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ShadeWithin's blog

7:20 PM on 10.19.2008

Pumpkintoid: My (lack of) carving skills on display, for your pleasure.

With Halloween right around the corner, my buddies and I decided to do the only thing natural for college students at exam time:

Carve pumpkins.

When the time came for inspiration it didn’t take me too long to figure out what I wanted to do. Used the graphic from the black and white tee for the pattern and just went from there, it took me several hours, mostly because I’m a terrible artist. I’d encourage someone to do a better rendition, maybe actually cut some parts out to let the light through (I’m not skilled or patient enough, right now it just glows).

Just wanted to do my favorite blog proud, and display work that I’m personally proud of, despite its mediocrity. Keep bringing the good news (and the flamebait, Jim ;-D ) Dtoid.   read

2:20 AM on 05.07.2008

Paper on Violence and Video Game Addiction

This is a paper I wrote on the topic of “Internet Issues” for a Web Design class… none of it really relates to anything from the course material, but some of it has to do with the series of tubes. I got an “A” and the only comment was, “Your argument would be stronger without the sarcasm.” I disagree. It's relatively poorly written as I wrote it in maybe 2 hours before class, but I thought it might spark some interesting discussion. Enjoy.

While video games may be habit-forming, in the sense that they make you want to drop everything and play, this is a similar behavior to people who are grabbed by engrossing novels, or in the same way that the average American child devotes at least 4 hours every day to watching television according to Recent presses in the medical industry have sought to make gaming, especially in the realm of online play, a bona fide “addiction”, carrying with it warning labels and all kind of cultural and family taboos. Not only are these accusations of addiction unfounded by any study to date as decided in June of 2007 by the American Medical Association, but if furthering political jockeying does provide skewed statistics to uphold these claims, an industry that has hardly had enough time to realize its own potential will be destroyed.

Since their humble origins in the late 50s and their widespread household introduction in the 80s, video games have been the center of more than a few political controversies. Various political figures (including current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton) out to make a name for themselves latched on to this new type of media in attempts to gain clout within a political system that thrives on negativity. Their claims included that playing games like Grand Theft Auto and Counterstrike resulted in violent behavior from gamers, and that video games had addictive properties, like a drug, and thus should carry warning labels. Others, like attorney Jack Thompson, continually go so far as to suggest that the blame for school shootings like Columbine and the Virginia Tech massacre should be placed solely on video games.
Violence in video games and the argument about their addictive nature go hand in hand. Many of those seeking a downfall, or at least government control or censorship of video games would say that the violent sequences are what make people addicted, and the in-game rewards (new gear, or a stronger character, etc.) reaped for this violence keep them continually coming back. While it is true that many of today’s top-selling games are based firmly around a violent narrative, so too are many of the most popular movies, and they have been for decades, while video games are still in their infancy in comparison.

For instance, the number 2 best-selling movie of all time according to, Star Wars, was only rated PG for sci-fi violence and brief mild language, while a recent sci-fi fantasy video game Mass Effect received an “MA” or Mature rating, though their content is comparable. Mass Effect caused incredible controversy for its “sex sequences” wherein a player who had completed extensive hours of play and completed various “romance” sub-plots could bed one of the supporting characters before the final mission. Even though the intimacy is only alluded to, never shown, Fox News was all over this “travesty”, calling Mass Effect a sex simulator and bemoaning a world where parents have to review the various media their children are engaged with. Ironically, the content in Mass Effect is arguably more tame than in Star Wars, where the viewer sees a real life scantily clad Leia being dominated presumably as a sex slave by Jabba the Hutt, whereas with Mass Effect people are worried about the side-boob and hindquarters of a digitized alien. Essentially, within this society, there is a double standard being held between media such as television and movies and their interactive successor the video game.
These politicians also seem to forget that there is a narrative occurring, video games are not simply just run-and-gun adventures, they tell worthwhile and enriching stories where the player oftentimes decides the course and flow of action. Gerard Jones, in his book Killing Monsters, explains that children need the influence of comic book heroes and pop culture entertainment to successfully create realistic images of themselves, saying that by reflecting on these characters and their actions (heroic and tragic) is a healthy, and age-old way (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Odyssey, Beowulf) for people to learn about themselves.

