I am a professional writer and web designer living in East Lansing, MI. I hail from Dearborn, MI. I listen to Modest Mouse, Joanna Newsom, The Cure, Dead Kennedys, TMBG, and Tom Waits. I primarily consume grilled cheese and green tea. My first video game memory is playing Pong, but I'm not that old, just fortunate. I've grown up with video games and they've sort of grown up with me, not really.
(not in any particular order... maybe)
Rogue Squadron 2
Castlevania SotN and AoS
Super Mario RPG, World, and 64
Metroid (Any of the 2D games)
Final Fantasy 7, 9, and Tactics
Advance Wars series
World in Conflict
Time Splitters 2
Space Orks. The anti-space marine. They're a clanky, unrefined race that stretch the limits of realism in terms of space-travelling war machines. In Dawn of War 2, they have vehicle units that spew smoke and appear to be Frankensteined out of any parts available to the ork engineers and mechanics. Ground units are ultimately specialized.
With exception to the ork heroes, no single ork unit can be fashioned to become a stand alone unit. There is only one unit that wields grenades and only grenades, Jumpaboys jump (sometimes to their kamikaze-style death), nob squads smash, and shootas shoot. The two most dynamic units are sluggas and the rokkit unit. The former can repair and melee, while the latter can function as artillery and anti-tank.
However, the point of this article is not to break down strategy or give stats, but merely to discuss my own interest in this strange, albeit physically strong race. How it functions as an exception to most races in the RTS format. The manner in which their quirky strategy, or lack thereof, and characteristics as a race bend the rules of conception in terms of building an RTS faction.
The closest science fiction-based relation the space ork has is the reaver from Firefly. If you have yet to see Joss Whedon's Space Western, then I will just have to say go watch it, and you will be searching the racks after ward for a browncoat to proudly display your unwillingness to fall under the wheel of somebody else's concept of what progress "should be".
Well, much like orks, reavers just barely function as a space-travelling band of raping and pillaging aimless scavengers. In order to compete with their technologically superior foes they push their engines to the limits. They persist by raiding others and recruit through intimidation, torture, and mutilation. They revel in a world of ultra violence, yet still have managed to form a society all there own.
Unlike the zerg, which are creatures that maintain their society through a hive mind, orks survive through brutishness moving with a raider mentality. A religious or corporate-run society does not appeal to their lifestyle. If there was one word to best describe the style of government that an ork society would most likely adopt it would be decentralized.
The ork borrows from all races, absorbing almost none of the real intelligence necessary to innovate their army, focusing mainly on improving their ability to smash one as gruesomely as possible. Similar to the Viking, they thrive on war. However, they are less reflective about the afterlife. It's a civilization where all revolution of logic has ceased to exist.
A society without sentimentality, organized religion and business, self improvement, and vanity. They're not even necessarily efficient. One can only assume there is one belief/edict/hope/want/will/wish to understand here: strife.
So I finally got back into playing Okami on the Wii. It's really a surprising game. I find the combat to be repetitive and the dialogue to be a bit questionable. A lot of the items and weapons are useless. Even the graphical quality could've been improved just a bit for the Wii. With all of this riding against it, it's still an amazing game.
It's like that supposed new "category" of game created by a Sony exec, the Zen game. It's not about being innovative in game play, blowing your mind with its storyline, or even really challenging the player in any specific way. You are only expected to marvel at its beauty.
The shifting landscape, bright colors, and the bringing to life of classical Japanese scroll art all propel me along, more so than anything else. It's like Wind Waker, when little Link is just sailing around this astonishing ocean, I enjoyed exploration for the mere experience of traversing this amazing world. I still am not a fan of Zelda games, but that's another story altogether. I liked Wind Waker, because it dared to be colorful with no regrets.
If you want to look like a painting, like Okami, every aspect of the game must reflect that aesthetic. Not unlike Jet Grind Radio, which embraced the punk, funk, and speedy game play, it takes the graffiti lifestyle and puts it to motion. The music, the level intros, and the anti-authority theme. It blares beats.
