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Skiptomylou's blog

8:42 PM on 09.30.2013

A Tissue For Your Tears

In all of my years of gaming, I've only ever cried once when playing a video game.  The irony is that I knew what the ending would be from the very start.  That made it even worse.  Unlike other forms of art, video games have rarely been able to slap me in the face and punch me in the gut and tell me that life is sad.  Don't misunderstand me here though; video games can be truly depressing at times.  So why is it that the only game that has ever made me weep like a baby is Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII?  Your experiences may differ, of course, but I'm generally a bleeding heart.  I may feel sorrowful or introspective after finishing a game, but very few games truly touch me so meaningfully that I sit at the credits and contemplate how I'm going to live my life after finishing said game.  So why did CC: FF7 hit me so deeply that I couldn't control my emotions anymore?  In the words of Indianapolis author Kurt Vonnegut:

Kurt Vonnegut knew how to write stories.  He's not the only writer in the world who knew how to write good stories, but his philosophy on writing is spot on when it comes to Crisis Core.  If you've ever played Final Fantasy VII, then you know exactly what will happen in Crisis Core.  You'll have somewhat of an understanding as to what is going to happen in the story and there should be no doubt in your mind as to what the ending will be.  So what was the Crisis Core team supposed to do?  In this case, they had to create a story so deep that from the beginning to end the player would not be able to turn off their PSP.  Needless to say, it paid off.  Crisis Core was a huge success.  I believe that the reason I got weepy after finishing Crisis Core was that I did know what was going to happen.  In fact, I knew everything that was generally going to happen.  Despite this, every moment of the game swayed me to believe that I was wrong.  Doubts were forming in my mind that were telling me that everything was going to be okay.  Unfortunately when the credits rolled, none of my hopes came true and I was left with a hole in my heart.

I've played a wide array of video games, primarily on Steam, but I know there are many I've yet to play.  I'm hoping that there's some rough gem out there just waiting for me to find it.  But why is it that where Crisis Core hit its mark, others either swing and miss or don't even try at all?  Low budget games usually have to rely on good story telling to offset the poor graphics by today's standards.  Even a game like Super Meat Boy, which relies heavily on gameplay, still has a somewhat decent story through Meat Boy and Bandage Girl.  

To the Moon is a low budget game that immediately comes to mind in terms of story-telling.  The puzzles aren't particularly gripping and the gameplay is nothing to brag home about, but Freebird Games wasn't dicking around.  They knew what they wanted in this game and that was to tell a damn good story.  Not every video game has to leave you staring at the credits in awe, but I feel as though very few big budget games even bother with it.  Instead they focus on fast action or hide under the moniker of “real lasting decisions.”  Dragon Age: Origins has fantastic gameplay, a wonderful (if not slightly generic) story and actual true decisions that affect the story.  But even the “sad” endings in Bioware's games really don't hit me with the feels.  Mass Effect 1's “sad ending”. . . Ha!  ME: 2 happened.  

Shadow of the Colossus and Ico are real gems in my book in that they had beautiful endings.  Not sad but just beautiful.  Your mileage may vary.  Maybe I just like games with only descent gameplay.  I may be wrong on this, but when your graphics and gameplay are, arguably, sub-par it's time to hire excellent writers.

Big budget games have hundreds of millions of dollars and countless over-time work days filled with coffee and snack food.  At the end of the day, they need to not only make their money back but rake in a truck load of profits to justify their work.  The only way that can be achieved is by appealing to as many gamers as possible.  They have to get reviews and previews from every reputable game reporter as possible.  The game has to be “safe” in every way possible.  The company has to stick with what it knows best through tried and true methods of filling their pockets.  Hey, it's a business and there's nothing wrong with showing off flashy graphics and interesting gameplay to make profits.  I think we can all agree that there's at least one triple-A game that we've fallen in love with this year alone.  But how different is it, truly, from the company's other best-sellers?  Hell, I'll go as far as to say that most sequels actually go down in gameplay and story to appeal to a larger audience.  

I truly believe in my heart of hearts that video games, while still being the most popular form of media, could do better.  In a hundred years from now will anyone remember your game?  Will anyone even care?  Just like the greatest books, movies, artwork and music, true art lives forever.  When you're dead and gone all of your money is useless.  But your most beautiful of creations will live on forever.

