Om Nom On Souls's Profile - Destructoid

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So here's me,

My real name is Max and I'm a diehard Browncoat. I also have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Wars universe left over from a childhood obsession, as well as an actual Star Wars encyclopedia, but that's another matter.

I like to sleep, but keep odd hours, I like food A LOT, I like TV on occasion, I'm not a huge fan of any music except symphonic, and apparently I have bad music taste, even at 20 I can barely grow enough facial hair to justify shaving more than twice a week, I love to write, I kinda read, I hate a couple of the people in my J-school program, HBO is perfect, LOST is actually alright, I'm a total gearhead, Avatar was a terrible movie but an incredible experience, How to Train Your Dragon was very, VERY awesome, and all I want at this moment is a 1:1 stuffed Appa.

Guess what this last paragraph used to be for? My two cents on the games/art debate. Guess what's here now? NOTHING, and that's the way I likes it.

Following (9)  

So here's the deal,

It's vacation tiiiiiiiiiime, YAY! And we all know what that means, the return of an inconsequential Dtoid community blogger, EXCELSIOR!

But yeah, school's finished, and not having to expend my writing juices on that has left more than enough to reinvigorate the old destructoid fingers. Hopefully all the friendly faces I remember will still be here, and will also be attending PAX, which I hope to see all of you at; it'll be my first Dtoid meetup, and I couldn't be more pumped.

But you didn't come here to read nostalgic ramblings from some dapper skeleton, you came because that mildly suspenseful title caught you at an especially bored time, and you had a what the hell moment.

(as a small aside, if you were looking for a sense of how out of my mind school and corectness is, I spelled that skeleton up there with a 'c' the first time around. Yeah, I know)

What I've kinda picked up on, and I could be months behind on this, is that actual consequences are starting to make there way into a couple games here and there, and it's something I'd love to see continue. Oh and don't think I haven't come prepared with my own suggestions for the thousands of industry buffs who read this blog with baited breat. WACHYOO NO 'BOUT INSIGHT?!?!?

The obvious example would be ME2. At the end of the game, if you didn't know your teams abilities and strengths well enough, chances are some of them were gonna die.

And now LA Noir claims that the players will have significantly different experiences based on the choices they make. If you don't go into an effective line of questioning, misread a subject, overlook clues, arrest the wrong person, your path will deviate. Essentially, you'll have to deal with your mistakes.

Now I am well aware of the fact that two games in no way constitutes a trend, and there are many other examples, but I chose those two because they're concrete, popular examples, and mentioning little known games and thinking I'm smart because of it is a little more hipster than I like in my iced mocha blog-uccino. Oh, and I don't really know of any little-known games. There's that too.

The reason I think this happened is because, for the entirety of games history, our generally accepted consequence isn't. The "game over" is an inconvenience, a time warp back and a cause of many shattered gamey things. (Par example, In a fit of CoD age, my roommate somehow managed to pop the rumble weight out of the 360 controller, have it return to its normal shape, and display little evidence of the preceding excretion . And that's a mild example, at least he's not this guy)

Permanent consequences for failure give a player's actions and choices weight, and force them to actually act rationally. To some degree it takes away the ability to say fuck it, it's a game, and forces though before choice. And if the consequences are serious enough, like in ME2, it can actually help to make a player care, and to me, that's a game's top priority. It could be about the protagonist's cause, it could be about a fucking annoying winged ball of blue light that won't shut the fuck up, but a game must make the player care. It also means that the "inconvenience" you get out of failure is more unique game time.

This could also be introduced to the achievement system as well. Maybe some achievements can only be attempted once, and if you don't get it, and here's the insane part, you can't ever get it. Then they would actually be a measure of a player's skill, in stead of the amount of time they're able to burn on any single game, and offline achievements could be more than milestones in the story.

Of course there's the issue of mediation; a player shouldn't be able to screw up their game to the point of unplayability. And I'm not reductive enough to say that this is the end all be all, and the only place that games can go, but it's definitely something I'd like to see more of, thoughts?

~ Om nom nom nom...