Instead of being overly forgiving like Okami, Jet Grind Radio may have been one of the hardest games to perfect. Some of the jumps and stringing together of many grinds were frustrating so much so I took month long breaks from the game after many fits of rage. I overcame its steep learning curve and grew to love the soundtrack more than anything else.
Side note: When Jet Set Radio Future came to the X-box, I was very excited to try it out. Then I did, and found it to be a watered down, less fun and exciting version of the original.
Another strange game that I like its artistic direction more than the actual interaction with it is Battalion Wars. A friend of mine even expressed a positive regard for the cartoon-ish quality of this war game. Never mind its sometimes clunky unit control, which frustrates me about 30% of the time when a unit dies needlessly because I couldn't rescind an order. The bouncy, high-pitched voice soldiers and overly constructed super tanks put a strange spin on the war genre as a whole.
Framing war as a Saturday morning cartoon is a strange artistic turn. The different nations are all caricatures of modern super powers. They're all horrible clichés and the entire world is bumbling about swinging its weapons about aimlessly looking for the next major conflict, while the real enemy sits their lurking in the shadows. It's all very expressive, open, and blunt. It's political commentary, not inept design that some might think. This outlandish world was made to reflect our own.
Whether the world is brought to life by wacky generals or the stroke of a brush. The creators of these wonderful games are exposing their audience to absurd worlds, astonishing beauty, and even social and political commentary. Why, look at Okami once more. It's about reviving nature. You run through a wasteland filled with poisoned waters, desolated trees, and even some pieces of land that are so scorched that they harm the main character to even step foot upon.
You want to know what I think this game might be an allegory for? Post-war Japan. The bombs that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. They irradiated the land. Fouled the beauty that is mainland Japan. Poisoned the waters. It's a wish of a painter to return the world they live in to one frequently archived with magnificent landscapes that fills scroll art from centuries past. I think it's a statement worthy of a game so beautiful. Whoever said a video game can not be a piece of art must be a soulless mass of flesh living in a dark unimaginative world.
The question I want to pose in this piece is, "why play 60 hours of multiplayer, when I could play 60 hours of numerous other games?" Where did my life go when I connected to XBL? My eyes have burned bright images of gunfire and claymore blasts. I could have spent that time chipping away at the other 20 games in my ever-burgeoning stockpile of story-rich RPGs and vocabulary-enhancing "My _____ Coach" games. Am I a poor unfortunate soul who can not help himself from having complete sensory deprivation within a hectic world of mind-numbing explosions and quick, yet painless deaths?
I can not help but feel the answer is an easy yes, but there are those times when there seems to be something insidious hiding around the corner to be the next ten-point kill. I am not a shy kid out in the world. I participate in class discussion. I live in a house full of eleven other people, with who I have very well-rounded friendships. I am a member of numerous student organizations. I go to parties and bars and enjoy myself. However, something about playing CoD 4, a game with a very specific purpose and set of goals, sucks me in and holds me there for hours longer than I can even gauge with a clear mind. The bullets fly and my brain becomes so attached that the time rattles by without notice.
With that said, I do not think I could say the same for any single player game. Oh yes, I play through my Final Fantasys and Bioshocks like I absolutely need to see the next smart line of dialogue or find out what happened to my favourite black mage character. Once I am done, I will not pick up that game for a long time. The memory remains fresh for a while and I have a fairly good amount of plot recall, so I do not feel the need to invest 40 more hours into the game. Call of Duty 4 however does not play the same.
This is one of those topics that has been of great debate. The "jacked in" feeling. The belief that when I shoot player x, then person x will be on the other end of that controller feeling a mixture of emotions. I would expect some anger, resentment, loss of pride, shock, embarrassment, despair, and possibly (if it was a really smart or impressive kill) respect. Those bits of feelings slowly filter into me. Every kill I execute feeds that expectation. I control the amount I want and when I make a perfect ass of myself then I can escape it whenever I want.
I guess, in a sense, I like the control of participation. Unlike interacting with an actual full and complete human being, given these terms I get to exercise the feelings I want to onto a fraction of another person. We mutually partake in this give and take scenario. I take their life and they come back to give me more if I wish (or have the ability) to do so. Whereas in Bioshock, I take from it the atmosphere, the story, and lives of AI-driven players, which in some sense are given to me by the developers. They are not active, though. The developers must slowly permeate the ideas they wish to impart upon me in a slow and deliberate fashion. CoD 4 allows for a quick and wild exchange between up to 16 players in the immediate now with surprisingly fresh quality.
