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7:18 PM on 03.01.2015

I love The Legend of Dragoon!

 

A peaceful beginning.
The legend was born 10,000 years ago.
A violent uprising.
A civilization of flying creatures enslave the human race.
A bloody war.
In a bid for freedom, the humans harness the spiritual forces of Dragons and triumph.
Tranquility and harmony exist between all.
But the past and the future are about to collide.

Unveil a fantasy of magnificence, deception, magical combat and retribution.
The journey that seeks the past ends.
And the journey to discover today begins.
Unleash the spirit of the Dragoons.
And discover your destiny.

The Legend of Dragoon is an RPG released on PlayStation in 1999. This game absolutely captivated 10-year-old me in 2003 - I only know the year because I kept a mini exercise book full of notes throughout the game. I was obsessed. Whenever there is dialogue in the game, certain keywords such as place or character names are coloured yellow or red - clearly this meant they were important, so I religiously wrote them all down.


There are ten more pages of this

The Legend of Dragoon is huge - set in a fictional world called Endiness, the game spans four discs, each containing a part of the map and a chapter: The Serdian War; Platinum Shadow; Fate and Soul; and Moon and Fate. Each nation in Endiness is characterised by a different climate zone: Serdio is temperate; Tiberoa desert; Death Frontier barren desert; Mille Seseau a forested mountain; and Gloriano a snowy desert. The ever-growing party travels all over the land during the complex storyline, ultimately journeying to the Moon That Never Sets. The plot is difficult to summarise here, and while I tried, it mysteriously deleted itself...so I'll take that as a sign. Each chapter is full of separate threads of journeys and themes, that all weave together at the close. To briefly summarise the mythology without too many spoilers; the Winglies once dominated the humans as slaves, but eventually some humans learned to control dragons. These humans became known as Dragoons, and led a revolution against the Winglies during the Dragon Campaign. The leader of the Dragoons, Zieg Feld, physically killed the Wingly leader Melbu Frahma, but was petrified for 11,000 years.

Chapter 1 begins with Dart returning from his five-year quest to find the Black Monster, who killed his parents and destroyed his home town. Unfortunately not only did he fail, but he is attacked by Feyrbrand, the poisonous Green-Tusked Dragon, controlled by the Sandoran Army. As Dart is desperately running away from the dragon into the forest, the mysterious Rose saves him, although she is confused as to why the army would need a dragon- they have enough manpower to destroy the nearby town without one. Dart panics, realising that his town is under attack, and upon returning discovers that Seles has been completely torn apart by the Sandoran army. Fighting off soldiers, Dart realises childhood friend Shana has been kidnapped and is held in Helena Prison, as she appears to contain some mysterious power. He resolves to rescue Shana - and the adventure begins. Not too long after, during a battle with the Sandoran army Rose reveals to Dart that his father's memento is the Dragoon Spirit of the Red-Eye Dragoon - allowing him to transform into a Dragoon warrior. More on this later.

Legend of Dragoon contains nine playable characters; each eventually gaining access to an elemental-based Dragoon Spirit and = the ability to transform into a Dragoon Warrior. God, the character design. I love the dragoon designs. They are dramatic, colourful, and look so powerful. At one point I nearly tried to make my own Dragoon Stones by cracking coloured marbles in the oven (I was too scared of it not working to actually try...might remember that one for a rainy day). Each character's design is different, reflecting their element and personalities; Kongol, for earth, is bulky and brutish with a helm that allows for his mohawk. Meru, for ice, is peppy and energetic with lightweight armour matching her shocking white hair. Shana, for light, is squishy and has her stomach and thighs unarmoured (sorry, couldn't resist!). Two cosplayers have produced incredible costumes and that capture their characters - Dessi-Desu from the US as Meru, and Nina from Indonesia as Shana.

      the moon that never sets by Oruntia

There are three types of settings in Legend of Dragoon - locations, battles, and the world map. Locations are comprised of a pre-rendered background image, which is overlaid by 3D characters and effects such as water, sunlight, or rustling leaves. I always liked the effect - definitely a very fantasy feel and allowed for some nice detail. In the world map, you run along pre-determined paths between locations as 3D Dart, and the battles are almost typical RPG fare. While a lot of people understandably dislike that you need to travel along predetermined paths on the world map, when passing back through I enjoyed using it as an opportunity to remember what happened there - I played this game over a number of years so at times it seemed like an age ago.

     

I say the battles are 'almost' typical RPG fare because Legend of Dragoon's battle system kept me from getting bored (turn-based fighting can really numb your brain..) by employing Additions. Each playable character has a list of combos that are unlocked through levelling up - each are executed by pressing X at the correct time during an attack. Although now I see that this system has received criticism for its difficulty, I always enjoyed the challenge and viewed it as a way of getting into the 'flow of battle' - each character and combo has a rhythm. Not to mention, the sound clips and fancy footwork were very appealing.

