The American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation was founded in 1885 from an offshoot of the American Bell Telephone Company, itself the result of a number of mergers originating back to Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the first telephone. From its outset, AT&T’s goal, using Bell’s master telephone patent #1774465, was to create a "One Policy, One System, Universal Service." Throughout the early 1900s, the business absorbed as many competitors as possible during an age of great trusts and monopolies, irking the ire and attention of anti-trust regulators.
Throughout most of the 20th century, AT&T dominated and obliterated its competitors, protected under what was considered “natural monopoly” status before finally being broken up as a result of a Justice Department anti-trust lawsuit initiated in 1974 and settled in 1982. From the corpse of AT&T rose the “Baby Bells”: Bell Atlantic, BellSouth, Southwestern Bell, U S WEST, Pacific Telesis, NYNEX, and Ameritech.
Almost 30 years later, Ameritech, BellSouth, Pacific Telesis, and Southwestern Bell have been reabsorbed into AT&T. In the meantime, Bell Atlantic consumed NYNEX and formed into what is now Verizon. Both entities have risen from their dead fragments to re-monopolize the modern telecommunications industry after cutting them apart to solve this very problem. They stifle and strangle consumer choice in nearly every area they operate, with most people having only one option when selecting a cable provider as a result of their predatory business practices.
And now they, along with Comcast, have teamed up with Microsoft, itself the target of a number of infamous anti-trust investigations in the U.S. and Europe, to allow them to spread their tentacles even further onto every home with an Xbox console inside of it, feeding off of each other to concentrate their control.
Some people were enthused when Microsoft announced they’d be bringing cable services to Xbox Live. Some found the news rather pointless, the addition somewhat useless. I find it dangerous and counterproductive to a problem which affects every person reading this more than they think. These companies don’t just bring you your television – they most likely bring you the internet you’re reading this on, and they sometimes use it to fuck you, the paying customer, over.
This integration of services inevitably picks winners and losers when console manufacturers take sides in such a manner: when Netflix is integrated onto the PS3, its competitors lose out. When Microsoft broadcasts exclusively matches from the UFC (itself a monopoly) and leaves out all other options, that kills off other choices. One company’s gain is another’s loss.
This brings forth a dilemma: does this integration help create monopolies, and help them to win? Or have these companies already won? Is it helping monopolies which already exist, meaning the integration is inconsequential?
It’s akin to figuring out whether or not a burning house is capable of being extinguished. There’s a certain point where nothing can be done, that there is no salvaging it. In either case, I don’t think throwing in canisters of petroleum is beneficial. Comcast is already a monopoly in a lot of areas it operates. Whether or not their service is on Xbox Live is inconsequential to that fact. But let’s not kid ourselves: it certainly doesn’t help that fact, or that problem. At the same time: does it even matter after a certain point?
What this integration does is legitimize monopolies – it crowns winners. When Microsoft announced the integration of Facebook and Twitter onto Xbox Live, the news originally puzzled me: what if those two businesses ever go out of business? What if people stop using them? What if Google+ does get its act together, and everybody stops using Facebook in 5 years? What if they end up on the road Netflix is on, beleaguered with torrents of customer complaints and canceled subscriptions? It seemed like a bold move to openly embrace a business as being permanent and indispensible like that, since even monopolies do sometimes vanish.
But then again, sometimes, as we have seen with the American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, they don’t. To me, the current shouldn’t be towards expanding Comcast’s reach: it should be to pushing it back. Comcast uses its monopoly power to throttle the internet connections of its customers and to restrict the amount of bandwidth they are able to consume. In fact, Comcast, along with AT&T and Verizon, have been waging a war against FCC regulations governing the internet since its inception to allow them to decide what traffic and information gets sent to you, if at all, and whether or not they can charge premium access to it. And they do this with all the money they collect from consumers who have no choice as to who provides them cable, and from deals like this which allow them to strengthen that power.
Does this integration provide conveniences to the consumer? Yes. But long term, it enables market domination and stifles competition and choice. These companies have a right to exist. They have a right to make money. They do not have a right to control the market and do whatever they may please. What this boils down to is whether or not those short term conveniences are worth the potential long term problems these conveniences fuel and support.
I am not sure on the matter myself. Despite all of this and everything I just wrote, these are nice conveniences. I do enjoy watching Netflix in bed, on my television, without having to turn on a computer. I like turning on ESPN on my Xbox, and being able to watch soccer matches I would probably never see without it. There are benefits. But my intention is to offer another perspective, to nuance this issue and bring to light some important questions no one is asking. Is this trend, in the long term, a positive thing? That our consoles are being used as trojan horses in plots to stamp out competition?
Yes, it is neat when we can all watch Hulu on our PS3s without a computer. But not when it’s because it is our only choice, because all of Hulu’s competitors went out of business. Watching Comcast on your Xbox suddenly doesn’t seem that great of an idea if AT&T and Verizon fall back into their graves, leaving Comcast the only cable provider available to begin with. None of this will happen as a result of this integration, of course. But there are more angles to this issue, some of which are not entirely obvious.
Part of me really wants to write about the Front Mission series, how it is shamefully ignored and forgotten as the foundation for Final Fantasy Tactics. I just can’t though – LSD is too weird, and unappreciated, not to bring up. Ironically, I discovered the game through browsing the Japanese PSN Store to buy Front Mission games. With some yen left over, LSD found its way into the cart (a problem I seem to have whenever I go shopping).
