(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 gamepads and keyboards too. Viredae very simple man, with big, full, precious memory cards. Viredae thinks games are real cool!
So I've been away for a while, and what better way too return than by initiating another corner with talking about our favorite subject (in one way or another):
Now before your knee hits the bottom of your desk, hear me out, I can guarantee that you will want to lynch me less when we're done here (hopefully).
Rape is one of those words that can instantly shuffle the butts in the seats the minute it's said, it's not an easy subject to discuss, and with good reason being that it's a traumatic experience regardless.
There is unfortunately still a lot of insensitivity and ignorance about the subject, even outside of video games.
But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't talk about it, hard subject to talk about, it may be, but to plug our ears and try to push away any discussion of it is ultimately detrimental and unhealthy.
Now obviously (or not, I have no idea how I'm actually perceived in these circles) I'm an average heterosexual male, so people would obviously go to the conclusion that I should not talk about this subject, but I like to believe that I'm a rather reasonable individual, one who is willing to keep an open mind and is willing to listen to all points of view, not to mention play devil's advocate every now and then.
Also, I watch quite a bit of reviews of art house films (but not the actual things themselves, not snooty enough), and you would be surprised to learn how many of those have rather disturbing imagery or subjects, you could really compare them with the indie scene in video games, no less.
Except, maybe due to the relatively young age of video games as a medium, or due to the type of culture it, er... Cultivates, there aren't that many games that make you actively think about things around you in real life, they don't reflect on the world or the general outlook of the medium, they're just... There.
Now there are certainly the odd number of indie games who provide an example of these sort of subjects, such As Katawa Shoujo and To The Moon on the subjects of disabilities and the nature of death respectively.
Hell, just recently, we got a mainstream game that took a look at the nature of FPS games and their rather absurd disregard of human life and their consequences, along with a nice study of PTSD in soldiers, not to mention being a nice homage to Heart of Darkness.
Which is why I feel we're kinda ready to grow into the next level as a medium, and move past simply offering choices of entertainment into choices of thoughtful stimulation as well.
So I want my game, which is about rape, in a totally tasteful and thoughtful manner, so I can say video games taught people about rape... In a totally tasteful and thoughtful manner.
So get to it, go and make it invisible developers who I don't know why I'm talking to...
P.S. Also, murder is worse than rape, cause you can't recover from death, and there's still a chance to live a healthy life if you've had the misfortune of being raped, which is still very awful... Also, your loved ones are sad either way, more if you're dead.
Yes, I am trying to catch your attention with that title, and yes, this position may alter by the end of the year, but for now, I can adamantly say that Spec-Ops is one of my top games of the year, period.
I'm not a big shooter fan, either in first person or third. in fact, the time I've played the Call of Duty franchise can amount to less than two hours total (using a friend's copy), I've fiddled a little with Battlefield 2142 after getting it in a bin for about $10, and while it may be hypocritical of me to rag on those franchises, I can say that I was not impressed with what I've experienced.
And with that said, it might surprise people that I'm willing to give SO:TL a 10/10 right here, right now, without even mentioning the gameplay in any significant capacity, aside from a few touches added in to aid what I consider the true focus of this game.
You see, in my opinion, a game has to do one of two things to qualify for a perfect 10 in my book:
A)it has to perfectly pull off every aspect of the game, without missing a beat, ie. perfectly functioning gameplay, story, visuals and sound design, so in my opinion, Vagrant Story would qualify as a 10/10.
B) it has to do something so innovative and stunning with one of the aspects above that it outstrips any need to present any of the other aspects as anything more than above average, a game like, for instance, Final Fantasy VI with its story and characters, or Final Fantasy VII with its direction and design.
Spec-Ops falls into the second category, where it presents its story (an adaptation of the Heart of Darkness novella and/or the movie Apocalypse Now), in a way that only a medium like video games can, by thrusting you right into the heart (pun intended) of the narrative and essentially putting you into the shoes of the characters, hitting you with the full force of its world.
if that sounded like a lot of gibberish, then the short of it is that this is a game so good that might actually make you physically ill, it's a game that, unless you've got a heart of stone, will disturb you.
I'm not really going to go into the broad strokes of the gameplay mechanics (GoW style cover shooter, done) or its multi-player (after the campaign mode, I don't have it in me to play the game in any frivolous capacity), so nothing else there.
While the graphics are definitely snazzy, I don't think that it'll blow anyone's mind away, but one thing that this game excels in is the sound design, from the actual voice acting of your "protagonist" to the minute ticks and nuances of in-game voice that accompany it (pay attention to the "tone" as you progress through the story), and even music (diegetic or otherwise) that serves to set an outlandish and alien tone for the game.
So I will ask you a favor, if you have $60 to spare, buy this game, full price, because if this game can make it, then maybe, just maybe, we can give out a statement that we want more than just a generic shooter, that we actually do prefer our games with more craft and intellect injected into them.
thank you for putting up with a rather dry highlight (there aren't even any pictures!), and of course, thank you for listening.
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.