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9:59 PM on 07.07.2013

Gaming with Feels

^That. That is the game I just finished. The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword. I'm ashamed to admit it took me until late 2012 to start it, and just now to finish it. I won't bore you with the details of that, though. I'm even more ashamed to admit that it was my first-ever Zelda experience. I know, I've missed a lot. My initial plan was to write this blog about how picking Skyward Sword first was so bad, because the game was so good. Talking about how looking back my childhood sucked without Zelda, being talked into starting the series, what makes Skyward Sword a bad game to start with but a great game in general.....but I find myself going against that right now...As I stare at the title screen, knowing that my very first Zelda experience is over, I think I'll take a different perspective on this.

It has been a very long time since I've played a game like Skyward Sword....Well, that sentence is too general. What I mean by that is that my typical video game nowadays is much less substantial. Your fighting games, your sports games, your Mario Kart, your Smash bros, etc. It isn't a very diverse gaming lifestyle, and many would argue it isn't a real gaming lifestyle at all. I don't know, its worked for me for a while. Barring the occasional long game that was heavily recommended to me, video games were my quick, momentary fix. I didn't have time, or anywhere near the attention span for an engrossing story, challenging gameplay, a real long-term investment. It just wasn't what I looked for in games. It took my friends a lot of time to convince me to start this game and the series in general.

With my task set before me, I got my disk, hooked up my wii motion plus set, and got rolling. All in all, the game was fantastic. This was a game that truly solidified motion controls. I was impressed by how fluid all of the motions were, and how genuinely fun they were. I was mind-blown when I found out I could use the bow and arrow like a legitimate bow by holding the wii remote straight up and pulling the nun-chuck back. I had a blast with that! Some of the puzzles drove me up walls more than any other game had thrown at me in my entire life. It was refreshing to be genuinely challenged by a game. And the music. Good God the music. The orchestrated soundtrack was beautiful. But none of that was what truly put this game on another level for me.

I found myself talking to all of my friends as the game progressed about how great certain characters were. I fawned over how adorable Zelda was with Link. I was complaining that I just wanted them to be together again in the same room just to see them interact. And Ghirahim. Oh my Ghirahim. He is one of my favorite villains from a video game ever! He's so flamboyant, with that attitude of superiority mixed in. And yet, he has his sadistic, blinding rage beneath the fabulousness. Waiting for cutscenes with him was like watching paint dry. I was hooked into the story, felt Link's disappointment when he saw Zelda, only to have her snatched away before they could have any real time together. I felt Link's accomplishment when a trial was completed. I felt his awe upon entering the many different settings he entered, taking in each one and appreciating it for what it had to offer.

That's something a game hasn't made me experience in a while. I know it sounds stupid, but I haven't been really emotionally invested in a game since my childhood. When video games inspire emotional responses, it creates an extra level of depth that makes you keep coming back for more. I would play this game for hours, and would not be able to wait to pick it up the next day for more. This game literally made me a child again, giddy with anticipation to continue a video game. Again, it's silly, but it's something I'm now realizing I've sorely missed about video games. 

I found myself feeling all over the place. I felt pride in watching Groose's character development. I felt determined in boss battles, especially when I knew that Zelda was in my future when they ended. I felt genuinely at home whenever I walked through Skyloft and heard it's laid-back theme music. I felt unbridled excitement for any and all Ghirahim appearances. I felt heartbreak when Link and Zelda were separated. *SPOILER ALERT* NEXT FEW SENTENCES *SPOILER ALERT* I literally cried when Zelda froze herself in the cyrstal chamber waiting for Demise's destruction. The sleepyhead reference from the beginning of the game pushed me over the edge. All of these moments made the game so much more enjoyable for me. 

The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword was a much needed reminder for me that video games can be so much more than a way to pass the time. Video games can take you to other worlds, and incorporate you into their events. They can create a real emotional connection to you, and give you a roller coaster ride that through highs and lows, you never want to get off of. I know that as proud as I am to have completed this game, I will genuinely miss the experience, and I might even return to play it again. Who knows? What I can definitely say is that I am grateful to have experienced Skyward Sword, and the immense enjoyment I've derived from it gives me all the more motivation to dive head-first into my next Zelda game.

