One of the things I love to do is to interpret various media. This blog is where I interpret various games I like, and try to draw a conclusion from them. What is a game telling us? How is it telling it to us? I try to answer these questions.
I've just started using Dtoid blogs. I have more posts at fengxiblog.wordpress.com for those curious for more.
And lastly, I love discussion on this kind of stuff. If any of my interpretations spark some ideas from you, comment or tweet me @Fengxii! (Two 'i's)
Iíve heard of QWOP before. I used watch 8th graders huddle at library computers, striving for high scores before school teachers caught them. I also watched PAX press struggle with GIRP among their own laughs and the teases of co-workers. But thereís something about CLOP thatís different. Something that allows it to speak louder than Bennett Foddyís older games. And it only took my incessant failure to realize.
CLOP is the antithesis of a power fantasy. Every aspect of its design is in place to remind you of your insignificance. Unicorns in art and literature are portrayed as creatures of beauty, who symbolize grace and majesty, but Clop is anything but. Instead, your sprite is ugly and of low quality. Your movement is crass and graceless as you stumble and fall incessantly. And you spend the game chasing the false prospect of a virgin, a goal that hardly feels important or significant.
The naming of the horse as ďClopĒ is the equivalent to calling a dog ďmutt,Ē or a human ďmeatbag.Ē Itís derogatory; it strips the horse of any personality or individualism, portraying a talking unicorn as simplistic and insignificant. Your projection should be wondrous and grand, a symbol of purity and elegance; instead youíre clumsy, foolish, and mediocre. Youíre a walking contradiction. By confusing and messing with your identity, the game facilitates your mocking. The projection of a strong, confident hero is now taken away.
Add this to how the game fetishizes our failures. Itís obstacles are embarrassingly simplistic: a rock, a small ditch, a piece of stairs, suddenly followed by a large cliff. Itís teasing the player, and mocking our failures with relentless humour. When playing the game, I decided to exclusively use both front hooves, and after a few moments, the game disables the horses back legs. The tag ďLame Horse ModeĒ flashes above, as it slowly limps across the ground. It was then I realized that CLOP is a sadistic game. Our identities are crushed and our abilities are handicapped. And our struggles and failures are not only mocked, theyíre celebrated. It feeds on them; theyíre the gameís central aspect.
Yet at the same time, CLOP is an optimistic game. With all its failure and struggle, the game never ceases to be enjoyable. Itís portrayal of the unicorn is quite funny, and thereís humour to be found in its mean-spirited satire. Despite its nature, itís still likable and brought me positive sentiments as a player.
Perhaps thatís the point of CLOP. To show that thereís real, sincere enjoyment to be had in incessant failure, and clumsiness, and foolishness. It tells us, as oh-so-majestic unicorns, not to take ourselves too seriously. After all, are none of the things we do ridiculous, to some extent? Have our failures never been amusing, or enjoyable?
These are the kinds of questions CLOP is asking us. Theyíre insightful, important questions, ones that you could miss if you dismiss CLOP as some kind of joke. But itís very ironic how CLOP gets its ideas across. In order to get the message you may be taking yourself too seriously, you have to take the game more seriously than you normally would.
If anything, itís illustrative why CLOP is so deranged. Itís a mess of contradictions that are somehow cohesive. CLOP simultaneously presents us an idea and itís contradicting counterpart. Itís both a plea for humility and an argument of the benefits of serious analysis. Itís a destruction of oneís identity for the purpose of creating its own. And itís both a sadist and an optimist. Polar, much?
If you may be wondering where I was, I spent the last week writing/slaving in writer hell for a piece over on Nightmare Mode. It's similar to a blog post I had on here, actually. Check it out if you want!
But more importantly, I recently read Solar20XX's post on the online loneliness. Man, do I understand that. I was 16 once, too, you know! I just wish I was there when the post was fresh. Good on you, Solar20XX. I'll probably write something about that soon.