So here's the deal,

It being the five year anniversary of our fair website's emergence from the dark, scary womb of Niero's brain, and the 20 somthingth anniversary of Niero's emergence from the dark, scary womb of his mother, I thought I'd put something I learned in school, as well as internet arts both black and sinister, to actual use, and present you guys with something kinda cool. Check this shit out: - Age: 2 1/2 Weeks

The suckling babe, fresh out of the womb, takes its first steps into a big, scary, Rule 34 controlled internet world. - Age 1 Year

Sporting a picture of its handsome birth mother, little Destructoid (Destructy to its friends at school) has gained slight motor function, and remained ad free, at least up top. - Age 2 years, 1 month

Growth has certainly had an effect on little Destructy after 2 years, and it's gone through a visual change, many would say for the better. Now called Destructoidy by the other websites in its class. - Age 3 Years, 1 day

Now simply known to its classmates as Dtoid, the site has learned to walk, talk, and poop. All at once. It's also started to look much more like its current toddler form (Not a metaphor for quality, just the image of a three year old walking talking and pooping at the same time made me laugh) - Age 4 Years

Just a year ago today, ish, this is the site we all remember quite well. It wasn't as stand-uppy as its earlier incarnations and- you know what, I've completely run out of appropriate childhood metaphors. Think 'em up yourself. But yeah, the following year, possibly internet puberty, would see many changes to the layout of the site, some retracted for QA, some kept, blah blah blah

And here's how it looks now

So that's my little present to you and to anyone else curious about how the site evolved, hope it was enjoyed.

And I don't think I've said this myself yet, but happy birthday Destructoid, oh conveyor of vidja gaem competenece, and hapy birthday Niero, robot-headed omnipotent creat-o-tron.

~Om nom nom nom...

So here's the deal,

Hi, my name is Om Nom, and I like to write blogs, though you probably don't remember that since it's been like three hundred and fifty billion years since I last did so. I know, long time.

But actually, the last month has been kinda hectic, what with exams and a busy work schedule. I regrettably haven't had the time to put out the blogs I used to, and that made me very sad. But now, oh yes, now I'm on vacay with the fams. I'm home in my glorious Vancouver, and the only responsibility I have over the next three-ish weeks is to ensure that I keep myself relatively un-laden with work of any kind. So pull up a chair, the next while will hopefully be very blog filled, and I'm glad to be draggin you guys through the dry, arid desert that is my writing again.

This latest tidbit of insight, and it always is a tidbit, was gained through playing through AC2, and ME2, which if possible is even better the second time through.

Anyway, the tidbit. It seems that if you give a player something concrete to show for their efforts, more concrete than an achievement, that can motivate them to action that has literally no consequence other than the reward.

You can see this in ME2 in the ship models and pets you can collect from across the galaxy. They did absolutely nothing except sit there and look badass, yet I found myself combing every store in the game searching for just one more. My first playthrough, I focused pretty closely on the story. That's not to say I rushed through the game, but I didn't spend a lot of time on sidequests, I think I did probably one or two before going through the Omega 4 relay, but I made damn sure I had every single ship model and little critter I could find.

Does anyone know what that mystery middle peg that goes forever unused is actually for?

It's the same story in AC2; the art collection was largely useless, yeah it contributed to Monteriggioni's value, but what it did give you was peanuts compared to everything else (fun sidenote: as a result of a fatal allergy to peanuts, I find it endlessly satisfying that the word stands metaphorically for 'shit'). I ended up running all over Italy just to complete something that had pretty much no bearing on the game as a whole.

So what does this mean? That we're shallow as gamers? Well, to some extent, yes. I mean, don't tell me you don't get more jazzed over seeing the fruits of your labour than actually just knowing you did it. Why do you think savages and Gary Busey scalp their victims? Well for one of those examples, it's because they've completely lost touch with reality, but for the savages, its because they like to have something to show for 'it.' Of course we non-savages and non-Buseys like it too, we like to have evidence of out accomplishment. But I think this covers something more complex than simply see = good.

I think the reason we seek out these purposeless little trinkets owes more to our sense of control than anything else, let me explain.