And the best part - once a character has a Dragoon Stone, they can transform in combat - with a dramatic cinematic that I adored every time. Once each character has the ability to transform, you can even have them become Dragoons ALL AT ONCE. Again, each character has a personalised sequence that reflects their personality and element. Rose is the Dark Dragoon, and in the UK/AUS version lets out a blood-curdling scream when she transforms. Being the Dark element, during her transformation she seems to condense into an atom. Her attacks appear to banish her enemies to other dimensions, or prevent them from even existing in the first place. In contrast, Shana is the Light Dragoon, and her transformation makes her appear as a sort of saintly or angelic figure, while her Dragoon magic either heals her allies or smites her enemies.


Legend of Dragoon's music is catchy, and while the boss battle music isn't overly panic-inducing like One-Winged Angel, it definitely gives me a feel for the desperation and anxiety of battle. As a kid I learnt to play Royal Castle and Shana's Lullaby on piano. The tracks are so memorable, when replaying the game this weekend it only took a few seconds for me to remember each tune. Deningrad is probably my favourite song - I clearly remember first entering the city and when the Divine Dragon attacked it. There isn't much to say about music, you really need to hear it!

Finally, the story is captivating. Although my summary disappeared during my writing, I'm relieved - it is so difficult to explain, but I feel like these sorts of stories aren't very common in games anymore. Spread over four discs, Legend of Dragoon really is an epic journey. I remember becoming so emotional over this game as a kid I would dream about this game, and become too scared to finish it. In fact, I'm still in Law City Zenebatos - halfway through chapter four. While Legend of Dragoon didn't sell as well as hoped, there is a small group of fans who write petitions for a new game, a remake, and for Sony to have Dart as a character for PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. Regardless of whatever happens with the franchise in the future, the original game will always be something I love to gush over.

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2:59 AM on 01.08.2015

The Gift of Gaming: Bioshock and Okami

What gifts have videogames given you? This was a tricky question to answer, as the first that came to mind were Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, and Legend of Dragoon. Although these are a great few games, I couldn’t think of much to say. So then I thought on a deeper level; what are my most memorable games? They are probably memorable because they did something important to me. So here we go; Bioshock and Ōkami.
 


(Screenshot by JLBiggs)

Bioshock, which, as most of my friends know, is my favourite game. Bioshock gifted me with two things; an appreciation of the use of 1960’s aesthetics to produce an eerie and haunting atmosphere, and an (admittedly limited) insight into Objectivism; showing how a game can be subtley educational (even unintentionally), and promote a deeper understanding of not only the gameworld, but our own.

Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is the philosophy of rational individualism. Rand challenged the idea that one’s purpose in life is to live for others, and emphasised individual rights (The Philosophy Book, p. 337). In Rapture, Andrew Ryan takes Rand’s ideals to an extreme level. At the entrance to the city, a giant bust of Andrew Ryan proclaims ‘No Gods or Kings. Only Man’, and a welcome video explains that unlike the United States, Catholicism, and the Soviet Union, Rapture allows all inhabitants to reap and keep the rewards of their hard work. Ryan proclaims that ‘the artist would not fear the censor’ ‘the scientist would not be bound by petty morality’, and ‘the great would not be constrained by the small’, reflecting (in a darker sense), Rand’s view that those who ‘build businesses, invent technologies, and create art and ideas’ are the heroes of Objectivism (What is Objectivism?).

However, with Ryan’s extreme reading of Objectivism and increasing paranoia, Bioshock shows how a society can totally crumble with the rejection of altruism and promotion of the ego (admittedly, with the help of gene-modifying drugs). Writer of Bioshock Ken Levine is not heavily critical of Objectivism; in fact, he finds some aspects of it appealing, and finds himself becoming more of an Objectivist. Bioshock shows how a lust for power, driven by greed, can shatter ideals. The contrast between the obviously once-beautiful and rich city and the horrors within forced me to rethink the whole ‘idea of having ideals’.

Bioshock, along with gifting me with ideas on Objectivism, ideals and Capitalism, showed me the beauty in horror. The faint sound of ocean water slowly leaking into the room, the reflection of a broken sign glowing in the pool. The tune of La Mer… I stand by this game as a display of beautiful, haunting 1960 aesthetics. Bioshock gifted me with the knowledge that beautiful things, grand ideals can easily fall to reality.
 


(Screenshot by Duncan Harris)

Ōkami is a beautiful, somewhat quirky game set in a fantasy version of classical Japan, and has gifted me with an interest in culture; an appreciation for Japanese watercolour and music, and mythology.  Ōkami offers an understanding of classical Japanese history, through a captivating tale of good vs evil. As Amaterasu, the Shinto sun Goddess in the form of a wolf, you embark on a journey to heal the world and defeat the evil eight-headed dragon, Yamata no Orochi. Using the celestial paintbrush to defeat evil and traverse the environment, Amaterasu travels from Eastern to Western Nippon, and all the way up to The Northern Lands, based on Hokkaido.. By the time I was in the middle of the game, I was studying Japanese. I remember feeling so proud when I figured out the play on words; – ‘okami’ means ‘wolf’, ‘kami’ means ‘God’, and placing ‘o’ in front of it makes it an honorific. So, Ōkami has a dual meaning of ‘wolf’ and ‘great god’.

