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12:34 PM on 03.04.2011

On Video Games and Art

So I was sitting one day all by myself and thinking what are my favorite game genres and why? What do Video Games give me, as their player? or to put it more simply, what is it about Video games which excite and enthrall me so much?

I really can't come up with a clear answer.

But I can definitely say that on a basic level it feeds my need for accomplishment in small packages that become harder to achieve as I progress through the video game's "levels". Therefore by ascending each level, my psyche is even more hungry to achieve an even higher dose of accomplishment.

Are you still with me here? good.

Then I also see the fact that I want a game to entertain me as much as it challenges me. There is nothing more pleasant to the mind of the intelligent (or even semi-intelligent) life forms on planet Earth than the sociological behavior and effect called "Entertainment". Art is made for entertainment.

From Wikipedia: "Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging items (often with symbolic significance) in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music, literature, film, photography, sculpture, and paintings."

I know you're going to say "There goes another one of those crazy mofos who think video games are a form of art which can hold their own place next to giants like Music or Literature! LOL!"

But I think we have all had experiences which have changed everything about how we feel about video games. For some it was playing Super Mario Bros on the NES. For some it was PITFALL! on the Atari 2600. For some it was a Mortal Kombat machine in the arcade or Space Invaders. Or the hundreds of more games which turned us around and made us choose Video Games to consume hours upon hours of our life. And we're glad about every hour spent.

Why? because
-They affect three of our senses: Seeing, Hearing, Even Feeling (rumble).
-Extensive motor skills for moving our fingers and hands in almost perfect sync and coordination are demonstrated which are pretty much like "virtual sport" for the motor cortex.
-We are amazed by their mechanics and want to explore their limits and capabilities.
- They challenge our intellect by presenting several different scenarios which face us with a new hurdle to jump over and a higher goal to reach. A bigger challenge to overcome. Ascension.

So... Some Video Games do have the ingredients to be called Art... But are they "mixed" well enough to truly justify them belonging up there with what represents the world of Art?

[edit]...I don't know, yet. But should I care?

There are definite stand-outs which could be candidates. But I think it would take at least two more game generations for us to truly realize the artistic potentials of Video Games. We are living in a whole different century. It's not hard to imagine new mediums being introduced as works of art.

But maybe we don't even need to pull Video Games up there next to giants like Music or Literature. Maybe it's defined enough as it is. Many activities are called "artistic" but aren't recognized as art.

And let's not forget a more recent medium like "Cinema" actually Earned its way into becoming a defined art form thanks to devoted film makers who proved it can be called art. Also, cinema was on a much more easy road towards being called Art since it's simply an evolution of the classic Theater. It's going to be much harder for video games to prove themselves.

But do they truly need to? I don't think so. They have been a big part of many of our lives without us much caring about the "Art" factor. We have stayed interested, devoted, excited and entertained by them.

Truly what more is there to desire from Video Games? A form of entertainment, which thanks to some of the titles out there, gets really close to resembling Art and more importantly, it simply enchants millions of people with different cultures, ages, sexes and tastes around the world every single day.   read

5:09 AM on 10.05.2010

Assassin's Creed II Thoughts

Hey people. Just wanted to update my blog with announcing what I'm currently playing and what are my thoughts about it so far. On my XBOX 360 (which gave me a single RROD last night before resuming function but still scaring the holy shit out of me) I'm playing the second Assassin's Creed game.

I finally managed to gather up my lazy ass from the floor to actually play one of the sandbox games from my (really huge) backlog.

You see, I really hate sandbox games. I tend to get lost a lot, spend most of my time just wandering around with indecisiveness and imagine just how insane I should be to even think about exploring the huge game world. (I may never even touch upon Red Dead Redemption. I'm thinking about getting rid of it, actually).

What can I say, I'm just one of those people who likes to get shoved towards my next objective and watch glorious set-pieces instead of "Creating my own fun". I pay to be entertained when I buy a video game. I don't want to "make my own fun". Little Big Planet, I'm looking at you.

But that's just my personal opinion. I know how much time and effort goes into making games like AC2 or RDR and I salute the people who have the balls of steel to challenge themselves like that and although this is just not my thing, I constantly find myself playing the good ones which get good reviews no matter how sickly I feel about the genre. Sometimes it feels good to be a Metacritic whore. I think it's one of life's guilty pleasures.

