Tuesday, September 29, 2009

VGA 8-3 | Gamers Desire Meaning

"Actually, they demand it when they haven't earned the right..."

"Is the desire for it that immature?"

I've never been one for making lists towards games I enjoy, but anyone who knows me (or has read any three of my blogs) will be able to tell you how high of a regard in which I hold the Metal Gear series. Its pulpy ability to constantly fluctuate between being deeply profound and dedicatedly silly is not something I've seen to such a degree in any other game I've ever played --- especially when I pit that against my own fairly strict rules and tastes. Now taking that and comparing it to the flags by which some people fly in their ‘online marching’ is only matched in absurdity by their own ability to hypocritically circumvent themselves (I’m assuming someone got that).

Yeah, this post actually makes the trek through my little series a skipping-backwards step, as now I'm inexplicably on 8-3. I couldn't bring myself to fight the urge though. After reading this post on ODST (namely the comments), I was presented with a self-argument revolving around why (and how) gamers define meaning for themselves. My apologies if this isn’t that easy to follow. I wasn’t much in the mood to organize the thoughts so I spilled them out. No need to obsess over the nature of the conversation itself, just follow what’s being said.

  • "If the game truly comes first, does its 'meaning' take precedence?"

  • "This is a consumer-based culture [says who?], so it's only natural that we're starting to see the menomic trompe l'oeil of 'mass-produced meaning'. Generally speaking, look at how the term 'happiness' has been applied and distorted to fit human existence. It’s entirely relevant for video games because happiness is thought to be some pinnacle state of being. That in itself is misguided since happiness is only meant to work for the many --- not all."

  • ”Again, what IS meaning?”

  • ”Significance --- nothing more, nothing less.”

  • "So we create meaning, does that mean a timid pseudo-hedonism has leaked into game design and play?"

  • "Is that so hard to conceive of? It's a very perverted act, gaming is. We've attempted to replicate and design systems of play which cater to our whims in order to induce meaning. This is with the implied understanding that developers won't be able to affect all, yet it's still structured like a business. A very insular business at that..."

  • "That’s not that what gamers want though. A landscape where meaning can be generated by what's often regarded as horrible in society? I can’t imagine enough people desiring that to even fill a football field.”

  • "Yeah, it’s not a realistic demand."

  • "We're still too busy hiding behind the notion of narrative to notice it, but developers have way more tools available to them --- they just aren't as profitable."

  • "Business!"

  • "Is it though? A business is a well-oiled machine with moving parts that all act somewhat proficiently in order to achieve a financial goal. The gaming industry has always been one of dysfunction from a foundational standpoint. Why? The consumable ‘good’ isn’t really an effective ‘good’ at all. We might as well try to slap price tags on the actual act of crafting. Gamers themselves are allowed authorship over titles and the fact that most developers and gamers possess social ineptitude proves my case even further. We’re so proud of intellectual vanity, the grasp on the information age, and being a part of a parochial clique that we become blurry-eyed to anything that offers insight out of fear of --- whatever."

  • "Can I call it busi-art then?"

  • "Well, take Michael A.'s post for example. What was he craving? The worst case scenario argues against him as trying to extract 'meaning' from a source not meant for it."

  • That's a bit silly in itself because meaning is derived from basically everything. Only a structural cretin would hold it up on a pedestal as something to attain within a pinnacle of design."

  • "--- yet arguing against the standards is something we can't carelessly do either. They provide the definition for everything. We can piss on the elitists and 'happy idiots' all day long, but they can't cease as a presence."

  • "So where do we draw the line? Can we define Abbott's post expressing discord with ODST as meaningful as his time with the game itself and if so, does that tether him to the responsibility of articulating himself upon such a disappointment?"

  • "I'd personally say the danger comes from trying to right perceived wrongs. We've argued for the game coming first as a basis for the longest time --- isn't this just the natural progression of that?"

  • "Yeah, it's not like game designers are one day going to wake up with the mindset of 'we're going to do everything right!' That I believe is an impossibility. The 'machine' however, dictates we hop on them under any and all circumstances. If we don't tell them, how will the definitions be set? Meaning was generated from Bungie in creating the game, meaning was enacted by Michael playing it, meaning was argued for by Justin in his explanation via comments."

  • "So beyond the individual context for a game, and beyond feelings of good and bad --- are you saying the system is fine, that some compulsions are a hostile reaction to definition? In that case, meaning in games can not cease."

  • "It can only cease if gamers stop recognizing the will for meaning and keep opting out to the will for pleasure. To lead a life of leisure is to suppress what makes life worth living.

  • "Isn't a tad sexy that through the structure of game design (an activity that was born into wasting time with a smile on one’s face), the craving to be left broken is growing?"

  • ”Looking at Michael’s post again, I’m seeing the distinct urge for some that have had their own ‘logos’ disturbed without even realizing it. The game didn’t satiate him on its own so through his exploration (one of the most violent acts known to man) of articulating his own feelings for it --- through his own act of defining meaning for himself, others found their own definitions challenged. When humans are challenged, it’s automatically under the notion of some threat that must be eliminated. It’s an emotional defense mechanism just as much as it is physical. That fuels most conflict period, varying perceptions of the same event.”

  • ”So, what is this?”

  • ”No better I reckon, just more perverse narcissism than existential righteousness.”

  • ”I love conflict, but can still can’t find many causes worth ‘picking up a sword’ for anymore.

  • ”I don’t find it worthwhile to pick up arms for a cause unless it’s something significant to me personally. That list is growing shorter by the day. Either way, once one picks up the oppositional side in any conflict, debate, or general objection --- they’re in the ‘wrong’ by default. At the same time though, the drive for balance is what drives that desire to stand against, so it’s a necessity either way.

  • "I desire for games to be more of a logotheraputical art, not simply a logotheraputical art"

  • "My stance is dictating people stop settling for happiness and strive for meaning. If their desires are to truly strive for happiness then I won’t contend with that, but like I just let slip --- I presume that most simply stop and settle at happiness for whatever reason belongs to them.”

  • ”Are you honestly presuming human thought that isn’t your own?”

  • ”Is it worth not analyzing? I think I’m allowed that much. People certainly don’t go out of their way to prove me otherwise. So, yes I am. Absolutely.”

  • ”Can we call dibs on ‘logoludic experiencism’?”

  • ”I think you just did, though I am sick of the term ludic now. ”

  • Monday, September 28, 2009

    Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker | Pointless Demo Analysis

    In addition to playing through Thief: Deadly Shadows and Chrono Trigger this weekend, I decided to sit down and yank as much as I could from the MGS: Peace Walker demo. It was released at last week’s Tokyo Game Show and although it’s not translated, IGN still hosted it as a download for those willing ignore that barrier to entry. Of course I was willing to ignore that, so after fiddling around in the vernacular dark, I was finally able to extract what I needed from the next title’s latest sampling.

    The will to download this was mainly driven by a recent playthrough I just had of Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops (as well as Portable Ops +). The takeaway I took from Peace Walker is nothing less than blind hope, but at this stage I’m actually kind of excited for the damn thing. This is saying quite a bit, as even though Portable Ops was a fantastic handheld translation of the Solid series, I still didn’t find much drive to argue with those who wrote it off as a detour only meant to be appreciated by the more avid Metal Gear fans.

    So once again, Peace Walker is extremely specious to me as it stands. The hands-on time is definitely encouraging, but I’m not going to shut up until the full release is in my hands. Ideally, I wouldn’t mind having another full ‘Metal Gear Experience' in my pocket (I’m still against the progeny continuing on consoles), but I’d like something that’s a tad more digestible than Portable Ops was. That could essentially mean anything to be honest and I’ll admit that I have no specific demands to cite either.

    Anyway, here’s a quick list of things that stuck out to me as I made my way through the demo.

  • Number One | Animation

    There’s a notable difference in the animation for this game, and it’s only a demo build. Of course, it’s still fairly limited, but being that Peace Walker’s predecessor is the monstrous graphical beast Guns of the Patriots, it really demands that one admire the PSP’s power as a handheld. The game looks damn good and the fluidity of Snake’s movement is presented as a better illusion in formidable comparison to pretty much every title but Guns of the Patriots (which I’d still argue for to be completely honest).

    If you’re that curious, go watch any of the trailers released for the game (I included the Tokyo Game Show trailer at the end of this post) and you can compare the various models' movement from everything prior to Snake Eater against something like Big Boss’ crouched movement in Peace Walker; he’s hunched, he looks kind of silly, and it's viscerally engaging to simply move him. Overall, it carries the illusion of ‘sneaking around’ quite individually as a game. Snake’s placement against a wall is just as notable, as he’s not in the traditional static slap-hug position; he’s actually pressed against the surface and his hand is hovering just over his combat knife (though that’s only aesthetic praise at this point). I’m honestly just giddy to see attention being given to animation specifically, as I think that’s themost important aspect of any game’s visuals to be concerned with these days --- let alone my own favorite titles.