Choice in video games isn't really that much of a choice. You don't really have any authority over the story because at the end of the day, you're actually just choosing paths through a game that were laid out before you by the developer; essentially, you can't go anywhere they won't allow you to. But with these seemingly unimportant little statues, ships, pets, or paintings, the developer has put them into the game simply for the benefit of the player. They don't drive the story, they don't help with character development, they're just there for fun, and are completely benign.

First image result in a search for benign. Yeah, the creative juices weren't really flowing on this one

Because the developer has not given these objects significant meaning within the game, that void must then be filled by the player. We get to decide exactly how universe-shatteringly important it is to find every single ship model in ME2, and we get to decide exactly how completely useless it is to go around looking for every last painting in Italy.

I'm assuming of course, and here's where the possibility, nay, probability that I'm reading too much into this kicks in, that most of this happens on a subconscious level. Of course I didn't go into ME2 saying, okay, my Shepard is really freaking into model building and collecting. He has very dextrous fingers, and the shit is like crack to him. That didn't happen. What I believe did happen though was that my brain saw this as an opportunity to make a decision completely its own. It said, Om Nom, you want these ship models, I don't know why, and I don't care, but you're gonna drag your ass around the entire freaking galaxy until you find every last one.

That wasn't the devs telling me that they were important, that wasn't the game telling me I needed them, I made the choice to say okay, this is something I want. The importance of these little acoutrements was assigned completely by me, and the developers served simply to provide me with a means to fulfilling that want, they made no effort to me recollection to push the significance of them on me.

Funny story, that bronzed Adonis you see there is actually me

Now I don't want to be too reductive and say that every time a developer leaves something alone that the player will instantly gravitate toward it like flies to shit, but it's interesting to me that, as a gamer who heavily favours plot driven and mostly linear storytelling, I get a lot of thrill out of an element of a game that was entirely created in my own head and untouched by developer influence.

Om Nom On Souls
3:20 AM on 11.14.2010

So here's the deal,

I'm just gonna come out and say it, this blog contains some mention of games. As well as some mention of art. And it may combine those ideas. I know, I hate me too. But I think this is a little tidbit of insight I've gained that I'd like to share. Now, if you're like every other rational person who keeps up with gaming news or is part of a community in any capacity, you are sick to your very soul of hearing pompous analytical assholes talking about "the state of the industry" and how it's reached a state of art, or the Ebert haters, or the people who think games should be "more than just fun," I will warn you that this post does contain some of the aforementioned heinous and forbade topics, and I won't at all blame you if you turn now and run. Fast.

Now it's not that I particularly disagree with these people, because I don't really. It's just that I'm really tired of hearing people talk of something we can't really affect, as well as the amount of self-righteousness that more than normally accompanies such discussions (of which, for the record, I was once very much a part).

So yes, this delicious little tidbit of insight.

What I want for the industry (I really hate that word), and what I think all the pro art people actually want, is not what intrinsically comes with "art" status. It's the extrinsic value, we want games taken seriously. The whole art status is something I could frankly care less about. Basically, I want games to be conceived of and analyzed in the same way as movies (no, not film. That is also an insipid word) and books.

Now don't read too much into this. I don't want games too lose their individuality or their nature, I don't want them to become movies or books, I simply want them to be considered as valuable as those other forms of media. The art shit doesn't really matter at that point.

This really isn't news. Though I haven't witnessed it myself, I'm sure this sentiment has been expressed countless times, indeed as many as the games/art debate has flared up, but what I believe I can provide that's new is an example is how this is an attainable goal.

Around the mid-late nineties, with the birth of the internet, a form of writing emerged called hypertext narrative. This is basically an arted-up form of old text adventures, though I'm not sure which was the chicken and which was the egg, or if they're even so related. The point is that hypertext narratives shared - and although less popular, still share - many characteristics with games.

In hypertext, readers navigate paragraphs of text, "lexia," with hyperlinks. The lexia are often very disjointed, and it is intended that the reader create much if not most of the story themselves, creating their own intervening events which lead from paragraph to paragraph. There is also a good deal of choice, with usually more than one link leading out of a given lexia.

Obviously there is a lot here that one could find in a game. The lexia are the scripted events that define the story that the author, or in our case developer, wants to tell. The different links represent the same thing as in hypertext, choice, and the parts in between that the reader fills in are clearly the parts between the scripted events of a game in which the player is given control of how they conduct themselves.

