenience. If you're saving "smartly," you won't lose more than five minutes of play time. Less if you're like me and save constantly.

There is no consequence to a game over. If anything it actually improves your game because it allows you to learn from your mistakes, then redo what you screwed up. It's like writing a test and having the prof grade each question the second you finish it, and you can go back and correct any you get wrong. There are no permanent consequences to a game over, nothing to convince you that dying is a bad thing in any way shape or form.

The worst part though is that the amount of solutions to this problem are severely limited. Yeah you can do as many games have and introduce similarly meaningless consequences to death, but again, you then care that you died because you lost a couple hundred bucks to hospital bills or because you lost all your guns, not because you let your sole link to the world of this game perish. Really the only way to make a player care about their in-game mortality is to open up the possibility of permanent character death. I know where your mind went, and ME2 didn't do this right, obviously. One extremely small window for permanent character death doesn't count. It needs to be a frequent possibility.



But this too is destined to fail. No one is going to pay for two or more voice actors to voice protagonists who may never even be needed, nor are they going to pay to write as many different POVs or branching stories. This problem, which to me is a significant one, really has no viable solution, and that's really quite sad. I care about the secondary characters for no reason other than their personalities. I took Thane and Grunt into combat with me not because they complemented my Sheperd the most but because they were my favourite characters. When Legion died I was sad because I had lost a teammate and ally, not because I'd lost an expert hacker.

Devs and writers have become quite expert about making us care about every element of their games, from stories to causes, characters to choices, even "the public's" opinion of us in games like Fable and GTA. It's endlessly sad to me that they've failed in the most crucial spot though; they can't make me care about me simply for me, not because dying means I have to back track or find my favourite gun again. They don't, as of yet, have the ability to make death it's own consequence.

~Om nom nom nom...   read


5:26 AM on 07.11.2010

How to Do the Faceless Hero Right

So here's the deal,

The faceless hero is a protagonist you've no doubt played, they've been around for a while now, popularized most notably by the Master Chief and Gordon Freeman. Obviously the objective of this kind of character is to allow the player to more easily immerse theirself into the game, to allow them to literally put them into their character's shows.

The main problem with this though is that without a choice system, it's difficult to build a narrative around this kind of character; if the player has no input on the story and the character they play is simply a vessel for that player, there really isn't any room there to insert a plot. Take the Master Chief for example; criticize his lack of personality and any Halo player worth his salt will quickly refer you to the books, where his character is "much more fleshed out."

I don't really view this as a point for the character though; if you can't work a character into a plot within its original medium, they're simply not that great a character. If I said that Anakin Skywalker wasn't a whiny angsty power hungry bitch, it would be hard to justify grounding my argument outside the movies to anyone that's not a "hardcore" Star Wars fan who's read into the extended universe. The point is, the fact that the most interesting parts of the Chief's character take place outside the games says a lot about how undeveloped he is, when he very possibly could be.



I'll give you an example. There's a Joe Sacco graphic novel called Palestine; it's an account of true events told through a comic strip from the point of view of Sacco on his 3 month long trip through Palestine. The point of the book is to give readers insight into the point of view of the less-frequently-sided-with-than-the-Israelis Palestinians. Just like a lot of games, it's a one-sided and some what small-scale viewpoint of a much larger conflict, but it's told through a character with their own opinions and allegiances. Even in Halo this is the case; the Chief is the prototypical faceless hero, and he has his own emotions and views.

Just like in Halo, though, in Palestine, Sacco encourages us to form our own opinions, because as a journalist, that is his primary goal with the book. It's even in the art style, as Sacco's character's eyes have no pupils, all but begging the reader to insert theirs. The immersion is seamless; it instantly becomes I think that's awful, that looks terrifying to me. So while we have enough of a character here to satisfy the need for a functioning protagonist, their influence is small enough to allow us to create a very nearly unpersuaded view of our own.

