Monday, November 30, 2009

Rien De Nouveau

I've decided to take the week off and hammer down on finally playing through Earthbound. I do however, have a couple of tidbits worth mentioning for the day though.

Curious Fright

I was looking around online and just found out today that the recently released Bayonetta (in Japan) is keelhauling a five disc OST. This intrigues me because as a game, it looks to purposefully be something riding the coattails of Kamiya's own Devil May Cry. It's inspiring camp, style, and action in me more than anything; yet with Masami Ueda (DMC), Norihiko Hibino (MGS), and Rei Kondoh (Okami) all working on the score, some weirdness in observation is caused at the same time. I'm not sure as to what to respond to with the game's superfluous aura either. Even before the game released, it was still being backed by Platinum Games, which people automatically got behind for its post-Clover endeavours (myself included). When observing its Japanese release though, it's safe to say that this torrent of acceptance does not slow down at all, even squeezing perfect scores out of Japan's more popular publications. My stance on the game hasn't really shifted, as I still plan to play it with the same amount of interest as I do any other hack-n-slash title, but I question to what the industry is willing to get behind now (with such praise anyway). It will be interesting to see how the game is received in the West, but my interest in playing the next game from the director of Devil May Cry, Resident Evil 2 and Okami is transitioning into a fright that I'm just gonna be pissed off by people holding it up past a certain point. I certainly welcome the female successor to Dante, but I'm not about to pretend like everything I've seen of Bayonetta's pre-release footage has won me over. If it's a qualitative update of the Devil May Cry formula --- then great, but I'm not honoring anything beyond that.

Whether the title can hold its art design, 'stylish sexism', and over the top action all on one plate is something I have to wait to see (hell, DMC consistently does all three). If nothing else, I'll be able to look at Devil May Cry in a new light.

'Nothing is True...'

Apparently, Ubisoft has decided to abandon last year's reimagining of Prince of Persia and actually continue the Sands of Time storyline. My instant reaction to this is predictably negative, because it's always a harsh reminder to see how much revenue still runs this industry. The 2008 Prince of Persia was similar to the first Assassin's Creed, being the divisive game drawing lines in the areas of concept, difficulty, and narrative. Not only do I think this 'Forgotten Sands' is a blatant attempt to reignite unnecessary awe in catching catching Sands of Time's magic, but it's further proof that developers don't know the meaning of the word 'conclusion'. I feel like I've been lied to with the trilogy being expanded upon now. Mediums often disregard the significance of how something ends in lieu of how much money it can make. With games being so young, they have fallen prey to this behavior more than anything else. To END things on that note, I'll just paste this tweet. Of course this is all conjecture, but if they truly are just tossing Elika back in the trunk, I'll lose a nice slice of respect for Ubisoft (especially if this is nothing more than a movie tie-in title).

@SnakeLinkSonic: I'm just gonna start ignoring it & pretend Assassin's Creed came after Sands of Time. I like the former's premise better anyway.
about 2 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to LBJeffries


'...Everything is Permitted'

Speaking of Assassin's Creed, I almost fell into buying the sequel over the weekend. I resisted because I'm now considering making it my second 'Shattered Perversion', combining my experience with the first game and interweaving it with how I'm predicting I'll thoroughly enjoy the second title. Despite my scathing post last week, I was mainly of the mindset to enforce the point that the two games shouldn't be separated --- not right now anyway. A grand post actually making that point would be much better than uselessly firing my more perverse vitriol. As I alluded to above, I'm actually more on the train of Assassin's Creed as a franchise than I am for the Prince of Persia series. It just personally appeals to me more. The concept doesn't need to stop or conclude as a trilogy either (it would be damn-near offensive to me if it did). It's also a magnificent backdoor to play more with a game's muscle within historical spaces while at the same time inspiring artistic interest (from a cultural design point) in audiences. For example, I'm personally most interested in something from Ancient Egypt next, but I've seen quite a few decent suggestions in just the past week alone. The game's concept can do a little bit of everything, and it will be the irony of ages if the Assassin's Creed franchise becomes the one franchise that should have been milked when it was enclosed an unnecessary trilogy.

