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Sabotender's blog

2:45 PM on 06.22.2014

The Protagonist Dilemma

What happens when the main character of a game (or a TV series/movie for that matter) does or says something that turns you against them?  The one character you are supposed to relate to the most becomes utterly detestable, potentially ruining the gaming experience.


I just finished playing The Last of Us (and with the PS4 remaster coming next month, I guess this is somewhat timely), and without trying to spoil things... The decision Joel makes at the end seems to be a rather divisive issue on the net, with many changing their opinion of him from grizzly-tough-with-a-heart-of-gold guy to selfish-bastard guy.

What it boils down to is dialectic between egoism and altruism.  How much should an individual give up for altruistic reasons. Should it be an all-in moral decision, where "the individual must subordinate himself to an existence outside himself in order to find in it the source of his stability" as Auguste Comte, the first to coin the term altruism [FR: altruisme], would have championed for?  Can such a lofty definition be adhered to when critics like Nietzsche have argued that any action has some degree of egoistic motivation to it. If egoism is inescapable, the best course of action might be to just give in to it, and to not feel so bad about making a somewhat selfish choice?

In what follows, there may be some MAJOR spoilers for The Last of Us.  Don't read the rest of this article if you want to avoid spoilers.

How far would you go to save her?

The consensus from the group who were shocked by Joel's decision is that he should have allowed Ellie to be sacrificed for the greater good of humanity, ignoring his own personal interests.  This is Comte's view of altruism and is a large part of his "religion of humanity." A lot of people posit that if they were in that situation they would have no problem sacrificing Ellie in order to save humanity.  My counter to that is what humanity would Joel have been saving by allowing the Fireflies to mess with Ellie?  As we had seen through the entire game there were very few respectable people left in the world (or in America at least) who likely would be beyond saving, even if a vaccine were developed.  I'm not a math theory whiz at all, but there is something known as catastrophe theory which alludes to there being a certain mathematical tipping point or threshold being surpassed leading to an adverse, negative reaction.  This reaction is so strong that even as the stimulus that provoked the reaction is reduced, the negative reaction remains strong.  In the case of Last of Us, this society has reached a point that is so far gone, even by introducing something like a vaccine, there is little hope it would change things for the better.  If a vaccine did exist, wouldn't people kill each other to obtain it?

If this is the 'humanity' I'm saving... Forget it!

Joel choosing to save Ellie might be seen as a move where he is simply replacing his daughter. This would be an act of pure egoism, but I don't read his motivation as being so one-dimensional.  He even lashes out at Ellie, saying she is not his daughter, even though their relationship does have that kind of dynamic to it.  He realizes there is a difference. Sort of.

The Joel we see in the beginning of the game is cold, hardened by loss and suffering in this post-apocalyptic world. As his relationship with Ellie builds, he sees that there can still be positives in a world where all seems lost.  They've been across a country wrought with cutthroat betrayal, and to sever the one bond that gives either one a shred of humanity is foolish.  Joel knows that this vaccine isn't going to miraculously save humanity and part of his motivation is that he wants Ellie to live, that she deserves a chance to be free, even if that means living in a dangerous world.  In the end, this decision lies somewhere between egoism and altruism.  Joel wanted Ellie to live and did anything and everything to save her.  Pretty altruistic.  He also had some part of him that linked Ellie to his lost daughter, and not wanting to lose someone so close to him again, he chooses to save Ellie.  Somewhat egoistic.  Give the guy a break though, that's a really tough spot to be put in.  I think what he did was entirely reasonable.

Which is why I was shocked that people thought Joel made the wrong choice, and that they would have no qualms with giving Ellie over to the Fireflies.  There can definitely be games where a protagonist does a heel turn and makes it very hard to root for them.  I don't think The Last of Us belongs in this category though.  That said, I like that a character's decision can create division amongst the audience, it shows that the audience was invested enough in the game to be upset with something the main character did.  This kind of protagonist is more desirable for me, when compared to the milquetoast protagonist, a character so bland that they leave literally no impression on the gamer.  I’d take a character I care about over one I’m indifferent to any day, even if the character I invest in betrays me with a bad decision.