The reason I make this comparison is that when hypertext narrative was in its prime, many considered it to be basically the second coming. People predicted the end of books, and heralded hypertext as the up and coming standard for narrative and text presentation on the whole. Of course there were critics, and the flame eventually died out, as it does in all things. But the point is that for some time at least, a media extremely comparable to our own was considered the absolute new standard for presentation.

The advantage is that where hypertext failed, games can thrive. Hypertext, in and of itself, isn't really that... well, entertaining. One of the strongest examples of the media is barely comprehensible, let alone what anyone might call fun. I spent an hour and a half finding every single freaking lexia in Michael Joyce's "Twelve Blue" and I would, like many you may read about, have a hard time telling you exactly who the main character is.

Unfortunately, the very thing that allows us to conquer hypertext in both fun and longevity is the very thing that keeps us from being taken seriously. Most mainstream games seek primarily to deliver an emotional response, with a message or stand taking the back seat. They seek mainly fun, and so we are seen as little more than emotional pornography.

The ultimate problem though is that we shouldn't need to change. I truly believe that there is value in what games already provide, and it's no more superficial than what hypertext provided. We are almost identical in form, and it's only function where we differ. The ability to give someone a genuine emotional experience that would normally be completely foreign and inaccessible is a power that I find simply astounding, same with the ability to transport them seamlessly to another world with nothing more than a pound and a half of plastic and silicon in hand.

This is our dilemma. We have been shown that with what we have, with what we are, we can be taken seriously. People like Anthony Burch prove time and again that there are worthwhile gains to treating games intelligently and analytically, but for some reason, the masses see fit to see us as nothing more than child's play. Then again, as hypertext proves, it's possible for what we are, the form that makes games what they are, has been seen as the future iron standard for record and reading, and that's certainly a start.

~Om nom nom nom...

PS This was not meant to become as sappy inspirationally lovey-dovey wishy-washy "we" this and "can be" that, but there you go.

So here's the deal,

I love cheevos. Achievements, I love achievements. And I hate that I love them.

Achievements are a goal. They're something to accomplish, to strive for. They're a milestone that proves you've been where you've been, a way to log you're history. Achievements are something you can show off, something you can track, and something you can be proud of.

They're also a huge crutch. I've pushed through parts of a game just for some achievements. Mind you there not a big push; I don't think a game has ever said, well, we don't need to make it all interesting, we'll just put some big achievements in there and we'll be fine, but they've given me motivation that otherwise wouldn't be there

The thing is, achievements are not intrinsically evil. In and of themselves they're actually quite useful. They're a great at-a-glance tool to compare yourself to your xbl friends.

But they spoil me. They are the ultimate iteration of games' task/reward system. You do something, and you're handed down a sense of accomplishment from on high. And without them, for some reason, I feel slightly unfulfilled. Not unfulfilled enough to ruin an experience, mind you, but certainly enough to notice.

I think the reason I feel this way is because I've come to associate Achievements with, well, achievement. It's like Facebook; if it didn't happen in pictures on facebook, it didn't really happen. If I don't have an achievement for it, I didn't really do it. And this sucks because of course i did it. I was there, I did beat the fucking water temple, I did kill Krauser, and I did (Grim Fandango spoilers) find Meche and get her on the Number 9.

I was playing Twilight Princess the other day and it felt a little bit hollow. I missed the little *do* *doo* when I transformed into badass Link for the first time, it should have been there, but it wasn't. And this disappointment based on expectation shouldn't really be there, because at the end of the day, it's just a number.

And if you really think about that, the number's not really for you, is it? How valuable would your gamer score be if it weren't displayed to all your friends? Nothing. It would just be another stat. And the worst thing about this is that it's turned gaming into a performative act. I'm no longer proud to get a second gold star in Bad Company 2 because I got it, I'm proud because others can see it.

I realize that I could be completely alone on this, and it's an argument based completely on principal, but I honestly wish that I could get rid of cheevos, simply so that I could enjoy my in-game achievements (accomplishments) intrinsically, and not as a number. I want to feel proud for myself, not because the game told me I'd reached a point where it would allow me to.

