Hello fellow bloggers! I'm 23 years old and have been gaming for as long as I can remember. My earliest gaming memories are of Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong Country. I'm a pretty big Nintendo fan boy, but I'll give anything a chance.
My Top 10
1. Metroid Prime Trilogy
2. Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
3. Killer 7
4. Perfect Dark
5. Super Smash Brothers Melee
6. Legend of Dragoon
7. Advance Wars Dual Strike
8. Front Mission
9. No More Heroes 2
10. Spec Ops: The Line
When Shadows of the Damned came out, I wrote a piece defending some of the design and characterization choices made by Goichi Suda and the team at Grasshopper Manufacture that were being criticized elsewhere on the internet. Suda 51 is one of a handful of developers I see more as an artist than anything else. Even when heís not directing (Shadows of the Damned, Killer is Dead) or writing (Lollipop Chainsaw), his artistic vision pervades every corner of Grasshopper Manufacture. Itís the priority. Not gameplay. Not graphics. Not story. Itís that intangible charm and creativity of a man saying, ďIf god is an old man in a wheelchair with a sniper rifle and the devil is the leader of terrorist organization comprised of invisible, cackling, exploding freaks, what happens when they play chess?Ē
Iím about half way through Killer Is Dead. The response on the internet has been somewhat mixed. It seems that most reviewers agree on its competency as an action game, but have been turned off by the vapid and (brace yourselves) sexist Gigolo Missions. The dreaded s-word, usually followed by some mention of feminism and someone complaining that games like this ruin the mediumís growing acceptance as a mature art form. It seems the gaming community is having this discussion every other week. Even though I havenít finished the game yet, I wanted to comment on the Killer Is Dead matter while itís still fresh.
If thereís one thing Iíve learned over the years, itís that Suda51 games are never what they seem. Killer 7 is a socio-political mindfuck once you start parsing out the surreal madness. Flower, Sun and Rain is an experiment in breaking down a game to its base elements (and a sadistic experiment on its players). No More Heroes is an exploration of the otaku and video game sub-cultures and at times a metaphor for the video game industry itself. Shadows of the Damned is the ultimate expression of machismo and Lollipop Chainsaw flips gender norms on its head.
Because of this, I found myself approaching Killer Is Dead with a critical eye from the get-go, something I donít think Iíve ever done before with a video game. If Mondo Zappa is supposed to be inspired by James Bond, then the Mondo Girls must assuredly be representative of Bond Girls. And yet, while the collective internet appears turned off by the notion of Gigolo missions, popular culture celebrates James Bondís ability to effortlessly seduce any woman he desires in a matter of seconds. To be cast as a Bond Girl is an honor, a coveted role in the ongoing history of film. James Bond is an archetype unto himself. Man of mystery Ė suave but dangerous, romantic, confident, killing machine.† †
Mondo is all of these things, but compared to Bond, he has to work to get the girl. Whenís the last time you saw Bond treat his girls to some perfume or bubble gum? Or necklaces made from lunar rock! Mondo has to lavish his ladies with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts before he can even hope to get any action. But itís not just the money. Mondo is never aggressive or vulgar, heís actually quite the gentleman. In fact, heís kind of nervous. The only way you can build the ďgutsĒ to present a present is by sneaking in a few body shots when the lady isnít looking, which, letís be honest folks, every man in the history of the world is guilty of. One of our base human instincts is physical attraction. Itís nothing to be ashamed of, and certainly nothing to be offended by. I mean, youíre checking out pixels. But Iím getting off topic. The point is, the Mondo Girls have all the power in this relationship. They call Mondo, not the other way around. They are the keepers of Mondoís ultimate power. You want a fancy drill arm? Take Natalia out for drinks. Freeze cannon? Have a moonlit conversation with Koharu. It's unfortunate that these sections have been hit with the sexist hammer, because I find it be quite the opposite. †
James Bond being a creep
Reviewers have also commented on the strange pacing and structure of the story, and even I must admit that the dialogue is oddly stilted at times. But it also feels so purposeful, like every other Grasshopper production. Iím not an expert on the subject, but the moody cinematography and shadowy visuals convey a noir-like feeling. So far, Killer Is Dead seems to be an amalgam of James Bond and film noir Ė Suda 51 style. Thatís fine by me, and Iím looking forward to uncovering what else the game might be hiding under its surface.
