Deluded illusions of mediocrity, my destiny is to become the ultimate amateur. Critiques no one asked for? I'll be there! Information no one cares about? I'll be there! Bias needing confirmation? I might be there if it's a Thursday afternoon and the traffic is clear.
For you see, Conan the Barbarian was wrong when he uttered what is best in life. The true answer is to play the vidija games, to discuss the vidija games, and to hear the lamentation of the women (while playing the vidija games).
I am frequently rambling in a rather inane manner on my site of web (www.gamertagged.net), so if you are bored and have nothing better to do while waiting for your white collar slave masters to crack the whip and demand you exit the premises, then do me a favor and give my stuff a read.
Because if you don't, I'll go on with life without knowing any better. And how terrible would THAT be?
I'm going to start my 2013 participation in the Destructoid community with a confession (that I'm pretty sure I haven't already confested).
I came around here in 2009 cross-posting an Examiner.com article.
Wait, hey! Stop throwing things!
2009 was a rough year for me. I graduated College with a realization I didn't really like what I majored in as a lifelong career choice and was trying to figure out what I really wanted. I figured writing about games was a thing I liked doing and should try for that. In order to try and gain more exposure I figured cross-posting articles I thought were really good would be a great idea.
Look, I hadn't been at this thing for too long, okay? So sue me.
I didn't really stick around, though. I wrote two pieces exclusive to the Destructoid blogs and then, well, vanished. A lot of stuff has happened since then. I've done a lot of growing and soul searching and yatta yatta blah blah.
The point is that if I want to be a games writer, I don't want to do it by copying and pasting stuff all over the place. There are better ways to gain exposure. More than that, though, and this is the important thing, I don't want to treat the Community Blogs as a place to try and gain exposure. I want to blog here because I feel like I have something interesting to say that fits a community space. If I want to write something "professional" then I'll put it on my blog or try pitching it someplace (the latter of which rarely happens due to severe self-esteem issues. YAY!)
However, it doesn't feel right just coming around every so often, putting up a blog, and then walking away. That's not being a part of the community, right? That's just being a random guy that walks into your house, drops off a pizza, then walks out. I mean, hey, free pizza. Cool, right? But seriously, who the fuck IS that guy and why does he keep coming around?
I don't think I'll ever be as involved in the community as a lot of you folks. I've become deeply entrenched in another one already, and I have a tendency to stretch myself thin. Life gets busy and then it is hard to find time to be a part of all the wonderful little places I want to.
I want to try, though. I want to keep reading some of your blogs, and I want to toss stuff up that I hope is entertaining to read or cultivates discussion.
You guys are a great community. A surprisingly great community, truth told. Granted I've mostly just seen the blogs, but you guys have something special here. To use a quote I love so much I toss it about whenever possible:
"I know half of you half as well as I should like, and half of you half as well as you deserve."
I won't be one of the regulars, but I'd like to be that guy that every once in a while comes to your parties or some other gathering, is always a good time, and then heads off to return at the next friendly gathering.
I look forward to reading some of these "best of 2012" blogs, by the way.
In the past, spending an entire day inside the house would help drive me into feelings of depression. I would feel lonely, as if I had accomplished nothing, and yearn to have an excuse to leave the house. While this has happened a lot less in the past few years due to full time employment, Iíd still feel a bit sad if I spent my entire day inside by myself instead of being out with other people.
This Saturday I didnít give a flying fuck.
Society has hammered into some of our minds the notion that video games are something you should grow out of. Parents may say it, significant others may claim it, or the media may represent games as this thing only juvenile man children may play. So itís easy to be at the water cooler on Monday standing around with your coworkers discussing things like sports and ball tossing, and all you have to add is the fact that you missed the game because you were more interested in the world of Ivalice or the Mushroom Kingdom or Generic Middle Eastern Country No. 7.
Today, on this Monday morning, that is not me. I spent all of Saturday playing Assassinís Creed: Brotherhood, and I feel no guilt or shame in it. This was not a choice. It just happened.
Society, as usual, is full of shit. Feeling shame for your passions is not growing up. Accepting who you are and being content or even happy with it is (which is not to say you shouldnít look to better yourself. You should always strive to improve who you are, but that doesnít mean you have to hate yourself before you can improve).
So Saturday morning I woke up and started playing Assassinís Creed: Brotherhood. I played for twelve hours. The intent was to go see a movie with a friend when he was done work, but we each dropped the ball on the communication front and missed the chance. I spent a couple hours watching television with my brother as a break, and then dove back into the Animus and resumed my efforts to rebuild Rome.
Which is exactly what I had done. I had begun the day with Rome at around 30% rebuilt, and by the end of the day it was fully, 100% complete. I may not have been productive in real life, but I got through a lot of the side missions and content the game has to offer, and in a single day achieved near completion of the game.