~Om nom nom nom

So here's the deal,

I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry. It's been two long weeks since I last posted here, hope no one thought I was gone. I was, in fact, moving across the country; just last week my second year of journalism school uprooted my life for the second time from a little BC town called Vancouver and moved to the hustle and bustle of the pretty-much-hated-by-everyone-that-doesn't-live-there Toronto, and my very first apartment. Let me tell you, being completely responsible for one's self is pretty god-damn terrifying. Anyway the point is that the delay was caused in the first week by househunting, followed by a mountainous pile of recycling brought upon by a certain Swedish budget furniture/everything you could possibly need store, and the second week by a complete lack of internet in said newly furnished home. Needless to say alan keys are abundant. Oh yeah, and that entire week without internet? Don't try that. Ever.

So if you've read any of my previous blogs, you'll know that I always kinda feel the need to be a bit of a shit disturber. Not in a flame bait kind of way, but if there's ever a monthly musing, I tend to make sure that my two cents are not made of copper, but lead, or unumquadium (no, that's not a made up word. I know, holy shit)

Behold, ununquadium, in all its electrony splendor

What that basically means is that usually I'm not really creative enough to work within the confines of the given topic, so I take the opposite of it, spin that around a couple thousand times, and then manhandle the discordant beast of a post back to the original monthly musing subject matter in a contrived and rather ham-fisted way. Today will be no exception.

So we all know that sound and music play a huge part in creating emotion or atmosphere in games; Dead Space's deftly composed sound was responsible for basically 50% of the horror in that game. Oblivion and Morrowind had breathtaking scores that accompanied their scenery and made it that much more sensational. Just like movies, music and sound are some of the easiest ways to grip a viewer emotionally and lead them exactly where they're wanted. And just like in movies, the absence of sound or music is similarly jarring.

The strongest example of such an absence is undoubtedly in GTA IV, right after the Darko Brevic choice. Let's start with the choice, because it really sets up the haunting atmosphere of the following silence. Nico finally tracks down Darko Brevic, one of the men who Nico came to America to kill. Nico has Darko completely at his mercy; the man who needlessly slaughtered many of Nico's closest friends for a paltry sum of money. The man has been broken, his life is nothing, and he has nothing left to live for. And in your hand you hold the means to choose whether to kill him or not.

Like all good choices, both sides present clear positives and negatives. Kill Darko, and Nico has his catharsis. He has an end to his months of searching and he can give closure to one of the darker chapters of his life. He has avenged his friends and killed a man who truly deserved it. The negatives here are that in killing Darko, Nico goes against the morally higher man he's become over the course of the game. He's letting his more primal instincts overwhelm him, and he's killing a man who's life isn't worth anything anyway. Roman even says it himself, it would be more torture to let him live.

If you do let him live, you continue on your lighter path. Nico lets go of his anger and hate and puts the past in the past. He lets this man keep his worthless life and is morally better for it. On the other hand, his journey's end result is then forfeit. He gets no vengeance for his dead friends and this slime of the Earth gets to go free.

By any definition a truly impossible choice. I personally sat for a solid fifteen minutes weighing my options. The best part of this choice is that in the scope of the entire game, it's really benign; it's just your morals and Nico's, and the player must somehow reconcile those and come to a decision that, no matter which way it goes, will leave them feeling dissatisfied.

But yes, the eponymous (fancy pants word for titular) silence. Let me preface this with the fact that up until the moments following your decision, Liberty City is quite literally alive. There is always hustle and bustle, always sound, always music by way of the radio, and always something going on. You grow accustomed to the sounds of the city and the people who inhabit her. So after you've made this choice that's actually more reflective of you then Nico, you're accordingly left with a silence that is truly deafening, more so than any gunshot or explosion you've heard thus far. Liberty City seems as empty as you feel. Gone are the noises of the crowds, the honks and sirens usually heard from a distance, and the constant companionship provided by the radio.

The player is left in complete silence to reflect on their choice. What was gained, what was lost. They chose wrong. No matter what you chose, you chose wrong. And more so than any music possibly could, the silence that follows that choice perfectly conveys the emotion of the scene. Absence. Arrested development. Emptiness.

~ Om nom nom nom...