So why am I playing Assassin's Creed 2 when I am clearly torturing instead of enjoying myself? I don't know. Maybe because I played the first one (Because the hype behind it was BIG) and I wanted to know Desmond's (and his ancestors') fate. If you know about the shitty cliffhanger ending of the first game then you understand what I mean.

Cliffhanger endings were fairly new for me back then (I'm talking about real, big, fat, ugly CLIFFHANGERS). I had some exposure to them but I never thought they would soon turn into a constant irritating trend.

I didn't know they were elaborate corporate schemes which would inevitably constantly lure us into buying the 6 sequels and 6 prequels which shall be released each year with their own cliffhanger endings. To their credit, the story seems much tighter and more cohesive this time around.

Why? because my curiosity about what the fuck will happen to a virtual character is probably more important than whether I'm having fun with the actual game or not. I just roll that way.

Anyway, I've played about 8 hours of it. The game looks nice if you don't go into detail (the faces are really shitty) and it's kind of ironic when I see that the Parkour stuff feel so rigid and unresponsive since I played the first Assassin's Creed (which I thought at the time controls like a dream). Why ironic? Because AssCreed is basically the game which brought the whole building scaling, automatic Parkour stuff to video games and since then, many games have improved upon it (inFamous and Prototype come to mind). But AssCreed 2's free-running mechanics remain intact from the first game and they feel dated.
Ezio just doesn't seem like the graceful acrobat Altair seemed to be 3 years ago. Or maybe I'm just spoiled by all the super powers and "hover" abilities.

I can't count how many times I "thought" I could make a jump across some balconies but my character failed to do so and stumbled down to the alley below with half his life bar gone to hell. I have to admit I had much more fun playing the other two mentioned games over this in terms of movement and platforming. Basically, it's like they've just polished up the graphics of the first one a little, injected more personality to the main character to make him seem "hip" and "cool" and changed the map from middle eastern structures to European style architecture (which indeed looks glorious).

Sure there are some added mechanics like an economy system which from what I've gathered so far is pretty minimal and unnecessary. They could have just awarded you money or upgrade points for every mission/Side-mission accomplished instead of this whole Villa/art collecting/Blacksmith clusterfuck.

Of course, to be fair the game now seems much more varied from the first one. You have many side missions (although most of them tend to approach the good old "find this" or "beat up that guy" variety) and some of them are interesting enough. The fighting is the same as always with the exception that you can snag an enemy's weapon if you time your attack right. The camera can be a bitch in tight spaces and the free-running challenges (the Assassin dungeons or whatever) are clear portraits of what is not functioning correctly in the game's free-running system. You can Swim now. Which is really just there for the sake of being there but I'm not going to complain about that.

And the novelty of doing Leaps of Faith has but completely evaporated for me. I thought maybe the first one or two will give me that same glorious feeling of rush and vertigo but nope. No matter how high I climbed and leaped, it just didn't feel the same. You also get to find Hidden Treasures which are scattered throughout the huge map. (yay... fun. *YAWN*) The thrill of some of the main story assassinations are still there though. But in games like this you just feel guilty for rushing on with the main events without exploring or doing some side-missions. It IS a sandbox game after all. Menu designs look cool but good luck avoiding confusion and headaches when actually exploring them.

To sum up, as far as I've played, the game is better than the first one. The game is basically the same as the first one but the experience is more fine-tuned although it's now much more derivative. They have added a few gimmicks for the sake of the "2" you see in front of the title. It may look like a pretty flower at first but once you start peeling, don't be surprised if you find some familiar albeit passable thorns. I am yet to see the ending so I can't say if it's as much of a rip-off as the first one. I'll report back when I finish.   read

3:45 AM on 09.28.2010

The New Castlevania Looks like a winner Folks

I just watched the 11 minute gamplay trailer on G4 (which I have put below for your convenience) and I have to say, it looks dazzling.

