Tuesday, July 28, 2009

VGA 6-3 ~ Multiple Perspectives and Adaptive Bastardry at Zack’s Expense

Are there any more games out there that depict multiple perspectives in one coherent title? The only one that initially jumps out in my head is Eternal Darkness (but there must be more because my head won't shut up, so apparently I've played others, I've just forgotten now). For further parameters, I’m referring to a tale that strictly encompasses the personal trials of at least five or more people.

This post is most certainly inspired by my recent reading of World War Z, a fictional post-apocalyptic documentary by Max Brooks; it’s actually the first bit of fiction I’ve read in quite a few months and I was left very impressed with it. In my naïve cynicism upon finishing the book, I glanced around online expecting to find a film adaptation for it. Lo’ and behold I did, and after skimming some of the cursory details of some bidding war between studios, I gave up reading any more (I was actually mad at myself for having even the slightest amount of hope that maybe the book wouldn’t get a film adaptation). In case that doesn’t clue you in, I’m not a big fan of cross-media adaptations of the same story. Books to movies, movies to books, games to movies, games to books---everything between those (disregarding some canonical backstory novels) just pisses me off. Generally, this is because they show no honor to the source material they’re drawing from, that and they don’t even attempt (not anymore anyway) to earnestly individuate the adoption to the respective medium (e.g. The only Harry Potter movie I can even remotely respect would have to be at least twenty-four hours long). The pillars that most of my arguments stand on are no doubt stringent, but that doesn’t mean they’re void of flexibility.

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In fact, I analyze how most of these crossovers operate within my own parameters of that flexibility; that’s just how I judge any worthwhile artistry within them. For all the time that fans, critics, and media-connoisseurs waste on trying to rate things on their own merit, they often disregard “perspective sourcing”. A more accurate term would be “subjective compromise”; this means what one person is able to grant or let slide in a newer adaptation of a model originally designed for another medium. Only a few make it through because general perceptions and tonal conditions allow leeway for a bit of compromise (e.g. a science fiction book that translates to a film rather successfully). However, even some of those only work one way and aren’t reverse-compatible to begin with.

Before I get carried away, take note that I’m not specifically referring to an objective system of any sort, just a guideline of checkpoints which can’t be tampered with in any way. Design is only worth its salt amongst the rules that can be stressed and strained. The most common solution games can come up with these days typically revolves around surreptitiously building around the system. Very few designers ever try to beat the system anymore. There’s an inherent fear in this business-dominated industry for that; there’s nothing wrong with admitting it, especially considering that window will gradually open over time (as the variety of design for titles increases). Now I’m not saying the system can be beaten, but the appeal of watching a designer “fail” at it is what I grant immediate respect towards. This is because of the genesis of ideas that flourish and fall in any given title on those grounds.

The system can be broken though, but that’s going take quite a few designers, each with their own big set of balls. These cross media adaptations are a perfect vehicle for smashing that wall. Keeping in the theme with WWZ, I’d generally agree with the typecasting of American and Asian life principles. These principles trickle into every facet of our culture, including their design; contrary to whatever argument stands against that, the U.S. and Japan stand as the brute forerunners for the video-game industry. Very few nations could stand together in such an artistic complement as well (i.e. diametrically opposing each other on numerous fronts). Let’s obey the stereotypes for a moment and look at the numbers argument that those along the Pacific Rim are raised and pronounced for discipline and memorization. They’re taught in that style and it filters into everything they accomplish and create (hence the techno tag Japan has gotten for itself). As much as I’d complain about a studio like Nintendo, their existence is totally plausible, as is the “messy makeup” of Japanese design studios that have attempted to break away from that mold while falling into it even more (e.g. Square).

Over here in the States however, we value individualism and honor those who stand out in anything even remotely resembling a positive light (whereas in Japan, castes such as the burakumin exist for a reason). So, the tradeoff for being taught to think as opposed to memorize? We Americans lose our sense of discipline. Certainly not entirely, but it’s hazy when compared to those who are raised on it (e.g. Japan). The antinomy is ironic considering how much of a timid problem racism still is in this country (look at the “proud flag” that the African American community has tried to wrap around its culture during the past half century).

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These social defense mechanisms are silly, necessary, and understandable all at the same time. We marvel at these cultural differences at every turn, but when one actually calculates the circumstantial, geographical, and cultural makeups of each nation, it becomes infinitely less fascinating (to me anyway). Think about the honorifics and dialects used in Japanese dialogue, whereas New Yorkers are continually painted with such an impolite hue. Even that can be broken down; this is considering that such a city is built fundamentally around a time-based consumerist culture. In many instances, I’d imagine it to be rude in the “cultural capital” of the U.S. to even expect a “Hi!” from someone.

Me, I’m from the South…wayyy the hell down South, so I and anybody else even remotely from these parts can empathize with the principles in culture. If anything, the “bubble” at America’s Sunbelt most closely resembles “original” Asian-esque principles in the United States (though we probably resemble China more than anything else). If you want an example, look at the culture shock a Northerner generally experiences when in the presence of Southerners. Most people in my part of the country consider it extremely rude when one doesn’t stop and uphold a twenty minute conversation with them (instead of just saying "hi"). These conversations are usually full of banal platitudes and more noteworthy as drawn-out signs of respect than any useful application of conversation (I could launch into my extremist tangent here with a diatribe on how the South has been overcome by making mannerisms a modern day currency, but I won’t). The South clings to superstition, ignorance, and pretense to communicate its own culture. That’s why we’re still a breeding ground for the more uglier deformities of modern day ideologies (e.g. you might be surprised how much racism still runs around down here, on both sides of the fence no less).

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If you want to offer me exceptions to the rule, I say don’t waste your time. I’m aware of them, but their usefulness in this discussion is nothing more than shallow attempts to prove me wrong. I don't care about the minority alternative right now (go laugh at the irony of that statement)

Now, I certainly skewed off topic with that, but I’m still roughly on the same path if you’re paying attention. I’ve tirelessly demanded perceptions shifts from the gaming industry and I’ll continue to do so until I see some spark of inspiration to shut me the fuck up. That spark will start in the design for such titles. It’s easier for the cross-adaptations because these are worlds not totally reliant on creative foundations and constructs. Designers must learn how play to the medium, not the culture. Human culture is built off thousands of idealized falsehoods created over the course of many millennia. You can’t beat those falsehoods, you can only break them (e.g. creating a truly offensive game).

WWZ broke the system by indirectly making an precise social commentary on a large scale disaster (wrapped in disguise with the creative nerd trappings of a zombie apocalypse). Speaking as someone who was right here on August 29th 2005, I’ve no problem attributing praise to the book on even those grounds. Anybody who suggests otherwise is too blinded by their own selfish bias and suffering to see reason (Hell, I still walk to the damn library just to get online).

Games have problems they must first overcome in order for a title like this to work at all. So, in response to that aforementioned stupid movie (which I have no intention of investing hope in on any level), I’ve decided to offer up a thesis for why World War Z would translate much better as a game than a film (or even anything remotely resembling the idea). With respect to Max Brooks’ book, I’ll state that this title will never exist most likely and it can’t even be made now (I lost that kind of faith in people once I turned ten years old). The film will most likely come out to generate pure income and lukewarm praise at best. This is simply something that can’t exist in the same beat that “true” artificial intelligence can’t yet. This is more about “artistic math” (numbers diluted by human integration) though, so that means there’s a very good possibility that it can never exist. AI is pure math being pushed by human will, so it’ll come regardless, that’s just a matter of time.

“Zack’s Game”

Scale
To accurately represent a disaster event, an expansive depiction is absolutely mandatory. This is something that usually cannot be done over the course of a two hour film. Even in the context of a trilogy, it’s a bit of a stretch (by long fucking odds nonetheless). This means specifically that a believable disaster of such epic proportions must be felt in visceral inches. I say believable in the loosest term as well. This is taking into consideration that Brooks got away with wrapping a geek’s playground (zombies) into what became such an engrossing read. Some troupes belong in certain mediums to “feel at home” and although film popularized the zombie culture, it also campified it at the same time. A film version of WWZ loses it’s true rights as a film as the thematic of something such as zombies at that level invests much more of its worth in the culture of gamers (and potential gamers), plain and simple (not too unlike how modern film is trying to commit theft of the superhero visage right now). Let's not forget that a game can generate this result at far less costlier resources than a film ever could as well. By default I attribute any kind of “ground zero” being more graspable by scale in interactive entertainment.

Cultural
As a segue from the my scale stance, this stands as something games have to work harder to do. To color culture in a game means to warp stylings around intricate parts of design. The degree of variance in individual stories would have to create a certain threshold dynamic. This means that the game would have to at least appear to be designed conceptually by different people. The same feel and system doesn’t have to communicate consistently from a fundamental jumping point. Just because a game is being designed by the same people doesn’t mean that it’s required to have the same consistent tone throughout; only a unity in dynamism is needed, nothing more, nothing less.

