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12:09 PM on 04.03.2013

The PAXperience

I fought Destructoid, but Destructoid won

When I first came home from PAX East 2011, I described it as a taste of what Heaven must be like. If that was a mere taste, then this year was an entire spoon full.

The previous two years I tried to do and see as much as possible, darting between panels and the Expo Floor trying to miss as little as I could. This year I tried a different approach. I instead chose to focus on the Expo Hall, concerts, board games and social gatherings while ignoring the panels and some other activities.

As a result, I had the best PAX ever. I did not have a chance to meet with any members of the Destructoid community outside of a quick run-in with Hamza and whoever was wearing The Helmet(TM), but I did manage to spend much time with my friends over at GamersWithJobs (I'm sorry, Destructoid, you know I love you, but no one shall have my heart like GamersWithJobs).

Between games of The Wonderful 101, Mercenary Kings, The Last of Us, Remember Me and more, the Curse party where I discovered I like dance music as long as I'm shit-faced enough, and a variety of board and card games I got to try with friends, I also got to experience the concerts. Seeing Those Who Fight and The Protomen with old friends from College and new allies in meat space, head banging together, jumping and throwing the horns, it's a wonderful experience. Some might describe it as spiritual, as a collective group experiences the same chemical-flooded brain haze at the same time, bonding in a hot and sweaty chamber of hard rock and metal.

It is epic.

The GamersWithJobs 3DS Advocates at PAX East

I thought I was fortunate that The Protomen would be playing near my town a week later. Sadly, none of my friends were able to go that night, but I figured "what the Hell, it'll be like reliving PAX all over again". My Post-PAX Depression would be soothed ever so slightly while others continued to wallow in the reality that is the non-PAX world.

What a fool I was to believe that atmosphere would carry over. Throughout the night I approached people that looked fun, interesting, those who felt like they'd know the secret knock, a sort of password that could take the form of Live Long and Prosper, or the Wilhelm Scream, or some other small piece of nerd culture.

"Hey, have you heard the opening act before?" "You get to check out The Protomen at PAX?" "You get to see them play with Powerglove last year?"

I asked all of these questions to a variety of folks, hoping to get some sort of reaction. Some sort of response that would start a friendly conversation. The advantage here was that everyone would be reasonably local! Our friendship, our bond, didn't have to end after the concert, but could continue for weekends after. Theoretically.

In actuality, I was met with short, curt, "no" responses before they physically shifted their bodies in an effort to shut me out. A complete disinterest in speaking with me. After an hour of trying to speak to people, I finally settled onto the main floor, waiting the concert to begin. Alone.

Instantly my mind went to the week before, standing beside friends new and old, banging my head, throwing the horns, singing along (as best as I could hear myself) with the music. Now, I would be left to bang my head and throw the horns alone.

I left the concert and hung out with my other friends. Thirteen dollars spent be damned, I was not going to tarnish my more recent, joyful, exuberant memory of the concert with a lonely one.

PAX isn't about the games. It isn't about the panels. It isn't about the industry members you get to briefly shake hands with. It's about the conversations you get to have.

True, there are some total ass maggots at the Expo, too. As hard as we try we shall never recreate Eden on Earth. I overheard a guy discussing the first two Bioshock games, trying to recall who developed the second. "2K Marin," I pipe up. "A number of previous Irrational developers split off and formed a new studio." The guy shrugs, "Yeah whatevers", and continues to ignore me. Asshole. Other folks were willing to shove people in the Expo Hall, or to stand around obliviously blocking the path of others, or potentially even cut in line.

Yet these folks are not the majority. The majority of folks are willing to take part in a communal joke, tossing about beach balls while waiting for the expo to open up, willing to step up and ask "Hey, what board game is that?", willing to hold your camera to take a random photo, to get into an hour-long conversation about the entire Halo franchise.

Or perhaps the highlight, a discussion with a nineteen year old boy in line for a copy of Luigi's Mansion. Now, my recent interactions with this demographic have left me jaded. I have debated with those that would call Activision a good company, who expect more games to be like Call of Duty, who feel Treyarch did a much better job than Infinity Ward because of minute changes to the multiplayer. Those who dismissed innovative titles because they weren't familiar enough, and could care less for story or single-player campaigns. The sort of demographic that feels like it is ruining this industry, all aged sixteen to twenty-one.