Like Bioshock, aesthetics are a big factor here; the game is designed to look like a sumi-e painting, and the music is strongly influenced by traditional Japanese instruments. Ōkami gifted me with an appreciation for the beautiful soundtrack and traditional Japanese music, a renewed interest in watercolour painting, and a mode through which to improve my Japanese language and learn about Shinto mythology. Aside from presenting a beautiful art style and grand, dramatic music, the game fosters a connection with these art forms. Amaterasu paints symbols to use her god powers, transforming a sick-looking tree to a healthy, colourful one, brimming with sakura blossoms. Ōkami shows that realistic graphics aren’t necessarily the be all and end all; rich, vibrant, interactive design makes this game what it is. I can write however much I want about how beautiful the art is in this game, but it’s really something that needs to be experienced. Atsuchi Inaba, creator of Ōkami, claimed he developed the mechanic to match the beauty of the gameworld, and support the concept of a god who is controlling and healing the world (Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine 108). Beauty is key.

For some reason that I still can’t discern, I found myself becoming very emotional during the final credits theme 'Reset';  the theme of repetition of history had me teary at the line 変わらない想いがあるのならば, いつか桜の下で, or ‘If my feelings don't change, I'll see you someday, beneath the cherry trees’. The whole soundtrack is a masterpiece, containing pieces influenced by traditional court music, ‘dynamic and percussive’ pieces, as well as those similar to traditional folk songs (vgmonline). My favourites include ‘Tokyo Game Show 2002 Promotion’, ‘Ushiwaka’s Dance ~ Playing with Ushiwaka’, and 'Twin Devils Moshirechik and Kotanchik’s Extermination’. Ōkami gifted me with an appreciation and enthusiasm for Japanese history, art, culture, music, and language; it’s a must-play for anyone with similar tastes or who simply feels the urge to play something beautiful.

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10:48 PM on 11.27.2014

Fangs for the Memories: Slender

It was surprisingly difficult to choose a top horror game, or horror moment. The first that came to mind was ‘of course, Fatal Frame!’. The game is generally very eerie; the ambience is effective; of a breeze drifting through the wooden, creaking abandoned manor would set me on edge every time I played. But I couldn’t think of one specific moment that really stood out.  I haven’t played enough of Outlast to choose a certain incident, and I’ve already written about Anna. Suddenly I realised…Slender. Of course, the one game I played with my friend, where we recorded ourselves screaming.

Attractive

Slender: The Eight Pages is a freely available 2012 first-person survival horror PC game by Parsec Productions. In the middle of the night (and in first person mode), the player has to collect eight pages scattered around a forest, while avoiding Slender Man, a tall, skinny, suited man who kidnaps children. You have a torch with limited battery, and can jog, with limited energy.

It is terrifying

The eight pages can be found in ten locations. Once the first page is sound, a stomping sound plays, signalling that Slender is now chasing the player. Slender becomes faster as more pages are found, heralded by this noise throughout the game. Other sounds play when pages are found – a low droning on pages three and four, a loud wind on five and six, and a beeping at page seven. When all are found, there is only silence. (This is taken from Wikipedia because I was so traumatised during the game that I just got more freaked out with every sound, regardless of what it was. Including my chair squeaking). The game ends if you take too long to find a page, you look at Slender for too long, or you come into contact with him. When that happens, his face appears on the screen and static overtakes you. Oh, and while you are avoiding all of this happening, as you collect pages Slender speeds up, gets closer to you, and the fog in the forest gets worse.

What’s really fascinating about this game is the culture that surrounds it. Originally a meme on the Something Awful Forums, it has grown into a multifaceted culture icon- a history has been established, there is a myriad of Youtube series, creepypasta, short films, and books. There's a whole wiki dedicated to the Slender mythos, and a sequel game; Slender: The Arrival, by Blue Isle Studios, and an inspired game called Haunted Memories by ParanormalDev. What is it about this faceless, tall, skinny, suited man that makes him so creepy? Take a look at him. He is out of proportion, and faceless. He is uncanny.