I do not feel proud, but I do not feel guilty. I was responsible, remembering to get up to go to the bathroom, to get a shower, to eat meals and all that other stuff World of Warcraft addicts notoriously die from forgetting to do. Then, on Sunday, instead of feeding some sort of addiction by plugging back into this digital world of sexy courtesans and Italian stereotypes and knives into the gullet, I went to the pub and watched the Eagles game with a friend. I went shopping for groceries. I prepared my lunches for the week and cooked dinner. I did my laundry. I sat down and watched a movie with my brother. Not a minute was spent playing Assassinís Creed: Brotherhood, even though I wanted to spend the day completing the game.
That, my friends, is adulthood. That is maturity. Spending your time any way you want to as long as you donít ignore or reject the basic responsibilities of life. I have not abandoned the companionship of other humans, nor have I forsaken my responsibilities at work or in personal hygiene.
I am an adult. I work forty hours a week at a white-collar assembly line job so middle-aged middle-to-upper-middle-class women can purchase over-priced fashion products from Major Shopping Network over the Internet. I pay my student loans, my car insurance, my phone bill and help with chores around the house.
So if I want to spend my entire Saturday playing a video game, I can. Because Iím a grown up dammit, and I get to do what I want.
So I've been playing Darksiders 2 recently because it takes me forever to complete a game I purchased on launch day. It's a really fun game and I enjoy it, though I'm not sure if I like it more or less than the original Darksiders. I think, in truth, it is dumb to compare the two as they are truthfully very different games, and just accept that I prefer the Legend of Zelda inspiration of the first and wish they had kept that, ditched the loot and fused Zelda with Prince of Persia 2008 (at least, that's the game I'm choosing as the new primary influence as I'm a heathen and hadn't played a Prince of Persia game until Nolan North as The Prince as Nolan North).
As I was sick last week I got to play the game for an abnormally long amount of time, jumping from about 6.5 hours in to 13 or 14 or so. Being able to play so much all at once revealed a dirty little secret that caused me to just sit back and sigh, as if to say "Dammit, Vigil, I thought you were better than this".
So about two or three quests ago I reach a dungeon, and the objective is to collect three rock things to bring this massive colossus back to life. A couple dungeons later and I have to collect three rock things to summon the Arena's champion. This allows me to talk to this Rotting King fellow, who says he won't help me unless I get his three Lords from three separate dungeons. In one of these dungeons, this Lord won't help me unless I collect three different souls for judgment.
That's a "Fetch Me Three" quest in the middle of a "Fetch Me Three" quest, directly following two other "Fetch Me Three" quests. As it had been a while since I last played before having to summon that Colossus, there could have been more (in fact, one of the earlier dungeons was "Hit these three switches to get water flowing again", so it seems to be a common theme within Darksiders 2).
Now, I'd be a lot more angry at Darksiders 2 if it weren't for the fact that this is a trend in Western games as a whole. Let's jump back a bit to that Rotting King fellow.
The way the plot has moved, I cannot accomplish my ultimate task until I have the Rotting King helping out. Yet I cannot gain an audience with this Rotting King until I defeat the Arena's champion. Once I get to the Rotting King, he is forcing me to do him a favor. All the while the plot has hit a stand still, as has any sense of character development. Death is not becoming a more complex character. At most the world is being built, sure, but what is really going on is Vigil is trying to make Darksiders 2 a longer game with more content. So they create these fetch quests which delay the main story to pad onto the game length and create new dungeons.
Now let's jump to a game company that is known for exemplary story-telling in the West. Bioware.
Dragon Age: Origins begins with our selected heroic origin, which establishes your character's past and provides the impetus for them to join the Grey Wardens. The second quest is... y'know, I don't really remember the actual purpose of the second quest, but it manages to introduce the player to characters that will be valuable later. The third quest is to defend the fortress and fight against the Dark Spawn. The first major event pops up and we have our villain established. We have our overall objective.
According to Google Image Search, women find this sickly visage attractive.
Then the story pretty much stops while you go and complete three different quests where the villain basically sits and waits for you to come at him (okay, so he tosses Elven Antonio Banderas your way, but that's about all) and the Dark Spawn just sit and let you take your time. While the player is able to interact with the secondary characters and allow them to develop, it isn't through the actual story itself. It's by taking time outside of the plot.
Fifteen to twenty hours later you finally move the plot forward, and it feels like you're jumping ahead. It's like the writer didn't know what to actually do with the story once you discovered who the villain was and when you'd jump in to bust him up. You basically went on one giant fetch quest. Mass Effect was basically the same way. Several missions to collect characters where the main plot didn't really move forward too much. Same with Mass Effect 2.
Or let's take Dead Space as another example. When I talk to people about it, there's always that slog in the middle of the game. I nod and say "Yeah, it doesn't really ramp up until about Chapter 10". That's because the first few chapters are interesting. You're introduced to the Ishimura, separated from your team and gain your objective to meet back with them.
Then you spend several chapters doing nothing but fixing the damn ship. You have the occasional cryptic vision and something sort of creepy occasionally happens, but on the whole you're just fixing the ship. The closest thing to a plot development is the one crazy guy that believes Necromorphs are the future and sends Big Scary after you, but nothing in the plot really develops. It's just an excuse to keep playing the game until the final two chapters that start to wrap things up and bring the game to a close.