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Stylings
The aesthetics would be an issue for a game of this type, because the deviation from most forms of “realism” would cause strife among too many people for a game like this. The good thing is that this isn’t a sandbox or open world concept. It would, could, and should be a very linear or directed experience. The only technical issues I can think of would be the number of on screen models for something like the battle of Yonkers (and problems such as those have creative circumventions everywhere).

Length
Given that a game can still clock in at 20+ hours before it’s deemed excessive for me, I’d say this works as an advantage for the medium. The only thing that beats out a game in that regard is a book. The amount of accepted investment in a game is a serious advantage that too few take an advantage of. I’d imagine this is due to a lot of things, most prominently the growing praise for those two hour experiences (e.g. Portal). Turning this into an episodic thing isn’t out of the question either. Especially since the time periods between releases can be accomplished with a video-game easily nowadays. Those intervals could also allow for some natural individualistic design to kick in as well, depending on how frequent the episodes could make their appearance. The length is also reverse engineered to exponentially increase the value of the aforementioned scale muscle, and that’s just a side benefit. It’s not a requirement in my eyes.

Creative Schisms of Misery
Remember in Eternal Darkness how nearly every character suffered a dismal end at the conclusion of their respective chapter? The title hid behind that makeshift sort of novelty to avoid directly addressing what I’m alluding to now. How long do we have to wait to have a character actually survive only to survive surviving (yeah, I know…)? That would be quite something to see in a game, to have that acceptance beyond death as more than a mere thematic novelty (almost the opposite direction of my death musings from previous posts). Atmosphere is important in this area, so the competence of craft in how designers will construct their world from the ground up would be the determining factor here, in my eyes anyway.

Medium Definition
Though it may induce sighs, this would actually call for “zombie” to be defined once again. Ideally, I’d personally love to see something along the lines of 28 Days Later, but that’s not what WWZ was about and it would be far more difficult to translate that kind of terror to a video-game (I don’t care what anybody says, Left 4 Dead is NOT it). To continue borrowing that rule, I’ll state that it was the 28 series that conveyed a sense of hopeless virulence to me, they remain the only zombie films to do so as well. It’s the potential that I continue to see in the Resident Evil series, what went into hibernation with the emergence of Las Plagas. Video-games have yet to give the player something beyond “convenient fodder” and that’s what I want redesigned---reimagined. I want to be terrified by that virus again and I want the exhilaration of hopelessness to become penetratingly potent.

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“They scare me more than any other fictional creature out there because they break all the rules. Werewolves and vampires and giant sharks, you have to go look for them. My attitude is if you go looking for them, no sympathy. But zombies come to you. Zombies don't act like a predator; they act like a virus, and that is the core of my terror. A predator is intelligent by nature, and knows not to overhunt its feeding ground. A virus will just continue to spread, infect and consume, no matter what happens. It's the mindlessness behind it.”

-Max Brooks


Ludic Perception
How does one circumvent and tie multiple social issues into a game? You emphasize the dynamic between them all. Not only that, but you have to know how to compliment people while insulting them at the same time. Imagine how much less of a problem big breasted females would generally be in games if we had more than a handful of realistically depicted women? It’s about balancing out the scale of offense here. People are going to hate and distrust you either way developers; it’s your duty to earn that distrust, to tell the truth by hiding behind well-crafted lies, that’s the definition of any artist.

Moving Past Dead Rising
Don’t get me wrong, I love Dead Rising, but I want something on the other side of the spectrum because as far as I’m concerned, Resident Evil sits in the middle like a very stupid child. This is one of the bigger humps for games since they have to know how to deal with their own limitations. That includes the way gamers still consume them. The walls of interface will have to be torn down brick by brick for this to ever happen. We’re all still too enamored with standing tall over our enemies as opposed to learning from our skull beneath their foot. There still remains too many fundamental areas where gamers are unwilling to admit that they’re being played by the game as opposed to playing the game themselves. That’s just the sad reality of the situation.

Design
Design in the game wouldn’t be as hard as one would initially assume it to be. After the previous Dead Rising presence is sufficiently complemented, I’d imagine this to be fairly easy. Why? Well, because of the common troubles we take for granted now. Weaponry, ammo, class distinctions among enemies, etc...---they can all be restructured and re-established after this point. It’s just a matter of finding someone to do it (in the right time-frame), that’s all.

To close, I’ll just reiterate that this isn’t just a reaction to this book being made into a movie, but a disrespect to the responsibility placed on compatible venues. I see video-games as a better medium for this and I lovingly welcome any contentions people may have for me (this specific blog-post more than most of my others stands as an exemplary setup for that idea). If one just has to drag a “world” across artistic borders, I’m not going to allow any across the “state-line” without my own condescending and ever-questioning scrutiny. I don’t have the power to stop them, the patience to stand them, or the pertinacity to destroy them.

~sLs~

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An "Alien" Game

[Yesterday, I read a blog by Sarah Kelly and coupled with some thoughts I remember from Lou Lantos, I was brought back to the idea of an old film about a hostile new breed of extraterrestrials that terrorize whatever environment they manage to habituate.]

Yes, it’s dead beat horse to compare film to videogames these days, but I’m not doing that here. I’m simply using an old favorite film of mine to establish a paradigm for how games can be developed in their own right. Insight is cheap and it’s everywhere, people just refuse to take it for reasons unique to them now (usually time is the issue); I’m indulging in that today, so enjoy if you want---or better yet, disagree with me and “scream" (LIKE THIS!) down in the comments.

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I chose the 1979 film Alien, which was directed by Ridley Scott and released to praise that hasn’t wavered too far, even in the past thirty years. Last night I rented the DVD and combed through some of the special features, specifically the director’s commentary. Ideally, I would have enjoyed listening to more than just the director's input, but considering that Scott is one of the few directors that hasn't slipped entirely off his rocker in my eyes, I can live with it. It’s one thing when you listen to how something in a particular medium is made, it’s something else entirely to draw theorems across multiple mediums, and that’s what I want to try here today.

Extinct Modesty?

As we get older, we're trained to read between the lines and appreciate certain nuances in the things we enjoy. It doesn't happen to everyone, but it does happen nonetheless. After James Cameron's sequel Aliens, the franchise picked up a distinct tone of action-pacing when it didn't have to. This no doubt led to the fall of the progeny which culminated in what we have now, Aliens vs Predator. Not to say those movies are the bane of my existence, but considering what the series started as, it has been diluted to a mere comic-book mashup for the sake of a simple popcorn-fun film. There's a lot of reasons why Alien comes off as a humble beginning, but one of the most prominent is the reality of its buildup.


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“I always remember having this argument with some of my colleges at that particular time including the studio, where they kept saying…’but nothing happens for forty-five minutes!’. And I said well that’s the whole point because once it starts to happen, I think we should have them. I think…if nothing happens for forty-five minutes, it’s revealing the world where these workings in space function in; and it’s very interesting today in 1999, we’re now talking about deep mining ideas in space. This of course, is part of the description of the Nostromo---it's involved in just that.”

-Ridley-Scott

Is this kind of modesty extinct in today’s video-games (how about just the media in general)? How many games actively build-up anymore? How many have done so at all? Most titles are created in the sense of strapping the player in a rolling coaster and sending them on their way. The problem with most games however, is that they've perverted the enjoyment of the ride, by having continuous spiraling loops right out of the gate. These loops struggle on repetitiously until the ride ends and we're meant to be so enamored with it. One thing I will admit to the majority of people as a beneficial trait to have, is that they adapt pretty well to any given situation, be it biologically, mentally, or just general perception. After so many loops disguised in different fatigues, the effect has worn off and the structure of the ride needs to be tampered with altogether (if not torn down completely).

This film did such a thing in its own medium with forty five minutes of buildup (keep thinking of the rolling coaster, as this is an ascent). The reason we don't have better writing or depth of nuance in games is because most gamers aren't generally willing to shift their definition of "enjoyment". They want consumable fun, plain and simple, which is why I went on a tirade about the nature of "escapism" not too far back. Perspective counts for everything and changes radically from person to person. Now the process will be slow, but tremors have to be started to send new messages throughout the population of the gaming industry. As my last post clearly states, the type of games I'm talking about cannot and should exist tomorrow, but the progenitor thoughts are to be nurtured and should poke their heads out in games more than they do now. I'm not going to waste my time with examples, as I'd rather people point them out to me themselves and I have to keep this relatively short.