Is there a protagonist who you either liked or disliked, but something they did changed your opinion of them?  Who? From what game? And what did they do?   read

8:48 AM on 06.13.2014

'Tis the Day After E3...

And after all that they showed… e3 won me over, with a video of Captain Toad.

Saves the day!

Well… E3 wasn’t as bad as I thought as it was going to be, but what becomes apparent after sitting through the big three press conferences is the night and day aesthetic differences between Nintendo and Sony/Microsoft.  Almost everything shown on the more powerful next gen systems was dripping in gratuitous violence and it’s just getting a bit tiresome.  Watching trailer after trailer of blood fountains and blazing guns is boring, and anyone who can get excited by the myriad of generic shooters presented at E3 must have pretty low standards, or is seeing something I clearly am not.  There is some decent stuff somewhere in the mix, I was actually intrigued by Bloodborne, and I have zero interest in the Souls series… Phantom Pain looked amazing because Kojima is no hack. He has created a deep, though convoluted, world populated with characters that have dimension and a narrative thread that bind them all together.  Assassin’s Creed (despite the no-female character controversy) picked a great time and locale for this effort, so hopefully that will translate to a good game.  Naughty Dog is going to continue to refine their ‘movie-games’ with Uncharted 4, it’ll be great, but I think ND needs to give something else a try after this project… No Man’s Sky doesn’t seem like my kind of game, but it really impressed me.

Now... Which dystopian future shooter was this...

I’m sad to say that the Sony conference was the worst of the three, and this comes from a Sony supporter since the Playstation One days, but me picking up a PS4 is not something I see happening until late 2015 at the earliest... I want Final Fantasy Type-0 (I played part of it on PSP, it’s solid), but a game like that is not a system seller. Uncharted, cool.  Bloodborne, maybe. LittleBigPlanet 3, does anyone like this franchise anymore?  Oh, and please never talk metrics at E3 ever again.  Sucked the air out of the room and it went on forever.

Microsoft did a decent job, but I don’t see anything from them that makes me want to buy their console.   Sunset Overdrive didn’t do it for me, I’ve never liked Fable, but D4 I want to know more about because it’s SWERY and I loved Deadly Premonition. Their presentation, like Sony’s, was heavy on action and shooter games and plenty of CG trailers instead of gameplay.  Their showcasing of Assassin’s Creed made it look like it will be cool, but nothing they’ve done yet has convinced me to ride the X-bone.
[i]"That's right, we know what you want"[/i]

The winner, and the company who gets my money in the very near future, is Nintendo.  Their Digital Event was a slick production, with a great sense of self-awareness (without being too smarmy about it).  The teased open-world-style Zelda game has huge potential, Mii Fighter, Palutena and Pac-Man in Smash, Yoshi’s Woolly World, Bayonetta 1 & 2 together in one pack (Haven’t played the first one yet, so the combo pack makes all the sense), Xenoblade Chronicles X is going full Gundam space opera which is awesome, and finally a standalone Toad game in Captain Toad!  The rest of Nintendo’s conference was so well done, with small Robot Chicken segments, the fight between Satoru Iwata and Reggie Fils-Aime, the softly-shot interviews with creators for Wool Yoshi and Hyrule Warriors were nice and the strict focus on games and explanation of said games was everything a gamer could want and more.  I felt like I learned nothing about the games for PS4 and Xbox One, but learned a shit ton about what Nintendo is offering.

With that said, my gripe earlier in the week was that E3 should be a place where exciting ideas and games from the best in the business should be on display, instead of blockbusters that are certain to move units.  This was still sorely lacking at E3, so if I have to critique E3 based on my previous post which sought more innovation, this conference didn’t deliver the goods.  The kid in me was excited to see almost everything Nintendo was showing off, but… With the exception of Splatoon, what we saw are all known properties.  Nintendo is shoring up its base, by taking their best known characters and franchises and polishing them up for the Wii U.  These games all look great, but are they ground-breaking? No. 

