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10:28 AM on 03.17.2010

A Suggestion to War Game Designers, Or Why Can't the Doughboys Get Some Love?

I'm a historian by trade, well a grad student 2 years away from becoming Dr. Studakris, to be exact. Regardless, I've always had an interest in historically based games. Age of Empires, the original Call, Civilization, etc. All were dang fine games, and their game mechanics aren't really up for discussion. However, in a market saturated with WWII games, I've always wondered if game companies were aware of this little tidbit.

Did you know what there was a World War before World War II? And it hold just as much, if not more, hooks for really fascinating games?

World War I is rife for games in numerous genres. You want diplomacy? Heck, there were loads alliances and counter-alliances stemming from backdoor deals between nations. An arena for FPS deathmatches? Consider trench-warfare. Nifty uniforms? We got the Kaiser in a spiked helmet. Ethical dilemmas? Use of mustard gas. Crowning moments of awesome? Occasional cavalry charges were called in the early days of the war. As in, horses in no-man's land. Sure, they were ultimately futile, but dang, would that look cool. Not awesome enough? The 369th Infantry, the "Harlem Hellfighters." Still not enough awesome for you? Frank York. Chances for America to be #1, kick butt, and give Republicans the war-fuzzies? Shoot, the war only lasted a few months once the US entered the picture. Sure, the war jaded a whole generation and caused Hemingway to waste his time at bull fights, but hey, it was one heck of a war.

With the 100th anniversary of the war's beginning only a few years away, I hope some aspiring game company decides to embrace the massive potential in a WWI game. Seriously, the doughboys need some love.   read

5:06 PM on 03.16.2010

A Rational Response to the 4.0 FFXIII Review

First, hey, everyone's entitled to their own opinion. While I don't agree with many of Mr. Sterling's points, I respect his right to have them.

But honestly, I like the game. Pretty much for the reasons he cannot stand it.

Sure, it's not perfect, but I've always found that the best Final Fantasy game is the one previous to the one just released. Whenever FFXV comes out, the internet will be whistfully remembering the greatness that was FFXIII and bemoaning the non-linear story structure and other changes that ruin the genre found in FFXV.

And I'll admit that the game starting in medias res was jarring, and I frantically had to search the menu to find out what the heck a "Fal'cie" was and why the heck should I care. But once I read and got a grasp of the story, it became engrossing again. Additionally, I've yet to hear music in the game that was bland and unforgettable, and my only disappointment comes from the traditional battle theme being scrapped.

Anyway, I could go on the usual fanboy arguments, how the battle system is fun, liking the characters, etc. But the review's final statement is the one Mr. Sterling will regret and probably retract shortly in the following days:

"It's the worst main chapter in the Final Fantasy series to date, and if this is the future of the franchise, that future is incredibly bleak indeed."

Seriously, what the heck dude? Have you forgotten II? Or III? Or IV? (Only in my humble opinion. I don't really care for IV. If you liked it, I'm happy for you. It's no VI, though) Those games were wracked with just as much, if not more, game breaking problems as XIII. Perhaps nostalgia has twisted the memories of those earlier games, but XIII stands on its own just as much as VII and X, which are among my favorites in the series. If you're not a fan of VII and X, I can see not liking XIII. As for XIII being the future of the franchise, I find it very solid, considering the leaps it's made over X and XII.

Anyway, that's my response. I'm sure I'll be drowned out by other FF fanboys calling Mr. Sterling Shamu or whatever, but know at least one fan can be sober-minded about the review.   read

6:16 PM on 03.10.2010

A Besmirch on my Gamer Cred: I Didn’t Like “Chrono Trigger”

Because of my parent’s policy on TV in the house (which was none at all), the majority of my childhood gaming was done on portable systems. Although I loved my adventures on the black and white screen, I was keenly aware of a whole universe of games I was not privy. In elementary school, I would hear classmates rave about epic sagas and mind-blowing mode 7 graphics. This inequity in gaming was compounded by my dutiful monthly reading of “Nintendo Power,” which would tease further worlds I would never know in my television-less existence. Mega Man X. Final Fantasy III. Link to the Past. Secret of Mana. Donkey Kong Country. All were SNES games I desperately wanted to play, but had no means of doing so. Undeterred, I soldiered on; awaiting the day I would finally be able to play these, and many other, desired games.