Yet this nineteen year old heard I had a physical cartridge of Earthbound still and his enthusiastic jealousy made me smile. He missed Earthbound when it was new, and only heard of it when playing Super Smash Bros. at the age of six. Yet here he was, wishing they'd release Mother 3 in America, just like an old twenty-seven year old fogey like me.

It really hit home for me what PAX was about. It wasn't just about the games, the panels, or the "community". It's the celebration and passion. All the people that are there not only for the games, but to experience it with others. Willing to say hello to a stranger and strike up a conversation because, hey, why the Hell not?

It is this little slice of Heaven that I don't think I'll be able to recapture outside of an Expo.

Fortunately, TooManyGames and Escapist Expo are just around the corner. Who knows? Maybe I'll finally get a chance to meet some DToiders at those events.   read

10:34 AM on 03.16.2013

Corporate Downfall

(Sorry for the shoddy quality of this blog. I didn't get a chance to clean it up and just wanted to put something up here. Been feeling a bit of lack-of-contributing-guilt. Hopefully it makes for a decent read anyway).

Amongst the many problems both Aliens: Colonial Marines and Resident Evil 6 run into, remaining tied to some nebulous and evil corporation is the shared crime that I am so sick of being committed.

In terms of Colonial Marines, part of it is because I'm just not as much a fan of Aliens. As in, the second film. Don't get me wrong, I love all three. I watched James Cameron's influential take first like most my age, and I bought the trilogy on Blu-Ray even though I already owned them all on DVD. In truth, I only did as much for the uncensored Wreckage and Rage Alien 3 documentary.

For some reason they kept putting in this crappy fan film written by Joss Whedon, too.

Don't get me wrong, Aliens is good. But James Cameron is no David Fincher or Ridley Scott, who made films that are, to me at least, infinitely more interesting to watch. James Cameron is good when you want an action film that goes above and beyond the call of duty. James is actually trying to say something with how conceited the marines behave, how inept the armchair lieutenant is, and how easily they all get their asses kicked by the xenomorph threat. It's inspired by Vietnam and how we didn't know what we were getting into when we dropped our soldiers into that territory. There's the whole maternal instinct thing going on as well, but that's been analyzed to Hell and back. The thing is, this stuff is only so interesting each time you see it.

Contrast this to the original Alien, or for me, Alien 3. I know, I know, everyone hates Alien 3 because it was ORIGINALLY supposed to have Hicks fighting the xenomorphs on Earth, and instead they killed Hicks AND Newt which made the end of Aliens pointless! Alien 3 as a whole totally sucks now!

...only it doesn't. In fact, I'd argue that an Aliens flick that tries to be bigger and badder than James Cameron's Aliens is bound to be worse and less interesting, or at the very least not as fulfilling. People have these large expectations of these huge epics, but something is always going to have to give. Either you won't have interesting characters, or you won't have as many big, satisfying conflicts as you'd want to see. If you go back and rewatch Aliens, the xenomorphs themselves are hardly in the film at all. The movie is much more interested in Ripley, and the story that is told, while interesting, is only as deep as James Cameron is capable of.

In fact, I suppose I could make a joke about him searching for depth under water or something. He does love water.

You know what you get when you focus on things being bigger and badder? Resident Evil 6. In fact, you get the Resident Evil series as a whole. My favorite two games in the series are REmake and Resident Evil 4, and mostly because they have nothing to do with the rest of the series (aside from Leon S. Kennedy).

I don't know how much REmake added, but it was my very first experience with the franchise. I absolutely loved it. I loved the feel of the mansion. I loved the story behind it. I loved Umbrella's isolated, secret facility dedicated to developing a biological weapon that inevitably goes wrong. It also makes sense that a company doing dirty dealings would try to hide their activities, and it makes sense that an employee might decided to sabotage it and then sell all the materials they could muster on the black market.

On its own, REmake works as well as such a story could work. Unfortunately, things had to keep getting bigger... and bigger... and bigger.

It turns out Umbrella owned half of Raccoon City, or close enough. They have even MORE laboratories under the city and are making strains of a virus that they hadn't even perfected yet. I mean, think about it. This company didn't even sell any of these biological weapons before paying big bucks to stick a lab under a city to make more. What's the payoff? What sort of company would pay so much into something that evidently had incidents when they first built the lab, and ran into another one later?

