Friday, October 30, 2009

VGA 1-3 [Intelligence Ineptitude]

Video Games As Art 1-3
Originally Posted: Friday // February 1, 2008 11:56:55 Cental Standard Time

Movies, books, games --- each do their own thing in very different ways. Personally, my vision has been skewed ever since picking up a controller and my personal hierarchy has been the same since I was 6 years old. I hold books and literature tantamount to video games; this is followed followed by music, which is then followed by movies and theatre. Though games will typically come first for me, written literature has always served as a basis for any form of narrative to ever show itself to the world; I will always be compelled to acknowledge it as the genesis for anything that has truly been great in entertainment. Film (the bastardized form) has always taken a back seat in my mind because it caters to the lazy and unappreciative audience that pours money into it. Games have the perfect opportunity to fall somewhere between the two. Contextual density however, should see a rapid increase over the next decade at the very least.

Off the top of my head, a relation that games share with modern writing is length. They’re both able to limit and extend at will, often elaborating their characters down to the most intimate bones of cognition that the reader (or player) can muster. I can spend just as much time immersing myself into an engaging book as I do a game (narrative focused or not). Most stories in games however, are regarded as jokes and in plenty of cases it's actually justified. The ones that are actually an exception to that rule still get pissed on by cynical bastards that can't understand the concept of all these things being relative and derivative to some extent. One can call themselves a "gamer" all they like but if they don't want to encourage the "child" as it learns to walk, then throw it in the river, let it die and move on to something else. The line where the amount of context a game can handle before that in itself starts becoming detrimental to the experience hasn’t even been seen yet, but most will cry wolf the first chance they’re able to. This is why you’ll see such animosity towards games and their closet elder --- film.

“A videogame can have all these amazing art assets but sometimes it can't reach the narrative that traditional art forms can deliver.”
-Randy M., 1UP Blogger/Artist

Film in itself is still learning to adapt to dramatic literature, so games shouldn't solely be learning structure through cinema, it's problematic. All it effectively does is act as a filter where some truly beautiful things get lost. Focus and visions become compromised and the drive to create flashy sequences are only increasing these days. Developers have begun to pop up in various areas who able to strike a sense of balance in these areas, but as always --- nothing is ideal. Valve and Nintendo for example, showcase the attention to the mechanics --- a admirable mastery of game development (Nintendo’s cultural heritage makes them more susceptible to refusing change though), yet designers such as these desperately need to expand entirety of a game’s ‘world’ (Studios like Looking Glass fall here as well). After the entirety of what was the Orange Box however, I have to say at least that Valve is looking down the right road; titles like Portal at least prove that not only can a game mess with length, but it can succinctly capitalize on a narrative premise. Individual designers begin popping up when the narrative quality of a title becomes an issue, but they’re few and far in between --- not to mention they get way more attention than they deserve to begin with (e.g. Hideo Kojima). More games need to be designed in this industry with a distinctly harmonic consideration to everything else that the game incorporates. This mindset is everywhere in the most acclaimed titles to the most deplored. In many contexts, gamers simply need to stop singing praises for Half Life 2, when there’s obviously a serious problem with Gordon Freeman --- a problem we won’t see resolved until Episode Three; the point at which Valve will have to acknowledge the character's relevance in his own world.

I will be the first to admit that games have yet to find their own language or true form of narrative articulation. This is because they're being made very immaturely, but not in the disrespectful sense that what developers are doing doesn't require tremendous talent. The problem is that it's a new era, and this medium isn't going to translate nearly as easily as something like film did with literature. Writing birthed film, whereas games were created; they weren't an organic emergence, but a construction of popular culture. It gives them depth and complexity, which is why we struggle with it. This outlook can easily be seen in how games borrow tremendously from other mediums. How many times have you heard an older person or just someone who isn't generally familiar with games in say something along the lines of: "Wow, those games are becoming like actual movies!". Statements such as that are among the most disgusting things I constantly hear, but at the same time --- simply cannot argue with. Games do borrow entirely too much from film, and even when they do dip into things with more contextual density, it's very minute and becomes lost when acting in harmony with the game itself. A great game does not make a great story and a great story does not make a great game. It's been that way for a while now, as we keep separating the two out of some twisted need to validate ‘quality’. How inconceivable will the day be when a grandmother can look at her granddaughter and simply say "Wow that's a great game!"?

As I just mentioned, a great novel by no means guarantees a great game, it extends far beyond that. All mediums focus on distinctive things very specifically and it all gives them shape or form as themselves (and this is before it even reaches the audience). However, they are all connected in not only this, but the influences and effect they have when playing off of each other. For example, what would your favorite film be nothing without its score? How about lacking its script? The answers to those are not as easy as they appear, but they're not as complex either. Games are no different, yet their nature lets them ascend to an even more obfuscated realm by simply being themselves. Fantastic games exist that offer no real narrative in the traditional sense. This is even more significant with games that rely very heavily upon their plots to engage the player. Rez being something along the lines of the pure evolved to the complex, Endless Ocean being one of the desperately needed games that people don't know what to do with when they initially look at it, and Devil May Cry 4, which consistently breeds its own sense of style. All of this is while providing the player with a narrative construct to care about and submit to in his/her own way.

This slow progress is also shown by the actual quality being put into how the narrative is conveyed. The critical crowd will rightfully splinter things such as this, citing production value in order to attain the unattainable --- an ideal. Again, drawing back upon my constant metaphor of games in their youth, I'll have to say that games are the poor child that wanders down groggily in the middle of the night to find all these other self-indulgent, problematic, yet still accepted forms of "sophistications" engaged in a party. Any cry or attempt at attention by the child is met with condescending statements (i.e the media), upturned noses (i.e. the cynical crowd of gamers), and uncles that want you to pull their finger (i.e. the developers/publishers that focus too much on their finances being thrown into a game).

I really think it’s hard for games to learn as much from literature as from cinema. This is because if nothing else, good pulp spurs our imagination like nothing else. Movies and games are mostly visualized to us, while books are told in the sense of engagement. I do agree however, that movies simply have too much influence in the games we play.
-Dustin R., 1UP Blogger

There is an issue of the disconnection between the story of a game and the game itself. I feel that anyone that argues fundamentally that game's story does not matter is using a argument of closed circuitry to suit (rather abrasively) their own needs and that alone. People can't view art with that form of logic and reason (at least not in my eyes), yet some people waste precious energy doing it anyway. The only thing we’ve all have grasped to the extent of being able to judge things in that context is mathematics; which in a rather gorgeous turn of irony --- constructs these games technically from the ground up. Now is that good or bad? Is it even possible to be otherwise? There have been glimpses in far too many of these games where I have been connected with the protagonist or the 'narrative'. We've already seen my take on this side, through how games like Assassin's Creed or even Heavenly Sword are devoting entirely so much on presentation. I admitted to loving the overall experience of Nariko's quest over Kratos's, despite the fact that I find God of War the ‘better mechanical construct’. That in itself is a culmination in not only what I value in a game, but how they're being made as well. I don't just value any aspect of the game as a whole over the other, but how it works in harmony through all of its immersive appendages. Now for anyone who doesn't know me or where I'm coming from, I'll state once again that I'm a very 'experience' focused gamer. I hold everything --- whether it's style/presentation, mechanics, or narrative all on equal ground. They should meld at best and feel sectioned at worst. Deconstructing things is definitely sound and even scientifically useful, but it shouldn't be the dominating factor in how one perceives, ever. Why? It begins to bleed into how games being made too, which is extremely troublesome.

“Both the narrative and gameplay should be more of a seamless experience; not simply spending their time competing with each other. As you pointed out, I think Valve is on the right track at least with titles such as Half Life. I do however think that gaming is becoming a bit more progressive in what makes the medium profound and unique.”
-Nel, 1UP Blogger

You'd be surprised at how many people still look at a simply drawing and judge it as art on how photo-realistic it appears. This is the average idiot's take on art. Certainly that type of rendering is ideal for draftsmen to hone their skills with, but I’d argue that it’s only one of the first steps such an artist is meant to take. Drawing things to that degree takes more patience than anything else. It's tedious, it's boring, and requires no real connection with the subject. After one learns how to pay attention to things such as detail, shading, and line quality, drawing in such an archaic fashion really takes more tedious determination (not to mention valuable time) than anything.