Another example of a successful faceless hero is in the Digital Anvil space sim Freelancer. In the game, you play as Edison Trent, the eponymous freelancer thrust into the middle of a literally galaxy-wide conflict. Just like Sacco and Chief, his influence on the story is minor, he (along with the player) are essentially dragged along for the ride, in fact it almost feels like you're being led around on a leash. I still haven't decided how I feel about that, but I digress. The point is that in Freelancer, you're given freedom. Not so much choice as freedom, I think that's an important distinction. Choice is more of an instance by instance thing, where as freedom is a kind of sandbox game feel, and that's definitely what Freelancer is.


Imaging an average of 2 - 3 planets and 3 space stations for each of these systems, big fuckin place

You are given the complete freedom to progress through the game as you wish; with the exception of one example I'll mention later, you can drop in and out of the story as you please, work for any of the dozens of factions, fly any kind of ship you want excluding capitol (capital?) ships, be a smuggler, a pirate, a member of the navy or police of any of the 4 nations, endlessly customize your ship's weapons and auxiliaries, the list goes on.

What freelancer does really well is that it gives the universe tons of back story, so you don't come in without a context, but it introduces you to the character which is very much yours at a point in his life where everything is fresh. You develop relationships and allegiances at the same pace that Trent does, so they feel like your friends, your opinions, and most prominently, your ship.

The semi-unrelated point I said I'd come back to is that even with all this freedom, it does not suffer from the same condition as COUNTLESS RPGs do in that when the story gets focused near the end, you lose the ability to refuse the missions, because there's urgency, something is threatening life as we know it, so no, you're not allowed to go kill a couple razorbats or direwolves to get some more money and level up just once more, there's shit needs doin!


I can't tell you how many times I've used this image over the past 4 months. ugh

The final element of a good faceless hero is epitomized in Bioshock. While it's true that Jack doesn't have much of a character of his own, the firs tperson viewpoint of the game really emphasizes the fact that things are happening to you. That is a very important je ne sais quoi for a faceless hero; while they need their own character, the goal of of this type of character is immersion, so the goings on in the game still need to feel like their occurring to the player, not the character. This is one of those very difficult to define qualities of a game that is really achieved through competent design, as well as strong atmosphere. Another game that did this well was the game I swore I wouldn't mention by name in a faceless hero article because it's SOOOOOO cliche (imagine an accent agu over the e there).

Unfortunately, this POV is an easy one to mess up. While great gameplay wise, the chief as a character isn't really that great in the games, and the books shouldn't be able to compensate for that. Nomad in Crysis also flopped as a character, as did Bioshock's Jack, even though he did one thing very right. It seems then that there are really 3 main requirements to making the right faceless hero; They need a face that's not too big, it has to grow with yours, and it has to feel like yours, through freedom or otherwise. At the end of the day though the main thing is this: it's a light touch that crafts the face, a small chisel, not a hammer.

~ Om nom nom nom...   read


7:08 PM on 07.06.2010

Why no love, man? [Short-ish blog]

So here's the deal,

I've noticed recently that there have been a lot of contests rolling out on the site, and each one promises some cool gamer cred-erific prize to the winner. And so, each time I get a little excited because winning one of these is actually an achievable goal. It's not left up to chance like a lottery; whether or not I win is completely dependent on the effort and amount of skill or creativity I put into my entry. Each one is a chance to stretch my imagination and create something a little unique, and that in and of itself is kinda awesome. But the best part is that if I do really well, I'll get sent swag for doing something that's completely enriching all on it's own, it's a wild experience.



Or it would be, if I didn't live in the cold, dank, beaver-ridden cesspool that is the contest dead zone of America's hat. While you might say "Om Nom, isn't free healthcare enough for you, ya god damn Canuck poutine-eating 'aboot'-sayin negotiation monkey?!?"

No, no it's not.

