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Zugzwang's blog

12:19 AM on 06.25.2011

Hi Destructoid

I waffled over whether to put an exclamation point after that, but since Iím only trying to casually say hello, not greet the living shit out of you during your unsuspecting blog rounds, I didnít use punctuation. Which, admittedly, makes it feel kinda lame.

Anyway, hi, Iím Zugzwang. Iíve posted a few blogs already, but have been urged by more knowledgeable members of the community to introduce myself. Coming from the most barren salt flats of the blogosphere (where if your metaphor breaks down you have to slice it open and crawl inside to make it through the night), Iím not used to people asking about me unless theyíre displaced Nigerian royalty, thus the basic courtesy of introducing myself never really occurred to me. So, unless this is the most elaborate Nigerian ruse yet (and Iím watching, ever vigilantÖ), why donít we get to it.

Iíve been playing games since the NES, which taught me all kinds of important life lessons, like how to live up to great expectations (Super Mario Bros. 3), how sometimes a bargain can still be a rip-off (Dino Riki), how pure brilliance can go unsung (Metal Storm), and how just under the surface boils an ocean of white-hot rage that only needs the proper goading to explode forth in a torrential blue-streak of compound groundings (Ninja Gaiden 2). I stayed a loyal Nintendo kid up through the N64, around which time I got my first summer job bussing tables, promptly squandering the sweat of my brow on a Playstation (Just to tide me over till the 64DD came out, you see). Shortly thereafter, wandering across Midgar and creeping through Shadow Moses, I came to the realization that pig-headed brand sectarianism only gets in the way of what makes the hobby worthwhile: games, pure and simple. Owning another console did not cause Mario to slit his wrists the next time I fired up the 64, and likewise, playing a few rounds of Goldeneye did not make Cloud slip into a vegetative sta-ooohh Jesus, no. How could I have been so blind? What have these Hands WROUGHT?! ÖÖ.Also, spoiler alert.

Seasons came and went, I moved on to the PC, the PS2, the Gamecube. Presumably, at some point during all this I was leading an active and healthy social life wherein many a wild oat was sown and a legendary pantheon of maidenheads got all kinds of tow up. A living Bob Seger song, I was...*cough*...

Later, I went off to college for a number of profound and expensive years before emerging godless, dispassionate, and in possession of degrees that have allowed me to tongue-kiss the very essence of the American Dream: Working part-time at a middling department store, restocking shoes. Bless you, College of Liberal Arts. Bless you.

I was warned.

Nowadays, Iím on the PS3 (and PC, when woeful specs allow), enjoying an array of old and new while waiting for the day I convince myself that going into even greater hock for another non-professional degree is a good idea. I live in Colorado, where all white people, eventually, are required to buy a high-end bicycle and matching spandex onesies, go organic, and ride around feeling good about themselves until theyíre tanned to a bright, carroty orange.

Favorites this generation have included Fallout 3, Prototype, Blazblue, and the nth iterations of Street Fighter IV. I love most genres, but I do have a special place in my heart for fighting games, despite being an eternal scrub at everything but Guilty Gear (where being mindlessly aggressive just tends to work out). Currently, Iím looking forward to Dark Souls, Asuraís Wrath, SFIII OE, and (never thought Iíd say this) the new Blood Rayne.

Iíve been enjoying D-toid for about two years now, and Iím looking forward to contributing in my own meager way. Hope yíall enjoy.   read

3:30 PM on 06.19.2011

I'm Trying to Stay Excited About Prototype 2...

I'm one of the few that preferred the original Prototype over Infamous. By a lot, actually. In fact, whenever the debate came up, I would begin to feel like a Twilight Zone protagonist: everyone I know, everyone online, and every critic in the industry were all in lockstep agreement, and I was left to run around bug-eyed, muttering, a dissenter gradually becoming unglued in the face of an ironclad majority. Then there would be a brief chase scene, a bad special effect, and it would turn out I was a department store mannequin the whole time.

