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12:02 PM on 01.16.2013  

Dead Space 3 Demo - Solo

So Mr. Jim Sterling has already shared his thoughts on the Dead Space 3 demo, but I figured I may as well toss in my own two cents as well. At the very least so that I can organize my own thoughts on it.

I got a Roxio Game Capture HD for Christmas, and decided to make the Dead Space 3 demo my first published capture (I'm slowly working on Resident Evil 6...slowly...for good reason). No commentary at this stage. Basically only truly interesting if you haven't gotten your hands on the demo yet and are looking to see it yourself.



Honestly, the Dead Space 3 demo felt like it was missing... something. I can't really tell you what, though. Something just seemed off from the previous two games. When I played the Dead Space 2 demo it was familiar. The Necromorphs behaved as expected, as did the weapons. I didn't get that here.

Part of it may simply be the difference in setting. You're in more open environments in the demo rather than a confined ship, and the difference between these two environments is the same as your perception of speed in a three-lane highway or a one-way street crammed in a city.

It is also possible there is something different about the weapons. The game drops a default plasma cutter on you, but something about it just seems nerfed. Was it weaker? Or do I just remember things incorrectly? Perhaps the modifications on the plasma cutter provided in the demo are simply weaker than what they could be.

The work bench modifications themselves provide a new feel, as you can basically mix weapons together. Having the capability to fire off an assault rifle or a line gun based on the simple press of a button is a wonderful thing. Yet having each weapon use the same sort of ammunition suddenly makes the decision to use select weapons different than before. In fact, inventory seems much less of an issue altogether, as you can have groups of items in a single slot. Add to this the fact that the demo starts you off with more than enough resources and the ability to buy plenty more.

Will the retail version allow it to be so easy, or inventory to be so cluttered? Doubtful, which is only the more inconvenient that they'd release a demo that would give the wrong impression.

The monsters themselves feel completely changed from previous releases. The typical humanoid Necromorphs, the tentacle babies and the scorpions all follow the same general appearance and style, but their behavior has been recreated from scratch. As a result, that same sense of familiarity is gone.

The best way I can summarize it is that Dead Space 3 is to Dead Space 1 as Halo Reach is to Halo 2 or Halo 3. A lot of it feels the same, a lot of it feels familiar, but so many little things have been adjusted and modified that it's hard to really say what the final verdict should be.

But, here is what I can say. Being able to construct or modify weapons was fun. Shooting limbs is as fun as ever. I wasn't really bothered by the "normal shooty" bits. That first jump scare was a good one. All in all, I liked what I played.

Dead Space 3 will certainly be a good game. How it compares to the previous ones...well, too early to say. But there are enough changes that I wouldn't be surprised if there is a population of gamers that take to the Internet and shout "FUCKING BULLSHIT" and demand a boycott (that inevitably fails because gamers).   read


9:03 AM on 01.12.2013  

Expos Everywhere on the East Coast


Famous people! Yay! (GameX 2009)


I remember graduating College in 2009 and being excited for VGXPO and GameX that year. What's that? Never heard of 'em? Yeah, not surprising. They were both in the Philadelphia region, which is evidently a place that hates video games despite a growing Indie scene. Just not as growthful (growthilicious?) as, say, Boston or North Carolina.

In truth, I think it was merely the people running the shows. VGXPO made a bad name for itself when the guy running it tried to hijack exhibitors from PAX in '07, amongst other things. I don't think they ever recovered from that, and by time I got to go to VGXPO it was small, deserted and populated by nothing more than indies desperate for attention that the attendees didn't want to give.

GameX's head guy was evidently not too spiffy a fellow either, and word is there was some financial fallout that really pissed sponsor NBC off. I don't really have much to go off of other than word of mouth, and it is extremely telling that you can't find the website anymore.

I enjoyed attending the events, but it was...depressing. No one wanted to give the Indie games a chance. Everyone wanted to find another E3 and was angry when it turned out to be, well, less. Or rather different, I'd say. I sighed, wishing the East Coast could just light up with more options for gaming conventions and expos.

Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention, but it seems to all have come out of nowhere. First was PAX East, which I got to check out in 2011. It was amazing. I had been to a few anime conventions before, but while my love of the oriental animation has waxed and waned like the phases of the moon over time, video games have always remained my first true passion. So being in a community where you could strike up a conversation with anyone about damn near anything you love was just...

The best way I could describe it when I came home was I got a taste of what Heaven must be like, and it was the Utopia that was PAX East.