I realize that it's probably a legal/licensing thing vaguely similar to why we can't get Hulu up here either, but I think that if this is something that can be changed, it should be. There is actually a surprisingly large number of Canadians and other international users around the site, especially in the c-blogs, and I think it's unfair to exclude such a large amount of the readership from one of the more awesome parts of the site.

Allow me to create a realistic and close to life hypothetical for those of you that occupy the head upon which we of the maple leaf sit, that you might understand our plight.

You're riding your Flying Bison named Clyde through a cloudy sky, the crumbs from a delicious lunch of honeybadger meat and broccoli still being cast gently off your tunic into the burgundy sea of the sky by the wind. Clyde chirps haggardly; it's been a long day. The chocobos you caught hunting go weightless for the smallest of instants, then bounce gently on Clyde's furry back as he dips in the air, beginning his gentle descent towards home. You live a humble life, one of forgery and farming. There is little excitement save for the simple joy of flying with Clyde, above the problems and trials of your everyday life both literally and figuratively. You enter your porcelain home and hand your wife Bayonetta today's game, hoping against hope that today is the day that she fails to burn it to a crisp. Of course you're too gutless to inform her of the culinary abortions she places in front of you each day, but you'd rather suffer through them than hurt the feelings of a woman who could kill you as easily with her hair as she could with the guns that remain forever anchored to her ankles.



After another disappointing display of cooking skill, you retire to your favourite chair to simply read, a relaxing end to a stressful day. In the paper you gloss over stories of death and a lifestream spill in the gulf of Xemico being called the 10 times worse than the Raccoon City incident. As you finish the story you pause for a moment to reflect on the discordant nature of your world, and think to yourself that it's as though it were created by a child of poor writing proficiency, rather than the all powerful sun god Ra. Then you remember that your universe is tied together by the Power, an energy field created by all living things, which surrounds us and penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together, and dismiss the previous ridiculousness. At the end of the paper you notice a contest, the winner of which will receive Joe Danger for the PSN, and your heart flutters with excitement for a fleeting moment until you read the addendum at the end of the ad, "open to US residents only" you let out a deep sigh, shed a single tear, and continue with your mundane existence.

That, friends in America, is exactly how we feel ever single day a contest is released. Every day.

~ Om nom nom nom nom

PS for my own curiosity, can anyone who is A: reading this and B: Canadian say so below, I'm kinda curious as to just how many there are here, I feel like it's not really a small number

PPS This is the first time I've used a tag outside of rants and commentary that wasn't a monthly musing. Hoorah   read


7:54 PM on 07.01.2010

Alternate Reality: A Revolutionary Invention from the Geniuses at Macrohard

Ever have a problem?

Well now, the beautiful minds at Macrohard Industries have a solution. Introducing Omni-Gel, your one stop shop for every single one of your everyday problems!



Ever needed to break into the Pentagon, but found yourself mentally challenged? Omni-Gel can fix that!

Ever needed to repair damage to your car, any damage at all? Omni-Gel can fix that!

Ever "forgotten" the password to your personal computer, or any other computer on the planet? Omni-Gel can fix that!

Macrohard Industries is extremely proud to present Omni-Gel, a revolutionary new product that has virtually limitless possibilities. What makes Omni-Gel so special is it's easy of use, and literal abundance. Take your eyes off your screen for a moment and look around the room. Now look back to your computer. Everything you just saw can be converted quickly and easily into Omni-Gel with no more effort than juicing an orange, and without the need to buy superfluous tools or safety equipment. All you need are the five pointy extensions and the end of your wrist and a modest application of force to convert or "juice"the most useless items in the world into a world of possibility.

Have old gold lying around the house? Don't turn it into cash, JUICE THAT SHIT!

Just stole a car? Don't take it to a chop shop, JUICE THAT SHIT!

Broke a condom 9 months ago? Don't put her up for adoption, JUICE THAT SHIT!