Years, and console generations, go by.

When I was in high school, my dad relented on decades of fanatical Apple devotion and purchased a mid-level Dell in order to access work documents at home. One of the first games I purchased for the PC was Final Fantasy VII. FFVII was not my first foray into RPGs, or Final Fantasies for that matter, (Pokemon and Final Fantasy Legend hold those distinctions, respectively) but it was the first RPG that really got me into the genre. After being blown away by the game, I moved on to FFVIII. Around the time I finished FFVIII and was looking for another game to satisfy my new-found appetite for RPGs, I began to hear murmurings of programs called emulators. Not wanting to get my hopes up, I rationalized that an SNES emulator couldn’t be among them, and even if it did exist, it certainly would be too grandiose to run on my father’s basic desktop. Ah, the naivety of youth. After being reassured by one of my closest and most trusted friends that our computer would certainly run an emulator, he gave me a disk full of SNES roms and that most wondrous of all programs, ZSNES.

I was in heaven.

Games previously denied to me by my parent’s forbiddance of televisions were now freely available. Within the next couple of months, I plowed through handfuls of games I could once only dream of playing. I fell in love with fan translations of FFV and Seiken Densetsu 3. I marveled at strange games such as E.V.O: The Quest for Eden and Out of This World. But most importantly, every AAA title longed over from the pages of “Nintendo Power” was reachable with only a few keystrokes. Like I said, I was in heaven.

I remember hearing accolades for “Chrono Trigger” around 4th grade. “Nintendo Power” had given it a review stating it had absolutely no weaknesses and if anything, would spoil the player from enjoying RPGs ever again. Additionally, my video game pals raved over the game, citing the music, character, battle system, etc. as being second to none. I was told on multiple occasions that they envied me for being able to play it for the first time. So with inflated, but supposedly justified expectations, I located the rom for “Chrono Trigger” and prepared to be wowed.

It’s important to note here that I didn’t hate “Chrono Trigger.” It certainly was a complete and competent game. Likewise, I don’t think my opinions were tainted by playing later RPGs first, which had taken some of “Chrono Trigger’s” innovative ideas. For instance, I loved the crap out of Final Fantasy III(VI), Seiken Densetsu 3, and the Dragon Quest games, even though I played them after their next-gen sequels. Heck, I still hold FFVI as my favorite game in the series.

But there was just something about “Chrono Trigger” that didn’t strike a chord with me. For one, I found the characters annoying. Particularly Lucca. Her swarmy, full-of-her-own-intelligence attitude grated on me. Even after finding out about her mother’s accident, I was still unsympathetic to her plight. Maybe that makes me a soulless monster, but she still was my least favorite party member. The music was okay, but it certainly wasn’t as mind-blowing or memorable as other tracks from the era. The battle system was decent, and it was a welcome break to have non-random enemy encounters, but it wasn’t much to write home about. Even the story, which many heralded as the best part of the game, couldn’t hold my interest after the first couple of hours. By the time I arrived at the End of Time, I had stopped caring about Lavos and the fate of the world, and just wanted to grind in order to finish the game. It wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t the end-all, be-all SNES RPG experience.

After I had defeated Lavos, and a few times more on the new game plus in order to see some of the much-trumpeted multiple endings, I expressed my blasé attitude towards the game the same individuals who triumphed its cause. I was met with disbelief and horror. I was accused of being tainted by later RPGs, or not “getting” the story. Even though I had become relatively well-versed on SNES games, my nonchalance towards “Chrono Trigger” marked me as a permanent pariah in the eyes of “true” gamer-dom. Perhaps had I played “Chrono Trigger” when it was first released, I would have been mesmerized by its charms and become as fanatical as my peers. Perhaps their memory of the game was filtered through nostalgia lenses. In either case, my “meh” stance on “Chrono Trigger” has separated me from the ranks of “legitimate” old-school gamers.

A final note. When “Chrono Trigger” was re-released on the DS, I purchased a copy, hoping that the new content and time had made the game more favorable than I remembered it. Turns out, nope, nothing changed. I gave up on the game around the fight with Magus, traded it into for a second copy of “The World Ends With You,” and haven’t looked back since.