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. -Albert Camus

3:03 AM on 09.30.2013

In Defense of the Genre; Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the FPS

The other night I was speaking with a co-worker who upgraded his arsenal of gaming from sports games like Madden and Fifa to First-Person Shooters; specifically Call of Duty.  He had told me that he was never particularly talented at shooters until recently when he started playing with his friends. Whereas before when he played in a dinky room all by himself over X-Box Live and got called filthy names by twelve year olds.  That doesn't sound like very much fun, does it?  
FPS games are rather interesting to me in that they require a degree of skill unlike other genres.  And I'm not just talking about the skill of calling someone's mom, whom you've never met, a fat prostituting cow with herpes.

Don't get me wrong here.  Mastering the art of role-playing games such as Gothic, Risen and even Dragon Age is certainly nothing to scoff at.  The same could apply to any genre, really.  On games like Super Meat Boy it's a challenge just to not smash my computer screen after dying for the hundredth time.  But pure shooters are arguably more like real-time strategy games in that the real entertainment of those genres is in the multiplayer mode.  I very rarely hear bad things about RTS's, but you don't have to look far for a “real gamer” on his throne to be looking down on the peasant-like FPS's gamers. 

The truth is, while the more popular FPS games are basically team death matches where all you do is run around, spray-and-pray or spam “noob tubes”, there's still  a good deal of skill that one must acquire to top the leader boards.  I'm talking about twitch skills and hand-eye coordination.  But generally, new players to the genre tend to give up in frustration and never touch it again.  So they go and slay and dragons and look at hot elves in skimpy armor instead.  There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but there's no need to be closed minded about a genre just because you don't pick it up immediately.  You're not “cool” because you hate the status-quo that is Call of Duty, either.

Call of Duty doesn't have exclusive rights to the genre.  Over and over I read comments that make CoD appear to be a crazy dictator on a crusade to wipe out any other game that dares call itself an FPS.  While, admittedly, that may be a somewhat close analogy, not every game is CoD.  The Battlefield series arose to fame around the same time Call of Duty did.  At that time, there were many shooters vying for the throne.  While the list of now-dead shooters from the late 90's to early 2000's is too large to list, in my eyes we  had Call of Duty, king of the twitch sub-genre (sorry Valve); Battlefield, king of the open-ended battlefront; and America's Army, king of the strategy FPS.  When I was thirteen and still very much in love with shooters, these were my top 3 FPS games.  

So where did FPS's go so wrong that they swim in vitriol every time a new FPS game review is written?  Lack of innovation, or gamers unwilling to reach out to new sub-genres?  The truth is, neither.  There are still sub-genres, but the line is becoming much more blurry as every new FPS attempts to dethrone Call of Duty.  Stop that, publishers.  Nothing good comes from poking the bear.  And shame on gamers as well for scoffing at any new FPS that tries to be different.  I was like you.  But then I learned to embrace the genre after years of being on hiatus.  You see, when I was younger I would rush home after school and play Call of Duty: United Offensive for hours with my online clan.  This continued for years until Call of Duty 2 was released (those damn red dots a.k.a “wall hacks” ruined it for me and I hate change) and the Battlefield series began to die out.  Does anyone even remember America's Army anymore?  Call of Duty sat on the throne, pretended to sit on a monopoly and laughed its way all the way to the bank as it released a new iteration yearly.  While, yes, I love CoD's single players campaigns, it hardly justifies the hefty sixty-dollar annual subscription.

But I have re-embraced the genre and let FPS into my heart once more.  I started playing with my friends.  Suddenly I wasn't being called derogatory names of races I don't belong to.  I was having fun, I had mentors to teach me tips & tricks and I was able to laugh over Teamspeak.  I didn't find this playing Call of Duty, but more power to you if that's your kind of game.  I was reborn playing Battlefield 3 and Arma II.  But more importantly I was doing it with my friends, just like when I was thirteen years old.  It's the same reason I play Dungeons & Dragons and MMO's.  It's why I join clans and guilds.  Are you sad and lonely and have no one to play with?  The internet has a cure for that! Find a community!  

So I say don't give up on the genre just yet.  While FPS games may seem “stupid” and “childish” to you, there's a certain sense of adrenaline that just can't be topped when you set up a road block on DayZ and snipe greedy passer-by's from your canyon.  In BF3, there's no better feeling than rushing objectives and shouting for my brother to come heal me as bullets fly in every direction.  It may not be my favorite genre, but I'm no longer afraid of it.  Open up your mind, you might just find you like it.   read

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