Now, technically this isn't exclusive to Western games. Ocarina of Time basically stops the plot while you grab the three Medallions as a kid, then stops the plot again while you rescue the sages. Yet it seems to be less of an issue where Japanese games are concerned (in these classic examples I've intentionally picked to illustrate my point).
Let's look at the beginning of Final Fantasy VI. The overall goal is "stop the Empire", but the story feels like it moves on more naturally. Character-based sub-goals exist. Terra has amnesia, so that is a constant story point. Locke, a contact for a rebellious group known as the Returners, is summoned to try and help Terra out as she could be a valuable asset, be it in her knowledge of the Empire or her magic abilities. Locke takes her to Edgar, a King pretending to help the Empire, where the story progresses. Kefka marches in, burns the Kingdom to the ground, and the trio of heroes get away. From there on they head to the Returners hide out, meeting Edgar's brother Sabin along the way without it being a spelled out objective. No one says "You guys can't meet the Returners until you do this quest!" It is merely on the way and just happens.
Or let's illustrate how the player would get the Tiny Bronco in Final Fantasy VII if it were written by Western game developers. Now, remember, the Tiny Bronco is obtained in a village where the player also gets Cid after Shinra shows up with their own objective. The whole idea is to lead the player to a location where the story moves on and offering the player the tools for the next location. It happens naturally, there's a sense of world-building and character development, and it feels natural for the enemy to be there since they, too, are looking for ways to catch up to Sephiroth.
Now I present to you Obtaining the Tiny Bronco in a Western Video Game.
Tifa (over Intercom): This place is called "Rocket Town". You're going to need find a man named Cid Highwind here.
Cloud: And he can get me a plane to fly to Sephiroth?
Tifa: Hopefully. Cid is known to have a bit of a temper, and-what's that?
Cloud: Aw damn! Shinra soldiers!
Tifa: Watch it! There are civilians around this place! Try not to shoot any of them!
Cloud (diving into cover): Easier said than done, lady!
Designer's Note: You can't actually shoot any civilians, the costs in models, textures and motion cap would be too expensive. We're just sticking a bunch of clones to occasionally duck their heads and run across screen. It'll be "immersive"
Player battles through the corridor-like town of Rocket Town until they hear some gunfire and foul language in the distance.
Cloud: What's all that about?
Cloud looks around the corner to see Cid Highwind blasting some Shinra soldiers up in a manner more bad ass than the game controls could possibly allow. He will never be this awesome on your team and will instead die half the time getting to cover that's out in the open.
Cid: Yeah! Eat that you son of a bitch! How's it taste?!
Tifa: Sounds like our guy.
Cloud:That's the greatest pilot this side of the world? You're kidding me.
Tifa: I dunno, looks like you guys ought to get along swimmingly.
"Objective: Find Cid Highwind" crosses out. Once the player approaches Cid, the screen fades out and into a cut-scene where Cid curb stomps a Shinra guard.
Cloud: Hey, you Cid-Whoa!
Cid (pointing a gun at Cloud): Lookout! I'm a middle class white man on the edge! I'm angry because I fit this game's target demographic and they have pent up cubicle and high school rage and angst!
Cloud: What do you know, I'm the same! Let's be best friends, only act like we hate each other because men are too manly to be best buds forever.
Cid: Sounds like a plan!
Cloud: So I hear you can fly people around and shit.
Cid: You hear right, but there's no way I'm taking my beautiful baby off the ground without a fight!
Cloud: We hate Shinra, too.
Cid: Well why didn't you say so? Let's get going.
Tifa: Uh, you guys might want to hurry along.
Cloud: What? Ah, shit. More Shinra incoming!
Cut scene blends into gameplay, and the player is able to shoot through the corridors of Rocket Town with Cid by his side. In the upper left corner "Objective: Get to the Plane" appears.
Fast forward, the player reaches the Tiny Bronco. They get on board, fly away, and the screen fades to black. The screen then fades in as the plane lands outside the Temple of the Ancients. Tifa notes this is where Sephiroth is, but the door he's in is locked! The player must grab three keys to unlock the door and yatta yatta you get the picture.
Now, okay, that's a lot more unfair than it really ought to be. The real issue in my mind is a video game writer's inability to marry the concept of story progression with the natural goal-oriented nature of video games. In order for a player to have a sense of progress throughout a game there must be goals, and the easiest way to portray them is as an objective.
Yet the two can work together. Let's look at Brutal Legend as an example. Even though the player has a list of objectives for attacking General Lionwhyte, they manage to make it feel as if the player is progressing through the story. After all, they're trying to build an army, and each step of the way characters are introduced, established and evolved. Eddie Riggs didn't have to go slay the giant Spider monster because the Killmaster wouldn't join him otherwise, they did it in order to save a gravely wounded friend. We learned more about Ophelia when she disobeyed orders and tried to fight by herself, and through that action she returned hurt which created a goal on its own. It moved the main plot forward while developing characters.
This sort of plot advancement is even possible in a shooter game! It just seems as if no one really knows how to marry the two together.