Sure, Prototype is rough around the edges. It doesn't have the same level of structure, polish or graphical panache as Infamous, and at a glance the gameplay seems woefully unbalanced. The first half takes the whole player empowerment thing a tad overboard, having you bedevil security forces and low-level infected who might mean you harm in some abstract, non-commital way, but have no means of expressing it other than getting horribly mutilated by your mere presence. Gradually, though, the game's merits become apparent as the difficulty ramps up. That laundry list of overpowered abilities that makes the early sections such a cakewalk become essential to beating the laundry list of similarly overpowered enemies that will come swarming into your personal space, eager to separate the contents of your rad hoodie from your bitchin' tribal tat jacket. Sure, there are issues with the lock-on camera whirling around in the middle of a chaotic fight, and times when your insane level of mobility makes for erratic play (ex. the mistimed tap of a button sends you flying three blocks in the wrong direction). But as a whole, I still find the game to be a supremely satisfying marriage of madcap sandbox empowerment and well implemented, unusual, third-person combat mechanics.

It's not that I didn't appreciate Infamous, either. It's a very solid game, though I'll admit, it had a strike against it going in for having its title pointlessly stylized to inFAMOUS. Note to Sucker Punch: It's not "Top of the Muffin TO YOU!"
It has a very different approach to player empowerment, though. Very different. First, there is a shit ton of zapping in this game. And that is the word, zapping. Not blasting, shooting, or decimating, but zapping, in the daintiest, saddest, most pa-kew pa-kew sense of the term. Cole's basic ranged attack has one of the most disparate visual effect-to-actual damage ratios in all of gaming, with sheets of energy crackling across every visible surface regardless of whether you hit anything or not. 75% of playing is watching your raised hand hemorrhage lightning bolt after ineffectual lightning bolt at mobs of shambling hobos who casually juke around your clownishly undersized reticule while every item in the environment sops up electricity like Empire City itself is trying to defibrillate Cole's sense of self-worth. "Look at all this lightnin'!" the dumpster the gang members are using as cover seems to say, "Must be doing something right t'be making so much lightnin'!" Hey, fuck you, dumpster. I don't need your charity.

And while you're trying to deal with the map patronizing the hell out of your bad aim, you then have to juggle the onslaught that is the female characters: the ex-girlfriend that resents the hell out of you and doses you in verbal bile regardless of your actions; the government handler who doesn't care about your well-being insofar as it affects her ability to control you; and the telepathic dominatrix who doses you in literal bile and periodically interrupts gameplay to mentally drunk dial you, her breathless seductions each louder and more obnoxious than the last. And that's pretty much all the women in the game. That's not a cast as much as an unflattering portrait of a smashed male ego set to dialogue. In fact, I was certain the game would end on a big Fight Club-esque reveal, where Cole would turn out to be the idealized self-image of Zeke, in whose emasculated, fat-loser psyche the whole game actually took place. Because that's how Infamous approaches player empowerment. As a gauntlet of thankless, impotent zapping and constant verbal abuse. It's the Portnoy's Complaint of open-world superhero games.

All that said, it is really good. But what makes Prototype better is that at a basic conceptual level, one idea is by far more interesting than the other. Shooting lightning is neat, I guess, but limited in scope, and mechanically identical to shooting anything else, i.e. guns, fire, lasers, etc. This is reflected in the range of Infamous' powers: you get the electricity power that works like grenades, the electricity power that acts like a bazooka, the electricity power that lets you snipe, etc. This is any gangster sandbox with a soft-science makeover and a lack of conveyances.

Prototype, on the other hand, may as well have been called Albert Wesker Takes Manhattan. Veiny, bladed appendages, grappling tentacles, gravity defying movement, shape-shifting, the devouring of the unwary -- it's as though another game's unpleasant boss character has been handed the starring role and plunked down in a genre that best reflects the freedom their abilities grant. The laughable story does its damnedest to equivocate this, trying to paint Alex Mercer as some sort of hero-by-default, but it only causes dissonance between the "I will have justice!" cutscenes and the "I'm going to murder everyone fer LOLZ!" gameplay. Despite all the flailing for moral highground, Mercer's story is tellingly identical to William Birkin's, and that, to me, is what makes Prototype a more exciting and unique experience. It's in playing a walking grotesque that would, in any other game, be something you're trying to kill. And unsurprisingly, playing as an overpowered boss is really damn fun.