~sLs~

Monday, November 23, 2009

VGA 7-1 [Gamer Genealogy]

Over the weekend, I got the chance to give the Google Wave beta a try and after a couple of hours with it, the idea for this entry popped into my head. I just couldn't resist the compulsion to urinate in the gaming industry’s gene pool. Now of course gaming ‘in its basest form’ has been around for ages, but its electronically-powered manifestation is roughly about as old as I am --- give or take a few years (possibly a decade, depending on how you look at it). The power of arcades, PCs, and consoles didn’t really start taking their cultural baby steps until the mid-to-late eighties. During that time, most of us were introduced to not only the joys of ‘play’, but also the means to relate those experiences to those around us. It began within the proximity of infamous options such as ‘1P’ & ‘2P’ and has since evolved to reflect a society placing the cart so far ahead of the horse, it may as well be waterskiing on land. Seriously, contemplate the evolution of communication & play and how it has developed into say --- the modern MMO. Quite a bit of ground has been covered.

This is an odd argument for someone like me to make, as I’m very touchy about the time I get to spend alone during any activity, let alone playing a game. In the end though, there’s no denying the social struts that gaming is built on. It’s been present since whomever --- wherever decided to replicate an activity for someone else to enjoy. There’s always going to be a degree of repetition in human development, but the fun is in how this tends to update itself upon presentation. Gaming’s biggest and most influential update is obvious; you’re reading this on it, the computer. In just the past ten years, the computer has become one of the most (if not the most) significant technological entities on the planet. It has permeated the everyday life on how people operate things for themselves. Sure, it’s not blanketed on a global scale quite yet, but the fact that this blog exists --- the fact that it even has a ‘why in existing’ is most telling of a significant cultural revolution, far beyond my own involvement in it.

So if you look at any gamer who is passionate in their enjoyment of the medium, I’m willing to bet there’s a rich ‘digital’ history behind their involvement with both games and fellow gamers 'online'. Now I could go on some long-winded analysis aimed at how close I could parallel this growth to basic genetic understandings (which is probably what most would pointlessly want this to be), but where the hell would the fun be in that? Instead, it’s more communicable and worthwhile for me to relate my singular experience, leaving the reader to contemplate their own edges for how they fit into the puzzle as well (defending my freedom and your own there, appreciate it). Consider it show-n-tell, but with me laying out my own ‘gamer genes’ for all to see (it’s not like we have ‘family trees' quite yet).

Using that introduction as a template, I’d ask the reader to earnestly consider the following questions. Ideally, one could even muse over them in the comments.

  • 1 - Where exactly does the first computer that you used/owned tie into your experience with games?

  • 2 – What related ‘social trees’ have you gone through in the past ten years?

  • 3 – What related communication tools do you prefer now?

  • 4 – What actually dictates those preferences?

  • 5 – How do your current ‘social trees’ affect your balancing between single-player and multiplayer games?

    You’d be surprised at how common it is for some jackass to point out the paradox of a blog titled ‘Misanthropic Gamer’. When some actual thought is applied to the notion however, it makes more sense for someone like me to regularly post than it would the most gregarious person on the planet. By definition, I’m someone who chronically holds people in contempt and distrust (for the obvious reasons we’ll cleverly avoid). To build up the required emotions for such things, a basis is required. In this case, such a basis uses social interaction and is required in order to harbor such detestation (who the hell hates people without first knowing people?). I don’t care how trivial, weird, or screwed up something appears, when there’s human perception behind it, there’s always some reason buried around --- somewhere, we just can’t always see it. My musings here just happen to be based on the premise that I’m still young and stupid enough to find amusement in playing with other people. I’m assuming from experience that my stances will just continue to exacerbate themselves over time, so that makes my little web-space here that much more precious for the time being.

    Answer to #1 – America Needs to Go Offline

    That said, my primordium if you will, begins mainly on AOL. Though online chat systems such as IRC have been around since the late 80s, my first involvement with them began nearly a decade later, in the late 90s. During those prepubescent years, I spent a good deal of my free time floating around AOL chat channels observing people argue, flirt, and exchange rather banal experiences with each other. Around the turn of the millennium, I fell into lurking amongst the more gaming-focused chat rooms. Most notably, from 1999-2005, I was usually caught simply staring at dialouge between the Playstation and Nintendo chatrooms. The former was a playground for self-important teenage socialites and the latter was a breeding ground for juvenile bursts of gaming passion. Needless to say, I was drawn to the volatile puerility of the Nintendo chat. I also unwittingly picked up a rather prominent reputation for suspiciously lurking around the conversations going on. Anytime I was directly addressed, I often responded with some mocking statement aimed sharply at whoever was speaking to me. It didn’t take long before people started infamously acknowledging me as ‘sLs, the reclusive asshole in the Nchat’.