  • Number Two | Close Quarters Combat

    The CQC mechanics make a return here and the introductory cutscene is blended into a real-time sequence on a rainy beach, depicting Big Boss as the renowned leader of ‘Militaires Sans Frontieres’ (Soldiers without Borders). The player is taught the basic maneuvers of slamming enemies around (which also looks ten times better due to the animation), and a sort of chaining mechanic has been added to which the player can manipulate in knocking down multiple foes if he/she is surrounded. The mechanics aren’t as deep as Snake Eater's, but given that Portable Ops pretty much transferred all of MGS3’s close quarter mechanics to the PSP, the Peace Walker demo may just be holding back due to time-constraints. Then again, Kojima Productions could be simplifying the often-complained about complexity of Metal Gear Solid’s mechanics here. Either way, I’m at least intrigued to see how far to which the final game’s mechanics will go in this category. The whole mythos of how Big Boss basically designed the technique is a big deal in Metal Gear’s universe, so my bet is that there will be a couple (if not many) more tricks up the CQC's sleeve by the game’s release.

  • Number Three | Enemies

    The guards’ AI in this demo could have been wonky of course, but there are some notable differences to how the player confronts the enemies in this game as well. An example of that is the ability to knock down guards from tumble-rolls has been removed entirely. They just kind of flinch and keep on shooting. They’re also a bit more tenacious and will indirectly ambush the player in alert phases. There were some odd instances however, where I didn’t understand if I had downed an enemy or if they simply decided to lie on the ground for a while. I don’t expect any groundbreaking AI in this game, but I am curious about the design and layout for the missions now. That will determine this title’s affect on the player much more so than the PSP will be able to cope with AI-wise.

  • Number Three | Balloons

    The Fulton balloon mechanic also suggests that the player may not be able drag and dispose of bodies now. If they are, I don’t much see the point in these things, as they basically serve to dispose of downed guards. Perhaps it’s a mere convenience item to acquire, but since the demo didn’t allow me to get rid of them (the bodies that is) in any other way, I have room to form some conjecture here. Anyway, the Fulton balloon is basically an item the player can use with a context button; it allows them to hook a durable balloon to a body in order to carry it away out of enemy sight. I should also note that the ability to shimmy along walls and even the ability to crawl didn’t seem to be in the demo, but more on my take with that here.

  • Number Four | Threatening Taint

    I don’t really want to get into specifics of where Peace Walker’s plot could go, but something that even the Metal Gear layman can surmise from the Tokyo Game Show trailer is that the story will revolve around Naked Snake having to confront his unresolved feelings over The Boss’ death in Operation Snake Eater (in otherwords, MGS3 --- which took place ten years prior to this game’s plot). My immediate response to opening the lock on that story again is that Kojima is risking spilling soot over what many people found to be an extremely touching story in MGS3. I don’t know who Paz is, but whoever she is to The Boss is already pissing a lot of people off and we haven't even gotten an English trailer yet. I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for now, but I won’t hide the fact that my fangs are already bared at a possible tainting of Snake Eater’s experience.

  • Number Five | Ashley and Yoji

    Apparently Yoji Shinkawa has been confirmed now to return as the mechanical and character designer for this game. Also returning is Ashley Wood, who did the illustrating for the digital novelizations of Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2 (he also did the cutscenes for Portable Ops). This makes me happy and I’m actually kind of hoping that I’ll get another high-quality art compilation for this game --- as I still feel slightly buttfucked that one was never released for Snake Eater or Guns of the Patriots. I’ll also be interested in seeing how the two artist’s styles mesh within one title.

    So those are my thoughts on Peace Walker as it stands and I’m sticking to them. I’m now under the delusion that I have less to worry about --- which is good. Now if Kojima Productions could just put my mind at ease with this Metal Gear Solid: Rising business, all will be well.

  • Monday, September 21, 2009

    Why I Hate Gaming | The Rules of Investment

    [I wanted to disrupt the continuity of the series again, so this is actually VGA 8-4 hidden in disguise. The first draft was just a long venomous rant on how games are art because gamers themselves are art, so I thought this would digest a tad better for people. Additionally, I guess it’s because I’m impatient, that and I can also ascribe this post as a sort of twisted celebration for a new season of “?????” starting tonight.]

    Even when set upon the most humble extremes, gamers are nothing more than a digitally socialized creature bred from a long line of varying social impotence (see any of the underlying definitions for ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’). Take note that I’m also disregarding the fact that our whole little subculture is derived from an entire race of paradoxically romantic idealists. My last post was full of passing observations on my part because I simply write off all of the console wars, gamer categorizations, and sophistication desires as nothing more than an insularly identity crisis for gamers at large. The success of the Nintendo Wii for example, has been a lightning rod of debate for those aforementioned categorizations. Why? Well it threatens the identity of our little culture by saturating memes across a global market. Gamers have clamored for some sort of absolute acceptance of games (and by association gamers) for the longest time, but by doing so they subconsciously assault their own nature and identity, throwing into very question of what makes them and their beloved medium so damn special in the first place. Sense we’re hardwired to not shoulder blame, we start throwing things at others else to help validate whatever meaning we’re lucky enough to find these days.

    Ambivalent Note #1 [*Out of the corner of my eye I can see Luke and Darth Vader’s silhouettes & lightsaber blades in The Empire Strikes Back*]

    The argument of art and business is also one of plenty examples I can provide to display the futility of our passions. No side should (or even can) win, but people like me have opted for sitting back and poking fun of both sides in a recklessly vicious manner. This is one of many reasons why you’ll see me taking such pleasure out of ‘appearing’ as condescending and bitter . The people who operate off the assumption that I’m talking down towards them all the time have already displayed ‘our peoplez’ most defining factor, ignorance. If I ever draw a logo to serve as a new banner for this blog, it will be of a small child holding up a gargantuan mirror to a very large mob of angry people.

    I have to let out slack here and veer away from the realm of gaming for a moment in order to establish some things, so bear with me. I promise the rope is still firmly connected.

    This world is built on the foundation of man’s imperfection. Collectively, we’re mostly a throwaway species when compared with some of our neighbor-races. Since we’re cursed or blessed (we can’t even agree on that) with hopes, dreams, and aspirations, our motives usually revolve solely around having meaning in our lives. So when someone like me comes along --- someone whose perversions include curiously observing that meaning, people get defensive (which they should). It’s gotten a bit more aggressive as I’ve grown over the years, but a fundamental point which I consistently ‘get off’ on is simply having people take look at themselves --- hence the mirror metaphor. The very few that actually get along with me these days are those that have enough sense to walk around and actually see who’s holding the damn thing up. This is opposed to the many that obsessively and narrow-mindedly start throwing things at the mirror because they can’t bear looking at themselves in some sense or another.
    I love those people though, because they offer up some definition for me personally and I wouldn’t want any kind functioning without them.

    Ambivalent Note #2 [*I want more games ‘swinging swords’ as opposed to throwing around ‘gigantic foam balls’*]

    So when we attribute that context to the various subcultures and the like, we arrive back at gaming. Despite being relatively new (i.e. video-games started ‘walking’ in the 80s as far as I’m concerned), and innovatively armed (e.g. technology), we’re still poised to very proudly echo only what has come before.

    As I begin roping this back in, I have to acknowledge the long-caressed-but-never-nurtured concepts of objectivity and subjectivity --- specifically in how gamers feel their effect.

    Everybody can attest to ‘LOLsobs’ (an omnipresent perspective on anything) because it’s the act of standing back that gives people some semblance of hope, superiority, or whatever. In a tweet last week, I allegorized this to a person violently swinging around a sword of some sort. It’s only when one decides to invest an actual interest in that person does anything get done though. The problem with that is they also risk being cut up or even ‘killed’. I suppose there’s an ontological question in that somewhere, but I’ll just opt out by stating the Rules of Investment; rubrics meant to be snapped if gaming is going to move anywhere other than ‘sideways in a goofy manner’.

    I’ve been playing a lot of the Thief franchise lately, so I’ll come at it that way just to keep things interesting. Thanks to Wikipedia for the faction descriptions by the way.

    The Hammerites

    “The Order of the Hammer is a technocratic religious group, also known as the Hammerites. They seek to carry out the vision of the Master Builder, their architect god, (who created and cultivated the earth with his hammer) and are the burning force of progress in the Thief world. They represent order and orthodox religion. They zealously enforce the tenets of their faith, striving ceaselessly against criminals and other law-breakers but most especially against their long-time enemies, the Trickster-worshipping Pagans, who promote chaos and distortion.”

    Who else could the Hammerites be other than the developers themselves? Visions, structure, and order run analogous to the code (both figurative & literal) and discipline it takes to crank out even the shittiest of games. The problem with most developers is that they have to ‘swing the sword’ more so than the other factions. It defines who they are, but they strive to avoid the negative implications (e.g. bias, conflict, and narrow-mindedness) that a word like zealous would imply. They ignore the other positive connotations associated with it when they in fact are the most important of all (e.g. passion, progress, pride). Still --- as time passes, the tunnel for more ‘zealous’ games and ideas will widen. A fundamental problem or conflict to be noted however is that most ‘Hammerites’ have a troubled association with the ‘Keepers’; many too far removed or still too connected with the sect somehow.