Some of my earliest gaming memories are of Mortal Kombat. Decapitation, spine rippage, and impaling were everyday occurrences during my childhood. As a result, Iíve never been particularly squeamish about violence. But I canít give Mortal Kombat all the credit. I was always excited for Halloween as a kid, not because of trick or treating, but for the monster movie marathons I would watch with my dad. And I donít just mean the usual Frankenstein and Dracula either, but movies like The Blob, The Fly, The Thing, and Them! I didnít care about candy; I cared about watching terrifying creatures killing and maiming their helpless victims. I was never scared, it was fun! It was entertainment, just like Mortal Kombat. Death, and more importantly ďthe act of killingĒ was something that happened on the television screen. It was merely part of the story, an entertaining diversion, and the story must go on. Shao Kahn never stayed dead after all. No matter how many times I froze him and shattered his body into little pieces, heíd always be at the top of that tower, waiting for me to kill him again.
As I grew up I realized my attitude towards violence and death wasÖshall we say apathetic. As a kid, I vaguely remember going to a few funerals, but I was too young to really understand the significance. And then for a long time, nothing. Death remained a foreign subject to me, a thing that happened in movies and heard about in the news. People died elsewhere, not here, not around me. They died because the story demanded they die. Death didnít really come into my life until high school. A friend died in a car crash. She wasnít a close friend; I didnít have a single class with her. How we met is a mystery to me. But Iíd see her around, and weíd chat, and sheíd make me laugh. She was a constant joker, the kind of person that made everyone smile. I donít know why, but I didnít go to her funeral. For some reason I felt that I didnít deserve to be there. I had no tears to shed. Her friends and family, the people that really knew her, were the ones that needed to cry.
Fast forward to four years ago, another death, another friend. This time itís a suicide. I was closer to him, we ate lunch together at least every other day my senior year, but he was still mainly a school friend. He wasnít someone I ever really hung out with outside of class and lunch.
Three years ago, another suicide. This time it was a close friend, a part of my inner circle. This one hurt, but I was confused more than anything else. I just couldnít understand why? He was like the first girl, the kind of person that lit up a room. His laugh and grin were infectious. Why would he do such a thing? I wasnít sad, I wasnít angry, just confused. Why couldnít I cry like the rest of my friends? Why couldnít I yell and swear until my throat hurt?
Two years ago, another friend, another accident. She was a rugby player and took a nasty blow to the head after falling to the ground. This one made me angry. She wasnít really a close friend; in fact it had been many years since I last saw her. She was two years my senior in high school; incredibly smart, incredibly funny, and someone I looked up to. She was destined to do great things in this world, and now she never would. I cried, but not because I was sad, but because I was angry, angry that the story had gone this way.
A funny thing happened last week. Iíve killed countless people in video games without a second thought. Letís face it, shooting and stabbing and fireballs to the face are fun. Iíve seen countless dead bodies on television shows and movies, some killed in the most gruesome of ways. All in the name of entertainment, for the sake of the story. But Spec Ops: The Line made me turn my PS3 off for two full days. Your name is Captain Walker. Your squad mates are Lieutenant Adams and Sergeant Lugo. The turning point in Spec Ops is when you and your squad of ďhardened killing machinesĒ, as Sergeant Lugo jokingly calls himself in the earliest portion of the game, shell an entire squadron of soldiers with white phosphorus mortar rounds. Itís the only way to break through their ranks as youíre woefully out-numbered and out-gunned. Lugo protests, desperate for another option, but youíve given the order. When the smoke clears, the game forces you to survey your handiwork. Innumerable charred bodies, some still crawling, gasping for help. Itís a horrific scene, but it isnít until you discover the civilians caught in the crossfire that your heart stops. Women and children burned to a crisp. These are the people you were supposed to save. Lugo is screaming at you, saying youíve turned them into murderers. You tell him to shut up and keep moving. The cut scene ends, and the game continues. I tried to keep moving, to follow my own orders, but with every step in that sand my motivation to keep playing lessened. We encountered more soldiers, and while Lugo and Adams move up and start fighting, I took cover. My movements are lethargic. I donít care anymore. I stand up out of cover and let myself get shot. I turned off my PS3 before the loading screen can even finish. And then it hits me, I just committed suicide in a game.