    Answer to #2 – The Digital Mercenary

    Fortunately AOL’s popularity amongst my circle ended a while back, as we all had to grow up (to some extent, anyway). I’m not even sure if the chatrooms still currently exist as they did all those years ago. People got tired of paying for the service as many other more efficient online options began popping up left and right (I never paid after a certain point anyway, I simply manipulated those annoying ‘free discs’ that used to come en masse in the mail). With everyone departing, I found myself annoyingly tied to the generations shifting and moved onto contacting fellow gamers through AIM, AOL’s instant messaging client. Just as my little AOL era drew to a close, Gamers.com kind of shifted into what is now known as 1UP. Initially, I fell into repeating my own process by lurking around the site for a few years before deciding to blog for myself. Afterwards however, I found the blogs to be a far more worthwhile and personable experience rather than what made me cringe from general forum use. Taking away the real-time feature of IMs fostered more room for subjective and original thought (rather than the transient veil of objectivity seen on most forums now). So, I got myself caught up in that trend, which continues into present day. The most curious development in this arena is something like Twitter, which I find works as a useful tank to dump thoughts in. Thanks to the structure, 140 character limits, and plethora of worthwhile desktop clients, it’s actually as close as I’ll ever come to posting regularly on forums.

    Answer to #3 – The Tastes of My Typing

    By default I use AIM, as the general usefulness of it as a default client remains stalwart. It keeps things easiest when it comes to contacting others, be it about a game or just me wanting to arbitrarily yell at them for being people. It’s free, it’s more than functional, and it remains the least ostensible of the major IM clients. My next preferred tool is Twitter, which was something I was opposed to initially since I --- like many others, pigeon-holed it to being a mere indulgent tool which people use to make themselves feel less like shit when they were on the toilet or something. In actuality, it’s just another one of those make-it-what-you-want-it deals. I find it’s more useful as a slower-paced IM client for people who aren’t really much for the instant messaging. It’s also the only thing I’ve come across in the past ten years that makes the news for me generally interesting. It’s always nice to have that lurker allele in me satiated once in a while too. Twitter does that more than anything else now.

    Answer to #4 – The Attitude of API

    I’m easily seduced by anything that fosters individualism, which is why I use this blog as a hub for everything else I’m into (MG reflects my presence on the internet, not the other way around). I still carry an annoying magnetism for people it seems and the only way I can even remotely dissipate it is by openly acknowledging the détente I’ve always had with the common notion of a ‘community’. Things are always fluctuating these days, but as it stands, AIM and Tweetdeck are the only two things I manage to load up with any consistency right now. I suppose Twitter allows me to cast the net wider in terms of associating with gamers I find interesting enough to keep with; AIM just gives them access to me when they need it. Something else to be noted about Twitter is how easily it breaches the ‘status boundaries’, or how easily it strips the perception of what one sees someone like a celebrity to be.

    Answer to #5 – Bolstered Blogs

    I haven’t logged into XBL or PSN in about a year, and my obstinate dedication to single-player games is mostly why. Most likely, my appetite will start to grow again after StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty releases, but the only thing I’d even be interested in logging in to play right now is Guns of the Patriots’s multiplayer. With things like split-screen play becoming such a dying art, it’s no surprise that I keep moving further and further away from plugging an ethernet cable into my systems. As irrational as it may be, I feel if I take my eyes off the single player ideal for even a second, somebody is going to fuck something up, making its worth lose ground somehow. I would never forgive myself if I wasn’t there to abrasively bitch about it.

    A common and rightful fear that many have for games now involves them going the route of what the modern comic book has fallen into. This is where they’re not exactly irrelevant, but have become trapped in a cultural ghetto that’s ruled by its insular fans. Those fans don’t care about the medium’s ‘forward movement’, only their adherence to being entertained in their free time. Fortunately games seem to be pretty forceful in how they’re sticking around; the possibility of becoming stuck in that fan ruled world is pretty unlikely (things like the Wii are actively forcing the natural law of video-game's biodiversity), though it’s still a threat worth keeping an eye on. Using Google Wave was kind of shocking because it reminded me that gamers have tangible substances that extend beyond something as nebulous as memes (something I played with in VGA 6-4). Social systems and computers suggest more of a correlation with genes, even to the point where their detriments show parallels as well (see genetic flow, pollution, erosion). Hell, even looking at Wave’s potential merger of e-mail, instant messanging, forums, and chatrooms only manages to suggest exactly what I stated at the beginning of this post --- an update.