    The Pagans

    “The Pagans (also referred to as the Order of the Vine) represent the forces of nature and chaos in the Thief world. As nature worshippers who live in the deep forests away from the City, the Pagans shun technology and live in harmony with wild, supernatural creatures. They despise the ordinary people of the City, and are completely inimical to Hammerites and the offshoot Mechanists. The Pagans speak in a peculiar English dialect, often adding a "-sie" or a plural to the end of several words (i.e. "good" becomes "goodsie", "get" becomes "gets").”

    Pagans are no more than the large population of people who have no investment in games period. Their separation with our little subculture defines it to the sharpest points. The ‘goodsies’ are nothing more than analogues for a parent calling a Playstation 3 a ‘Nintendo’. The problem with the Pagans is of course, ignorance; but they do also represent a much larger world outside of games, which is a cornerstone we can never ignore. Now that the Hammers have progressive tools like “The Metal Age” (*coughthingsliketheWiicough*), the lines are being melted away. Whatever unity is left will determine how the lines are drawn back up --- and make no mistake, the lines have to be drawn. People can’t form meaning otherwise, which is basically the secret of all life. =p

    The Keepers

    “The Keepers are an ancient sect of expert observers, dedicated to preserving balance in the world. Garrett once belonged to the organization and still makes use of the skills learned as a Keeper for his own clandestine purposes. Even though Garrett refuses further involvement with the Keepers, they inevitably manipulate him into acting out their prophecies and obscure designs in all three games.”

    The gift we have as gamers is a widened perspective (I refuse to say objective because human minds only blow up trying to worship that ideal). Critics, analysists, and the ‘average’ Joes that come home to pour their freetime into games all fall into this category. We’re the lifeblood of what constitutes as balance in this industry --- so we’re affected the most by what we deem as ‘truths’. I suppose the civil conflict on this side of the gaming is obvious --- as while some support a sort of furtive unity (trying hopelessly to recognize and respect the opinions of everyone else), others *clears throat* refuse to abide by that, even if we do realize we’re still a part of the organization in the bigger picture.

    Ambivalent Note #3 [*Much admiration and respect to the people who find it amusing/fascinating to come around and witness the jackass kid who’s holding up the mirror. The ones who plop down beside me to help kind of freak me out though…*]

    Where do the permeations lie between these different groups and how much investment should each one have with another in order to establish meaning for itself? It’s a puzzle indeed but an interesting one nonetheless. The perfect example of that is the misanthropic gamer --- er Garrett, who steals from the ‘Hammers’ while having to deal with bigger events of which the ‘Pagans’, and ‘Keepers’ are all an integral part of as well.


    Friday, September 18, 2009

    Subculture Crisis

    A thought basically forced itself into my head today and now I'd love to throw some question to it. The thought was basically what I mentally applied to the term 'gamer' now; especially in regards to myself (but we'll ignore that for right now of course). Anyway, the questioning involved some quick glancing and perusals on my part and I eventually fell upon the ESA's industry facts. So, let's hatefully take a glance at them shall we?

    #1 U.S. computer and video game software sales grew 22.9 percent in 2008 to $11.7 billion – more than quadrupling industry software sales since 1996.

    What's that due to though? We can't effectively gauge how the quality of the games have grown, so this is tantamount to me stating I grew two inches last year. The shit just happens.

    #2 Sixty-eight percent of American households play computer or video games.

    How many are playing something cursory and only slightly engaging as opposed to something that requires investment on any level? Give me a number on that please. To better rephrase that, how many gamers are simply playing their games that way --- period? How many come to the table with things such as escapism in their sight? I won't begrudge someone playing Minesweeper on their identity as a gamer, but I will judge them after observing how they play the game. That's all that really matters.

    #3 The average game player is 35 years old and has been playing games for 12 years.

    I actually like this one, as it's at least a large brick on the back of an ant still professing that video games are simply for children.

    #4 The average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 39 years old.


    #5 Forty percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (34 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (18 percent).

    That's not bad at all, but it's not like I've seen them anywhere and just what the hell are they playing anyway? I should be able to say that it doesn't really matter either way, but guess what? It does. Proof of that? They compared women to teenage boys.

    #6 In 2009, 25 percent of Americans over the age of 50 play video games, an increase from nine percent in 1999.

    That's actually really cool, but that's only due to the fact that I still live in an area of the U.S. where people still can't grasp the concept of a fucking mouse.

    #7 Thirty-seven percent of heads of households play games on a wireless device, such as a cell phone or PDA, up from 20 percent in 2002.

    I can't really lay much into this area for two reasons:

    One, I personally detest wireless networking (specifically cell phones) in general. My laptop is about the limit to which I'll offer up any kind of wireless connection. It's too hard to passionately muster up hatred for chocolate milk when one is lactose intolerant to begin with...

    Two, it DOES seem like a decent platform for developers to not only get their feet wet, but to explore what I will bregdrudingly acknowledge as a growing necessity in today's culture.

    #8 Eighty-four percent of all games sold in 2008 were rated "E" for Everyone, "T" for Teen, or "E10+" for Everyone 10+. For more information on game ratings, please see www.esrb.org.

    I think I might have my ratings confused because that kind of scares the hell out of me.

    #9 - Ninety-two percent of game players under the age of 18 report that their parents are present when they purchase or rent games.

    Bullshit, that number may be growing --- but if we're gonna start basing statistics off of what may be just a teenager's claim, then we're in more trouble than I thought to begin with (which is saying something).

    #10 - Sixty-three percent of parents believe games are a positive part of their children’s lives.

    And since we're knocking each other up at younger ages these days that's gonna keep increasing; as the cultural integration of video games into our society will only increase --- hell I don't think I can comprehend it happening any other way.

    [*Taken from the Gamer Player Data page*]

  • Twenty-five percent of game players are over the age of 50, an increase from nine percent in 1999. This figure is sure to rise in coming years with nursing homes and senior centers across the nation now incorporating video games into their activities.

    All that makes me see is parody scenes in my head of some poor twenty-something nurse trying to help a seventy-five year old man play Wii Sports Resort. Sorry, I tease. =)

  • Forty-two percent of homes in America have a video game console.

    Really? I expected it to be higher than that.

    [*And lastly, the intro-bullet points from the Game Violence page*]

  • Violent crime, particularly among the young, has decreased dramatically since the early 1990s. During the same period of time, video games have steadily increased in popularity and use, exactly the opposite of what one would expect if there were a causal link.

    The detractors will make any damn link they can --- I've never seen much reason in people to begin with. They love passing blame and they'll keep doing it for as long as they can, good luck with fighting the good fight though.

  • Many games with violent content sold in the U.S. -- and some with far more violence -- are also sold in foreign markets. However, the level of violent crime in these foreign markets is considerably lower than that in the U.S., suggesting that influences such as the background of the individual, the availability of guns and other factors are more relevant to understanding the cause of any particular crime.

    I love how they got away with passive-aggressively handing off the blame there. Really? international context might ACTUALLY be a factor? Status quo, taboo, and art must have all fallen out of the god damn dictionary. Let me go find them...

  • Numerous authorities, including the U.S. Surgeon General, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and several U.S. District Courts have examined the scientific record and found that it does not establish any causal link between violent programming and violent behavior.

    I honestly didn't know those 'violence-linkers' still existed in enough numbers to justify posting that. I always kind of assumed that Jack Thompson got his attention because he was an endangered species --- I guess that was my fault though, sorry.

    Now of course there's all shades of gray across communities and the various facets of our little subculture, but where do we even begin to draw lines? Some would even argue that being fallacious in itself and many people just like hiding behind any nebulous construct that presents itself. Just because there are shades of gray in this world does not mean we have to totally ignore the fact that they ARE INDEED shades of gray, even at the benefit of one's own happiness.

  • Monday, September 14, 2009

    Thief Gold \\ D.F.B. ~ Part III

    I finally finished Thief Gold yesterday and it seems Looking Glass really did know what the hell they were doing after all. I was worried for the first third of the game, but thanks to me turning The Path into a bit of an insightful footnote, I was able temper and restructure a few things regarding the Garrett’s little romp for myself. I definitely fell off track when I first started and a lot of that was due to misplaced expectations, which was caused by my overriding opinion/reverence of what I got from System Shock 2 last year (my first time with a Looking Glass title by the way).

    A major vehicle for why I initially ran off the rails (which I still hold against the game) is the first-person stealth. There’s nothing (that I’ve ever played anyway) that even comes close to matching Thief’s illustration of stealth, but even at its own pinnacle, the title fails under my own subjective rules; which are both to its credit and my detriment (as well as vice-versa).