Now, with that supremely long diatribe out of the way, it stands to reason I'd be pumped for Prototype 2. "But I detect a note of reticence in your title" you clever beardstrokers out there are saying, performing your namesake, and yes, after all the teasers, trailers, and interviews that came out of E3, I'm a tad skeptical.

First of all, the Inception horn blat running through all the trailers. Someone needs to stop this. It doesn't evoke drama when it's so blatantly aping a prominent pop culture phenomenon, and only invites comparisons that won't flatter a game about killing people with various squiggly monster appendages.

Second, the previews don't show much in the way of gameplay other than abject mayhem, and unfortunately, flashy ways to murder things and copious things to murder were the only two ingredients the original didn't need more of. Other stuff to do once the gleeful evisceration has warmed over -- be it in the form of deeper non-combat mechanics, a more interactive city, a greater variety (and more coherent integration) of side missions, or really anything to elevate the game's sandbox to more than just a very large battle arena -- would go a long way towards fleshing out the sequel's gameplay, and so far, we haven't seen anything of the sort. The map is going to be divided into three distinct sections ala every other open world game ever, and story missions will be acquired through the returning Web of Intrigue mechanic, but whether or not these features will add much needed depth or simply a hoop to jump through remains to be seen.

Thirdly, Alex Mercer got a mixed response from players, and rightfully so: he dresses like he just walked out of a 90s Mountain Dew commercial, has no interesting qualities until the very end of the game, and spends every moment leading up to that hunting down the people responsible for turning him into an indestructible, flying superbeing, because how dare they. But Radical's counter-ploy is novel: make him the villain of the sequel (a somewhat rare instance of a the game developer bandwagoning against themselves) while furnishing us with a shiny new protagonist in the form of James Heller, a grizzled army badass (a dangerously underrepresented population in gaming, I've noticed) sporting the most aggressively popped collar in the history of unfortunate grooming decisions.

Only problem with this little inversion is the developers seem to be walking into the exact same trap that made Mercer such an unlikable chode. Yet again we're on a quest for vengeance, and yet again our lead thinks himself so immensely wronged that the tens of thousands of people he will kill over the course of the game don't bear a second thought. "Mercer killed my family!" the new guy growls in the trailer. But what's actually being said is "How much trite pathos do we need to pile on before glaring hypocrisy gets mistaken for a plausible character motivation?" Radical: stop falling all over yourselves trying to justify your characters' actions. There is no moral justification for what you do in this game. You do not play a good guy. You do not play a good guy in a bad situation. You do not play a good guy pushed over the edge. You do not even play an ambiguous, shade-of-gray antihero. You play a quasi-human, mass-murdering, viral demigod. Stop trying to shoehorn a protagonist into a super villain simulator. Stop trying to make it sympathetic. Stop trying to make it morally correct. Take a stark, honest look at how this game plays, and build the character, his motivation, and his arc from there. I for one would rather play as a malevolent shape-shifting virus with no recognizable human behavior than another deluded, self-righteous jackass on an unthinking killing spree because somebody pissed in his cheerios.

There's still plenty of time for this thing to win me over. We've got at least six more months of full-tilt marketing, and something in that span has got to entice. And hell, it's not that the game doesn't look fun. It already looks like a blast. But is it progressing? Is it innovating? Does it warrant a "2" at the end of the title, or is it just another instance of spit-shine-here-buy-this? Time will tell, but...again, I'm skeptical.   read

2:31 PM on 06.08.2011

Why Remaking FFVII is a Bad Idea

Does anyone else think the incessant demand for a Final Fantasy VII remake is one of the most thunderously stupid sentiments in gaming these days? It seems any bit of news regarding SquareEnix is inevitably met with the same comment repeated ad nauseam the internet over: "God the last two/four/dozen FF games have sucked. Just remake Final Fantasy VII already."

Always with that tone, too. "Release it already." As though it's been promised to them and withheld, its development somehow a foregone conclusion that keeps getting postponed by all the inconvenient delays the rest of us call "new Final Fantasy games," and these guys are taking SquareEnix to task for cockblocking them from a game that's been out for fourteen years.