What is uncanny? Tinwell et al, in their paper The Uncanny Wall, examined  the origins of ‘uncanny’ and what it means. Uncanny tends to be related to life and death– in 1906, Jentsch claimed it was the result of being unable to tell if something was alive or dead, or animate or inanimate. In 1919, Freud’s doppelganger is similar, as a replica of a human, and implies the inevitability of one’s death (Tinwell 2012, p. 5). Lastly, ‘uncanny’ has been a contentious topic in robotics – in 1970, Mori found that as robots appear to be more human-like, it is familiar, but too much familiarity is eerie, and has a negative effect. After a certain point, the robot is viewed as more strange and eerie than familiar; hence, uncanny valley (Tinwell 2012, p. 6). Slender’s lack of a face means we can’t tell if he is alive or dead, let alone what his intentions are – there is no emotion, no body language, significantly contributing to his uncanniness. He is human-like, but not really human. Kang claims that the uncanny also depends upon a perceived threat; the presence of the uncanny ‘threatens our understanding of the world and the human species, a disruption of our worldview’ (Tinwell 2012, p. 7).

One of the original photos

Unfortunately, knowing why I’m creeped out by Slender doesn’t make the game less scary. Take a look at some of the page locations, keeping in mind: you can’t look behind you.

Building, Small building and truck, Tree, Rusted tankers

The worst was the rusted tankers. My friend was playing, and I know I saw Slender’s legs poking out from under one of the tanks. My friend didn’t see him though, so we ended up with me screaming incoherently while she ran right at him. Most of the locations force you to move around objects to find the page- a tanker, tree, cross-shaped walls, bathroom complex, silo. Which means that you need to figure out how to approach the object – slow, so Slender is still behind you, but catching up? Or fast, to outrun him but with the risk of him appearing in front of you? Such simple options produce ‘an intense sense of pressure based on overwhelming odds’ (Habel & Kooyman 2014, p. 1).

Other top moments include slowly easing around a tree only to come face-to-face with Slender, screaming, and whirling around to only have him appear even closer. Jumping out of our skins when the moon, or a white shine in the distance looks like his faceless head.  For its simplicity and tight budget, the game is very effective. If you haven’t played it, I definitely recommend having a go – it’s free, and for such a low-budget game, impressively scary. The experience has lasted with me...and will haunt me as I play The Arrival.

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7:34 PM on 08.15.2014

Gaming Slump

A disclaimer: This article is in no way an attempt to attack game companies, the specific games I mention, or those who enjoy them. It is simply a self-reflection where I try to analyse how I feel about the video games that have been available recently.

I've been in a gaming slump, I’d say for the last year or so. When I sit down after a long day to play a game, I think about my list of what I have and just feel unmotivated. When my partner and I decide to have a gaming afternoon, we enthusiastically plan the time and day but once we get in front of the TV, we just stare at our collection with boredom.

Now that I've played a few games that I've really enjoyed, I’m finding that there just isn't any appeal for much else. Why is this? I’ll firstly discuss what games I have played recently and enjoyed, and secondly, discuss what games I’ve had trouble with and attempt to analyse why Thirdly, I will consider games that are coming out soon, and why I find them unappealing. I will mostly be covering AAA games, because these are the ones I have grown up on and mostly play. I’m not very much into indie games, but I will be making more of an effort to play them in the future.

1. Current Games
So, what are some games I've played recently?

Star Wars: The Old Republic


I’m not a big fan of Star Wars; although I did love the movies when I was a kid, it never grew from there. However my partner is a massive fan, so I picked this up free-to-play to spend some gaming time with him (and see if I catch the Star Wars bug). The only other MMO I’ve played is WoW, so I find the mechanics a little clunky in comparison and my lack of lore knowledge is against me. However I’ve appreciated the voiced dialogue, and more inclusive character creation. By which I mean my female character doesn't have to be super skinny and I believe there are more customisation options than in WoW.

The Wolf Among Us

Image from Wallpapergamehd

I picked up  the first episode of The Wolf Among Us for free on Xbox after reading about it in GameInformer – fairy tale characters in a creepy and dingy New York? Sounds really interesting! While I have some qualms with conversation trees – in that my string of logic doesn’t necessary fit anyone else’s – I’ve really enjoyed the story and characters; particularly recognising and stringing together references to the fables.

Dungeon Defenders


I got onto this game via a recommendation from Reddit for people who want to play games with others. Tower defence games have never appealed to me, but I enjoy the bright and colourful graphics, easy character levelling. Frankly, this is a great multiplayer game for me. We voice chat while playing to coordinate our tactics and alert each other to problems during the attack.

Sleeping Dogs


I picked this one up by recommendation via my partner (noticing a trend? We don’t have many other gamer friends). His line to recruit me was ‘it’s really similar to Hong Kong’ – I had been there on holiday a long time ago. Finally I tried it – and loved it. I found the environment quite immersive, and really got into the gang’s storyline. I enjoy listening to other citizens of Hong Kong, as they unveil different aspects of their lives. I ride my Somersault Cloud, a reference to the Monkey King, while listening to the Softly radio station, racing around the streets of North Point. My only complaint so far is the lack of female characters; however considering the setting this may be realistic. So far there has been effort to connect with the few females; I become quite attached to Winston’s fiancée Penny as she was empathic and caring, Winston’s mother is intimidating and curious.  Although I have little to say about Police Inspector Jane Teng, I appreciate her image as a strong character but not to the point of a trope.