The feelings video games can inspire make them transcend the realm of the conventional. This is something that I'm ashamed to say I've forgotten over the years. But the lesson has been re-taught, and I'm ready to not only face the rest of the Zelda universe, but an array of other games that I can only hope will provide me the same kind of experience. The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword will go down as an all-time favorite for me. Looking back on it, I will think of it fondly, which is something I haven't been able to say for a video game for quite too long.

So thanks again, as always, for being there to listen. I might not have the best things to say, but it's cool that there's always someone here to listen. I'm clearly in an over-emotional state, so I'm going to cut the sap now while I can. Really though, thank you for reading. And as always enjoy your reward (Well, I see it as a reward...Barring the advertising at the end. Sorry about that. Best quality video I could find.) for making it to the end. Good night.


5:36 PM on 04.13.2013

Making the Game Your Own

For those of you who don't know me (basically everyone, barring two occasional bloggers) I like to have long hair. Long hair is fun for me. Well, it's fun for me up to a certain point. After a while, I start to get sick of the extra maintenance. So today, I had another one of my major buzz cuts. Now, I can run my hand through the back of my head and feel like a porcupine again (also a fun feeling). Now what does this anecdote mean? It means that in many of the games I play for the next few months, I get to spend a minute in the beginning giving my characters shorter hair.

I like games that allow me to customize. To be fair, I see customization as a feature that caters to a very specific audience, at least in terms of character customization. Allow me to explain a bit. Video games are designed to send us into an alternate reality. Like television and flims, video games provide an alternate universe to entertain us when we want a break from our actual universe. That fact tends to make well-made video games truly encompassing experiences. Good video games hold your attention and almost suck you into their universes through a wormhole, truly entrancing you.

For some people, though (myself included), customizing your character adds that little extra touch that makes the experience fully engrossing. Don't get me wrong; I can still enter a video game that doesn't have customization features and still get caught up in it. When I have the option though, I will always take it. I enjoy the experience of creating my own character from scratch, trying to best match my own personal features. It takes an extended amount of time, but when it's finished, I literally inject myself into the game. It provides the visual aspect to a concept that I was only able to imagine before. I love being able to see the closest representation of myself catching the pass for the touchdown, or wielding a mace and bashing in the faces of those who oppose me.

When I customize a character, I customize hard. It does not matter what kind of game it is. RPG, First-person shooter, sports game, I don't care. When I can customize a character, I take at least an hour. This annoys the living Hell out of some people who happen to be in the room while I do this. "Why are you taking so long making your character? Just play the game already!" A lot of game developers introduce obnoxious amount of features to customize in characters, and it adds up to a lot of content. So I don't want to waste such a big part of the games I love so dearly, but instead take advantage of every last feature I can (That's right, I'm that guy that messes with the arch of my nose, and the width of the ear lobes, etc.).

Even with all of this, characters are just one aspect of customization! What makes customization a feature truly worth investing in is in customized level design. This is another thing that not only caters to a very specific type of video game fan (a patient one), but also specific types of games. Typically you'll only see custom-made levels in first-person shooters, but it isn't exclusive to them. The point is, though, that there have been some ridiculous things which resulted from games allowing the player to design their own levels.

My perfect example of this is located just above. For someone that isn't the hugest fan of FPS, I'm really referencing it a lot. But still, Halo 3 is a prime example of all of the amazing things that can be done when gamers are given the ability to make their own levels. Some of the things that have been designed by players are amazing. They are able to make Halo 3 something other than FPS. I once played a map of Halo 3 where you raced mongooses on blocks. Yes I just said that correctly. Halo 3. Mongoose racing. There are forums full of custom-designed levels that I frankly think are better designed than the games main levels.

Whether it's characters or levels, customization is a feature of many video games that allow the gamers to place their own personal imprint on the game. It makes them feel like they played a part in making whatever game they love so much, however small a part it realistically was. For many, it can enhance the experience of the game, making them feel like they are a part of it, one way or another. That is why I will gladly spend over an hour to make sure my character's ankles are just the right width, or that the stone block is placed in the perfect spot.

So there you have it. Thanks again for reading. No clue how long it'll be 'til I write again. In any case, still appreciate you taking the time to look at my stuff. I salute you. And your reward? This corgi in a lobster suit. Enjoy.