Do I dare unpack the breathtaking logical gymnastics involved in statements like "your last X games have sucked, ergo you must remake one of the most beloved titles of all time?" Do they think the staff of people that have spent the last five years making all those games they didn't like are just going to sit this one out? That the real Square employees are going to return from the world's longest smoke break and commence Bringin' the Fun? Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if the folks at Squenix knew how to capture that vintage FF magic, they would never have stopped in the first place, and this chorus demanding their nostalgia be vigorously serviced would likely never have gained traction in the first place.

Nothing the company has done in recent years suggests they are capable of anything but an immaculately rendered letdown.

"It's a license to print money!" many proponents have argued, and they are right. It's a guaranteed million seller at the very least (as with nearly every Final Fantasy). But being a shameless cash-grab should not be counted among a prospective title's virtues for anyone other than company stockholders, and make no mistake, shameless it would be: there is no legitimate creative reason to make Final Fantasy VII again. That's been made abundantly clear by the procession of tie-ins, movies, and prequels released over the years, the best of which carries all the artistic weight of a chintzy retcon, the RPG equivalent of epic lunchbox paraphernalia; the worst of which exists in order to beg its own question: it exists so that you can buy it, and you bought it because it exists. Any merits therein are purely incidental.

VII was not a game that was just shy of greatness. It was not held back by a gigantic design misstep or technical limitation (regardless of what modern standards dictate). It was not great until X point in the story. It was not amazing except for Y battle mechanic. History does not remember it as "almost a masterpiece." FFVII does not need to be fixed. So what, precisely, does a remake have to offer us that a replay can't? Graphics. Period. That's it. Now, I'm not going to claim that the freakish proportions of your dumpy, Cloud-shaped Popeye man was integral to your understanding of the game's themes, and that all would be ruined if you controlled a well-rendered, recognizably human character not suffering from severe edema. But would it add anything to experience? FFXIII had some of the most stunning graphics and character models in the series, or anywhere else for that matter. By and large, that did not make for a more interesting story, it did not expand our understanding of the characters beyond providing heaping portions of tin-earred melodrama, and other than showing off some very lovely set-pieces, it never really managed a setting, a world that contextualized the characters in a way that both informed and intrigued the player.

Or let's take Advent Children, since it was certainly as pretty as XIII and gave VII's cast that all-important makeover. It was one of the dumbest movies I've ever seen. CG modeling had by then reached the point of essentially unlimited storytelling power, which Tetsuya Nomura took as his cue to pop an hour-and-thirty minute long Matrix boner wherein the laws of physics, the stakes of each battle, and the spirit of the original, all became increasingly moot. It was a tech demo that dreamed it was a fight scene that once pretended to be a story so it could pick up chicks.

Now, 90% of FFVII looks like total dog shit, interspersed with five minute snippets where your characters grow four feet taller, sprout faces, and mime emphatically to one another. And despite the dated, quaint, or downright poor moments in presentation, it's a story that's obviously stuck with people the most without all the new-fangled razzle-frazzle.

Many of you, by this point, have probably dismissed me as a luddite nostalgist, afeard of The Newness because it doesn't sync with the VII of my adolescence. But I'm not saying graphics can't add to that experience. Graphical muscle is certainly capable of providing a whole new dimension of drama and depth. But what makes anyone think that's what it would be used for? What, in SquareEnix's recent oeuvre, suggests these are the people capable of adding anything of value to the original? More likely, the unlimited graphical majesty would be used to drop Aeris' neckline a few inches, have Sephiroth level all of Nibelheim using an endless succession of rad backflips, and replace most of the cast's dialogue with choreographed posing and icy over-the-shoulder squints. And boy, who else just can't wait to hear Yuffie talk? Won't that be grand?

I suppose there are plenty of people out there who don't view the company's recent output with quite the same level of virulent negativity as I do. And that's fine, there is no objective way to assess such things. To each his own, I say (though you'll have to imagine me doing so in that really condescending way, where someone's trying to sound like the bigger person but is actually judging you -- judging with their eyes.). Mostly, this hectoring is leveled at people that didn't care for the recent Final Fantasy's either, and still think a remake is a grand idea -- people for whom cause and effect is nothing more than a terrifying bluster of noise and motion without connection, correlation, just one long shrieking blurt of sensory data that ends, inevitably, on an internet message board, talking about how pretty graphics are pretty. It does occur to me that I might just be a dick, though, so...take that under consideration as well.   read

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