You've no doubt heard the age old saying about the artist telling lies to show the truth. Once an artist starts to draw according to how they truly recognize/internalize things like shape, space, and form, they begin to actually draw. When they stop drawing the apple as an apple, it takes on an entirely different meaning and existence. Taking it in and internalizing it for themselves and putting it out on paper, canvas, or whatever is where the true beauty stands in a piece, not how close they stick to the useless guidelines that people already see day in and day out. The point here is that people should really stop trying to yank a game apart to determine its worth in such a fashion. If someone is going to do it that way, they will eventually have develop it far beyond the current modes of analysis. Mechanics are of absolutely no worth without the design to cradle it. Those designs lie on some sort of enrichment, which will then lean on something like aesthetics, style, or well-established fictional universes. Nothing in this realm truly stands on its own apart from the entirety of the overall experience, nothing.

I’m gonna pull out my +5 sword here again, Metal Gear Solid. Kojima has reached the point in this series where he’s gone so far, that he has irrevocably fused a distinct cinematic flair within the franchise. This is to the point where even though it's not entirely a perfect hybrid of games and movies, it's successful as its own type of game (moving the entire industry forward in the process). Small things the fans cherish such as the humor, excessive cinematic style, or the grazing of the fourth wall constantly get handled in tandem with the game’s own sense of ‘self’ (i.e. would it even be Metal Gear Solid without either one of those things?). I believe the Metal Gear franchise is the limit to how film (as it is now) should affect games, because Kojima is the one of the few that's actually making progress with it. The jump between your averagely told story in a game in the 80s-early to mid 90's was why the original Metal Gear Solid unleashed such a fucking storm when it was released. It weaved a "tale" that wasn't completely laughable and gave some characterization that people could earnestly appreciate and attach themselves to. Yeah, without Metal Gear Solid, there wouldn’t even be an Uncharted 2: Among Thieves; a title people are singing praises for now but will most likely question ridiculously by this time next year. I’ve already seen some of the precursor backlash there as it is, with statements such as:

”Uncharted 2 is definitely an exemplary cinematic game, but is it a good movie to begin with?” [WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!]

I've always seen the Metal Gear Solid titles as a tiny kid on a see saw that has only recently been starting to budge the fat kid on the other end (the fat kid being everything I'm bitching about of course). It's a very slow process (especially in Metal Gear's case). I guess what most criticize the game for runs tantamount to the kid having to get off and find cinderblocks for his side of the see-saw --- weighing himself down as best as he can. Yes, I know it is a horribly awkward analogy, but that's kind of the point here if you're following me. People constantly throw the "Would you kindly?" moment down as one of the greatest moments they've ever had in a game (BioShock), that it was so impressive because "I did all of that!, I was manipulated! OMG" Though that particular moment does plenty of things right, this kind of contorts my face a bit because that moment didn't in any way shape or form move the medium forward just because of its interactive narrative manipulation...why?

"Me, dear brother..."
[Note: I originally had a YouTube clip up here with the Master Miller double-cross from Metal Gear Solid. I’m too lazy to go find another one now, screw you.]

What does that say about how far games have really progressed (narrative-wise) in the past decade?. These are the top titles among the ‘hardcore’. Metal Gear Solid definitely wasn't the first to have the player/audience manipulated for the means of the antagonist, but it was definitely one of the most memorable roles in the past twenty years, along with titles such as System Shock 2 as well (ironically, both came out the same year if I'm not mistaken).

It's just a speculative opinion but I feel that anyone, especially those who focus on the mechanics of a game --- get lost in defining aspects of various titles. It starts to form boundaries and limitations on not only how one enjoys a game, but why as well. These people would be the same kind of gamers that can consider themselves to the point of defining things that are inherently indefinable. It’s a horribly fine line to play with but the more one knows --- the more they don't know, and the more they don't know --- the more they do know. Knowledge has become dangerous to some gamers, and those who are really egotistical about it know it, yet still reject it. One can always judge how lost they are on this matter by examining their own grasp of what a game is in the first place. If someone believes ‘it’ to be a definitive quality that they're able to pinpoint, access at will, and even judge to the most critical degree, then that person a terrifying gamer to me. Any critical analysis of a game at its best should be admitted at all times as an absolute failure.

“Certain games can move you, entertain you, teach you, change you, and yet have very little story at all. Other times, storytelling could be the game's main focus. There's nothing wrong with either side, I suppose --- since I appreciate both. Like you though, I like a balance of each aspect of a gaming, as opposed to having them separate or unequal. I can't have fun with a beautiful game, and controls alone can't save it. It's got to have balance.”
-Cody W., 1UP Blogger/Artist

Do you really consider yourself able to hold the act of pressing a button as the ultimate and defining aspect of a game? Some people can say yes or no to that without any thought to it. While certainly being a major contributor to a game's individuality and language, it's not the bottom line for me. Experiences can be formed and conveyed in dozens --- hell hundreds (and possibly even thousands) of different ways, but the most commonly known form for us is myths, stories, tales, etc. Pinning down any kind of construct on a game (in the way that it's being done constantly now) just negates any insightful perception of what a game can and should actually be seen as.

I've said in the various entries that more games should strive to do bold, radical, and even simply unheard of things. I want tons of more games that piss tons of more people off, and throw tons more people for a loop. Ground needs to be broken and walls need to be obliterated, because people can't deal with it any other way; violence is the most efficient way for us to progress, even if it’s a pseudo-philosophical conundrum such as this. We're lucky enough not to live in an age where things like religion aren't horribly affecting the way that art grows. What do we as a race do in order to compensate? We use our intelligence to offer unneeded and harmful roadblocks that are just as harmful to games as religion was to painting in eras long past. We're a destructive, violent, and inherently dangerous race in every aspect of our lives --- this is just a new playground for us to keep pushing each other off merry-go-rounds.

“Well you didn't leave much for me to comment with, but I can state that I agree, though I haven't put as much thought into it as you obviously have.”
-James W., 1UP Blogger

Acceptance of absolute ignorance is the proof of limitless intelligence.

Artwork Credit:

90s Kid by *Kezzi-Rose
Earthbound Set 2 by ~PlasticPixel

~sLs~

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

VGA 1-2 [Audience Attack]

Video Games As Art 1-2
Originally Posted: Wenesday // January 23, 2008 12:34:20 Cental Standard Time

The audience with 'exposure' to any artists work suffers from a dynamic shift of perception towards said work. I use exposure in the sense of comprehending and grasping the nuances of the tools. The real processes that go into drawing, painting, or even graphic design are often more tedious and laborious than they are in being some mythical burst of 'creative energy'. Games are no different, however --- when we look at games under this lens, we're granted a truly terrifying glance at how the medium is meant to be seen and that's one of its sheer complexity. As I established in the last entry, interaction invites authorship onto the game itself. Being that many gamers were yanked into the industry at such a young age, they were forced to grasp the depth of games they were playing without realizing what was happening at the time.



What our young plastic minds were fed ended up nurturing an aptitude for very basic (and intrinsic) computer interface relationships. Even at the console level, it's very rare to find a gamer who is plauged by the common troubles of your average technophobe. A sick irony these days is the illusory chase to make games more accessible to the player when it was in fact a 'dormant program' that gave rise to an entire generation of us to begin with. Titles of recent years can claim to be more user friendly and idiot-proof all they want, but in the end --- they're just part of a system that's inherently becoming more expensive and complex.

I'd argue that most gamers, both young and old are techies. Keep in mind that I'm using the term techie very loosely here. Simple and easily understood tasks that many audiences don't want to bother with are often shoved onto the gamer of the household now, even if they're only eight years old. I'm not even talking about the dork who can look at their games and start whining incoherently about spec deficiencies in their P.C. Theres a specific disconnect for us because of what we are playing and what we actually know we're playing. It's a very large cesspool of unappreciated knowledge that gamers have and because of that, it affects their interaction with titles profoundly.

The downsides of that knowledge are what we're suffering with now --- things we've unnecessarily burdened ourselves with. We've learned to embrace needless things that are now so intrinsic to our experience, we can't be without them (e.g. the H.D. underpinnings of this console generation). Even online gaming is debatable here, but I won't touch on that in depth yet, I'll just say that X-Box Live should serve as the bottom of the barrel for what could be. This in turn calls for money to be thrown into at areas which alienate some people from the hobby; a hobby that has become too expensive and caters so much to selling towards a mass market. With all of these needless things that are given to us to 'heighten' the experience, the actual content of the experience itself is growing at a not-so-humble moderate pace. This growth's deficiency is often exacerbated by the fact that it's permanently juxtaposed with technology, which only seems to grow by the day (e.g. see Moore's Law)

The developers submit total fealty to this problem, and to be honest --- that's more on the gamer's head than it is theirs. Gamers empower the business side of this industry more than anyone and the 'artistic range' is extremely limited because of it. Developers constantly have to conform in multiple ways to make a product that will sell 'for profit'. I don't see this as a hinderance to the artistic merit of games. I simply see it as an problem for artists to deal with, and thats what truly defines an artist in my eyes --- they're problem solvers more than anything else. They deal with limits, obstacles, and hindrances which go towards creating what we will eventually deem 'art'.