Thoughts? Do I now earn your distain for not liking “Chrono Trigger”? Are there any games that have nearly universal acclaim you just don’t like or understand what all the hype is about?   read

1:18 PM on 03.10.2010

One Day into Final Fantasy XIII (minor spoilers)

I suppose I should get this out into the open now, I bought my PS3 about a month ago with the implicit purpose of getting FFXIII. Sure, I’ve enjoyed playing Uncharted 2 and Valkayria Chronicles, but they were just the appetizers for the Square-Enix main dish. I’m about 4-5 hours into the game, and I have these impressions. I’ll stay away from spoilers and the like, with one minor exception.

1. Graphics-
Yeah, they’re good. Even on an older Sony Wega with no HDMI hook-up, just component cables, the game is visually stunning. Sure, it may not leave you as awe-struck as your first glimpse of Midgar, but the nuances in the details are astonishing. It’s the first game where I can really tell the difference in the fabrics of clothing.

2. Story-
A little taken aback by this one. Without going into too much detail, the game lacks true exposition. I’m all for games opening in medias res, but there was a whole bunch of major plot information that was delivered either in throw away lines or most egregiously, in the menu screen. Still, after about the first hour, I had figured out the general gist of what all was going on and the game became surprisingly gripping.
Also, yes, it is linear. And that’s not a bad thing. I’ve found my favorite parts of FF games were a bit on the linear side. The first half of VI, the Midgar section of VII, most of X. I know some people might not like the on-rails aspect, but if it bothers you so much, don’t play the game and pick up a Western RPG instead. I like it and I don’t feel betrayed by Square-Enix in the least.

3. Fighting System-
This will probably be the most talked about aspect of the game, and with good reason. It’s a heck of a lot more fun and intuitive than it looks. The battles have an ebb and flow unlike any I’ve seen in an RPG. Particularly, numbers are no longer important, and MP is a thing of the past. The removal of magic points was frankly a long time coming. In pervious FF games, I would use physical attacks almost exclusively for fear of spending all my MP and being screwed come the next big battle. Even though Vivi or whoever was more than capable of wiping the floor with a “Thunder” spell, I would always select them to thwack the enemy with their staff for a miniscule 12 damage. In FFXIII, there is no penalty or fear for using a lot of magic, since it takes the same amount of action as a regular attack. As a result, not only am I using a lot more offensive spells, but tons more buffs and debuffs. I love the tactical tension allowed by the paradigm system. In large boss fights, I find myself debating whether to keep building attacking as to cause the “stagger” status even though my characters are in need of healing, or switching to a healing paradigm, and risk losing the break meter.

4. Characters-
Each playable character feels like a mixture of previous characters from earlier in the series. For a bit of fun, I’m going to do some FFXIII character math. I know I’m barely into the story, but here’s how I see them.
She’s a tough chick, but she’s not as moody or sullen as other protagonists have been

A bare-knuckled brawler dedicated to his fiancée. He has a dark sense of humor, but no where near as peppy as other members of the party

A reluctant participant. Like Tracy Jordan said in his not hit movie Cruise Boat, He’s too getting to old for this ship.

The young kid, but he actually has a reason to be moody and not a peppy mess.

The least original character. She’s every other young girl from FF rolled into one. Plus her accent is grating

(Minor Spoiler)
She’s not in the party and has barely had 3 lines, but I can already see a dark sense of humor coming out. Plus, she’s a dragoon. Dragoons are always awesome.   read

4:26 PM on 02.23.2010

In Defense of Portable Gaming and TWEWY

When I was 6 years old, my teenaged brother received one of the greatest Christmas gifts I would ever get. It was a Game Boy. By the time the next Christmas came around, I had usurped ownership of the device from him, becoming the sole player of such classics as "Tetris" "Double Dragon" and "Mickey's Dangerous Chase" (Hey, I was 6, and Mickey Mouse was the man in my eyes). Despite my parent's anti-TV stance (They didn't buy one until I was well into college) they had no problem with the Game Boy. So for the next couple of years, Christmases and Birthdays were easy affairs. Just buy little Studakris whatever Game Boy game just came out and he'll be content for the next couple of months.