Then it turns out there was some secret base located in what, Antarctica? I never got to play Code Veronica, but I remember it was yet another location. Then there was evidently research going on in Africa. That's an awful lot of bioweapons to be making for...who? Who exactly was buying all of these bioweapons? They never even showed up until 1998 in Raccoon City.

Now there's a whole Neo-Umbrella, and they're...what? A terrorist group? Wasn't Umbrella supposed to be a pharmaceutical company that also expanded into military technology and a variety of other markets? Weren't they supposed to be one giant company that screwed up big and was dismantled after Raccoon City?

By Resident Evil 2, Umbrella was a stupid company. By Resident Evil 6, they were impossibly moronic and it is amazing they even remained in business as long as they did. Capcom forgot they were creating a company that got into some nefarious business and instead made them some nebulously evil thing without any purpose but to create monsters with no return on investments. Talk about a money sink. I'm sure the board of shareholders would have had a lot of faith in that.

The same could easily happen to Weyland-Yutani, and in terms of the video game universe it already has. In the films, the Alien is a curiosity to the company. It seems like something that could be researched and weaponized. It also seems like this is a future where no one has ever encountered alien life, meaning their goals may not be to weaponize the creature. In the first film Ash expresses fascination with it, stating he "admires its purity". However, they didn't spend a lot of money in terms of trying to get it. Crew was expendable, and I'm certain the plan was for Ash to kill the crew and bring the creature back to the Company. It was a minor footnote in the story as a whole to emphasize the "space truckers" concept. These people were expendable. Their only purpose was to carry materials from one location to the next.

"You have my sympathies."

In Aliens, Weyland-Yutani happened to be Terraforming this world. Was the terraforming intentional? Did they know LV-426 was the planet Ripley and company had explored and intentionally set up a colony there? Perhaps, but a colony could work in terms of long-term profit and could have personnel much more fitting for researching xenomorphs than a crew of space truckers. If a colony on LV-426 was just coincidental, then Burke going down with the Colonial Marines could make sense. He's there to assess whether the terraforming facility can be recovered and to make sure it can. As he states, it has a substantial dollar value attached.

We can still believe Weyland Yutani would have Burke ferry the aliens any way he could. The facehuggers were there. He could have two people impregnated and carried home. Then Weyland Yutani could research the creatures.

This theme is still carried through in Alien 3, where they want to get that damn Alien. "Ripley, think of all we can learn from it!" Evil Bishop exclaims. The assumption is that Weyland Yutani is an evil corporation, but it is more that the ends justify the means. Especially since LV-426 was destroyed. For all they know, this is their last chance at studying this creature, learning about its physiology, its evolution. They're desperate to keep this thing alive, which is why Ripley becomes such a high priority.

Weyland Yutani is a sort of evil you can believe. They clearly have operations beyond just trying to get this Alien, and their efforts to retrieve it are rather minor in comparison.

Until Aliens: Colonial Marines. All of a sudden Weyland Yutani has their own army to send down in addition to scientists, all of which have no problem killing other humans in order to study these dangerous creatures. If Ripley and Newt had been impregnated, or the crew of the Nostromo had been killed by an android, then there would be a handful of people with knowledge of the truth. Only a handful, and you could keep everything else a secret.

This? This is an operation bound to result in conflict. There's no way Weyland-Yutani has that many loyal employees, especially when the Colonial Marines are shooting them up and Xenomorphs are loose all over the place. It makes absolutely no sense.

Weyland Yutani has become Umbrella.

Now, there are a lot more issues with both games than just the stupidity of these corporations, but they both could be improved if writers could just learn to give up certain iconic elements. You don't need Weyland-Yutani to make an Aliens story, and they shouldn't be as largely emphasized as they continue to be. Umbrella should have been done with after Resident Evil 3. Abandon these elements, and create something new with the base necessary elements. Xenomorphs, monsters, and isolation.   read

2:31 PM on 02.28.2013

Video: Silent Tutorials (and other ramblings)

So I made another video for your enjoyment. At least, I hope for your enjoyment. It is a thing I would like for you to enjoy.

I didn't come around here just to spam and run, though. Life has been a busy thing, and the time to come around and check out blogs has been...well, there has been no such time. I've finally moved and am living on my own. I'm a Pennsylvania resident, and naturally on the day I signed my lease I got into an accident. Fortunately it wasn't severe. For me at least. No one injured, no ticket or court summons issued, and the damage is superficial to my bumper. Still, I look at this as a sign from God that it is Pennsylvania drivers that suck, seeing as I've been driving in and out of the state everyday for over a year now as a New Jersey resident, but once I switch over BAM! First accident of my life.