Red Dead Redemption

Image from Meerman

I genuinely love this game. I’ve never been interested in ‘the cowboy thing’, but I am so glad I tried it out. Exploring Perdido, Hennigan’s Stead, and Cholla Springs on the back of my horse was one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had playing video games. This would fulfil the explorative appeal of video games. I enjoyed the story for its twists and turns, and producing many tongue-in-cheek situations and commentary. The female characters were well-established, and there were insightful nods towards politics and society. The creepiness of Tumbleweed was the icing on the cake, and Undead Nightmare was the cherry on top; I need a bit of creepy or horror in my games, and I found that rather than be the typical zombie game, Undead Redemption utilised the unusual setting to suggest something bigger; the four horses of the apocalypse, chupacabra, and ominous colour and size of the moon.

2. Attempted Current Games
When I say I’ve been in a slump, I have tried to get into some new games (I promise!). These include Prince of Persia, Overlord, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, Fallout (various), Enslaved, Dishonoured, and Borderlands.

What on earth is wrong with me, how can I have trouble getting into so many games? Well, I’ll have a think about what issues I’ve been having.

I enjoy exploration in games. On the Bartle Test, I would be somewhere between Achiever and Explorer. Hence the above titles; they’re very ‘pretty’, and based upon exploration of the game world. However, I’ve found them ‘hard’, which I admit is a terrible adjective. I just can’t seem to survive long enough to actually achieve anything. I’ve found the controls counter-intuitive, awkward, and clunky. I’ve been confused about where I’m meant to go and what I’m meant to do, resulting in frustration and mounting tensions. I’ve spent half an hour trying to perfectly execute my escape without killing, to have all that time wasted by someone seeing me through a wall after I failed to climb a ladder (I’m looking at you, Dishonoured). I can’t become immersed into these games, like I could with Okami, Assassin’s Creed, or Bioshock.

Part of this problem is Huizinga’s meaningful play. On a descriptive level meaningful play ‘emerges from the relationship between player action and system outcome’. That is, I don’t get the feedback I expect from the action I take. On an evaluative level, meaningful play helps us ‘evaluate the relationships between actions and outcomes, and decide if they are meaningful enough within the game’. I am always concerned about the effect my action will have on the overall game; too concerned, to the point that I am overthinking every action and checking up on everything that is said and done. This means that a number of conditions for flow are not met; clear goals and feedback, concentration, and a loss of self-consciousness.

Another part of the problem may simply be distraction – now when I play, I’m constantly distracted by the nagging feeling that I should be doing something ‘productive’ (how I hate that word…), should be doing some reading for my studies, be reading a novel like I promised myself I would, and so on. This of course, is a problem separate from the games themselves, but I wish I could find one that really pulls me in again.

3. Future Games
Lately I’ve felt that the console games that have been released over the last few years have little appeal to me. Let’s have a look at what’s coming up:

The games I’ve heard about (by scanning EB Games’ upcoming releases):

Now, I am not going to bash all of these games and claim that they will be terrible. I am a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series; Brotherhood and Revelations are my top favourites. However I’m gotten stuck as I’ve failed to get into Assassin’s Creed III. The French Revolution looks to be an interesting setting, however, so I am more positive about this one. I’m interested in Diablo (I’m aware it is a port), Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Borderlands.

What I will point out is that most games coming out seem to be part of a series. I enjoy series. I played Kingdom Hearts, Assassin’s Creed, Ratchet and Clank, Bioshock, and Batman. What is interesting is that there isn’t much else at the moment. I know I’m not the first to notice this, but I’ve found it has severely limited my choices and put a dampening on one of my most enjoyable hobbies, not to mention area of study. With too many series and not enough standalone games, we don’t get much variation in our gameplay; story, setting, or game design. We also aren’t very often introduced to new ways of playing or thinking.

There are some games I write off straightaway – kid’s ones, sports games, and military shooters. I still enjoy playing games like Spyro and Ratchet and Clank, but today’s kid’s games don’t do it for me. I’m hesitant to claim this is nostalgia, as I feel the gameplay is inherently different, but I can’t put my finger on it. I simply have no interest in sport games because I find them boring; they tend to be something you either love or hate. Finally, shooters just don’t do much for me. I enjoyed Bioshock, but military games have absolutely no appeal; I tend to view them as a ‘men trying to be masculine’ kind of game, and that paired with my absolute zero interest in the military makes them unappealing to me. That being said, I am interested in trying out Far Cry and I did enjoy Fallout (New Vegas and 3), until I genuinely found it too difficult to play.

Having said all of this, I’m interested in the latter three games, which happen to not be part of a series. At a glance, Destiny appears to offer something a bit different to the usual science fiction shooter, Dying Light looks very immersive, detailed, and terrifying, and Shadow of Mordor looks very impressive to a newbie to the Lord of the Rings universe. 