If this is true, then video games create hypothetical situations that offer a multitude of scenarios centered around moral-building, increasingly in today’s market where many video games offer a “choose your own adventure” plot flow (except you are the character, and you probably don’t die as much). Peter Buse suggests that in video games the chance for self-reflection is lost, because the action is so fast-paced that the player doesn’t have a chance to reflect. However, one could argue the fact that reflection comes with every choice you the player makes, as not only is the narrative built around your choices, but you must also watch as the consequences of your actions unfold, one of the most rewarding aspects of modern gaming. In Fallout 2, the plot focuses on a post nuclear-apocalyptic California, where the protagonist, controlled by the player, sets out on a quest to find a tool that can save his wasteland village from the nuclear radiation that threatens it. Within the game, players may choose to avoid this quest, but will quickly realize the negative effects this has on the game world, as well as the constant telepathic pleas of a dying village shaman.
Many critics of violent video games cite Grand Theft Auto (GTA) as their main point of focus; a game where the player assumes the role of a gangster, typically bent on revenge, and the lines between good and evil are blurred because the character will do whatever it takes. Typical gameplay includes robbing, killing, carjacking, virtual alcohol binges, and sometimes even sex with hookers, all around it’s like playing the movie Scarface (and actually they made a Scarface game that plays a lot like GTA). Also, in these games, more often than not, the player’s character is rewarded negatively for all of his years of crime and murder, which is essentially to aid in the reflection process, “Do bad things, reap the consequences.”
As the video game industry continually introduces games which allow the player to decide the action and the character’s moral compass, so too are they releasing Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, where a player in his home can be joined by millions across the world through the magic of the internet. These are what critics argue are the most addictive of video games, for their typical reliance on violence as a main plot focus and the extremely reward-oriented style of gameplay. Essentially, as with most video games, this is due to the fact that you get back what you put in. If you want to be a tailor, and make custom apparel for all of your adventuring buddies, that’s fine, but don’t expect to be rewarded the same as the guy going out to slay dragons.
What this results in is people playing for hours on end, dumping every instant of time that they have not devoted to other responsibilities, and sometimes time they have devoted to other responsibilities, in to these games in order to keep their Player Character powerful. This is, naturally, what the critics focus on as the addictive aspect of these games, and it’s all the evidence they need. What they almost always neglect to mention, however, is that these gamers are not just in it for the rewards, or to be most powerful, they are building relationships, strong ones.

Anyone can pick up a game at the store and play through alone and become the most powerful character in the game world, but what WoW does is make sure that players are brought together in getting stronger, and seeing the story advance. Getting the strongest equipment requires large groups of 40-60 people, and its not as if you can just grab a bunch of random folks, these have to be people who you trust and you know are capable of getting the job done. That’s just one aspect of in-game relationships, there have been marriages and funerals in-game in the WoW community. I recently stopped playing myself and still miss some of the friends I made while playing, after having my character essentially grow and become powerful alongside his, and watching each other’s back, it’s like losing a good friend.
Never mind that gamers are enriching themselves and strengthening their identities through stories they themselves control, while simultaneously joining with kindred spirits and forming lasting friendships, all the while trying to save their virtual world, none of that is important because video games cause violent streaks and are not breeding friendship and camaraderie, but instead forming an army of belligerent, psychotic, techno-addicted super-soldiers who are going to send the next generation plummeting in to extinction if something isn’t done to stop the addiction.
Not.   read

7:42 PM on 05.05.2008

If you Love it, Change it: Suikoden (And the JRPG)

The Disclaimer

Warning!!! This is long, so come at it in groups of three, or take a time-out once in a while.

That’s what (s)he said. Now, onward!