A lot of spare time is being used for developing these videos, though. I was worried once I got into the nitty gritty I wouldn't enjoy putting them together, but this is not true at all. I really like making these, and when I finished this one I immediately wanted to dive into the next. Unfortunately, writing a script takes time.

Especially when you're busy.

The next one will be focused on Aliens: Colonial Marines, and while I know everyone is sick of hearing about that game by now, I can hopefully approach it from a different angle than most of the complaints being leveled against it.

As for Destructoid, I have a blog in mind and just need the time to sit down and put it together. Rambling is one thing. Rambling is easy. Trying to write something that's supposed to be interesting and including pictures? Very different.

To speed this up and provide something a bit more substantial, some quick impressions of various things.

- I was expecting to want Monster Hunter 3 for 3DS and to wait on Fire Emblem, but after playing both demos I've come to realize Monster Hunter won't be my style of game. Fire Emblem, on the other hand, tempts me.

- It will have to wait, as I just got 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors for the DS. That will also have to wait, though, as I'm playing Crimson Shroud. It makes me want to play D&D again. Also, I want to see ladies cosplay as Frea, because damn.

- Assassin's Creed 4? I haven't even unwrapped Assassin's Creed 3. I think I'm done with this series for a while. I'm just so burnt out on it by this point. Too much of a good thing...

- I'll inevitably get a Playstation 4. The backwards compatibility is upsetting, but not surprising. I'd just like to hear more info on the Cloud Gaming. However, there's nothing special being shown off. We're literally getting prettier versions of games that can already exist on current hardware. Even so, I'll get a PS4 for a new inFamous game.

- I want to be excited for Destiny. I saw them march out four guys from Bungie and was like "Oh man, they're going to show four player co-op gameplay!" But no. They walked on, stood around awkwardly, and walked off. Fucking lame ass shit muddah fuggah.

- That reminds me, Jonathon Blow certainly earns his last name. I don't know what the quality of his games are as I didn't play Braid and have no clue what else to expect, but for someone so "imaginative, original, and better than AAA", he did a great job developing Myst: Aperture Science Edition. I mean, sure, The Witness will probably be fun, but I want to hate it because the creator is clearly a dick.

- March is going to be Indie Month for me. Once I'm done replaying Catherine I'm going to finally get around to stuff like Penny Arcade Ep. 3, Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment, Outland, and possibly grabbing Dishwasher Vampire Smile and a couple others. This is all in preparation for PAX East, where it's all about discovering new interesting titles. That's how I heard about, and became excited for, Mark of the Ninja.

- Speaking of PAX East, what's the news on Destructoid gatherings?

- I do hope Capcom has Remember Me in playable format at PAX East. I'll line up first thing Friday for that. Or Saturday. Or even Sunday. Diablo 3 can choke on cock.

- Ok, this is the end of the post now.   read

10:01 AM on 01.25.2013

Sex: That Time I Designed a Hentai Game

Why do you all start out this way? And Jesus Christ, is that girl even in High School yet?

Dreams are weird, man. They're supposed to communicate all of these ideas of the subconscious, our deepest desires and fears visualized into some crazy experience. There are books on how to interpret your dreams, hyperbolic references to Sigmund Freud translating your dream as a desire to have intercourse with your mother, and people that believe they are communications from God.

Which makes it all the more curious that the only dreams I can remember for the past ten or fifteen years are all tied to video games. A couple months after the E3 demonstration of Halo 2's single player, I had a dream I had played it. Freshman year of College I had a dream I got to playtest a new 2-D Zelda game where Link wore chain mail and a kilt, and the sprite set resembled the original Wild Arms but with larger and more detailed characters.

So, this, only with bigger and better sprites.

Recently I found myself having a dream where it was a bunch of my friends in a real life Capture-the-Flag game on a theme-park style pirate ship against a group of cosplay girls I met at Escapist Expo. The next day I had a dream where I was in an Assault (from Unreal Tournament) game, again in real life, taking place at the bank near my house.

All I dare to interpret from these dreams is that I really, really love video games. What everything else means in my most recent dreams I don't care to interpret, because it doesn't matter to me. I just know that even in my sleep, my mind is on my favorite artistic medium.