Conclusion
So, what do I want out of this? Maybe some game recommendations. But this was mostly an opportunity to reflect on why I’ve been disillusioned with a lot of games. Game series aren’t necessarily bad; clearly the designers and developers have created something that people enjoy, and that’s great. Maybe my tastes are becoming more specific, and with everything that is going on in my life, I find it harder to dedicate my time and focus on a game. With more indie developers creating games and a few I’m interested in coming out soon, I hope that changes.   read


1:51 AM on 08.11.2014

I Love Anna

Since I’m not the best at describing games, I would say Anna is an explorative horror game. By which I mean you aren’t so much chased by horrifying creatures but wandering through a creepy and immersive space where you feel like you might be chased by horrifying creatures at any second.

Officially however, the game is a ‘first person horror adventure with 3D graphics’, is set in an old sawmill in Val d’Ayas, Italy. You begin the game in a sunny, lush and beautiful garden, seemingly in a remote forest; in direct contrast to the house’s atmosphere. The player must solve puzzles in the seemingly deserted house while their sanity declines, resulting in some terrifying instances.


I'm not joking.

The game suffered poor reviews however, for a few reasons. Firstly, you can’t really die, so there isn’t much motivation out of fear. Secondly, the puzzles are presented with incredibly little suggestion regarding what you are meant to do. Thirdly, the interface is somewhat clunky and awkward. I agree with these issues; as much as I loved the game, I found these to be problematic. Although I never actually felt like I couldn’t die (in fact, I think I missed out on something here because I was under the impression I could die anytime), my deaths seemed random. I couldn’t understand why I had just collapsed and respawned outside the house. Adding to the confusion, the puzzles are pretty unclear – while I had a vague idea that the stove was broken, I had no idea how to fix it and with what items. Did I have to replace the pipe above the stove? Eventually I found the vaguely labelled ‘spare parts’, which allowed it to be repaired. Similarly when I was trying to get an offering for the Goddess, although I had a general idea of what I was meant to do, it was difficult to figure out how exactly to use the items I had in the correct way. I spent a lot of time wrestling with the inventory system and randomly trying to combine items in the hopes that I could get moving and explore the house more.

So after all of that complaining, why do I like the game? It provides incredible atmosphere. I constantly felt on edge, drawn forward by eerie singing, creaking, and banging. I wanted to explore every part of the house, and I did; creeping forward inch by excruciating inch, peeking around corners, ready to jump out of my chair at any moment.


 
Foreboding bumping sounds suggested I go to this room, where I was greeted by this eerie spectacle. It seems almost poetic, suggesting something,but I don’t know what. The position of the body on the floor, what the body actually is, if it’s alive, the black marks on the floor, the light bulb precariously dangling from the ceiling. The quality of the floorboards really impressed me, and made the image seem all the more real, even though the mix of white wall and red brick suggest an alternate reality or dimension. At this point I’m scared, but so curious to find out more.

 
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I entered this bedroom, having heard screaming and banging noises getting louder and louder.



The snippets of text I read were relatively vague, but allude to what happened here. Is Anna a goddess, fighting with her husband? What do the assassin, divine, and truth masks have to do with it? Why is this wooden figure wearing one? Why is she surrounded by candles? And why on earth is there blood on the wall? Every time I turned around in this room I held my breath, listening out for the tiniest sound in case the figures would move around. In so many areas of the house, sadness is apparent. Wooden figures (both tree-like and mannequin), in crying poses, covering their empty faces and crouched on the floor. I felt like that Goddess was trapped, in a human form in a human world, with a child no less. Once again, the tree-woman got my heart racing when she appeared bent over a cradle in the kitchen. I could hear a baby crying, and there were leaves scattered all over the floor.



This scenario is what made me run to my bed at midnight and decide I was done with this game, at least for a while. Every time I walked past this mannequin holding a candle, the shadow flickered. Every time, I nearly  flew out of my chair. Then, the wooden figure appeared. Blocking my way. Facing me while I tried to slip past. Arms stretched out, with TEETH. She seems to appear anywhere and everywhere, leaving me constantly on edge every time I move.
I truly believe the atmosphere of a game can make it stand apart from others. While Anna’s gameplay and mechanics have serious issues regarding controls, knowing how to progress, and instinctiveness, it provides a terrifying atmosphere. I was constantly wanting to explore the house, and discover what was really going on there. At the same time, I was shrieking whenever I came around a corner to be faced with a wooden woman with massive gnashy teeth, her pointed twig-like fingers stretched out towards me. I knew something horrible had happened to her, and I found myself imagining what would happen, should I have to encounter her properly. I.e., where she could actually kill me.