It took me two days to continue this story of death and destruction. Of bad decisions and even worse consequences. Of the horrors of combat and the life and death scenarios that come with the territory. The psychology of a soldier. What it means to be human. Spec Ops pulls no punches when it asks these questions, and it asks a lot of questions. I doubt Iíll gleefully murder all the inhabitants of Megaton City ever again. And what about all the Nazis and Russians and ďgeneric middle eastern terroristsĒ Iíve mowed down in the past? A lot of those guys probably had families. What about that guard? You know the one. He was just doing his job. And I just slit his throat. Not a care in the world. Death isnít just a part of the story; itís the end of someone elseís story. Spec Ops: The Line achieved what 22 years of consuming violent movies, television, games, and literature could not, it made me think about my actions. It made me question my sanity.
The finality of death never hit me until a few months ago, when my grandmother passed. It wasnít unexpected; in fact it was a long time coming. She had been suffering from dementia for a few years now. The last time I saw her alive, I didnít say goodbye like I always did. I thought Iíd see her again. Iíll always regret that. But I finally cried tears of sadness. Not much mind you, Iíve simply come to terms with the fact that Iím not much of a crier.
As Iím finishing this blog, I started to google Spec Ops to see other peopleís reactions. It seems that many people reacted in the exact same fashion that I did. Turning off the game at that turning point is a common occurrence; itís even something that happened during product testing.
I also found that freelance writer Brendan Keogh has written an entire book about Spec Ops: The Line. Judging by this exerpt provided by Kotaku, it might be worth checking out.
West Side Story is without a doubt my favorite musical. Now, that's a fairly reasonable statement for anyone to make, but it's somewhat odd considering Iíve never actually seen West Side Story performed on stage. I have fuzzy child-hood memories of watching the movie with my parents on television. When I was older, I got the opportunity to experience Leonard Bernstein's musical compositions firsthand. During my freshman year of high-school, our marching band performed a West Side Story inspired marching show. I was in the pit and had a short, but absolutely hilarious xylophone solo during Officer Krumpke.
That's the beauty of Bernsteinís music, it's hilarious. It's also cool, suspenseful, haunting, and majestic. His ability to make you feel whatever he wants you to through his music is simply phenomenal. I felt obliged to revisit the movie soon after and absolutely fell in love with it (I couldn't fully appreciate it as a 10 year old). Beyond the music though, the story, characters, set pieces, and choreography are all top-notch.
So why am I telling you about my love for West Side Story? Because I want a West Side Story game. Iíve been toying with the idea for a few months now. I wouldnít just want a straight adaptation though. Iíve always believed the biggest strength of video games (and animation in general) is the ability to go beyond the limits of reality. Sure, with make-up, CGI, and improved motion capture technology itís easier than ever for live action films like Avatar or Transformers to exist. But thatís all the more reason for video games to not go down the route of ultra realism. We already have a medium where realism works beautifully.
For that reason, my favorite games typically embrace stylized art and character direction. So when I thought about what my West Side world would look like, my inspiration came from the two gang names, the Jets and Sharks. I thought, why not literal Jets and Sharks? So yes, my West Side Story world would be inhabited with anthropomorphic avian and aquatic creatures.
Something like this. Courtesy of deviant artists keofoxglove and seel-dingo.
Gameplay and story is a bit trickier, and not something Iíve been able to completely flesh out yet. I imagine an open world where youíre free to explore the streets of New York City as you please. But it wouldn't be a massive GTA type city, instead, it would be scaled down to a few blocks. I want players to to be able to explore in detail every building in the vicinity. The gym where the dance is held, Doc's shop, the tenement flats, the bridal shop; everything is open, detailed, and interactive.
As for the story, if the game were to follow the musical directly, it wouldn't last very long. I was
thinking you could do side quests for individual Shark and Jet members, or other members of
the community like Doc. The player perspective would shift between the four main characters; Tony, Maria, Bernardo, and Riff. There would also be shorter sections where you could take control of secondary characters like Anita, Chino, Ice or even background characters like Anybodys. Maybe you could even play as Officer Krumpke. Being able to play through and experience the story from all perspectives would greatly extend the game life.
How do I make this fun to play?