  • [Note #1 The game shows its age through the stealth genre’s most crucial yet most underdeveloped area, the AI. Guards or creatures always conveniently know to meander towards your position when they’re only alerted to your potential presence in the room. That always irritated the hell out of me and intently compelled me to fight or outright kill each time.]

    I’m hyper-critical of first-person games in general because of the intimacy I associate with the perspective. Everything from how movement is handled to whether or not I can see my own limbs is constantly under intense scrutiny on my part and is a personal nitpick I’ll probably never be able to ignore. What Thief got away with here is extremely admirable because stealth games rely upon that intimacy even more so than other games; particularly they are extremely reliant on patience, subversive thematics, and a methodical use of weaponry.

    What Thief absolutely excelled at is however, is what I imagine was Looking Glass’ goal to begin with; an immersive first-person stealth adventure. Its main muscle in that respect was the title's use of its light mechanic. The gem meter at the bottom of the screen is initially just another meter, but as the game draws on, the design actually incorporated it into my own mental dexterity. This means it (being aware of the yellow-to-red gauge and light/dark areas) was actually as much of an action to me as raising my bow was. It was an effective band-aid to cover up the fact that I am pretty hostile towards the first-person natured game in the first place.

    Also to note is the sound, which while not overly-sophisticated, provided enough temperament for me in order to always have my hand on ‘F’ or ‘S’. It complemented the strength of the light mechanics by actually welcoming my own obsessive acuity in the mix (e.g. stepping on metal grating was like nails on a chalkboard for me).

    My most favored design aspect of this game though, is what I have and can only describe as ‘free stealth’. This game is not one to which the term linear applies to in any fashion. Of course there are some criticisms I could make left and right on the nature of some of Thief’s level design, but for the majority of the game I found myself consistently being presented with a type of freedom most will wantonly write off as ‘open-world’. The world of Thief definitely came alive tenfold from being able to genuinely explore and take in some of the levels from a personal standpoint; it requires both commitment, a sense of methodical observation, and most importantly --- a lasting impression in the end. I was told very specifically by Justin Keverne that the trying to dress Thief’s play in wrappings of ‘open-world’ would melt away after a certain point. That statement became more poignant that even he may have realized once I came back to the game after taking a break. The most crucial aspect regarding this issue was epitomized by a very specific thing, Thief’s own narrative content.

  • [Note #2 You know what would have been a godsend to me personally? Some sort of hug mechanic. As much as I used the lean feature of the game, I often found myself wanting to grab onto a nearby wall, even if for no other reason than superficial gratification (it has just as much use as animation at this point so don't argue superficial trivialities). Some of my own fuckups in this game stemmed from simple world issues like trying to get around a corner without getting hung on it. Keep in mind that I’m not referring to just a flattened mode either , just something that effects movement and visual stability; I encountered more than just a few instances where it would have helped me immensely.]

    Thief manipulates a steampunk/medieval dystopia in which groups such as Hammerites (hostile theocratic activists) and Keepers (an extremely secret guild of observational scholars) populate and propagate. Garrett (the player) was raised and cultivated by the latter, which saw potential in him from a very young age. The Keepers partook and trained him in the eponymous thievery, which is what Garrett naturally seemed to excel at; even to the point of arrogance. This leads to him becoming a sort of independent thief on his own terms, which is how the player first comes under his control (or vice-versa depending how you want to look at it ;D).

    The problem I had with Thief’s narrative was mainly due to how it incorporates fantasy into its world. Usually I pass out praise graciously when a game acknowledges and obeys its own world, but that didn’t happen with Thief. Actually, the game kind of slapped me in the face with tropes of nerdish troupes (e.g. zombies, large animals, and certain settings of the game). By the end it wasn’t much of a problem due to the main antagonist exerting his force, but it was just plain odd during that first third because the game didn’t make any active acknowledgement to its own world; that is something which will always throw me off.

  • [Note #3 Lock-picking was the single most enjoyable act I took part in with this game and I was absolutely giddy each time I did it. The sound and jiggling really helped supplant the fact that I was simply hovering a representational cursor over a lock. If Thief actually featured an animation with Garrett’s hands actually engaging in this, the instances with would be a disturbingly potent and consistent catharsis.]

    The cognitive splinter in the game’s narrative for me was the cynical Garrett, who is set up for someone like me to love, but remained someone I couldn’t quite connect with in the end. I made some commentary on ‘garrulous Garrett’ before, but I remain staunchly placed in my opinion that Garrett simply didn’t open his mouth enough. This is however, coming from someone who still obsesses over the loquacious Metal Gear Solid games, but I always found myself nearly demanding Garrett make some more --- ANY more comments beyond quick cynical quips on his surrounding (which were few and far in between). Something to color him more as a character, especially since the game clearly states that he’s an arrogant ass who is working on his own by choice. Nope, I’m not asking for long-winded soliloquies from the guy, but I was told by multiple people that I should enjoy the character and you assholes raised my standards, therefore I’m demanding more from him now --- blame yourselves. =)

  • [Note #4 I always found myself fighting back a pipe dream/daydream of Garret having some sort of morally questionable stance that would manifest itself in his comments (e.g. racist, sexist, any sort of radical apathy, etc). That however just looped me back to how unsatisfied I was with the game’s world needing to incorporate those social constructs for him to characteristically tear through --- something games aren’t really known for…yet.]

    In the end, I’ve enjoyed this game more than I have any other stealth title. The exceptions here of course, are the Metal Gear games. This is because I always got the distinct impression that Thief was constantly teasing/insulting me with everything it did well (almost to the point of it being actually ‘conscious of it’). Be it Garrett as a character himself or the reliance and dare I say brilliant use of sound and light in such a dated game, it succeeds.

    The world of Thief is actually pretty damn fascinating, but the cocktease formula permeates this presentation as well. This is also an influence in why I kind of fell off the grid playing it earlier. The way its world was presented to me just didn’t mesh with where my own head was at the moment, so a lot of its own fortes were simply lost on me.

    Actually, now that I think about it, Thief is a lot of ways the anti-Metal Gear. Its focus and story is always hovering around an indirect and elliptically told narrative. This doesn’t JUST come from the scrolls and such, but what the player is meant to infer from things such as the mission briefings and the like as well. The overall take away from the story can be missed by anyone with even the slightest tendency to overlook some of its more subtle thematics (I’ll even admit having to go back to a few things myself). Because I was exposed to the world of Snake and his ilk long before Garrett, it’s likely that I will never be able to allow the latter to surpass the former now. Five-hundred years from now, who’s really going to care though?

    What is cool however, is that I forsee a very long and orgasmic rivalry in my own creative enjoyment of this series. This is because the nature of my hostile take on the FFPI (Failed First-Person Intimacy) will always be a presence in playing the games (Though Deadly Shadows could hold some surprises for me). That and seeing through the eyes of the game on ‘the other side of the spectrum’ allows me to achieve a sort of balance for myself; though like I said, I will always be tipped --- no matter how little in favor of the more perversely and self-obsessed world of Metal Gear. Thief is a mystical ‘other’ in which I see another portion of what would compose the golden genome for my own personal perfect game.

  • [Note #5 The dynamic that enemies like the Fire Elementals provide is priceless. Anything that can offer that kind of disruption on the light-based fundamentals the game uses shows some an active attention to the game’s design in ways I won’t wander into gushing over right now.]

    As the future 4th installment of Thief draws near, I intend to juxtapose the two series (Thief & Metal Gear) to the most infinitesimal levels regarding their individual capabilities. An experimental conflict I’m going to keep drawing parallels towards is the relation that Thief has to Metal Gear Solid from my perspective specifically. A war of attrition for stealth games if you will…Interesting things to note here:

  • One’s innately told from first-person and the other from third-person. Though it seems each became peppered with its respective opposite as both series moved on.

  • Thief is told very indirectly and Metal Gear is pretty much spelled out in front of the player in the most extreme cases, whether they like it or not.

  • I’m playing them in diametrically opposed contexts. Metal Gear was more of a fan obsession for me, which I played very greedily as they came out, going as far to buy entire systems for games in the franchise (PS2;MGS2, PS3;MGS4). Thief however, has become more of an analytical enjoyment for me --- something I’ll be able to play with and make my way through very arbitrarily; almost totally separated from the context of other people’s buckets of perceptive trash.

    There’s also three aspects which I purposefully avoided discussing in hopes that they (along with other things I’ve discussed here) will be addressed in the two sequels I’m now intrigued to get into.

  • Thief’s musical design is something I immediately drag into question as there can’t be too much to interfere with what is a fundamentally solitary and silent game, but I did want something beyond what Gold was offering me.

  • The use of money in tandem with the game’s own method of weapon accumulation and stockpiling is something I admired. One thing I immediately desired more of was the active use of coloring Garrett’s world as an independent thief. Even if it’s the game somehow finding a way to acknowledge it in passing, I’d like to see it (again, Garrett actually commenting on his purchases and funds would suffice for me here).