LSD: Dream Emulator is the funniest, most terrifying game I have ever played. Part of it comes from the random nature of it all, the uniquely generated rooms and music. Part of it comes from the graphics, crude and outdated as they construct this distorted world. Part of it comes from the odd noises which mark and stalk your every step.
Mostly, it’s just weird. Which is why it was never localized out of Japan, and why prices for a physical copy can fetch a ridiculous sum.
Let’s start with the premise of the game, and its underlying mechanics and functions:
You start in a stage. You have about 10 minutes. Your objective is to wander around and bump into various objects, which cause you to transition into new rooms, progressing forth while taking in the sights before you wake up and start a new dream.
That’s it. You walk around and blurt out “what the fuck?” the entire time. It is, hands down, one of the greatest design philosophies ever created, a result of Hiroko Nishikawa keeping a dream diary for over 10 years and Osamu Sato engraving his milk-induced nightmares onto a CD-ROM. It’s like the developers mentally reached across the globe, grabbed a 13-year-old me by the shoulders, and asked him: “What do you want to do when you grow up, little boy!?”
I am a weirdo at heart. Which is why me and this game connected from the very beginning.
Everything, as I mentioned, is randomly generated – you may enter familiar rooms, but the details will be changed each time. Of particular and dramatic consequence is the music, which usually sounds like a deaf orchestra playing all of their instruments as they tumble down a flight of stairs. There are maybe around 500 or so different songs you’ll hear in the game, except not really – the number is more like 6 or 7 simply played in different tones, some of which were produced by legendary DJ Ken Ishii. The name might be familiar: He also produced the music for the third stage of Rez, titled “Creation the State of Art," along with some stuff in Lumines. His regular work is also quite well done.
This is not a game in the traditional sense, as you can already tell. Its appealing, single focus, its only purpose, is to melt your brain, which it does a phenomenal job of doing. There are multiple types of environments and aesthetics, but each share continuity due to that ever-linking acid-tripping atmosphere.
You’ll begin in an apartment building with birds crying outside, followed by a walkway in the middle of space leading into the mouth of a grinning, staring Sun before descending forth. You'll then land in a sherbet colored world decorated with the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge before being thrown into the dark, seedy alley ways of the "Violence District" where corpses hang from light posts and nurses hold their heads in their hands. In between all of this will be sumo wrestlers grappling with each other, horses pulling carriages on two legs, small children playing hopscotch, large bears stomping through towns, and UFOs soaring overhead.
Which brings me to this asshole.
He’s referred to as “Shadow Man.” This is because he has no name, no story, and nothing better to do than to torture you, causing you to immediately get the fuck out. After around 20 “days,” you have the ability to go back and revisit your past dreams – a really neat feature if you ever experience something truly astounding and want to be able to go through it again.
Though not if the Shadow Man gets to you. If he reaches you, the screen flashes white, and you permanently lose that dream. Forever. That’s it. Sometimes he’ll appear and disappear, only to return again in another segment. Sometimes you’ll be minding your business, only to turn around and see him floating towards you. In one instance, I attempted to get away by diving into a giant cactus. I then stood atop a large skyscraper in the middle of the night.
And there he was again. He followed me, the son of a bitch. He just gazes and drifts towards you. He is the definition of a creeper. His pace is that of a guaranteed doom, an ill-fortuned fate of which there is no escape for any of us, and to which time merely counts the seconds remaining before its impact. He is silent and dreadful, compelling you to run.
I couldn’t go around him though. I did what was only natural: I began to walk backwards, filling that need to get away. Until I was falling off the side of the building, watching each story pull into the air as I plummeted past them and dropped to my death. The screen turned a solid red. It was over, the dream forever lost in the corpse left behind. I was now back in the apartments, the birds still arguing back and forth.
Only to walk into this shit.
As stated above: it is, without a doubt, the most frightening game I have ever played. You’ll see videos of playthroughs where people are yelling and scared shitless. I used to watch these and ask myself: “it’s just a pink elephant dancing in the sky, what the fuck is so terrifying?”
Then I played it at night myself, and couldn’t keep doing it for more than 5 minutes. You really feel entirely and unbearably alone in this unrecognizable and deformed world, even as carousel music plays and cats march in a military parade. It is that disjointed from reality that it makes you entirely conscious to your own seclusion, making you uncomfortable in the process and liable to be spooked by any sort of abnormality which cracks a smile at you. Because the graphics are so outdated and lack the detail and definition we see in contemporary games, its poor animation helps to bend the environment into a Picasso-esque brainfuck as to what life looks like. This in turn solidifies that sense of isolation and unfamiliarity, and it is one of the few PS1 games I have seen where the graphics have worked to the betterment of the game as a result of time passing.
Every dream, and every action you take in them, affects the mood of your character and influences your future dreams. No one really knows what makes the mood swing in any which direction. At the end of each dream, a red square will fill one of the segments with no rhyme or reason. It is said that there is an alternative ending to this game, to which a special cutscene plays once all of these squares have been filled.
No one has the slightest clue how to do it. Beyond that, the game ends once you’ve gone through 365 dreams, each one more and more bizarre than the last. It then resets the count back to Day 001, and you just do the shit again.
This is very much a 90's PlayStation sort of game, a member of an exclusive club of simply psychotic endeavors that came out of Japan in the vein of PaRappa the Rapper and Bishi Bashi. It’s why I question the creative capability of modern Japanese developers sometimes, as these levels of insanity really aren’t prevalent in our modern age. Which makes me very sad.
Words can’t describe it. You have to see it. You have to play it. You must play it to understand it. It is that simple.