The graphics look sharp and worthy. Special attention has been paid to character models and lighting. Animation is smooth albeit not "Uncharted 2" smooth, mind you. There's a point where an enemy strikes Gabriel (the good looking protagonist dude) away from herself and he prevents being blown further away by sticking his blade-cross-thingy into the ground to halt himself and after the dust had settled, I didn't see any marks left where the cross had been shearing through the ground. This may sound like nit picking but bare in mind that this is a cutscene and every detail counts, especially at a close-up like that and with a Cutscene-Freak like Kojima overlooking the project. But I guess this is still nit picking. They look great.

Gameplay-wise, we're looking at some God Of War Style brawling with long chain-type weapons and also the addition of ranged weapons both of which can be upgraded. There are also some powerful close-range weapons as well. There is some kind of Dark/Light mechanic here too which I'm not sure how it works. But it probably serves as a modifier to your attacks and some enemies will be weaker to one of those types.

You'll fight normal grunts and work your way up to the level bosses. There are also huge monstrosities called "Titans" who are smaller versions of the Colossi we had to climb our way up and stab in the back of the head in Playstation 2's "Shadow Of The Colossus". I don't know whether these battles are optional or they are part of the bosses we have to face. It seemed a little too much of a rip-off but they still looked lots of fun. The bosses look sweet and some of them will definitely be a challenge.

There's also quite some platforming involved here and there. The jumping seems to be aided so no Tomb Raider style precision jumping is necessary as it seems and there are also some climbing and swinging, shimmying and plank crossing sections. Like Kratos, Gabriel can also sprout temporary wings (which are probably acquired after defeating a boss or maybe as a power-up) to aid him across the wider gaps like a double-jump.

The puzzles seem like the standard "Direct the light to a certain point using mirrors", "Pull a switch", "use your newly gained power", "Activate in Sequence" and (of course) "move some crates" variety. I didn't see anything original here except for the section which showed some electrical type nodes which had to be moved to reach some kind of purpose. I also spotted a Chess-like arena complete with huge statues as their pieces. Maybe they'll come alive, maybe they won't. The puzzles look like functional, harmless brain teasers which serve as breathing space between the frantic battles.

The story seems interesting. It's the standard "Hero saves the day and his beloved from hideous villain and his army" vibe with definite plot twists which I am pretty sure will not make you spit out your drinks in shock. Expect a little forced melodrama regarding Gabriel's lost love.

The voice acting will be the definite highlight as we have the likes of Patrick Stewart and Robert Carlyle. The music sounds perfect for the mood of the game and I think there will be remixes of old favorites. The cutscenes will definitely not be Metal Gear long but will move the story along in a nice, steady pace. The whole thing seems pretty balanced. My advice is to be on a lookout for Interesting Characters instead of an Oscar-worthy plot.

The environments look huge and are extremely varied. From jungles, destroyed villages and snowcapped mountains to a rainy courtyard of a huge castle and probably the inside of the castle will serve as the final levels of the game. I'm pretty sure there are secrets hidden in every nook and cranny so completionists will have a field day with this one. There are also talks of DLC so this game will be spinning in your console for quite some time.

To conclude, as the above video shows, the game looks polished and interesting. It's a balanced and expert combination of what made top-tier action/adventure games like God Of War, Devil May Cry and Prince of Persia winners and it still keeps the golden flare of what makes the classic Castlevania games still special in our hearts. It has also promised "A Good 20 hours of gameplay" which is pretty impressive. Heads will definitely turn no doubt. Castlevania fans (including me) will definitely gobble this up like it's pure gold and gamers who haven't had prior Castlevania experience will probably struggle to find a better action/adventure game to beat until the end of 2010.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow will be released on the XBOX 360 and PLAYSTATION 3 on OCTOBER 5th in North America and OCTOBER 7th in Europe. My suggestion is, pre-order if you can. You most likely won't regret it.   read

5:07 AM on 09.26.2010

More Than Just Noise: Silent Noise

Look at the picture above. Many of you will instantly recognize what game this is from. For the ones who don't, it's from Silent Hill 3.

Now I want you to take the main character standing there out and put yourself in her place (her name is Heather, by the way but it doesn't matter right now). Look down at the monstrosities laying dead at your feet. look around you. Where could you be? A hospital? A basement perhaps? A Morgue? You can't trust you eyes so you go for the next best thing: Your ears.