Yet there is one dream that still lingers in my mind as a curiosity. Towards the end of my Freshman year in College I had dreamt that I was tasked with leading the design and development of a dating and hentai game. I don't recall who had tasked me with this project. All I know is that, at the time, I was an active member of the College's gaming club and I was sure (in that stupid, naive sense that all Freshman are sure) that I wanted to be a game designer. So when I was given this task in my dream, I took it as a test of my abilities. Anyone can say "I want to make a shooter" or "I want to make an epic RPG like Final Fantasy".

Do you have the mettle to design a dating/hentai game that doesn't suck, though?

Now, my only exposure to this genre was a playthrough in High School of a game called True Love. I found it laughably bad and tedious at first, though after using a FAQ I discovered there was a surprising amount going on behind the scenes of the game. There had been perfect strategies developed in order to romance every girl in the game, and that focusing on building certain statistics early on pays off later. I imagine most players discovered this sort of thing after replaying the game multiple times, kind of like learning the correct pattern to fight the Robot Masters of a Mega Man game in.

There's no way the artist sketched this, said "yeah, that looks good" and started inking. They just don't care anymore.

Even so, the story was still poorly written with unbelievable fantasy archetypes. Not only that, but the sex scenes were rather ridiculous looking. At times it made me cringe, other times it made me laugh, and on occasion it made me raise an eyebrow.

Aside from True Love, the only exposure I had to hentai games was a series of reviews on Y'know, back when people thought the writing on Something Awful was good. Oh, high school and freshman year at College. What blissfully stupid times.

In any event, this was all the knowledge I had to go off of when I was tasked with making a dating/hentai game. There were two major requirements, though. The first was that, yes, there had to be sex in the game. The second was that it had to take place at the College. In fact, now that I think on it, I believe I was assigned this game design duty by the College itself, which made it all the more confusing.

I always found Final Oxymoron VII to be a tad over-rated in the story department. Final Oxymoron IX is where that franchise really hit its stride in oxidizing morons.

Now, because of the nature of dreams, I remember segments of a false reality, but not a continuous story. Nonetheless, I am surprised at how many ideas I not only had while in the dream, but was able to retain when I had woken up. The first priority on my mind was who the female characters would be (because I was young and couldn't fathom a woman wanting to play a dating/hentai game at the time to provide love interests for). I wanted them to have personality. Sure, I wanted to build off of an archetype, such as what you'd expect a female film major to act like, or a girl in your programming class, or one of the girls that worked for the school magazine. Yet I wanted them to have believable aspirations. I wanted you to believe that you could actually meet that girl on campus.

I also thought of having girls that weren't actual romantic interests. I know I considered having more than one girl that would lead to sexual encounters, potentially multiple, because College is a place where people express their sexuality more freely. I also wanted to make sure more than one girl was willing to have no strings attached sex because I didn't want any of the characters to be viewed as a slut.


I also wanted the possibility of sex with all the characters to be present multiple times depending on personality. It seemed weird to me in True Love that sex was often a pay-off, and interactions with that character reduced once you completed that encounter. I still have this problem with the Bioware method of interactive dating, where it seems like sex is treated as a virtual reward to the player. I don't remember why I felt this way when I was designing a game in my dreams, however. At the time my thoughts on sex were a lot more immature than they are now. It could have been as simple as "hey, why not reward the player multiple times?" as opposed to "in a relationship, sex is not a 'one-and-done' thing".

Whatever my motivations, that was certainly a goal. That meant the game would also have to be long if I was going to give the options that other dating and hentai games provided. For some reason I felt like the player should be given a way to date as many characters as they want, just like in True Love. Looking back, I feel it would have been better to design the game so that, as time progressed, your interactions early on began to lock you out of later options, and if you tried to be a player with the wrong girls then you'd get nothing at all. If you interacted with the girls with a more sexually open personality, on the other hand, you'd remain rewarded. It all depends on what you want, and thus who you approach and how.

What every 30 year old Professor fucking her student aspires to be.

Of course, this is aside from the point. The most interesting thing about this dream is that I remember very little of the actual gameplay. I know I wanted to include a lot of mini-games in there, such as representing certain competitions in clubs or exams with a small little video game challenge. I wanted the player to have more to do than read and click, and those results would have a real effect on the outcome of the game. I wanted to take influence from Harvest Moon, a franchise that works as either a farming simulation with dating gameplay or vice versa.