The perspective here isn't limited to one model of course. Millions of different artists see things in hundreds of different ways; it's how they express themselves amidst those limits which define their work.

"The enemy of art is the absence of limitation"
-Orson Welles

Using my 'primary weapon' (Metal Gear) as an example, let's attack with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. While primarily dealing with memetic legacy, digital censorship, and technological fiction just beyond reality, it essentially alienates a chunk of the series' fanbase (which most wrote off as the game simply being overly-convoluted). If someone doesn't want to have to take things to a more cerebral level, they certainly aren't obligated to, but faulting any game for it is asinine (and there are more of these people than those who simply think the game needs an editor --- another debate for another day). This is a bold step that was met with mixed reception, and it definitely led to us being given a more direct plot in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (which I humorously assert as the gamers themselves becoming pseudo-editors).



"I'm a little 'old school' and I love playing older games, so I don't really see the need for HD, online gaming, or wireless controllers. These things are definitely luxuries but there is a growing number of gamers that feel these things must be included in their titles if they are going to enjoy them at all. I feel for Kojima too. MGS2 is one of my favorite games and I hate it when people fault it for being 'confusing'. In my opinion though, if gaming is ever going to be taken seriously as a mature form of entertainment, it has to start with us, the gamers. In just visiting forums or boards, you'll simply get the impression that most gamers are assholes; that's not too far removed from the truth."

-James Williams, 1UP Blogger

Bold features, innovative sequences, and even radically different setups are an absolute necessity in the context of most acclaimed games. Anytime we are met with some story, theme, or mere influence that tries to take itself more serious than usual, it's usually met with harsher criticsm than deserved (which is fair in some contexts but often runs rampant as hell). This common occurrence often separates the game mechanics from the entire picture and that's more than a little unsettling, especially when people constantly say "This game is a ripoff of this movie" or whatever. The medium has enough to deal with apart from dragging itself behind something like film's looming shadow. Developers, especially those with large funds should be helping with this problem rather than figuring out how...to make more fucking money. It's simply too early for that to be such an intense priority in creating a game now.

Of course the media harms the progress, but personally I think the power of lawmakers, ignorant newscasters, and crazed politicians is more fininite than it might seem. The actual amount of reasonable damage they can cause these days is extremely limited. Theres still no iron-clad evidence that a game has been a significant contributer to any of the crazy shit happening in the world. Probably more easier seen by some than others is that these things are simply the result of bad parenting. If you don't know what your child is playing, then you most likely don't know what they are reading or watching either. More than likely, that means said person just simply has a shitty relationship with their offspring in general, which does damage a person, let alone an impressionable child. No news story wants to show parents how to read the manuals for their X-box or learn the basics of parental controls if need be.

There's simply no profitable end result in telling someone that they're old and it's time to learn something new to keep your kid out of something they shouldn't be in (and even that's a simple judgement call on part of the parent and how well they know their own child). It's apparently much more interesting to provide flashy uninformed opinions or "statistics" on what certain sociopaths who play Grand Theft Auto 3 have gone on to do with their time. There's also another side to this, which is what I consider gaming journalism to fall on. Now, the majority of the people I know don't typically look at sites or read magazines, as they're convinced there's no worth in placing any faith in what is essentially somebody's professional opinion I understand this and I agree with it to some extent. One should play a game they have interest in, no matter what pop-percentage it's dragging behind it on Metacritic. However, here is the matter of disrespecting what this side of journalism does do right. That is providing insight into not only the actual politics of games and how they've been developed, it also provides us with some base foundation as to where we can choose to disagree and/or apply our own personal rules (look up the fucking word "learn").

"Mainstream media is always uninformed about any new artform or trend. They tend to think of new things as a fad. They can't get over the fact that games have advanced from blips and undetailed pixels to meaningful experiences with sometimes gripping stories."

-Randy M., 1UP Blogger/Artist

Games journalism as an ideal to me aids in defining who and what you truly understand as a gamer and that is just as valuable as anything else here. Though I'm not particularly a big fan of sites like like IGN, Gamespot, and 1up, I do read all of them [Note: I've since only started using 1UP and Game Informer's sites --- the other two piss me the fuck off now], especially concerning games and topics that I'm interested in. As a result, I've found respite in connecting with the majority of editors on some level. I chose 1UP specifically because of how all of the editors individually come across. The people who work there elicit the strongest response in both revulsion and admiration.



Audiences need to learn how to engage, to place themselves against specific editors --- find tastes, likes, and opinions that they may share or detest. Personal displeasure with reviews are only relevant in how much the reader can rise above a stances they take issue with. The review arguments have only been taken in earnest by a few, which is as worrisome as it is admirable.

Then there's us...the gamers. Sure we all appreciate how games have evolved and typically people in the vicinity of my generation understand much more relating to digital society in general. However with all that knowledge, there's a great deal of us (particularly anyone who plays games frequently) who are subjected to the danger of being more cynical than need be. The older generation that makes idiotic claims such as blaming shootings and sex exposure on videogames actually understand very little in this day and age. They've all become dinosaurs to us now and that's easily ignored, as in the end we all eventually hit a point where we become a product of our times, so it's to be expected.

We often play so much, so fast, and so often that we subject ourselves to a hyper-development in arrogance. Very rarely do people keep their personal needle in the middle (i.e. between passion and rationality) because not only is it easy to stray from, it's difficult to maintain, even once one understands it. In the end, it serves only to create an even murkier enviroment for developers, artists, and writers to push the medium foward. It's particularly more harmful for videogames because of their young nature and the power gamers have over it as 'partial authors'.

Anyone on the internet can attest to having to deal with a mountain of ignorant bastards on message boards on a daily basis and we've all come across those people who know far too much for their own good, trapped within their own arrogant grasp of the world around (*coughyou'rereadingonecough*). People in general are very swift to fire off their opinions in ignorance, so it's not surprising at all that gamers do it. Ironically, the worst of it comes from those who are generally seen to be "educated" and not just fanboys or clueless casual gamers. Yes, the ignorant gamers cause less damage than we do. The gaming audience in general has a lot more power than they realize --- as they're inherently a part of the 'artist's hand' here.

~sLs~

Saturday, October 24, 2009

VGA 1-1 [Origin Orating]

[*Author’s Note* About two years ago now, I started writing posts obnoxiously titled “Games as Art” on 1UP.com. My intent was to go about the topic by outright denying that there was ever a debate in the first place. There was no set schedule or anything --- I posted them pretty much whenever I felt like it and they consistently provoked a generous response, granted I was always demanding conflict to my own opinionated stances. The few worlds I’ve placed up here at Misanthropic Gamer have since taken on the simple moniker of “VGA *insert respective world number here*” to deceptively mask (even to myself) the fact that I’m still talking about the damn subject.

VGA also serving as an abbreviation to the quickening obsolescence (much like the entire worth of the ‘are they art’ debate) of video graphics arrays is just a ‘happy mistake’, I assure you. Since I only have ‘a world and a half’ left to go now, I thought I’d begin posting the revamped versions of the original blogs. This is not just simply to provide edits, clarifications, and revisit certain topics, but to transfer them to Misanthropic Gamer by rebuilding them entirely. I deleted them from 1UP because I think they fit here better now (in essence, the posts among many other things --- led here to begin with). Anyway, this reimagining includes integrating all the comments, ideas, and responses that I received within the posts themselves now; just as a way to show some semblance of gratitude towards those that actually took the time to read them.]




So without further ado…

Video Games As Art 1-1
Originally Posted: Friday // November 9th, 2007 3:02:28 Cental Standard Time

As an art student [Note: I’m a pissed off drop-out now by the way…] I feel it's my responsibility to shoot this overdone topic in the face and develop it until I'm satisfied with it, so expect to see this series iterated and developed upon until I can reach a final conclusion at 8-4 [Note: My conclusion by the way, was that gamers are people, who by default suck ass --- go figure]. Are games a form of Art? Yes. We (the entire damn race) have not fully grasped the concept of either subject (i.e. video games or art) in enough depth to even question it to begin with. What makes a video game? (the technicalities are mostly irrelevant) and more importantly, what makes art? (one can't touch the latter with a ten foot pole from any direction to begin with).