I'd Like More Adjectives

There's hundreds of words I've not yet used to describe games overall and one of them is somber. As a nice segue from the last section, I'd have to call the developer's intentions in to question here. I'd be genuinely interested in hearing how specific any developer(s) would find delivering tone to sequences in their games. Something I honestly did not know was a statement I heard on last week's Listen UP. It was something to the affect of how common it was for game designers to play little to no games, period. I certainly understand this on some levels, as development sucks up a tremendous amount of free time, but how can one contribute to making something past a certain extent without a threshold investment in it themselves? I find that a bit insane to be quite mild. I’m not asking anybody to be as passionate as I am of course, but I think the awareness to develop great titles---to move past the barriers that some gamers seem to be rightfully complaining about, lies deep within the developers playing more than WoW in their freetime (not to slight you WoWzers of course). The stagnancy in design is only the responsibility of the audience (the sheep) to a certain extent; it's the developers (sheep-herders) who I expect to do their jobs.

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Jean "Moebius" Giraud contributed to Alien as well, who was an influence of Yoji Shinkawa. =)

The Actor

If there's a corollary for acting in video-games, what exactly is it? What is the tradeoff for not having to cast an actor(tress)? It can't be as simple as technical skill, can it? Voice acting only accounts for so much. In many ways, its more difficult because gamers are now familiar with terms such as the uncanny valley, but as far as visuals go---that's a very easy hurdle to jump. Getting an emotional response or granting life to a video-game model extends far beyond graphical fidelity, it always has. Things like animation should complement human idioscynancies. This kind of thing is what some characters are based on, which games have a problem with by default (the schism between the player and the character played).

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“We were told just enough about them, so we knew classically who they were.”
-Ridley-Scott

Even unoriginality doesn't affect a game in this area, because archetypes are as old as time itself. People respond to classical archetypes because they can identify them with multiple facets of their own persona. The story is only background information at that point, the sandbox in which characters play. Once again, why do you think Star Wars has garnered the following it's had over the decades? It tapped into a easily accessible pseudo-religious undertone that nerd subculture just won't let go, even to this day. Most competent science fiction depicts harsh or life far below luxurious living to emphasize the characters themselves. Games don't do this because once again, the implications tied to such characterization is not fun in the traditional sense. Also, please keep in mind that in gaming context, I'm not referring to trial and error puzzles or blatant tutorials. What I AM referring to is a way to have the player familiarize themselves with the world around them, aided by fictional contextual wrappings; this can be done in thousands of ways which are at the designer's disposal, no excuses there please.

The Heroine

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“The idea of making the hero a heroine was a master stroke"

-Ridley Scott

For a couple of seconds, lets disregard the gender issue and look at this in a larger context. How many characters have annoyed you with sustenance in game? I can't imagine one having a long list of those because games haven't successfully translated that sense of visceral human interaction yet. There are surely good examples scattered here and there, but they are often few and far in between. This is all while any one game doesn't really feature a "cast" in the traditional sense. An easily ready example I can knock off the top of my head is Alien's Lambert, the ship's navigator. She's insufferable and an obnoxious crybaby, but the dynamic she presents to the cast makes her crucial to the experience overall (meaning that if given the choice, I would by no circumstances want her omitted from the film). I can't really recall a character like that in any game I've ever played in my entire life. It's always been characters that make me sigh at best, but I would never grant them a term such as "necessary annoyance".

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Now, getting back on topic, I'd love to see more rise in the depiction of not only male heroes but heroines specifically, as they are pretty scarce and mostly predicated on a deformed consciousness of nerd-sex-appeal. The character of Ellen Ripley was an oddity at the time because the first film specifically depicts her as an officious bitch (it's one of Sigourney Weaver's most attractive roles in my opinion). Despite being second in command (or is it third, I forget?), she manages to talk up to even her superior officer, Dallas. As the other members begin to die and lose their nerve around her, she remains steadfast (for the most part anyway) and by the end of the film, the audience is forcibly twisted to enjoy her as an protagonistic force to be reckoned with. The most recent example I can think of a game even coming remotely close to this kind of heroine would be Nariko of Heavenly Sword. I suppose not all is lost if I can at least cite a few lady heroes who didn't fall apart at every corner. Building off the previous section however, once we get a game that can actively build up somber and low-key moods, there will be far more facilities for heroines (specifically) to thrive. Differentiated, women tend to speak on more subtextual tones than men, so making a convincing heroine is not only challenging, but has to be a reward in and of itself when all is said and done. Speaking very generally, they often provide more sustenance to an audience, and that wouldn't change, even across a game.

Social Taboo Distortion

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Rebellious chauvinism, prejudice, and cleverly disguised sexual imagery runs throughout the Alien franchise. One thing I will argue for in the immediate sense, is for games to stop being so damn scared of upsetting people. The title, Six Days in Fallujah being cancelled (call it what you want, I'm calling it dead as of right now) is the perfect example of this. I absolutely hate the ideal that wants everyone that want to live in a perfect world, but without those people, this wouldn't be even possible to begin with (which is kind of depressing in itself). However, getting people to transcend the boundries of their own judgements and beliefs are what all mediums strive for at the best of times, even if it's a comedy. As the heroine of Alien, Ripley is by far the Alpha aboard the Nostromo. A specific scene near the end of the film has her very aggressively conversing with Parker, the ship's engineer. The novelty of this situation is that a white female (Sigourney isn't really small) talks a large African male into straight silence while dictating a plan. Yes, the races do matter and anyone who thinks different should really think about that. Apart from that, Ripley remains extremely prejudiced against androids during this film and its sequel as well (there's an ironic presence by the events Alien: Resurrection too). The way that the film delivers these taboos through science fiction is like an injection of creativity into the audience. By the time they realize these novel situations, they've already happened and events are intertwining within those circumstances as a result (i.e. how many people actually care about what a shot does after it enters the body?). I'll hold the sexuality off for a minute and demand that someone give me any kind of game (I prefer science fiction obviously) where social taboos are explored or painted in a light that's respective and individual to the medium of a videogame. The most prominent example I can think of here is the matriarch of the entire Snake legacy in the Metal Gear Solid franchise, The Boss. That depiction in itself was only slightly unnevering due to governmental abuse and sacrificial actions that are usually attributed to women (specifically mothers).

Artsy Fartsy

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As much as I’ve seen it thrown around out there that gamers have been given too much Giger-like work, I’d argue against that, declaring only that they’ve gotten a reflection of it in a funhouse mirror. In case you're not privy to it, H.R. Giger's surrealist work is what gave rise to the unique visuals of the Alien franchise. It's specifically known for dark sexual underpinnings. Given how the pop-biology of the Xenomorphs work, it's not that hard to see "sex" when shit begins to hit the fan. The facehugger, the chestburster, and the phallic/yonic designs of the Xenomorph's head basically yells it as every corner of the movie. The lifespan basically represents extreme rape and birth throughout the movie (my Twitter followers might recognize the term "traumatic insemination"). Hell, even the surreptitious predatory nature of the creature is more akin to intimacy if you want to stretch it a bit. I've commented enough about sex in the past months to be sick of it for a while (see VGA 6-2 and 6-1). I just want it noted that there's more to the equation than the Japanese showcasing how perverse their heads work. There's far more creative ways to get away with sexual undertones than making breasts physics operate for female characters in fighting games. Sexually creative commentary is a sparse presence in the industry, that's all.

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Now, something that should also be recognized is how art direction shouldn't be so backwatered in video-games. There's an obvious hierarchy visible in many games and it's far too easy to peg certain titles as:

"Welp, looks like marketing won for this game..."

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There are very few singular minds in the industry because artists are still broke nutjobs. I'm not saying give full design reign over a title to the artists (that's just as dangerous mind you), but they deserve far more than they're given, far more. Artists by my definition, are creative, innovative, and often economic idea machines. They usually don't need half of what they're given to create something truly extraordinary. Thanks to how gamers are built these days however, their presence is spread thin for the whim of of superficial desires. Yeah, YOU, me, we all dropped the ball there. Can we finally move past that spilled milk situation and get going again? Even I'm tired of hiding behind the popular choices like Kojima and Shinkawa. Those guys should be drowning in a pool of their own piers, not standing tall over a kingdom of gamers worshiping them. When you divert that much power to juat one person, the idea will over-blow itself, no matter how talented or revered said person is.