    Essentially one could write the damn thing off as a far more complex (and free) version of AOL, another system stuffing the aforementioned communication tools under one umbrella. It will be interesting to see if the thing flies or falls over the next few months. One could even point out classifications akin to hybridizations for gamers these days. It's far more complex than the simple tags of hardcore, casual, and girls...far more, always has been. Social sites even as trendy as Facebook have their hands in this cookie jar too. Fortunately for the time being, gamers don’t know the amount of force they have in engineering the industry’s gene pool.

    ~sLs~
  • There Has Been an Assassination Attempt…

    …on free thought.

    It should come as no surprise that I’m holding off on Assassin’s Creed 2 now. This isn’t because the game looks like something I won’t enjoy (it actually looks like something I’m gonna waste a lot of time with), but because of what my typical reaction is to design of conformity [let’s call that ‘DoC’ for short]. The consensus that the first game’s problems were somehow ‘fixed’ dips the title in a temporary coating of ‘ew’ for me, so now I just have to wait until it melts off. In just the past week alone, the rarity I’ve seen in people who enjoyed both this game and its predecessor is kind of disheartening (hell, I’d even welcome those who hate both games). In fact, the divisiveness of the first game has somehow spread into the reception of the sequel as well. Some are all on board with the changes that have been made to the first game’s structure, while others have antagonized it due to some miniscule and ultimately irrelevant presence they sensed the first time around. Not only that, but the latter group has also distorted what the first game does to such an extreme extent, that they can’t even recognize the successor doing the exact same thing in different garbs. This isn’t surprising, considering how easily swayed people are when it comes to demonizing and idealizing anything, especially when it’s done amidst the opinions of their peers.

    Whether or not the title is truly a step above the first game is not something I am really invested in exploring to begin with. It was obvious after those sharp lashings Ubisoft took the first time that this title would be ‘corrected’ to reflect it. Instead, what interested me was how they’d alter the vision of what the first game presented; instead of masking the commonly-cited repetition from the first game for instance, they could address its actual utilization within the game’s fundamental design. This is something I can’t even speak on yet myself, as I’ve yet to play the game. From what I’m deducing however, the game [AC2] exercised a muscle that I think gets ‘stroked’ way too much in current games in order to hide shortcomings, freedom. Sandbox play is not something I’ll ever let slide by gracefully, no matter how much I enjoy it. Gamers get so wrapped up in digital freedom, they lose their ability to criticize it, which was fine for something like Grand Theft Auto 3, but it’s time to raise the bar now. Emergent play and attention to detail are not aspects of a game the player should be allowed to fawn over, not anymore. The former is a thinly shared layer of design that the player generates outside of the developer’s intent and the latter is a mandatory expectancy of anything that would profess itself to be high-profile.

    Something I personally key in on is to what lengths certain people will go to in order to separate the first title and this one. Not only does it convey the degree to which they’ll cast off necessary context, but also how desperately they’re willing to cling to flimsy truths. For example, Ubisoft seems to have a tendency for fumbling with sullen characters. Be it the changes the prince went through over the Prince of Persia trilogy or Desmond Miles’s descendants, every time they create a vicious character, they overreact to the player’s inability to relate to the them, leaving the poor bastards to be marginalized somehow. Granted Altair wasn’t exactly the exemplar of characterization, but Ezio’s cavalier attitude is not something I prefer to the former’s arrogance. This is almost a requirement of many stealth or assassination games I enjoy, yet every time potential is presented, the developer proves to be a slave to the above mentioned DoC. Some type of rich sociopath has to be crafted in order to reflect the world they’re dealing with, yet Ubisoft's more broody characters always tend come off simply stunted and shallow (when in fact they’re supposed to be the more complex archetypes). Sam Fisher is probably the only one with his head even remotely above the water and I think Splinter Cell: Conviction will make or break my opinion on that matter.

    The point of this is not to rail on Ezio either. Personally, I expect to find him annoying, but if the character moves through his world enjoyably enough, then that’s enough for me. What I will be sad to lose is something I’ve heard alluded to in countless impressions on the game. The game trades a significant stock of its preceding coldness in exchange for humor. Both of those tones seem to emanate from the protagonists themselves. Since Altair was mostly aloof and arrogant, he played right into game’s reception being remote from its ‘potential’. Where Ubisoft dropped the ball there however, was coloring who he was. Much like characters such as Garrett, Altair was fueled by skill, overconfidence, and impetuousness. Every time he killed one of his targets, the cryptic death rattles of his victims were meant to humble him. There were no threads to indicate this though; hell, even ambient commentary (which is pretty much what carries Garrett’s appeal by the way) from the character was limited mainly to the exchanges between him and Al Mualim. It seems in the second game that Ezio is ironically granted a luxury in this category, but in the cliché notions of humanistic ideals. Am I to simply accept that these kinds of characters are more warmly received since more people relate to them and those same people design them? Yeah, it’s a bit of a cheap shot, but --- where am I wrong?