First, let’s take a look at both terms, at how the dictionary classifies them:

Vid•e•o Game
(plural vid•e•o games)
noun
Electronic game controlled by microprocessor: an electronic or computerized game, usually controlled by a microprocessor, played by making images move on a computer or television screen or, for hand-held games, on a liquid-crystal display. An electronic game played by means of images on a video screen and often emphasizing fast action
Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

The definition is inherently flawed, yet because it’s so suggestively insulting --- some insight is gained towards what our dear medium truly represents.

Art
art [pronunciation: aart]
noun (plural arts)
1. creation of beautiful things: the creation of beautiful or thought-provoking works, e.g. in painting, music, or writing
2. beautiful objects: beautiful or thought-provoking works produced through creative activity
3. branch of art: a branch or category of art, especially one of the visual arts
4. artistic skill: the skill and technique involved in producing visual representations
5. study of art: the study of a branch of the visual arts
6. creation by humans: creation by human endeavor rather than by nature
7. techniques or craft: the set of techniques used by somebody in a particular field, or the use of those techniques
the art of the typographer
8. ability: the skill or ability to do something well
the art of conversation
9. cunning: the ability to achieve things by deceitful or cunning methods (literary)
or arts, npl
1. forms of creative beauty: activities enjoyed for the beauty they create or the way they present ideas, e.g. painting, music, and literature
2. nonscientific subjects: nonscientific and nontechnical subjects at school or college
[13th century. Via French < Latin art- "skill"]
have something down to a fine art to be able to do something very skillfully
The Latin stem art- "skill," from which art is derived, is also the source of Englishartificial,artisan, andinert.
Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


It’s amazing how vague the definition is to a word that's definitive to such a large part of our civilization can be isn't it (i.e. art)? I took six more dictionary entries than I did the first time I wrote this and the nebulously subjective mess still remains stalwart. The definition leaves the idea so wide open that it's almost difficult to comprehend that someone can even raise the argument that a game can't be art. Art is something humans can create but can't understand, and I'm willing to bet that out of any of the other higher-reasoning creatures in this universe (assuming there are any of course), we're among the few races that can accomplish such an idiotic feat. Art is subjective as it is, but we still have people that will try and lay down some definitive structure on it, and art will always step out of this, it will break this structure. It’s typically people that haven't played them (or play them in a very cursory manner) who attempt to lay down this standard. I find that extremely amusing. Because the window is left so wide open in terms of the definition, people fill in the holes with whatever they like.

“Even an artist like Jackson Pollack, who is an extremely well-known abstract painter, has had people looking down at him saying "What? That's art?" For me it comes down to the person, and if the game can elicit any kind of emotion in any aspect, then I think it could be called art.”
-Mandy E. aka schatzi, 1UP Blogger

Matt Spayth and Randy Moosepayo express a hard-to-deny disillusionment with all games being called art. I agree with both of them in the sense that the ideal is to accept all games as art, yet it’s hard as hell sometimes. We all have filters, but occasionally we’ll come together and establish certain truths, such as stances of enjoyable design to which we apply the atrocious word, ‘quality’. This is not new, nor is it uncommon (see religion). I read ‘somewhere’ that games can't produce the emotional response that is the required essence of what makes art. The person that said this should be publicly murdered for the amusement of all people who enjoy creative mediums of any kind. Why? Because obviously this man/woman hasn't sat down and played a videogame for more than half an hour in their entire life. This is a statement or thought born entirely of ignorance which is one of the many ‘corruptions of reason’ that the human condition is inherently composed of. It's also a statement that in itself represents hundreds of thousands of years of stupidity. The only thing people in general do consistently on a daily basis (and successfully mind you) is prove how stupid they are; we all do it, so it’s one of the few things to place faith in as well (as opposed to ignoring it out of some misplaced sense of morality).

Almost any gamer on the face of this planet has AT LEAST one video game he/she can connect with on a deep emotional level. Sure, not every game represents the best overall concept of art. Look back at some of the most basic forms of art there are though, pictures, drawings, and paintings. How many of these periods did we have where "certain artists" were in demand while others and their artwork were looked down upon like dog shit? More than enough, that's for damn sure. There are paintings that deconstruct ideas and concepts to the point where it's just basically colored squares (e.g. Piet Mondrian). If we can pride ourselves on seeing art to that point, why in God's name is there such an issue over classifying a fictional narrative/experience that we can influence for ourselves (created by dozens upon dozens of talented artists by the way) as a piece of artwork? Is its infantile state reason enough to simply piss all over it because we've done it with everything else we've later accepted as ‘art’? Makes sense to me --- why the hell not?

“You can prove anything is art, you’ll have to bust your ass however, to prove that something --- anything isn’t.”
-SnakeLinkSonic, jackass

There are thousands of games out there and they all borrow some of the most satisfying aspects from plenty of other mediums. A commonly cited example is Shadow of the Colossus. In a very old review, I stated the game is basically an interactive painting and I stand by that today. The ambiguity of the plot and the solitude of the play can probably send hundreds of different ideas spinning off in the heads of the many of people that completed it (or played it for that matter). You know what? You can't even get that with most films of today. The general viewpoint of videogames is altered by the media drastically as well. They are most commonly played up as some kind of ultra violent and addictive digital drug that we should keep our kids away from (or oppressively control their exposure to). We also have our most average sitcoms for example, where someone is playing a game and all we’re able hear is random beeps, blips, and buzzing reminiscent from various eightes titles. Yes, I'm fully aware that they have to communicate the fact that someone is playing a videogame to everyone watching, but I’ll never pretend like that’s not even the slightest bit offensive to me.

It stuns me that a title such as Manhunt 2 can catch censor hell while the rise in film’s ‘torture-porn’ hasn't been quelled since it began upping the ante in during the 2000s. The law tends to stand firm when another GTA game comes out, but it’s fine dragging our six year olds to see R-rated films. It's ludicrous to even contemplate why things like this can happen to begin with.

Video games by their very nature require the player to interact with them, so not only do we transcend the nature of being a simple audience, we become the artists as well. It’s more interesting to note this individual attribute of the medium, rather than use it to irrationally isolate them from the arena of artwork. There are plenty of developers that are always pushing medium’s relevance in society. There are of course, the obvious developers --- but let’s consider the universally known progress of a studio such as Nintendo. Say what you will about them recycling the Zelda, Metroid, and Mario franchises over the past twenty years, but they are still creating the titles are among the best (if not the best) in simply presenting "mechanics themselves" as art. When one moves to even a slightly more niche series such as Metal Gear, we can analyze how they --- in their own ways are pushing the medium into entirely different areas as well; though they may be progressing at much slower paces (i.e. what does Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots have to say in conjunction with a title like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves?). We mustn’t forget that various genres are still years away from moving their own bars up to begin with, due to technology being an inherently and majorly influential factor (e.g. the stealth genre).

Roger Ebert
Ebert and Kojima clarified their "games cannot be art" statements in some articles that are probably still floating around somewhere. I have the URLs for the original entries that I read, but they're no longer functional. They just redirect me to Edge.

"Anything can be art. Even a can of Campbell's soup. What I should have said is that games could not be high art, as I understand it. How do I know this? How many games have I played? I know it by the definition of the vast majority of games. They tend to involve
(1) point and shoot in many variations and plotlines,
(2) treasure or scavenger hunts, as in 'Myst', and
(3) player control of the outcome. I don't think these attributes have much to do with art; they have more in common with sports."

-Roger Ebert

Look at all the strings that the dinosaur attached to his clarification. What the hell does high art even mean to him? How does he ‘understand it’? At best, he’s simply an elitist and a tired old product of his times (not to mention an absolute slave to his beloved medium, film). There’s more to be said about his boundaries in comprehending the foundations of interaction than anything that even remotely suggests conclusive evidence towards a game not being art (or in this case, on some low-grade scale of the idea). What games do have in common with sports is why we have things like the MLG now.

People don't competitively watch movies or read books (not officially anyway), and it’s an area videogames have every right to explore now (is he just subconsciously pissed that films don’t facilitate that?). I don't personally like the arena of competitive gaming, but games are one of the most moldable and flexible mediums there are and competitive play is definitive proof of it. One’s own influence on a game only enhances its worth as art, it just significantly alters the roles of both the artist(s) and audience in the process. Ebert has thus presented his thoughts on art as subjectively incoherent. Subjectivity is in no way a problem, but when someone doesn’t even know what the hell they’re saying in the first place --- whoever they’re speaking to may as well be an inanimate object.