These players all have their own concepts of how this showdown will play out. As much as there are teams (for certain game modes), they are certainly not all going to be tidy and go well together. They might as well all be there to kill each other in a split second. Thus this control of participation falls into place. In the English language there are many words to be said in an infinite amount of contexts in which they could be said. In a primarily multi-participant game such as CoD 4 words carry little meaning. The language is a brutal one. It is one where one person interacts with another by sharing each other's demise. A controlled participation. One with little room for mistaken meanings or with fairly limited real world repercussions.
All interaction is a reward for just having participated.
Thank you for reading this. I hope this does not seem like a lot of repetition. I did not mean to waste your time with this. My intention was to sort through my long time love affair for FPSs such as CoD 4, Battlefield 2, or Shadowrun. The feelings I have felt and the time have spent with these games have, in my mind, been significant. I wished only to offer this up as some sort of token to those gods that have controlled so much of my time. I hope this in some way to bring about some kind of understanding about why people (or at least just why I do) like to play games like this for such a sobering amount of time.
It just occurred to me that is this what Video Game Journalism is for? To report objectively whether these hyped games are over hyped or not. I'm sure Sterling (in reference to the recent Midway post) and the rest get that a lot, second hand remarks by publishers and developers about how great this or that game will be, but then those same people get angry when the people whom are supposed to be reporting the details they themselves so love to aggrandize in their potential. I guess this relates to my last article, and theme I see rising in my writing here, "Nothing is new".
When companies like to stake claims about expanding the boundaries it always ends up to be disappointing no matter how satisfying the experience. They set themselves up for bigger and even more embittered disappointments when they create such fantasies and mysteries about their products. If you give people your purpose in creating this game straight rather than trying to up the bid in comparison to one other's work (unless you're The Beach Boys and The Beatles) it seems the more contented the consumer is likely to be with buying said game.
With lots of hype, one is unsure what they're really buying (the dream of the game or concept of the game, I leave it to you to decide which is better). Well, I guess the problem is that this isn't incidental a lot of the time. Sometimes this is used as a smokescreen effect to confuse the ill informed. Also the recent tension between media and medium has certainly become very apparent as of late, so allowing a reviewer the chance to stop development in its tracks or hurt sales is certainly on a lot of project leaders' and company execs' minds. So how much does industry unease enter into it is a problem. As well as advertising is certainly a concern for marketers.
However all this distrust and shady practice certainly has not helped either side. So how does a journalist look at the comments made by a developer? Well, obviously by reputation and a certain amount of reflection on the part of the individual speaking. Their name is attached to those words, so their job is on the line, but silence speaks volumes in this industry as well as seems to be the primary course of action for any big name developer. A lot of money on the line. So the journalist must know when it's worth to be so bold as speak derisively about anything specific and when letting things stir in order to allow the developer to make their own mistakes is a strength one must be well aware of in order to remain friendly with the machine that keeps on feeding.
Pussy footing aside, the journalist is a filter that the public should appreciate. One simply could not be a Mr. Universe of the real world and remain a functional individual. That is what I thought the intent of a newspaper (blog or, ugh, seven'o'clock news) was for, to be the middle man between the action and observer, not as a scary outsider. This might be overkill or a rehashing of past posts, but do you think so? Is reporting on hype really a report or more of a dissection? I appreciate the rumors, but sometimes the developers sound like a sound bite about every potentially "new" game on the market.
Spending approximately 5 hours and nineteen minutes getting horribly thrashed attempting to complete the same last chapter in a game certainly affords one the time to fully appreciate the influences of this wonderful zombie busting action game. It combines the run'n'gun action of "Hunter: The Reckoning", while retaining the HL2-quality of an FPS. It's like a next generation Guantlet, yet without the overextended level design and ridiculous amount of levels as well. They obviously set out for one purpose, to make a simple, effective, and flexible (future DLC, no?) zombie masher and they accomplished it.
