(sung to the tune of Jonathan Coulton's "Code Monkey")
Viredae get up get coffee. Viredae go to job. Viredae have boring meeting, with boring manager Rob. Rob say: "Viredae very diligent, but his output stinks. His designs not functional or elegant, what do Viredae think?"
Viredae think maybe goddamn manager wanna draw UML himself. Viredae not say it out loud. Viredae not crazy, just proud. Viredae like Wiimotes, Viredae like joysticks and gamepads too. Viredae very simple man, with big, full, precious memory cards. Viredae thinks games are real cool!
Well, it wasn't long before I got to this; the one word that nobody wants to hear, the word that sends people gasping at its mere mention, gets people boiling faster than a volcano and sends droves of furious gamers to bashing on their keyboards.
Yes, you guessed it, that word is none other than "criticism"!
... The other C word? what other C word?
Anyways, a lot has been said about the need for games, as both an industry AND a community, to grow up, but to me, regardless of whether people believe the games to be "grown up" or not, it seems many people are not fully aware of what it does mean to be "grown up".
Now I'm not going to stand here on my soapbox and pretend that I'm better than everyone because I'm the one who knows what it means to be grown up (I'm not nearly as awesome as Jim Sterling, for one), but I like to believe that I have at least an inkling of one aspect of being grown up, and yes, you've probably guessed it:
Being grown up means being willing to take criticism.
Uh oh, I think someone criticized the beard...
You see, one aspect of growing up is learning that not everyone is going to agree with you; when you're a child your parents are always there to help you ease into what rejection and disagreements might entail (ideally, at least), but when you step out into the real world on your own, you have to learn to perform that function all by yourself, and that means being able to take the criticisms, disagreements and rejections of others, and after considering them, deciding on whether they should apply what they were given or disregard it.
You see, I think of gaming as something that as just started to take its first steps to growing up, only recently did we get the chance to breathe easily, not afraid of the specter of judgement and the almighty ban-hammer of the legal system that were literally threatening the mere existence of the medium, that was a point in time that we did need to defensively react to every politician and judge who dared to even give a crooked stare in the direction of gaming.
Oh don't worry, your honor, we all like you!
Now, on the other hand, we're faced with an even bigger task; to make sure that our child, gaming as we know it, can grow up to be an upstanding part of society, we need to raise it and shape it into something we can all be proud of, and we need to start by learning to take criticism.
But what does that even mean? I hear you asking.
We need to stop getting upset over every game that doesn't get all the praise in the world, or over games that do.
We need to stop and consider whether or not something in a game IS racist, or sexist, or inhumane, and then stop and consider if it SHOULD be one of those things, and if those things will deliver a better message in a game, or just make the developers seem as those things.
We as members of the gaming community need to decide for ourselves whether or not games are art, not get hung up on the people still outside it who say it isn't, just accept, give your opinion, and move on.
We need to learn how to get along, you like FPSes? I prefer RPGs, but we're still cool, just like how I'm cool with this dude who likes western RPGs even though I prefer the Japanese ones.
And I know this one is a bit hard to swallow, but we need to accept crowds that don't feel like a part of the gaming community to us like the casual gamers, and actually try to show them what a wonderful world gaming can offer beyond what they're playing. (I'm making some progress with MY mother, how about you?)
It doesn't help us when our reaction is to flail madly and rant about how we DO deserve respect when we're not willing to show that we actually do, we're not really deserving of the great power if we're not willing to embrace the great responsibility, not just so that the people outside will accept us, but also because otherwise, this community might end up as the equivalent of this:
Dear god, I do NOT want that to happen...
So in the end, I may not like the game that you like, but that's cool by me, and hopefuly, it's cool by you to.
Have you noticed how almost anyone over 20 who has regularly played games in their younger days seem to go...
Woah, wait! Have you seen this?
Wow, that is a blast from the past my friend.
This is a list of (arguably) all the worthwhile games on DOS, basically the PC games that came out roughly from the start of the 80's till a few years before the start of the new millennium, go on and check it out, I'll give you a few minutes... Back? Wonderful.
You see, I was born dead in the center of this era (specifically, '87), so while half of my time was spent playing on my NES and Sega Genesis, the other half was of me sitting at the computer trying to explore the villages in Albion, figure out the best way to outmaneuver the enemy in Dune, or just make sense of the puzzles in Day of The Tentacle and...