Hideo Kojima
For a developer and famous ‘Engrishman’, he came off being far more articulate than Ebert did --- that’s for damn sure.

“I don't think they're art either, videogames. The thing is, art is something that radiates the artist, the person who creates that piece of art. If 100 people walk by and a single person is captivated by whatever that piece radiates, it's art. But videogames aren't trying to capture one person. A videogame should make sure that all 100 people that play that game should enjoy the service provided by that videogame. It's something of a service. It's not art. But I guess the way of providing service with that videogame is an artistic style, a form of art.

For example, look at a concept car. You don't have to be able to drive a car, but if it's called a car and it has artistic elements in the visuals, then it's art. But an actual car, like a videogame, is interactive, so it's something used by people, so it's like a car where you have to drive it. There are 100 people driving a car; they have 100 ways of driving it and using it. It could be families driving the car. It could be a couple driving a car. The owner of the car could be driving along the coastline or they could go up into the mountains, so this car has to be able to be driven by all 100 of these people, so in that sense, it's totally not art."

Art is the stuff you find in the museum, whether it be a painting or a statue. What I'm doing, what videogame creators are doing, is running the museum --- how do we light up things, where do we place things, how do we sell tickets? It's basically running the museum for those who come to the museum to look at the art. For better or worse, what I do, Hideo Kojima, myself, is run the museum and also create the art that's displayed in the museum."
- Hideo Kojima

Kojima makes sense as long as one recognizes that he’s cemented his own definition for what art is. At least he provided some amount of insight before verbally vomiting for us. Whereas most people will dance around exposing their subjective definition, he clearly states that it’s something that radiates the artist, irrevocably tying his perception of his own creations to the notion of them being mere ‘products’. I’d counter that his team simply being ‘museum managers’ as what I perceive to be him meeting ‘us’ (gamers) halfway, that’s it. Placing the notion of an artist’s singular influence on their art is wonky (not to mention a tad egotistical) to say the least. If there was but one person left on the entire planet and they drew the most beautiful rendering ever, would it be art? I won’t say no, but I will imply the foundations for its entire worth being questioned. Both the audience and artist are required for art, videogames are just shifting the entire mold in a new direction. I still vow to step very curtly on Kojima’s foot if I ever meet him. Then (and only then) will I consider giving the creator of my favorite title of all time --- a handshake (and a pat on the ass too, if he’s not too pissed about his foot still).

“Gears of War and Bioshock…the end”
-Aaron Shoemaker aka BreakfastPills, 1UP Blogger

See? I have problems with such a quote now, but will I argue it? I’d just as soon make an attempt at self-fellatio. People’s standards are the only deterrents that inhibit them from announcing art towards such a machismo fantasy and a more streamlined version ofSystem Shock 2. So what makes a great game? What transcends a game to a level apart from other forms of ‘accepted art’? I’ll present a trio of my favorites, the big three ‘E’s.

Exploration - This has been one of the most influential aspects of almost any great game that has ever come out. How the world one is given and how we're able to access it. Even in the 8-bit days, something like Mario could be perceived as big and expansive, because the player could explore the levels to their heart’s content. Then over a decade later what did we get? That in 3D on steroids. It's been growing since. Miyamoto's childhood influence from exploring has poured into games and allowed them to grow at an extremely rapid pace (yet still not fast enough for some of us).


Engagement - This is where the game most definitely shines in it's creative aspect. How did the game draw you into its world? How did it make you remember a certain moment or affect you in a certain way? How did it create the illusion that you truly had control over your character (or that you WERE the character)? This ranges from the feel of controlling Mario by holding the button down to jump higher to how profound the switch was for gamers to assume the role of Big Boss in lieu of his artificially created son. I spent my first 3 hours in Super Mario 64 doing back flips and long jumps off any random surface I could before actually playing the game proper. Games have grown in the sense that they are now trickling in a wider variance for how the most infinitesimal things can deeply affect a player’s perception. The only problem there is getting gamers to appreciate it more…

Experience - Most of the games I've played and enjoyed to a passionate level involve me completing the game, watching the credits roll and feeling like I just exited another plane of existence. Akin to waking up from another life or an incredible dream --- this is experience. It’s artificial and has various strings, but is insanely resonant (and it’s my most revered aspect of any game). How a gamer can or cannot stitch their ‘real’ presence to that of their avatar’s world defines how they see the majority of games. I personally live and die by Experiencism, which is something that no person or game can take from me, despite their relative ‘quality’.

We could get all sorts of messy with the arenas of visuals, audio, and various mechanics; but do I even have to at this point? Not really. The laundry list of things to cover in games is longer than I want to list, but have dedicated this series to glancing at anyway. By those standards, I’ve already failed --- and am proud of it. There's absolutely too much artistic value and resources that go into these games to NOT call the finished project a piece of art.

I rest my case.

~sLs~

Friday, October 23, 2009

Video Game Fragmentation

With Geek Culture Terrorism, I only saw one fundamental problem with the concept itself and that was fragmentation. I only passingly acknowledged it in the post because it was a can of worms I didn't want to open. Recently however, Lou Lantos pointed it out to me --- leaving me no choice but to address it to some extent.

Demerits

"It could use news, but the flexibility of the concept I'm proposing would be geared towards having delicately-handled previews/interviews (because there is an inherent danger from looking behind the scenes too much), techniques, and advice given from the industry's own virtuosos."


'Twas the only acknowledgement I manged to give it, which was a mistake on my part. The inherent danger I described is hypothetical but likely in that it will cause partial (if not complete) separation from the game itself. Given the infantile state of the medium (most notably its auteurs and audiences), it may not be healthy to inject this kind of ambition right now. It could effectively stunt our games' growth (isn't it already kind of stunted though?). When we begin looking in too many directions, the cacophony introduced could prove to be fatal.

Merits

With the separation of a game's various artistic works (visuals, sounds, mechanics, etc.), there's a default level of appreciation for the talent that created whatever work might lay in question.

Do we disregard the process of analysis/exploration in leiu of enjoyment? Not if such enjoyment is contingent on the exploration itself. Since this race is defined by its innate to desire to explore, I'm willing to accept that over the false construct granted by shooting directly for happiness instead. It is far overrated in terms of applying meaning to things in this world, and like I stated in VGA 8-3, 90% of people typically stop at happiness when it comes to announcing meaning in their lives.

―――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――

So in order to continue my own little path of exploration, I'm evolving the DFB entries I've been doing over a year even further --- to incorporate an obsessionist eye across a game's music, aesthetics, and various mechanics (in addition to what I've already established with DFB of course). Digging For Beauty is now Shattered Perversion. I may be trying hold the entirety a two liter of Sprite in cupped hands here, but I'd honestly rather fail at that --- hell, I'd be honored to.

P.S. I'm beginning to lean toward Earthbound as my pick from yesterday's post --- if you haven't figured it out yet.

~sLs~

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A New Game


I'm currently looking around for some input that will go into my idle think-tank while I'm finishing up Chrono Trigger. These are the three titles I currently have on deck and my mood can go after either one at this point. It should be obvious to anyone who frequents here that I'm quite incapable of simply going after them one after the other, I'm far too obsessive for that. I really want to punctuate the remainder of this year with whatever I choose. That includes the respective title's art, music, play, etc. Policenauts will no doubt lead to Snatcher and design musings that have grown with Kojima throughout the latest Metal Gear games. Earthbound will most likely draw me into its surrounding two brothers and Deus Ex seems like annother optimal choice for me since I'm enjoying digging around in influential P.C. games so much.

P.S. Playtime with Thief hasn't stopped either. I'll be sprinkling it across whatever I end up choosing. I'm currently playing through Deadly Shadows at the moment and will most likely be looking very closely at that and the reception I'm predicting for Assassin's Creed 2.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Videogame OST Analysis #3 | The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)

I decided to just go ahead and get my namesake out of the way. Since I recently played through A Link to the Past, I’ll opt out for it now. I’m too lazy to pick apart Majora’s Mask and I’m still slowly making my way through Chrono Trigger. There you have it…

Game Profile
Title: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Release: 1991 (Japan)
Composers: Koji Kondo
Platform: Super Nintendo
Type: Fantasy/Adventure

Track #1 – “Title” – 0:18
Most Prominent Aspect – The gong-line crash that follows the descending seven second introduction.

