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Community Interviews: Behind The Helmet Visor Of Sephzilla

Welcome to the first entry in my Community Interviews series!

You'll notice a slight tinge of formulaic formatting throughout these interviews as you read through them, and that is that there are repeated questions that every person must answer.  The reason for this is simple: those questions are what form the foundation of the interview.  Once those questions have been answered, other questions are asked that are tailored to respond to the answers given.  What you will be reading is the end result, conversationally compiled.

Without further ado, let's get started.

He's been a member of the Destructoid army for over six years, and has eight Community Blog posts deemed worthy of frontpage promotion.  He's also carries the distinction of being one of Sheriff Dixon's Barney Fifes, patrolling the Disqus comments on frontpage articles for spam and general asshattery.  He's a 27-year-old programmer who doesn't like the idea of being closer to 30 than 20.

He's Sephzilla, and he's the first published interview in this series.

I sat down with him for a long-winded chat, and by sat down, I mean PM'd him a series of questions, then asked him further questions about the answers he gave.  Here's the results of that series of exchanges, and should prodive an adequate window into the mind of Seph.

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What drew you to videogames as a hobby, and more importantly, what has kept you there?

I'm an only child, so as a young only child my primary source of self-entertainment was my imagination.  Video games kind of captured me at a young age because I got to delve into the creative minds of others.  Plus, at a simpler level, it was a form of entertainment that didn't require a parent or a sibling in order to make work unlike board games or card games.  Have you ever tried to play Battleship with just one person? It fucking sucks.

What kept me in video games were well crafted video games like Super Mario Bros. 3, Mega Man X, or even the NES era Batman game.  Stuff with replay value was addictive to me, and constantly made me want more of it.  I blogged about my love of Mega Man X, so I'm just going to shamelessly plug that instead of just repeating a lot of the stuff I said over there.

There's a large difference between making games you have to replay, and then making games the player wants to replay - a conscious choice rather than a dangling carrot, so to speak. What do you think makes those "I want to play this all over again" kind of experiences?

Games that constantly present me with a bunch of different ways to complete objectives or finish missions.  For example, in Mega Man X or Devil May Cry 3 there are more effective "intended" ways of defeating bosses such as using Shotgun Ice against Spark Mandrill or using Cerberus against Nevan.  But those games don't force me to do things the intended way and thus open the door for me to experiment with other ways of defeating those enemies.  It kind of goes back to the whole "using my imagination" thing I said before.

Demon's Souls and Dark Souls are hugely about that same kind of variety and experimentation given all of the different weapon classes, stats, upgrades, and spells that go into the game.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the fence, there are games like Arkham Asylum where the "best way" of beating an enemy is pretty much the only way of actually doing it.  Games like those kill my interest in replaying them because I feel like I'm simply going through the motions.

What do you consider to be the most important aspect of a videogame?

Gameplay, without a doubt.  Having a game that's simply fun to play can mask a lot of other issues, whether it be a so-so story, mediocre graphics, or anything else along those lines.  Along with that, a game that could be very pretty or have a pretty good story can also (in my opinion) be massively undone by poor or underwhelming gameplay.  This is why I tend to avoid the "it's an interactive story" type video games like Heavy Rain or have a hard time cracking into the Mass Effect series.

Without sounding like an all-or-nothing kind of question, would you say you're more of a fan of visceral engagement rather than cerebral engagement?

Considering some of my favorite video games ever are gameplay heavy/story light titles like Metal Gear Rising, Devil May Cry 3, and Super Mario Bros. 3, I'd say the answer here is visceral engagement.  In my mind, a game with great gameplay can carry a bad story but I don't think a great story can carry a game with bad gameplay. There's a reason these are called video games and not video stories.

I'm kind of going off on a tangent, but I don't think every game's story needs to be some deep thought provoking experience, and sometimes I think games ruin themselves by trying too hard in the story department.  Sometimes a predictable or basic story can be great if it's done right, and sometimes I think people undervalue the "less is more" aspect.

Do you think that mediocrity can be spared? Can a game with an amazing story overcome middle-of-the-road controls? Not necessarily bad, mind you, just not necessarily great.

Well, Mass Effect exists.  The story and universe there is pretty great but the actual game portion of Mass Effect is very "meh" if you ask me. So I guess there's living proof.

Do you think that controversy (sexism, violence, etc.) helps or hurts the medium?

Sadly, I think it hurts the medium.  While there are some good productive discussions that come from these controversies, these controversies also bring in the Jack Thompsons and Anita Sarkeesians of the world who bring in annoyingly flawed arguments and don't actively attempt to construct a better form of the medium.