Okay, I'm rambling, I almost fell into the trap I started talking about at the beginning of this post, are those games really that much better? or is it simply nostalgia goggles?
This is a really treacherous question, it's not as simple comparing the two eras, and you could easily dismiss it as being a matter of opinion.
Naturally, I'm not one to say that all games from back then are better than the ones we have now, there are some real stinkers back in the 5th and 6th generation of consoles (AKA the PSX era and anything before) and, and there are some seriously awesome gems in this era.
one of the more notorious "stinkers" of the 16-bit era.
"So it wasn't a better era?" You may ask, but here's the thing, I do believe it was better.
And the main reason for that? Ironically, it's because the games were not allowed to go bigger and be more bombastic than they can now.
Let me explain the point with, say, a movie!
AAAAH!! SOMEONE GET THAT FLASHBANG OUT!!
Ah! John Carpenter's The Thing, considered to be one of the (if not just THE) most influential and well-crafted horror movie to date.
now this film was made in 1982, this movie is literally 30 years old, it's older than me! And recently, there was a prequel made, and that prequel did not fare as well as its predecessor, where the original garnered a damn impressive %79 freshness rate on Rotten Tomatoes, the prequel got paltry and, to be honest, downright embarrassing %39.
Now, maybe you're going "of course this movie failed, remakes and old franchise sequels are always shit!", and if you did, I want to stop you right there:
Now there are obvious points to attack are the fact that these movies are mostly cash-ins, they're not interested in the franchise as much as the money the franchise can bring in, but The Thing has a bit of a special property to it; there's one aspect that helped make the original movie better than its successor; the tools!
One thing the original movie could not do is show you the monster, I mean let's face it, it was the 80's and the best you could do is make an animatronic of the monster that eventually only reminded you of the Ewoks and how shitty and goofy it actually looks, so they did the only thing they could logically do: they adapted.
The need to hide the fakeness of the monster and the props lead them to use a more atmospheric approach in their cinematography, mood appropriate lighting and tight editing, one that drove the movie from being a creature feature into a psychological horror flick that has aged exceptionally well, even after 30 years.
Seriously, look at this thing for more than 10 seconds... Erm...
And to me, that's why recent video games are not on the same level as the older ones, mostly because the older generations had to find different ways to utilize any tool in their arsenal just to make their games around the lack of resources, while these days, there's more than enough resources to go twice over a game, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but for such a young and underdeveloped medium, it might be better to rein in the excitement.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and in this case, innovation as well, limitations push you to create new ways to present your ideas in an engaging and unique fashion.
Now I'm not saying that this doesn't happen in newer games, and that there are no limitations to engender innovation in this generation, but maybe, just maybe, it's possible that we moved too fast on this point? Maybe there are still lessons to learn before we try and embrace the more powerful tools and ideas?
Okay, this is gonna be a tough post to write, mostly because I'm worried it might start far too many arguments and I'll get stuck right in the middle, understand that I'm not trying to do that, I'm not making this post to hop on any bandwagons, and I'm certainly not writing it to accuse or offend anybody, that said, when it comes to the issue of sexism in video games (and to be honest, all over the internet, it seems), I really have just one thing to say about it, and I wanna say it very loudly and clearly:
Just chill the fuck out already!
You see I'm kinda getting tired, exhausted even, because the way this thing is going, it's gonna get to a very ugly place very, very soon. in fact, I think we're almost there.
I might be getting ahead of myself here.
The issue of sexism in video games has been building up for a while now, I think it started all the way from the Crossfire Incident, when the fighter game community was egged by one of the male contestants to deride and verbally abuse one of the female contestants so much so, she just exited the room altogether due to her discomfort. That was horrible thing, and even I shook my head disapprovingly at the whole fiasco.
Then I believe there was the Hitman: Absolution trailer where people were up in arms about sexual portrayal and physical abuse of women, I really was just scratching my head at this one, maybe I'm just more unfazed by that because of my particular taste in movies and games, maybe it's my love of cheese in media making me more forgiving, but I found the trailer amusing rather than mean spirited.
then there was the whole Anita Sarkeesian controversy, this is the point in time when my brain was telling me that it might be wise to jump for cover, since a shit storm was in the brewing.