This is actually one of the more ‘violent’ Zelda introductions. I say that because the majority of other titles usually have a very low key melody that plays over the start screen (e.g Ocarina, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, etc.). This game’s title screen music indeed starts out that way, but breaks pace after about seven seconds, transitioning into a very epic fanfare. Considering this was the Zelda that basically booted up the more annoying devotees of the franchise, it’s no surprise that this little eighteen second track precedes a formula that --- well, it still hasn’t gotten old (for the most part anyway…) now has it?

Track #2 – “Opening Demo” – 2:46
Most Prominent Aspect – The background melody that starts in at about 0:13.

This is pretty much the same music as the subsequent track with one exception: the background melody. It plays during the opening demo which explains the old Hyrulian tale to the player. It draws out a bit longer and meshes a little more heroically (not to mention harmonically) with the text sliding across the screen.

Track #3 – “Time of the Falling Rain” – 1:01
Most Prominent Aspect – The hollowed out melody that makes room for the actual game sequence

I actually like this track much more, as it’s making room for the play sequence accompanying it. It pretty much starts as soon as control is given to the player and is tied very efficiently to the imagery of Link running through the rain in order to get to the castle and save Zelda. It’s a very nice example of how music works with the game rather than simply being juxtaposed beside it.

Track #4 – “Overworld” – 1:29
Most Prominent Aspect – The highest note in the track

A returning track, it’s a core audio piece of the entire Zelda experience and consists of a looping theme expressing valiancy. I do think this has a very fundamental flaw for many however, and that’s the fact that it can get pretty annoying after an extended exposure to it. It becomes cacophonous after a certain point and will serve more as a detriment than a benefit for the players ear. It’s a great signifying theme, I’m not arguing that --- just that it’s not built to last. Luckily, in subsequent titles, it is given different instruments and mixes that assuage the potential obnoxiousness that the SNES sound card simply could not carry as far. In that sense, I’m giving this theme a very back-handed compliment. It was so far ahead of its time, it smashed the barriers that were surrounding it in the form of early 90’s video game technology.

Track #5 – “Kakariko Village” – 2:12
Most Prominent Aspect – The soporific pace of the entire track

This entire track is sleep-inducing, but in a good way. In every version I’ve heard of it, it comes off as a floating composition. It ascends while at the same time seeming to throw off very directed strikes which almost makes the track sound as if it’s kicking its feet in the air. A very nice tool it uses however, is that there’s two distinct paths that it runs on. One isn’t quite that high, but the following one is fairly low. It’s a very basic switch, but I think it’s that simple ability that has allowed it to become one of the most reincarnated Zelda songs.

Track #6 – “Forest” – 0:50
Most Prominent Aspect – First ten seconds

I’m a bit neutral on this track because it starts off very welcoming, but slows down just as fast as it starts. That said, it does match the actual forest it is being set against very well. It’s actually exercises itself in the same way that the overworld theme is meant to, but it doesn’t fall into the trap of being nearly as annoying since the player doesn't spend that much time in the forest. Its slightly jumpy and misdirecting tune goes well with navigating the small maze which makes up the forest.

Track #7 – “Master Sword Demo” – 0:13
Most Prominent Aspect – The overlaid twinkle throughout the first three seconds.

This is a track that in its appearance runs just shy of being worthlessly lurid. Due to that, its appeal for me remains stalwart. Being that’s it’s a mainly a cutscene piece, it has always performed its job admirably and like the Overworld --- it tends to come into its own more successfully as the times progress and access to more sophisticated instruments were made.

Track #8 – “Turned Into Rabbit” – 1:10
Most Prominent Aspect – The sounds effects backing up the entire track

I think this clocks in as my least favorite part of the entire album. The beat kind of unravels unravels itself. In a way though, it lives up to its namesake in how hindering it is to the player. It’s integrated into how handicapped they were before getting the magic mirror. If the sound effects from the mountain were not there, I’d actually hate this track outright, but somehow it manages to stay together through that alone. This is most likely because it gives the disjointed tune a bit of quirky uniformity.

Track #9 – “The Soldiers of Kakariko Village” – 0:30
Most Prominent Aspect – The echoing ‘clops’ in the first two seconds

Through mainly nostalgia, this track is something that will always remain fairly humorous to me. No doubt it’s threatening and actually fairly competent as an alert tune, but it drags into question of how archaic the nature of the soldiers’ attack pattern was. I’d compare this to all things of the slight humor granted by the persistency of police officers in Grand Theft Auto 3 while at a six star notoriety level.

Track #10 – “Guessing – Game House” – 0:53
Most Prominent Aspect – The short integral between the continuous beats.

This pretty much screams ‘mini-game’ at the top of its lungs. It’s not my cup of tea to be completely honest, but I like how it hides itself when the player is actually participating in the guessing game. The only obtrusive moments during this track are the first eight tones which play upon the player’s entrance. After that, the track somehow manages to maintain its intensity while using roughly the same elevated pitch. That’s actually pretty cool.

Track #11 – “Select Screen” – 1:01
Most Prominent Aspect – The basic rhythm to the entire track

I really enjoy this track for what it is, something that only plays while the player selects their file. In fact, I’d go as far to say it’s an ideal track for its place. The only problems that rise are when its listened to for too long; its simplicity at that point begins to work against it. It’s consistently soothing through all the iterations it’s seen over the years and this one is no exception. Thanks to the beat, it never becomes as ‘weightless’ as Kakariko Village, but due to what the actual melody is composed of, it creates lovely little fairy motif for itself. That of course, plays right into the game’s entire fantasy theme.

Track #12 – “Dark World” – 1:01
Most Prominent Aspect – The second (lighter) melody playing underneath the entire track

I’m actually fairly surprised that I enjoy this track because it does share a few things with ‘Turned Into a Rabbit’. Luckily though, this overworld theme has enough dynamic composition to outlast even the more revered Overworld theme of Hyrule. I never got sick of it throughout the entire game --- not once. It ascends and descends very traditionally, but does it very well. The tempo is pretty quick (dangerously so I’d say), but it’s still married damn well with the turn the game makes after the player is locked into looking for the seven descendants within the Dark World.

Track #13 – “Dark Mountain Forest” – 1:49
Most Prominent Aspect – Secondary scension at 0:35

Now we’re back here again. Every track in the Dark World is iffy for me as I either have a strong response for it or against it. This one is an ‘against it’ piece with one saving grace, the lighter melody that comes in at the thirty-five second mark. What the track does do well here is convey that grueling sense of annoyance that the mountain became for me, which is twofold when considering those damn rocks that incessantly kept falling on my head. The MPA manages to not only reset the track, but it also strips the oppressive nature from it.

Track #14 – “Hyrule Castle” – 3:02
Most Prominent Aspect – The pace at which the main theme unfolds; also the ascension that comes in at 1:10

With a cursory listen, I’m willing to write this off as another one of those netrual tracks, but I actually had to go back and play through the sections featuring it. That was a good idea because this is a deceptively dynamic part of Link to the Past’s music. Every time it appears to drone, it has a nice ‘slap’ that successfully kicks the tone in another redirection. This track is yet another one that gets recycled throughout all subsequent Zelda games and I’d attribute that to its worth as a ‘nostalgic chameleon’. As long as it features the classic eight-beat signifier of Hyrule Castle, it can basically become anything it wants. It’s damn impressive.

Track #15 – “Sancuary Dungeon” – 2:44
Most Prominent Aspect – The first thirty seconds

This goes from being the most atmospheric track in the game to the most obnoxiously osmotic. After the first thirty seconds, a very pressing tempo is applied, which drives the player down a pseudo-hectic path. It does consistently help with the backdrop of navigating some parts of various dungeons (and puzzles), but at the same time --- it can just as easily degenerate into something ridiculously annoying. The problem is that extending the MPA wouldn’t help at all; I actually need the latter half of this to complement it. If the majority of the track were slowed and scaled back from ascending so stalwartly, I might actually love it.

Track #16 – “Cave” – 1:06
Most Prominent Aspect – Any high tone

This is the most piercing track of the bunch; it almost shoots the player in the face with how upfront it is. When I really step back to analyze it, it’s really just a simple beat with a bunch of high tones punctuating the overall package. There’s some subtle shifts however, which keep it from becoming too simple. I like that. It’s very indicative of how the caves were exposed to the player, not just the caves themselves. Not only is it simple, but it’s flexible as well.