What do you think you'd hear in a place like that, or this one below taken from Silent Hill 2?

Clanging of pipes? disembodied whispers coming out of nowhere? Somebody screaming: "BLOODY MURDER!" from a room just beyond? Perhaps nothing at all?

Silent Hill has always been about subtle fear that doesn't bite your head off at first meet, but it will sting you softly and sweetly on the cheek as it slowly and steadily spreads its dark poison inside your veins and finally takes control of your paralyzed body and mind to do evil deeds. Or just drag you into some sewage tunnel and eat you up.

What I'm trying to convey is, sometimes you DO hear scary or creepy stuff. But you know what you hear BEFORE you hear the screaming lady or the groaning monster just around the bend in a video game or perhaps even in real life? You hear your own Fear. You hear what's inside your HEAD. That's the scariest thing of all, the dread and feeling of isolation. Mr. Akira Yamaoka is well aware of this fact.

He is the composer for all of the Silent Hill games (and the underrated movie). Even if a silent hill game is not made by Team Silent, the original people behind the first three (and best) Silent Hill games, the replacement developers and Konami beg him to contribute to the audio and music department for their iteration of the game. Why, you say? Because they know that without him, their vision of Silent Hill will be little more than "another survival-horror video game".

So what does Mr. Yamaoka know so much about Silent Hill which makes him the definite composer for the series? What has made him one of the most revered video game composers of our era? Probably because he knows by heart that in order to truly terrify someone, you have to delve into their subconscious. Go under their skin, so to speak. So maybe he also exposes his own personal buried demons for us to witness through his works.

So you may claim: "Everybody knows that! Hell, even the cheapest piece of straight-to-DVD crap movie can scare you with those annoying, deafening "WREEEEEEE!" violin crescendos when the bad guys appear out of nowhere!"

You may be right to an extent. Most movies from the Horror genre do portray scary, or at least eerie images and music. But I want you to go out (or online) right now, acquire any of these movies soundtracks and listen to those very tracks which scared the crap out of you without watching the movie. Except for maybe a few (Alfred Hitchcock's famous Psycho soundtrack comes to mind here) exceptions, the music alone just won't affect you as much as it did when it was attached to its visual counterpart. The same can be said of most horror video games.

Now go and acquire one of Mr. Yamaoka's Silent Hill soundtracks (preferably from Silent Hill 1 through 3) and I want you to imagine you're chewing some delicious candy while picking flowers from a beautiful rose garden or imagine you're in some kind of an exclusive "single gamers only" party where you're the only guy. And you're banging a Playboy bunny... or whatever else that makes you tick. Now pop in the Silent Hill soundtrack you have just acquired. Do you feel the difference? Are you nervously peeking over your shoulder yet?
I don't think Mr. Yamaoka wants to impress people (although he unintentionally ends up doing it anyway). He wants to crank the volume of the noises you THINK you hear to up 11.

The screaming of monsters and clanking of pipes can only take you so far, but we have all more or less had the experience of THINKING we heard something really creepy when everybody else denies hearing anything particular at that moment. That's your subconscious fear talking. That's what Yamaoka is trying to bring to the forefront rather than let it linger aimlessly in the back of your head.

Of course I'm not saying all horror OST should be like this. There's a time and place for everything. But there are very few Franchises (video game or otherwise) whose soundtracks are part of their identities and Silent Hill is one of them. That's what Akira Yamaoka and Silent Hill are all about. They define each other. Each and every Silent Hill game has its own mood, its own sounds.

On an end note, I'm going to show you that he is not just a one trick pony. He can also make quite beautiful melodies which brings fond memories to all Silent Hill fans. Here's an example from the latest Silent Hill game dubbed: "Shattered Memories" which is quite a good game. As close as western developers have come to realizing the core of Team Silent's much-loved franchise.
[embed]184873:33513[/embed]   read

5:45 AM on 09.25.2010

Tagline Of The Year?