With that, we inevitably get "controversies" in places that there's really no controversy. Dragon's Crown is a perfect example of making something out of nothing.  The entire art style of that game is a hyper exaggerated style, and people tried to make a controversy out of that because they couldn't handle that something was sexualized in any sort of fashion.  I don't want to see unique art styles go away just because some people can't handle it.  I'm a bit worried these controversies over stuff like sexism are going to scare people away from pushing boundaries or fully realizing their own vision.

Ultimately the only way I think these controversies will help the medium is if it provokes more people into joining the industry on the game development side.  We can spend years talking about these controversies, but the real difference has to happen on the other side of the fence.

But what is that difference, exactly? What's the actual difference that needs to be made, in your opinion?

I think getting more people actually into game development will produce more games that will appeal to the people who are turned off by super sexualized or ultra-violet games.

For the record, I don't want to see "sexualized" or "ultra-violent" games go away what so ever.  To be honest, I think the controversies surrounding those areas are a big overblown and are kind of reaching witch-hunt levels.  But what I want to see are more games that balance out the controversial titles, and I don't think we'll ever get those until more people enter the industry and make those titles.

Do you believe that we're missing a critical layer of context in most of these arguments?

Hmm.  It's hard to say, that's kind of a huge blanket statement that I don't know if I can answer.  I guess what confuses me in particular about the whole "sexism" angle that's been going in with video games lately is that back when people attacked video games for being ultra-violent, gamers all agreed that it was full of shit because games are clearly fiction and shouldn't actually influence people's violent behavior.  Yet those same people who took that stance then turn around and act like games with huge boobs are going to turn people into sexist perverts who objectify women.  I don't get it.

Let's go outside of videogames for a moment - what's the most important thing in the world to you as a person?

Family and friends.  They're the people who can make the ultimate difference in your life, more so than anything else possibly can. 

You sound like a product of that very statement. Would you care to elaborate? Don't feel pressured to if it's digging a little too far into the Murphy behind the helmet. I know the TJ Laser stories can catch you off-guard.

Well, I can say that I've been lucky enough to never really have to suffer through anything like a bad depression or a traumatic event (*knock on wood*).  However, I know I've had plenty of times where I've had something bugging me, getting me pretty down, or something I was struggling with that I've had someone close to me help me out with and pull me out of.  Those are things I don't think I could get anywhere else besides those people close to me, and I try to not take that for granted.

I find that music is a fairly accurate baromter of an individual's personality. What music makes your day?

Give me some AC/DC and I'm good for the day while I spend every hour trying to shoot all of the thrills.

You're an AC/DC fan - how does one become "thunderstruck?" Thunder is the sound byproduct of lightning splitting the air, so I'm not sure how you go about getting struck by thunder. Perhaps you could enlighten me?

I'm fairly certain the answer to that requires a level of enlightenment that most mortal men cannot achieve.  In fact, I think the trial for such enlightenment revolves around surviving the ThunderStruck drinking game.

Have you, in fact, survived being ThunderStruck? Have you attempted to slay this beast? Honesty, please.

To quote Bishop from Aliens: "I may be synthetic, but I'm not stupid."

Do you feel that the videogame medium is evolving, and if so, is it going in a positive direction?

Yeah, I think video games are evolving.  I hate to sound like a pessimist, but I think things are kind of going in a negative direction currently.  Sorry, I'm about to rant.

The problem is that I think we have too many people who are in higher-up positions within the industry who are more concerned about making money instead of making quality products, which leads into a series of other problems.

Look at Microsoft, for example.  They made a pretty decent console in the Xbox One but then did a whole bunch of pretty crappy things in order to make as much cash off of it as they could, such as forcing Kinect to be included, putting everything behind the Xbox Live pay wall, or making their controllers cost as much as their games.  The only reason they're backtracking on pretty much everything at this point is because they saw that the PlayStation 4 was destroying them in preorders, so even now it's only about money to them.  If Microsoft debuted the Xbox One with all of the policies and such that it has currently instead of a few months ago, we might have been singing the praises of the system.  Instead, they gave us a system that pretty openly wanted to suck as much cash from our wallets as possible.

Capcom is a company Destructoiders have seen me rail on for a while now, and they're another victim of this problem.  They've been stuck in a "follow the leader" mindset for a while now where every game needs to try and sell to the Call of Duty or God of War audiences in order to be considered a success. 

Because of these money-grabbing minds running the industry lately, it's lead to some really poor decisions.  The primary one I'll focus on are the ever ballooning budgets of products.  For whatever reason, people seem to think that throwing more money at a project will in turn make it better and thus make it sell better.  This is why Resident Evil 6's budget expanded out of control or why designing the Xbox One controller had a larger budget than the movie Jurassic Park.

A part of me really kind of hopes these growing issues within the industry cause video gaming to shrink a little.  Hopefully that will force some of these bad decision makers out of the industry, and perhaps reset the video game status quo back to something along the lines of the late 90s or early 2000s.