Track #17 – “Church” – 1:10
Most Prominent Aspect – Everything after the first ten seconds

The introduction to this track is very welcoming, but the very shaky nature after the first ten seconds makes the entire thing come off as 'horrifically ethereal' which is fitting for it being a church theme. It honestly scared the hell out of me when I was younger and it’s because is like my ear is listening to the track through a thin veil of running water. As an adult, I actually find it soothing and there’s a couple of jarring ‘pulls’ in the melody towards the end that really stick with me.

⋆Track #18 – “Boss Bgm” – 0:37
Most Prominent Aspect – Entire track

This would be my favorite track out of the entire Link to the Past package. The way it bounces is one of my favorite things about it and is almost reminiscent of the original Metal Gear’s boss theme through a bunch of distantly related layers. It climbs very awkwardly, falls, and repeats the process all in less than a minute. Clashing with bosses always became an event with this damn thing playing and even if there was nothing to do at a particular moment; I was usually running around in circles in order to keep myself cognitively intertwined with the music. Thinking about it now, the track is almost like a boss in itself. After the three second intro, it launches a burst of connected beats, which always seems to match whichever boss it happens to be playing for. There’s also a subtle bit of cryptic tuning to it as well, which consistently kept me on edge as if I were always about to die.

Track #19 – “Boss Fanfare” – 0:13
Most Prominent Aspect – Five ascending ‘twinkle tones’ every few seconds

A very nice top off to the Boss Bgm, this is a good signifier of accomplishment. The flexibility this gains along with its co-dependent track is actually pretty impressive. The slowdown it has during that last five seconds is very important as well, as it makes the track seem much longer than just thirteen seconds. Those ‘twinkle tones’ are the well-dressed laces on the package of 'something good' following an epic boss battle.

Track #20 – “Dark World Dungeon” – 1:47
Most Prominent Aspect – The consistent tempo in the background keeping the entire track together

If not for the background tempo, I’d hate this track. As it stands however, I actually think this is the most atmospheric track in the game --- consistently anyway. It wins over everything else that the Sanctuary Dungeon managed to allude to, but fail with. The ‘empty’ spaces that it exposes are the best parts as well; they constantly let the player know that the downplayed rhythm is still speeding along in the background. It almost gives the illusion of always walking along a tightrope and looking down at those exact moments.

Track #21 – “Fortune Teller” – 0:51
Most Prominent Aspect – The scrambling & cacophonous tones.

This wins the award of being the most awkward and obscure track on the entire album. The first time I heard it, I immediately became annoyed and left the building. I was only about seven at the time, and that bitch of a clairvoyant never helped me, so this track was always white noise to me throwing profane insults at the screen. Replaying the game recently however, actually makes me enjoy this track much more. It creates those same empty spaces as mentioned in the previous track, but they’re much larger, composing the majority of the piece. When those really dissonant parts hit, they scramble the entire song in a very pleasant way. They then halt and let the player rest just long enough to hear it again.

Track #22 – “Princess Zelda Rescue” – 1:40
Most Prominent Aspect – The main Zelda theme

I always thought Zelda’s theme was the most prominent song to be mentioned out of all the recurring Zelda tracks. There’s always a serene sense of accomplishment in it. In Link to the Past’s rendition, there’s as a very distinct hum that kicks in about a minute in. It’s mainly due to the sound capabilities at the time, but it gives the song an almost unfair boost in richness. This track is not as ‘self-aware’ as all of its successors were, which by default makes it that much more quaint for its time.

Track #23 – “Crystal” – 0:44
Most Prominent Aspect – The echoing tones

The wind-chime esque melody that plays second fiddle here is just proof of the point I just made with Zelda’s Rescue. It’s really the same track as the previous one but the MPA is what makes it seem drastically different; it echoes behind the tempo of the melody and grounds it while floating upwards at the same time. It’s very sharp and avoids becoming obnoxious by having the chimes slightly waver as the song proceeds along. Despite the innate serenity of Zelda’s theme, this track makes it seem as if the entire leitmotif is wearing some sort of auditory armor.

Track #24 – “The Goddess Appears” – 1:00
Most Prominent Aspect – The soft tones in the background

This is yet another recurring theme, but it’s in the same family as Zelda’s theme. It’s almost the mediator between it and what it actually is --- the file select music. It’s basically just a rip of that song with a more individual intro. With a bit of context, this song transitions from simply being soothing to relaxing. The difference is how it punctuates and distinguishes itself form the long instances of adventuring and battling --- you know, all that Zelda is basically composed of.

Track #25 – “Priest” – 1:08
Most Prominent Aspect – The majority of the tempo

This is just Ganon’s theme. It moves very methodically through its tunes to convey something ominous and does it well. Given how synonymous this is with Ganondorf now, I’d actually say this is one of the better mixes. It doesn’t waste any time and there’s a slight cut off on some of the notes, making it a little more introductory towards signifying Ganon's presence (which is fitting for when the track actually plays).

Track #26 – “The Priest Transforms Into Ganon” – 0:06
Most Prominent Aspect – The duality of the track

This sound actually works really well for accompanying a transformation; it’s not too overdone, but still manages to get away with being slightly frightening over a six-second time frame.

Track #27 – “Ganon’s Message” – 1:11
Most Prominent Aspect – Three second intro

The intro is the only thing that separates this from being a carbon copy of ‘Priest’. Due to that intro however, it formally welcomes Ganon by resetting the track and going back to the ominous melody.

Track #28 – “Battle With Ganon” – 1:26
Most Prominent Aspect – The uncertainty of the main melody

As a final boss theme, this is not my favorite but it’s a track that I like the more I hear it It’s dynamic, rich, and it has the possessions necessary to last as a final encounter. The only flaw I’d place on it would be that the track doesn’t continually ascend. It seems to be built off the auditory premise of stepping forward then back. If the intensity of track’s latter high tones were increased just slightly, it would actually fit the progression of the music itself. Overall though, it comes off as being epic without containing one epic moment in it. I don’t know how it does that, but it managed it --- and without the flair of the regular boss theme either. That’s commendable to say the least.

Track #29 – “Triforce Chamber” – 1:35
Most Prominent Aspect – Everything after the five second introduction

If this theme had just one more inch of music added to it, I’d love it. As is, it’s just kind of soporific. It’s not bad by any means but it never capitalizes on everything that makes me like it in the first place. What it introduces, it abandons a second later and by the time there’s even a chance to make a difference, the track is over. All tied together, it’s definitely another one of those tracks that presents a serene sense of accomplishment. Since this piece signals the end of the game as well, it actually fits the bill in that fashion pretty well.

Track #30 – “Ending” – 7:45
Most Prominent Aspect – Everything that comes after the soft turn the track makes at the five minute mark.

This is a compilation piece that climbs through everything the game conveys while running the credits. They’re actually all original pieces that compose different strengths of various songs on the album. It’s filled to the brim with quite a few admirable portions (namely the soft areas), but my favorite stretch remains the last minute; the main overworld theme is drawn out to close and leads out of the game.

I never fell in love with Zelda games until Ocarina of Time and I think it shows with this. I never really got a lot of what made the SNES special for a lot of people. Even some of the greatest and most sensational games for it hit me in the side of the head and I never really stopped grimacing because of it. That said, A Link To the Past established the musical foundation for what made Zelda great in dozens of ways and I’m willing to respect it on those grounds with total submission --- no questions asked…or very few…kind of.

…fuck it…

The Artwork was taken from these sources:

LoZ: A Link to the Past Vector by ~TKmarioMaster
WIP Link fighting by *Adella
+ Paper Link and Dark Link + by ~hiyoko-chan
Link by ~TheMexicanSmeargle
Run Link Run by *leftyfro

~sLs~

Monday, October 19, 2009

An Abramic Game of ‘Epic’ Proportions

I’d be a moron to assert that Mickey Mouse is an icon made for me. He’s been running around since the late twenties, and has since been subject to a countless number of changes and ‘design evolution’. Being born in the cultural American cesspool decade (*coughtheeightiescough*) has led me to the conclusion that by the time I was able to latch on to anything with a slight semblance to Mickey, he would be bouncing around on my hat twenty something odd years later. Last week with Game Informer’s cover feature, I was given a little bit of insight into a character I only had sporadic exposure to while growing up. Granted, I knew about his mischievous beginnings and even about Oswald to some degree, but the insight gained from Warren Spector’s obsessionist attitude with Disney gave me more than I was expecting. Now to run analogous to this, I watched J.J. Abrams’ (whose work I hate btw) reboot of Star Trek last this past Friday. Being another cultural landmark for dorks that I arrived too late to appreciate, I’m gonna try and tie the two together as haphazardly as I possibly can. I guess that means this is my next sci-fi post with my impressions of Epic Mickey sprinkled on top. So, let’s give it a try, shall we?

