Hi. I’m a critic of the worst kind (the ones who think highly of their opinions), so I apologize for sometimes seeming arrogant. Since criticism is a part of me, I love to be criticized; so you can have your revenge in the comments page. I myself, see criticism as the only way to improve oneself, so go ahead… just keep it civil.
I’m in love with videogames ever since they started to become a more “artistic” medium. I have little doubt that they are a new and exciting form of art, and will eventually replace cinema as the lead audiovisual medium for the masses. The videogame medium is still young and immature, but it is also bursting with creativity and new ideas, which makes it much more exciting than other mediums.
So, this is my game blog. Here, I will review games and write about games’ artistic trends, history and future. In my reviews, I will take a different approach than most media outlets and magazines. I will take a closer look into games’ art design, plot and narrative, level and gameplay design. The authors behind the games will also be a special point of interest. Graphics, length, and other aspects will be completely overlooked, since I find it ridiculous to evaluate art on a mere technical or value standpoint. Movies and records are never criticized for having small budgets, being too short or not being “fun” enough. They are evaluated for the quality of their workmanship, art, ideas and meanings. So should games.
“Densha de GO!” (roughly meaning “Let’s GO! by Train”) is a quirky train simulator Japanese series. Its game design reeks of distilled arcade elegance – players can only accelerate or brake using a single lever, the goal being to drive the train at an appropriate pace, passing checkpoints below established speed-limits, while keeping schedule and avoiding abrupt stops. Its apparent simplicity betrays its overwhelming depth: as you progress you’ll find yourself nervously changing acceleration almost on a second-by-second basis, hopelessly trying to maximize your train speed as the game continuously harasses you with new constraints. Gameplay presents that delightful addiction which only pure games possess, as one feels motivated to always struggle to improve in that fine art of train conducting.
But, however well designed the game may be, especially when compared to its byzantine western counterparts, its essence only emerges in the obvious care which was placed in the simulation of the train ride experience. Train’s rhythmic humdrum, sirens signaling arrivals and departures, conductors’ announcements, the hustle and bustle of daily-life as people enter and leave the train, the changing weather conditions across the vividly portrayed landscape – everything is emulated for you to feel as if inside a train. This is where “Densha de GO!” creators show off their national obsession with trains, a sociocultural passion born from the intimate relationship that arises from working class men’s need to travel each day to and from work by train. And so, just as westerners admire the elegant lines of a red Ferrari, so do Japanese admire the slick lines of the bullet train. See, their intimacy brew love, and from that love transpires the game’s almost absurd reverence for all things train – their brands and models, technical features, design, specific routes and stops – all constantly mentioned for the delight of the passionate train fans.
This heartfelt desire to homage train rides as some sort of quasi-mystical experience, lead to some of the most interesting titles in the genre: those that employ live audio/video feed of actual train rides as substitute for computer graphics and sound, the “Train Simulator” series (of which the PS3 “Railfan” titles are the most recent incarnations). In these, immersion is downright perfect as you actually witness the train ride as you play, overcoming the reality wall in which so many video games stumble upon. If you’ve ever travelled by train and basked in its view, you will appreciate the possibility of doing so by means of a console, braving through sights and sounds that you’ll probably never gaze your eyes and ears upon, while enjoying a thoroughly entertaining game. Japanese infatuation with trains will surely find a bonding connection with you, therefore achieving the game’s noblest goal – to take you to that special place from whence all love for train stems, in the process serving as an enticing vehicle of cultural expression. And what hidden wonders and lost memories lie in wait, hoping to be evoked by the sweet lulling of the train, as it whistles away through glorious landscapes in its tantalizing, nervous craving for a destination?