Science Fucktion

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As far as science fiction goes in videogames, we don't have it, if for no other reason than creators trying too hard to capture what film has already made unique to itself. There's a difference between "science" and "scientific" and its a schism very few games have even recognized thus far. The number of times I heard Ridley Scott say "There's some nice gobbledygook" was hilarious because he knew his boundaries and the limits of how far he could travel in his own arena. The purposelessness of certain objects and systems aboard the Nostromo is something only a few people are going to notice at the end of the day. Not only that, but even the people that do notice it will typically praise how creative a certain action/circumvention was (granted they're a reasonable human being looking for anything other than something to bitch about). The world of astronomy in particular is hostile from my observation, because some people are attempting to make the damn universe smaller than we know it to be (and "we" haven't even stepped foot off this damn rock yet). Mediums aren't limited to hiding in what we don't know, but are adverse to distorting (or destroying) what we do know. I think that's problematic, because it takes pretentiousness to an entirely new level (its lunacy is almost impressive). This means games which are still relatively young suffer the most as a child medium because adverse events and reactions filter and trickle down into the development, hindering how the creators themselves see what they wish to make. There's much to be said about what can be bent and broken in the Matrix. There's two sides to that metaphor though. The smarter people are content with playing the role of the machines, while others wish to live plugged into the system. If I have to feed my ego anymore in this blog, I'll declare myself "The One" and will obstinately dedicate myself to yanking some of you pathetic bastards out of the system myself. It's time some of you finally open your eyes. =)

Audio Audacity

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If you don't see sex in a picture like this, what the hell DO you see?

Unlike Scott, I’m not the biggest fan of Alien’s actual score, however I do love the majority of its general sound design. Every single bit of noise in the movie is nearly priceless, and helps to form the core illusion of it's world. I will grant the music some praise though, specifically in tugging certain tensions during specific scenes. The commentary is riddled with Scott uttering the phrase “love this cue”. Luckily, some games are making some real progress with their individual sound design, but I'd love to not only see more room for music made, but sound as well. Music is hard because people tend to connect with it as a core medium moreso than any other artform out there, therefore they get very snippy and judgmental about it, extremely fast. Games of horror, "science fucktion" (the bastardized adoption video-games have taken for themselves), and musical-based titles use it most competently in games. This is for the obvious reason that sound plays an integral part in the experience for those types of games. This is what defines most of the Silent Hill games for me personally, as those titles do more than most and all that's going on usually just equates to rhythmic and pulsating industrial noise. I can't specifically complain about this area of gaming because the time track it's on just seems to fit in my eyes, and I don't want to tamper with it on any level (yeah, I'm egotistical enough to think I can have that kind of influence too). As of right now, we've got some good examples, which seem to be steadily increasing by the month. I will say however, that visual juxaposition against music or lack of music makes for some gargantuan moments. I've not seen anything even remotely similar (in a game) to the strobe light effect near the end of this film, where Ripley runs directly into the Xenomorph. All that's there is silence, and because of that, there's a visceral feel to the scene. Games get the headstart on this by having a player in direct control of a situation, but that has turned into an Achilles' heel (or the opposite of a headstart, whichever), which ironically sets games back expontentially. This is because the problem of a developer dealing with the degree of control a player will have at any given moment is an extremely difficult task which developers haven't fully mastered on any particular front yet. I don't envy them with that task either; as that's an idea that looks damn hard, and I doubt it's any easier to deal with on paper or in execution.

So yeah, this could/should culminate in breeding an “alien” game if the ideas are taken into consideration by someone, someday. Some title with foreign aspects that hasn’t been seen before and could very hostility assert/propagate itself, not only in the market, but general perception, and most importantly (in my case anyway), artistically.

I might turn this into a series. I’d love to do this for 2001: A Space Odyssey as well. (8bithack reminded me of Solaris this morning as well). For Alien's attempted "Metrodian" tone (reverse-perceived that is), 2001 screams Portal to me for a number of reasons.

Now, someone fucking take me to see Moon. >=(

~sLs~

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Upsetting The Status Quo WITH The Status Quo

This is technically going to be the follow up to a post that doesn't even exist yet (and I won't say where it will appear since I'm a jerk like that).

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Anyway, over a casual probing of Adelle Star's Facebook status (they can be used for good you know), I was brought back to a topic I just recently visited already. That topic is normalcy in games. I mean normal in the sense of grasping the complacent misery we all have to wade through on a daily basis; be it a job, relationship, or just general unhappiness. Yes, this would be the status quo I'm referring to, as we're all (most of us anyway) connected by this one long train of things we try our best to not complain about. Why simulate that though? Games often are meant to be played as a cathartic release from reality, that's one of their Fortés. Well, one of the answers lies in a quote I love to live by right now.

"Life's greatest comfort is being able to look over your shoulder at people worse off, waiting in line behind you."
-Chuck Palahniuk (Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey)

Now some games let us run around a skewed barrier of normalcy (see The Sims). However, even those games are based on the ideal that gamers don't want what I'm specifically referring to in the first place. Think of the loopholes here though; we do find enjoyment out of this same misery in other mediums. Sure, movies, films, I've even heard some songs capture this same essence of boredom. Games do not. I don't think this is as simple as they can't be made that way but its more because we don't want them that way...right now (i.e. they won't sell), AND there's not enough minds willing to embark on that kind of creative odyssey. This is where a muscle such as writing could really kick in for the game industry though. The amount of vacancy for that kind of writing would call for some extreme character development and subtlety innovations. Not only that, but it would dictate an absolute marriage between a game's writing and its play (let's be honest, all we've really gotten are middle-school/high-school relationships at best so far).

"Normal's not normal, if you're not normal."
-Dr. Gregory House, Season 3, Episode 10 ~ "Merry Little Christmas"

Welp, we're not normal, not most gamers anyway. For any number of reasons, we'd like to believe so, but the truth of the matter is we're a growing population of abominable social malgrowth. Most gamers are actually nerds or geeks pretty generally and those terms are fundamentally contingent on some outcasting from those around us, whether it was schooling, family, or just general misplacement in society. A game predicated on that ideal is dangerous, you know why? It's because it would get so much done without doing a damn thing at all.

Some sample scenarios rolling off my head:

1 ~ Following an "average" college student for a week.

2 ~ Following an "average" person holding down multiple jobs.

3 ~ Following a passenger on any number of the modes of transportation availible in today's world. A simple two hour game that covers Jack's flight prior to crashing near Rapture comes to mind (BioShock).


Now, you could disrupt these at any time with surprise happenings (e.g. 1//Student has unfortunate chain of events, 2//person gets fired or deals with a crime of some sort at their job, 3//Terrorism & Human Error). It's not a necessity though, just a means to artistically break up the idea that I'm tracing around here. This type of game certainly shouldn't come out tomorrow or anything, but you know---I'd like to see one someday. I'm also going to point out that I'm being really nice by ending this post here as I wanted to go on and on just to tie into the theme of the post itself. However, that idea was crushed once I realized how much of an "assedrous" invasion privacy to take the aforementioned Facebook friend's life-snippet and amorally analyze it for the sake of a blog I'm not even willing to write as comprehensively as I normally do (plus I'm lazier than usual today). Even I'm not that bad...yet.

I've never been as miserable playing a game as I've been in school, and ironically that kind of makes me sad too. =(
- SnakeLinkSonic

~sLs~

Monday, July 13, 2009

For the Protection of My Sacrosanct Realm

With the penetration that a franchise such as The Legend of Zelda has had on the gaming population at large, one would imagine the fanatics of the series being willing to accept the series’ evolution. This isn’t the case however, as even the most sensible of us tend to have a very convoluted relationship with the series at this point. The games as a whole serve as an excellent paradigm for what happens when developers become too stringent (*coughnintendocough*), the industry becomes too budget-focused, and the fans become for lack of a better term, crazy.

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Even the aesthetics stand on trial at this point for some reason...

As gamers, most will probably admit to holding one or two of the titles above the rest while only being able to relatively enjoy the remaining games (if not flamishly hating them). Many only become interested in stroking erections of nostalgia while others fall into a lump category of judging the games on some newfound merit of individual accomplishment. Well, I call foul on both of those myself because the former is cheap and selfish, leaving the latter ideal to wallow in fashionable game-judgment that your average ten year old can do far more productively in this context.

So what the hell is a Zelda game anyway? What really encompasses and composes the experience consistently? That’s not such an unreasonable question and the answer is not simple by any stretch of the imagination. Also, don’t get lost in rational thought either, because I’m not talking about the technical answer which can currently be yanked off Wikipedia. No, I’m alluding to what consistently engorges the player’s psyche when they sit down to play any game in the franchise (whether they end up coming away from it blown away or spiteful is irrelevant at this point).

To begin answering this question however, I’ll start with the most basic of the entire idea’s exploration, its own inspiration. The games have all communicated what inspired Shigeru Miyamoto to procreate the titles to begin with. As a young child, Miyamoto had an experience which included him apprehensively exploring a cave with a handheld lantern. This was really just the pinnacle moment among the many explorative childhood experiences he had, but it was that youthful desire to explore that he really captured, plain and simple. He literally captured a singular moment in time and it’s been on display for over 50 million people ever since 1986.

Over the ages, this idea has been dolled up so many times, neither it nor “Shiggy” really knows what the hell it even is anymore (at this point, it’s just “bank”). It’s a damn good idea that has become twisted and exalted for many commendable reasons…and many condemnable ones as well.

