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I'm a 21 year old guy in Idaho. I've been playing video games as long as I can remember, starting with an old dusty NES, some Mario, and Battletoads. Now, I'm just another gamer, it seems. And while it's a little uncomfortable being associated with video games simply by virtue of being young and male, I can't argue with the accuracy of the stereotype. That said, I'm a gamer, not a guy who plays games. It's a large part of my life and who I am. I'm not here on DTOID because I have a pastime or a hobby. I'm here because I have, for lack of a better word, a passion.

But I can't seem to think of anything useful to say about myself, so I'll hope my posts give some insight.
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Ok, so, as you've probably heard, EA has dropped the label of "Taliban" from the new Medal of Honor. And after reading Jim's post, a couple other websites' posts, and more than a few comments on those posts, I decided I wanted to speak my mind about it.

Let's make one thing clear: This is a name change. Nothing more. COD4 and MW2 took a Taliban-esque force and gave them a new name. MOH's I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Taliban are likely just the same as COD's I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Taliban. Not surprising, given that MOH's Nazis were just the same as COD's Nazis.

And yet, I can't really agree with the people who say "Whatever. Nothing substantial really changed. It's a name, and even if they're called Opposing Force, we know who and what they are. Not a big deal."

The weird part is, they're right. In terms of gameplay, it'll be no different now. And yes, even with a different name, we know they're Taliban troops.

In response to one of the comments of this mentality, Jim said:

"I'm more concerned about the social impact of this rather than the gameplay. The fact that people have been told they'll get whatever they want if they scream loud enough is a very bad thing to encourage, and EA has sent that message with crystal clarity. Games have a hard enough time trying to be relevant or controversial without publishers balking every time they dare. This is why Six Days in Fallujah got scrapped and a studio almost bankrupted."

And that's totally reasonable. That said, I think "social impact" is the wrong thing to say. For something to have an impact, it has to be the cause of something. And really, I don't think Medal of Honor really caused much change. They stated their intentions, people bitched and moaned, and they folded. Like Jim said, it parallels Six Days in Fallujah.

But Six Days came first. MOH isn't the first time this has happened. I wouldn't call it a social impact so much as a social crater. The precedent's already been set, the impact has been made. MOH is just feeling those same effects.

It may seem like I'm splitting hairs here, and maybe I am. But it's how I feel, and I'm saying it. Jim's right in that EA has shown that they'll be willing to fold if enough people get vocal. But I almost can't blame them. People get really sensitive about this kind of thing.

What if we're doing it wrong? What if it's not even EA? Maybe there's enough bitching and moaning that ANY company in their position would've done the same. You and I haven't heard too much, maybe, but EA probably has.

What if the statement here is really "People bitch and whine so loud they stopped EA" instead of "EA sucks so much they caved in to some whiners."

I'm gonna end this poorly organized rant/blog/brainbarf here, before I skew even more off-topic. But there it is, for what it's worth.

After reading through Andrew Kauz's "Videogames and the pursuit of harmless entertainment and all the comments, I came to a very different conclusion than he did, or, in fact, than anyone in the comments seemed to. Andrew offers his view on what kinds of qualities are valued in gaming, and laments how prevalent it is to appeal to the lowest common denominator instead of pushing for something more meaningful or advanced. In a word, (his, in fact) Challenging.

And while I can't really fault him for feeling like that, I think that there were some really accurate comments on the article disagreeing with him. They basically fell into two categories: A) "Entertainment, and indeed, life in general is always full of more shit than substance: it's unreasonable to ask that games be any different." And B) "But, hey, look at (insert game here) and it's message of (blah de blah)."

And they're both right. And Andrew's right. But none of them are talking about the real issue, I think.

There is a disconnect between what was put into a game for us to get, and what we get out of it.

Take, for example, No More Heroes. DTOID ran a series of articles detailing the messages, symbolism, and design choices that the writers saw in the game. ("Analyzing No More Heroes" and "What NMH2 really means) Some people in the comments agreed, saying they'd seen similar ideas. Some were surprised at how much sense it made, and how they'd missed it all. Still others thought that the game didn't have any of that by design, and that the writer was reading too far into it.