If you already (or by accident) haven't heard about Tecmo's Gears Of War shameless rip-off (amusingly) called "Quantum Theory" that looks more like a GOW mod with new skins than anything else, I suggest you keep your eyes closed shut and your hands pressed against your ears until this game is released and the news about it blows over because it just isn't worth it.
I also present to you the ingenious Tagline their awesome marketing staff have come up with for the game's latest trailers:

If these people worked for Apple, Mr. Jobs would probably be a fucking bum right now.
Well done, Tecmo. Well done. I really feel the adrenaline pumping here. I thought I had to negotiate with the generic zombie monsters but I'm glad you clarified what the objective of the game is.
But you know what? I'd just LOVE to see how the game's story (Rofl) is going to explain the game's title. seriously. It's like calling a game... Loschmidt's Paradox. No, Tecmo. Don't get ideas for a sequel.
Better yet, forget releasing this crap altogether. Just tell the press your offices were burnt down in an accidental fire and all existing copies of the game were destroyed and according to quantum theory, you may have been the publisher of the game...or not.
"Gotta Kill It" indeed.

Here's the mentioned trailer. Don't blame yourself if you're interested too. It's like watching a train wreck.   read

2:06 AM on 09.25.2010

By Popular Demand: Being a Gamer in *Gasp!* Iran

So, many of the comments on my first "hello thar!" post complained that I haven't said enough and they need more details about my "life". Well that's really sweet of you people but like many others, I have always struggled with describing myself. But I'll try.
As my blog description says, I live in Iran. It's a country between Iraq and Afghanistan (YaY! :|) and it's classified as a "Middle Eastern Third World Country". Well I disagree. Because they're really putting it politely.
I don't want to set fire to some of my Altruistic, Patriotic countrymen's beliefs but at least I have the balls to say that I live in a shit-hole dump where the only difference between it and Iraq is that we don't have some turf war going on between US soldiers and Taliban bastards. Nope. We don't need foreigners to **** up our country we can do it all by ourselves thank you very much.
BUT, I don't want to get all political and controversial here so I'm going to talk about what being a gamer in Iran is like: It's almost non-existent and what little there is, it's painfully primitive. Yes. We have game consoles here. We have magazines which review and preview video games (although 90% of them are just translated material from Gamespot.Com) and we do have some people who genuinely care about video games and take them as a serious medium of entertainment. But when you talk about Video games in public, after getting "video games?! HAR HAR!" looks and whispers, you'd probably hear a 5-year-old kid go: "Yeah! FiFA (WHATEVER THAT YEAR IS) is awesome!"
...and then there's silence.
Laws of Copyright don't exist here. so we buy our XBOX 360s pre-modded and we have to pay (sometimes) double for PS3 games (I paid an equivalent of $150 for MGS4, Uncharted 2 and FFXIII just to name a few). So almost everybody pretty much just buy a haXx0r'd 360 and buy illegal copies of games for $5 each.
Do I like this? well, TBH, yes and no.
Don't get me wrong, I feel obligated and would love to pay the standard price for a video game as it is paid around the world (although I've heard Australians have to put up with some crappy high prices too) but do I have a choice to do so? no. I can't order games from abroad because of sanctions and also because god knows how much extra I have to pay for an imported game from the States to my country. I'd love to support the industry. But we're not earning money in the US$ currency but our expenses are pretty much in accordance with the US$. Most of us are economically screwed.
The people who oblige themselves with such "classy" entertainment as video games are shunned and labeled by their society as "Spoiled, childish Retards who don't think about getting married when they're 20 years old and don't want to make lots of babies. A travesty and a shame for our families".
It's like being a fish in a lake where an oil tanker has just drowned and started leaking oil. I can see the dark, poisonous waters expanding more and more towards me and my fellow gamers but all we can do is back up into the clearer areas, hoping that the leak would just stop one day.
I have to buy illegal copies of video games because it IS the only way to play video games in this country. period.
Now just imagine how hard it must be to retain a dream to become a part of the video game industry where video games (along with any other activities which resemble fun, apparently) are considered taboo.
Here people look at video games like childish toys that only 9-year-olds would be interested in. Boys have to become "Men" when they're 15 and they should only "dream" about getting married, buying a house and making babies so they'd grow up and do the same. You know, the whole traditional thinking mud pool of mediocrity.
BUT nothing is impossible. I'll keep my chin up, I'll take my computer programming and Graphics courses (thank god we have those here) and I'll always play video games even though I'd feel guilty inside me every time I pop a copy game in my Modded 360 and have a voice at the back of my head yell "PIRATE!" whenever I read headlines about how piracy is dragging the video game industry down. But what can I say?
Video games have been my true love since my dad bought me my Atari 2600 when I was 8 (Thanks, dad!) and I haven't looked back ever since. Not even when I realized I live in a place like Iran.   read