Internet famous people! Yay! (PAX East 2011)


Now, I should note that all this time MAGFest had been going on in the D.C. area. I had heard about it when I visited VGXPO, actually, as they had a booth there. However, I'll get into that later as I was never able to visit MAGFest before. The timing was always at an odd time of year for me (first weekend after New Years) and I wasn't very familiar with the D.C. area.

In any event, to me, PAX East seemed like all the East Coast would be getting. Then The Escapist announced their very own Expo down in North Carolina. I gathered what friends I could manage (enough for a hotel room, sweet!) and we made the drive this past September to Durham, what is one of my favorite cities. This is, of course, because it is pretty empty, yet still has all the compact awesomeness of a regular city. Durham is the perfect city for people that don't like other people.

Escapist Expo was, all things told, a completely different experience for me. I wrote about it on my blog, describing it as a "Small Town Expo". This is because it was in a smaller venue than most events I have attended with a rather small population compared to previous years, but that only made it a much stronger social event. Before the Expo even began I made good friends in The D&D Sluggers (check out She's Got a Job, it's an awesome song) and got to frequently hang out with Cory Rydell, artist of Critical Miss. I got a brief moment to even speak to Jim Sterling in the hallway of the hotel, though I was drunk enough that I am not sure I made an ass of myself to a man that was tired and needed a nap. Either way, despite the persona he puts on for The Jimquisition and other such things, he's a nice chap (for all of five or ten minutes I met him). Without even trying I found myself stumbling upon other folks I had met several times before during the show having small snippets of conversation.


Mmm... chocolatey goodness... (Escapist Expo 2012)


It was, on the whole, easier to make friends at Escapist Expo than anywhere else simply due to the confined space and smaller attendance, and that was fantastic to me.

So I left feeling pretty good about two events on the East Coast. Two chances a year to go out, make new friends and to speak again with old ones.

Then I spontaneously took a trip down to MAGFest last weekend as an old College friend of mine was going to be there. He lives in Washington state, which means the chances to see him are rare indeed. I was expecting a smaller Expo like Escapist, a place that would be fine to visit for just a day.

Holy SHIT was I wrong.

MAGFest is absolutely huge and amazing. They really do combine two different loves in a fantastic way, mixing a passion for games with the emotional adrenaline provided only by your favorite genre of music. Chiptune? Metal? Synthpop? Rap? They pretty much have you covered from what I can tell. Some of it covers, some of it original, MAGFest is completely loaded with stuff to see and do. A Leliana (from Dragon Age) cosplayer managed to aggro my drunken ass over to her friends where I got to spend a bunch of time talking about Game of Thrones, fantasy novels, Assassin's Creed and a whole bunch of other stuff, making new friends once more.


People be sellin' shiz all up 'n' down the block. (MAGFest 2013)


This is what the gaming expos are about, and thanks to a few e-mails I barely paid attention to, a streetpass tag and a Google search, I've found that Philadelphia has been getting a second chance with Too Many Games.

It blows my mind. Just a few years ago I felt as if the East Coast had zero gaming presence and looked to the West Coast in envy. Over there they had stuff like E3, CES and San Diego Comic-Con. What did we have over here?

Well, I'd say right now, the East Coast has it better. Even the largest event, PAX East (and man, is it huge) is an emphasis on the experience of the attendee rather than being a trade show. It's not about press releases and trailers and marketing, it's about a love of games and bringing gamers together as a family. Escapist Expo takes this a different direction, focusing more on the press and critic side of things while still offering content for the culture. MAGFest is about combining mediums into a wonderful weekend-long concert. And now, TooManyGames, which looks to be of a similar scope as Escapist Expo.

I officially have an Expo for every season. Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter can be packed with events to go to and meet new people or make new friends.

I get to experience Heaven four times a year, and that is awesome.   read


12:59 PM on 01.04.2013  

My Bold Prediction for 2013



I am usually no good at making predictions for the year. Usually the best things to happen are joyful, or the most noteworthy are depressing and sad. Look at what happened in the industry this year as an example. 38 Studios and Big Huge Games had to close after making a successful game (partly due to politicians opening their mouths at the wrong time and causing a closing business deal to go south), the constant argument of how women are portrayed in games, and then everyone's temper tantrum over the ending of Mass Effect 3, which is hardly the best game franchise ever to begin with, and then still shoving it all over their Game of the Year lists.

It's been a crazy ass year, and I have no clue where the next one could lead.