Who's right? I don't know. Chances are, only the people behind the game know. But wherever their intent was, the game still got all these different reactions. Is that good? Maybe. There's something to be said about a game, or a movie, or a book, or anything, when each person gets something different out of it. There's also something to be said for having a very direct message that everyone in the audience can understand.

I thought of this when I read a comment on Kauz's piece, discussing the message behind GTA4.

Anthony Noel writes (Large comment, I only took a couple pieces of it):
"But the choice was in doing the mission."

later elaborating:
"Drive a taxi for a living and share a shitty apartment with Roman, barely scrape by, call your friends up on Friday and go get drunk, find a girl in the personnel section, go on a few dates, get laid. Right from the start the game happily says to you, here have a normal life. But if you choose the other path then regardless of Niko's self deluding moralizing about how much he hates violence, he and by extension we as gamers are choosing violence."

Was that the point of GTA4? I always thought those things were more about providing a look at the fact that Niko is, despite all the crazy shit he gets himself into, still just another guy. I took those elements to mean that there's more to the life of the men we remember than just the parts we remember. Ben Franklin had a vast number of purely social experiences. Meaningless, empty days. We all do. And we forget that sometimes. By adding the human element to Niko's story, it becomes a bit easier to relate to.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Rockstar was putting in a subtle challenge to the gamer. And to the society the game comments on.

In either case, at least one of us missed what they were trying to do: the message they wanted to send. And there's not necessarily anything wrong with that, but until games and gamers are connected enough to send the intended message to the majority of the userbase, we can't accurately say how "challenging" games are these days.

Because we simply don't know.

3:55 PM on 07.24.2010

Hamza recently posted an editorial explaining why he can't support Medal of Honor as long as it includes Al-Qaeda forces. I disagree. But I'm not gonna hold that against him. It's a ballsy move to stand up and say "no" to something like that. It's not just that he decided not to buy the game, and then occasionally bitched and moaned to his friends. He went out of his way to publicly explain how he feels and why.

I applaud him. I respect him. But I still disagree.

I don't think it's a bad thing to include current issues. I liked the idea of Six Days in Fallujah. Granted, Fallujah was taking it very seriously, getting input from real veterans, and trying to make an excellent experience with it. While I don't have as much faith in MoH using the content well, I do think we should wait and see how they handle it before we take such a stance against it.

Look at, say, Manhunt, GTA, or Mass Effect. Each of those has content in it that has created some form of controversy. Note that said controversy came from outside the industry and outside the community.

Medal of Honor is causing disputes even here. If it wasn't, you wouldn't be reading about it. The fact that even gamers are reacting differently to this shows how powerful a decision it is to include the Al-Qaeda.

I consider that all the more reason to defend it.

If all of us shy away from things we find uncomfortable, we'd never advance. Look at the 1950s. Mainstream culture focused on the happy, normal, family. "Normalcy" reigned supreme. The suppression of everything outside of the norm didn't really do anything positive. Only those who broke out of those limits really had much impact. Look at the beatniks. They led into hippies and other alternative subcultures, and the rest is history.

But what if they hadn't? If nobody had bucked the trend. Would we still be living in 1950s America? I don't see why not.

I'm not saying that Medal of Honor is going to have far-reaching cultural consequences, but the idea still applies. If nothing else, I hope that Medal of Honor, even if done poorly, even if hated, does release, and does contain everything the creator wanted, Al-Qaeda included.

Because at least then, we can learn from it.

6:58 PM on 05.05.2010

This question suddenly bothers the hell outta me. So I wonder: What exactly does a game have to have? We see software releases of, say, Heavy Rain, and some people don't consider it a game because it skimps on gameplay, focusing instead on presenting its story. On the other hand, look at Wii Sports. It lacks everything but gameplay, but it gets criticized as a mere toy. Then I forget about that nonsense, and focus on a more important question.

What's in a good game? I mean, Final Fantasy VII, Tetris, Pac-man, and Modern Warfare 2 are all very good games. But why? FF7's strengths lie in presentation, whereas Pac-man revels in the surprisingly strong gameplay based on such a simple design. Asteroids and Pong squeezed interaction out of meager hardware, but games like Uncharted and Arkham Asylum push current hardware further than we've ever seen before. What ties it all together? What makes us love these games so much?

Super Mario Brothers 3. Excellent game. Why?