Although I knew the Game Boy was theoretically a portable device, I never used it as such. Partially because I was still in elementary school and really had no place to travel, but mainly because I was so enamored of the spot I had on the couch with the perfect lighting, that there was no reason to move. (Note: it still amazes me how much finicky who-haa we had to put up with on the Game Boy. Crummy battery life, inane bleeps and bloops for music, and always, always positioning the screen to receive adequate illumination without blinding glare) It was on this couch that I first fell in love with Mario, Link, and Kirby, among others. Although they were the portable versions, they had the same amount of game play and depth as their larger brethren. Even unto this day, I content that "Link's Awakening" is the most complete and fulfilling Zelda game.

As time when out, my faithful monochrome Game Boy was replaced by the Game Boy Pocket. Then the Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Advance SP, all the way up to my current DS Lite. And as time goes on, and video games become more and more graphically impressive, I'm still most drawn to the intimate affairs available only on the smallest screen. It's a much more personal affair, and draws the player in to an extent I can't find on traditional consoles. Sure, it's possible to produce an epic and frolicking adventure, such as the excellent "Uncharted 2". But I still prefer the quirky sense of smallness found on portable games.

I believe the potential of portable gaming as a separate and distinct entity is best served in Sqaure-Enix's over-under-appreciated work "The World Ends With You." Aside from the story, which brilliantly plays with the various tropes of JRPGs, the game mechanics are not only innovative, but also only possible on the DS. The dual screens are utilized in game to accomplish much more than the traditional map/subscreen combo. The stylus and d-pad allow for simultaneous control over the combat in a manner simply not possible on traditional consoles. But the most impressive feature of "TWEWY" is that all the innovations simply work together. Not much is game-changingly broken. The pins can be used in a myriad of fashions depending on the player's preference. There is a fair amount of balance, in defiance to most RPG's habit of providing uber-weapons by game's end. It has an element of finesse simply missing from most games.

So yeah, there you go. My love letter to our portable buddies. Whenever the DS 2 comes out, I'll be first in line to buy it. In addition, I'll continue to long for a "TWEWY" sequel, as long as they keep it far away from the Wii and other traditional consoles.   read

9:24 AM on 02.23.2010


So I guess I'm supposed to do a proper introduction to my blog. Well, here it goes.

I'm currently a grad student getting my doctorate in American History. So yeah, that right there eats up the vast majority of my time. Additionally, I'm unique from most gamers in that my parents never allowed a TV in the house, so all my childhood memories of gaming come from either the computer (which was a Mac and very limited in the way of titles) or the various incarnations of the Game Boy. Because of this, I have a much stronger affinity towards portable gaming than most.

At the moment, my gaming systems are a PS3, Wii, DS, iPhone, and a Macbook. My favorite game series ever is Final Fantasy (cliche, I know) followed by Zelda and Monkey Island. I probably have more emulated SNES roms than anyone on the internet, partially because I'm trying to relive all the games denied my childhood by not having a television. My other major gaming quirk is aside from a brief period where I played WoW with people from the dorm, I'm not a fan of online gaming. It just seems so impersonal. I'd much rather beat someone down in Third Strike or Tetris Attack in person than over the interwebs.

Well, that about covers who all I am gaming-wise. Expect posts concerning my waiting for FFXIII as well as other issues, maybe done with a historical perspective ;)   read

2:15 PM on 02.06.2010

My Expertise: In-person Versus Mode

Games in which no one can beat me*:

Soul Calibur 2
Smash Brothers Brawl
Street Fighter 3: Third Strike
Marvel vs. Capcom 2
Mario Kart series
Halo 2
And above all: Tetris Attack

*The games in which I have incredible skills cross all genres, but have one underlying factor. I am only crushingly awesome if I am physically playing another human being in the flesh. To be blunt, I am a beast a multi-player gaming, but only while offline. Sit next to me on the couch while we duke it out in “Smash Brothers,” I’ll hand your butt to you 9 times out of 10. Play me over the internet, I’ll lose so hardcore it’s not even funny. There’s just something about playing someone in person that brings out my uber-competitive edge. I suppose this is why I don’t find online gaming all that appealing, it’s missing the interaction. Sure, I can plug in a headset to hear the inane cackles of homophobic pre-adolescents, but it is missing the thrill of watching your opponent become utterly devastated through your skills, psychological pressure, and sheer wit. While I acknowledge and respect the force that online multiplayer has become, I don't think it can ever replace actual interaction with another gamer.   read

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