Economists calculate what are called “concentration ratios” to determine the relative competitiveness of certain markets, and to try to identify different types of market structures based on the market share of the 4 largest firms in an industry. These ratios range from 0% to 100%, with 0% meaning no one firm has total control of the market, and 100% is essentially a damn monopoly – and not the fun kind with Boardwalk and Free Parking.
Video game consoles crack the very top of the list at 100%. A feat maybe one or two other industries manage to pull off – We’re number 1, guys!
Our industry, how it operates, is rotten on nearly every level.
Why can I not put a PS3 game into an Xbox 360 and have it work? Don’t comment with some explanation – I’m being facetious, my dears. The specifics are not important: It should work. No other media industry operates like this. It is insanity. It is a terrible convention, an outmoded and obsolete limitation still pressed upon us because Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are hell bent on driving out competitors for their own sake. Proprietary console formats should have died out in the 80s with the Atari and the presidential candidacy of Michael Dukakis, yet here we are: Gears of War 3 sits in my PS3, and it looks at me like I’m some sort of spoon-licking moron.
Imagine if DVDs or CDs were like this. I’d want to listen to my Celine Dion albums, but could only do it on a Sony Walkman instead of my random piece of crap made by JVC. I’d have to go out and shell out money for a Walkman just to listen to 3 CDs, only for Celine Dion to turn around and sign some exclusive contract with Panasonic and their CD players, making her future albums only playable on their devices.
How is a man supposed to get in touch with his feminine side in this kind of market?
But we don’t see any attempt to alleviate any of this. Because we’re dealing with an oligopoly. Three firms – Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo – who have no intention of making life easier on the consumer, and every intention of crushing the others for their own sake and profit. I mean, for Christ’s sake: I learned this in my microeconomics course. Our industry is literally a textbook definition of an oligopoly!
Now, would this require more of an investment on the part of consumers? Possibly. One of the benefits of our current market is that, because it is under such tight restriction, the three dominating firms effectively control the pace of the technology, limiting how often consumers must upgrade their hardware and possibly saving them money. These are benefits which may be lost if the reigns were handed to an uncoordinated, competitive market.
Then Microsoft charges you $100 for a network adapter and $50 for a power cord, leaving you to wonder just what money you really saved. People were shocked when Sony originally announced the launch price of the PS3: “$600? They’re insane! What are they thinking!?” They thought they were a monopoly that could get away with it, with no real alternative or competition to stop them.
They were only about half right.
Software has its problems as well. There are about 110 independent video game publishers currently in operation around the world. In comparison: There are about 68,000 pizza restaurants in the U.S. alone, let alone what the number is in the world. Now, making pizzas is a lot easier to do. One of the metrics used in these concentration ratios are what are called “barriers to entry,” or how difficult it is for new participants to enter a market – of which the very nature of our industry automatically erects barriers in the form of development and marketing costs. Games are simply expensive to produce, meaning the competition we’re going to see is going to be limited from the get-go.
But again: No attempt to address the subject, not even any sort of discussion about it. I cite publishers, and not developers, for a simple reason: Publishers act as the gatekeepers for our entire industry, deciding what games see the light of day and what you get to play. Developers really don't have a horse in this game per se – they're in it to make awesome games. But these publishers, like any other business, seek to thin their numbers and reduce the number of choices available to consumers. These are aspects of every other industry in the world, but it is a little shocking just how much these facts are not a part of our collective consciousness given it is perhaps one of the most followed industries in the world. You don’t see many blogs with real time updates of the happenings of the pork industry on a daily basis, for instance.
These seem like crazy notions, especially since we’re about to enter the holidays and there are more games coming down the pipe than my wallet can handle. But really think about it: All the games that have come out over the year, made by a host of different developers, how many of them have the same publisher? EA, Activision, Take Two, Namco, Capcom. We may have a lot of games, and a lot of titles competing with each other, but only so many actual companies to which these titles belong to competing.
And they go out of their way not only to undercut each other, but to stamp out the indie studios as well. Or, if they can’t stamp either of them out: Acquire them and bend them to their control. How many studios have we seen fall to the sword and die out in this manner? Former creative juggernauts like Rare are absorbed to the whims of larger developers, concentrating and diluting the creative capability of the industry. What could Infinity Ward have created if they were not acquired by Activision and forced to bang the Call of Duty drum for the rest of their existence?
It is this environment which leads to the absurd era of endless sequels and price jacking, peddling already-made features as “downloadable content” which were once a part of the actual game. I have no problem with DLC in and of itself, but charging me $4.99 for a 400kb notepad file which unlocks crap already in my game surely isn’t anything that blows my skirt up. But again: We are dealing with an industry with monopolistic structures, orientations, and urges. Which leads me to the newest, greatest travesty in this saga which it is truly both comical and depressing:
The season pass.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing as I stood in line at Gamestop the other week, listening to the cashier explain to another customer the benefits of Modern Warfare 3’s Hardened Edition.
“Well, if you buy the Hardened Edition, you’ll be able to get all of the DLC for a year for free, instead of having to buy them. So you’re saving money.”
Whoa. Hold on. First, let me clean all this soda I choked on. For the last couple of years, we’ve had these map packs coming out for $15 a pop. In the course of less than a year, I've spent $60 for the game itself, followed by another $60 for maps to run around in, and now you're interested in saving me money?
Let that sink in. Anyone who has bought all 4 of these packs has paid the retail price of a full game for simple environments to run around in. No new mechanics, no new gameplay, no new music, story, visuals: Just some square maps.