Of course, the most important part of all of this is how the musical numbers would actually fit into the gameplay. As I said, one of the best things about West Side Story beyond the music is the fantastic choreography. But how do I translate that into the players hand? Does the game suddenly become a rhythm game at certain points? But I don't know if that type of gameplay would appropriately capture the feelings of certain scenes. I especially don't like the idea of transitioning from a free-roaming game where you have complete control over a character to one in which you merely watch your character dance to a series of rhythmic button button taps you make. That's a disconnect I wouldn't want.
So that's it. My dream West Side Story game. It'll never happen, but I still like to think about.
What's the most important element of gaming? It's a question that's been repeatedly asked, and the answers are different depending on who you ask. Is it the compelling story? The challenging gameplay? Perhaps the composition of the game itself; the combination of music, writing, art direction, and graphics. Why do we play games? Up until very recently, I would have said it's all about the fun factor. If a game isn't fun, why the hell would I be wasting my time playing it?
There's a reason no one's made a game about going to the dentist. That is not the face of fun.
But I've had an epiphany, and thinking about it, its a rather simple and obvious one, but one that nevertheless I believe is overlooked (at the very least, I've been overlooking it my entire life). The most important element of gaming has nothing to do with the games themselves, it's the ability to share that experience with others.
I know, I know, I probably sound like a PR guy from Nintendo right now whose only goal in life is to say the phrase 'We're about the experience!' as many times as humanly possible. But bear with me, because I think Nintendo is right about this.
I have realized that I am incredibly lucky to have formed a group of friends that share in my passion of gaming. I met most of these wonderful people during my middle school years. Up until then, my passion for games was mainly shared with my younger cousin. He was the one with the SNES, and I looked forward to holidays and summertime because it meant playing Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country 2, and Primal Rage.
Seriously. Why has no one made another Primal Rage game? DINOSAURS FIGHTING DINOSAURS. COME ON PEOPLE!
As my cousin and I got older we started playing new games on the N64 and Playstation. But thinking back on it now, what really made those early gaming memories in my life special wasn't the fun I had, but sharing that fun with someone else. The shared excitement in getting to the next world in Super Mario World or Donkey Kong Country 2. The shared laughter at the absurd characters and narrative in Rayman 2 The Great Escape. The shared frustration of taking turns and not being able to beat bosses in any game. The shared awe at the massive worlds and epic stories of the Final Fantasy series. The shared anger at each other for consistently beating the snot out of the other in the original Super Smash Brothers or Mortal Kombat II. The absolute fury encountered when accidentally erasing save files in Quest 64 (it happened an abnormal amount of times).
Someone needs to make another Quest. Game was DOPE!
These are the reasons I can still remember those faraway memories. And it's the same reason my cousin and I can watch each other play Demon's Souls for hours on end, even if only one of us is playing. That shared experience is what makes games so special.
But back to middle school, I found myself in a new environment, where suddenly being a nerdy gamer was a potential risk. This was the age when kids started getting mean; bullies, cliques, parties (of the underage drinking kind), this is when it all started. But somehow, I inexplicably found myself invited to my first LAN party. Halo was the newest thing on the market, and the XBOX was quickly becoming the console of choice. Of course, when I say all of this, I am speaking of my own generation, and my own observations. Sure, plenty of older gamers had been having PC LAN parties with games like StarCraft and CounterStrike for quite awhile. Or they were playing early MMOs like Everquest. But kids my age weren't quite tech savvy enough for that. We thought the XBOX was cool 'cause it was green and had a giant X on it. That was enough for us.
The XBOX made it easy to LAN. All we did was set a bunch of TVs down on a living room floor, hooked up the XBOX's, and played Halo until we could barely keep our eyes open anymore. Love it or hate it, there's a reason Halo became as popular as it did; if you grew up with it, it changed the way you played games with other people. I was no longer regulated to only sharing my passion with my cousin during the holidays or summertime. Now I was laughing and yelling and playing games with 15 other people every other weekend. The friends I made on that first night of Halo bliss I am happy to say are still my friends to this very day. But Halo wasn't the only game we played. PowerStone, Worms Armageddon, Super Smash Brothers Melee, Dragon Ball Z, and Splinter Cell were all on the list.
Bloodgulch. Capture the Flag. Classic.
But then things started to change...