  • I wonder very suspiciously how Deadly Shadow’s third-person perspective will work for me. Then again, I’m assuming the design genealogy will stay consistent all the way through that title as well. We’ll see how I react to given that I’m now very resolute in that the series needs its first-person view to function to my liking.

    “The designers stated that unlike the original game, whose levels were developed to suit the plot, in Thief II the levels were designed first and the plot retrofitted to work with them. In general, the levels are much larger and less linear than those of its predecessor.” --- Thief 2: The Metal Age’s Wikipedia page.

    *[That comment scares the hell out of me and is making me question whether or not to jump right into playing The Metal Age.]*

  • Wandering The Path

    For the first time in almost half a year, I decided to login to Steam this past Friday. There was no real intent for a purchase or anything on my part, but I did finally fall into downloading The Path. All of my impressions on the title have come from nothing more than anecdotal tirades on how frustrating it is. When I booted it up for myself however, I didn't receive nearly what I had conjured up in my head to expect. Instead I found a title that expressed curiosity for most of the things I rant about here myself. I won’t profess that the game expressed such curiosity with great or even exemplary incentive (nor will I grant it too much praise for depicting yet another take on the questionable underpinnings of Little Red Riding Hood), but it stood forth on that question with enough innocence that leads me to dote on it now.

    I should first state that I’ve only played two very quick sit-downs with the game, so it’s possible that my opinion may shift dramatically as I devote more time to it. I’m intent on doing this very gradually over the next few months as well. I don’t consider this game one I can sit down with and play though in one consistent chunk, even over the course of a week or so. Since games are roughly still being designed that way in general, it’s no surprise that so many ‘game junkies’ fell into utter irritation with a game such as this. I consider The Path a title which makes an outright joke out of what games are seen as by most of their avid fans.

    The first thing I questioned when exiting out of Steam (after about an hour with the game) was what it said about gamers instead of how much I ‘enjoyed’ it.

    The first thing I noticed about it was its fundamental interface/presentation; it absolutely demanded commitment. As for a quick synopsis for what the game actually is, I’d call it a ‘third person wanderer’ at its core. That’s what players will spend most of their time doing and it’s what makes the title’s most culminating moments stand out. It’s structured so that people will walk around doing very minor tasks which meaning can be applied to once a conclusion is reached. The story is presented in the context of the player wandering through the woods to their grandmother’s house, while being told very specifically to ‘stay on the path’ (which the most players will be led to inherently disobey anyway). As they wander off the path, they’ll encounter seemingly random structures, events, or items which their character (one out of six sisters chosen at the game’s ‘start screen’) will comment on or interact with.

    As that basically sums up the game (withholding the arrival to grandma’s house and the instances with the wolf), there’s an investment which is paid at the game up front in order to enjoy it. The small touches such as graphics and sounds breaking up the player’s trek will (and I’d argue should) affect them somehow. The title opens up to tropes which are just now being properly addressed by games; these include ambiguous thematics, minimalist designs, and non-invasive mechanics.

    If someone is playing The Path under the grand gaming delusion for instant gratification, they will probably walk away sorely disappointed. Everything from how the avatar moves to what the payoffs are/become require a default level of patience on the player’s part. The things which force them to get off their ass and exercise a little bit of mental elbow grease is something I’ll always applaud. Nine times out of ten, a pissed off gamer now means a developer inadvertently did something right.

    What I’ll probably be able to come back and comment on is how sexual imagery is played with regarding the loosest motif of things like a little girl in red with a wolf. The slant aimed at how a title like this is meant to be seen is contingent on how helpless a little girl in the woods is meant to be seen as. I’d love pick at the wound of how society would have to be kicked in the nuts to see a male in the same position, even a child. James Sunderland could use some company in the realm of sexually tormented males. So until further discussion…


    Wednesday, September 9, 2009

    I Don’t Trust You Quite Yet Sonic

    Yesterday, it was released in a Gamespot Q&A with Ken Ballough (Sega’s associate brand manager) that Sonic the Hedgehog would be featured in a brand new 2D game. Dubbed currently as ‘Needlemouse’ (one of Sonic’s earliest codenames during his initial development), it's meant to ‘take him back to his roots’ sometime next year. I’m already casting wild doubt on this though. Why is that exactly? Well…

    Sega has let many of us down far too much and now that they’re finally ‘listening’ so much as to acknowledge this game’s mere existence, I’m a little more than suspicious. Superficially, it is great news and I hope everything following the teaser is as optimistic as the feedback, but what Sega basically just did is stand up in front of Alcoholics Anonymous and admit they have problem. It’s a double-edged blade and I can only clap at that for so long before questioning whether they’ll go right back to the bottle. The teaser as well as the Q&A session made it pretty clear that they’re acknowledging Sonic’s stance in 2D as a bit of a big deal. My take on this is lukewarm at best, since seeing ‘in an all new 2D adventure’ flash across the screen is nearly a shameless grope to the nostalgia boner in all of us. It’s like a butler walking up to a starving person in the desert and handing them an eight course meal. I’d personally rather starve than blindly jump right into eating what could be anything.

    We also have to wonder just what kind of game will this be? If it’s just Sonic the Hedgehog 2 re-skinned, is that necessarily a bad thing? Ballough made it a point to recognize the fundamentals of what made the old titles so memorable, but nobody will admit that Sonic had problems back then as well; they’ll be too damn excited at this news to care. Sonic wasn’t Mario and finding some way to move his formula along is a dangerous task, so I can only imagine them logically seeking to get away with making a ‘safe’ Sonic the Hedgehog 4 at best.

    Should little visual touchstones be offered up as bullet points for us to become interested? Saying HD and 2D is one thing, but expecting them to carry more weight than necessary is something I’d be more inclined to wonder about. Personally, I can’t say I much care about the HD trip everyone hasn’t gotten themselves in with our latest batch of consoles. That basically means them touting it was lost on me the second it was mentioned. If anything, I’ll be wondering how much of a pain in the ass the text will be now.

    What we’ve heard and seen so far have only been from a brand manager and twenty-six second teaser. What was stated speaks as much to that man’s own job as it does to the relevance of what ‘keeping Sonic’s essence’ actually entails. How is it unreasonable to state that at this point, that fans may have more of a grasp on that than Sega?; which brings me back to the beginning of the article, since they’re pretty much obeying the demand for a 2D game in the first place (which fans such as myself have been demanding for years now).

    Yes, it’s spiteful and cynical on my part, but I’d much rather be proven wrong here. I really hope I’m dead wrong. So Sega, if you have the balls for that, I welcome it. A really sick irony here is that while I was willing to put up with all of those ‘questionable titles’ over the years, the first inkling of one I’d actually like to see is met with nothing but doubt on my part.

    Go laugh at that...


    Tuesday, September 8, 2009

    VGA 6-4 ~ The Exploration of a Nuclear Gaming Family

    One of the most fundamental topics of debate for gamers these days is the competition that arises from the interactivity of a videogame. When I say competition, I’m describing the often divisive means by which we enjoy what we’re playing. Whether it’s listening to how people individually handle this on a podcast, how our friends play their games, or even what we recognize when we sit down in front of a screen for ourselves, there is a constant effect of what the player will often cite as a ‘disconnect’; a point at which the player’s own will rebels against the title they’re playing. In some ways, it’s actually ironic, as the interactive nature that a game provides often drives the player apart from the game itself---no matter how much they may be enjoying it, hence competition. As the game allows us to exercise free will, we almost always attempt to 'destroy the creators', even if it's only subconsciously.

    The innate will to ‘buck our titles’ is also what often drives the discourse on topics such as ‘emergent gameplay’ and can even extend right into the authorship argument as well (both of which are significantly relevant to this post). This leads me to question just how far a game can actively explore its own content without leaving the player themselves behind. Keep in mind that this isn’t limited to narrative based games either (nor should it be); I’m simply questioning the means by which the developer’s design can run analogous to the player’s own enjoyment of it.

    One of the many examples that I can provide here is the often complained about lack of social commentary. Any game that might attempt make an incisive statement about our culture is often hushed by the various layers of development (marketing, business, technical limitations, etc.). Due to those filters, gamers will often go out of their way to stretch and idealize the definitions for terms such as ‘design’ and ‘art’. By demonizing any detrimental factors that contribute to a game’s development however, the ‘big picture’ tends to resemble a world where nothing is being perpetuated but conflict---unproductive conflict at that.

    A recent example for this is how a title such as Portal got away with the collective acclaim it did, which was due to factors such as its short length appealing the modern gamer that’s often pressed for time in addition to its achievement at making a direct and darkly humorous commentary on gaming culture itself. So, coming back to my original question---is there room for a game to explore beyond its own subculture, and if so, how will it happen? Basically, where does the player’s own exploration end and the game’s begin?

