Tuesday, December 1, 2009

IRS Post #1 – Sight of Samus

Yeah, I know…

I said yesterday’s post was it for the week but this whacked me in the ass last night and I couldn’t resist. To compensate, I’ve placed up a progress bar for my current Shattered Perversion post on the right hand side of the page. I’ll keep those there as long as I’m currently working on one, which is the best I can do since I basically lied yesterday. I did manage to get some Earthbound shaved off anyway, so all is well. I just keep tacking these ‘feature posts’ on, but since I’ve yet to abandon any of them as plain bad ideas, I’ll keep going with them.

Anyway, IRS posts are meant to be 'short' blogs on any of the numerous moments that I’ve had in games which moved me to any extent worth mentioning (though this one will be quite lengthy because I feel compelled to explain it). It could be something as infinitesimal as relishing in the novelty of a certain mechanic or even just enjoying a certain music track at a certain time. It’s an endless list, but being that games are a mass produced medium, I think these will be pretty worthwhile in how they communicate to the reader, especially if they have felt the impact of my choice in some context (even if they personally deny it themselves). So, the tenets of IRS basically just equate to 'me, me, me', but are as follows:

Introspection // I manage to hide any personal sense of self in my blog amongst a very tactfully organized shelf of secure and introspective thought. My readers at best can judge how I think to some extent, but very few actually know who I am and they won’t know many certainties of such either; this is vice versa for people who deal with me on a daily basis (I can count on one hand the number of people who have a clear view of both). If one were to take anybody that just reads my posts here and introduce them to someone who associates with daily, you’d get a very confused meeting (an experiment I intend to try someday). My posts are built on the mandatory premise that the reader must come into my own head (without practically knowing whose head they’re in to begin with). It’s certainly not fool proof, but given that the rules are different when I’m my own god, I’ll never get sick of it. I still seem to be a rare breed among gamers that can swing the insanity of a fanboy while craftily manipulating the technique of insightful criticism.

Reflection // Usually these will catch on some common beat of immediacy --- something powerful and substantial, which is conveyed of the course of a few seconds at most. Even moments of clarity in a game I absolutely hate can make all the difference in the world. There’s a lot to be said about that first knee-jerk reaction, full of all its bias and opinionated prejudices. It’s a beautiful thing to see when it’s pure, which is why moments like these carve themselves out in my head. It’s also proof that my content here is only the ‘creative exhaust’ from my head, which is usually running dozens of its own theories at any given time; I can’t seem to help it anymore.

Solipsism // It should almost be predictable that I’m a bit of a solipsist (i.e. the only thing I’m absolutely sure of is that I’m here, the rest of you are up for debate). Filters like that have been present since I was a kid, so my delusions of grandeur and ego now --- well you can imagine. One of the cooler things about my solipsism is that it’s tempered by how much of other’s people’s ‘truths’ I can graft into my own matrix of reality. The ratio there is a bit ridiculous (i.e. I only trust like 10% of the people I know), but for the umpteenth time --- I’m still young & stupid enough to find pleasure in interacting with what I hate.

So yeah, those are what these will be based on. My gaming life is like one gargantuan jet-black skyscraper in the middle of the night, and IRS posts will be the equivalent of me opening windows all over the place to let the moonlight shine in on some areas.

IRS #1 >> ‘The Sight of Samus’
First Instance >> 2002, with Metroid Prime
Intensity >> Mildly Sophisticated
Indicator of >> My love of ‘this age’ of gaming
Proof of >> That gaming will have ‘periods’ eventually

If you had asked me what I thought of Samus from the ages of 7-15, I probably would have screamed something along the lines of:

“She’s just some mute chick with a metal rack! At least Mega Man has that ‘fuck yeah’ look on his face!”