The Destructoid guide to E3 had me crying a river, and while I was wooed and enticed by a few offerings from Sony and Microsoft, that river reached its delta, flooding into an ocean of tears as I was largely disappointed by the two powerhouses of the industry… Maybe I’m not their target demo… Though I am a male in my late twenties… I should love all this, yet somehow I was just sad.  On the other hand, Nintendo delivered in spades and the ‘dead’ Wii U just shot to the top of my list.  It hit that threshold number of games I would play that make system purchase worth it, so in the coming days or weeks I will be a Wii U owner… Like my buddy Captain Toad, I’m ready for adventure!

What games stood out to you?  If Iwata and Fils-Aime actually had a fight, who would win?  Also,let me know if one of those pew-pew games is actually better than the rest!

*credit for the Captain Toad image should go to deviantart user mbluebird2*   read

4:02 PM on 06.08.2014

'Twas the Night Before E3...

...and over at my place, there was no hype to be had, oh what a disgrace...

Right now this place is quiet... but come tomorrow...

E3.  Arguably the biggest event on the game conference calendar.  I'm old enough to remember a time when coverage of E3 was limited to video game magazines.  All the game reveals, surprise announcements and press conference summaries would be found in the pages of Nintendo Power, GamePro & EGM. Picking up those July issues was a must if you wanted to be in the know.  E3 was it.  Hearing about the first playable demo of GoldenEye 007, hoping to hear about Ocarina of Time and merely getting scraps to cling to, or impressions of the latest trailer for that behemoth looming in the distance, Final Fantasy VII.  

Since those heady days in the 1990s, E3 has lost some of its charm.  Much of that has to do with this digital age where information is in constant motion across the vast ocean that is the internet, where trailers leak prior to the show floor opening, new games get named dropped early, and an interview with Miyamoto for Famitsu can be translated and dispersed in hours.  We're surrounded by game info, which makes an annual conference with supposed 'big announcements' less important.

There is usually something for everyone at E3, but looking at Destructoid's handy guide to the electronic entertainment expo, this is one of the first years where I am not excited. At all.

Something better show up out of the blue and completely own the show, otherwise I will not be impressed.  This in and of itself is a problem, because there is already a list out with games that will be showcased, I set my level of expectation well ahead of the show even starting.  This year it's really low, but if companies played their cards closer to the chest and teased that we'll see something at E3, I wouldn't know exactly what to expect and thus would be more excited.  They kill their own hype by revealing pre-show, though this is done probably in an effort to get a jump on publicity for their 'amazing' new game.  

E3 should be the event where the best in the business come to showcase the very best in gaming.  It is an event that is large enough to generate media buzz outside of game circles, and show what the medium can do, but it's becoming a race to the bottom, to pander to that lowest common denominator.  Looking at the titles we will be seeing, I hardly see an ounce of originality.  There are a ton of FPS, guns-blazin' games which all look rather derivative, a bunch of sequels, and for some ridiculous reason Telltale taking on the world of Borderlands? Why? That's going to take them forever!

When I was thinking about my pending disappointment, I was trying to think of what kind of analogy I could make and I came up with this one:  it is as if the Cannes film festival exclusively featured summer blockbuster fare.  Instead of showing creative projects, which highlight the best and brightest in the industry, they treat us to Spider-Man 8: Peter Parker is Still Sad About Stuff, X-Men: Present Days of Past Future and Fast 11: The Rock Needs Money.

Cannes, France. In a post-apocalyptic world.

Because of the internet and an already loyal fanbase, these schlocky, derivative titles we're getting for E3 don't need an event to show them off.  All you have to do is say 'Halo 5' and you're looking at at least 3 or 4 million in sales. E3 should be about unique things that developers are working on, things that might one day end up in a Far Cry or Assassin's Creed, but are being experimented with in some new IP that could use the exposure.  