So now, I actually invite some pragmatic thought into the mix; to bring that lantern back, even to the most sharpest literal point. What I really need at the moment is someone who detests the series as a whole, but is willing to respect it nonetheless (which rules me out by default). I’d need them to point out what speaks in the game as an admirable element of play for them and them alone. The sick irony here is that there are rarely people who just flat out hate the series overall. Even if they hate nearly every single game in the series, it’s very likely they have at least one which actually means something to them (destroying any supposition that they genuinely dislike the titles overall). This means it’s very hard to find someone who genuinely just hates Zelda, that endearing will to discover. Further absurdities suggest that while everyone is easily able to pinpoint their favorite game in the series, they are just as fast to downplay the surrounding titles; games which are virtually built in the exact same format (mostly).

So, at this point I want to launch into an examination of things I’ve seen in the franchise to consider, change, channel, capture, and cancel out altogether.

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It’s about time we started treating Shiggy as simply the kid among us all that created a cool game. You’ve all deified the poor man past the point of no return, you’ve no right to complain about that reality now.

The Pin Marks of The Past & of The Ocarina

Most people hold either Ocarina of Time or Link to the Past as their personal pinnacle point in the series thus far. There’s a reason for this because both games stand as the top marks for the formula basically becoming an exemplar for an “interactive fairy tale”. A more positive side note on this is that Wind Waker’s maturation process is warping people’s perception of it. The aesthetic has allowed that title to particularly grow very slowly, which confuses most people because yes---most of them still care about graphics more than anything else. This care is not specifically contingent upon the shallowest sense of technical prowess, but individual accessibility. As a general rule for video-games, the digital art is what allows the gamer to step into another world; it’s the front door for the game as whole. So, because titles like Wind Waker (my personal second favorite) are stylized past realism, they will stand the test of time when compared to their brethren.

Getting back on point, Link to the Past was the real progenitor for what the main console games are doing currently. Firsts are always spoiled when it comes to praise, usually due to nostalgia and innovation; the latter being the only one with true merit. To its credit, Link to the Past is one of those games that is as every bit enjoyable as the day it came out. Though it’s my least favorite Zelda title in the franchise overall, I respect it in the same manner that I grant Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake to this day. Even its aesthetic design holds up now, with sprites oozing the same exact appeal it gave everyone nearly twenty years ago (and that really does say something).

Ironically enough however, my favorite game in the franchise is Ocarina of Time, the game that basically started the trend of ripping Link to the Past off and re-wrapping it in a new package. My love for OOT is not some hidden romantic and delusional grasp of me playing it first. No, I played the series in the exact order they were released and I was repulsed with every one of them, until Ocarina of Time that is. My love for OOT stems from it being the 3D successor, I can certainly admit that. Personally, I’m a person who enjoys the world of Zelda far more in a 3D environment. Every single nuance and strip of detail is communicated to me exponentially in a 3D construct (another argument for another day I imagine…).

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Together, both LTTP and OOT are games representing two firmly pinned thumbtacks holding the entire legacy of Zelda up as a poster.

Change is Inevitable

There are a lot of people I hear complaining about Zelda’s stagnation over the years and I’ve never understood it. Yeah, I understand wanting something different after sucking down title after title, but at some point, “getting burned” is the fault of the fool and their fault alone. This doesn’t justify wrapping the disdain for that stagnation in idealistic demands. Why? This is because nearly all of these complaints I’ve seen simply wish to toss out conventions which would rob Zelda of its namesake altogether. I’m all for a change in some areas, but I do not want Zelda to go the route that Resident Evil is on right now. Twilight Princess is a game I enjoy, but I do regard it as the lesser of two evils in the big picture (change against the conventional). Mainly this is because I first played it in tandem with my initial play through of Okami and it really made me look at the concept of what makes both games tick while apart from each other.

I’m of the mindset that a Zelda game must always retain a significant amount of traditions. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the games can't appear to be vastly different from one another, it’s just a hard feat to pull off successfully., it’s just a hard feat to pull off successfully. Now, if a fan wants a sidequest or a deviating entry into the series, that’s just fine (e.g. Majora’s Mask is still an excellent game). However, there’s no place for complaining about Zelda as is; it’s like complaining about having to defecate on a daily basis. Socially the act is considered taboo now, but its biological relevance is gargantuan in the total worth it provides, so the attempt to downplay it is just plain stupid.

There’s plenty of ways to offer up a transformation in the Zelda series while honoring this. I’ve actually been outspoken on the allegorical example I’ve provided three times in my blogs over the past few years. One could take Zelda totally out of the fantasy-medieval context and yank it backwards in time or even forward to a contemporary story (turn the damn lantern into a flashlight if you have to, I don’t care anymore). It’s obvious that Nintendo even realizes this, as they tried to push Twilight Princess past boundaries it simply wasn’t ready to cross. For example, Zelda was NOT the tragic figure she was repeatedly praised as (by both the media and Twilight Princess’ developers); that description goes to Midna if anything. If they want that kind of emotional tug, it’s more understandable to make Zelda the villain and Ganon the ally (another thing I’ve been whining about for ages). This is also a key example in the point I’m trying to make. The formula for the eternal connection between Link, Ganon, and Zelda is a formula that shouldn’t be disrupted, ever. Rearranging that same problem however, is something I’d die to see.

It’s about damn time to finally let Zelda herself lay hands on the Triforce of power and fall to corruption, or better yet---keep in tradition with her gaining wisdom and having the player face another type of antagonistic force altogether (as opposed to Ganon simply accessing the Triforce of Power for the umpteenth time).

Change for change’s sake should never happen, but a natural transformation is something to be nurtured which is far more important today than ever before. Just because video-games fall into the realm of digital chemistry doesn’t mean it belongs to the whim of consumers. Past a certain a certain point, even the creators themselves are only meant to hold a fairly loose grasp on their dear and precious babies.

It’s About That Time

You know---it’s odd, ever since Link to the Past, it’s the Zelda series that has repeatedly used time as a thematic means of play. The games are certainly not alone, but even titles such as Prince of Persia get wrapped up in the novelty of their own mechanics, which leads to another problem altogether (see the next paragraph). For me, Ocarina of Time is what presented the closest grasp of this notion (Link to the Past is a debatable point in my eyes), while Majora’s Mask actually played around with the established mechanic just a tad more. Like I just stated, Zelda certainly isn’t alone with this, but for the sake of an argument, let’s pretend that it isn’t simply chief among the few surrounding it.

This is something that can be better explored in a formal Prince of Persia analysis, but I’ll use it anyway. Titles like Prince of Persia and even recent lower key emergences such as Braid use time in vastly different constructs. They’re definitely enjoyable and even amazing at some points, but ultimately superficial, as they’re delegated to mere abilities that are granted to the player. In the Zelda franchise, time is fittingly shoved to background noise, consistently enough to hold it as an expected theme of the franchise overall. Titles like Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask present the most obvious presence, but it’s still only integrated into the course of the world itself; the player has but one effect on it, which they must use to the best of their ability to operate within that playground. Even past that, titles like Wind Waker use the same background noise in different variances (Wind Waker’s only fault in my eyes was not addressing the eroded maritime theme in depth). Ironically, most of the games are also superfluously long, granted one isn’t relying on a guide to get them through it. Nearly all games after OOT all feature a day-night cycle as well, providing an admirable atmosphere in each respective title.

Since this presence is consistent, I think it’s yet another trademark that the series must never disregard, ever. The placement of time on the player (rather than the other way around) helps to mold the overall experience. What I’d imagine being a reasonable desire at this point is the subtle presence of time. This means more than a juxtaposed presence (OOT and MM), or an after effect which governs the playtime theme (Wind Waker). The problem with this is that each time this is attempted, the ideas get degenerated by specific mechanics. If one is going to pull off a time-based world, it has to be built methodically around that construct to nearly bury it entirely (how buried that is would be where the artistry truly kicks in).

The Legend of Zelda remains a mythical force among gamers because of a wonderfully placed time theme, which very few games are even able to aspire towards now.

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Prince of Persia lets you control time. The Legend of Zelda only lets you affect it.

Lighting the Lantern

The most obvious way to evolve Zelda’s exploration origins would be to attempt an open world experience. Granted the time and skill, it would certainly be plausible for a dedicated studio like Nintendo to pull off effectively now (even though we all know they won’t). I don’t really think this is necessary however; realistically it seems more like overkill for something that can be done with a lot less resources (considering that an open world Zelda to me would mean nearly making a fucking offline MMO). The hub-like fields of Hyrule don’t really have to change at all for this to happen, nor do the countless contextual landmarks of the series (e.g. Hyrule Castle). What does need to be tweaked however, are the dungeons. Their accessibilities, structures, and overall design should be earnestly questioned to the point of total deconstruction. Of course the story itself would have to shift to reflect this as well, but the possibilities in these categories are nearly endless, especially considering the change one would have to make to one of the most important things in the franchise, the items and weapons.