Remember: games are deep and full of meaningful, insightful ideas. Appreciate them! Love Them!
I'm happy I get to talk about CLOP. I want to show that even a "dumb" or "jokey" game can still have interesting, insightful things to say. It's pretty much finished, and should be up soon after some tweaks and other more professional-type (?) writing things I have to get on. So let's start! But first, I have a few important updates for my blog.
I'm starting school soon, in about a week to be clear, and I don't know what that means for the blog. To be clear, this is probably been one of the best summers of my life. I've written so much during the past few months, and I've loved every minute of it, no matter how difficult they were. I'll definitely be trying my best to keep the blog, and my writing streak, alive while balancing school. No promises, though. But trust me, writing is waaay more enjoyable than Calculus and Physics ever was.
I really appreciate all the comments I've gotten on the destructoid c-blogs. Every piece I've written so far has been on the top-sauce, and I'm grateful for that. The CLOP piece is a short run though, as I just wanted to talk of a specific thing. After that, I'll be doing a hardcore analysis of Lone Survivor as my last horrah before the semester starts. Stay Tuned, that's going to be a good one. Tough as shit, but good!
So with that, let's get to the games. There aren't many this week, but they're definitely special. Let's take a look at In Ruins.
In Ruins is somewhat difficult to explain. Simply, it's a ruins creation engine, where you create the a type of ruin to explore, as you collect binds of light. "The world is generated procedurally each time the game is run, after the initial cycle is completed the player can access the generation parameters to play with." That's better. It's interesting stuff, so definitely check it out.
Zineth is like if the Internet took a an empty Jet Set Radio box filled with cocaine and beat you with it until you were bleeding from your head. It's fucking thrilling and as fuck. It also makes you swear a lot and shrinks your vocabulary until all you can make are violent cocaine analogies. It's fast, and it's very fun. It doesn't last too long, but it lets you check your Twitter. Twitter!! So pick that one up, and get its soundtrack too. It's mind-bending.
And that's it! I'll have good things up soon. Take Care guys. Have fun gaming.
I sat on a sofa, watching casuals with friends and eating my sandwich at a Montreal fighting game venue, when I noticed someone walk towards our console with an early copy of Persona 4: Arena. Blazblue fans were ecstatic. Newcomers were asking questions, and those sitting by were trying to reserve their chance at the stick. As the onlookers increased in number, something struck me as significant, Persona 4: Arena is a beautiful game. It fills the screen with well placed yellows and blues. Its red glares as scan lines bleed onto its shaking versus screen. Its aesthetic carries a style and energy that can't be replicated in the highest quality youtube videos I could link you. But the best thing about Persona 4: Arena, is that it isn't an exception. Fighting games represent some of the best artistic design games have to offer, and P4A is just another example.
I won't lie--fighting games can be kind of complicated. Players spend years mastering them, enthusiasts compile data trying to understand them, and sites fill pages with concepts and techniques, hoping to ease newcomers into them. How can a player recognize block-stun and hit-stun, or whether their throw was just teched? How do I differentiate an EX Move from a focus attack? A fighting game's visual design helps players understand its numerous mechanics. It makes its concepts and ideas visible and tangible to players, instead of leaving them behind the curtain where they become abstract and difficult to comprehend. Through a fighting game's aesthetic, I can understand the impact and purpose of my interactions.
There were six main fighting games at EVO 2012, including numerous indie games, like DiveKick, Skullgirls, MeltyBlood, among others, along with Arc Systems' BlazBlue and GuiltyGear games, with P4A recently in stores, and Injustice and Playstation All-Stars releasing later this year. Each series tends to create its own sub-community, with its own players, heroes, streams and websites. There are so many fighting games I can focus on, how can a new one possibly find stable ground?
To attract a group of players in such a crowded market, a unique visual design is almost a necessity, which explains why so many fighting games have unified thematic designs. Each one carries a particular personality that make them unique and interesting, and shows solid artistic direction.