While I don't condone the sort of bashing that occurred there, it's because I'd rather not condone any kind of bashing period, and not just because it's directed at someone who has a specific set of genitalia, that and I find it kinda disheartening how much money her kickstarter got knowing fully well that it wouldn't have done so well if not for this controversy, it felt like people were guilt tripped into this whole thing, not saying she guilt-tripped people into this or even that she didn't deserve to make her funding, mind you, but the amount of bashing that happened was kinda making the paranoid side of me suspicious.
And of course let's not forget the whole Tomb Raider business with Laura Croft needing to be protected, I'm sure that guy at least got a mouthful back at the boss' office, rightfully so.
Heck, not even our own Destructoid isn't safe, when their own Ryan Perez started directing some very offensive comments towards popular geek actress and voice-over artist Felicia Day, he was promptly relieved from his responsibilities when he continued directing the comments, this time going with a kamikaze style spray and pray mentality at whoever was trying to talk some sense to him.
The actual incidents themselves are fine, but what's really been bugging me is the community response to all of this; it's like people are going batshit insane here.
And this is where I finally get to the point of this post; people need to relax already.
Now before any of you start banging on your keyboards so hard that the keys start flying around, I like to say that I'm directing this whole message to both sides, yes, both the people vehemently trying to undermine and understate these incidents and the so called "feminists" who are raving like lunatics at even at the slightest mention of the keywords relating to these issues, even in jest.
The reason behind my fear here is that I've seen this kind of thing before, very recently and even here in the video games community, I've seen it when we were under attack from all the politicians demanding to take down video games for corrupting the youth and turning them into avatars of decadence and violence, except this time around, we've pretty much just divvied up and took both sides of the argument, continuing to snap at each others' extremities.
That's why I'm so worried, because either side "winning" here is a definite loss for the video game community in general, with the vitriol just building up more and more, it becomes very hard to reach an amicable agreement on the issue, and we essentially lose the privilege of enjoying the point of view of the side that ends up being the "villain" of the argument, both sides getting pushed forward by a desire to have video games grow up, yet forgetting why and even how to grow up.
That's the thing about shit-storms; no matter where you stand, it's always messy for both parties and really, everyone is wearing that sour look on their faces even if they've proven their points.
really, I don't want anyone to stop discussing things and I don't even want people to stop arguing, even that is good, I just want people to stop being so sensitive and touchy to the point of screaming, calm the fuck down, and act like sensible adults.
Basically, I just want people to stop screaming bloody murder, because I'm getting a massive headache...
I love everything that's involved in the act of brainstorming, creation, backstory writing and visual design of said characters.
I love looking at other people's designs, analyzing them and picking them apart, piece by piece, and if possible nicking one of those pieces for a rainy day to use on one of my own characters.
And so I can already hear some of you asking me (probably because I wrote said question in the title):
So can you get on with it and tell us what counts for good character design, already!? God...
Alright, simmer down, I'll get to it, first of all, let's define what actually needs to be designed before we actually judge whether or not it's actually good.
To me, a good character is usually comprised of three parts, for the sake of simplicity, let's call them The Heart of a character, The Mind and, last but not least, The Body, so let's get to it:
A) The Heart
when we try to define a character's heart, we mostly go about defining their nature, and the best way to actually start defining that is to answer one question in one sentence:
What's he like?
Imagine, if you will, that you're trying to describe a friend of yours to someone who just asked you that question, you're not going to tell them what they look like, you'll tell them about their characteristics, their attitude and general behavior, this usually involves the use of adjectives to describe them.
Let's look at an example here, we'll use Zidane from Final Fantasy IX:
Zidane, not at all a rip-off of Son Goku!
Now let's try and see what can we say about Zidane in one sentence:
He's a playboy, impulsive, care-free, sneaky and sly, but ultimately kind and thoughtful, especially to his family and friends.
There, one sentence that describes Zidane quite well, this piece of information is very important, not only as a starting point, but also to help us perceive his reactions to any given situation that he might run into in the course of the story, such as the moment when he first bumps into princess Garnet, reading the sentence above, you can understand how his reaction is to that is to immediately toss a pickup line or two at her.
Now of course, one sentence is hardly enough to describe a complex character, we might be able to make do with it for a while, but sooner or later we have to branch out and go deeper into the character.
In comes the backstory!