Which, truth told, isn't completely surprising. My understanding of the industry is that the designers will usually outline the plot, and then a writer is hired in to fill out the dialogue. This is a God awful approach to things and is typically the sort of approach that yields pretty by-the-numbers movies from Hollywood (a Producer or Director will come up with a basic story and hire someone to fill it out for them). Brutal Legend was able to do a much better job because Tim Schaffer has proven since the start of his career that his talents lie beyond the technical.
So while the games industry is hiring people that are better at dialogue, they really need to be stepping up a writer's involvement. Have the writer there from the beginning, or even go so far as to get story ideas from writers that will then flesh the game out, all while working with a designer. Sure, this means a writer will need to learn how to deal with stuff left on the cutting room floor, but if you're writing for video games then hopefully you already know enough about the industry for that.
First, while this is related to things that are part of the game world, it is technically a more personal blog. As such, if I should add "NVGR" to the title, just let me know and I'll do so.
Second, before I get started, I just wanted to give a big thank you to Mr. Andy Dixon for promoting my blog Fat on Games. I checked in on Twitter real quick Thursday morning before heading out to Escapist Expo and @sezonguitar had sent a message complimenting me on my article. I check the front page and lo and behold, there it is. When I got back from the expo I finally had a chance to sit down and go through the comments, and I was stunned. Of the 70 some comments, none of them were an outright insult. None of them were trashing my thoughts or complaining about the sort of content Destructoid promotes (which I've seen in the past). It was overwhelmingly positive.
So I want to thank each and every one of you for that. I don't know how, but it does matter...and will tie in later to this blog, actually.
Now then, to the topic.
I like to be introspective. I like to try and figure out why I behave a certain way, particularly so I can improve on my flaws. I've been a jerk in the past, for example, and I've tried to be much more considerate as a result. It's a work in progress. When my ex-girlfriend and I broke up I discovered (though actually became aware of it all too late) that I am the strong jealous type. It's an awfully hard habit to break oneself of, even after being aware of it.
In truth, though, I can't always explain things. Or if I do, they sound awfully trite. My siblings and I grew up in one of those shitty small towns where sports are the important thing. Well, if you were a boy. My brother and I sucked at sports, but my sister was actually a rather good soccer player. Yet for some reason all three of us were outcast, and because we had young parents thrown into a marriage and parenthood they weren't ready for they "done fucked up", as the Ivory Tower sorts might say. This has left all three of us with a desperate need to be loved.
See? It's the sort of origin you expect to find in the journal of a thirteen year old that really, really likes Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Yet for as long as I can remember I've dreamed of a sort of "off stage" fame. I never wanted to be the actor or anything of that sort. I wanted to be the famous creator. I had dreams of my comics published across the country, or films I wrote becoming major award winning pieces of cinema. Or as I approached high school and early College, I had dreams of standing up on stage at E3, demonstrating my latest game design. In any event, I had always dreamed of standing in front of everyone, saying "Here is my latest creation, I am so excited to share it with you".
These dreams have been dashed, smashed and crashed head first repeatedly, though most often by my own short-sightedness or bad habits. I spent years in elementary, middle and early high school wanting to be a comic artist as an adult, yet I chose to try and be a games programmer instead (and I didn't even want to program; I wanted to design games, but all the advice online at the time said you had to start as a programmer...two years later, all the advice said you could start as anything and later become a designer.).
I gave up on my dream of making games, but simultaneously discovered that I enjoyed writing. In fact, I had been writing about games as a simple hobby for a long time. After taking a Journalism minor in College and spending some time as a writer for Wii60.com (I'll gladly tell that entire story another time), I decided I wanted to be a games critic. Not a reviewer, a critic. I didn't want to merely give consumer advice. I wanted to break down and analyse games as an art form. I wanted to take what I learned in a lot of my human factors and software design classes and apply them to how I viewed and dissected games.
Let me pause a moment to realize just how much more I'm writing than I had originally anticipated. I was supposed to be well into the point by now.
In any case, for almost a year after I graduated College I was unemployed. During that time I tried to get typical white collar work, but I was still dreaming of getting into games writing. I joined game journalist "social networks" that weren't really filled with any major journalists, just other amateur hopefuls such as myself. I did some news writing for GamersHell.com and quickly learned that I hate writing news articles. I joined GamersDailyNews and swiftly learned that I cannot stand writing previews. You cannot dissect a preview. You can't write out thoughts about what is and isn't working because it is an unfinished product. A preview is literally marketing material, and I wanted to provide feedback. Yet a lot of readers don't view it that way. If you give a laundry list of problems, readers remember that, and next thing you know you have an almost different game that sells poorly because of one shitty preview build six months ago.
Where did that leave me? Where everyone else that wants to write about games ends up. Sort of. Whenever I discussed reviews with other wannabe writers, it astounded me how little thought was really put into the process. I had been trying to figure out what works and what doesn't for years, trying to perfect the balance between entertainment and being informative. I felt like an asshole because the work of my peers was boring to me. I just wanted to go in and scratch stuff out, give recommendations for how to spice it up, and to tell them to stop writing as if they're looking past the keyboard to their notes with all the bullet points to hit.