-Solid difficulty curve, each themed world becoming steadily more difficult
-Constant introduction of new gameplay elements via worlds and suits
-Polished gameplay, refining and expanding that of previous Mario games
-Quality graphics and sound

Kingdom Hearts. Also excellent. Why?

-Solid difficulty curve, each themed world becoming steadily more difficult
-Constant intoduction of new gameplay elements via worlds and partners
-Polished gameplay, inserting an action-based battle system into a tried-and-true RPG frame
-Quality graphics and sound

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Excellent. Why?

-Solid difficulty curve, each themed dungeon becoming steadily more difficult
-Constant introduction of new gameplay elements via time travel and new items
-Polished gameplay, converting the swordplay and exploration from 2d into 3d
-Quality graphics and sound

Strange how much that lines up, eh? Ultimately, the best games have these things. But which ones do they need?

-Solid difficulty curve, start accessible, always rising, but not too fast. Never let the player become complacent, but don't frustrate them either. Players need goals to work towards, or they won't play.
-Introduction of new gameplay elements to prevent the experience from getting stale.
---You may have noticed all the examples have themed 'levels'. This isn't strictly necessary, but a stale aesthetic can bore a player just as well as a stale mechanic.
-Polished gameplay. This is a no-brainer. Even if you don't like JRPGs, you have to admit that the ATB does it's job and does it well, just like Halo, just like Mario, just like Castlevania.
-Functional graphics and sound. A game doesn't have to be beautiful to be fun, but it shouldn't be so ugly that I can't tell a door from the side of a crate.

Some of you might be inclined to try and prove me wrong, and give examples of games that are amazing, but don't fit the criteria. If anyone mentions Yume Nikki, Passage, etc. I will be forced to remind you that, while they have their strengths, I'm simply talking about the games we play because they entertain as a game. Not as a means to deliver a message or emotion.

Some of you might not be so easily deterred. Megaman, for instance, is known for it's non-linearity. Tough to make a difficulty curve when there's no single sequence of progression, eh? Maybe not. Look at Megaman X. Chill Penguin is by far the easiest level and boss, and it gives the player the practically required Dash Upgrade. This starts off a chain of levels that increase in difficulty. Also, the fact that a player can turn that on its ass, thus giving them a completely different, and much (INCREDIBLY MUCH) harder game to play. Gameplay elements are still added via boss powers, the gameplay is still tight, and the sprites and songs are as good as ever.

What about multiplayer-centric games? Well, that's not exactly the same thing. A developer can't nearly as well control the community of gamers as it can the content of the levels they design. So... does the system break down? Nah.

Street Fighter 2. Excellent game. Why?

-Difficulty levels are dependent upon opponents. Thus, fighting your brother or friend at first, then schoolmates, then tournaments, etc. is analogous to the rising difficulty of a single-player game.
-Gameplay elements aren't added as constantly, but the discovery of new combos/techniques/etc. do still happen. And encountering new players' fighting styles accomplishes a similar effect.
-Polished gameplay. Tough to argue this one. Every character and strategy has a counter. Even most attacks have reliable "anti-that-thing" companions.
-Solid graphics and sound. You can argue that it hasn't aged well, particularly in the animation department, but the iconic characters and music are still complete and well-presented.

We as a community fill in the gaps. Why? That's what makes the game fun. Stronger opponents make for more satisfactory goals. Games like Halo 2, while not bad games, lose their fun because nobody else is playing.

What about the other end of it? Are there any games that do all these things, and aren't fun to play? I can't think of any. You know why? Fun games need to be designed around one simple idea:

Do not let it get old.

-Rising difficulty curves prevent the game from being so easy, it feels pointless.
-Added gameplay elements keep the mechanics from becoming stale.
-Polished gameplay, while not a matter of staying power, is necessary. If the foundation isn't fun, no amount of tweaks will change that.
-Graphics and sound don't need to be the focus. But they need to do their job well. Even really good gameplay can be ruined by distracting sub-par music or a few poorly-formed polygons.

Variety may be the spice of life, but it's the backbone of a game: Without it, you're just a poorly formed lump that nobody wants to take a second look at.

Just kidding, Jack Black. Maybe.