3:44 PM on 12.07.2012

How does Activision do it?

That question has been circling my mind a lot recently. I cannot, for the life of me, understand how Activision continually manages to sell the Call of Duty games in such high quantities. It absolutely boggles my mind. I will not claim to be an expert in any kind of first-person shooter, but from where I'm sitting, there appear to be no major differences in gameplay between the COD's whatsoever. Also considering the Call of Duty games are not particularly known for their engaging characters, or riveting soundtracks, it justifiably begs the question...HOW THE HELL DO CALL OF DUTY GAMES SELL SO FREAKIN WELL!?!?!?

The numbers don't lie: Call of Duty is one of the biggest game series' in history. According to a report from Activision, Call of Duty Black Ops II earned more than $1 billion dollars in revenue over 15 days. To put that into perspective, the James Cameron movie Avatar earned $1 billion in 17 days. That's right folks: Call of Duty Black Ops II is on pace to out-sell the highest grossing film of all time. This isn't the first time a COD game has sold in staggering numbers. Let's look at it chronologically. According to Daniel Terdiman of cnet, Activision reported that Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 sold $310 million within the first 24 hours of release, a single day sales record. It would go on to earn a total of $550 million worldwide 4 days later. The International Business Times wrote that Call of Duty Black Ops sold $650 million worldwide in 5 days, another sales record. G4's The Feed reported that Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 earned sold $775 million in 5 days, YET. ANOTHER. RECORD. Which, of course, brings us back to Call of Duty Black Ops II, which just slapped the movie industry clean in the face with the proverbial phallic hot dog.

I will not say that Call of Duty games aren't fun. It's difficult to resist the alluring pleasure of blowing some poor sap's head off with an AK. Multiplayer first person shooters are always hits at a party, and online play is as addicting as a cocaine-laced sleeve of ritz crackers. What astonishes me, though, is that none of these features are additions that the game previous lacked. Every single Call of Duty game has that pleasure of shooting things, and fun multiplayer combat, and online battles galore. I'm not kidding here, THEY ALL HAVE THEM.

In my search for some semblance of a reason why Call of Duty games would sell, I looked to many professional reviewers for answers. After inspection of numerous sources such as IGN, gamespot, and even our own backyard of destructoid, here's a summary of what I found...The stories have spectacular moments, but are short and somewhat far fetched. While I will admit that I have played some Call of Duty campaign modes, and that they typically were good, there's only so many increments of $60 that throwing a knife into a douchebag's eye slo-mo will make me spend. Innovations are cool, but they're usually smaller things that don't quite alter gameplay. Some of the marquis features were Modern Warfare 2's Spec Ops mode (more or less like any other game's special missions section), Black Ops' video highlight feature (found years earlier in Halo 3), and new maps for Zombies matches. Additionally, none of the soundtracks were particularly touted as greats.

At times reading these reviews, I felt what I had been feeling from the series anyway: I'm seeing the same old. Some reviewers literally acknowledged that the games had the same strengths and flaws as per usual. It seems like they take the same basic game, put it in different make-up, ship it out, and get their next hundred million dollar hit. I've talked to personal friends who love Call of Duty games, and they even admit to me that its the same game in a different package. And the buy it ANYWAY!

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Call of Duty games aren't fun. They definitely have the potential to be VERY entertaining. But I see almost no differences between these games. I'm not going to go out to stores and pay for Mass Effect 3 through 9 if they're all basically Mass Effect 3 with different color schemes and different hairstyles for Commander Shepard, no matter how good Mass Effect 3 was. I have seen professional reviewers and common gaming folk alike rant and rave about how fantastic the Call of Duty franchise is, while at the same time basically admitting that they're paying for the same thing over and over. Not to mention, the franchise dropped their focus on melding real history with action, in favor of the glamorous Hollywood approach they now take. To be fair, that's more of a personal problem since I am a history buff, but nonetheless, it remains.....HOW THE F&#% DO YOU DO IT ACTIVISION!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

The only answer I can think of is a major issue with not only video games today, but technology as a whole. We are in a society where attention spans are shorter than the time it will take you to finish this sentence. BOOM! Just like that, you're probably staring off at some hot chick on google images, or wondering where you want to go out to eat tonight. Attention is a dying concept, and that is carrying over into the world of technology. Ipods, phones, and the like are out-of-date within a year. There is already, yes this is actually real, an Ipad 2...You see my point? We are now living in a society where our appetites for the next generation are black holes, and we don't have the attention spans to appreciate what was just put in front of us anymore.