All the while, throughout College, I still tried a side hobby of doing a comic of my own. Simultaneously, I tried really hard to inject some real effort into writing it, making it funny. Sometimes ideas I found hysterical fell flat with the audience, other times I wish I could just tear certain strips off the Internet forever, and then there were the slew of comics that others thought were awesome.
So what's all this come to? Well, basically, I feel like there are two versions of myself, and both of them sat on my shoulders this Escapist Expo.
Let me pause again to count how many paragraphs it took for me to actually get to the point... Unless I miscounted, fourteen paragraphs and one sentence. If you're still around, well, I don't know what's got you so bored, but thanks for reading.
Anyway, I was already feeling good about heading to Escapist Expo. I was a bit worried due to the small size that it would turn into another VGXPO or GameX (both failed gaming shows in the Philadelphia area), but I was so wanting to support a gaming show on the East Coast aside from just PAX East. Two gaming conventions a year? How delightful!
This emotional high was only boosted by @sezonguitar's comments and my article being front-paged here. I was completely stunned. Then I got an e-mail from YouTube notifying me that some random guy thinks some anime music video I made back in high school is the best thing on their website. I don't understand why, but okay! I've been getting compliments on my artwork a lot lately, my writing was front-paged, someone likes my video from ten years ago and I'm going to Escapist Expo! Nothing can go wrong!
Which was true the first two days. Friday and Saturday were an incredible blur of meeting new people, getting to briefly speak with Jim Sterling in the hotel hall while the Carolina D20 Girls danced the Gangnam Style, getting drunk with a slew of expo goers and MovieBob in my room, and various moments of chilling with Cory Rydell and the D&D Sluggers, so on and so forth. It was just an all around fantastic time.
Two things ruined Sunday for me, though. The first was losing my voice. I tell you, screaming your lungs out at a nerd-themed Burlesque show on Friday and then at a concert on Saturday is not the best idea during a convention. Also: tea does NOT help heal a bad throat. I looked it up on Google. Drink lots of water or ingest honey some other way, but tea will hinder, not help.
In any event, the voice loss was just a gateway for that one horrible voice on my shoulder. My insecurities.
Remember that I said my siblings and I all want to desperately be loved by others. Well, this manifests differently in each of us. They tend to be obnoxious or emotionally violent, and their tempers flare when people refuse to accept them at their worst. Me, I am my own worst enemy. Even though my article was promoted and tons of people had told me I had written a good article, and even though there were a slew of people complimenting me on my art at the convention, all my insecurities struck me at once at Escapist Expo.
It hit hardest when everything was closed down and I sat at a collection of tables physically separated (not by rope or anything, just by the shape of the hotel) of the Escapist Content Contributors (Jim Sterling, Yahtzee Croshaw, Gavin Dunne, Graham Stark, MovieBob, etc.). I felt like going over to them, sitting and joining them, or at least joining the much more low key Cory Rydell and other...con goers? Staff? I couldn't tell. I wanted to be a part of them.
I wanted to be a peer.
This is the problem with having big dreams. While I do these things out of the love of doing them (why else would I write so, so many words even if they drive people away?), I also dream of being known for these talents. Yet I'm not, and for the most part I don't know how to get from where I am to where they are. More so, I don't even know if I deserve it. Sometimes I think of myself as one deserving bad ass son of a bitch. Other times I think I'm complete mud.
The worst part is I'm not sure if I'm torn between confidence and self-loathing or conceit and self-loathing.
It didn't matter to me, though. I sat there, looking at all those people gathered together, people that I wanted to stand beside, people that I felt I had something to offer in conversation... yet because they are where I want to be I cannot view them as other people. I must put them on a pedestal, and the over-thinking starts. It's almost like being a nerd trying to talk to a girl. There's this mental idea that women are this mystical thing, and so you try to think of the best combination of topics and words that will please them the most instead of being yourself.
So what I'm basically saying is while I was talking to Jim Sterling (I think I hugged him, it's a blur, I was drunk) I was also trying to figure out how to fuck him.
Okay, not really, but would you blame me? More cushion for the pu-anyway.
I was already feeling down because I couldn't give anyone a proper goodbye on Sunday. I tried speaking but no one could hear or understand me. I opened my mouth and whispers came out. But what really did me in was my crushing insecurities coming in and telling me that I'll never be as good as them.
This is one of the reasons I want to thank you all for your kind words on my promoted blog. It's so easy for me to consider it a fluke, so easy for me to get lost in my own self doubts, and it will happen again. But the more things like that happen, the easier it becomes to convince myself that it's a lie. That I am worth giving a damn about.
It is possible that I will never be a professional comic creator, or a games writer (both of which, I feel, are dreams worth pursuing, though considering the current state of things I'm going to push for comic artist for the time being). But God dammit, I want to try because, no matter what I tell myself, I know I am a talented individual. I may not "deserve" to be up on a panel with all of those other talented individuals, but I can at least try my hardest to earn the right to do so.
Until then, yes, I will be on the outside looking in. I will try not to do so, as it interferes with my ability to relate to these folks (except Cory Rydell, all around cool guy), but I can only change so much.