Yet in the end, I do not recall if there was ever a finalized product. I awoke, I wrote the dream down, and I pondered it curiously for a time. Then, I stopped thinking about it altogether.

Now that I am older and have learned a lot more about sex and sexuality, more than my eighteen year old conservatively raised brain could handle at the time, I find myself pondering the challenges of making a game about dating and sex. I know there are independent games out there designed to explore things like love, but is there anything that is designed to fulfill some level of eroticism without being cheap virtual porn? Even in Japan these dating games don't have much of a budget, suggesting that even in their society there is something degrading about working on a sex oriented product.

Okay, seriously, there cannot be so many busty bosoms in such a small population of characters. This is Japan. People there are tiny, tiny things.

I know games represent sex in an immature manner. This is true of all media. Yet I do ponder what it would mean to create a game focused on dating and sex, allowing for a level of eroticism while still bringing with it a quality of writing and design. Can a game be fun and have meaningful characters while allowing you to get your rocks off, too? Why not have an option to turn such eroticism off, or have a separate version that takes those scenes out? Allow the game to stand on its own, so that people could have fun even if sex wasn't a part of it.

The question is, would our society and culture be ready to accept such a thing as an artistic endeavor? My guess is no, and as a result we probably won't know what it is like to play a dating/hentai game with good writing, design and structure, and as a result won't know what more can be learned from the experience.   read

11:46 PM on 01.23.2013

A Great Loss

Today started out so well. The Nintendo Direct video actually had me feeling eager for the Wii U's upcoming year and has secured my interest in purchasing one. Nintendo is making games! And as usual, the games they are making look tempting and delightful.

Then the THQ fire sale happened. Everything must go! Only, it didn't. One studio was left abandoned, ignored, deserted.

The fact that Vigil Games was not purchased has has made me hate this industry for the time being. Everything. Everything about video games that does not involve playing them. I hate the people that play video games. I hate the people that write about them. Most of all, I hate the men who control the money and decide what is "best" for video games.

See, funny thing. When the Oscars roll around you typically hear from film buffs or Internet film critics about how the Academy really is a bunch of old white guys (hence why the only person to get an acting nomination in Django Unchained was a white guy (I mean, did no one else see Samuel L. Jackson? He reminded everyone that, yes, he can play more than just the Bad Ass Mother Fucker!)). However, even Hollywood seems to understand talent.

Take Christopher Nolan for example. Before he made his mark with Batman Begins he made smaller movies like Memento, Insomnia and Following, which hardly sold a ton of tickets (I'm not even sure when/where Following was released, as I never heard of it until Netflix (by the way, if you dug Memento, check it out). None of his movies suggested he'd be good at your typical Blockbuster shlock.

Yet they allowed him reigns with Batman Begins, and he did so well that he was basically given free reign to make a film like Inception. A film that made summer blockbuster dollars even though it is a "smart" movie.

Or let's take a director like Edgar Wright. He made cult films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but again, no big splash. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World failed to meet expectations. In the video game world, that one failure would cause your studio to collapse. In film, it gets you another movie and then you can direct Marvel's Ant Man. Oh, and writing credits on The Adventures of Tintin as directed by Steven fucking Spielberg.

Then there is Neil Blomkamp, chosen to direct the Halo film even though he had done nothing more than short films before that (and even though Halo fell apart, he was still given a good budget and marketing push for District 9). Same could possibly be said for Guillermo del Toro, where Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth never lit any fires and yet now he's been given free reign and a big budget to put out Pacific Rim, a movie about giant monsters fighting giant robots. That's as risky as risky gets, and in the summer at that.

For as much as people hate on film, good talent is at least acknowledged and given a chance. It's true that Guillermo del Toro hasn't built up enough good will to get At the Mountains of Madness greenlit, but it is still amazing to see him making a live action Kaiju film, especially after films like Skyline failed (and, quite frankly, were crap). It shows that talent means a lot, even if what you create doesn't generate a lot of money.

So now we go to the games industry, and today Vigil Games was passed over. No one bought them. No one. At all.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't merely about Darksiders. I'm used to seeing good games fail to get sequels, such as Star Wars: Republic Commando and Metal Arms: Glitch in the System. But those studios managed to keep their jobs. I could accept the Darksiders IP dying today. It would make me sad, but I can accept it. The problem is that Vigil was clearly a good studio.