Custom Robo, originally, was a series of Japan-only games on the N64, with a release on the Game Boy Color. After the inclusion of some trophies in Super Smash Brothers Melee based on the titular robos from the games, Americans wondered just what they were missing. Well, just like Fire Emblem (its own beast altogether), Custom Robo found its way stateside in 2004 with Custom Robo: Battle Revolution (Except the US release was just called Custom Robo). There was a DS game too. But I don't care about it.

Every image here is from the intro cinematic.

Anyhow, it's time we understand just what this game was, so allow me to try, albeit unsuccessfully, to segue into something resembling a review. (A fairly long one, actually. Sorry.)

Let's start with the basics. Custom Robo is somewhere between an Action-RPG and a Fighter, and I can't for the life of me decide which one I think it resembles more. Having such an ill-defined genre makes the game unique, as nothing else really plays like this, but also makes it difficult to define an audience for. After all, nothing else really plays like this.

Yep. Toys.

Every fight in the game is planned out ahead of time in the story; there are no random encounters. In keeping with that, experience points don't really exist, you just get new parts for your robo (discussed later) at certain points in the story. Having such an approach might bring some questioning looks. After all, how are we supposed to grind? It's an RPG, right? Well, that's where the fighter aspect of the game comes in. Winning a fight requires maneuvering, attacking, defending, etc., not just how beastly your character happens to be. (One of my biggest gripes with JRPGs, but that's a story for another day)

Which brings me to the battles themselves. The battles all follow a single basic format: each player has their robo inside a cannon in the center of the arena, allowing them to aim themselves to different starting areas. Depending on where the cannon fires, a small cube will sit for 1 to 6 seconds (depending on the roll of a die) and then the robos can run around the field, firing their bullets and explosives at each other until one is dead.

Every robo has 1000 HP, but different robos take different amounts of damage from the same weapon. How is this decided, you ask? That's where the Custom part of Custom Robo comes into play.

I need guns. Lots of guns. -Neo

Each robo is made of 5 parts: a Body, a Gun, a Bomb, a Pod, and a set of Leg boosters.

-The Body is the basic framework of the robo, and decides movement speed, air options, defense, etc.
-The Gun is exactly that: the primary projectile weapon the robo has. Guns vary in firing rate, power, range, etc.
-The Bomb is a secondary weapon: an aim-able explosive, often used for traps or firing over walls.
-The Pod is another support explosive, deployed at will. They each have different behavior once deployed, offering several options for defense, traps, etc.
-The Legs, while offering no active options, give buffs, affecting jump height, run speed, air dashes, and the like.

The flow of battle is controlled by the "Downing" system. Each robo can take a certain amount of damage in short succession before it is overloaded and disabled. This is decided by the Body Part. Each weapon also has different affinity for downing an enemy, (it's a separate stat, not based on numerical damage). The caveat to this system is that each robo has a tackle. How exactly this tackle works, be it a lateral dash, a jump, or whatever else, is dependent on the body. This requires contact, so you have to put yourself in danger, but a successful tackle is an immediate Down, no matter what. Quite the boon.

A Downed robo will fall down, completely open to attack, for a few seconds, after which it will reboot, stand up, and be invulnerable for another few seconds. This helps ensure that the battles aren't always completely one-sided.

While all of that may sound a bit complex (details, details, details!), it works very smoothly, and soon becomes second nature to the player. The statistics of the weaponry usually stand secondary to the use/style. I, for instance, often used the Gatling Gun because I like the fact that it fires a stream of 8 shots and has solid range, not because of it's damage rating or knockdown stat. You kind of get a sense of how well you do certain things with your robo as you play.

The environments are of particular note. "Holosseums" as they're called, are virtual arenas, and are fairly expansive. If we were to scale the robos up to about 6 feet tall (from their in-universe size of ludicrously small), the arenas would usually be around 100 foot squares, but sometimes that's not the case. Fights can take place in virtual bowls (no, seriously, you fight in a Chinese restaurant, and the holosseum is a bowl), long rectangles, etc. This really helps mix up the fights, since you don't just have to maneuver towards, away, and around your opponent, you have to take into consideration the walls, conveyor belts, destructible obstacles, moving platforms, lava pits, and even just flat ground.

Seriously, guys, a BOWL.

Now that I've got all that battle stuff out of the way, let's take a look everything surrounding it. You know, the story, and presentation, and all that jazz.