Now, depending on you, you could start with either the backstory or the one sentence description, but I find it easier to build the backstory after you decide what kind of character you're making, either way, we're going to look into the cause and effect relation between these two subjects, let's keep going with the Zidane example:
WARNING!! WE WILL ENTER SPOILER TERRITORIES FROM HERE ON OUT!!
Now when we look back at our descriptor above, let's try to guess why he is what he is, naturally, when making a character of your own, you'll have to do it on your own, here though, we have the fortune of having a preexisting backstory.
The Zidane that we know started out as an amnesiac before being found by his band of theater performers, he traveled with them until they were asked by Lindblum's regent, Cid to retrieve the princess from the clutches of her evil mother!
That right there is the catalyst for most of Zidane's Heart; the traveling troupe, it's nature and its life-style show us the source of his care-free spirit, his playfulness and, according to popular belief, his womanizing ways. Add to that the fact that he's performing acrobatic feats to people and the nature of theater, and his sneakiness fits like a glove.
Finally, his caring and kind nature that eventually shines through comes from none other than his companions in the troupe, who are nothing if not a surrogate family who decided to more or less adopt Zidane.
That right there is a good start when looking at the heart of a character, you could always add more, and you probably will, but for now, this is a good start.
B) The Mind
Now you might be asking yourselves what else do we have to cover, you say "Well gee, gosh willikers, we already have a pretty detailed character, what else is there?" like your average little kid in a 60's instructional video.
Well, first of all, nobody says "gee, gosh willikers" anymore, this isn't the 60's, and when that's out of the way, I'd tell you that what we have to define the higher functions and complexities of our characters, A.K.A. his goals and motivations, what drives and inspires him to continue in his journey, and just as important, what his wants and needs are.
Now since we've come this far, let's continue with Zidane and take a look at his goals and motivations, we'll run into something interesting here; at first, Zidane has no higher purpose in the story other than survival and maintaining the status quo, he effectively has no drive in his life, he simply enjoys being with his family and for all we know, he has no intention of changing that.
His motivation after that, when he is tasked with returning the princess to Lindblum, is not far removed from his original goal, he either has the immediate goal of survival, or the long-term goal of finishing the mission and returning with his troupe to their old way of life.
What interests us is what happens after they complete that mission, and the kingdom of Alexandria begins to launch its own take on World War III, that our hero begins to manifest something of a goal; to protect his home, friends and family from the menace that is Queen Brahne.
Queen Brahne, giving King Hippo a run for his money!
That right there gives us his goals, his wants, but what about his needs?
Well, after the work we've done, it's quite easy to come to an answer to that question; Zidane here needs his family and friends, as they are the most valued thing he possesses, if you're wondering exactly on what a characters' needs are (beyond the most basic needs such as food or shelter), just think of the things that would make this one character behave irrationally considering what we've mentioned before.
Another good place to start with a characters' needs is the Maslow hierarchy of needs, check it out:
The need to poop is naturally paramount!
What you're looking for here is whatever lies in the top three tiers of this hierarchy, in other words the Love/Belonging tier, Esteem tier and self-actualization tier, you can almost always tie your characters' needs to one of the concepts present in these three tiers.
Well, that was a long-winded explanation, let's move on to the final part of character-design:
C) The Body
You've probably guessed what this part stands for, and if you've guessed the actual, physical attributes and appearance of a character, then you've guessed correctly.
Now you might be inclined to believe that this part is the least important of a character, or one deserving of less contemplation than the other two, on this account, you're absolutely wrong!
Believe me when I tell you that this area of the design is just as intertwined with the other two aspects as they are with each other, as we will rely heavily on those two aspects to analyze (on your own, it will be to come up with) the visual design of our character, on to Zidane:
posting this image here to spare your scrolling finger!
Now let's consider what we've learned about our character so far, he's basically an acrobat, we know him to be mischievous and playful, being the creation of a Japanese mind, his appearance stemming from their folklore is not a surprise, you though I was kidding about him being a rip-off of Son-Goku up there, didn't you? Well, these characteristics are as synonymous with the character from the tales as Jesus is to forgiveness and compassion, or Ghandi to pacifism, or Hitler to pants-shitting evil and racism.
We also know that he grew up as a wandering performer with his troupe, indicated by his festive yet still nonrestrictive attire (seriously, just look at those cuffs and that necktie).