Video games are absolutely no exception to this rule. Call of Duty games are so easily able to sell despite their marginal changes because the second the new game is announced, the old one becomes obsolete. Suddenly, everyone wants to play that new COD game, and people who still play the last one are "so stupid" *obnoxiously caricatured laugh*. The online servers for the last game become barren wastelands, and people almost have to buy the new game just to maintain the online gaming experience with their friends they've come to love so much. This prevailing idea of "out with the old, in with the new" has gotten out of hand, and allows just this sort of phenomenon to happen. Unless, of course, there is just some x-factor I completely overlooked and cannot see with the magnifying glass I've tried to use in writing this.

So I kind of just took the most popular game franchise in the world right now, and tore it a new one.....People will be mad, won't they?...By all means, tell me if I've missed something, because I genuinely have no concrete idea of what the deal is. No matter how you feel about it, thanks for reading once again! And as your reward, please kindly accept this swag duck. See you all next time.


10:12 PM on 04.26.2012

The Mystery Appeal of Fighters

I enjoy fighter games. As I slowly creep into adulthood, I find that they're one of a few styles of game that I play somewhat consistently. Mortal Kombat, MVC, Tekken, you name it. I love it all. But when I started to think about it...I couldn't really explain why. If I were a gambling man, I would bet that several other fighter lovers out there would be caught in the same predicament. What is it that makes fighter games so easy to love? I can't put my finger on it. To be perfectly honest, these arcade style games shouldn't be loved at all.

What are the qualities of video games that most gamers crave? An interesting, captivating story line. Very few of the fighters that I've seen have this on their resume. While Tekken has some good plot points, the overarching zaibatsu can actually get a tad redundant. The storylines in Mortal Kombat don't go in depth as much as I would like them too, and they certainly are not bragging points of the series. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 doesn't even have a story mode. Just jump in and beat people up, there ya go. In a similar vein, gamers generally crave intriguing characters and rich character development. I think it's fairly obvious that this isn't on the list. I know that certain characters can be deep and dynamic, but most often they aren't examined closely enough to bring out that deepness. Mostly they remain as almost androids, built-in with a few taglines that most people skip anyway to get to the fighting.

Most gamers also nit-pick about game play: Mainly this breaks down to how intricate/simplistic it is. Now don't get me wrong with this one. I KNOW how complex that controls of fighters can be. Learning combos can get ridiculous and take hours to perfect. However, there's only so much that you can do when the environment is 2D and fixed within the parameters of an enclosed space. With more open environments, the possibilities could be absolutely endless. Again, quick disclaimer, do not take this as me bashing fighters. As I previously stated (in case you somehow, and Lord I hope you didn't or else I would judge you, forgot), I love fighter games. I really do. I'm simply looking at some of the common critiques of other styles of video games, and applying them here.

So what is it then? What makes fighter games so damn appealing to us fans? I have a few theories. For one thing, it allows us to test our skills and prove our superiority. This one is more of an observation than a theory, I suppose. People naturally have a competitive drive. It's built into our systems. For the person not physically fit enough for sporting events, fighter games let us vent this competitive instinct into characters that can kick your face in and shoot energy beams, but not without catch phrases (HAAAAAADOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUUKEN). It's always a satisfying feeling when you kick the CPU's ass, or your friend's ass. Honing your skills and beating things up always adds to the fun. It probably makes up for all of the things it lacks I mentioned above.

Something else that I feel could participate is that fighter games can act as their own sort of social network. Think about it. One of the complaints about fighter games is that since they mainly have one static game mode, they get boring, and collect dust until your friends come over and play them. Now that games have better online capabilities, I think it's fair to assume that the majority of usage for these games is online combat. It's human interaction through the modem of badass characters kicking the crap out of each other.