The King of Fighters XIII carries a strong black foundation with subtle highlights of primary colours that give them luminance. Character portraits, menus and meters are outlined by decorative metallic linings during fights. And that same metallic finish is applied to its serif type, which gives its menus permanency and focus. KOFXIII's aesthetic feels modern and level-headed.
Skullgirls is a supernatural period piece. Its theme of early 1920's-30's film is reflected through its use of deep blacks and browns and Art Deco typefaces, some resembling Lorraine Louie's "Anna" or Tom Carnase's "Busorama." It's menu revolves around a stock of film, hovering in front of a lighted projector. The design of some of its stages reflects Art Deco interior design, specifically Medicii Tower, with its black and white tile flooring. Peacock is a construction of the cartoons of the late 1920's, from characters like Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky rabbit. Skullgirls' uses 20s-30s Art Deco to create a unique artistic design.
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 embraces its comic book brethren. It's menu screens are renditions of the comic style with flipping pages and background dot effects. Combo pop-ups are bubbly and colourful, battle effects are flamboyant and its super moves are exaggerated. UMVC3's artistic design carries a childish, carefree kind of energy, not unlike the kind felt by kids who grow up with comic books and comic book movies.
The Street Fighter IV Series was able to move its aesthetic past the sprite era, while retaining the fluidity its predecessors enjoy. It isn't excessive in its cartoon portrayals--characters carry just enough realism thyat players understand their physics--but it embraces its animated roots in other ways. When players focus, their attacks leave a trace of ink in the environment. The versus sign is drawn with ferocious ink calligraphy, that gives its vs-screens energy. It's use of colours is varied, but facilitates tracking the numerous parts on screen. Super meter carries an electric blue. Ultra meter will carry a purple or green, and its timer glows orange. They're varied, but they bring attention to its parts, without looking ugly. The Street Fighter IV Series pays subtle homage to its predecessors while respecting visual cues in its design.
Mortal Kombat's ultra violence, Street Fighter's calligraphy effects, and P4A's Japanese energy are just additions to a genre that's becoming increasingly diverse. Fighting games, in effort to set themselves apart from their peers, are creating unique personalities, and their artistic direction reflects that. But fighting games aren't known for their appearance, they're known for their fighting; it isn't surprising that's what gets the attention. At the same time, aesthetic engages even the most hardcore of players. It helps attract fan bases, and keeps them inspired. It gives a fighting game personality, and helps diversify the genre. Ignoring it is ignoring a piece of the genre's soul.
Note: Guys!! I missed you guys.. ;_; I've been writing freelancey stuff, as well a dealing with personal matters for the past week and a half. I'll be getting updates back to normal soon. In the meantime, tell me what your favourite looking fighting game is in the comments. Take Care!
There won't be an analysis this week. I've been working on some important ideas and concepts, twisting and sculpting them, and trying pack them into rock hard theory. If these ideas work out the way I want them to, I may be able to provide a base through which we can gain a deeper understanding of video game structure and idea analysis. New genres could be formed! If this doesn't work the way I want it to, then nothing will happen and I would have wasted my time. But that's life.
So while I endlessly philosophize in my lonely head, why don't you skip church and play some weird video game shit instead? I have some good ones:
The Cat That Got The Milk
The Cat That Got The Milk is a very pure game, in the sense that I never felt like it was trying to tell me something. It seems to exist, merely to be enjoyed and appreciated, and I'm all for those types of games. If you do find some kind of meaning though, let me know, as I couldn't really think of anything.
So, um, Asciivania is incredible and you should play it immediately. Addictive. So satisfying. Play it now. Please.
I'll admit: I haven't finished March yet. So far, it's quite an interesting tale, and I'm curious as to what will happen as I play into it further. I won't go too far much into March, but I will say that picture you see uptop is not two dimensional. Interested? Check it out!