    So the separation of the games by the player is so ingrained, that the design compensates for it. More time could have been spent threading Ezio to Altair (and by association Desmond as well). The repetition in the first game could have been shifted in perception entirely if Altair offered dry commentary on doing the same actions over and over. Simple solutions are often disregarded in lieu of DoC iteration. Regarding Assassin’s Creed 2, hearing people wave around statements such is this has become like nails on a chalkboard for me:

    “Oh, you don’t have to play the first game at all! This game is so much better and fixed that all is forgiven! Play it! Pointlessly indulge! Forget the first title ever existed on some misshaped design ground that this title is beyond the same severity the first game embraced!”

    Okay, so I embellished, but you get the picture. Something Assassin’s Creed has never become is what it kind of takes credit for anyway; a thriving world in which an assassin must navigate a complicated situation. I’m iffy on Thi4f right now and I will probably pitch a fit if another console Metal Gear game is announced in the next five years (that isn’t a remake of the first two MSX games anyway), so Assassin’s Creed is one of the few ‘stealth’ games I’ve got left. It seems that the second game uses its narrative as more of a vehicle, which is a good thing in my book; more writers getting power is a sign of the artistic growth this industry so desperately needs. However, the fact that the reconstructed era of the Renaissance seems to tank most the assault this game should have taken on its sandbox arena annoys me. I’m assuming the overall feel of the game hasn’t changed from what both the first game and the latest Prince of Persia showcased, large areas that the main character was more functionally ‘steered’ through than anything else. I didn’t find anything wrong with that in PoP, in fact I rather enjoyed it. What AC & AC2 present however, is a distinct tendency to trick the player into becoming more invested than they actually will be. The means of combat, free-running, and actually assassinating targets are all navigated on simplistic and accessible premises. The rhythmic combat certainly isn’t bad, it’s just kept on a level which doesn’t aspire to be anything else. People will forget this in Assassin’s Creed 2 because there’s some seductively presented distractions to correct the balance.

    Things like the sidequests, tangible goals, and items like dye to change attire are all carrying the weight of Assassin’s Creed’s gargantuan concept when they don’t have to. I don’t care how big or accurate the setting is, if it was cut in half, the chances are I would probably love it much more. Such manpower can be devoted to making the AI more sophisticated, mechanics more complex (but still accessible to the layman), and the overall composition of the game more dynamic.

    The real worth is this post will be what I come away feeling after I actually play through the game for myself.

    ~sLs~

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    VGA 2-1 [Sexual Sadism]

    Video Games as Art 2-1
    Originally Posted: Friday // April 11th, 2008 9:44:24 Central Standard Time

    This is probably the most altered post that I’ll have in the series, but that stems mainly from the fact that my distaste for writing ‘lists’ has increased exponentially. That and I’ve gotten the perspective from a few other areas and people that I didn’t have access to before. To open up with, I should clarify some of my own stances, which gave rise to the prior edition of this post.

    First and foremost --- I absolutely do not believe in Egalitarianism in most of its contexts.

    More accurately, I’ve no faith in people’s ability to reach any instance of their own idealized state of equality. Savagely cynical and conceited yes, but impractical this isn’t. My typical action for dealing with people is pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum for your average grading scale. That means instead of initially giving people the benefit of the doubt, I just assume they’re all shit and let them work their way up my own personal scale of judgment (yes, I judge pretty damn draconically by character). What’s really tragic is not that I rely on it, hell --- it isn’t even that I can rely on it, it’s that I’m at a point in life where I actually find comfort within it (whether that’s more of a reflection on me or the people I associate with is up for debate). That means when sardonicism such as mine flows through culture’s filters, it comes to rest at something such as gaming while appearing with what most wrongly perceive misanthropy to entail by default: unjust and reckless hatred, discriminatory stances such as misogyny, and an addiction to humanity’s more morbid actions. Indeed those are indulgences someone like me often has to temper, but very rarely are they based purely in prejudice.