So thank you, all of you. I wish I could be a much more active member in this community, but unfortunately my job has become more active so I don't have as much time to browse the community blogs. In fact, all of my reading has dwindled. So while I try to make time on occasion, I cannot be as active as I'd like.
But I do think what you guys are trying to do with the Community Blogs is wonderful. I wish you luck in making the Destructoid community one of the best on the Internet.
Thanks for reading! Now go wash your brain out with something productive.
Hey folks, it's been a while since I've been around here. Things have picked up at work, responsibilities increased, and I've also been taking a lot of time at home to work on exercise, expanding my hobbies, changing my diet and working on a personal project of mine that can hopefully lead to a more creative career. Thus far, it's been working in my favor. I've dropped about 20 pounds, have almost hit my first weight-loss milestone (less than 300 pounds), I've been exercising regularly without having to do the same thing every day (bowling, learning how to do yard work with my old man, and I don't care if no one does it anymore I still like roller blading), and this has all contributed to me being a generally happier person.
Unfortunately, I don't have as much time to play video games. I have Darksiders 2 sitting in my Xbox 360 as we speak, but it hasn't been played since some time last week (I think Sunday, actually). My 3DS is what gets the most attention, either with the new and phenomenal New Super Mario Bros. 2 or the still fun and delightful Theatrhythm. All I need is a Metroid game on the platform and I'll be set to ditch all my other gaming systems forever.
Which begins to bring me to my point. I still love video games, clearly. I still love discussing them passionately. I still love critiquing them and breaking them down into itty bitty bits. Hell, the first way I described Darksiders 2 is a game for people who love playing video games, as it has drawn so many good elements from excellent titles and franchises that there's so much to love (and I said as much about the first as well).
Yet I haven't done much reading about video games lately. Again, part of this is due to having more to do at work (I just happen to have hit a light spot today). That doesn't completely explain my sudden disinterest in folks like MovieBob or websites like Bad Ass Digest, with a focus on film despite my sudden increase in interest in movies and comics. You'd think I'd be more willing to read such things, but not at all.
It's the hate machine. By that I mean the Internet. I don't know if it's because this is the era I grew up in, where I never read complex, well-thought analyses of entertainment until the Internet came along and I found I hungered for more than what was in the magazines. Yet it just seems to me that the capability to have yourself heard on the Internet has generated some overall bad attitudes, and they are all too prevalent in the geek community. Or maybe it's just a geek thing, as it still fits the traditional image of the comic book nerd as portrayed in The Simpsons before the Internet became so huge.
Conceit and cynicism are the words of the day. Everywhere you look, someone is spelling gloom and doom for a soulless industry. How cruel it is that Call of Duty be made every year when there is art to be funded! How dreadful that original, yet struggling, ideas get ignored while the dregs of creativity just swallow cash in large hungry gulps. It is an outrage! Further more, Hollywood has run out of original ideas!
Considering I had a great time watching The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and even The Amazing Spider-man, I could care less. I truly mean it. Sure, it's easy to groan when you see that someone bought the rights to a Cabbage Patch Kids movie or something, or how Candyland is trying to be this nonsensical Lord of the Rings epic style tale in the vein of Tim Burton's Alice and Wonderland, but there's plenty of these films we get excited about as well. I'd be a hypocrite to say I'm sick of Hollywood using all these licensed properties, yet I get more excited at a trailer for The Avengers than anything else.
Plus, there's plenty of good, original, films to watch as well. Cabin in the Woods was one of my favorite films this year, and Looper looks to be a strong addition to the resume of the writer and director of Brick. Ted came out of nowhere and proved that Seth McFarlane can still write good jokes after all. This is nothing to say of films on my "must-see" list such as The Grey, Red Tails, Brave, The Raid, Goon, Moonrise Kingdom, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, ParaNorman, Wreck-It Ralph and Django Unchained. There's also room for me to be excited for another film based on a pre-existing franchise, Dredd!
...oh, and I suppose The Hobbit if you're still fascinated by Peter Jackson's take on Middle-Earth.
So in the end, there's actually a lot more films based on original ideas released or releasing this year that I want to see than ones based on pre-existing franchises or properties I care about. It's a tragedy that a lot of these films mostly go unknown or poorly marketed, but that's just life. Clearly there is no lack of imagination, though, and it just takes some effort.
Same goes with video games. There's an awful lot to love out there, and when you really consider how many crap movies are marketed heavily versus how many games that are heavily marketed are actually good, well, we're pretty damn lucky. Remember how once upon a time everyone was excited at the prospect of a new Call of Duty? I do. I remember getting my brand new Xbox 360 and downloading a demo for Call of Duty 2, and being blown away by just how much I still enjoyed World War II shooters. Back then I didn't get Call of Duty 3, but not because of any hatred towards Activision. I just didn't see the need to play another one so soon.
Then Modern Warfare happened, and it was (and remains) to be one of my favorite games.