The Long, Drawn Out Intro

Everyone’s got their “thing” when it comes to video games, or any other form of entertainment, or really anything in life; there’s always that something that draws people to those specific things that interest them. For some gamers it could be story; when they grab that controller they are envisioning themselves picking up a novel, or it could be crisp, intuitive controls that really make them feel as though they have some say in the shaping and changing of a world, and their avatar reacts as the instruction manual (or in-game controller-config loading screen, who really reads manuals any more?) promises.

Apparently, for the “casual gamer”, gimmicks sell. My roommate plays for pop-culture “references and quotes”, Simpson’s Hit & Run and Path of Neo are the only two games he owns. I know that for some individuals graphics make the game, and may whatever god you worship have mercy on your soul for that, because you give strength to developers that embrace a “graphics over gameplay” Creed. (See what I did there?)

For me, that “thing” is character. Think fantasy settings are lame? Want me to engage in endless acts of whacking (in the organized crime sense), capping, and grenade-lobbing in your latest stunt-jumping, balls-to-the-wall drunk driving simulator? You had better find a way to make your military trained immigrant as relatable as a guy with over a thousand years under his belt, and thus has had literally every life experience there could possibly be. If you refuse to introduce me to an interesting cast of characters that I might subsequently ponder on rather than focus on exam review, I refuse to play your game.

I would literally drag through all 14 Dizzy games if I thought that considering all twenty characters would occupy more of my time than the ten shots I would have downed before deciding in a drunken stupor to concern myself with a gap-jumping puzzle-solving eggman. But I digress, as the real point of the last four paragraphs is to open for why I love the Suikoden series. So let’s get to it.

Love it.

For those of you who don’t know and are too lazy to shoot over to Wikipedia and do the research, the Suikoden games are JRPGs that focus on a typically silent protagonist attempting to tip the scales in a political struggle, and subsequently saving the world from the demon-in-disguise that happened to be the head of the opposing political faction. Now, I know what you’re thinking, Shade, that story’s a little run-of-the-mill, and a silent protagonist aren’t exactly terribly interesting as far as characters go. And you’re exactly right.

What the Suikoden games also focus on, however, is the recruitment of 108 heroes, the Stars of Destiny, a concept that is borrowed from and loosely based on the Chinese classic Shui Hu Zhuan. It is finding and interacting with these characters that rockets my love for Suikoden high above many JRPGs, and also what adds to the replayability of the series, as usually around 70-80 are playable in combat. Oftentimes depending on the characters you have in your party or recruited at your castle will trigger other events further along in the game, or allow the recruitment of other characters.

I will never forget accidentally stumbling upon the black knight Pesmerga in the Cave of the Wind in Suikoden II. He always denied joining me, again and again (I went back quite often), until finally when I had recruited enough people, he accepted, and rocked my virtual world. Suikoden is filled with memories like this for me, as I would talk to anyone that had a face appear next to the dialogue box (because normal townsfolk all say the same thing, and either don’t have faces or hide them very, very well) over and over again until they joined me.

Another thing that I really enjoy about the Suikoden series is the idea of building up a “home base” of sorts. In each entry of the series you receive (typically by clearing it of monsters) a castle that serves as a headquarters for your group of mercenaries, and as you recruit characters your castle grows (and becomes more cleanly) to accommodate your army’s size. Many of these characters, around 20, will open shops or provide mini-games that you can access at your castle, many of which will also upgrade along with your castle. One of the most important of these mini-games, and one that actually had some relevance to the main gameplay, was the detective character who would actually research characters for the protagonist. When paid, the detective would provide tips for recruiting characters as well as some background information on characters that had already joined the player’s army. Another favorite mini-game from Suikoden II, and one that must be mentioned, is the cooking mini-game, in which you help Hai Yo defeat various nefarious chefs that are after his secret recipe.

The inclusion of large-scale strategic battles and duels also add to my love of the Suikoden series. The strategy battles are all fought in the name of advancing the narrative, while the duels may either serve that purpose or the purpose of recruiting some character that, in classic RPG fashion, will only join you after you’ve beaten the living hell out of him/her. While the duels are like Rock Paper Scissors with your opponent honestly telling you which one they’re about to choose, they are still fun and offer something that differs from the norm. The strategy battles offer a certain amount of customization in that you choose which characters to group in to the units you control. Most of the characters have special abilities (active and passive) to aid them in these strategic battles, so it adds a whole other layer to an already great JRPG experience.