10:22 AM on 09.24.2010

Tomb Raider: Underworld Review

Tomb Raider Underworld is currently the last game which is actually named "Tomb Raider". I bought it a week ago from the bargain bin and since I'd been a big TR fan I thought I'd give it a try. I knew Crystal Dynamics had properly refined the platforming formula so that it may be much easier to do jumps and perform the graceful acrobatic feats of Ms. Croft. Unfortunately, I think I was both right and wrong.
You see, Tomb Raider Anniversary and Tomb Raider Legend were awesome games. They made me forget the shit that the TR series had become with *shivers* Angel of Darkness. The controls had become tight, it wasn't like trying to control one of the first Resident Evil characters anymore. The graphics were blissfully upgraded to the industry standards (almost) and Lara's new look had not only retained the usual hotness (Read: Double "D"s FTW) but the more innocent look on her face was a godsend compared to the dark halfway "goth" she had become with AOD. And also, the diving suit? Pure godsend heavenly bliss. I spent about 5 hours in the first level just experimenting with her "thong Physics".
So you may ask just WTF is wrong with Underworld that makes me feel like it's the next bad thing after AOD? well, it's the fact that the levels just weren't designed for the Lara we know from the last two games. The levels of this game required more precision, more versatility and a better camera. 70% of the time Lara wasn't doing what I intended her to do because the camera freaked out on me before the jumps and caused Lara to hurl herself towards spiky pits and poisonous lakes of... neon blue poison. I just felt I had no control of Lara more than my luck did. It became infuriating. Real fast.
Also, the levels here are HUGE. You have to solve several little puzzles scattered in a big themed environment in order to be able to tackle the "main" puzzle and while this has worked for several other adventure-type games, it just doesn't cut it here. There's no map here (No, the Sonar is not a freakin' map it's a useless piece of crap which confuses you even more) and you have to follow your intuition to decide exactly what you have to do next. There's a hint system which allows you to hear what Lara thinks of what should be done next and a second one which practically dictates what you have to do next like you're having some kind of a reader program reading a GameFAQS walkthrough to you out loud. But sometimes even they confused me or just didn't give me a clue as to what to do next. For example, after picking up some key items from the bottom of a jungle pit, I knew I had to "get back to an earlier part of the level in order to use the items I just picked up" but I didn't know how to get back up from the bottom of the damn pit and the game's hints didn't do much to help. I was finally forced to just run around like a little crazy bitch and find some kind of a different texture on the walls which indicated that Lara could climb up it.
Granted, most of the times the hint system does its job well and I guess I'm asking too much but I have to admit that if it weren't for my huge experience of Tomb Raider games and having an idea of how Tomb Raider levels usually work, I'd be long lost in frustrating mazes which gave no clue as to where to go next. Although it's not as complex as it sounds but the level design is this game's enemy. The puzzles aren't puzzles anymore when you know exactly what to do but you can't do it the way you think it has to be done and you have to solve it the way the designer intended it to be solved. This is more true during the last level and its end boss which are just big clusterfucks that would drive a casual gamer to go mad. And I shall only suffice to say that I wanted to murder the game's camera so bad I could feel its blood on my tongue. It just constantly reminded me of the nightmare that The Angel Of Darkness had become.
So once again, to my pure sadness, Lara seemed too old for the industry standards. I think Lara Croft: The Guardian of Light is a very good step in the right direction for the beloved heroin. I'm not saying the platforming, third-person Lara is dead but I'd rather wait a bit and see her (and her lovely breasts) in good hands rather than see another stab in her reputation.
For now, I can only credit Tomb Raider: Underworld for being the Tomb Raider game which featured the hottest Lara Croft ever depicted.   read

10:54 AM on 09.22.2010

Greetings, Destruction Lovers!

What's up guys!
Just signed up and hope to be a regular poster here. God bless gamers, for the geek shall inherit the earth.   read

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