I still have a very low tolerance for mute characters to this day. They always seem to serve as the surfboard for what many gamers ride on as the wave of relinquished characterization for the sake of generated narrative. Samus was one of the precursors for cultivating this distaste, but to be fair --- she started off in an age where she simply wasn’t technically equipped to be featured with a voice, merely text. There wasn’t much text for her either, but when a character is ‘relinquished’, the player automatically fills in the hole for themselves. I saw that much as I got older and people started to praise Super Metroid. That’s not even to say I didn’t do as much myself, but one can only call upon Nintendo’s timeless design to an extent; after that it becomes dangerous to idealize unless one is willing to run with the game as a personal favorite. Due to the success of titles like Metroid, Half-Life, and even Halo to some extent, some designers began to bring into question the nature of how such a hole was necessary for some games. I didn’t like this, because as it stands today --- Samus remains the minority amongst her peers here.

What minority is that? It’s the small group of mute characters that extend beyond their own silence.

Nintendo is notorious for hiding this common trope in their games. Link, Samus, and even Mario to some extent are all essentially all victims of the thieving cat. Samus extends past what I’d love to see in Link for one reason; what Retro studios did in 2002. I’m interested on how tuned in they were to how meaningful this was, but such is so with all art and its artists. It’s very common where they inspire perception beyond their original intent. What the hell am I talking about? Well --- it was early in the morning (as usual when I’m playing my games), and I was jumping around very erratically on Tallon IV when I was hit from behind by some insipid creature which I can’t recall the classification of right now. As I turned around and opened fire on it, ‘it’ happened…

Samus’ face flashed in her visor...

At first I didn’t even catch it, and it essentially buried itself in my head as an impressive (albeit subliminal) aesthetic inclusion. After about two minutes, I stopped traversing and just stood there for a second. I suddenly remembered what I saw and ran off to engage anything I could shoot. It didn’t take long and I instantly found something to catalyze the effect again. I was a bit awestruck at how it affected me, because I didn’t even think of myself as regarding Samus as an actual character. Having her face reflect back from visor in conjunction with her grunt was like an existential crisis to me. In just two seconds, I shifted my stance from ‘that stupid mute lass’ to ‘there’s actually --- possibly something there’. Samus is the one thread holding together whatever semblance of faith I have for characters like Gordon Freeman to actually have some kind of payoff in end.

"...because it was a neat little insight into the character that we wouldn't have otherwise noticed or cared about. There's not a real explanation for it other than 'that is interesting and intriguing!' It genuinely just feels like Samus is being humanized there. I mean, she always was, but the point is that within a slew of emotionless, dialogueless, and personality-addled characters, we're given a sense of existence with seeing that she has a face and she has expressions."


It was Prime that gave that to me and it’s one of the reasons why I hold it in higher regard than the now-deified Super Metroid, which even at its most touching moment --- did nothing for Samus herself, it merely invoked pathos on the baby Metroid. This in conjunction with the meta-narrative Retro built into the scan-fest of Prime (not to mention Retro actually captured the formula’s transition in 3D) is why I hold it in regard as my favored Metroid title. It’s not uncommon for me to make such a choice either, as some rightfully take extreme and divisive stances when it comes to the development a franchise makes between its last 2D iteration and 3D. Despite my pathological reverence for the 2D era, I always tend to come down on the 3D side at the end of the day. Examples for me include:

  • Despite it being mere cinematic clone of its predecessor, I still prefer Metal Gear Solid to Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.
  • Link to the Past fell into the lump of Zelda games I just couldn’t stand until Ocarina of Time re-shifted my entire perception of the franchise.
  • Metroid Prime gave the solitary exploration of a female Amazon a bit more meaning, when the predecessor failed so many times for me.

    Such 3D reimaginings not only allowed me to retread and find love for now-cherished franchises in their entirety, but they provided me with new lenses to view them under as well. The third dimension is certainly a seductive and relevant portion of the cake no doubt, but it was ultimately irrelevant in what drives my choice here. The extension games created for themselves in the late 90s is something so deceptively vital, 90% of games still haven’t moved past it ten years later. That --- my dear people, is my summation of the 2000s era in a nutshell; Samus not having the grapple beam to make it across a chasm. So before ‘we’ waste countless hours trying to make fruitless jumps to our death, this hateful FAQ advises all to go back, scour the area and take it all in before they inevitably (and unwittingly) discover the way to their means to proceed.