Yeah, I've had many moments of solidarity with you on the frontpage, especially where Capcom is concerned. I think that making quality games that aren't part of the status quo's opinion of popularity is the way to maintain your individuality among a sea of similar, unrecognizable offerings. Would you agree with this, and why do you / don't you?

I mostly agree with that (like 70% agree and 30% disagree).  A huge reason I like Platinum Games are because their games really stand out in my opinion.  Vanquish was a fantastically fresh third person shooter, Revengeance's unique style rekindled my love for action games, and even Wonderful 101 stands out for me too. 

The only reason I even mildly disagree is because I still think you can make quality games that fall within the status quo.  Nintendo has been within their own little world for years now pushing out Mario and Zelda titles, yet we still recognize their quality even though its a very familiar Nintendo title.  And even though first person shooters were hugely popular by the time it came out, it's hard to deny that Call of Duty 4 wasn't a fantastic game.

But does that have more to do with them striving to make the best example of the genre possible, rather than trying to cash in on a wave of popularity? Consistently trying to be something that already exists or one-up the competition seems to only breed in homogenized weakness, but people going against the established grain and making something all their own tends to create product that stands the test of time, and remains to be spoken of with favor and awe long after its relevant time has passed. Do you feel that people taking the risk of doing something different is what begins to drive true successes?

Yep, that last sentence is something I feel.  To be honest, if you look at a lot of the "trend-setting" games out there they were games that initially took a step or two off the beaten path.  The early Mario games were fresh and fairly new, which then started a trend of platformers.  Final Fantasy similarly with JRPGs.  Even Halo and Call of Duty were initially for being something fresh, polished, and fairly different.

If you said that someone just had to play a particular game before they died, what game would that be?

Oh man, that might take me a while to think about.  Mega Man X is a gut-reaction of mine simply because it's such an amazingly well designed game.  But I've already mentioned that game in this interview already so for the sake of diversity I'm going to say Demon's Souls.

Demon's Souls appeals to me in a lot of the same ways that Mega Man X does. It's an intelligently designed game, challenging, rewarding, and has tons of replay value.  I'm also a fan of it's multiplayer setup, mainly because it's pretty unique from the standard team deathmatch or horde modes that come with every other game. 

I've been relatively pessimistic about this generation, but I honestly have to say Demon's Souls and it's spiritual sequel Dark Souls are two of the best things that came from this generation.

With so many sites in existence, and the internet having no shortage of places to hang one's virtual hat, why Destructoid?

Because Destructoid's community is awesome.  No, really, it is.  I've actually considered leaving Destructoid for other pastures a few times in the past, but there's really no other internet community quite like what goes on here.  Anybody remember Outer Heaven?  That Dtoid chat system that Niero seemingly refuses to bring back? Yeah, that's what kept me around.

Is there anything you would change about Destructoid? Anything you'd preserve at all costs?

Well, I already kind of said it in the previous question.  Destructoid's real time chat needs to come back in the worst way.  It had a bad rep early on because some of the worst parts of the community flocked there early on, but after that place got cleaned up it actually became one of the better areas to hang on Destructoid.  Heck, it even made me friends with people whom I routinely disagreed with beforehand.

Do you see that real-time chat as a way of bridging the three-headed chimera that is Destructoid (Frontpage, Forums, Cblogs)?

When the original Dtoid chat system (aka Outer Heaven) was around, it did mildly bridge those three worlds together.  Before that came along I was primarily a cBlogger with the occasional front page posts (back when I mostly disagreed with Sterling over everything), however Outer Heaven really turned me into more of a frontpage presence and eventually got me over to the forums too. 

I think it helped with a few other people too, because the people I talked to there were frontpagers, bloggers, and the occasional person who came up from the basement (the forums).  I think if Dtoid chat came back and it had the right community (and policing) it could also be a great place for newbies to the site as well.

One last question: Who do you think you are?

I'm awesome.  I'm goddamn Robocop!  I think Dixon should change the Disqus Deputity forum badge with a RoboCop icon.  Because when I'm around people stay out of trouble!

Oh wait... is this a serious question?

I'm a pretty "average" gamer.  I think I have a pretty varied taste in video games, I'll sample everything from first person shooters to platformers to MMOs to even the occasional crazy RPG.  Given that I've been a gamer for about twenty years and have a pretty deep library of games, I guess you could call me a "hardcore gamer" if you wish.  Though, to be honest, I almost want to distance myself from the "hardcore gamer" crowd since it seems like they're progressively turning more and more into the hipsters of gaming.

Alright, I lied.  Here's the last question I have for you: tell me how you feel about the upcoming Robocop remake. Does it make you mad?  Sad? Happy?