[left]I really wish I cared about E3 like I did when I was younger, but the event itself needs to change and offer something different.  In this digital age where there are constant updates for major AAA titles, featuring gameplay footage and big plot details, that product doesn't need to hog the floor at E3 anymore.  AAAs are the superhero movies of video games, the don't need the extra publicity, they'll still top a billion at the box office, and leave creativity decimated in their wake.  So E3... Impress me.  Please.  Because right now, I'm not feeling it.

So in the comments let me know what you think about E3.  Is it fine the way it is?  Should they change anything?  Also, what are you really hype for at E3?  There might be something I'm missing that could actually be great.  I'm open to suggestions![/left]   read

3:07 PM on 06.05.2014

Why First-Person Perspective Works in Video Games

Must've been some party!

This week I have been going through Bioshock 1 & 2(yes, I know I’ve got some catching up to do) and because it’s been a while since I played a first person shooter, playing these two games for hours on end proved mentally draining.  I say it has to do with the perspective, playing in first person means everything is coming right at you, all the time.  An assault on the senses. Something about the first person perspective draws you in and, for me at least, requires more attention. I can never step back and distance myself from the character I am controlling, because I am physically inhabiting that character at all times in an FPS game. 

I find it interesting that in film, the first-person shot (known as a subjective shot) is used rarely, as it is often considered to be jarring and unnatural.  Yet with video games, a first-person perspective makes perfect sense.  It raises the level of interactivity and immersiveness, as you take the narrative reins.  It imagines the head of your avatar as being  the camera, you are the director who points and shoots, deciding what should be viewed and what part of the game world to reveal.  It’s very cool.  But, let’s step back and take a look at where the first-person shooter comes from with regard to cinema. With some help from a great article on the FPS by Alex Galloway called “Origins of the First-Person Shooter” in Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture.
Subjective shots from (L)No Man of Her Own (1950) & (R)The 39 Steps (1935)

A distinction must be made between a POV (point of view) shot and the subjective (first-person) shot in order to see what makes the FPS view unique.  A POV shot approximates the view a character likely has, it is often seen in a shot/reverse shot manner, where we see the character looking in some direction, just off screen, then we see what they were looking at from a perspective we take as being that character’s.  It is “nothing more than an approximation of a character’s vision” though, if  a subjective shot is used, there is representation of the physiological and subjective sense inherent in human vision.  Blinking, blurring, tears, a drunken state (we see this in Bioshock for sure) the first person perspective tries to emulate these for the viewer.  The use of the subjective shot in a FPS game is meant “to achieve an intuitive sense of motion and action in gameplay,” where as when it is used in a film, the effect is one of  “alienation, detachment, fear or violence” or to indicate some kind of mental state (ie. drunkenness).
Drunken state in Bioshock 2

An early example of the subjective shot comes from the film Lady in the Lake, where we see the film through the character, Phillip Marlowe’s, eyes. Critics were put off by the film largely because any instance where Marlowe can be seen in a reflection, or in his interactions with certain objects, there is a clunkiness which breaks the spell of the subjective shot.  Video games do away with this problem, mostly, as the ‘camera,’ as it were, can be right in a character’s eyes.  Though it is interesting to note that in Bioshock, there are no mirrored surfaces to reveal our character to us.  It keeps the illusion of the subjective shot better intact, though certainly an FPS can have mirrors (I think I saw some in Duke Nukem Forever recently) and not cause the player any great distress or detachment from the narrative.  Good recent uses of subjective shot in film seem to involve computers and technology to some degree, as Terminator and Robocop both use subjective shots to give us the perspective of the robot/cyborg being, complete with a HUD, which really gets into video game territory!

Subjective shots from Terminator and Robocop

Why video games can work in the first person comes down to our own controller inputs and the responsiveness of the camera to those inputs.  That interactive element that gives us control over the character we are supposed to be. It becomes less about emulating vision, because the perspective is so integral to the game it becomes an “affective regime of vision.”  Which is explained in this way: “Events unfold in real time, in a single take, from a single point of view.  These sequences are tactile, or haptic, more than they are visual.  The subjective camera doesn’t just look at a scene.  It moves actively through space.  It gets jostled, it stops and starts, it pans and tilts, it lurches forward and back.  It follows rhythms of the whole body.”