The music isn't really anything special, and it won't stick with you, but it's by no means bad. It does what it needs to, and nothing more. I have no reason to mention anything else about it.

The characters aren't original (Reluctant Hero, Angry Boss, Silly Comic Relief Friend, etc) but they work well together, and DO advance the story. The style is not for everyone, but the animations during story sequences are wonderfully off-the-wall and out-of-place. I enjoyed them through some strange sense of camp.

Japanese text makes Harry no less ridiculous.

Oh, right, there's that there story thing. It's an RPG, it has to have a story, right?. Well, yeah, okay, but how is it? It's actually not totally terrible. Surprising given the fact that the biggest emphasis of the game is the fights. That said, even drawing inspiration from countless sci-fi stories and a little bit of The Matrix, the story still manages to be bland. Honestly, you'll be playing this game for the action, and... really, nothing else.

Navigation is between hotspots. Nothing special. Or all that good, for that matter.

The game knows it, too. After working your way through the main story, you unlock a second campaign, consisting of nothing but scored tournament fights. This is where you'll unlock all the parts you didn't get the first time around. Also, since you get a battle score from this, you'll push yourself to do better on the fights, which is kinda cool, but it almost feels like a lame excuse to make you play when you could just go into Versus mode against CPU opponents. This second campaign often introduces restrictions to keep the play varied. Appreciated, but kind of unnecessary. Also really annoying when your parts of choice don't make the cut.

This is a robo from the intro FMV. I think he's unlockable... Not important.

Versus mode is, in fact, one of the game's strongest pulls. Again, relating it to the fighting game characteristics it has, the fights are even more fun when it's your buddy who you just blasted. And, since everyone gets to pick from the same parts, they all get to have their varied robos without anyone having a distinct advantage just because they're a higher 'level'. (the best robo parts are marked as being 'illegal', but players can choose whether or not to include them) And, since the battles can be set up as 2-4 robos, free-for-all, teams, tag, and all that fun stuff, it stays interesting.

4 people? This is madness! No, it isn't. It's just multiplayer.

A perfect game this is not. The controls all work well (face buttons controlling jump/gun/tackle, triggers controlling bomb/pod), but your gun is always pointed towards your opponent, so you don't get to destroy walls unless they're between the two of you, or you spam bombs at it, which takes a while. The narrative is mostly uninteresting, included solely to give you an excuse to play through the battles. The battles themselves, thankfully, are excellent, though the difficulty curve is a bit wonky. You'll spend the first part fighting easy robos, learning the ropes, then settle into a plateau phase until the aforementioned 'illegal' parts come into play, at which point you face more difficult opponents until the last boss fight, then return to (most of the time) the plateau phase for the second campaign.



It's a good game, and its problems never really get in the way of having fun. That said, the short and shallow presentation of the main story may be a dealbreaker for some folk. The action is fun, and has significant depth for those willing to look for it, but that may not be enough for everyone.
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7:29 PM on 02.23.2010

I don't mean this to be a complete and utter hate post, but I feel that this month's topic is seriously lacking in one VERY important area.

That, dear friends, is diversity.

Not racial, ethnic, cultural, or anything of that nature. Diversity of skills. Take your own gaming habits. Are you a retro gamer? RPG fan? Twitch shooter junkie? Strategy genius?

Or are you, like me, some kind of mix?

Think about it. To pride yourself on (and, in effect, boast about) one expertise you have is to ignore ALL the other things you do.

I love the Megaman series. And the NES Ninja Gaiden games. And Battletoads.

Based on that knowledge, you might peg me as a Retro gamer, or a fan of difficult games. I like a challenge.

True, but what if I say I pay Halo, Doom, Perfect Dark, and Bioshock?

You'd probably say I was a shooter fan, and a lover of First Person perspective.

If I was to say I like Final Fantasy IX, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age: Origins, you'd take me for an RPG nerd.

The problem? All of those things I said are true. So what am I? Retro? Shooter? RPG?

All that and more, dear friends.

So look beyond any one thing you're good at. Look at the myriad of different games you enjoy. Realize that you are more than a label. Refuse Destructoid's attempt to define us based on one choice.

Be who YOU want to be, and give the finger to the system.

As you can see, my expertise is ruining everyone else's fun.

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