Okay, now we're at the loveit/hateit point. If you keep an open mind, you may find Exhaust a really interesting game with some well-executed ideas, or you may find it a total waste of time. It's that time of game, but try it out anyway--it's short.
Good things are coming. In the meantime, have fun gaming!
If there was ever a class on interpreting games and understanding their ideas, The End of Us would be the perfect introductory game. It's distribution of information is straightforward. It's structure of ideas is beautifully organized. It's short and without barriers, and it doesn't overflow on the abstract. It's the "Hello World" of video game interpretation.
The beauty of The End of Us is its basic structure. It's elements are clearly presented and portrayed, and the changes they go through clear and recognizable. When an element in a universe changes in a way that we find significant, we see those as ideas that the game presents to us, and The End of Us' presentation of its ideas is straightforward, making it easier to track and understand these ideas, and eventually piece them together to form some kind of conclusion.
Because of this, it won't be exactly 'difficult' to figure out the game. Rather, I want to talk about The End of Us because it supports concepts that are very helpful in understanding what a game is telling us, and how it's telling it to us. I'll show you why. Like, right now.
The first thing I like to do whenever I write these, is to ask myself: Who does the player embody in this game?
Who are we in The End of Us? How are we portrayed?
We can answer this question by simply stating we play as asteroids, but that answer is useless and unhelpful. We want to examine our player projection with deeper lens. What are some traits of asteroids that we know?
- Asteroids are made of rock (or metals)
- Asteroids can form planets and belts (the asteroid belt)
- Asteroids can collide and form larger objects
- Asteroids can collide and destroy larger objects
- Asteroids don't think
- Asteroids don't feel (Eh? Eh?)
- And asteroids are very similar to comets, the difference being comets are made from ice and asteroids from rock
What we want to do, is to try and personify the traits of our player projection, and see how we can gain a deeper understanding of the object we embody. The first one is sort of obvious: asteroids are made of rock; this shows toughness and resiliency. So that's cool. We have that covered.
But the next three points are more interesting. Asteroids are powerful forces of nature. In large numbers, they can form massive planets and huge asteroid belts, and provide minerals for extracting or possible environments for colonization, but they can ruin planets and destroy populations just the same. That's a very polar power opposition. The ability to create incredible things in large numbers, accompanied with the ability to destroy them? The trait carries a resemblance to people, who have also created incredible things, but have destroyed them, showing how they too, are powerful forces of nature. We can say that asteroids, in a way, resemble people, but then we see a contradiction. Asteroids do not think or feel. Asteroids do not emote like we do. They have no morals, they have no empathy, they have no apathy, and no sympathy. Asteroids don't make decisions, either. They have no inner conflicts or ideas, or anything that resembles human complexity. They don't think.
So then asteroids, like people, can create incredible things, or they can destroy incredible things, but they lack the human ability necessary to decide which one to do. They're a sort people without a purpose. A powerful being, like us, only void of any real direction. And that's how can see our player projection in The End of Us. A powerful force of nature, void of real purpose, void of emotion, of life, and the most nominal of thought. Lifeless beasts, if you will.
Understanding Mechanical Freedoms
I try my best to disprove the idea that mechanics and narrative are best separated structurally. Mechanics should serve and strengthen narrative, instead of contradict like we see in many games. We have to interpret mechanics in relation to narrative, to show how mechanics can go beyond their technical uses, and become a true narrative strength. We want to understand a game's mechanical freedoms: what a game lets us do and what it doesn't let us do. Why does a game give us specific freedoms but prohibits others? In Bioshock, the player cannot die. Why can't you die in Bioshock? What does that say about the game's views on death? Max Payne 3 lets the player fire excessive bullets at the last enemy in a room, whose body is shown exploding with bullet holes. Why would a game let you do that? Is it a power fantasy? What does Max Payne 3 think about power fantasies? These are the kind of questions we can arrive to by thinking of mechanical freedoms. In the case of The End of Us, the most significant mechanic is its ability to let you control both asteroids. Most games give you control of one object, which you use to interact with other objects in a universe, but in The End of Us, you are simultaneously the interacting object and the object being interacted with. Why would it do that?