Because the experience is so immersive, it should pull the player in more, creating a oneness with the character whose perspective you have taken on. Unlike the awkwardness of being in Phillip Marlowe’s shoes in Lady in the Lake, playing Bioshock, I don’t necessarily need to know much about Jack, but because I experience so much of the world of Rapture through his eyes, I feel like it creates a bond with the character that might be different  if seen from a third-person perspective.  Bioshock is particularly adept at this, as we don’t even know who we are or where we come from at the start of the game.  So, every piece of information you pick up through the game, you see it for the first time, as Jack does.  It makes the first-person experience even better.

‘Would you kindly ‘ comment on what it is you like about FPS games or any game that use the first-person perspective?  Does seeing a game in the first person make you feel like you are more immersed in the world?  Have you seen the first-person ‘subjective shot’ used in a movie and thought it looked weird? Or cool?

11:32 AM on 06.02.2014

Tales of Haagen-Dazsia: My Guilty Pleasure

I have been a loyal fan of the Tales series since the translated ROM of Tales of Phantasia appeared online quite some time ago.  After that first taste, I was hooked.  The real question, and one I have tried to answer for friends who ask, is.. Why?  

At first it is hard to explain what makes the Tales series good, but I'm not the only one out there who likes these games, the hugely popular annual event 'Tales of Festival' celebrating the Tales franchise and its nearly 20 years of history took place this weekend.  Which is why I thought I'd talk about the series a bit, and maybe get to the bottom of why I can't shake the Tales addiction.  A two day event held at the 17,000 seat Yokohama Arena, 30 minutes south of Tokyo, Tales of Festival features performances from singers who have contributed theme songs to the series, and voice actors acting out scenes from the games, dressed in character.  In addition to performances, exclusive Tales-related merchandise is sold, from t-shirts to candy to drama CDs featuring characters from across the Tales universe. (impressions of last year's event can be found here)  It's a really cool event that gives back to loyal fans, and I'm in favor of any game company who recognizes their fans, so that's a plus... 

With all this fanfare, also comes game announcements for the franchise, and this year is no exception, with Namco Bandai revealing Tales of the World: Reve Unitia a 3DS title we will likely never see in the West, and new details for the latest flagship title, Tales of Zestiria.  This news is more pertinent as Zestiria will have an international release. The new 'Kamui' mode in battle looks interesting, they announced that Superfly will be doing the theme song (an excellent choice), and there will be a TV special to help promote the game closer to the release date.  I'm salivating already... Is this some kind of Pavlovian response?!  Have I been conditioned to blindly love Tales games?!

I want this, but... why?

I've played most of the flagship titles in the series (just finished Xillia 2, and I'm working on the Japan-only DS games, Innocence and Hearts, the final two on my list) and I genuinely enjoy playing each one, but I never look back and say "that was one of the best games I've ever played!"
Yet, somehow with every release Namco Bandai pulls me back in.

To go back to the food analogy, it's a comfort food, one you know is going to make you feel good, even if it maybe lacks substance.  I think it might have something to do with this image of consistency the series has built over time.  I can't imagine a future where a Tales game redefines RPGs as we know them, or even wins awards for RPG of the year.  They're not on that level, but that doesn't mean they're bad.  They have spent years refining their particular brand, their mantra is evolution not revolution.  So if you at all buy what they're selling, each subsequent entry in the series is usually on par with the last one you played.  I find it interesting that a lot of people criticize the series as being formulaic and redundant, but each entry in the series offers something new, whether it is new battle mechanics or a change to the leveling system, each game is different.  Even the narrative of the more recent entries has tried to shy away from "big bad guy wants to rule world" narratives in favor of energy acquisition/consumption issues and, in Xillia 2, a trip through parallel worlds.

So what do I like about the Tales series that keeps me coming back?