For the poetry of Shigeru’s tale of discovery, “the lantern” has not been shifted since the late 1980’s. All the items have ever done since are work as keys to progress. With OOT’s 3D debut, the possibility poked its head out of the ground just quick enough to glimpse but not grasp. Indirect emphasis should find its way into these games to empower the items even more.

This is a section I could spend days explaining, but I’ll stop and try to make it the shortest. Remember how fun a fucking stick was as a child? What if that visceral ability to grasp an item could be translated into a game? Of course the hookshot was fun for the first five minutes, but after a certain point, the player knows exactly when and where they’ll be able to use it, downgrading it’s presence to a mere key in their inventory. Even the iconic sword could use some contextual twisting here. Imagine a game where an enemy can knock Link hard enough to send it flying across the room, leaving Link to deal with them in a different way. Of course some enemies could steal or disable items already, but if there’s always just one or two ways to kill them, then they’re just another puzzle; much like the dungeons themselves, which I already demanded be gutted and revamped.

What if a big Darknut’s weight truly factored into a fight? Rather than some mythical understood notion that the Master Sword withstands all, I’d rather see it given an “instinctual crave” I’ve always felt lingering in the games, but never seen properly. Don’t even get me started on the magical backpack that holds the entire world inside of it either (that’s a responsibility all games answer to now, not just Zelda)

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There are more dimensions to a lantern than it simply providing its intended uses. How long will it take for a Zelda game (or any game for that matter) to further recognize that?

Trivial Traditions

If you’re one of those people that stands by some weird ideal that Link should never talk, then thank you. Your craziness makes me not appear so insane myself. I don’t necessarily think that the next Zelda should become Metal Gear Solid, but the aversion to making Link talk is founded in irrational inconsistencies. Samus for example has a reason to not be so chatty, but Link is usually operating in worlds where he is meant to interact with characters and the world on a frequent basis. The novelty of him shutting up has aged horribly and since Nintendo is so god damn stubborn (and its fans even more so), Link has remained a perpetual vegetable.

Why do you think characters like Navi, Tatl, and Midna become so crucial in the games they’re in? I realized with Midna that it’s about time Link opened his mouth. It was fine in the 80s when games couldn’t stand on the feet they have now, but today---it’s just a weird disconnect when I see it. The balance of Link talking is something to be considered surely, as it IS in his nature for him to be mostly silent, but he’s not a definitive mute. This is actually just one among many of the silly things that fans of the series tend to hold on to. I’m not advocating for their entire removal, just the sense of dogma gamers tend to incite when they hear something like: “Link will talk now”. There’s enough weird belief systems in this world without gamers trying to construct arbitrary ones themselves to exist in between the development of the games in the franchise. You crazy assholes…

Aesthetic Schisms

When exactly did realism become so tied to the idea of maturity? Gaming has grown up with its fans, so much to the point where the average adult may be able to realize at the very least that it’s not simply a children’s hobby. Ocarina of Time and Majora Mask established extremely solid foundations for the 3D Zelda universe. However, after the infamous eleven-second Spaceworld 2000 demo video, fans somehow latched on to Zelda moving into some parallel fucking dimension of realism that has never existed in life…ever. Cue Wind Waker, a game that looked so magnificent for what it was, people are only just starting to realize how pleasing the visuals really are. When fans finally got their return to form in the appearance of Twilight Princess, the response was slightly underwhelming; partially due to some newfound understanding that Zelda has gotten old. By that logic, Zelda was “old” by the time OOT rolled around, so that argument is specious at best. Zelda didn’t simply just become old on its own, the fans did; that and the fans only grew up in body alone.

I do agree that the more looks the series can collect the better. I don’t believe pressing for another Wind Waker or the opposing “darker” realism (and calling it realism is stupid in itself) will help anybody. The look should be a reflection of whatever type of game it is, not the other way around. Also, where is it stated that Link must keep growing up? I don’t mind the time shifts of course, but “Adult Link” remains an overblown anomaly in the Zelda universe, as he’s only ever appeared prominently in Ocarina of Time (one could certainly argue Twilight Princess as well I guess). I’ve also not seen any effort for the art/marketing/overall reception to truly embrace a child Link. This is because of the interpretation one could make on his pre-OOT appearances and his Super Smash Brothers and Soul Calibur cameos. For all of the given subtext and obvious themes the games have put forth, there’s been no real attempt to present the gaming population with the brave little boy we’re assumed to have met already. He’s simply been rammed down our throats in many different schizophrenic depictions. Parental neglect Nintendo, tsk tsk…

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To mature or not to mature, that isn’t the question---at all

Musical Malady

I will side with those that think something needs to happen with the music motif. It certainly worked well for Ocarina of Time, but the subsequent games have twice attempted to shove the music-play into the overall game as if it just fits across every title. The baton was cute but ultimately unnecessary and the entire wolf thing just rubbed me the wrong way altogether. Also notice that I said the motif needs to change, not disappear. What I’m responding to is the act being used as a tactic to serve as interactive play. Think about it, context withstanding---how different was blowing, waving, and howling? It doesn’t have to be a colorful underplayed gimmick for the player to wrap their hands around it. Juxtaposed against the overall plethora of Kondo’s work (i.e. the rest of Zelda’s music), the sequences just couldn’t get away with what they wanted to after OOT.

Something that is really creative would be to have no music at all. Stick with me on this for a minute. Imagine a game where the music actually existed within its own world. This means the tunes would still be up front and center, just not thematically idealized. Hyrule Castle tends to hold 24/7 festivals of games, music, and celebrations. So, what if Hyrule field didn’t have a theme? What if the player could hear volume variances in these festivals and activities by the music wafting over the castle walls? These themes and songs could change and differentiate throughout the experience with whatever is going on at that particular moment (with the technology now, the possibilities are endless). Whatever populations exist in the Zelda world could create their own music to dance to and personify themselves (e.g. hearing faint Celtic music in the woods could mean one is near a village). In a game such as that, the only music that could be allowed to exist would be extreme ambient themes. The dungeons of this hypothetical world would be silent as well, allowing only the sound itself to create music.

When I imagine this, music more akin to Silent Hill fills my head (ambient industrial noise). The water temple doesn’t need serene and relaxing tracks anymore; I’d rather the music, enemies, and surrounding material create the acoustic makeup. If the developers saw fit to still tag dramatic tracks to the boss battles, then how much more powerful would those compositions become? The inspiration for this actually stems from a Zelda game ironically enough, as wandering up Ganon’s Tower is an experience which I always look forward to in a Zelda game now. Scaling the stairs in his tower during Ocarina of Time was specifically inspiring, considering it was Ganon actually playing an organ himself.

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I want a Zelda with absolutely “no music at all”. What would that do for the sound design of the series, let alone games at large?

The Arbitrary Perplexities of the Hyrule

After my last post, someone questioned me in the time-management area, since I basically argued for the existence of frustration in video-games (fittingly the person who contested me has the AIM screename GanonsFoot). Anyway, that frustration-love post stemmed from a revisit of Link to the Past, which I just finished---again. In that game, I noticed an aging fault which comes off now as an arbitrary means to extend the game overall. It was finding the flying duck that allows the player to enter the Mire Temple (sixth dark world temple). To accomplish this, the player has to play their flute in front of a woodland boy’s father. After the father speaks to Link, he leaves no clue where Link is required to play the flute in order to move forward---UNTIL the second time you speak to him. Now, I certainly could have questioned him again, but I decided not to probe his lamentation of his son’s condition and left the bar. I then wandered around for days until I whimsically decided to go talk to him again, which led to him directing me towards the statue in the middle of Kakariko Village.

Now, if someone has any other advice on how I was supposed to figure that out without a guide (did I miss some other clue in the game?), I’m more than up for hearing it. Right now, I’m going to take it as an arbitrary presence in the game and develop my anger at it since I’m a dying breed of gamer that doesn’t run to Gamefaqs when he/she’s a bit peeved (I much rather prefer yelling at the screen thank you very much). The threads connecting the world of Zelda should never be so damn singular. There should always be more than one clue for certain situations, and less weird humps for the player to get stuck at (“Remember the Water Temple”). The designers should make it much harder for people to write guides for their games now. An experience can be better developed in Zelda these days than the stupid web of cause and effect structures the games are predicated upon. If nothing else, it would stop the games from being cheaply and overly long.