To be fair, I may be biased with this assumption. I met one of my good friends through him kicking my ass at MVC 3. Additionally, although it is an alternative style of fighter, the social life of me and my college suitemates essentially breaks down to Super Smash Bros. Melee. Our lives are literally playing rounds of 3 stock Smash with each other until we need to go do work or sleep or whatever. It has been one of the main sources of my social interaction for a while now. I think it could be a contributing factor. Or maybe I'm just looking too deep into this.

Whatever the case, one thing is true: People like fighter games. I cannot say for sure what makes them memorable, but they are definitely memorable. And that's all I got ta say about that. Special thanks to Forrest Gump for that last line. And thanks to you for reading. To sign off, as will now be tradition, here is your reward picture, courtesy of Mr Bill Murray.


6:48 PM on 04.24.2012

The Sonic Conspiracy (or lack thereof)

Let's begin with this: I am a fan of the Sonic series. Quite frankly, it is one of the only video game series' I feel confident enough to write a blog post about with an actual audience looking at it. Sonic the Hedgehog has been around since the early 90's, with his first major game being the platformer called, you guessed it, Sonic the Hedgehog. Sega designed Sonic in an attempt to compete with Nintendo's surging Super Mario series. For years to come, Sonic would be the face of the Sega franchise and the star of the series that would keep them in the race. Even today, Sonic games are in the making, which leads me to the point of this post.

I know a lot of people who have criticized the latest games in the series. They tell me how the plotlines are ridiculous, the new characters are pointless, the game play is absolutely nothing like the originals they've come to know and love, and other complaints of the newer brand of Sonic games. I will admit that over the years I have flip flopped on these new ones. I have felt some earned their merit and deserve praise, and others I have downright despised and made comments about similar to the ones listed earlier. For a while I haven't been able to pick a definitive side. But recently, a close friend of mine (and of course big fan of Sonic) told me something that threw me for a loop with this debate into a deeper confusion: Sega has purposely been trying to kill off Sonic.

..."Beg your pardon?" I said in utter confusion. You heard him right folks. The implication is that the Sega writers purposely made bad Sonic games, in order to finally kill off the series for good. To analyze this claim objectively, I needed a few hours to compose myself, you know, let the shock wear off. Now that I've had my time, I can actually understand what he was talking a small, limited extent. It would be understandable for Sega to want something new. After being associated mainly with one single series for twenty years, I can see them wanting a change of pace (although having a long-term poster child has worked fairly well for Nintendo, but back on topic we go.) The argument has been made that Valkyria Chronicles should be the new headliner for Sega. Not gonna lie, I have no clue what that game series is, but that could be the underlying motive.

The lines of logic are not vast, though. I'm starting to get verge to the opposite side of thinking. Maybe the idea that Sega is throwing the series away is just an excuse made up by the single craziest video game fanbase on the planet. Tell me that I'm wrong. There is no fanbase that will beg for new games, go crazy when they come out, complain about them and critique them to no end, and then repeat when an even worse game comes out. I know this is true, because I have been a part of that vicious cycle myself. Sonic fans are literally the single most insane video game fans out there. The series that they adore so much cannot have such terrible games, so it only makes sense that the writers would make them terrible on purpose. They gave the games awful story lines from history (Sonic and the Black Knight; Sonic and the Secret Rings), abysmal loading times and generally laggy game play (Sonic the Hedgehog '06), and completely alternate styles to what we're used to from Sonic (Sonic unleashed) because they were trying to. It is the only logical explaination, right? RIGHT!?!?!?

Look, I'm not calling it complete bull crap. When situations are this confusing, I'm not ruling anything out. However, I will not be pointing the proverbial finger at Sega for the attempted of murder of Sonic just yet. I think what's more likely is that the Sega writers have just hit a rough patch in making good Sonic games in the past few years. Maybe they've lost their way in what makes a truly fan approved Sonic game. What could also be a possibility is that the Sonic faithful are just incredibly critical of every detail in the games...and proceed to buy the next few even when they disapprove. Maybe the answer will come to light when Sonic finally does die. But despite Sega's best (or not) efforts, I think Sonic will live on for a least I hope so.

And so ends my first attempt at video game blogging. Hope y'all liked it. We'll see if I come out with a second post. Thanks for reading. To show my thanks and appreciation, I leave you with this. Happy blogging.


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