The next generation of consoles came, and with it came a greater capacity for online play. LANs were old fashioned, who wanted to lug around consoles, TVs, and PCs anymore? The only game that my friends and I continued to play together, hours on end, was Super Smash Brothers Brawl. We've pumped hundreds, more likely thousands of hours into that game. We imposed our own game rules. Sometimes we'd play tournament style- no items, 3 stock, Final Destination. Other times it was 99 stock, all items, random stage. We would choose random characters, and then choose teams based on completely arbitrary rules. So if we ended up with Link, Ike, Kirby, and Ness, it would be promptly decided that Link and Ike would be on a team solely because they had swords. Bounty Hunters versus Pokemon, hats versus no hats, etc. etc.
As time went on though, there was less and less of this. More important was Halo 3, Modern Warfare, and World of Warcraft. And even MORE important were the records and statistics in these games. How quickly could you become a General in Halo Matchmaking or Prestige in Call of Duty? Sure we still played together, we still had a good time, but more and more often it was over the internet, and not over the couch. We couldn't push and shove each other if we killed the other. Or sneakingly unplug another player on a kill streak. And of course, if you're playing online with a friend, the moment you stop playing is the moment that person is no longer there. What made those early days so fun was that when we did finally get tired of endless Deathmatches, we were still together. We could order a pizza, play a boardgame, build walls made of soda cans, hell just go outside and run around in the street at 3 a.m. in the morning.
This was the afterparty. Jealous?
Of course, there are other reasons that complicate matters. People get older and people get jobs. It becomes much more difficult to get together and play a game until 3 in the morning if you have to be at work at 8 a.m. Nevertheless, it's a time that I yearn for.
And now we've reached present day, when I had my epiphany just a few days ago. When all of these realizations hit me. It's become much more difficult for my friends and I to all get together for a quality game session. We've become content with matches of Call of Duty Black Ops over Xbox Live. Or if we've gathered to have a few drinks (which has come to replace our gathering for games) we might have a few matches of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 before turning it off in order to play Beer Pong (frankly I'd rather be playing MvC3).
But as I sat with 2 of my best friends the other day on a lovely Saturday evening, we popped in Super Smash Brothers Brawl for old time's sake and played a few rounds. And it was glorious. We hadn't touched the game in a year and a half. And it had been a year and a half since I'd had that much fun. But it wasn't just because the game was fun, it's because I was laughing and yelling with these guys again. The shared frustration when another player gets the Final Smash 4 bloody times, the erupting laughter when after desperately fighting over a pokeball a goldeen flops out, the furious rage when THAT MOTHERF*@% FISH EATS YOU!!!!
It never gets old. And until a new Super Smash Brothers comes out, we'll keep playing Brawl.
And you know, the real epiphany actually happened afterwards as we chowed down on a freshly ordered cheese pizza. We started talking about some of the recent reveals of E3, and our discussion found its way towards Zelda. One of my friends, per an earlier suggestion of mine, had download Link's Awakening on the 3DS eShop. He had never played it. Which led to much criticizing. Which led to my confession of never beating Ocarina of Time (my darkest crime against the gaming world). Which led to my other friend's confession of never having played Twilight Princess. So there we were, the three of us, criticizing, arguing over the best Zelda *cough Majora's Mask cough*, sharing our excitement for Skyward Sword.
In the grand scheme of things this little conversation hardly even qualifies as a footnote in my life, but it reminded me of why I love gaming. It's not the story or the music or the fun, it's the people. The people that I get to share my gaming experience with. Be it the joy of multiplayer or the passionate debate over single player experiences, the fact that I could just talk to these guys about games was incredibly satisfying. I'd like to leave you with a challenge. My newly recognized philosophy of gaming- Find someone to share your gaming experiences with. As fantastic as this community at Destructoid is, where we do a great deal of sharing in the excitement and woes of the games we love to play, there's no substitute for a fleshy meatbag friend that you can share some quality gaming with. We play games because we love it, and it's an amazing feeling when you can share that experience with equally passionate people.
Greetings everyone! I've been lurking Destructoid for a few months now after finally giving up on IGN and I decided it was about time I made myself an account. I don't consider myself much of a writer and I don't know how often I'll actually get around to writing anything (what with college and all taking up my time) but hopefully I'll be able to pen some thoughts every now and then.
In an attempt to make my first blog at least somewhat related to games, I'd like to mention that I've been playing Red Steel 2 this week and absolutely love it. I friggin hate the ninjas in this game though. They always beat the crap out of me.
Perhaps I'll try my hand at a review when I finish.