What makes Omni-Gel even more incredible though is its ease of use. Because of Omni-Gel's constant and molecularly stable semi-molten state, it takes no more intelligence to use Omni-Gel to its fullest than it takes to spread butter on an everyday slice of bread, that's right, AN EVERYDAY SLICE OF BREAD. Let's examine an everyday situation, and see why Omni-Gel really is the best thing since the aforementioned sliced bread.



You arrive home from work to find yourself without keys in front of a locked door. Normally this would mean several hours of waiting sullenly on your front steps for your wife to return grease-ridden from the graveyard shift at Sonic, but you, you were smart and purchased the official Macrohard branded Omni-Gel butter knife. You search through your man-purse, which you prefer to call a men's European carry-all, for something you no longer need, let's say a half-finished pack of Macrohard Medi-Gel (sold separately). After JUICING THAT SHIT, you spread the newly formed Omni-Gel on the lock and...

EXCELSIOR!

You have now gained access to your home, and have opened up a world of possible Omni-Gel candidates.

Hopefully over the last several minutes you've come to realize that Macrohard's Omni-Gel really is something that you'll use every single day. Omni-Gel lets you hack the most secure computer networks in the world, break and enter, and repair your horribly controlled 6-wheeled space tank thing whether you're Einstein reincarnate or a mere single evolutionary step away from an ape.

Remember, if it casts a shadow, it can be Omni-Gel.

Omni-Gel, JUICE THAT SHIT!

This amazing new product can yours for 10 easy hourly payments of 24.99. To order your Omni-Gel starter kit which includes 1 Liter of premium grade Super Omni-Gel that you simply can't get from juicing your children or household items, as well as the officially branded Omni-Gel butter knife, call 1 866 Omni Gel, or go online to www.no,we'reserious,it'sthatgood.com

BUT WAIT

Order within the next 4/23rds of a second, and you'll receive an extra liter of Macrohard's equally-revolutionary-as-Omni-Gel product, Medi-Gel



This miracle product can cure any ailment or injury! Simply spread over the affected area, and in mere moments, bullets seem to magically disappear, prison shank wounds seal in seconds, broken hearts reform in a jiffy, and anal bleeding is a snap. Whatever ails ya, Medi-Gel never fails ya. Except for cancer, Medi-Gel is ineffective against cancer.

Order now.   read


4:05 AM on 06.29.2010

The Great Escape: What Games Can Give and What Games Can Take

So here's the deal,

Gaming has given me much over the past 12 years, it's taken me to different times, different galaxies and even different realities. It's opened to me parts of myself that I didn't even know were there, and let me experience literally worlds of different situations that I know I'll never have the chance to myself. But I have honestly been wondering recently if it was worth it, if what I gained could possibly outweigh what I missed, what escaped me.



In the last year I went away to university for a degree in journalism, and I was extremely excited because I knew that meant lots of new people and a city that would be relatively fresh, at least from this perspective. It really seemed like the perfect setup because my school, Ryerson, was in Toronto where I grew up, but it was downtown in an area where I had very little previous experience since I moved to Vancouver 4 years ago.

I was excited to meet a lot of like-minded people and make new friends in my residence, and to some extent that happened. I met a couple people I can truly see being friends with for the rest of my life, and let me preface what I'm about to say with the fact that I in no way find this insufficient. These people that I met are some of the most engaging and interesting people I know, and I could not be happier to know them, but one thing that I realize is that I met these people in rez, not in my program.

I'm surprised by this because whenever I meet a person in my journalism program, no matter what we have something to talk about, an instant connection, and they should be the easiest to talk to. But I didn't make friends with any of these people, not really. I took an even easier rout and socialized almost exclusively with the people on my floor. It was the least awkward, and carried the least amount of risk that I'd be disliked. If I had better social skills, I have no doubt I would have had no problem making better friends inside my program; if I'd spent less time with a keyboard or controller in my hand as a kid, I might have made a single good friend outside of my social comfort zone in my eight months in the city.