Think about it. Darksiders managed to blend excellent ideas from a variety of games into a great package. The first Darksiders was like Zelda, but it also had too great an emphasis on combat. Yet the combat wasn't too much like God of War. Then you had the Prince of Persia explorations, which only became stronger in the sequel. While all of this gameplay was familiar, putting it all together made Darksiders a wholly unique and fresh experience.

More than that, however, the game was incredibly polished. Both of them, in fact. Darksiders 2 wasn't quite as polished as the first, but for as large as the games were there was very little in the way of bugs or glitches. Compare this to the broken state Bethesda and Rockstar get away with and I'd say Vigil has a near perfect record.

Yet Darksiders isn't a high-selling IP. As such, no one is interested. Warhammer 40K, Saint's Row, Metro: Last Light, even Homefront 2. We know these games all have a market, or at least a potential market. That is what sets them apart, and that is also why those studios were sold. After all, it would just cost more to try and teach the code to a new team (you'd end up repeating Starcraft: Ghost all over again). No one was after the studios, though. If they were, Vigil would have been purchased.

No, they were merely looking for IP, and the studios came along as necessity.

Our industry cannot acknowledge when a group of people do a job well done. The people that make the game are meaningless, in fact. In the eyes of the money holders, at least. Now we have Vigil saying goodbye while the head of Platinum Games Executive Director Inaba mentions being interested in the IP "if it's cheap enough". A studio meant for scrotum crushing difficult action games is considering taking Darksiders, a franchise that is not that kind of action game.

I had to drink tonight. I had to get some whiskey in me so I could be less depressed. It didn't work, as I never got drunk and I remain depressed. But I am just so upset to see so many good, talented people lose their jobs.

It is the implication of it all. Good games didn't sell well, and as a result a bunch of talented people that worked well together are now separate and out of a job. That, friends, is a tragedy.

Good-bye, Vigil. I can only hope you all come together some day, somehow.   read

1:44 PM on 01.21.2013

Introducing RamblePak64 and What I've Learned

It's been two months in the making, but I finally got it. Ladies and gentlemen, my very own web series, RamblePak64.

Creating this video has been an interesting experience. I didn't expect it to take as long as it has, and actually has me a bit intimidated for my future projects. It has also opened my eyes to just how many shortcuts I took in this project, and yet it still took me two months to put together. Capturing the game footage, writing the script, recording it, editing the audio and then cutting it all together into a sixteen minute video.

The most amazing aspect of it all is just how flawed it is despite all of that hard work. I had already learned this lesson long ago, but it seems to be a good idea to remind yourself just how much effort it takes to make something, even if it is terrible. It's so easy to look at less-than-perfect games and call the developers lazy, or speak as if they half-assed the project, but the truth of the matter is the people working on those games, or even movies, could have been working their asses off.

Fortunately, all of my flaws can be solved "easily". The technical side especially. I should have had my headset around my head instead of my neck while recording, for example. Or the footage looks sped up because I captured it at 24 FPS and yet rendered it at 30. While Windows Movie Maker has a lot of options, I'll probably create the title cards in Photoshop since the customization for that in Movie Maker is severely lacking.

What bugs me aren't the technical issues, though. It's the fact that you can tell I only wrote one draft of the script. As a result the "RamblePak64" title is appropriate. I have a thesis, but the structure of my argument is cluttered and all over the place. I try to be funny when, more often than not, the jokes fall flat or are poorly executed.

Most of all, however, I just can't stand the conclusion. I can't believe I allowed myself to finish with "those are some delightful feeling hooks". Gah! What the Hell? Was I just sick of recording by then? Did I not think "Man, that sounds awful, let's think of something different"?

Yet worst of all is the statement that "games aren't supposed to be immersive". This is the sort of quote that can easily destroy any credibility. However, it also allowed me to add a new episode idea to the list of ideas I have.

I already have several other episodes I plan on working on. The second one will likely be Silent Tutorials, but I also have Resident Evil 6, a Halo Retrospective, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City and, well, Immersion vs. Engagement coming down the pipes.

This was a good experience. A lot of hard work, and because I cut a few corners I've opened myself up to the criticisms of the Internet even more than usual, but I still can't help but feel proud of the final product.   read

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 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

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