Change it.

Now that I have inundated you readers (if you haven’t yet left the page) with an intro and the reasons why I love Suikoden, we get to the fun part. Trashing my favorite series.

The first thing that I will say is that while these suggestions are spawned from my want for a better Suikoden, they could be applied generally to the entire genre of JRPGs, which I feel just all around need a nice reboot for this generation of consoles. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Lost Odyssey but plenty of what could be done to revamp the Suikoden series could also work to improve it.

Starting with combat, which is what a lot of critics of classic RPGs say they take issue with, they have trouble being drawn in to a game that features a turn-based system. While I don’t agree with that standpoint because I’ve always loved turn-based RPGs, I do feel that eventually, in order to grow and succeed, the genre will have to evolve beyond turn-based combat. In the Suikoden series if you choose to attack different enemies with several characters and they would all act around the same time in the battle order, they would all leap across the gap and attack at the same time, then return to their original formation. I like this, as it breaks the mold of the typical attack-return method of turn-based combat, but I think it can be taken a step further, to make it seem more “real” and active.

I think the major criticism for this type of attack-return system is that the battlefield never seems to evolve, after every turn it seems to return back to how it began, almost as if nothing happened. In Suikoden III this is remedied by your characters occupying the space within which they ended their attack, much like in tactical RPGs, but immediately afterwards, in Suikoden IV, this was done away with. Also, in Suikoden III although the battlefield evolves there is still the sense that the two opposing sides are engaging each other at two different times, rather than at once as it would naturally occur. If a KOTOR system were utilized, where actions are queued during pauses and then occur in order, so that the action seems more seamless as opposed to “I slash you, you slash me”. Another major aspect of combat that I think the more recent Suikodens lack that Suikoden III capitalized a bit on is that of character customization. In Suikoden III you could level up skills for your characters that would make them better in combat and gave you added control outside of simply attaching runes (which is the extent of the customization throughout most of the series). If Konami looked at the genre as a whole they would see that customization is what makes many great games great; people like to control how their characters act in combat, what types of weapons and abilities they use, otherwise there would be no market for interactivity and the video game wouldn’t exist. What kept me interested in between Lost Odyssey’s great story segments was the ability to dictate how my immortals grew and learned skills, and the extent of that customization, in relation to a lot of titles (mainly on the PC, like Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, etc.) is really pretty miniscule.

Also, although the plethora of characters is what keeps me so interested in the Suikoden series, I could use a little bit more actual development in those characters. It’s understandable that with 108 characters some of them will sink in to the background, but what I’m looking for is some progression, not just one line of dialogue that introduces me to their past. It doesn’t even need to be part of the main quest, for those that are worried about taking all of their time to play through a game that delves in to the intricacies of so many individual characters, they could simply have a group of sidequests, or even just one or two, for each character.

And speaking of sidequests, what ever happened to those in the typical RPG? Lost Odyssey had them, but they ended up being little more than memories, and the extent of which they unlocked was hints to find treasure, but those weren’t really quests, they were simply “go there, and pick up the treasure”. In Suikoden, the extent of the sidequests are finding all of the characters, and while this does amount to a decent amount of time outside of the main storyline, and it is rewarding to get a new character, I feel like there have to be more compelling quests, and non-required areas to explore. Mass Effect is one of the few current examples I can think of that had extra content that seemed enough to match the greatness of the actual game. Final Fantasy is another series that I feel has always delivered on the amount of optional material, and there has always been plenty to do throughout the entirety of that series, rather than strictly in the endgame. Suikoden as a series could benefit from emulating what Square does, and has done, using even Final Fantasy V as an example. One of my favorites of the series, the best parts of that game for me were defeating side bosses for the tablets to unlock the ancient weapons, as well as fighting Gogo (especially after already having beaten FFVI) to unlock the Mime class. Suikoden could benefit well from these types of weapon quests, to offset the monotony of sharpening weapons for everyone, as well as character tie-ins, as there are a plethora of them at their disposal.

