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Om Nom On Souls's blog

1:11 AM on 04.26.2011

Somethin's Goin' On

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...   read

12:24 PM on 03.16.2011

Birthday Present: Destructoid Through the Ages

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...   read

3:58 AM on 12.24.2010

Show Me Something Useless

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.   read

3:20 AM on 11.14.2010

But Seroiusly...

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.   read

2:36 AM on 09.26.2010

Why I Love Cheevos, and Why that Sucks

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   read

2:15 AM on 09.12.2010

More Than Just Noise: Silence

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...   read

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

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