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STUPID FUCKING DUCK

Forming a Link

Corporeal Form Changing has been present ever since Link to the Past where Link was running around as a pink bunny. One of the most admirable appearances to date has been Link’s different alterations throughout Majora’s Mask. My entire perception of wolf Link was destroyed by playing Okami, so the only thing that saved those sequences was Midna. Having Link actually change form is tricky business because there should be some shift in the perception of his abilities in relation to the surrounding world. Well, one would think that already exists right? Well, not for me. All I’ve ever seen are “things I can do in this form and things I can’t”. Sometimes the game even offensively acknowledges it by creating puzzles solely reliant on Link’s form. That’s not wrong in design, but in action it has an extremely low threshold of exposure for the player until it becomes pseudo-metapuzzle.

The first example that jumps in my head would actually be one of the most well done versions of this I’ve seen in the franchise thus far. It belongs to Ocarina of Time and involves Adult Link having to travel back in time to examine a well in Kakariko Village. Form-changing is s portion of the games that I remain indifferent to and with Twilight Princess, the series doesn’t seem to be shy in acclimating itself with the concept overall. My only real problem with this is that no real meaning is given to the forms themselves. With Majora’s Mask, the concept got a free pass because it directly carried on the world established in Ocarina of Time. This means being a Deku scrub meant more when Link had a proceeding context (i.e. OOT). It was a cheap byproduct that the game managed to pull off with grace, which is why I don’t argue with those who hold Majora’s Mask up with such high accolades (that and the time “thechanic”).

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By the way, has anyone had the pleasure of experiencing Majora’s Mask before Ocarina of Time? It would be nice to have someone’s insight completely shatter one of my theories for once.

Tell Me a Story…

I kind of covered this already in the change section of this post, but I really want to enforce that Zelda is a game of tradition. This hasn’t been established yet, because as gamers we can’t really look at the franchise in hindsight yet. It’s just not on the scale of progression that will be available in say…twenty years from now at least. Zelda is a story that must remain a myth. Anybody that has taken a mythology class can attest to the flexibility included in the progression of such things. Zelda must remain the same story, but can be seen and told from the thousands of different perspectives available (this is all while creative innovations may be added to the franchise as well). For this to happen, we have to be willing to embrace and help the change flourish (while being able to call bullshit when it’s necessary).

I don’t have the strength to reignite the games-writing argument, but a Zelda title doesn’t require much, although it does necessitate a mandatory presence. Carefully designed resources must be manipulated to extend the reach of the games. This does not include whatever wacknut theory can roll off the designer’s head in order to compliment the game’s mechanics. The games that most of us cling so dearly to are all built on stories which at best become creative afterthoughts in the design process. The stories that are grander than life usually cripple under the medium’s own limitations (I could be cruel and say it’s the artists’ limitations, but I won’t, I’ll just put that in your head =D). I stand by the notion that bad writing is only as bad as we allow it to be. The writing for games hasn’t even begun puberty yet, so we can do it a favor and stop whining about the reality. Instead, it’s about time we elect the will to cultivate the long road games will have to travel in order to evolve.

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With a series like Zelda, how many other series of games are fit to pioneer that space? Just saying…

~sLs~

Monday, July 6, 2009

Establishing the Will to Die ~ Step 1 ~ Frustration

I was going to make this into a VGA post, but this seems more fitting; that and I was inspired over the weekend by a playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. As a first step towards what VGA 6-1 had to say on the nature of death in games, it’s titles such as this (1995 and prior releases) and many of its general gaming predecessors that are becoming scarce in numbers.

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I don’t mean to imply that hard games are on the fall. No, I’m more inclined to state that it’s the subtextual challenge within games that’s on the fall. A hard game brings design into question and that creates a schism in an entirely different category. Even when one takes into account the subjective experiences that people have on games, the line between challenging and bad design is so fine that it's sometimes rendered invisible. I don’t much care for the term “bad design” either, because it insinuates a distinct spectrum of some set rule of objectives when it comes to design overall (an insult to the methodology of the whole process if you ask me). There are always things to consider and discard, but labeling this or that simply as "bad" can become quite a slippery slope to say the least.

So, where do we draw---the line as? [I say --- everywhere]


Should we at all? [I say --- of course]


What room is there for games that are intentionally frustrating to the player? More commonly for our industry is the presence of trial-and-error games. Once again, Nintendo basically pioneers the opposition to that design-canyon many still fall within to this day. Valve is another studio that is adept to fighting this process. I am of course referring to the ability to instill intuition and actual progression in understanding (for the player) as the game moves throughout its respective experience.

So between the smaller financed titles (i.e. The Path) and bigger budget franchises (i.e. The Legend of Zelda), where is the trail for experimentation? I mention Zelda because that’s what I’m currently playing on the side while still making my way through Thief: Gold. Despite my familiarity with the game, it remains one of those titles where I constantly find myself stuck in at the exact same points. There are some typical and cognitive hang-ups in design and therein lies my query behind this post:

To what extent can those be manipulated and how much accomplishment has been achieved thus far?

There are of course other pieces of the puzzle that are individual to a person themselves (i.e. the way my memory works makes me susceptible to becoming stuck in this game particularly). Zelda is a good jumping point here because it epitomizes that real-time dungeon crawling puzzle world that it’s still known for to this day. How many times have you been stuck in a dungeon, frustrated, spewing profanities, and threatening developers that you’ll never meet? Now, compare that with the times that you’ve actually discovered something on your own and actually put two and two together in order to make something work. That cognitive feeling is far beyond the process itself, as that’s where FAQS have already gained the most ground in when it comes to robbing the experience. In addition, the popularity of such easily accessible walkthroughs (though some are wonderfully more detailed than actual official guides) is aided by the cold hard fact that people simply don’t have much time to revel in that area anymore.

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This is one of the big reasons why people cling to their nostalgia like such a damn life raft in the middle of the Pacific. They had that kind of time back then. They participated for hours on end, wandering, and partaking in “actual exploration”. As they grow up and adult priorities set in, they lose the ability to plug into that mindset. Some simply shelve that ability, while others just sadly forget how to access it ever again.

The pickle that’s laid out now is a fascinating one to look at because it has at least three factors circling the matter like vultures:

Stupid Buzzard #1 Subjective Experience - This is how much one enjoys the world and how their own character traits interact with that world. If someone is easily frustrated, they can’t and shouldn’t blame it on the game (yet so many still do).

Stupid Buzzard #2 “Design” – This is the amount of expertise that is presented in how the developer determines what will be introduced to the player (very few actually capitalize on “how” they are introduced, even to this day).

Stupid Buzzard #3 Time – Time rules a lot in our world, metaphorically, practically, and literally. So how many games are designed around that context specifically? I personally think this is the most challenging area of all, because developers have to deal with not only CAREFULLY raising a new generation of young gamers, but evolving the will of those that still serve as the bulk audience (not factoring in the casualties of the new age of course).

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There’s far more room in games than the simple labels we attribute to them. There’s more than just easy, hard, or even challenging now. All that terminology serves as is the bread on the sandwich. Technically, it’s a necessary (and the largest) part of the whole sandwich. Practically however, it’s only the required background presence for the "meat", which defines the sandwich entirely.

Too many gamers are simply eating two slices of bread now. Their excuses may be valid and good, but my stance on that will always remain.

Even a DAMN good excuse is still just an excuse.


Oh yeah, if you have some freetime and are a Zelda fan, drop by the Vintage Game Clubs coverage of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Their formal playthrough starts on the 10th. I'm using A Link to the Past as an indirect juxtapositonary playthrough for personal insight (that actual thread can be seen here).

~sLs~

Thursday, July 2, 2009

VGA ~ 6-2 ~ Anonymous Violence: The Splendor of Hell

Yesterday, I read a post modestly lamenting the lack of empathy that’s currently self-perpetuating itself across the Internet. It was inspiring no doubt, but the twist I took from it was quite predictable on my part. Take a good look at the title of this blog and you’ll probably able to see exactly where I’m going with this. To shrink the topic down to a more fitting space for the sake of a gaming blog, I’ll keep it as concise and on point as I can (considering this is me we’re talking about).

Establishment #1 ~ The Person ~ A capable animal with a capacity for intelligence and accomplishment.
Establishment #2 ~ The People ~ A vile disgusting collective-will with no drive or purpose in “its” life (other than self-preservation that is).

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In reference to the aforementioned post, I have to sketch out that my stance on it is as such:

I don’t believe it (humanity) and I never will. I’ve yet to see anything in my life time (which to be fair, hasn’t been that long) that has established a sound foundation for a my belief in the human race. I stalwartly stand against any ideal which professes that people should or even can be better than they currently are. Just looking at the history (or even the news for that matter) is enough for me to sit back with an enthralled smile my face. Something that I can truly count on (now more than ever) is “our” own failure. To quickly recap, we’ve raped continents and cultures; we’ve also enslaved races and even attempted genocide multiple times throughout the past 200 years alone. I absolutely detest the identity that some people place on their respective cultures, but I find it fascinating that just as shy as sixty years ago, I wouldn’t even be allowed the magnificent malice that drives a blog such as this. No matter what culture, science, or denomination of religion someone places faith in, there’s ALWAYS one constant, the people’s capacity for the grotesque standard we’re inherently trapped into attempting to suppress. The wild irony is the aforementioned second establishment up there. The person, be it a scientist, civil rights activist, hell---even the son of God himself; they have all suffered at the hands of people. This is what makes us beautiful, our ability to destroy (or create within that destruction if you’re an optimist).