However, I think this game certainly contains some of the attitude of an old X-Box title from about five years ago. It plays like a simple button-mashing side scroller for some parts and then a series of mini games for other leveld, it secured itself a place in my heart as being a standalone example of creative and fun gaming. I bring up Kung Fu Chaos as an example not because it's also four-player, it's also deceptively long, or because I've played too much of either. I am mostly interested in its use of cliche and film.
It drives the characters, they're all the same characters you've seen everywhere else. Mysterious ninjas, fighting princesses, disco queen bad asses, biker dude burly bastards, and old grizzled warriors that should otherwise have their driver's licenses revoked for reckless driving had they not been shoved out back into the battlefield "one last time." It's so strange how this meme picks up, but Valve and Just Add Monsters understood the strength that such old rehashings can provide a game's structure and they did it despite the transparent reasoning behind it. (It's a lot easier than pretending to be creative).
What do they do so well?
However where cliche exists, originality can foster. Kung Fu Hustle creates such a bright and cartoonish world, I've forgiven it's flamboyant "evil director" character in favour of understanding and strongly appreciating the liveliness of the world it illustrates. Much like Okami, its bright colors and fluid design creates an impressionable world with cool bosses and a flurry of cinematic flourishes. The beginnings of each level are framed by a golden film grain and the director only demands exceedingly magnificent results each level, with the bar set higher for even greater rewards. This game builds from where others have only managed to achieve.
Not unlike Left 4 Dead, which somehow actually frames its levels the same way. This is a movie set and you are merely players shooting actors. However, the greatest performance of all comes from the zombies and the baddies that strike with such ferocity. As my brother and me stretched into our third hour of attempting to clear the last chapter of the second scenario, I began to understand my enemy's place. Specifically, the implications of each "boss" character.
A self-destructive glutton, a self-loathing witch, a vice-filled (literally, he's made of nicotine) strangler, a wrathful simpleton, and banal mass of passive consumers. The enemy is something to fight, because they might destroy you as much as you might become one of them. The player becomes the actor. The individual becomes the mob, or the destruction of the mob versus the individual as this case may be. This is a movie. You are merely replaying the action sequences. The end credits will roll. As they indeed do for the end of each Left 4 Dead "movie".
Where this leaves us?
Kung Fu Chaos and Left 4 Dead are movies in action. While the former creates a vivid cinematic experience each level, the latter sets the player versus various vixen and vermin with the intent to either end the movie with escaping survivors or just with the dead. Thus in using cliche to build their worlds, they manage to eek out some sense of a deep narrative that might have otherwise been lost in post prouction.
Be grateful for the time you will have to finally finish the Punch Out! game you downloaded to your WIi. Be grateful that a lot of classes are canceled this week and finals are going to be a breeze. Most of all, be grateful that your brother bought Gears of War 2 and rented Left 4 Dead just at the right time for you to come back to your home and not talk to your parents or visiting relatives.
Thanksgiving is the time for gamers all around the world to add one portion of that game they've been meaning to play for so long to their unhealthy holiday gaming habits. We shall all share in the gentle warmth of new games released, old games ported, and any other game revisited.
That new Iron Chef game might help out with prepping that stuffing or carving that first slice. The new Chrono Trigger might teach you never to fuck with time and be grateful for the time you have at a table you share with people you are only somewhat more familiar with than the characters you know in the games you will most likely be thinking about with the people at that table.
Remember past Thanksgiving parades? Well now this year's parade will hold special meaning since it will most likely resemble the zombie apocalypse that you face each time you start up another game of L4D. Imagine any annoying floats as merely the representations of roving zombie hoards, such will be the joy felt with each disgusting band of clown firefighters or bobble-head characters stumbling down the avenues.
Imagine what floats or costumes could have been. A big daddy lumbering down the street? A Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo Float? A "Mega Man jumping" giant balloon? A Reggie meat burger palace float? Mushroom kingdom float? A Warthog cruising down the street, with an army of space marines following in a march, and possibly a Halo marching band? A Destructoid Balloon? The list goes on.
Turn Thanksgiving into your own feast of gaming fantasies and pleasures. Build a Thanksgiving parade to video games in your mind (or maybe in jpg?).