    The answer to this question certainly doesn’t have a simple and direct answer. This is because once 'wild subjectivity' enters the picture, the ability to grasp answers in any set pattern becomes amorphous. I welcomed this challenge however, and went around bugging random people about it. It typically boiled down to a question of a certain line that the gamer may or may not be willing to cross. As close as this lies to simply being an opinion, I wouldn’t consider the two exactly the same, not by any means. This is because an opinion can only form the foundation for what someone will do with their actions. Games by their very nature are interactive experiences to which the player must navigate by active input. Since there's usually no general continuity between any one person’s life and the game they’re playing (i.e. the number of police actual officers that actually play Resident Evil), the experience tends to default towards the fact that the player and the game are as separate as can be (once again, an automatic disconnect from the game). This creates at least three solid issues for what games can do to explore those subjective lines I just mentioned:

    1: Ludic Perception - Since the gamer usually has no personal or meaningful frame of reference for the game that they’re playing, they will generally have to meet the title halfway somehow, not only in terms of believability or whatnot, but any fictional world they wish to connect with.

    2: Technical Professionalism/Artistic Endevors - Developers have to aim at an audience, and will often need to use subject matter that they may have some unfamiliarity with. This is why people such as Motosoda Mori are hired to offer input on games such as Metal Gear. A game has an unbelievable task for hosting a certain degree of realism while at the same time needing to distort things in order to create a meaningful universe for itself.

    3: Double-Edged Design - A game starts out being nurtured and built up by its respective developer, but once it reaches the hands of the player, a whole new phase of development is enacted from that point on. A single person is set to task for internalizing what often takes years of expertise to craft. In that task somewhere lies what we really take away from title in the end.

    The Selfish Meme Theory

    I - Stance of Mechanics, Constrict the Complex

    Nothing more than rule sets, the mechanics for a videogame form a crucial foundation in the makeup of its architecture. It is not however, the end-all-be-all for what makes a title really stand on its own. Certainly some titles have gotten away with it, but that was when the medium was busy formulating its own humble beginnings (it’s the difference between a cave serving as shelter 100,000 years ago and a house serving as shelter now). Mechanically based games are almost a mere novelty now at best, and that's because games themselves have changed drastically in the past twenty years (which is opposed to the wacknuts clamoring for innovation left and right now). The designs have grown from those archaic beginnings though, and we’re now left facing the mess one must contend with when they're cursed with the sophistication of design itself. A common problem is mediating the balance between sophistication and convoluted. There’s nothing wrong if a title needs complex game mechanics, but the extent to which some games get lost in their delivery of play seems to be increasing if anything. The only reason I can attribute this towards is the drive for developers to experiment with the rapidly evolving technology. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they have to be willing take the lashes for any stumblings they make.

    Meme Content: Technology

    II - Stance of Professionalism, Exert the Expertise

    Keeping the last stance in mind, gamers have to be willing to admit when a game is at fault and when they’re at fault themselves. At the end of the day, there is a big difference between the player and developer, and it lies in skill. Designers don’t often take the initiative on their own skill though. The quantity over quality argument can be applied here, as a large group of skilled individuals doesn’t necessarily guarantee a great game. I'm highly suspicious of this area and would hypothesize that there absolutely has to be a drop off point for the excessive use of skill as a mere influential resource (which is opposed to it being used as a 'power'), as a large number of developers will remain just that and nothing more. Making more room for singular minds is something that will allow developers to stretch their talent past boundaries without worrying about compromising another’s idea. With that said, I’d love to see numbers on the sizing of various development studios and their respective titles. I think the industry has reached or is approaching the point where the development process of a game actively makes 'power' out to be a malicious force, and that's just wrong to me in many cases.

    Meme Content: Design Dissonance

    III - Stance of Memetics, Minimize the Money

    Despite the imperfection of memetics matching their biological counterpart (genetics), it is still an effective model for examining cultural ideas (pretending memes don't have their place is just silly you dogmatic elitists). The game industry is nothing more than a subculture, which by definition memes have their place within. Now, one of the largest problems with memetics in general is the instability at which they propagate. This counts two-fold for games as the pattern and rate of social learning in games is in itself distorted. In otherwords, the rate of what we interpret to be a quality game often changes drastically when we find mechanics we like, even if it’s across multiple titles (e.g think how Resident Evil 4 influenced Gears of War both mechanically and thematically).

    As a result, influences such as consumer markets and business models take up a nice slice of the pie, so developers are only responding to pressure in some cases (hell, it's only natural). However, there is much to be said for how some of the larger studios delegate their projects. An example would be Dead Space, which as an above average new IP, got its admirable 'fifteen minutes of fame' last year. As much of a breath of fresh as it was, its muscle as a creative variant is questionable (especially when compared to my prior two examples of RE4 and GoW).The reason there isn’t more diversity in our industry is because we've made it quite clear that we don’t want it right now. We’re still willing to toss money at studios we constantly acknowledge as money monsters. When it comes to hitting them where it counts, our own intellectual vanity gets the best of us. We often fall right back into the consumer-groove of things and as the 'minorities' we relinquish whatever little power we have whenever we do things such as:

    1 - Succumb to simply not playing games because we’re not getting what we want. This usually drives us to another venue of titles. (consumerism)
    2 - Separating our own lives in any way from how we play our games (the aforementioned intellectual vanity)
    3 - Simply attempting to force games to fit an otherwise hectic lifestyle and then damning them when they don’t make the transition (being a silly college student for example).

    Not only does the list go on, but the selfish memes extends to every corner of the games industry and they all encompass some degree of potential and worth; they’re just buried amongst ideas run rampant. The silly college kid whining about how he or she may not have time to play the JRPG anymore may indeed contribute to a qualitative idea that will benefit shorter titles, but once they wrap that idea in a flag---the idea will fall on deaf ears. Those who wish to cast off such debates out of angst and weary agitation are just as guilty, as they neglect an otherwise worthwhile discussion out of 'personal cerebral righteousness'. The idea that only cares about itself is what defines these memes and gamers should be ready to destroy rather than embrace them left and right. Hell, at the very least we need to start questioning 90% of them with extreme scrutiny.

    Meme Content: Consumer Manipulation (to be glib I'd like to say 'self-brainwashing' instead of manipulation)

    I’ve often heard (and used) the cliché metaphor of games being the child our time, but I’ll take it one step further and designate it parental units as well (i.e. gaming audience; paternal, development; maternal). It’s almost a common occurrence in the West now to have a child grow up with single parents. Why should we metaphorically pass that legacy on to something like our premiere entertainment medium?

    Developer Explore // Choice of the ‘Mother’
    Maternal Line: At what point do developers compromise their vision to feed their audience?

    One of the most immediate dangers I see in exploring traditional content with a game would be the offense it could possibly cause. Beyond the games industry is a big world, full of religion, ideologies, and perspectives that govern how we’re all able to get along on this floating rock. When someone is opinionated or determined on exploring any of these issues, there will always be an instance where a group of people will have their toes stepped on. Games haven’t even generally begun the exploration in the sense I’m describing, but titles have already been lambasted by audiences that get caught in some sort of crossfire (see Loco Roco, Resident Evil 5, Shadow Complex,etc.) My own opinion of this would be to welcome the chaos caused by this sort of thing. There’s no way to avoid upsetting people and timidly adhering to the general value systems of this world just creates a playing ground that nobody (or even worse, very few) really benefits from. The insight gained from certain types of conflict is usually worth more than the avoidance of it.

    Another hardship that developers face is the outright difficulty of just throwing game design into situations that may deal with ‘sensitively modest’ material. The first example that jumps to mind would be a World War II game, but with the player controlling a detainee in a concentration camp. When we have the player actively resisting things like torture and abuse in a stark and unstylized manner, the definition for ‘enjoyment’ loses its general meaning. This brings in to question of how gamers needing to broaden their own definition for what they expect games to do for them, but that’s something that I know will have to slowly evolve through time. Of all the impossibilities in this industry, that happening overnight is definitely an absolute one.

    For games to move beyond more common barriers however, they will have to first acknowledge them. This definitely starts with the designers. I myself have no frame of reference here, but I know exactly what I’d have to observe in order to gain further insight on the matter; the inner workings of design teams. How they function, operate, fraternize, etc., it all matters at this juncture ("all the pieces matter". Some studios for example, love to boast how many people they have working on a single title, but from what I’ve seen, the more people…the worse off a game risks turning out. I’m not advocating elitism, merely unity. Any argument for excessive technical force has its limits. A singular vision in the development of a game gets compromised more and more with each person that is allowed influence on it. When the titles stop veering off in multiple tangents of enjoyable mechanics, snappy dialogue, and stylized visuals, there won’t be so much misconstruction in what could seen now as design dissonance (e.g. this could sufficiently dwindle the population of people still whining about a game’s writing for example). It no doubt varies between games, but where are the lines that developers draw when crafting titles for their audience? Hell if I know.