Finally, him being a thief gives the final touch, yet still some of the more fundamental aspects of his appearance; the height and weight, his smallish build and prehensile monkey tail, even his weapon of choice, the daggers, convey his role in the mechanics of the game.
contrast those physical attributes with Steiner, whose relatively hulking size and armored attire are fitting to his knight persona, same with Vivi, with his tiny size and waddling movements, extremely appropriate for his squishy mage persuasion.
If there's a lesson to take from the entire Body section, it's that the appearance and visuals of a character are just as deserving of your time as the other two, so always try to consider your characters' traits when you decide on the looks.
and that's about it, we've got ourselves the makings of a great and complex character, of course, this isn't the end all be all of character building articles, we're really only scratching the surface, but it's a start.
I may come back to this subject later on, and if you have any points you want me to touch on in those later posts, please go ahead and tell me on the comments down there.
I've read this article on the main site by Ryan Perez (and please, no kerfuffles about what transpired recently, neither the time nor place) about how he's sick of the typical western fantasy setting, and to be honest? I kinda agree, so being the mythology buff that I be, here's a list of the many mythologies that I think would really be awesome, and even some of the games that use them already:
Now you might be wondering to yourselves here "But Viredae, isn't Western Fantasy and specifically Skyrim based on Norse Mythology?", I'd say yes, but it's so loosely adapted that there's barely any connection, in fact, the connection can be summed up to "they live in a cold place and they sorta resemble vikings."
This in and of itself is a very tiny part of Norse Mythology, and considering the Norse pantheon is one of the most well-known set of myths out there, I'm surprised it hasn't inspired alot more games by now, unfortunately, the only games that really delve into the idea are the games from the Valkyrie Profile series, which is quite awesome, don't get me wrong, but we can certainly do with more.
Valkyrie Profile: Woefully sans Loki
Japanese Mythology is weird, man. It contains things such a version of Adam & Eve where Eve is a zombie, Adam is a dude who outruns his pursuers by peeing a river (Literally!) and throwing peaches at them, to a Lush Hydra that argues with its own eight heads on the best way to kill the denizens of a farmhouse without spilling or ruining their booze (because hey, nobody likes wasted booze!), all the way to a sun god that basically goes on strike because her brother got into a fight her and threw a flayed horse onto her front-porch (she really liked horses, you see), and to reconcile her, the other gods put up a strip joint outside the cave she's squatting in to get her to come out.
Gaston: Belle, why is there a naked lady dancing on a tub in front of a cave in this book? Belle: It's Avant Garde
And if you've managed to keep away that feeling in the picture above away from you, you just might start wondering why the hell don't we get games like that?
But actually, there are a lot of games based on Japanese mythology already, god knows that that's the first source of fantasy in the games that the Japanese made, but very few have actually been localized, because it's too weird and alien to us westerners, and we certainly don't want to go outside our comfort zone for anything that might be as awesome as that!
Also known as Mesopotamian Mythology, and what is probably considered one of the oldest (if not oldest) civilization in known history.
In fact, it also happens to provide one of the earliest storytelling structures ever to sink its claws into modern writing:
The Hero's Journey.
Anyone who's ever had any interest in writing probably knows the whole pattern of the story, but many of you don't, and since I'm a lazy bastard, have this little image here to explain what the Hero's Journey basically is:
Now that we're done with that, it is true that you can argue that the tale of Gilgamesh is actually nearly half of every story out there, so there's no point in pointing it out.
... Except that there are no games about it.
No, seriously, the oldest story in history apparently has one trilogy from the NES days (the Tower of Druaga series) and that's it, nothing else, no games based on its mythology, not even any references beyond the Gilgamesh from the Final Fantasy series, and that is dreadfully under-represented.
Congratulations, you've just seen pretty much all of Gilgamesh's appearances in video games
And that's it for today, I may do a part two of this at some point, but I think I just gave you a wealth of information to consider and come up with game ideas from.
Goodbye for now, and remember: the next time you get attacked by a Hydra, get some booze.
The Wild Arms series, in general, is one series that I can easily call as one of the most under-rated RPG series out there, second to none bar the Ys series, and even these days the Ys series has taken a boost of popularity (deservedly so, mind) after it's latest installment on the PSP.