But there's always room for wishful thinking.

I'm not a PC Gamer and I do not claim to have some special insight into the inner workings of Valve (usually). However, something tells me this is going to be a big year for them, and Sony.

I believe Half-Life 3 will finally be announced this year. Not released, I doubt that would happen. But I do believe it will be announced. In fact, it may have been ready to be announced for some time, but there is just one thing holding it back.

New consoles. Everyone is predicting that the new Xbox and Playstation will at least be announced this year, though I personally find it too early for them to be released in time for the holidays. That little detail doesn't really matter, though. All that matters is that those systems are announced. In particular, the next Playstation.

Half-Life 3 will have a trailer as part of the new Playstation's announcement. I dare not call it a launch game, and would not be surprised if consoles get it after the PC does. However, it will be part of a whole new initiative to the Playstation store.

The next Playstation's store will be powered by Steam. Sony has been trying to create a much larger digital presence and, until the recent store update to unify the UI with that of the Vita (or so I'm assuming), has been doing a much better job than Microsoft really has. We already saw the beginnings of Steam integration with Portal 2. We know it works. We also know Steam has been building the Big Picture mode to work on TV's, a mode that looks a bit like the new Playstation store combined with the Xbox Marketplace (and better than both).

Valve and Sony will team up to have the PSN Store steam powered, allowing friends to see what their PS3 AND PC friends are doing, what achievements they've earned, and possibly to even use the same chat features across platforms (this last part is very wishful thinking). Steam sales and humble bundles will extend to the Playstation. Choose to download an item on one platform, and it'll automatically unlock on the other (similarly to how purchasing Playstation All-Stars on PS3 gets you a code to download for Vita, or how you can buy an Xbox game from the Marketplace website and your account will automatically download it when you next power your system on).

What's that? What reason is there to believe Sony would outsource their store in such a manner? Looking towards the future, I'd say. Why compete when you can work together? Sony is clearly planning on some big things, especially after acquiring cloud-gaming company Gaikai (easy backwards compatibility with your Playstation Plus subscription? Perhaps).

I'd find it a little crazy as well, but it seems I'm not the first to read the signs in the stars.

Now, I could easily be wrong. But wouldn't it be so wonderful if, by the summer of 2013, I turn out to be right?   read


7:05 PM on 01.01.2013  

Resolution: Be More Involved



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.   read


9:28 AM on 10.15.2012  

I Spent All Saturday Playing a Video Game and That's Okay



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.   read


7:17 AM on 09.27.2012  

I, Errand Boy



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.   read


9:18 PM on 09.20.2012  

Outside Looking In


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.   read


1:03 PM on 08.28.2012  

I'm Bored of Your Hate



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.   read


1:38 PM on 07.17.2012  

The Player, The Participant, The Commentary



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.   read


10:23 AM on 07.11.2012  

Next-Gen: Apathy in 1080p



I really, really love the Halo 3: ODST live action trailer. It tells such an evocative tale with nothing but emotive actors and sergeants shouting unintelligible gibberish. The final scene is what really brings it all together, though. Another funeral, this time off-world. The young man we've been following is now older, tired, his scarred face like worn leather. Beside him is a younger man, his appearance cleaner somehow. When weapons fire is heard in the distance it is the younger man that looks up with a fire in his eyes and determination in his heart. He dons his helmet, eager to join the battle.

The older man, however, does no such thing. When he looks up it is almost with exasperation. He places the helmet on as if he's going back down into the coal mines to breath more black into his lungs. The purpose, the fire, the spirit is gone. There is only apathy.

About six years ago I joined a rather infamous website called Wii60.com. The original goal behind the site was to simply post really, really bad photoshop images making fun of Sony and singing the praises of Microsoft and Nintendo.


My own God awful attempt at humor.


Now, I could sit here and try to tell you about how Wii60.com was my first foray into writing about games and trying to be a games critic. I could tell you about how the actual owner of the site had rarely shown their face and in his absence many of us wanted to create a respectable site worth reading. I could discuss how none of us knew, nor cared, whether the owner of Wii60.com also owned The Sony Defense Force. I could even tell you about my insistence that we'd need to expand beyond the Wii60 idea if we wanted to be taken seriously, or the argument I had with the owner over review standards that finally caused me to sever ties with the site.

No, I won't discuss any of that in detail. What I want to discuss is that burning passion I had when I first joined that site, the purposeful debates and discussions I had. How certain I was that Microsoft and Nintendo had the best interests of gamers and the industry in mind and Sony was treating it as nothing more than a money-making play thing!