This all starts back in gradeschool where I like many a gamer experienced a fair share of bullying. I wasn't that well liked by my non-asshole classmates either, and I could never figure out why, maybe I was a bit of a weirdo. But the point is that just like in Uni, I had a core group 2 or 3 really close friends, and I pretty much divided my time between them and video games. I deviated very seldom from these two comfort areas, and while I developed good social skills when dealing with single people, I still to this day find it near impossible to be anything but flustered when dealing with new groups, as well as the opposite sex; I had my first kiss and first girlfriend three months after my 18th birthday, and I think this is due in large if not exclusive part to my dependence on games.

No one in a video game ever found me socially awkward or unlikeable, no grade 3s ever said I couldn't play handball with them, no girls ever ran away. I was safe there, I was popular there, everyone loved me there. I could conquer any foe with enough hard work, and social prowess was often reduced to an unambiguously regulated digit. These fantastical worlds provided me with a place where I was everything I aspired to be. They gave me a place where, for a few precious hours, I could convince myself that I wasn't some kid with more bullies than friends, I was a leader of men, a friend to anyone who needed it, and a hero to the young. This haven most certainly had its positives and they cannot be discounted, but I think in retrospect they were outweighed by the negatives.

Even though at university this year my Xbox went almost completely unused for 4 out of the 8 months I was there, I'm still almost completely inept in social settings that include more than one or two people I'm unfamiliar with. I don't know what to say to them; just like with girls, I completely seize up and do nothing but nod my head and agree on the off chance that they start the conversation themselves.



I think most of this stems from just a lack of common experience. Because I spent almost all my spare time on a computer and later a gamecube as a child, I had very little common experience with the kids around me; I didn't play a lot of sports or musical instruments and I didn't have a lot of hobbies outside of reading. How can you talk to people if you have nothing in common? Gaming for me was so easy, so accessible, that it really robbed me of the chance to experience many of the things that could form the basis of average human interaction, and because of this I had very few "successful" social encounters outside of my two or three main friends.

This lack of "successful" social encounters fueled a massive shortage of self confidence later in life. It means that I have that much less push to get myself out of my comfort zone, to put myself in a situation where I'm inexperienced, because I have no prior indication that I'll do anything fall flat on my face when I do so.

These observations became all the more true for me in grade 11, when my oldest friend spent a third of his school year in the hospital for acute depression. He strongly considered suicide during this time, and because I was on the other side of the country, there was only so much I could do for him. Of course I'll never know what happened to so drastically change his mental state, but my guess is that it was in part due to the massive amount of games he played both as a child and as a young adult. He, like me, spent most if not all of his spare time playing games, and I think still does, and because of this he also developed very limited social skills. I can't say this for sure, but even after I moved away in the summer before grade 10, he didn't really have another best friend until grade 12, and even then to my knowledge they aren't as close as he and I were. My guess is that this limit on deep human contact is what caused him to fall into his depression, and that lack of human contact was massively contributed to by the amount of games that he played.



I was extremely happy to learn however that in late grade 11, my friend made a full recovery from his depression, and now has more of a life than any time that I can remember. I too have recently been slowly developing better social skills. I'm finding it gradually easier to deal with both new people and the opposite sex in general, and I can only attribute these things to an extreme decrease in the amount of video games we both play. I spend literally a fraction of the time I used to with games, and because of this I have become ever-so-slightly less of a dribbling idiot in front of new people.

Don't get me wrong, this hasn't turned into some look-at-me-you-losers-I-used-to-be-one-of-you preach session. I'm not pretending to be some omniscient prophet with a quick fix answer to more active social and sex lives (the latter of which I lack completely), this is more of a learn-from-me-and-don't-make-my-mistakes deal.