Is it tragic that Activision works those teams to death? Yes, it most certainly is. Yet there are better things to do than complain. In fact, instead of discussing how much you hate Call of Duty, spend some time gushing about how Spec Ops: The Line tricks you into thinking it's the same sort of game you've played before, right down to imitating the box art, and ends by asking the player "do you feel like a hero yet?", with sarcasm and disdain dripping from its tongue.
Somewhere down the line, criticism became just another word for "tearing apart meticulously". I'm guilty of it myself, and confess that writing positive pieces tends to be more difficult than negative ones. But it seems all anyone can do is find flaws, and that's what makes you a critic. Was The Dark Knight Rises a flawed film? Certainly, but the greater question is, does it have to make logical sense? People keep bringing up tiny details, right up to making jokes about a rope being all you need to fix a broken back. Why do people care? Does that really harm your enjoyment of a film? If that's the case, why are you watching a film if you refuse to allow yourself to be removed from reality?
A real critic recognizes the symbolism and metaphor a director is trying to get at with visuals, or how they use the camera and editing to evoke certain emotions from the viewer. Right off the top of my head I can think of a certain scene in Brick involving a car. Pulling off a shot as effective as that takes a lot more skill than it seems, and a real critic should be able to pin-point why it's so good, not just how certain things don't make logical sense.
It goes beyond that, though. For some reason I cannot get my panties in a twist over Star Wars and Cars toy mash-ups. The writer of that article is so upset about it, viewing it as a new low even though I vividly recall Transformers toys crossed with Star Wars toys. In fact, I'm pretty sure the last time I was in the toy section of a Wal-Mart or Target I saw them.
Is it a big deal? Is it truly a problem?
I'm sick of the negativity, really. It had already started with this post, where I was settling into playing games I just wanted to enjoy. You know what? I don't need a creative experience every time. I cannot articulate what makes Transformers: War for Cybertron so fun, but I was playing through a second time before Darksiders 2 and Fall of Cybertron released and had a great time.
Why so dramatic? Why such naysayers? Why all the hate?
Long ago I decided I have no interest in being part of the games industry in its current form. Over-work, bossy publishers, horrendous hours and lots of stress. Well, I'm beginning to think writing about video games wouldn't really be so keen either, as it turns everyone into a cynic. Plus, since these writers have an audience, there tends to be an ego problem. Hearing about MovieBob's or Devin's political affiliations and thoughts on their respective websites when I'm going there for movie information is tiresome. Yet I feel because these guys have a large enough audience they imagine they somehow have some great level of insight, and thus must bestow their opinions onto all who listen.
You're a fucker on the Internet, man. There's a million more like you. You're not special.
Even Jim Sterling has lost his flavor to me. I enjoy the Jimquisition, for the most part, and he has a way of writing that draws me more than any other DToid Staffer, but his whole gag on the inflated ego has even gotten tired (partly because, in many cases, it isn't too far off).
I just want people to have fun. This is probably one of the reasons I still enjoy reading Tycho's posts on Penny-Arcade, or continue to read through Gamers With Jobs. I mostly come to DToid for the news, but I visit those places because it is full of people that have a clear love of the medium. No matter how cynical the rest of the industry becomes, they continue to love it.
Which is precisely how I feel right now. I love video games. I love playing them. That's what I want to do. I have no interest in being a part of all this hate.
There are a lot of films out there that try and make some sort of commentary about the audience. A recent example is the film Cabin in the Woods, written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard and directed by Drew Goddard. The ultimate statement of the film is that horror films, and films in general, have a tendency to follow tropes in order to please the audience, because while the film makers may want to do something new or different, the audience will be unhappy and even righteously angry.
It can be easy to miss this point, of course, as it's just a really fun romp and tightly put together. Some of the best commentaries work simply as entertainment as well as a statement of sorts.
I wanted to take a break from my usual pessimistic and/or days gone by writing to actually speak about things I really like. It's a rarity for me, as it's usually easier (and more fun!) to complain than it is to gush. Yet it is equally important to discuss the successes of this industry as often as the failures, and two games in particular have managed to use video games as an interactive medium to make some really interesting commentary.
I do not mean things like "breaking the fourth wall", either. For example, halfway through the game of EarthBound a man approaches the main characters and then asks for the player's name. He addresses the player directly, and after getting the player's name he leaves. This is never mentioned or brought up until the end of the game in a rather interesting moment I shall not spoil. Nonetheless, while it is involving the player in an interesting fashion, it is not making any real commentary on the involvement of the player.
The two games I shall be discussing are Bioshock and Spec Ops: The Line, and I will be discussing spoilers rather liberally. If you want to go into these games blind, I advise you turn back now.
While marketing Bioshock, 2K Games and Irrational put a bit of emphasis on the Little Sisters and how you'd have the choice to do good or bad. In fact, there were quite a few mentions of "choice" and how your decisions would impact the end of the game. Anyone who has played the game knows that, in truth, Bioshock was an awfully linear game that didn't really give the player options at all.
Which was the whole point.
The "Would You Kindly?" moment was pretty damn epic for a number of reasons. The first was the nature of the twist, taking something you noticed but never considered significant and turning it into something important. A simple phrase has been manipulating the player this whole time, and in the end the player is told that a man "chooses" and a slave "obeys". In the context of the story, this is where the character is allowed to "choose" and go from slave to man. It is just one of the many elements that make the story rather deep.