I was naive at the time. I watched Microsoft's conferences and their plans for Xbox Live and thought "this is the future!" I still remember watching that first demonstration of the Marketplace, explaining how users would be able to make and sell their own products online. You want to sell t-shirts? Do so on the marketplace! Bumper stickers? Marketplace! The idea of user-generated content was even tossed out there, allowing consoles access to mod communities. As the Xbox 360 would have USB ports, there was no reason a player couldn't hook up a mouse and keyboard and have access to all the same tools as their PC playing counterparts. Hell, Farcry had already been allowing such tools on the original Xbox!

It was just another piece of the Xbox Live dream, connecting everyone together and enriching the user experience!

A user experience that doesn't really exist. The Xbox Live Marketplace never became the content center Microsoft promised it would become. In fact, the Xbox Live Marketplace is one of the most strict and locked-down services out there with a little corner dedicated to "Indie Games" with very little care or moderation. What started as something good became something worthless to anyone that wasn't a big name studio, and now smaller developers are reporting much better prospects off of services like Steam. This is nothing to say of Valve's (and other companies') problems working with the system as a AAA developer.


In hindsight, guess they were always honest about using games just so they could get their all-in-one media box into homes so they could subvert everyone to being Microsoft slave drones.


I remember staring wide-eyed and awed as developers focused on the number of enemies on screen and advanced enemy A.I. Years later, most games are focused on small and cramped corridors with only a handful of foes in order to squeeze the most out of the graphics processing. That, or sacrificing A.I., physics or a tolerable bug-count just to fit more on screen at once (I'm looking at you, Rockstar). Many modern titles play as if they have half the budget of a game on the Playstation 2, yet because they're pretty we're expected to be happy about them.

Then there was the promise of the Nintendo Wii. In some ways Nintendo screwed up. The WiiMotion Plus should have been how the system worked out of the box, friend codes were a disaster and, in that typical Nintendo fashion, they did little to communicate with or help third parties along. Even so, Nintendo themselves did right by their audience and their own promises. The real problem was the lack of imaginative third parties.

When I saw the Wiimote and Nunchuck in action my mind immediately went to a game like Morrowind. The Wiimote would control the sword and the nunchuck the shield, or perhaps the Wiimote would be a magic staff. Yet it never happened. Instead developers shoved a bunch of half-hearted attempts at games on there, or failed to provide any marketing that would matter to the sort of folks that owned a Wii, and then shrugged their shoulders saying "I guess it doesn't sell!" An underutilized system that could have been an excellent home for studios that wanted to continue making good games at a more manageable cost. Imagine if Free Radical had chosen to make a new TimeSplitters on the Wii, for example?


And why the Hell didn't anyone think this genre wouldn't work with a Wiimote but would be perfect to try on the pre-Kinect 360?


In the meantime, Sony, a company I hated a mere six years ago, has developed games with the intent of providing a strong modding community. They've been creating new IP this late into the console cycle while Microsoft has resorted to milking Halo and Gears of War. The Playstation Network is attempting to get games into the hands of gaming enthusiasts instead of trying to shove television services down everyone's throat.

Everything I thought about the "next-generation" six years ago turned out to be wrong. All of my starry-eyed expectations were waved aside in a desperate attempt to make the most amount of money possible.

That's not to say this generation hasn't had its fair share of excellent games. Assassin's Creed, Bioshock, Dead Rising and now Dragon's Dogma have become some of my favorite games for a variety of reasons.

Yet when I sit down and listen to developers discussing the next-generation, I cannot help but sigh. I feel like that war-weary trooper in the ODST trailer. I've heard those gun shots before. I know what they mean. I also know that no matter how hopeful, how optimistic I am, that things aren't going to turn out sunshine and daisies. If studios cannot afford to stay afloat even after having financial successes, then what can we expect from the next-generation?

So if you ask me if I'm excited about the next slew of consoles, well, I'm really not. I bought the Xbox 360 because it was an excellent gaming machine, not the all-in-one media center Microsoft has been yearning to get in every home since God knows when. I look at my Wii and realize there are still so many games that I haven't had the chance to play despite the alleged "lack of good games" on the system. I still have plenty of games for the PS3 to get through as well, a fact I've already lamented over.

No, I am not excited about the next-generation of consoles. I do not look forward to driving the cost of games up more. I do not look forward to hearing enough bound-to-be-broken promises to rival that of the next Presidential election. I do not long to see how "safe" more companies need to get in order to guarantee a hit seller.