If I could rewind my life, I probably wouldn't change much; if I did I'd probably not end up with the incredible people that are now in my life. I would however tell young Om Nom to get out from in front of the screen once in a while, to experience the world around him, because in many, many respects it is better than the ones we gamers inhabit on a daily basis. I'm not saying video games are evil, that's both wrong and hyperboloic, but I know that like anything in life, it can have very harmful effects if enjoyed in excess.



I think I can sum this up with a pseudo quote from Hamlet. In the scene where Polonius dispatches Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to look for Laertes in France, he tells them to make Laertes' recent wrongdoings look like the flaws of a great man, not the custom of a bad one. Life should not be a negative momentary escape from games, games should be a positive momentary escape from a difficult world, an aid, yet not a crutch, and they should only seldom take the place of meaningful human contact.

~Om nom nom nom...

Important PS I realize of course that this is all much easier said than done; hell I've probably not made half the progress I think I have. I never meant this to come off as a preachy post where I told you how to act. Ultimately this was more of a therapeutic and introspective experience for me. I think I admitted to myself a lot of things in this post that I've found hard in the past. If you were able to gain some insight from what was written without feeling like I'm a pretentious ass, then I am truly humbled.   read


1:15 AM on 06.23.2010

And Now For Something Completely Different [Shortblog]

So here's the deal,



Since no one else is doing it, I guess I'll be the first to offer my opinion on this newfangled tech called Kinect, and tell you what I want out of it. I don't want lightsabers, I don't want the wii "done right," I don't want no pussy minigame anthologies, in fact, you could do away with all the games altogether, no matter how "hardcore" they were. I just want on thing: The ability to nickname my xbox.

You think that when I'm chillin with the chikas that I want to say "xbox, play movies"? NO! I wanna say "bitch, play me a mofuckin movie!" or "bitch, drop me some doctah dre beats!" I could nickname my xbox "bitch" and that way whenever I have company over they can see how much of a man I am. You don't think women are impressed when you shout at stuff, especially abusively? They LOVE that shit! It's like "hey baby, you wanna see me verbally abuse my xbox? Yeah ya do!"

So, Microsoft, in the interest of more play gotten worldwide (oh look, I made a pun) let me call my xbox bitch, and then account for a racially stereotypical blackcent.

Sincirely, your biggest fan,
Om Nom On Sizzle

~ Om nom nom nom...   read


2:27 AM on 06.22.2010

The Likeliest Unlikely Hero

So here's the deal,



In the same fashion as many of its older brethren, the idea for this post was conceived on my way home from work. As a side note, I find that time oddly satisfying. It's about half an hour where I have nothing to do but sit alone with my thoughts while the world happens around my little moving box of a bus, and I somehow tune myself out of the tumult and do nothing but think. Now that I consider it, I should probably be using that time to solve existential crises or coming up with avenues toward world peace, but I digress. Yes this idea came about while thinking about nothing, and actually resulted in quite a realization. Surprise surprise.

What I noticed is that in 90% of narrative driven games, the hero you play as never actually starts as a hero, and if they do, that status is quickly stripped to make way for character development. You're either a little orphaned teen growing up on a farm on a desert planet, a young boy growing up in a small town in Albion, or a young adult in dire straights. No matter the beginning, the following formula doesn't vary much. Some massive cataclysm shakes up your perfect little world and you go on a righteous quest for revenge and absolution. You soon learn (possibly after a defeat at the hands of the one or ones responsible for said cataclysm) that you have some wealth of untapped power, and learn that what you experienced is part of a much larger conflict, along the way learning valuable lessons about the darker nature of your "righteous" revenge. After realizing your power, you defeat the one(s) responsible and save the world, against all odds.