There's another layer here, though. After all, if you go back and replay the game you have no choice. All you can do is follow Atlas' commands to the same point, the same destination. It doesn't matter if you save or kill the little sisters, or if you instead choose to ignore them and focus on your arsenal of weapons. These things are just window dressing. In the end, a player is locked into the decisions that the designers have allowed.
Players, in other words, have no freedom.
Think about it. Even in Minecraft, a "true" open-world sandbox game, the player is limited to the laws of the world. You can never punch a tree and get chicken or an AA12 automatic shotgun. You punch the tree and you get wood.
This singular moment in Bioshock is almost a criticism on the notion of "choice" in other games, in particular at a time when it was becoming more and more popular to give the player dialog options and multiple endings. Five years later and it is just as true a statement as it ever was. Replay any game and you'll find that whatever you did, it is superfluous. Mass Effect 3, for example, was always going to end with Shepard defending the Earth against the Reapers. It was always going to have the same destination. The player never had a choice in that.
Yet is this necessarily a bad thing? Not really. Yet I still find it an interesting little insight into the truth of games. A developer can promise you the world, but it is still a world governed by laws built by the creator.
Spec Ops: The Line does something different, though. In a lot of ways the game is a commentary on the popularity of all these modern war shooters, but it is also calling the player's motivations into question.
It isn't spelled out immediately, and while it is technically thrown into the player's face towards the end it is a point that can easily be missed. Written upon a loading screen and spoken by Kurtz is a simple statement.
Do you feel like a hero yet?
Think about a lot of the current Call of Duty and Battlefield games. Even when they're trying to portray war as a terrible event where horrifying things happen, the actions of the player are still presented in a very "Oo-rah!" shouting, chest thumping, clap on the back manner.
What's that? There are Helicopters at the rendezvous point? Here, take this ROCKET LAUNCHER and use it to blast those helicopters down! Yeah! Wasn't that friggin' awesome how they exploded and crashed into those buildings? Good job! You're the man! Hey, why don't we put you in a tank now? Yeah! Look at all that shit explode! Listen to those bullets bounce right off the tank! You're the man!
Yet Spec Ops takes a different approach. First of all, while it is another game with "choices", they aren't stereotypical good/bad choices. You have the option of saving civilians and letting a CIA operative that's going to help you die, or saving the CIA operative and letting the civilians get killed. You get the choice to be merciful by shooting a man who screwed you over in the head or letting him burn to death, slowly and horribly, his screams echoing in the air as you walk away. You never have the option to let everyone survive, though. You have to choose for something bad to happen, because nothing going on in this game can be described as "good".
In particular, however, is the White Phosphorous. For those not familiar, White Phosphorous is a chemical that basically causes very slow burning death. It's the sort of thing that post-traumatic stress syndrome is made out of, and Spec Ops: The Line wants you to know that. As such, before giving the player a chance to use the weapon they demonstrate it on some NPC's, letting the soldiers writhe on the ground screaming in agony. They demonstrate the effect of the weapon.
Then, a few scenes later, the player is given the option to use it. Unfortunately there is no choice to avoid using White Phosphorous, though I have the sneaking suspicion the developers had intended to allow a second option. Nonetheless, the player now has a visual in mind of what White Phosphorous does. After the player uses it, they are forced to walk through the devastation they just caused only to learn that they also killed innocent civilians.
This is where everything takes its darkest turn. This is where the main character begins to deteriorate mentally, convincing himself that it's all worth it, that they're trying to make things right. At the end, however, it never really does.
I must confess, I think I really need to beat the game a second time to make complete sense of it logistically. The notion that Kurtz was always dead and that the protagonist was talking to himself the whole time whilst his comrades just went along with it is a bit much to chew on. However, the key thing is the motivation. The idea that the character is looking for glory within all this carnage.
The game may as well be addressing the player directly, and in a lot of ways they are. Why are you playing a game like this? Why does all this death make you feel like a hero? It calls the player's own motivations for playing such a game into question.
Spec Ops: The Line may not have the best gameplay and its story isn't flawless, but it should be remembered for trying to make such a big statement in games, and in a manner we don't get to see very often.
In the cases of both Spec Ops: The Line and Bioshock, they attempted to make rather self-aware commentary about the medium of video games. It's more than social commentary or trying to make some broad philosophical statement, it's an analysis of itself. This hasn't really been done often in modern video games, and is just the sort of notion that challenges Ebert's concepts of how games "cannot" be art. These are two excellent examples where player interaction do not interfere with what it is the developer is saying.
This is also one of the reasons I'd love to see this industry get more creative types involved in the development process, at least where story is concerned. Yet that is a whole other argument altogether.
In any case, these were two examples of games that sought to do something grand with their writing, and while Bioshock managed to do so much while Spec Ops: The Line was rather flawed, ultimately both are worth checking out. With luck we'll begin to see more games looking to offer something a bit more deep than the Michael Bay blockbuster style.