Overall, Anna is very much an explorative game, and you will probably need a walkthrough to complete the puzzles. I loved it because it was simply terrifying, in a quiet, unsettling way that survival horrors simply don’t provide to me. Anna features gothic music, with haunting vocals by Italian band Chantry, contributing to the supernatural and eerie feel of the environments. Anna communicates a deep and unrelenting sadness, in a way that really permeates how you move throughout the game.   read


9:09 PM on 03.14.2014

The Past: The Intertextuality and Mechanics of Pokemon

Like most of the other articles discussing the past, I have a special place in my heart for Pokemon. On my birthday, I received a purple translucent GameBoy Colour and Pokemon Gold, along with a little black backpack to keep it all in.

I never, ever left the house without that backpack.

Pokemon of course, is incredibly successful. Some would say that it even created its own genre. In Genre and game studies: Toward a critical approach to video game genres, Thomas Apperley examines how video games are organised according to genre; claiming that doing so prevents video games from being examined as their own media form. Rather, he claims that video games are compared to other forms of texts such as film and literature. Here I will examine some features of genre according to the Pokemon series, and how they have (or have not) changed over time. I own Pokemon Blue, Gold, Ruby, Leaf Green, and HeartGold, so my discussion will revolve around these games; Pokemon’s both distant and fairly recent past. Despite all of these games containing the same basic, central mechanics, the whole series is of course incredibly popular. As Apperley notes, ‘the expectation is that the stability of genre will be tempered by innovation; this innovation may be technical, not necessarily stylistic’. The Pokemon series of games has experienced innovation both technically and stylistically over five generations of games since 1996, allowing the majority of its audience, including myself, to be satisfied. Firstly, as for technical changes, the Pokemon role-playing games have been released on Game Boy, Game Boy Colour, Game Boy Advance, and the Nintendo DS. Each new release has displayed an increase in the quality of the output, in colours and screen size. The DS was the biggest step forward, featuring a touch screen and microphone input. More recently, the 3DS allows for three dimensional functionality.

However, I do believe that technical changes are not the most important aspect of the games. Pokemon is an interesting series to me, because of how the gameplay has stayed fairly uniform over time, with only minor changes. However even small changes seem to be deliberated over, as if Nintendo wasn’t sure whether they should be kept or not. For example, consider the day and night differences in Generation Two, which were taken out in Generation Three and reintroduced in Generation Four. This seemed an odd decision to me, as in Generation Two Eevee gained the ability to evolve into either Espeon or Umbreon depending on the time. Furthermore, it just was an impressive extra feature that facilitated immersion! Why would they take it out? Especially when events such as the tide changing in Shoal Cave in Generation Three would have benefited from some visual differences between day and night. I never really found many answers to these questions, but I certainly wondered about them, even as a child.



Route 29 in the morning (yellow tint), New Bark Town in the day, and Cherrygrove City at night (Bulbapedia)

Berries are another example of this trend of switching around. They were introduced in Generation II, in which they were rare and the trees immovable, the berries respawning at midnight every day. Generation III significantly improved on the system, introducing a wide range of berries and giving players the ability to plant and harvest them at their will. They could be grown in ‘soft soil’ and depending on the berry, they would take varying times to be ready. However this soil was only available in the Hoenn region; when accessing Generation I’s Kanto from Generation III, no such soil was present. Furthermore, in FireRed and LeafGreen, Generation III remakes of Generation I, berries could be obtained in a certain forest; Sevii Island’s Berry Forest. However they could not be found elsewhere. The introduction of the berry mechanic certainly added an interesting feature of gameplay, but its implementation in the game series has at times been confusing. Similarly to the night and day mechanic, Nintendo seemed to be unsure as to how exactly the mechanic should be utilised.

Each new generation brings with it a new set of Pokemon to catch, battle, and trade. A new season of the TV show is released in conjunction with each game, relating to Apperley’s point of how ‘video games…are understood intertextually, through other media texts and through the shared experience of gaming’. The anime functions as a method of teaching players what the new Pokemon are, their types, and abilities. Furthermore, characters and events from the anime series are replicated in the games, supporting a storyline and setting that generally matches up with the games. Areas such as Slowpoke Well are a testament to this; episode 142: A Shadow of a Drought focuses on how the people of Azalea town believe that Slowpoke to be sacred, as their yawn can summon rain. In HeartGold and SoulSilver, it is said that ‘locals believe that a Slowpoke's yawn summons the rain. Records show that a Slowpoke's yawn ended a drought 400 years ago’. The Pokemon anime did and still does function as an educational tool to encourage players’ understanding of Pokemon; how they act, what moves they learn, and so on. It also educates players on the Pokemon world; regions such as Kanto and Johto, and what can be found within them. Aside from the anime, in fact, the trading card game contains an image of Slowpoke Well; again reinforcing the intertextual nature of the Pokemon series. The Pokemon trading card game, films, soundtracks, and manga constitute a wide range of Pokemon products that aim to broaden the Pokemon world.


Slowpoke's Well as seen in Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, A Shadow of a Drought, and the Trading Card Game.