I'm tired of it all, and I'd like to retire from that aspect of games. I'd like to retire, sitting here with my notably-weaker-than-the-Vita 3DS and enjoy this game of Theatrhythm, because what is supposed to matter is how much fun I can have. If I've learned anything from this past generation, it is that horsepower and big budgets mean nothing when it comes to actually having fun. A new slew of consoles isn't going to change that.   read


9:18 AM on 07.09.2012  

Childhood, Nostalgia, My Damn Lawn



It seems there are a plethora of posts relating to Final Fantasy going up lately. I am sorry to add another one, though mine is more a journey of introspection. With the release of Theatrhythm it cannot really be helped. It finally reached a point where I resumed my playthrough of Final Fantasy VII on the PS3, and am considering going back to the likes of IV, V and VI as well.

You'll notice I do not mention the games after VII.

No, I'm not going to sit here and rant about how the games from VIII and on were worse and for what reasons. I'm not going to because the fact is I'm not really sure what quality the games are at this point. I'm caught somewhere between feeling apathetic towards the series and longing to love it again.

My first Final Fantasy game was the first in the series. None of the others had even been released yet (in the U.S.). I sat down with my brother, watched him played it, played it for myself (and sucked at it) and tried to recreate all the pretty pictures I saw in the Nintendo Power Strategy Guide.

What made the series truly special was the discovery of Final Fantasy II (U.S.). I was about...seven? Eight years old? My older siblings and I discovered it sitting on the shelf of the video rental we frequented on occasion, and within seconds we had scooped it up. It was amazing! There was a sequel to Final Fantasy! We expected it to be like Super Mario World or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, where it basically just built off of its predecessor but kept all the basics. The first thing we figured would happen was the chance to choose your party, only maybe now there would be more class options.

Instead, we were treated to a musical tune that would mean as much to me as the Imperial March means to others. A silent string and percussion in darkness, with trumpets blaring to fade in to the Red Wings of Baron soaring above the world. Everything that followed would define what video games were to me. They stopped being mere "games" and joined the ranks of film, television and literature. To me, the only difference between watching the old Lord of the Rings animated film and playing Final Fantasy II (U.S.) was the interaction. Instead of simply watching Aragorn fend off the Ringwraiths I had the option to have Cecil and Edward parry whilst Rydia summoned her Chocobo to defeat the Ant Lion, avoiding rather brutal counter-attacks. Otherwise they were both epics to me, with dramatic conflict, tension and characters.

Final Fantasy solidified what gaming was to me. While I still loved other games such as Mega Man X and Donkey Kong Country 2 dearly, nothing compared to a Final Fantasy. Well, except maybe Chrono Trigger or EarthBound. Video games could not only tell a real story, but they allowed me to get involved. That made them much more interesting than any other medium to me.



This sort of mentality wasn't always shared, though. I grew up in a small town, the generic sort where sports meant everything, and on the rare occasion other kids were discussing video games it was always about how Mortal Kombat was "the best game ever". Few others knew about the Final Fantasy games, and those that didn't could care less. After all, where was the blood?

I moved to a larger school around 8th grade and found a lot more individuals that shared my interests. I got to borrow such titles as Breath of Fire III from people that looked like the sort that used to make fun of me for watching Animaniacs still. It was a very, very different atmosphere, and I got to revel in what made all of these games great.

Somehow, everything changed at Final Fantasy VIII. I looked forward to it, but even before I touched it there was something... off. To this day my biggest gripe is that the gameplay and story were utterly horrible, but I think there was more to it. It just never felt like a Final Fantasy to me. Was it the technology? Not really, because Final Fantasy VII had vehicles, motorcycles and giant cannons in it. Somehow that still managed to feel like a proper Final Fantasy.

It was the aesthetic, though. The characters in Final Fantasy VII still had that sprite-like appearance to them, tying them to have a similar visual style as the previous games. In addition, the technology looked like a natural evolution of what was present in Final Fantasy VI, which was steam-powered and rather dirty and clunky looking. It was not sleek, it was functional. This made sense to me in a world where magic was still ever present and characters were wielding blades still. Final Fantasy VII looked very dirty wherever the technology was present, an intentional aesthetic choice to illustrate how the Mako Reactors were killing the planet. The vehicles mostly had a very old-looking style to them. There was a sort of sleek style, but nothing looked quite modern. It could still be viewed as the past while still being an evolution of the technology seen in Final Fantasy VI.