    Player Explore // Choice of the ‘Father’
    Paternal Line: The submission of the player’s free will

    Sometimes, gamers are so caught up in what they want games to do for them, they forget what they’re actually getting from the title (and take note that I’m being friendly with that ‘sometimes’). It’s nearly mandatory now for a gamer to slip out of sync with the game at some point. That may very well be a pretentious statement on my part (what the hell isn't here?), but let’s consider how many of us skip cutscenes in Metal Gear Solid, don’t bother with the scans in Metroid Prime, or even spend the majority of our time playing games that require an internet connection. Playing a game to one’s own rules (rather than the ones the game typically sets out for you) can be a very slippery slope to experience the hobby on. On one hand you’ve got the individual take on a game, as there’s no law that dictates how we’re meant to play them. However, when one takes their opinion that stems from a stanchly distorted view of a game, trouble begins. I don’t envy designers in creating worlds that must aggressively beat the player’s ego down in order to prove themselves, it’s a horrible practice. We don’t mind damning mechanics such at QTE, but we rarely dole out enough praise for when it actually works (the Krauser fight in RE4 for instance).

    Submitting ourselves as gamers even more so to what developers craft is a major step in determining the industry’s future. It’s something we have to find pleasure within, to submit the amount control we have in favor of a cathartic turnaround. Our voice, impact, and opinion from a game is always ours, but how far should our own will permeate (or ruin) the experience? This is something with much gravitas, considering how the industry is still very much reliant on both technology and business. Gamers have gained grown in both of those categories as well, so we now have more influence than necessary in facilities such as online forums, blogs, and user reviews (it's the only reason 'I exist'). Let it be known that exalting developers unfairly is an onus we bear as well; putting too much blind focus on the fact that developers are the ones behind the curtain (as well as the existence of the curtain itself) serves more as a detriment than benefit.

    Game Explore // Choice of the ‘Child’
    Child’s Line: The suppressed drive to desire meaning

    When both developers and their audiences find a happy marriage, the titles will immediately begin to show it. The motifs and themes of every single title will begin to blossom more, be it the quaint design of Everyday Shooter (a singular title crafted over the course of a few months by Jonathan Mak) or the esoteric heights of the last Xenosaga title (an fascinatingly ambitious JRPG franchise that was absolutely crushed by its own grand tale, forcing it to end three games early). I always think the game should come first, not the gamer. That may be a fundamental design point many will contend with me on, but it simply makes more sense to strip away some of the current 'power' that drives a game’s growth. We should never be the customer that’s always right, but an audience in the truest sense of the word.

    Something people have also soured themselves on is how games borrow from other mediums, particularly film. I definitely think there’s a line to draw between different outlets of our entertainment media, but they’re all in the same family. Isolating any one from the rest nearly dooms whatever potential it may have as a piece of the larger puzzle.

    The variance for what a game can say is not something I’m ready to argue against, but it is something I will acknowledge at the very least. There’s room for games to exist as they are now, as they were ten years ago, and where they'll be at in ten years. I’m just abrasively knocking things down to make room for where they can go next. A key component for that expansion is contingent on how players perceive the worth of a videogame for themselves. When we’re truly willing to move beyond fun, things will evolve significantly. Whether it’s immersion, engagement, or whatever other term you need to help validate the transition, the fact remains that beyond fun lies meaning.

    For an entertainment platform so innovative and universally appealing, we seem almost determined to undermine its strengths in the most creative ways (e.g. the tired console wars that still exist). Is the barrier for moving forward impenetrable (I don’t buy that it’s inevitable) or is that just more feral cynicism on my part? I don’t think we should be so against a sort of teenage generation of games; intolerable young adults that are overly angry at the world, of which the only solace provided is their potential as adults. Games need to be far more angry, sad, and downright ‘horrible’ to survive now; willing to upset people as long as a message is there to be heard. At this point however, it’s even debatable on the amount of confidence most titles are even possible of possessing. Does the stance of a game simply being a product invalidate my entire argument here? Perhaps time will answer that. Either way, I don't think I'll have to worry about shutting up for a long...long...long time.


    Monday, September 7, 2009

    Control Critique

    [Playing Thief a bit more over the weekend has brought me back to the topic of critiquing the degree of control I have in the game as a player. When I speak of control, I mean the privilege that any gamer is granted in terms of mechanics, context, or perspective.]

    1 ~ What is control?
    2 ~ Where do we need 'control' in games?
    3 ~ Where do we (or I) need to just shut the fuck up about it?

    The first thing to note is that I just recently glanced at Brandon Sheffield's opinion piece on first-person video games. I honestly never thought to question the undercurrent of accepted prominence that first-person titles have accumulated for themselves over the years. Some of that is due to me mainly being a console gamer and therein likes my theory on why some of these more selfish memes exist.

    I've always preferred third-person to be completely honest...

    Why? Well...

    I noted this in the VGA entry 'Perspectical Mess' (which I've taken down from 1UP to revamp) as MGS4's use of its own first-person view was a very defining moment for me in games. I realized that the very nature of the first-person view has consistently been one thing to me, an absolute failure. In many cases, I consider that particular point of view a very intimate process when I'm placed in the 'eyes of a character'. This is so intimate in fact, that all surrounding context and mechanics get warped around it for the sake convenience. That's my problem, I've no qualms admitting that, but my attacks from the stance are no doubt relevant to this post, so let's keep going.

    Context & Control

    The context of whatever game is in question is first and key to the experience. From the various masses of P.C. gaming purists, a very stubborn and elitist meme has been born that is interwoven with the first-person view (and therefore narrative) becoming attached to the notion of gameplay being the most pertinent part of a game. I call foul on that because it's based off the assumption that one notion translates to all. That notion is of course...

    "Gameplay comes first."

    That's not a rule I've ever played by and it's not something I'll waste my time entertaining in-depth now. The insularly argument that 'gameplay (I'm hostile towards that word to begin with) comes first' is built on the false foundations of gaming itself being a product. Fundamentally, yes...video-games are still being run and developed from a very business-oriented mindset. That won't change for a very long time either, as the diversity most people are clamoring for now will take decades more to build up at best. This doesn't mean that the consumerist culture videogames have accumulated for themselves is anything other than specious as best.

    Control itself is only defined in this sense by how much influence we can direct over
    any certain form. Its not even tied to characters and such from a base form, and therefore narrative is free from those shackles as well. When gamers try to blanket what defines a game (DEFINE NOT DICTATE) over what it potentially can mean for its audience, two things are disregarded entirely: the player's own perspective and the games surrounding world that's laid out.

    At this point, we're kind of getting into an ontological game argument. As an example, I'll pose this question:

    Does System Shock 2's performance entirely outstrip BioShock's weight as a game? How much is the latter diminished by the former's mere existence? If we're looking at it in in the B&C (Business & Consumer) sense, then it's a formula not to be broken. However, if we look at in any kind of artistic light whatsoever, the lines are not defined at all, which is why there's such discourse on matters like this. That artistic light people give games doesn't just cancel out the flimsy 'gameplay comes first' structure, it totally destroys it along with the B&C construct as well. This is because there's never gonna be a game that comes out and is unanimously hated by every person on the planet. Someone somewhere will be able to find subjective force to infuse into a title, and depending upon the circumstance---the context, nothing will be able to objectively nullify that (which is assuming that anyone can objectively judge a certain situation to begin with, which is pretty damn rarely).

    Mechanics & Multiplicity

    After the context is established, it should be a given that setting up mechanics to accompany it will be key to that game's success. This all depending on the designer's vision and authorship itself is a fairly 'new' concept to games, as designers like Hideo Kojima are still lambasted regularly on countless forums throughout the world (doesn't his own son say the series sucks?). There's also the directive of obstacles here where both third-person and first person-titles turn their respective crowds off, whether its the camera or the disconnect offered by a character such as Gordon Freeman. Developers are constantly fighting a game of trial and error in a market of fickle consumers, which denotes idiocy on both grounds (and I include myself amongst those idiots). I realized while playing Thief that I prefer the exact mechanics of how the lock-pickings works in the game, as opposed to what something like Splinter Cell is known for. Button-presses and timing are only factors when concerning how they influence the myriad of titles available to gamers. It's when the players try to deify certain mechanical memes (compare Half Life's cutscenes to that of Metal Gear Solid's for instance) that I begin to get annoyed with things.

    Perspective & Petulance

    I find third-person perspectives more engaging simply because they allow a sort of visceral fluidity in a character's movement. That engages me far more than the makeshift eyes I'm meant to have in the context of what Master Chief sees. So while I do consider most first-person games a true bastardization of my actual sight, I'm not going to fault any title for it past a certain extent and I won't let that dictate my own enjoyment of it either. Two exemplary paradigms I can put up here showcase the P&P ('Perspective & Petulance') which formulates my own opinion that gamers need to take a swim in a landfill somewhere.