I should start out by establishing total and absolute ignorance among Star Trek in general. By the time I was old enough to appreciate it, I began obsessing over Star Wars, and that kind of passion fosters antagonism --- which I cast over Star Trek to compensate. So I was determined to sit down and watch 2009’s film as my official introduction to the franchise. What I got was a reboot I could actually appreciate, even more so than my favored film trilogy’s (Star Wars) predecessors. Whether that’s due to my ignorance of the series (which I now intend to watch someday when I’m like thirty-eight or something…) or preference for thematics involving man’s action instead of his tongue is something that remains to be seen. As it stands now however, I’m willing to accept Abrams depiction (did I mention I hate his work?) over what could be much more substantial analysis by using the original series as a paradigm.





Now Mickey has always been around for me, but I repeatedly slapped his hand away in lieu of other things. Most notably would be Warner Bros., as by the time I started to get into that kind of animated mischief --- I much preferred Looney Tunes to whatever Disney tried to enchant me with in terms of cartoons. Spector’s analysis of Mickey here resonates with me because I saw what he described as ‘fragmentation of the character’ before I could even articulate the thoughts for it. The quotations throughout this post were taken from Game Informer’s various coverage of Epic Mickey, both throughout their site and latest cover story.

“At some point they fractured his personality, they took his mischievousness and his anger and need for revenge and gave it to Donald. At some point they took his naïve simplicity and gave it to Goofy. They took his loyalty and infinite affection and gave it to Pluto of all things. They took his character and just shattered it, and all of a sudden he’s kind of a straight man for the gang.”
---Warren Spector

Spector is holding a big syringe of ‘dark liquid’ to inject back into the world and it looks very enticing to me. I’d even go as far to say his attempts with Junction Point’s latest project is now the crux of which may lead me back to appreciating Disney animated efforts again (apart from their CG animated films…and Pixar that is). That might be unfair on my part and I of course could be setting myself up for disappointment. Given that I’m just getting around to games that Spector has had his fingers in (e.g. Thief), I’m not too worried. Plus, he’s getting paid for his efforts; I won’t get paid to bitch about it if I don’t like it…heh. Anyway --- as previously stated, this makes Epic Mickey my most anticipated game apart from Peace Walker (which is saying something); it’s also a reason for me to crack out my Wii again, which will be nice. I think it’s crucial that I respect Mickey as I do Mario (the latter of whom was ironically defined as the straight man from the beginning), cause as it stands --- I just don’t.

I think Mickey Mouse being the cultural powerhouse he is can gain a mutual progression with video-games in general if this is carried off well enough. Thanks to the Wii already being present in every god damn household, somebody somewhere is setting up a lovely spike for this title.

Piss and Vinegar

Something I’ve always appreciated in prequels is the depiction of younger (and vastly more reckless) depictions of protagonists. I don’t much classify that as cliché (not yet anyway) as I do the reckless protagonist finding some catalyst to tame him over the course of a journey (that and the youngling is almost always a male). Where Star Wars dropped the ball here was trying to juggle Anakin’s fear with his fire. Granted he should have been a whiny little pain in the ass, but the degree of fear that was put into him during the prequel trilogy was astounding. It almost tarnished the worth of the entire thing for me. With Star Trek however, Pine’s Kirk and Quinto’s Spock both successfully got away with this in relative conjunction with what made their characters click. Like I said, I have absolute ignorance towards the franchise but I know enough about Kirk to see that Pine’s version was devolved pretty damn well; Quinto would've had to actually try and screw Spock up. His biracial lineage just makes him a playing ground in all sorts of fashions and I imagine.

Do I really have to say anything regarding Mickey? He was a pretty big ass himself back in his own day.

“He was a guy who smoked and drank and shot guns, skewered people with swords, threw Minnie Mouse out of a plane when she wouldn’t kiss him, and abused farm animals. He was a badly behaved little guy. As he became more popular, I think Walt started saying, ‘Let’s make this guy more realistic. We don’t want to do things with this guy that the world isn’t going to like,’ so they started taming him and taking different parts of his personality. Mickey is critical to both animation history and film history. He was absolutely and demonstrably the most recognizable and popular film star in the world for about three or four years in the early ‘30s. He was huge at the box office. It’s not an overstatement to say that he gave hope to an entire generation of people living through the Depression. He was a little ray of sunshine. He seems kind of sweet and innocent, and his films don’t seem as anarchic and crazy and maybe relevant as today’s films do, but at the time it was exactly what the country needed, what the world needed. So he was there to provide it.”
-Warren Spector

The affect people exert on their own art is fantastic, especially when we use the beauty of history and hindsight to gain insight into such matters. I’d actually like to hear any theories for what drove or catalyzed (and exacerbated) the fragmentation of Mickey’s design; I feel I’m far too young to make those kind of conjectures. Everything from his visual design to actual animation is something I’m paying attention to very obsessively, despite the fact that I’ve never been big on him to begin with (e.g. I was overjoyed to see that Epic Mickey is taking him back to the phase where his irises are absent). Ironically, Spector actually wrote his Master’s thesis on Warner Bros cartoons and how such animations develop over time; I’d enjoy reading that someday.

Epic Mickey seems to be making a mechanic out of taking him back to his mischievous roots, but I will be intrigued to actually see how much of that is in the player’s hands. Not to mention how Junction Point will avoid (or at least hide) falling into the trap of having stuck up gamers like myself writing off said mechanics as just being ‘good’ and ‘bad’ choices.

Creative Hitches

Something I enjoyed about watching Star Trek was how easily the ‘alternate reality’ timeline came off as while most likely being difficult to actually formulate. Granted it was a conveniently placed plot device, but it has a lot of welcoming baggage as well. One of those being that it effectively tells a decent origin story while avoiding the muck they usually have to trek through (pun not intended). It also throws into question the nature of how fans can and cannot obey the laws of continuity so diligently (not to mention the creators). Everything about how the film presents itself is as --- it’s just important as what the film actually turned out to be (e.g. the basic lure of simply titling the film ‘Star Trek’ for example). Ironically I thought the worst part of the film addressing the timeline was the older Spock using his mind-meld ability to clue Kirk in; I thought the best part were the conclusions the entire crew drew when trying to figure out the physics of Nero’s presence and whatnot.





Mickey is following the formula in the same sense that it’s using a conveniently placed construct to bring in a formidable creative force. Epic Mickey is using Disneyland (kind of --- I think) as a backdrop for the entire game. This opens up dozens of possibilities in that it also plays into the audience’s familiarity with various areas (i.e. think of the how resonant the game will be to the all gamers who’ve all been to Disneyland). Both that and the degree of animation in this title will provide it with a tool that if exercised to certain extents, could become scary in how epic a title it could become (again, no pun intended). Of course --- at this point I’m more in love with the game’s potential. The way the title’s story is using the real life dispute between Walt Disney and Charles Mintz is an imitation of a game I’d kill to see. It almost satiates the desires I’ve had ever since wanting to see a fan-made Sonic title in which he destroys the evil offices of Sega, heh.

Overlauded Legacies

Both of these new emergences are products of long-lived legacies that announced new births in entertainment. Mickey ushered and accompanied the rise of American animation while Star Trek did the same for a more mainstream interest in science fiction. Chances are, something that everybody holds dear to them now wouldn’t exist without either of them, so welcoming the potential of something like Epic Mickey is a must. This is definitely to take into consideration that it’s being done by someone with track record like Spector. If he actually manages to pull off Epic Mickey to even half of its potential, I’ll put him on the list of game designers to question --- just a bit less.

"You know, this is probably impossible, we're probably going to fail. I'm in."
-Warren Spector

So that actually makes this the first sci-fi analysis in which I’m displacing the desire for such a subtype of games to arise in favor of one that’s rebooting its own progeny in a distantly related manner. I guess that’s something new…right? The point of this post is to illustrate the implications involved in taking something with such a gargantuan legacy and effectively reigniting it, not only for new audiences, but its own good (other than just simply letting it die that is). The veteran followers are left to relish in the past or contort themselves to fit a new direction --- not selfishly adhere.

[*Update* - 10/20/2009] Game Informer posted a nice article at Epic Mickey yesterday with various looks into its animation, artwork, and formulation.

1018.InsideTheGameMain.jpg-610x00068.2D.jpg-610x03443.MadDoctor.jpg-610x0

And...some doodles I did of the little guy earlier.

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~sLs~