It allowed for a level of consistency, or at least that is my best guess. In truth, I don't know why it never bugged me in Final Fantasy VII. Yet seeing Squall for the first time, looking very much like a professional GAP model in his leather jacket and perfectly fitting jeans, wielding a sword that had a gun trigger attached, it was just jarring. It didn't look anything at all like Final Fantasy to me.

So what about Final Fantasy IX? That game was specifically designed to appeal to the older aesthetics, yes? Well, sort of. While I enjoyed the sprite-like style, Squaresoft seemed to get the wrong idea with IX. It looked too much as if it were designed by Disney, which was not the aesthetic I was hoping for. Yet the game was at least enjoyable enough that I managed to beat it, which is more than I can say about VIII. Even so, I've never longed to go back, and I really don't remember much more than how stupid a name Dagger is.

By Final Fantasy X I had given up looking for the games of old. The story seemed interesting, yet I just couldn't get interested in the protagonist himself. The aesthetics were as far removed from Final Fantasy as you could get. The combat was fun, and pretty much the only reason I played that game to completion.

Ever since then, I haven't played a single new Final Fantasy game.

Now, this isn't the only franchise to really feel so different from where it began. I played the first Mega Man Zero on GameBoy Advance, and later Mega Man ZX on the DS. These games were fun, but there was always something missing. Or perhaps there was simply too much? Capcom made a desperate effort to evolve the Mega Man formula, and yet they ended up losing some of that simple fun that made the previous games so great. Yet I do not sit there in the same level of sadness that I feel for Final Fantasy.

I guess it is because Mega Man was never quite the same back-bone of gaming for me that Final Fantasy was. Now, I can sit here like an old man and just complain about how they changed everything, but the real question is whether that is fair or not.

The truth of the matter is that a lot of people never played a single Final Fantasy game before VII, VIII, IX or X. Now there are people most certainly playing XIII first. Once upon a time I used to angrily wave my bitter old man cane in the air screaming about how they weren't there at the beginning, how they simply don't know.

Now I'm old enough, I think, to know better. No, they weren't there at the beginning, but perhaps the only games they had played were poorly written pieces of machismo like Gears of War, or iPhone games like Peggle. In which case, wouldn't any iteration of Final Fantasy be doing the same thing it had for me?

I've already realized that I [url=http://www.gamertagged.net/index.php/article/end_of_an_era_of_hatred/]cannot irrationally hate Squenix any longer[/i]. They are simply too large a company making too many products to hate every little thing that they do. Yet in truth, I think it's also time I stop feeling such resentment towards them for changing my beloved Final Fantasy, the franchise that made me the gamer I am today.

Their job is done for me. They already introduced me to the big wide world of RPG's and what games can be as a story-telling medium. Just as Mark Wahlberg has to learn in the recently released Ted, I must learn to live without my teddy bear. My teddy bear being Final Fantasy.

Except for my hatred of VIII. I don't care what anyone says, that game is just horrible.   read


2:28 PM on 06.20.2012  

Disconnected



Thirty seconds too many are spent trying to sort out which controller is connected to which port. Is this the third player controller? Nah, this one with the scuff mark over the green X emblem goes to player one. What's the GameCube controller doing entwined with an Xbox controller like some sort of star-crossed lover? Why is everything such a mess?

Of course, this is nothing compared to the digital overgrowth behind the television. Power cords, jumbles of yellow, white and red composite cables, and a CAT-5 snaking through hidden paths and passages to reach its destination. Everything is a total mess, and the ink has long since faded away from the masking tape used to identify which cable goes to what.

Wireless game controllers were supposed to fix this mess, but instead of sorting through plastic and copper I found myself searching for the damned nunchuck so my niece could player her stinking Tangled game for the Wii.

This post isn't about tangled cables and lost controllers, though. It's about E3 and the people that are a part of it. The publisher, the developer, the media, the DeVry students, the enthusiasts at home, even the "normal" folks out there that just haven't caught on yet. Most of the year we're all in our own corners of the world, isolated from each other, focused on our own lives when E3 comes around and throws us all together. The end result is a jumble of disconnected wires on the floor, knotted and tangled together. No one can find the right controller, and the signals aren't getting to their intended recipient.

The "Gamers"


Have you ever been on a forum or blog and tried to ask everyone how they define Hipster? Turns out it's a pretty nebulous term for a group of people no one really likes. Now try and define "gamer". If you try to get any more specific than "someone who plays video games", you'll start to find varying definitions. The term is used as if we're all united in some fashion, but the truth is we're all very different.