Lastly, if you’re going to include something, go all out. What I’m referring to are the strategy battles and duels, as while they are a great diversion, and fantastic additions for a PSOne game, we are well in to the next generation Konami, it’s time to upgrade or shut down. Gamers don’t have room for more of the same, so let’s get these Rock Paper Scissors matches a little more sophisticated, as well as a little more streamlined. I know God of War and many predecessors have pretty much smashed button sequences in to the ground, but there has to be some answer other than RPS. Improve or remove. And that goes for the full-scale battles as well. It just feels as if there could be a little more effort put forth to make them seem less “tacked-on” and more an actual, viable aspect of improving the series, rather than furthering the narrative and taking up valuable time that loses a lot of its novelty and fun by the time you get to the really important battles.

If Konami just went all-out on a Suikoden VI, and really accomplished something ground-breaking in terms of switching up the genre, they could breathe life in to RPGs on the newer consoles, and thus breathe life in to me, because it’s been a while since I’ve had an RPG to fill the void in my soul. Sorry for the extreme length, I hope you enjoyed it.   read

1:07 PM on 02.13.2008

A Tax on Video Games?!?!

This might be old news, but I just found it on

What do ya'll think?

Tax TVs, Video Games   read

9:06 PM on 02.11.2008

Good Idea, Bad Idea - Multiplayer

Now, either it was such total shit it didn't even deserve a comment of "this is total shit" or it was just bypassed by everyone; passed off as garbage intermingled in the other c-blogs of the day. Either way, it doesn't seem like anyone read my Monthly Musing, so I'm gonna plug it here. I worked hard on it, so try and go check it out if you get a chance, my dream is to be featured. :D

Good Idea, Bad Idea

Thanks!   read

12:29 PM on 02.11.2008

Good Idea, Bad Idea: Multiplayer - Online and Off

The Plea

As a gamer in the "next generation", I have only one question for developers: Where has the multiplayer gone? It would appear to reside all around us, in the very fabric; at the innermost core of the games we play, such as Halo and Gears of War. We have Xbox Live, uniting gamers the world over to engage in frag fests in the name of Clan of Sandwich, or <A$$> or <D!K> or any number of other immature, vaguely inappropriate variations. Then my question is, where has the other multiplayer gone? I'm talking about a time in gaming history when shooters weren't the only option for co-op story mode, when more than one person was capable of occupying the TV in any one household, when we used multitaps instead of Wi-Fi. There was a time when people played together, now it seems we only play with one another. Please, developers, bring back the joy of sharing space with humans to my life.

The Past

Hearken back to your SNES days; if you ever had them, or maybe just remember yesterday, if you've been using emulators or an exquisitely preserved system. Remember Secret of Mana? How about Final Fantasy 3? Both monumental games of their time, both still existing franchises (albeit one more successful than the other), and both multiplayer. Now, it would be silly of me to say that the success of these games is based squarely (pun intended) around their multiplayer aspects, but nevertheless each game is made that much more appealing by the inclusion of multiplayer capability. And to think, they did it without requiring an internet connection, two systems, two games, two wireless adapters, and two televisions... genius!

The Good

Seeing as how this article is supposed to fall in to the "Good Idea, Bad Idea" category, that immediately goes to say that I feel there is something good about the current state of multiplayer. Take for example Champions of Norrath, and its sequel, Champions: Return to Arms, for the PS2, both arguably not very much fun after one single-player playthrough (unless you're numb to repetition and want to play all of the classes) but plug in a multi-tap, and coerce three friends and/or relatives to devote their time, and you have a simply kick-ass modern gaming experience. Why? Because it's multi-player done right: you're sharing the same physical and virtual space; laughing, yelling, fighting over loot, and there is something intrinsically more amazing about slaying monsters with friends who are feet away instead of miles. The same can be said of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles for Gamecube, except that multi-play requires that everyone have a GBA and also that one person constantly be responsible for the crystal (both extremely FAIL aspects of this multi-play experience), but it's "The Good" not "The Perfect.