Now, people can spend their money however way they wish, and I’ve certainly spent more absurd money on Gundam models which serve to do nothing more than to throw me in a nerd frolic every now and then, putting a serious dent into my productivity on some days. I have no problem with these map packs – whatever makes people happy.
But don’t insult my intelligence by telling me I’m saving money by ponying up $40 up front for $60 worth of maps when they would have been $0 a decade ago. It’s like clocking me in the face 8 times and insisting I should be grateful it wasn’t 9.
Which leads me to my next target, the literal monopoly of the monopolists: Gamestop.
I am not here to talk about their lousy trade in values, gutted game cases, or most of the usual crap we complain about when this subject comes up.
I am here to discuss their abhorrent labor practices.
I have been in a constant search for a new job since the first day I started my current one (and that was 4 years ago). I work at a grocery store. An apt description of what I do is: I sweat. I round up shopping carts outside, I stock and arrange the shelves, and I patiently explain to the homeless people that they can’t use the toilets as a bath. But I get paid $9.25 an hour with dental, vision, and stock in the company just for showing up. It’s not terrible, especially while I’m in college, but it definitely doesn’t always cover the bills.
So a while back, I managed to befriend one of the girls at a local Gamestop (who I really just wanted to take out on a date). They had a few positions open, and my tolerance for cheese-related inquiries was at an all time low. I was genuinely interested in taking on a second job, and then I asked her how much it paid.
Minimum? As in, minimum wage? To arguably do more work which was twice as dangerous, what with every other Gamestop being robbed every other week? It’s like Gamestop goes out of its way to see if they can make me spit out whatever drink I bring into the store with me.
I mean, it’s bad enough going in there are a customer. It is truly one of the most atrocious shopping experiences one can endure, as the place is always hopelessly understaffed in an attempt to drive down costs for the corporate office, in turn leaving one poor soul to deal with a line of about 5 or 6 people – and each of them require 10 to 15 minutes of interaction on average at the minimum.
There of course is the annoying instance of the membership cards, the magazines, of placing pre-orders. The biggest annoyance however, and one I don’t see discussed often, is the hassle of canceling a pre-order, which often turns into one of the biggest guilt trips I have to endure in my life. The associates plead with you not to cancel your pre-order, even if you have to use it to pay for a game you’re buying. Literally, I had one of them tell me the other day, with a huge line behind me:
“Could you not cancel those, or put $5 back on them? We’ve gotten a lot of cancellations today and we just can’t afford this on our numbers.”
She then tried to walk it back, but my Tommy Lee Jones face was already on. I was fucking pissed. It wasn’t her fault though – they tie how many hours they get each week to the pre-orders they make and cancel, even though my cancelations have nothing to do with how good of an employee these people are. Most of the time, they’re simply because my own job doesn’t pay enough. Not only do they have to man long lines often by themselves for a despicable wage, but they then must grovel to their customers to act against their interests in order to spare the poor associate from not being able to work.
Why don’t they just give the managers a whip? It doesn’t seem like the employees are motivated enough to aggravate me, through no fault of their own.
But that is the mentality of the industry. It is the mentality of those who make hardware, software, and those who sell them. It is the mentality of a monopolist: Squeeze everyone and everything for all it's worth. Bleed them out for everything they have. Take shit out of games and make them pay more for it. Make them have to beg their customers in order to hawk our fucking crap. Dangle their hours over their heads if needed.
It should disgust anyone.
Our industry simply is not designed to foster an atmosphere of transparency and accountability, which explains a lot of this behavior. Coming from the academic world, especially the social sciences, you are instructed and trained not to be full of shit. Or, at least, to try not to be. There are plenty of people within the social sciences who are full of shit, despite years of education. But I digress.
When you make arguments, you are held to standards. You have to back up what you’re saying, and they need to be creditable sources from researchers who have spent the time required and earned the right to be listened to. I cited a Wikipedia article in this very page – if I were to do this in a research paper, I’d get laughed out of the room. Anyone can edit a Wikipedia article, and although it does cite scholarly sources, whether the information accurately reflects those sources is left up in the air because simply anyone can come in and put whatever they’d like.
These people include corporations like the ones I have named in this article, or their lobbyist group, the Entertainment Software Association, allowing them to edit and distort articles and information to their own ends. You may recognize the ESA: They run E3 each year, allowing them to distract everyone as they spend the other months bolstering and ensuring this near-monopoly.
I had to do it though. Because we simply have no sort of group or institution to even try to keep track of the industry, or get stats on things in an objective fashion. Let’s face it: Video games are not really that important a subject for researchers to give a shit about. I would rather they spend their time on other things.
But it does make discussion within our community difficult, and holding companies accountable even more so. Getting numbers to debate software trends within the industry is near impossible, necessitating endless fanboy flamewars because we have no actual, factual data to disprove anyone’s notions – we’re just left to sort of argue what we feel and what the industry tells us because we have no alternative. The only source we have is the NPD, which is for profit and charges money for its figures (and perhaps rightly so), since publishers aren’t going to release them unless they sell millions of copies for a particular game. It’s this environment which allows Sony to tell us how many Move units they’ve shipped without telling us how many they’ve sold, as if it’s the most useful piece of information they could dream of.
If I ship 100 shoeboxes of my own, well-polished turds to Gamestop, that doesn’t necessarily mean any of them will be sold. Exclaiming this accomplishment is ludicrous at best.
Which leads me to the final mark: the journalists.