I prefer single player games with a focus on story, for example. There are plenty of folks who care only about the gameplay. Then you have people that will only buy a game if it has really good multiplayer. Then you have a variety of gamers divided by brand loyalty.

We are not a single, unified voice. We are not all asking for the same things. There's a reason you'll have people debate which is the best Final Fantasy. Or Hell, how about which is the best Halo game? I've gotten into debates only to realize halfway through that I'm judging the games based on the campaign while the person I'm arguing with has based their view on multiplayer. I've gotten into similar arguments over whether Left 4 Dead 2 is better or worse than its predecessor based on campaign co-op or versus mode.

So imagine you're a developer, or even a publisher, and are trying to put together your E3 show. You have all these forums filled to the brim with chittering gaming enthusiasts, all trying to tell you what was good or horrible about the games you've released thus far. Meanwhile, over in this other bucket, are sales numbers, focus tests and Facebook and Twitter chirps from less enthusiastic players that deliver completely different opinions. Then you have the players that don't game often and don't voice their opinion beyond their small social circle.

All together, it becomes static. Noise. It means nothing because it is all contradictory. Which, y'know, makes sense. All people are different and have different tastes.

To any civilized person, this is common sense. Everyone knows that not all people share the same thoughts or feelings. Yet during many of the streaming E3 conferences and videos the chat rooms were filled with a variety of opinions with one thing in common. An insistence that everyone wanted the same thing.

It was clear during E3's streaming conference, where people would note how excited they were about Paper Mario while others all-capsed "NOBODY CARES" and demanded something new. Some folks thought the new Castlevania on 3DS looked interesting, others stupid. Yet it was rare to see someone state "I think" or "I feel". People spoke as if it were fact.

Gaming enthusiasts love to cluster around events such as E3 as a celebration of their hobby. However, these things always create conflict and differing opinions based on what is shown. There are many out there who felt Nintendo had a horrible showing. There are others where Pikmin 3 stole the entire show. Despite being brought together by a singular event, we are all disconnected from each other's thoughts, feelings and preferences.

Which means we need to stop making demands of the developers as if we are one unified voice.

Developers and Publishers


The only publishers that seem to have learned from the past at E3 are Konami and Sony. The former has stopped trying to hold press conferences altogether, instead saving money by simply streaming pre-recorded and favorably edited video showcasing what they've got in development. No more PR disasters over here. Just a mysterious absence of whatever new Contra game was teased in 2011.

Simultaneously, Sony has also learned what it means to be the butt of the Internet's jokes, and in an effort to avoid being a new meme generator chose to make this year "all about the gamer". This was an excellent publicity stunt as the past few years as many gaming enthusiasts have been voicing their dislike of motion controls, feeling more and more ignored at E3. Sony has been quite surprising the past few years, going from one of the dumbest companies to one of the smartest, demonstrating an incredible capability to lick their wounds and learn from past mistakes.

Unfortunately, even they succumb to demonstrating nothing but violence. I know it is probably hyperbolic to declare this year's E3 as being more violent than ever, but it feels like Sony should have thrown out a game like Ni No Kuni to break up the ultra-realistic footage of guys shooting each other. Instead we were treated to their Smash Bros. style game and a Harry Potter game that was simply not ready for public display yet.

The problem isn't necessarily in Sony, however. It's more a question of what these developers think gaming enthusiasts want.

Capcom has gone on record stating that the new Resident Evil is trying to tackle the Call of Duty numbers, and EA has said similarly about Dead Space 3.

I realize that Call of Duty is a really big selling game, and I also know companies are in the business of making money. However, it seems ridiculous to look at a franchise that, in truth, became so big because it did something different (both in single player campaign and in multiplayer) and then say "we need to imitate that in order to be successful". Call of Duty is the new Madden, the new big franchise that people buy ever year and no other games. This means a lot of them don't care what is coming out because they just want to play Call of Duty. Similarly, there's a whole lot of people that could care less about Torchlight because the last game they bought before Diablo 3 was Diablo 2.

I don't demand innovation from game companies. If you try to force innovation then at best you'll come up with a gimmick. That doesn't mean I want game companies to make carbon copies of each other, though. Games sell for a handful of reasons, one of them being part of a successful franchise. Yet that will only work if you manage to sell the first game of a franchise, which requires marketing and a fresh enough idea as to fill a vacuum consumers weren't aware was even there. I didn't realize I wanted a more action-oriented Zelda style of game until Darksiders came out, for example, and now I eagerly anticipate the sequel.