You'll notice that both of those examples fall in to the last generation of consoles, and that's a clear definition of my point; thus far in the boom of next-gen gaming, multi-play is left to folks isolated in Computer/Living rooms on MMOs and Xbox Live shooters. Before your brain explodes (provided I've kept your interest) I'm not saying that Online gaming is all bad. It's kickass that while I'm at college I can still log on and shred some guitar with friends or even people I don't know, and I would hate to have to meet some of the heathens I've played Live with in person just to play some Call of Duty, I'm simply saying that the capability for offline multi-play or online multi-play from the same console should NEVER be sacrificed.

Halo 3 vs. Perfect Dark Zero vs. Call of Duty 4

Let's look, for example, at these three next-gen shooters. Each, in my opinion, does some things right while simultaneously doing some things wrong (in varying degress from slightly to horribly; to the point of blasphemy). Perfect Dark does what seemingly every other next-gen shooter has forgotten how to do, and that's add Bots to the mix. Every so often you feel that urge to just throw some proximity mines and let some haphazard AI dash right in to them, Perfect Dark allows you to do this; and while it is by no means any competition for Halo 3 or COD, it at least has that to say for itself. Call of Duty 4 is in my humble opinion the best shooter available, with its RPG-esque customization and viscerally realistic gameplay. So, what the hell, I'll invite some of my buddies to enjoy the online experience with me. Oh, wait, guys, we can't go Live unless we're all on different systems. And this is the only area where Halo 3 still has a chance of redeeming itself in a COD world, it allows for other Live players to join in split-screen, or even guests in non-ranked matches. Not to mention 2 player co-op on one system, and up to 4 on Live.

The Future? and What If?
In such an isolationist multiplayer world, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy when I see great group experience games like Rock Band being released. But so far it seems 2008 might be the next-gen year of my dreams. If I can get my hands on a Wii, Smash Bros. Brawl should be a consummate multiplayer experience, and who knows maybe Molyneux will have an epiphany and realize that a game like Fable 2 would be kickass multiplayer (yes, I can dream), but lastly I'd just like to leave you with a few distant possibilities of what games could be if they were multiplayer, online and off.

Imagine, Assassin's Creed meets Tenchu's multiplayer capabilities; team stealth kills and double the free-running goodness, without having to pass the controller. Or how about Mass Effect: rather than being immersed as a spectator, your friend or significant other could join in, play alongside Commander Shepherd. And finally, Oblivion, I don't even need to begin wading through the possibilities.   read

2:22 PM on 01.30.2008

The Pacman Family, Incest at its Finest.

Most people know and love the Pacman franchise... our elders once whiled away their time on ancient machines, trying to enter their names (or three letters) in to the annals of High Score fame. Personally, I hate the Pacman games... but that's another story, and not what I want to focus on right now.

What I want to focus on is an outrage that has gone on seemingly unnoticed to the gaming world. An outrageous case of incest that has occured right under our noses, which we merely passed off as the love of two strange circular humanoids.

I am, of course, referring to Pacman and Mrs. Pacman, the lovable duo who have starred in a plethora of self-titled games. It seems the perfect caricature of love, the only two existing members of the Pacman race (where are their parents?) meet in a stroke a fate while enjoying their shared favorite passtime; eating pellets while being chased by ghosts. (WTF?) Romantic, indeed, the two immediately fall in love and get married.

But there is something more to this relationship, something dark and seedy that lies in the Mrs. Pacman's past.

Here, I have pictured Ms. Pacman before her marriage. That's right, not only is she a hooker, but she and Pacman share the same surname.

They're siblings!

Not only did they get married, however, they procreated. I don't know if you've ever seen an inbred child born with pellets in their system, but it's not a pretty picture.

No child should have to live in such a state of mental disrepair. This abominable marriage must be stopped... I must ask that you boycott all Pacman's products, we'll cut his sponsorship. We have to send a message to these people, that they're despicable way of life will not be tolerated in today's civilized gaming world.   read

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