Now this is not necessarily a bad thing. This formula is so common because it works; we love a good Cinderalla story. When people snatch victory from the jaws of defeat it's always a good feeling, but as I've come to learn (the hard way, if you're of a certain perspective) and as the good reverend observed with his Wrex Paradox, the tragic or sad story arcs are often the better ones, even though they may not be the happiest. That was one reason I think GTA IV's story was so literally breathtaking for me; you start with nothing, experience little success, and end with nothing, the entire time marred by evidence that what you're doing is wrong. It broke the happy ending convention to become one of the strongest stories of all time.

Where I think we need to go from here though is to explore what can happen when you start with power, wealth, influence, all these things, and have them taken. And after a significant amount of time. Assassin's Creed did this to an extent, your Altair at the beginning of the game is almost identical to your end game Altair except for a couple weapons, but your time spent this way is short, there's no sense of loss when he's stripped of his equipment and abilities because you didn't spend enough time with them to really appreciate them. I want to be a likely hero, a prodigy, someone guaranteed to succeed, and then either fail, or succeed then have everything come crashing down around me.



In short, I want to make mistakes, and I want them written not chosen. I think while it had a good run, choice is on it's way out, or at least I want it to be. A skilled storyteller should be able to weave a story so that I agree with their character's choices anyway.

This is most interesting though because, at least to my recollection, loss hasn't really been done as much as it could have. I can only assume it's because devs don't want to have to take players' hard earned abilities/items/friends away, but exploring new territory would be worth it to me.

The key is though that after I've spent my time at the top, enjoying my fabulous prowess and power, I don't want to rebuild. I realize that this is becoming very specific, but if someone went through all that trouble to convince me that even though I have nothing, I made the correct decisions at the time, it would be completely counterproductive to then say, "oh well, let me guide you back to the top." the whole point of this kind of exercise would be to leave me at the bottom, hopefully unhappy with where I am, just like in GTA.

That is definitely something that is lacking in video game narrative, characters I can hate. Developers and writers seem to be stuck with the idea that just because a character is unlikable, or somehow immoral or wrong, that that somehow makes them a bad character. This is not at all the case. I keep coming back to this example, but GTA IV's Dwayne had me fucking hating him, and PLayboy was despicable and though I liked him for most of my time with him I didn't really like him at the end. Both of these are examples of very strong, well-written characters, just like many others in the game.



I guess my whole riff about loss in story really ended up bring a microcosm for the fact that I want more negativity in games, be it in characters, plot, or choice. Yeah you run the risk of making a game that contains a lot of things that we dislike or hate, but being bad and being hated are two completely different things, and this is definitely something that studios need to realize, or their favourite formulas are going to get real old, real fast.

~Om Nom Nom Nom

This is not to say though that being bad an hated cannot align from time to time, look at M. Fen

  read


5:38 AM on 06.18.2010

Is it just me or...

So here's the deal,

Press conferences are a big deal, to say the very least. They offer a company a chance to showcase the best of what it has to offer, and there is therefore a lot of pressure on that company to present not only a polished product that effectively demonstrates to viewers what they're capable of, but a brand image as well, personified in the speakers at that conference.



With such monumental weight put on companies, in this case developers and publishers, to hit the ground running with their conferences, why do the ones at E3 seem so... lackluster, so unpolished?

I would understand if this were just some up and coming conference that the gaming mucky mucks were at just to show support for the less well-known in the industry, but this is E3, the biggest week in gaming, our very own Super Tuesday.

VGFreak1225 made a good point today in saying that E3 is a giant, strategic, targeted advertisement. While this pretty much goes without saying, I think it was important to say it this week while everyone is still godsmacked from all the big announcements that have hit thus far. EA and Nintendo and everyone else aren't here to be nice to gamers and satisfy some of the pent up hype for their favourite games, that's a means to an end, they're there to ultimately make money.