But I'm not here to tell you about Ys, maybe later though.
Now when you mention Wild Arms to anybody, the expected reaction is probably confusion, maybe you'll get lucky and stumble upon someone who played the remake of the original, maybe even Wild Arms 3 or 5, as they are the strongest modern installments out there.
But there was a time when this series chose a very... Interesting way to present itself and it's world, so let's take a look at the original here:
uh-oh. It's gonna be Zelda all over again, won't it?
While the regular towns, dungeons and the over world were displayed in your average, ye-olde overhead shot pixel sprites, the battles were rendered in similarly ye-oldish polygon models:
And you thought slimes were insulting to the early level players?
Now, this was still a year before Final Fantasy had come out and made it a hot trend for high-end RPGs to have cinematic 3D environments all over, so this strange arrangement could be attributed to the cost of 3D at the time and uncertainty whether or not it could actually work to begin with.
But all in all, Wild Arms' strength comes from it's story and character, which can be considered poignant at the very least, if not deep and complex, ranging from the use of weapons of mass destruction and arms races, to the less controversial and more often used themes of prejudice, duty, honor, et cetera, so on and so forth.
also a very unique thing about the series is its masterful use of the western genre, so now when somebody goes on to tell you that the Red Dead (fine games that they are, granted) series was a pioneer in its use of the genre in a predominantly sci-fi/fantasy genre, you can point at Wild Arms with pride.
But wait, you say, weren't we talking about Wild Arms 2? Why yes, yes we were:
The reason for the pre-amble is, quite simply, that while the original Wild Arms was released before Final Fantasy VII, giving it an excuse not to go one style or the other, Wild Arms 2 came out in the last season of the year '99, so close to the new millennium with games like Final Fantasy IX or Vagrant Story (now that's one game for a future installment), Wild Arms 2 stuck with the pixelated overworld/3D battles route.
Magical girls not girly enough for ya? You can count on Wild Arms to up the ante with a parasol-wielding one!
Just something interesting to note, it may not have much bearing on the game overall, but I like to think that due to budget costs, the developers were forced to seek other alternatives to spice up the gameplay, another thing Wild Arms is famous for is their block puzzle fixation; while RPGs run the gamut when it comes to puzzles, Wild Arms is the only one I know where an entire sub-quest is devoted to the solving of 20 something block puzzles across the world over all of the installments, it's like Square and their card games, yeesh.
I've beaten monsters and demons, explored deadly dungeons, but this... This is pushing it.
Wild Arms 2 is probably one of the least western-centric of the series when its genre is concerned, and falls more neatly into a sort of post-western, magi-punk territories, with giant space stations and flying fortresses powered by crystals appearing alongside steam-engine trains, which prompts it into delving more into political intrigue than it's predecessor's more "war is hell" themes, such as civil wars, cold wars and border anxiety.
In the midst of all of this, we get characters with stories of sacrifice, love, the true meaning of a hero, and the struggles of soldiers and mercenaries in a peaceful world, da-yum!
Now, I'm not gonna mince words any longer and say it outright, Wild Arms 2 is one of my favorite games out there, not just within its own series, but even in my overall best games out there; it's definitely one of my top 5 games of all time, mostly because everything about it works.
The gameplay goes beyond the RPG norm and actually gives a complex dungeon crawling experience, half the game is spent with you feeling like Indiana Jones, throwing daggers to activate out of reach switches, dodging traps and solving ancient puzzles, I've already talked about the story's depth and mature themes, and while the presentation style is somewhat odd with the 2D/3D split, you can't fault it because both parts give you exactly what you need; a deliberate and accurate dungeon solving experience alongside a flashy presentation of the battles, this game is nothing if not skilled at investing you into the mood, and speaking of which, I haven't touched upon the soundtrack just yet:
The game contains many mood-setting pieces were the highlight of many memorable parts of the game, ranging from the triumphant orchestral swells, to blaring rock and jazz tunes for all your bad-ass and action packed scenes, and downplayed tribal themes for your ancient shrines and dungeons.
To me, this game has it all, it can very well be considered a classic of the golden RPG era. and it certainly needs more love.
And that's Wild Arms 2 in a nutshell (looking back, a very huge nutshell), and you can actually go ahead and play it on the PSP or the PS3 for as little as $5.99, have fun!