Our press is lousy. Most of the time, they do nothing more than read off of issued statements handed to them by these publishers, or the ESA, and pass it on, verbatim, without challenging their veracity. No sort of thought is ever put towards what these companies are doing because they don’t want to screw up their chances of a review copy for this season’s big blockbuster, or put their ad buys at risk. They then sit around and pat themselves on the back, assuring each other they’re doing great work as their revenue increases more in more while they sell out their readers, becoming silent accomplices in the industry they so love.
I have thought a lot about the question Niero founded this site on lately: Does games journalism take itself too seriously or not seriously enough? After all this time, I have finally reached my own answer:
It is why I love and adore Destructoid so much. I have sat and read this site for more than 3 years. It is one of the only institutions at least trying to question the meager, insignificant world around us, and not simply be a blow horn for Activision. Destructoid has always thrived on that idea, on it being able to pull in readers on an intimate level and have with them adult conversations with particular topics. It differentiates itself from competitors because of that sole reason, and it is why it continues to grow in my opinion.
Sometimes we see opinions on the front page which are not widely agreed with. They are soon shouted down with rage and anger, kneecapping whoever dared to post it in an attempt to silence the debate. This kills the spirit of Destructoid, as a long time reader. We must cherish and protect all opinions on this site, even ones we, or most of us, do not agree with. For the death of one opinion is the death of all opinions, and the death of all opinions is the death of Destructoid and an active, critical press. It is something we, as the consumers, could work on, among other things. Such as allowing everything I just wrote to continue, and supporting it with our dollars.
The people and institutions I have just criticized are not villains. They do us a great service by providing us with so many great games each and every year. They inspire and entertain us, and without them, none of this would be possible. Sites and magazines must work with publishers, and sometimes do things they may not want to – they are businesses as well. It's all a part of the game, so to speak. That does not make them perfect though, and my, or your, allegiance should not be to them: They should be to the consumer. You should not pledge yourself to one company or another: You should pledge yourself to good products and practices, and not tolerate poor versions of either for the sake of any business.
I have written a lot of things and made a lot of suggestions. Not all of them will be agreed with. Not all of them are possible to address, or possible to implement. Some of the characteristics of our industry are simply because of its exclusive nature and high production costs. This essay was not to serve as a silver bullet to these ailments.
It is, at the very least, an attempt to start some kind of discussion.
This is not something I proclaim with great fanfare – especially on the 15th anniversary of the series. There are two games I ever remember receiving for Christmas: One was at the age of 4, a brand new Sega Genesis and the original Sonic the Hedgehog. The other: The Director's Cut of Resident Evil 1 to accompany my brand new Playstation, along with a pair of clear colored memory cards (they really should make PS3 controllers like that again – the 90s were so great). Resident Evil, along with Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy 7, were my real, cognitive forays into gaming – prior to that, I simply played wherever was put in front of me as a child. I was, and am, a Playstation Baby, so to speak.
So watching this year’s Tokyo Game Show was painful, for it was essentially the finale to the slow motion death of my childhood, bled out over the last half decade and culminating in a large pile of disappointment and semen-esque goo.
As I write this, a HD port of Resident Evil 4 has been released with an HD port of Code Veronica: X soon following. Now these are really great games which just happen to be the harbingers of the franchise’s demise – 4 more so than Code Veronica, though the initial seeds can be spotted within the latter. I know I am peddling blasphemy in some quarters, but please bear in mind my perspective: A grouchy, cranky, crusty fanboy who just wants the kids off his lawn.
From these two games came a number of useless spinoffs, followed by the abominable Resident Evil 5, compounded by more useless spinoffs, to which the bright, glorious future now promises more useless spinoffs. Revelations seemed able to quell this rather crotchety dissension of mine, harkening back to the old school style a lot of us just can’t seem to let go of. Then TGS came, effectively neutralizing any confidence I had in Capcom with regards to knowing what the hell it’s doing.
I would like to introduce what I term as “The Wesker Index,” and build up to how we got here. The Wesker Index posits that the quality of a Resident Evil game can be measured in terms of whether or not the character Albert Wesker is in it, how important he is to the story, and how many games he has appeared in prior to it. Here’s a dope ass chart.
Now as we can see, with the very first game we’re starting in Dope territory. A good, solid showing for a fresh IP. Wesker is introduced as a crooked cop, his story plays out, he’s killed, and everyone rides off into the sunset. The next two installments continue on without him, reaching to Double Dope levels (2 hits the high mark mainly due to the fact that you essentially get over twice the content compared to the first game – how was 3 going to compete with that?). 3 is a bit of a drop off, hovering between Dope and Dope-ish – it adds some neat new mechanics, nothing really ground breaking, but definitely is not a bad game at all. In fact, I'd argue it is the most frightening.
Then, Code Veronica. A technical feat at the time, and personally one of my favorites in the franchise – but let’s face it, the game wasn’t anything we hadn’t already seen. We were still plagued with the myriad of annoyances in the interface, the camera and the controls to name a few, that were really hollowing out the fanbase like so many termites. Nosferatu the lame, duel wielding uzis was ok, the cross dressing was interesting, and other than that: It was the same old game with the same old problems.
But then Wesker showed up, again, after being wrecked by the Tyrant like some cheap punk in a Shaw Brothers film. Except now he floated. And was super human. Which isn’t really what Resident Evil is about. Resident Evil has always been somewhat “scientific” (and only through the loosest definition of the word), never supernatural – yet here’s Wesker, back from the dead as a Super Saiyan. The initial reintroduction is cool, since you haven’t seen him in so long! But then it gets rather silly as he’s pulling off back flips and Matrix wall runs, leaving you to wonder why the hell they brought him back if they were just going to completely tear apart the original character.