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Despite the distortions and inconsistencies concerning of the myth of Lucifer, it’s always been my chosen understanding (I think it’s one of the Iranian myths) that he was an angel thrown out of heaven for loving God too much. Any creature that refuses to bow to man is okay in my eyes.

Any of our entertainment arenas now only serve tributaries of consciousness flowing into the divine simulacrum at large. We find conflict enjoyable and anything that simulates our own gathered misery is what’s served as best examples for our own image. Video-games are no different, as 95% of games are basically hinged off some form conflict or goal-from-accomplishment. That other five percent only maintains a twisted sort of balance as the person. Any rare game that does happen to surface as pure experience or exploration gets caught in the crossfire of “anonymous violence” (that pseudo objective aim that will proclaim any game on a good2bad scale).

Gamers have become fueled with an untempered, undeserving, and devolved cynicism nowadays. This is what gives no face to the trenchant remarks, snarkiness, and digital violence populating the gamer population now (the identity of the asshole him/herself is irrelevant at this level). It [internet-gaming value-construct] is based off a broken system that will only work competently on its own (the fanboy inside me compels you to examine the correlations between Big Boss/Cloned Sons and this sentence). I do think that gamers will be forced to evolve in the future as the relevance of a digital lifestyle takes its toll on our race (i.e. imagine if etiquette were someday implemented as updated social mores through something like Twitter). When people realize that we’re all fucked up from the beginning---well things won’t get “better”, but it will graciously relieve some the pressure out of an already full balloon (at least until something else decides to come along and start blowing air in it again). Beating that metaphor even further, all the Internet is responsible for is forging the balloon’s material to be a bit thicker. We’re still full-bore when it comes to huffing and puffing in it ourselves. This reality probably is more relevant now than it ever was before. The day will come when an idea can become as powerful as we’d like it to be, it’s just not right now.

All the banalities and challenges that throw wrenches into corrupt morality and value systems are as important to the value system as the idealistic stances themselves. The ugly helps to validate the beautiful (therefore the ugly is beautiful).

Isn’t it ironic that I go out of my way to challenge thoughts and contentions that would oppose my own? The irony is that I still maintain a very small fanbase of readers that help me develop my own ideas (exactly what I want by the way). I very rarely get flamed for what I’m actually talking about because what it takes to criticize me automatically requires the mandatory presence of generating introspective thought processes, something very few people are even capable of anymore (anything that's far beyond an superficial opinion anyway). Even more significant is that this or the idea of this delegates the presence of the anonymous violence. People that expose their subjective presence are commonly not equipped to defend themselves nor have they fully developed their own ideas yet (not to mention they’re very insecure, possessing weak egos more often than not).

Seven Things We're All Invested In These Days

I ~ Pride ~ Superbia [Latin] ~ Look at How We Treat Our Own Scribes

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This is something I’m still terrible at myself because I can honestly say I find myself ignoring more journalists that I pay attention to now. Their voices have to be read in specific contexts which I can’t really respect that much as far as consistency goes nowadays. I pick a few that I reasonably enjoy and I either lurk around their network or obsessively extract subtext from their work itself for my own purposes. On the whole though, I’ve seen the dilettantes of hell lambaste them for no other reason than the Internet allows them to do so (there’s no will or purpose behind it that’s beyond the superficial). Complementing that, I share a similarly potent disdain for those that would kiss-ass without any will to contest said journalist’s work, lazily adapting the professional’s opinion into their own perceptive matrix. Beyond that (or below it), we still have the fundamental corruptions rendering commonplace value systems obsolete. Example? Look at how gender still manages to confuse and cause strife amongst game journalists and their audience. Considering that the bulk of the trash was up in arms about a certain woman licking a PSP not too long ago, it’s a wonder we have a writer such as Leigh Alexander at all (which many are still bitching about mind you). You gamers are an overindulging bunch, and you’re spoiled well beyond your years, most of you anyway.

II ~ Gluttony ~ Gula [Latin] ~ Look at How Most of Us Play

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This is also what gives rise to many people’s burnout-periods for games. What happens when you eat too much? You get sick, plain and simple. It should be a given that we don’t have to play every single thing we can get our hands on, but it still isn’t. Not just that, but the primary symptom of this becomes the ratio of brand new to already-released titles that people play. I’m not saying developers aren’t doing admirable (or even amazing work), but it’s not like we can tell the difference at this point. Luckily, more and more players are learning to play outside the current ages, but it’s not enough in regard to the grand scheme of this industry. Gluttonous Gaming is of no use in to me anymore and I'm proud of that.


III ~ Lust ~Luxuria [Latin] ~ Look at the Limitations of Representation

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This is not simply in the superficial sense that plenty of females have overly large breasts and men have burliness to put Atlas to shame. It goes a little further than that, extending into how people have perceived sex as a whole. This has in turn created one very large manufacturing filter for what we have now. Be it movies, traditional art, or games (music once again gets a mark of honor here), all are mainly populated by obtuse superficialities and acute misrepresentation of sex in general. Why do you think titles like Silent Hill 2 are aging so gracefully? Really mull that one out and you should arrive at the conclusion that it’s a title which is fairly modest in its own sexually-thematic accomplishment. The concept of Silent Hill in general has an opportunity in which it has failed at thrice now to capture. The day sex is represented half-decently in video-games is the day that the current social mores of sex are redefined entirely. I should also note that I consider online gaming the equivalent to one big orgy. Go laugh at that irony.

IV ~ Sloth ~ Acedia [Latin] ~ Look at All The Ignorance Around Us

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This comes from a fault that is surprise, NOT OURS (w00t). This stems from our surrounding society. These are gatherings of ignorance that would seek to criticize games on any ground with very limited to no grasp of them at all. Anything Ebert has said falls into this category, much like the hypocritical bureaucratic politicians and dozens of parents that hold no true care for what their children play. It rains on the just and unjust alike. Responsibility gets handed around to the ignorance and engaged alike.

V ~ Envy ~ Invidia [Latin] ~ Look at What We Want

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This is a dual ideal with two meanings, both in the cursory and in-depth. The cursory being the obvious jealously gamers express amongst themselves. This is the jealously of the attention any one blogger or voice gets, what games your friend may or may not have/collect, and even the newly emergent hostility toward the casual audience (for fear of infringement upon the “hardcore”). The more comprehensive side of this would seek to serve as an adjunct to my Expericism doctrine (as does most of this post really). Anyway, what I’m referring to is “Selfish Experiencism”. Transferring or pedestalizing experiences in comparison to now distorts the context and is unfair to the age we live in. The best example I can think of this would be the typical retro-gamer who puts their past experiences on a pedestal in lieu of attempting to actually envy that time period or age they were in when enjoying that first experience.

VI ~ Greed ~ Avaritia [Latin] ~ Look at What We’re Helping to Financially Aid

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“Boss... You were right. It's not about changing the world. It's about doing our best to leave the world... The way it is.” – Big Boss in reference to The Boss' memory

We all desire to play everything we can get our hands on now, plain and simple. We live in an industry that’s being raised by consumerism and this is the price for it. Even outside the U.S.’s crippled economy, the onus is our own, especially when supporting already recognized problems such as “sequelitis”. On both sides of the fence this is apparent as I don’t think anyone will argue that industry has a misappropriated balance when it comes to its business priorities. We helped build our culture and the money that governs it, and when anyone complains about it, they’re typically just showing selfish perceptions that have no place among the voices worth listening to.

VII ~ Wrath ~ Ira [Latin] ~ Look at Me

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See…everything SnakeLinkSonic (me) has ever written. I really shouldn’t have to clarify beyond that. I consider myself (among other things) a terrible ideal of vengeance, punishment, and retribution for my own little two cents in the industry.

As long as people refuse to bathe in the primordial sludge of ideals that numerous video-games have proven time and time again to possess, they will continue to be traitors to their own cause.

This was certainly not about attacking Mr. Calacanis’s stance (not as a goal anyway), but when someone jumps on the other end of the see-saw, I get disturbed on my own. Nine times out of ten, a perceived issue such as this will remain a simple problem of balance. I get in a snit when people try to weigh down whichever side with either righteous or perverse rage.

“Never strive for better, strive for balance. Anything deviating from that destroys us all.”--- Mine

~sLs~