I thought about what I'm actually doing in The End of Us. I move the asteroids around, bump them into each other, twirl them and makes patterns with their tails. I'm playing with the asteroids, and they're consequently playing with each other. Remember what our projection was: a powerful, lifeless being, since asteroids are, by nature, lifeless and without purposeóbut by allowing us to control them, we create real characters who are interacting with each other in a sincere way. Through interaction, we project life onto lifeless beings. This is a big idea in The End of Us. It's takes objects that are supposed to be without life or character, and allows us to project character onto them, by simply interacting with them and using our imagination.
As the game progresses, the asteroids appear to get older (which strengthens their portrayal as characters as opposed to asteroids), and they start to break apart until one of them crashes into what I assume is earth. If you place the purple asteroid behind the orange, the orange asteroid will die and the purple asteroid will survive, and then the game will take away your control, and make you watch it swerve left and right, until its colour dims and it dies, leaving the screen. This is another case of mechanical freedoms. The game, without notice, takes away your control. Remember that it was the interaction with the orange asteroid and with us, that gave that asteroid character and life. Now when that interaction goes away, we see the asteroid die.
This proves the conclusion we can make form the The End of Us, that it believes interaction is what gives things character and life, and it's what gives us character and life. It does this by letting us project life onto its objects through interaction, and then showing them die when it's taken away.
So what does all this mean?
In my introductory sociology course, we discussed the phenomenon of feral children, kids who have never experienced social interaction for an extended period of time. Some are locked in basements for most of their lives, and others simply ignored, but when retrieved, they're never able to speak or properly interact.
It's because interaction is what keeps us alive. It keep us thinking. It's the medium through which we communicate with the universe. Interaction is what keeps athletes tied to their sport. It gets consumers to buy iPads, it keeps a pianist's body swaying when she strikes chords, and it's probably what keeps gamers so in love with video games. It keeps me in love with video games.
The End of Us is an argument that interaction is what keeps us alive. Because without it, we're the dumbest of space rocks, drifting in space, void of purpose.
Follow Chelsea Howe at @manojalpa & Michael Molinari @onemrbean and check out his game Basketbelle. Follow me @Fengxii. If you have ideas DON'T LET THEM GO TO WASTE. Let me know what they are in the comments. Take Care!
So as it turns out, writing an analysis/interpretation of a game is really really hard and takes a lot of time and effort. Itís the master puzzle where the pieces are sub-arguments you have to fit together to make it logical and coherent, but entertaining and easy to follow and not to long and... it's just hard, like everything else in writing.
So as I slave away at my writing work while the ghost of William Strunk Jr. yells writing commandments on my shoulder (ďomit needless words, dammit!Ē), I figured I could give you guys some recommendations on some great experimental games I've played recently, which Iíll likely write about sooner or later. I have a certain affinity for weird, abstract games. Call me a hipster if you wish, but Iíve just been having trouble engaging with AAA games lately. Iím losing interest in shooting things for the same reasons.
Reveal is a game developed by pixel butterfly. I wonít say anything about Reveal except that itís really really weird and keeps getting weirder; but Iím into that kind of stuff and if you are too then check it out! Requires a UDK install, though.
So Robert Yang seems like a cool dude. I like him. And I also like Souvenir. Iíll let you sniff out the ideas for yourself, but theyíre not that difficult to figure out anyways, and I just love the way the world is built here. I don't want to go into specifics. These types of games work best when you go in unknowing. Be warned though, the controls are somewhat wonky. I was falling off edges a lot due to weird physics, but the game isnít punishing in the least. You canít really lose, per se.
Hope you all have fun! Take Care, and expect good things soon.