Still, the franchise holds strong in Dope-ish territory around this time. From that point, Capcom went back to basics and remade Resident Evil 1 for the Gamecube, the greatest Resident Evil game ever and should immediately be given an HD port (listen to me Capcom). They cut out the silly super powers, added in some new mechanics and even expanded upon the already awesome story – the interface stuff was still there, as was Wesker (though toned down), but as a long time Resident Evil fan, the game is amazing in spite of those things. 0 soon followed however, causing the index to plummet to its lowest levels with significant drops in the Technology and Originality sectors. In between all of this was the Survivor series, some portable releases, and the ill-fated Outbreak series (to hell with online games with no chat!) – things were starting to smell funky.
And then there was 4. The game that brought the series back from general irrelevancy, hailed as the greatest installment of the series and one of the greatest games in our culture.
In my eyes, the soul of the franchise was sacrificed for it. It was a price too steep.
Zombies were gone. Instead, we had things that looked like zombies. And they talked. And also were some weird kind of parasite that would try to eat you if you shot off their heads. Wesker was back, even more absurd and silly this time – now he was some kind of scientist heading this biotech/spy agency conglomerate, sending assassins all over the world! The close-quarters, claustrophobic environments which bred tension and fear of the original games were replaced with wide open fields along the Spanish country side, of which the only crop ever grown was ammunition. You were given a briefcase full of firepower and sent off to do your work, with all care or caution for survival thrown to the wind.
They carved out the corpse of Resident Evil, and put an action movie in its skin to bring it back to life.
With all of that said: It was still a damn good game, for what it was worth. And it introduced a lot of people to the franchise as a whole, opening the older games for an audience that may have never looked at them. All in all, the game was a net benefit, even if somewhat a disappointment to the old school.
We hoped, though, that it was a minor transgression, and that the next game would return back to those core elements which made the franchise so successful and awesome. Then, the glimmers of Resident Evil 5. The zombies run now! And they can tackle! That sense of urgency started to reappear. And look at the mobs of them! Now we’re in the middle of Africa – this is new! It doesn’t seem so over the top anymore either.
Then it came out.
…That’s all I have to say about it really. That wound hasn’t closed yet.
Since that miserable day, the series has remained in the toilet despite that shot in the arm from 4. If I had an investment portfolio based off this index, I’d be in the poor house right about now. I should have listened to my advisors!
We just had The Mercenaries on the 3DS and that fiasco. Operation Raccoon City, while certainly looking like a fun game, might as well be Socom with zombies. Capcom keeps treading further and further away from that core gameplay, eschewing it for more Western conventions, pumping the characters with steroids and adding in unnecessary action sequences and latex. To what end, Capcom? To what end?
Revelations initially seemed to be heading in that direction: The first trailer consisted of the bleached Jill (Why Capcom, why!?) and Chris exchanging moody, cheesy lines to one another, which are more the hallmark of Uwe Boll than Resident Evil. “Great, Resident Evil 5.5 on the 3DS – I’m jumping for joy.” However, as time passed, we were allowed to look under the hood of the game to view the nuts and bolts of it.
“Holy shit…it’s a Resident Evil game!”
Personally, I could really do without all the latex – but I’ll take whatever I can get. The small environments, the limited ammo – survival was back, in the game that pioneered the survival horror genre. Granted, it was on the 3DS, meaning I’d probably never end up playing it. But I was glad Capcom was at least giving it a shot, bringing back the core gameplay and fixing the things that people wanted to be fixed. If Revelations could succeed, commercially, I thought, then it would help justify returning the console iterations to that same formula.
Then TGS came and went. And I just wanted to smite a thousand babies with one swift stroke of the knuckle sandwich. Just like a row of them, in domino fashion. But using my fist the entire time, instead of gravity. I find it to be a much more effective disabler of children than gravity. Relatively speaking.
Many people were offended by Rachel and her tumorous mammary glands, and how she had literally no face. I mean literally: She has no face. I don’t mean the swamp of hair over it: There just isn’t anything there to begin with. She has no eyeballs, no eyebrows, no ears – just a mouth and nose. Her only sense of direction is through taste and smell. It’s just a blank canvas like some sort of wicked cretin out of the city of Chernobyl.
That is the problem, right?
What I found most egregious was the fact that possibly the one game the diehard Resident Evil fans have been asking for, for nearly a decade, had to be bastardized with pure, simple, unadulterated boner service in the spirit of Highschool of the Dead (which is the epitome and manifestation of everything sad and wrong with Japanese anime and entertainment at large in our contemporary age – that’s right, I said it). It’s bad enough that we have to sit through the poorly done action motifs without pandering to Rapelay’s target demographic on top of it, as we watch this beauty mannequin of a woman be dragged off kicking and screaming to her death with mild rape and hentai overtones to accompany it. Whether she dies or not, what does this say about the possible direction Capcom may be willing to take the full game down?
But then I watched the actual gameplay, and it still felt like something was off. We're still rolling with these weird monsters out of Silent Hill, everything is still overly and needlessly dramatic, and everyone is still hitting those roids. And as much as I love them: I'd really prefer if Chris, Jill, Claire, and Leon would just vanish forever. Every installment seeks to expand their story, causing them to be construed in more ridiculous manners and scenarios as they inch closer and closer to the proverbial shark.