I'm not really excited for the new RoboCop movie.  I've been keeping tabs on it when updates occasionally pop up regarding it, and nothing I've been hearing has been getting me excited in the same ways the upcoming Godzilla reboot does.

I'm sure most people have seen the pictures of the new RoboCop online by now.  I'm not a big fan of that design at all.  The original RoboCop suit had a slightly bulky design to it, but at the same time it had a more believable "robot" aspect to it plus it looked more like an industrialized product ready for mass production.  It had some parts of it that were made to look sleek, like the chest piece or the helmet, but it still had stuff to it that made it feel like a tool or product (kind of like a car).  It looked like a believable robot, not a guy in a suit.

The new RoboCop suit looks, well, it looks too "comic-booky".  It looks too much like it's a guy in a rubber costume and the suit looks way too sleek and detailed for a product that is supposed to eventually be mass produced. 

Beyond the suit, I've been watching and reading interviews with the director and listened to him explain the basic outline of this new movie and I cant help but feel like he completely missed the point of the original movie.  A huge part of the original movie was the idea that you can strip all of the physical traits away from a human but you cant strip him of his humanity, and the whole movie is pretty much the audience and RoboCop re-discovering Alex Murphy. 

And it sounds like this new movie is deviating from that a good bit because RoboCop is apparently a lot more humanized from the get-go, still has his family around him apparently, and heck even still has one of his arms and hands.  On top of that, I'm getting a huge feeling that the satirical elements from the original RoboCop are going to the wayside as well.  While I don't want the new movie to be a carbon copy of the original RoboCop, I think there are a bunch of very good elements from the movie that need to stick around.  Hell, considering that Detroit is actually bankrupt now I think the original movie is a lot more relevant now than it was even in the 80s.

I think after everything is all said and done, people might think that 2012's Dredd was a better RoboCop movie than the upcoming RoboCop.

Damn, you've inspired a third closer question. Nice job. In terms of any adaptation, whether jumping medium or simply sequelizing / rebooting, do you feel that losing those small elements is what ultimately costs the project its soul? Does the alienation of fans who recognize this act as the potential death sentence to a franchise?

Well, it's kind of a catch-22. In order to stay a viable franchise you need to keep changing things up bit by bit in order to stay fresh, but at the same time you can't really sacrifice what made you popular in the first place (I think the saying is "stay with the girl who brought you to the dance" or something like that).

Ultimately I think shaking things up too much or changing things from the norm hurts more than helps most of the time. When people see RoboCop, Call of Duty, or Devil May Cry on the box they have a certain idea of what they want and if they don't get that they feel disappointed.

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About Everyday Legendone of us since 1:32 PM on 08.24.2009

I am the Everyday Legend, and I am a male, 31-year old Florida native and videogame fan of the most epicurean order. I'm also the father of a very precocious (almost) three-year-old daughter, and a newborn daughter as well!

My natural state: very, very tired.

I got into gaming when I was 5, and my Aunt and Uncle had an NES that they had bought because they thought it was the coolest thing ever. As a matter of fact, they weren't too far off of the mark. I was introduced to Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt (naturally), and soon followed up with the very first Zelda. I remember the very first game I beat by myself - Megaman 2, in 1989. I was six at the time.

Shortly after that, I played Street Fighter II for the first time in a local skating rink and was hooked. Bad. Like, smack-habit bad.

I remember playing against the college kids that would come in there to hang out and chill - there was a lounge connected to the place that you had to be 18 to get in - and a lot of these guys used to come in and spend a ton of time and money on playing SFII. I learned how to play from these guys, and within a year, I had become just as good as they were. I was hanging out with people almost twice my age, and conversing with them on their level about a mutual passion - and that's where I've been ever since.

Videogames don't make up my entire life: I cook, I write, I sing, I have a full-time career in IT and am still attending college for a degree in Computer Science, then moving into a Masters in Information Systems Management. Gotta have goals.

Nothing beats a good trip to a good bar where they serve good beer and have a good selection of good tunes. Also, chilled Junmai Ginjo (unfiltered) sake is the nectar of the gods, in case you weren't aware. Of course, those trips are very rare these days, because there is always another diaper to change, and leaving your kid at home in the crib is never an option if you want to be able to look at yourself in the mirror.

Oh, and I really, really love sushi. I can put away amounts of that stuff that some may label as borderline genocidal. I put species of fish on the endangered list singlehandedly. I'm not ashamed. It's their own fault for being born so damn delicious.

XBL (defunct): Everyday Legend
PSN: Everyday_Legend
STEAM: Everyday Legend
Skype: everydaylegend

Your eyes do not deceive you. There's a trend.

See you out there.

- EL
Xbox LIVE:Everyday Legend
PSN ID:Everyday_Legend


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