I can think of two points that always excite me about a Tales game, the first is the battle system (which transitioned from a 2D linear to 3D free roam style with 2002's Symphonia) is amazing.  Grinding is a tedious part of any game, and with a Tales game, at some point you will have to grind.  The battles can devolve into simple button mashing, but there is depth in the battle system, and the fast pace and action focus make sure that fights are never boring. I put about 60-70 hours into Xillia 1 & 2 and even by the end, still enjoyed fighting. Plus I really like that magic doesn't become obsolete as a Tales game progresses.  Genis from Symphonia, Rita from Vesperia, Elise from Xillia all made my team because it's fun to have that mix in battle.  

Second are the characters.  Not every character in a Tales game is a winner, but each one has personality, history and usually some moment when they are plot necessary.  Series director Hideo Baba says that the focus on character is intentional, and is one of the first elements they consider when they draw up early plans for a game.  How will these character act, how will they interact with one another.  If you can get behind even one character, you'll have fun playing a Tales game. That's usually what happens for me, my party decisions are based on who I like, not whether they're useful in battle or not.  It is interesting that these are the two points I like so much about the series, as they are the two things Hideo Baba has said will remain a constant focus as the series moves forward.  

For me, the Tales franchise is a tub of Haagen-Dazs ice cream.  A guilty pleasure, that maybe isn't the best thing for you, but damn is it tasty.  I'll worry about the calories and wasted hours of my life afterwards, but for now, just let me indulge in the Tales goodness!

My questions for you readers would be what is your favorite Tales game?  And what do you like or dislike about the series?

For the record I'd say my favorite Tales game is probably Vesperia, Yuri is such a bad ass.  Though I do have a soft spot for Phantasia, it is chock full of classic SNES greatness.


12:59 PM on 05.30.2014

The Evil Without? Thoughts on the Horror Genre.

Thanks to Bethesda’s press event for Shinji Mikami’s The Evil Within (known in Japan by the infinitely more awesome title, Psycho Break), we have been treated to a fresh crop of preview articles with varied opinions, ranging from disappointment to praise, which makes it all the more difficult to determine just how this game will shake out. As the biggest horror release in some time, expectations are through the roof, and as people dissect this latest offering, including here on Destructoid, with Brett Makedonski lamenting that “at no point did anything control well” and surprisingly, “both [chapters 4 & 8] were ineffective at providing any scares.”  Reading this, I couldn’t help but try and remember the last time I was scared by a game…like… really scared.

I have to go back all the way to 2002, to the Resident Evil Remake for GameCube.  Having missed the original Resident Evil by just a few years (my parents didn’t want their 11 year old son playing M rated games… oh how times have changed…) playing it on the GameCube was my first experience with the game.  In a dark room, late at night, me and my closest friends took turns at the helm, navigating the Spencer Mansion’s dusty, zombie-infested halls.  At one point, controller in hand, I let out a scream so epic I literally have no recollection of it, all I can recall is this completely blank moment (the scream), and then me 5 feet from where I previously was, heart beating like a jackhammer, my friends laughing uncontrollably at me.  I can’t even remember what scared me, though it was likely a Crimson Head… those bastards are terrifying.

Since then, there have certainly been games that are scary, I liked F.E.A.R., and games like Amnesia and Outlast offer pretty good scares, though they get ruined by Let’s Players and their ridiculous overreactions. Resident Evil 4 is amazing, but never really scared me (except for those Iron Maiden guys...), I played Silent Hill 2 a couple years after its initial release, and it holds up incredibly well, even now, I played it again this past winter actually.

So why has no game scared me recently?  Here are a couple of thoughts:

Fixed Camera Angles.  This is a big one for me, as it puts more control in the director’s hands instead of the player’s. An awkward camera angle is a creative choice to build tension, when you go with over-the-shoulder perspective, you lose that. Unlike most game genres, I feel that horror benefits from borrowing heavily from cinematic conventions.  It creates a different kind of feeling of interactivity when you have fixed cameras, which I would try to explain as 'I'm not playing Resident Evil as Jill Valentine, I'm watching what happens to Jill Valentine.' Though you are ultimately still in control, it is a video game, those fixed cameras give it a voyeuristic, filmic quality. The counterpoint being that a fixed camera leads to you running into enemies blindly, fair enough, I have died countless times in horror games at the hands of enemies I could not see, but the loss of control that comes with a fixed camera is great for creating fear in the player.