When applied to the Pokemon series, Apperley’s game genres provides an interesting example of how innovation can alter a video game, and how the series relies on intertextuality to establish the legitimacy of its game world. Even my simple examples of how I viewed the games as a child validate this; focusing on how each game differed, and how they connected with the animated series. Regardless of the changes to the series, each game always returns to an established setting and story built into the franchise. The Pokemon game series certainly overtook my childhood, and like many, as an adult I am finding that it still captivates me at times; it will certainly be interesting to see if the games change dramatically in the future.   read


1:25 AM on 02.10.2014

Venturing further than good vs evil: my professions dilemma in World of Warcraft

I started my very first World of Warcraft character in an unusual place- the university computer room, surrounded by other students in my class. Amid everyone else complaining that ‘this is too nerdy’ and that they ‘have no idea what to do’, I quietly smiled in glee when I found that upon selecting a hunter class for my night elf, a white tiger appeared! Perfect, I couldn’t ask for anything more. I happily started the game, running around with my new tiger and learning to shoot things with a bow. But then, I decided to choose a profession.

‘As a culture we believe in letting nothing go to waste. When we are forced to slay a creature we take what we can to make sure its sacrifice was not in vain. If you wish to learn the proper way to take the skin of a slain beast, then seek out Eladriel in the Craftsmen’s Terrace.’  – Darnassus Sentinel


I quickly decided that I wanted to learn a trade, and skinning and leatherworking were my main options. Leather is not only good armour for hunters, but also sells well on the Auction House. However, I found myself in a huge dilemma I never thought I would be in- I felt seriously uncomfortable with having a personalised game character skinning and crafting items from the carcass of an animal. This escalated the point that I spent an hour on the phone to my partner, trying to convince myself that it is okay. My train of thought was all over the place-‘I wouldn’t skin an animal!’, ‘how can I have a pet but kill other animals?’, ‘Night elves are connected to nature – would a night elf be a leatherworker?’ Asking these seemingly pointless questions eventually made me consider why I was having a problem with this. My partner is vegetarian! So why does he not care while I do? Most importantly, why is this the one and only time I’ve felt seriously concerned about my in-game actions?



Most gamers understand that when taking on the role of a character in a game, we identify with them and see the game world in our own personal way. Some researchers believe that when we identify with a game character, we perceive their attributes to be our own in reality too. So maybe my concern stemmed from the fact that I can honestly say that I could never skin an animal, and would struggle to even watch someone else do it. Keep in mind here that this is my first ever MMO character and I hadn’t really encountered roleplaying or much customisation in games before.

Similarities between the physical and game world also affect the extent to which players feel emotional responses. Some scholars believe that gamers can find it very difficult to completely separate games and reality if they have many similarities and connections, which can make the player feel strong emotions in response to in-game events.  While I certainly agree that game events can emotionally affect the player- I’ve experienced this many times- I think that gamers are usually more self-aware in that we are capable of differentiating between reality and the game world. Especially considering how World of Warcraft isn’t very visually realistic; skinning involves a scraping sound while the animal’s carcass simply fades away. Still, I don’t wholly disagree with this claim; the same scholar believes that gameplay can be liberating and facilitate self-development, as it facilitates real emotional responses. In this sense I would say that my experience encouraged me to really consider how I feel about animal products – from eggs milk, and meat, to leather. In a sense, becoming a leatherworker in World of Warcraft forced me to come to terms with where real leather comes from, rather than just conveniently forgetting its origins.



Similarities and differences between game worlds and reality have been studied specifically in relation to taboos, such as killing. The theory of ‘sanctioned equivalence’ explains how certain taboos are allowed under certain conditions in reality; people as enemies in war, and animals as pests, sources of food, and resources. These actions are acceptable in reality, so it is less emotionally straining to undertake these activities in a game. Skinning and leatherworking are obviously sanctioned in reality, but I am uncomfortable with it in-game. After consideration, I would say this is because I am suspicious of the way the industry is run, I am leaning on the vegetarian side, and frankly, don’t have any elves to ask their opinion! I am trying to both play myself and as a night elf; if I am not comfortable with skinning and leatherworking, then the elf character had better be. 

I really surprised myself with how uncomfortable I felt when choosing a profession in World of Warcraft. I have never had any qualms before; sure in games like Fable I almost always choose the ‘good’ option, but I’ve killed hundreds of guards in Assassin’s Creed without hesitation. The personalisation of avatars and more self-directed gameplay in World of Warcraft fosters an emotional connection with the game, to the extent that I treated the idea of my character skinning and leatherworking as if I was really doing it. Simply choosing between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ actions can be simple in video games, but when it comes down to greyer areas, I considered what I would do in reality. From this experience, I believe that in some circumstances, gameplay can truly make us consider issues that may not be vital as a whole, but allow us to develop and learn a little more about ourselves.   read


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