These are personal preferences. What is not personal, though, is that once again, the spirit, the feel, the soul of Resident Evil is shredded for some short-sighted end or fad. Yes: Nothing is forever, and everything must evolve with the times. But to completely gut and hollow out your very being for that sake is not evolution, it is destruction. Will the game still be good? Of course. The core gameplay is still there. But games are more than that, if Shadow the Hedgehog taught us anything at all.
TGS led me to only one conclusion: We need to hit the reset button on this series.
As I started with, I am what I am: A grouchy, cranky, crusty fanboy. Thus, these opinions are the product of that single fact. Perhaps I am not appeasable. Capcom has given me what I wanted, but it’s just not enough – it’s not perfection, in my eyes. Maybe I just want my brains and to eat them too. But I don’t think I’m asking for much: I just want an old Resident Evil with a new story, new characters, while fixing the problems people have complained about for years. Yet each time, Capcom gives us a bone and then throws in something we neither asked for nor might even be quite fond of. I should be thankful for the bone, but I can’t help but be bothered by the bag of shit tied to the end of it.
I love you Capcom, but I wish you treated your Resident Evil fans a lot more like you treat your Street Fighter fans. You have other children besides your first born, you know!
I hope I am wrong in this assessment. I hope one day, Resident Evil rises from the grave and starts kicking ass again. Ironically, I think Capcom could learn a lot from Dead Space as to where it should take the series, mechanically speaking. Coupled with the grounded, sterile, urban, realistic atmosphere of the original games, the franchise could some day regain its throne with a style that is its own. But not at this rate, in my opinion.
If I could just ask for one thing, at all, at the very least:
Please note: There are graphic images in this post, though not without merit. With that said, those easily disturbed should skip this post.
Every month or so comes a criticism of games, or rather: The effects of repeated, simulated violence upon the human psyche. Then comes a wave of backlash, shouting and screaming it down. Yet these criticisms are right: Anyone who really believes that the games we play every day aren’t having any effect are either not looking at it objectively, or they have already gone off the cliff, so to speak.
Now, of course, sometimes these criticisms are then used to try to justify arguments or legislation to restrict and regulate games and their violent content – the purpose of this is to not debate any of that. I am simply looking at the reaction of us, gamers, and the vitriol we spew, how we foam at the mouth at anyone who has anything bad at all to say about our pastime with such knee-jerkery.
I am not arguing that games make everyone into murders. I am not arguing that games should be banned. But to act as though our hobby is the only perfect activity out there, with no downside or side effects (especially among children): This is a point that needs to be argued.
I want to cite studies showing the links between violence and violent behavior, but none of them will be read, or they’ll be quickly dismissed. I can foretell it’s a moot point. Instead, let’s approach it logically: Being exposed to something repeatedly numbs the effect it has, no matter what it is (excluding a punch to the face). Now of course, this is not to say that simulated violence desensitizes individuals to actual violence – this, I think, can be disputed. However, simulated violence, in my opinion, desensitizes individuals to the idea of violence, what we think violence actually is.
When we (yes, I am generalizing here) think of someone getting shot, we don’t think of how people really get shot, unless we’ve seen it first hand: We think of what it looks like, what we have been exposed to, in movies and games. What happens to someone when they’re hit in the head with a .50 caliber bullet from a sniper rifle? In Call of Duty, they fall to the ground and disappear.
It sort of cracks it open like an egg shell. Notice how the force of impact pulled and bent the curvature of his eye socket. Very nice.
This touches back to my point though, which sort of defends games: In many, this image provokes a cringing response. Video games do not desensitize people to actual violence.
But the idea of violence, I would say definitely. We can only imagine what we know, and constant exposure to such fallacies are bound to influence how we view things, especially in real world applications. This, again, is not to argue that everyone will suddenly inflict violence on the drop of a hat. But to, though not limited to, more unstable elements, it of course has an effect (of which children might as well be the definition of unstable). How could anyone even argue otherwise?
No, video games weren't around when Hitler was alive. But he did fight in World War I, and saw some of the most gruesome shit imaginable on a daily basis for years. No wonder he didn't have a problem gassing a couple million people.
M.I.A. made a comment a while back about video games, positing that they tend to misinform children about violence and make violence easier to commit, especially when they grow up and are perhaps shipped off to war:
"They feel like they know the violence when they don't. Not having a proper understanding of violence, especially what it's like on the receiving end of it, just makes you interpret it wrong and makes inflicting violence easier."
A shitstorm ensued. Why? Is this notion so entirely disagreeable? Even on Destructoid, I saw vile rage in response. Is our hobby really perfect? Is there no detriment whatsoever? Are we really that perfect? I know I’ll get some sarcastic comments, but honestly: This is delusional thinking.
Then, like clockwork, the ESA, the Entertainment Software Association, comes right out with some official statement that every game site and magazine quotes as a counter-point to whatever criticism arises as a defender of gaming and the average gamer.
Folks: I hate to break it to you, but the ESA is not your friend. They’re like the NRA: They are salesmen, lobbyists, paid to represent game companies and secure for them an atmosphere that allows them to profit at whatever cost. Every time a politician tries to pass a law that prohibits retailers from selling Gears of War to an 8 year old (the nerve!), the ESA has a comment right away railing against it as an assault to not only the existence of video games, but your very freedoms as an American and a human being.
Yet where are the ESA when we hear of poor working conditions and 100+ hour work weeks at Rockstar, EA, and Team Bondi? Where are our good friends at when these abuses come to light?