Pre-Rendered Backgrounds.  If you go back to back to fixed cameras, you can think about going back to more pre-rendered backgrounds.  So now it just sounds like I want old Resident Evil back (maybe true), but when the RE:Make has environments that pull me into the world better than Mikami’s Evil Within, I get worried. Despite huge advancements in graphics, I see screenshots of modern games and think that a real world equivalent of a marble-tiled floor, or piece of mahogany furniture doesn’t look like that. Perhaps because developers are pushing the envelope with graphics I become more critical of flaws I notice... 

Oooh... I like! Such Fright!

I am not scared. Very yawn.

These two points might be a bit of pining for a bygone era, but horror is a different beast when it comes to what works. A good horror film isn’t like a summer blockbuster where you throw hundreds of millions into the latest and greatest tech to wow an audience, take for example Paranormal Activity, made for $15,000, it used simple tricks to produce something that really scared a lot of people.  So while some may insist that the only way is to ditch old techniques in favor of the latest and greatest, why not go back to techniques that actually worked to build tension.

Narrative. My final point. Protagonists in horror games these days are seen as indestructible superheroes, with almost no character flaws and devoid of real, human emotion.  If I came into contact with supernatural, grotesque monsters I would be wracked with fear, as would most people, trying to comprehend whatever it is I’m up against.  Show us that! Make the hero relatable!  In addition to character issues, I find that horror games too often go for jump scares and gross-out horror, when true terror lies in the psychological.  The thing you fear most is the unknown.  I’ll never forget how awesome I thought the movie Signs was, until they showed us the alien.  Immediately hated it.  So please horror game developers, mess with my head, leave part of the narrative up to my imagination to construct. I’m going to think of something way worse than whatever it is you write into the story.

This is where I think Evil Within is keeping its cards close to its chest.  Both the Japanese and NA titles have something to do with the mind, so while we have been bombarded with gore and a growing bestiary of hideous creations, the narrative of the game could be more psychological than we think. It’s all in how you stick that landing though, so nail it like Silent Hill 2 and try not to be Shutter Island.

And based on Tina Amini's preview over at Kotaku, Evil Within's situation might not be as dire as Brett here at Destructoid makes it out to be.

So, couple questions I guess.  When was the last time you were scared shitless by a game? What would make games scarier for you? And do you think Evil Within will scare you?   read

3:09 PM on 05.28.2014

In The Loop: Bravely Default's Narrative Explained.

Bravely Default has been somewhat of a rebirth for Square Enix, who have struggled to recapture the magic that made them one of the most consistent and beloved developers of the 90s and early 00s.  That their finger is completely off the pulse is evidenced by Square Enix head Yosuke Masuda's surprise that Japanese RPGs have fans around the world.  

Square Enix griping aside, Bravely Default is a great return to form, and it's time we talk about one of the more controversial parts of the game (I'd say the statute of limitations on spoilers is up, it's been 3 months).  The narrative after chapter 5.

In reviews and comment sections everywhere people lamented "if the second half had been as strong as the first, this game would've been perfect/way better/more enjoyable." Which I get, though I found it fascinating, if only because it was a huge risk to have the player repeat the same scenario again and again.  Is it any surprise that the writer for this game is Naotaka Hayashi, the writer of acclaimed visual novel/anime Steins;Gate which is the finest use of a parallel world/time leap mechanic I have come across (sorry Bioshock Infinite).

So here's why the game is the way it is, I think:

Stories with looping worlds/parallel worlds are more common in Japan because of a focus on different story production elements and the way media companies there market their franchises to the fan base.