E3 feels like the industry's really, really big message spelling out "We don't really know what we're doing". They are trying to play darts with a blind-fold on, tossing random games into the ether and hoping to hit a bullseye. Unfortunately this is a really, really expensive gamble and too many studios are losing their shirts, the farm, and their jobs.

Yet there's a reason for this.

Masses and The Media


I don't necessarily mean The Media as game journalists or gaming blogs, but the greater media as a whole. Mainstream television, magazines, and everything else attached to the world beyond gaming enthusiasts. It would be great if we could all go to the water cooler at work and discuss video games like cubicle gophers discuss television shows like Lost or, if you're unlucky as I am, Real Housewives. Instead the best common response you can get is "I don't really play video games".

At least you're not always looked upon as childish? Success, I guess?



ABOVE: More mature than video games


The real issue is public perception of what video games are. I'm not necessarily sure who to blame here, either. I think we're slowly reaching a point where the folks like Jack Thompson are more joke than threat and adults all over get that games aren't murder simulators. Sure, there are still going to be those sorts around, just as there are still people who believe comic books are filth.

Yet the idea seems to be that's all people want.

Take this TV spot for Bioshock 2, for instance. What does it convey about the game's story? The themes? Nothing much. I remember seeing this commercial on television, smiling as I watched it, but then realized all my family was seeing was violence, more violence, and creepy environments that suggested violence. Is this really what people think of first when it comes to Bioshock, though?

As stated, I don't know what came first, the marketing or the perception that violence is the only thing about a game that sells. Yet looking at this year's E3 it seems that's the general impression. I've listened to podcasts and read articles where games like The Last of Us and Far Cry 3 demonstrated very different experiences behind closed doors. It seemed strange that developers would favor violent demonstrations during the press conferences than what they'd show to the media, with the only one making any sense being Watch Dogs. It seemed that Ubisoft constructed that demo in order to showcase a variety of types of gameplay, from various forms of hacking to the more run-and-gun tactics. Yes, people groaned when they saw yet another guy taking cover behind more objects, but I'd rather a demo try and tell me everything about how a game could be played.

Yet the focus was instead on pointing a shotgun to a man's face and pulling the trigger, followed by the raucous applause of GameStop managers, Best Buy representatives and DeVry students.

Conclusion

What I find the most strange is how the "audience at home" has been so disappointed by E3 2012, yet there are many members of the gaming press that found it to be an exciting year. On one hand I'd say E3 is no longer for the enthusiast gamer and to instead look towards events like PAX, but by testimony of those who were actually there it is still a fun show. There's still a lot to look forward to and a lot on the table.

Perhaps, then, it is best to avoid the press events? Yet those are supposed to detail a company's goals and vision of the future, and if that is the case then Microsoft's is the most depressing of all. They've always wanted an all-in-one media device that ties consumers to their company and their company alone, but it feels like a stab in the back that they'd use a gaming device to push that product into so many hands. It is almost as if we've been manipulated, and now that Microsoft has a user base to build off of they think we'll all be happy as long as they toss the occasional Halo, Gears of War and Dance Central our way.

Simply put, I don't know who the gaming industry is trying to speak to anymore. It's not me or other enthusiasts, clearly. It's not to the Call of Duty gamer, because he doesn't care about most games outside of that franchise. It's not to the rest of the world, because if they haven't started playing games based on violence now then they're not about to.

I've never before felt so disconnected from my favorite hobby. It is a terrible time where I need to desperately hope a game like Dragon's Dogma sells well over one million units in order to warrant a sequel. It's even worse that, five years ago, Dead Rising was considered a success after shipping 500,000 units. Not selling, shipping, and that was over a two-week period of time. These days, 500,000 units is a failure.

The way I see it, E3 is no longer worth the hype and excitement. I want it to be, as it previously felt like a holiday based around games. I took off from work for it last year and got to work from home this year to keep up with all the streams. Yet I came away with too much disappointment and not enough to love. Not like PAX East, where I came home feeling happy, excited and unable to wait for next year.



I'M SO GLAD TO HAVE BEEN A PART OF THIS


Maybe the difference is being there. Maybe the difference is the atmosphere of the show itself. After all, PAX is for me. It is for other enthusiasts. It is for members of the industry.

And it is where I most feel connected to my favorite hobby.   read







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