They’re cashing their fucking paychecks from Rockstar, EA, and Team Bondi. Go ahead, try to google some statements from them – I had no luck whatsoever, but am willing to see what anyone else can find. They are not looking out for you, or even the people who spend their lives making games. They’re looking out for the people that pay them, the people who sell games. Do you pay them? No. I’m sure the people at the ESA are very nice, they do a decent job with E3 every year, and I don’t think any of them would go out of their way to inflict ill intent upon anyone at all.
But they’re not your friend. They’re not looking out for you. They’re out for your wallet. And I wish we would kick them out as some sort of legitimate viewpoint, because they simply are not an unbiased participant.
The moment that formed my opinion on this subject was when I heard about a kid being doused in rubbing alcohol and set afire over a monetary dispute. Four 15 year olds and a 13 year old set fire to another 15 year old as he sat by a pool and left him to die.
…How does a child even dream of that on their own, without some sort of prior exposure to it? That’s not to say that every child exposed to someone being burned is going to automatically burn their cousins, but is there no link whatsoever? Is there not even a little blame, a little responsibility, to go around?
Are we really that perfect?
Yes, parents also need to not be shitty. Parents really share the most blame for any of these tragic stories. But must we also spit forth a rage when someone suggests that perhaps the little pricks shouldn't have been flamethrowing civilians in GTA for hours on end? That's really what I'm focusing on: Our reaction. Must we be so indignant?
I grew up on violent games and violent movies I shouldn’t have seen. I turned out relatively fine, besides that killing spree I went on in the 10th grade (sophomore year was a challenging time for me). A lot of people I know are the same way. But I can’t honestly say it had no effect on me. Perhaps I would have been better off not being exposed to those things until a later age. It’s too late now, but it is something I wonder about.
Because when I read news reports about someone being gunned down in some far off, pointless conflict, despite the fact that I’ve seen that image above at least a dozen times, I still think of this:
Maybe it’s just me. Perhaps I’m simply a horrible person.
From a technical standpoint, Dead Island is a miserable game that should have never seen the light of day. The bugs are numerous and well known, though there are other problems that have not been touched on: It is the most uninspired, borrowed piece of garbage in recent memory, with no feature or innovation it can safely claim as its own. It adds nothing to the collective experience that hasn’t been seen already. You have played this game before, many times. And better versions of it, at that.
Yet I cannot put it down. I still come back to it.
As unoriginal as it is, it lifts a lot of great stuff. It is from a design aspect that the game’s beauty manages to awash all these criticisms, at least in the minds of those seeming to enjoy it – bugs and ruined save files aside. The game manages to accomplish something no zombie game has achieved or even attempted:
This is how a zombie outbreak should feel.
Zombie games have existed for quite a number of years, yet none have really tried to capture a quasi-accurate atmosphere and experience to the situation (though it’s not like a factual comparison would ever exist). Zombies have typically served as obstacles or enemies of which to kill, but the consequences upon society and the human psyche are typically glossed over – the human element, the sociological aspect, is abundantly absent.
Compare it to something like Left 4 Dead: You are being mobbed by hundreds of zombies, but there’s not really a survival element. You have four civilians surprisingly well trained in a number of fire arms, blasting and slugging their way through environments. Survival is essentially about how many hits you take and how many health packs the game doles out.
It's about how well you can play the game. That's all.
Left 4 Dead is also quite linear. It is in Dead Island’s exploration and mundane tasks that it accomplishes a sense of this “reality” as you roam an open world for whatever you can scrounge together for weapons. Shotguns and machine guns aren’t just given to you, and you often have to interact with people and work with them to accomplish things. Let’s face it: If shit ever does hit the fan, it’s going to be more about finding gas, food, and help, rather than Red Herbs, V-JOLT, and MO Disks.
Dead Rising makes a fairly good attempt at this, but Dead Rising a little more comical and over the top. Granted, Dead Island has it absurdities, but they’re few in between compared to Dead Rising. Though to clarify: This is not a knock on Dead Rising (although the sequel can choke on a brick), or any of the aforementioned games. I love all of them.
There’s always this sense of doom and dread in Dead Island, and you’re somewhat always in dire straits: Weapons continue to break, causing you to sometimes franticly search for new ones as a horde approaches. Health can be sometimes a problem, as well as money. Your resources are limited, though not to a Resident Evil level – but close enough. You are not some super soldier, even with the abilities you can upgrade: You will still run into things that’ll kick your ass, and you will still die.
It’s always interesting to see how the people around you react, which is the hallmark of the great zombie films. A lot of people knock the sidequests where you have to fetch nonessential things like a necklace, or a teddy bear – they seem out of place and not in keeping with that serious tone. However, people act in illogical ways during traumatic times. I can remember a while back on the evening news, they had on a woman who had just survived an earthquake. She was asked during the interview: What was going through your mind?
Her main concern was her jewelry, at home. If all of her belongings were alright. That was the immediate concern: “Do I still have all my shit?” Not: “I’m going to die,” or “Are my children still three dimensional?”
You can see some of these characters have completely lost it. You see how people cope and react, unlike most of the game’s contemporaries. It’s not perfect, and it’s rather shallow and skin deep as the game doesn’t really go out of its way to establish this or make any commentary on it – but it is there.
Dead Island shouldn’t work. Especially given its technical failures (that’ll hopefully be resolved in the upcoming patches). But I, and a lot of people, can’t put it down. It might just be that this is the closest any one has come to really nailing the atmosphere and experience of this rigor mortis filled apocalypse.