In Japan, production companies focus mainly on creating characters, the setting and a strong worldview before narrative becomes a consideration.  They want us to like Tiz and Agnes, the physical places of Luxendarc and the Hero saves world by activating crystals concept.  The strongest and most important of these elements is well thought out, likeable characters.  If we like the characters, we will follow their adventure regardless, so even though we go through chapters 5-8 doing almost the same thing, it shouldn't matter because we are invested in the characters.  

One of the most famous (infamous?) examples of this is the anime The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, where the characters are stuck in a time loop during their summer vacation, repeating the same events time and again, including a visit to a swimming pool, a bug-catching excursion, attending a summer festival and enjoying sundaes in a restaurant.  We, the viewer, are forced to sit through eight episodes of the exact same thing, save for differences in clothing, camera angles and minor dialogue changes.  The DVDs sold like gangbusters in Japan because, presumably, fans were invested in the characters.  On this side of the Pacific, outrage reached fever pitch over the 'Endless Eight' fiasco.

The other reason why a looping world mechanic would be utilized is to build a brand through multiple narratives on multiple platforms. The Japanese media mix is a scatter shot usually featuring a game, anime, manga, drama CDs and toys and you buying any piece of that as the goal. The logic being you buy one thing, you become invested, you want to learn more about the characters and the world, so you buy another piece of the puzzle, until you know everything about the Bravely Default world. Even Revo’s amazing soundtrack has been performed live with the addition of lyrics to many of the songs giving more insight to character motivations and deeper description of the world of Luxendarc. Something you would not know if you don’t buy that particular CD/DVD.  These different media are enhanced by the looping world mechanic, which makes each one of these pieces of consumable media canon to the Bravely Default world.

As an example in Bravely Default, of the tens of thousands of Luxendarcs that Airy links for Ouroboros, in one of them, something completely different could be happening to Tiz, Agnes, Ringabel and Edea. You would only be able to learn about that side story by reading the manga (that, by the way, does not exist), and with that new story, your view of the Bravely Default world grows. They also want fans to feel as though they can actively contribute, writing a piece of doujinshi to sell at Comic Market featuring the characters in made up situations in another of the looping worlds is allowed and in many cases encouraged, as unofficial PR.  Anything a fan produces, Square Enix would recognize as part of the Bravely Default world.

It gives Square Enix the opportunity to revisit the world and characters we already know and love, and put them into a completely canon, though different, story for an anime or manga series, should they so choose. It gives them leeway to use the same characters in any bizarre way they choose, because they can always claim this story takes place in a different Luxendarc from the ones we saw in the game, so long as the characters remain mostly consistent there shouldn’t be a problem. The previously mentioned Steins;Gate now has several manga series running simultaneously, as well as new PC and console games being released that feature new plot threads all based on “what if the MC had chosen this parallel world instead?” Essentially, this is what Irrational Games could do with Bioshock Infinite if they wanted to milk Booker DeWitt’s story.

Now, all this means nothing if the game doesn't pull it off.  
How does Bravely Default fare?  Not bad.

I found myself looking for the variations between worlds, interested to see what had changed, though I was a little disappointed there wasn't that much difference to speak of, though there was some.  What really worked, was the feeling that it would never end, the quest was hopeless, we were never going to close the Grand Chasm.  By chapter 7, I had to take a break for about a week, I was burnt out.  I felt like I was in the same purgatory the characters were in, it worked, though it is counter-intuitive to make a gamer want to quit.  What didn't work was the characters blindly following Airy time and again to the same fate.  Because the characters retain their memories (not a given in a looping world scenario), after a loop or two, they should have tried something drastically different, and while Agnes can smash a crystal at any time, that isn't pushed in the narrative.  The characters should have come up with other solutions to the problem, I found it frustrating that they had the same conversations with people despite their knowledge they were stuck in a loop.

In the end though, Bravely Default is a step in the right direction for Square Enix, and now that Masuda knows there are fans out there, hopefully we'll see more of this and less Lightning.  Please less Lightning.

So, while the game has been out for a while, what did you think of Bravely Default’s repeating narrative?  Did it work?  Or did you find it tedious?   read

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