If I were a less lazy, more Photoshop-proficient man, Heaven would be replaced by Hell

Why then does each and every conference I watch feel like they ran through it just once, in a particularly hurried half hour before entering the arena? Every single presenter feels completely awkward on the stage and there are at least 10 little slip ups in each showing. Now I'm not an unreasonable man, an hour and half is a long ass time; I found it hard to fill 5 minutes in class when doing presentations and whatnot, but these guys are supposed to be professionals, and this is one of if not the most important days of the year for them. And while their little misspeaks and slips are not in and of themselves that bad, they immediately break any rhythm the presenter had going with me as I cringe in excruciating pain for the presenter who I feel completely sorry for and furious at at the same time.

Rhythm is an important part of any speech; It's how they manage your hype and emotions to be completely in line with what they want. It's how they psyche you up for their favourite products and bring you back down to a slow build for the more experimental or far-off releases.

The problem is that this is what these presenters are paid to do. These aren't developers, some aren't even involved in the finance or management of the dev/publisher they represent; some are just hired PR reps paid to speak well at the keynotes, and this brings up several problems as I see them.



The first problem is that the stuff I just said about hired PR wasn't read in any press release or official documentation, it was an educated guess, but more than that it's just the feeling you get while watching. I was very aware that the demonstrators and presenters that were giving me the info that I craved for months about this and next years' games didn't really play a lot of games themselves, and this causes a major dissonance between them and me. How can someone speak with such passion and experience about something I know nothing about, even though if considered simply in hours spent, I'm more seasoned with their products than they are? It just feels wrong. This was the case with the Ubisoft presenter. I only caught the last half, so I'm not sure if her was hired PR or an actual Ubisoft employee, but it certainly felt like the former. He was entertaining for a while, but then his ironic-sorta-uneducated-dry-humour bit got old all kinds of fast and he just became obnoxious.

Perhaps the most obvious flaw in these press conferences though is the presence of scripted skits. I use the term skits in that they're hilariously terrible. I find it really hard to believe that in what is hopefully more than one rehearsal of the Microsoft conference that someone didn't stand up and say "Yeah, Frank? That Kinect video chat segment? Fucking awful, man" "Really?" "Yeah, man, just a terrible idea." That should have happened in the planning stages even, there is no way that a marketing team as skilled as Microsoft's should be able to present something so terrible. Yeah okay, it demonstrated the Kinect's functions well, but it did so in a manner that was so grating it was literally hard to watch. I felt like I was seeing the Regginator drop the 2 basketball jargon words he knew while demonstrating Wii Sports Resort last year. It was excruciating!



And this is probably what makes me personally the most aggravated when watching these conferences. If VGFreak is right in saying that this is one big advertisement, and he is, why then do they not let the products speak for themselves? They're perfectly capable of doing so, and in many cases should. I don't need some vice head of deputy executive management of America to tell me why I should be excited for a game, I want to be shown why I should be excited for their game. The worst part is that they admit this, but only after talking at me for half an hour spewing facts that everyone already knows. "But really, the only way to feel the game is to see it," great, that's what I came for, why did I have to go through 21 minutes of mindless dribble just to get to the important part? This would make the overall conference tighter, more engaging, and shorter than what is honestly a very long hour and a half.

The confusing part is though that I can't be the only one that notices this. Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony can't possibly look back at what they did and say "good job guys, solid effort." Their developers can, they put together compelling demonstrations of their products that did exactly what they were supposed to do: they got me hyped as fuck to play their games, which were. At the end of the day though, I ended up hating almost every non-developer speaker at each conference simply because they were getting in the way of what I wanted to see. And this is what gets me, these are marketing professionals, they know me as a consumer inside and out, probably better than I do. Why then can they not come up with a presentation that doesn't make me want to shoot myself every time some bumbling idiot from the company's executive branch comes meandering onto the stage tripping over his words and telling me how I should be excited for "Disney: Epic Disney"?



~Om nom nom nom...

PS I actually love the Regginator, though more as a meme than a man. I do believe, however, that should he and Jobs ever come to blows, it would be a little one sided, after all, there are two very important things that come higher on Reggie's priority list before "makin' games"   read


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