    The Resident Evil Argument

    Look at the pictures on this blog. See the relevance for them now? As far as games go, this is a fantastic and abashedly nuanced representation of art vs business; two of mankind's most bloated creations that despite their co-dependence on each other, are constantly at war. A couple of quick observations on these pictures though:

    1: How many of the nostalgia-grabbers are disregarding their own frustration with Resident Evil's prior fixed camera in order to idealize the franchise's former standings? How do we even begin to draw lines in where we establish what made the prior titles so memorable, be it the fixed camera or tank controls?

    2: The fellators who grab on to the over-the-shoulder mechanics very fucking often overlook the fact that the franchise's story has suffered in lieu of embracing of two deluded falsehoods; either all the Resident Evil games have had crappy stories or they don't come to any game expecting a great story to begin with. There's something significantly wrong with that stance, and I won't say what it is because it's pretty damn obvious what kind cowardice fuels this.

    3: Why wouldn't Capcom release Resident Evil 1-CV with RE4/5's perspective? Would it infringe upon the prior title's significance or is there too much money involved in 'properly' revamping them? It wouldn't be as easy as the GameCube's REmake of the original Resident Evil nor would it be any less risky as what Konami/Nintendo/Silicon Knights attempted with the Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. Also, given that players HAVE idealized the Pre-RE4 titles, doesn't the fear of remaking them in that manner prove how flimsy their initial deification of the titles were to begin with?

    The Mouse-Whore Argument

    I'm too lazy now. Go see any P.C. gamer's rant or stance on why FPV works soooooooo much more efficiently with the mouse & keyboard rather than with a controller. I don't like touching that one because grabbing shit doesn't make it handier, it just makes my hands shittier.

    P.S. For the full list of the responses that that 'Wesker' got from his question, click here.


    Friday, September 4, 2009

    Videogame OST Analysis #1 ~ Metal Gear (1986)

    I enjoyed writing the ’musical gift basket’ for Resident Evil yesterday, so now I’m going to actually follow up on it with roughly the same thing, but encompassing a whole soundtrack. I thought it best to ease into this, so I chose an older game without the 50+ track list that most games are notorious for now (while also my least favorite title in my favorite game franchise). Given that I did fifteen tracks yesterday, I suppose this post will turn out to be much more compact in the end. ANYWAY….

    Game Profile
    Title: Metal Gear
    Release: 1986
    Composers: Iku Mizutani, Shigehiro Takenouchi,Motoaki Furukawa
    Platform: MSX2
    Type: Stealth/Ambience

    Track #1 – “Operation Intrude N313” – 0:35
    Most Prominent Appearance – Literally, the first 35 seconds of the game.

    There are two things I consider important with this and that’s the sound the transceiver makes as lettering displays itself on transmission. The actual introduction tune is mere novelty in my eyes. What actually carries the nostalgia from this however, is The Theme of Tara which begins after the initial transmission ends…and it doesn’t let up until you beat the effing game.

    Track #2 – “The Theme of Tara” – 2:09
    Most Prominent Appearance – Any portion of the game the player is effectively hidden within.

    There are so many themes I could say about the Theme of Tara, but as a summation, I honestly don’t like the tune. Given that it’s not nearly as catchy as oother pre-90 era games, it’s cursedly tagged to play mechanics that are often associated with a very frail anxiousness. Something I will commend however, is the first forty seconds of the track, which use two deep and prominent beats juxtaposed against a steady rhythm of softer tones. Those two beats are then followed by three lighter tones and this gives the track an impression of something peaking out amongst something slightly ominous and jarring. That is highly tied to the games whole stealth theme and it hasn’t been lost with the various remixes and orchestrals that have been churned out over the years. It’s good for nostalgia now no doubt, but its initial appearance is draining as hell, given the player will most likely hear this theme for well over five hours their first time through (assuming they’re not walking themselves through). It just doesn’t have the legs of say---Super Mario’s main theme, but I won’t fault it for that given it’s a wildly different game and context.

    Track #3 – “-!- Red Alert!” – 1:44
    Most Prominent Appearance – About the 50th that the player hears it.

    The reason that Tara’s theme is not as sickening as I just made it sound is because it’s MEANT to be broken up by being caught. Ludologically speaking, that’s a playfully philosophical question since I’m essentially stating it’s wrong to not be caught in Metal Gear. This track does its job admirably by pressing the player forth with something that totally smashes Tara’s theme. The transition is something to be noted as well, as those three alert signals show a game reproducing ‘time-slouchy moments’; instances where time seems to stop and can be recalled in great detail despite being wildly out of context. I cited its MPA (Most Prominent Appearance) as any time after the player has already heard more than their fair share of it. This is because the track is constantly dancing with Tara’s Theme and it’s relative to what the player will experience, depending mostly on how much they’re discovered while playing through the title. Metal Gear in that respect scores a win for the entire game medium here (as do many subsequent stealth titles); this is one of the first appearances of something unique that even films will never be able to copy, ‘dancing tracks’.

    Track #4 – “Sneaking Mission” – 1:52
    Most Prominent Appearance – First entering the basement in search of Dr. Madnar

    This one is almost tiring in the exact same way Tara’s Theme is, but it has a catch---there’s more to the melody and the rate at which it becomes annoying is much slower than ‘TT’. There’s almost a hint of subversive depth to it and it perfectly matches with the fact that it usually plays when Snake is underground in basement areas. The one detriment I will put on it however, is the interference it can make when the player is forced to use the plastic bombs to smash walls. It involves a tedious amount of wall-punching and searching; before the player can even recognize it, this song is in their head and its tone actually will actually negatively permeate their actions. I’d actually call this the most depressing track in the game.

    Track #5 – “Mercenary” – 1:13
    Most Prominent Appearance – Running into the Shotgunner in the basement

    Every time I heard Mercenary, one word came to mind, ‘bouncy’. Given that every boss encounter in Metal Gear can be either ridiculously hard or ridiculously easy, the tune is aligned with the players own ability to land on that scale. It has a slightly shifty nature to it that matches up with all the battles Snake must take to in Outer Heaven. The only exception I’d contend with here is the Fire Trooper’s means of fighting Snake, as he is mainly stationary for the entire battle. The panning fire-sprite kind of throws off the music itself and it’s the only instance in the game to do so.

    Track #6– “TX-55 Metal Gear” – 1:11
    Most Prominent Appearance – The second between running across the electrified floor and entering the TX-55’s chamber.

    This is probably my favorite track in the game, and is the one that will elicit the strongest nostalgia boner from me now. Despite the fact that Metal Gear never really becomes activated in this game it’s actually kind of imposing when the player first sees it. Why? Well they’re not allowed to look at it in the most traditional sense. The second after they’re forced to run across the electrified floor, they’re confronted with finally dispatching it. The zapping security camera keeps Snake on his toes though, so more attention is most likely focused on not only that, but the ridiculous means by which Snake has to destroy Metal Gear in this game. Metal Gear therefore becomes an ominous mythos through indirect means because they barely have any time to associate with it in anything other than a cursory visual glance. This is very much opposed to Metal Gear D's appearance in the next game, as they actually show that model being built in the opening scenes.

    Track #7– “Escape –Beyond Big Boss-” – 1:52
    Most Prominent Appearance – Climbing the ladders on the way out of Outer Heaven

    I like that this track travels at a much faster pace than -Red Alert- does because it gives the game’s already meager soundtrack a bit more range in intensity. Opposed to countless other progenitor 80’s games, defeating the final boss doesn’t grant immediate reprieve; instead the player is immediately shoved into making their way out of the fortress before it explodes. Metal Gear moved on to become one of the most convoluted and pulpy game plots ever, so the events of Snake in Outer Heaven are often regarded as ‘messiah moments’. Metal Gear kind of capitalizes on that before it all became a reality since the player was not allowed reflection on the tiny little plot the game did have. This is deceptively tricky, as the plot’s own pretentious begins can be seen here as quite humble.

    Track #8– “Return of Fox Hounder” – 1:16
    Most Prominent Appearance – Completing the game

    Usually, you’ll catch me doting on game credits, but I honestly don’t have much to say about Metal Gear’s closing theme. In fact, it’s one of the most unrewarding tracks I’ve ever heard in a game if anything. The actual closing scenes of Snake running away and listening to transmissions on his radio is worth more to me here. Even the actual credits themselves hide this music’s underwhelming sense of accomplishment. I guess you could say this is my least favorite track in the title, but I’m more indifferent to it than anything, which is the most horrible place for someone like me to be.

    Track #9– “Just Another Dead Soldier” – 0:09
    Most Prominent Appearance – Hearing the track remixed for the first time in other titles.

    I consider this on the other end of the spectrum from track #08, as while I don’t care about it directly, I do care about its presence in the game. Before the characters starting screaming Snake’s name in the Metal Gear Solid, there was this brief amalgamation of tones that slap almost playfully slape the player in the face for dying. I can always respect that.

    So yup, that’s my take on the original Metal Gear’s music. I’ll definitely be coming back to the series, but I want to break things up. That means the next title won’t be a Metal Gear game. I’m going to try my hand at something more recent if I can muster up the will to actually do it.