    I certainly don’t support something as idiotic as ‘enforced inequality’, I merely antagonize the common human notion that we should always strive for an idealistic society. On principle, I see that as an idealistic and romantic imbalance, mostly because it sacrifices everything else at the expense of people not stepping on each other’s toes (and I’ve already established how much value I find in the popular notion of ‘happiness’). Since I care very little of what people think of me, I’ve no qualms about inspiring things that most would consider ‘morally questionable’ (bleh, the taste of just typing that stings…).

    In short, by temporarily taking away the grey areas (which are more important but irrelevant at the moment), one is left with dualities which require choice. A couple of my picks for example:

    I value failure more than success.
    I value conflict more than peace.
    I value hatred more than love.
    I value subjective truth(s) more than an objective truth.
    I value a person’s faults more than their virtues.
    And meaning outranks happiness in every single case.

    Games haven’t quite jumped in this fecal-laced pool yet, but they are dipping their toes in it. Unwittingly capitalizing on touchy notions such as racism, subtle sexisms, and general political correctness, the medium is facing an extremely large paradigm shift. This is a shift so broad, that as a generation --- we probably won’t be able to see wherever the hell it will lead either way (which why most opt for ignoring it).

    The first version of this post was composed of a wanton surge of exasperation with how women were depicted in games. Now I’ve moved on (or back, depending on how you look at it), and I’ve decided that the best way to evolve these ideas along would be to address another pertinent matter that the prior version merely implied, prematurity.

    I've come to realize that women are totally viable character choices, I even identify with them, to some extent anyway, much the same way as I'm sure girls can do with Kratos or the kid from Bully. Its less about ‘embracing madness’ than a good game making me forget it.
    -D. Rodgers, 1UP Blogger

    This prematurity stems from an area where I always tend to splinter off from more progressive stances (something else I don’t much believe in by the way). More important than my post are the responses they sometimes tend to generate. The male statements (in addition to my own original post) tended to cite the obvious gender homogeny as the most problematic part of the industry. The female responses tended to separate pride from the equation, offering up patience for awaiting the industry’s inevitable maturation. The transition for more females making games, their depictions within games, and the number playing them has to be an organic emergence. If it’s enforced, there seems to be some common perception that it will serve as a pandering detriment overall. I personally tend to look at them as colors (i.e. the problems society has in general); the separation between them being just as important as the mixtures they can concoct. When the enforced awareness of this becomes aggressive in any form, I tend to recoil --- as it usually ‘limits the colors’ possible. Me being the selfish ass I am --- it basically equates to someone snatching all my crayons away, leaving me with only the three neutral colors. Honestly, introducing more women into the drawing board will not be enough to solve the problems (at best it simply will be the band-aid on a broken arm), but it is a fundamental concept gamers have to accept. The difference between men and woman, if you could only hear the scoff I make at gamers balancing that when society itself fails so miserably with the same task to begin with.

    “More specifically, I meant that the majority of developers being male isn't the problem; it's that our culture, especially the media in general, is becoming more adolescent by the day. I don't see female involvement improving things much if the collective worldview of our society remains indulgent, petty, shallow, etc. In plain English, we need some fucking real adults, period, to make games.”
    -Star_Royal, 1UP comment

    We can take apart common notions for days, but let’s just do one for right now. If we look at what composes the stereotypical female gamer, let’s contemplate some of the things ‘she’ is made of:

    1 >> A reaction towards some odd discombobulated icon of sexual desire from males

    As bad as it sounds, one has to give acknowledgement towards the existence of girls who simply use games as a vehicle in order to get attention from men. Sometimes this isn’t as bad as it seems, as I’ve seen plenty women transition from this to actually embracing games for themselves. Many others however, still stand on the social decadence that something like XBL fosters even more blatantly now (I’ve also recently seen it rearing its head in MMOs, which correlates to the next piece of the pie). The same women may or may not consciously manipulate their ‘iconic imagery’ associated with their surrounding male players in order to bolster their own egos. We’ve all seen that one attention whore while playing Gears of War; a gal so hung up on potentially being the only female in a game, she gets drunk off that novelty alone. This isn’t even about the sexual imagery plastered all over the place in other games either (coughDeadorAlivecough). I’m willing to accept that there’s a place for that somewhere, but the pipe of variety for games is well --- just that, a pipe. Forgive me for becoming exasperated with 56k breasts.

    Also, I don't think you're far off about artists not having all the say. We live in a world of corporate pressure, and it shows no sign of slowing down. I think we both agree on what constitutes as a certain degree of expertise; however, the power of corporate pressure keeps progress at a slow pace. Simply put, we'll continue to see sexually unrealistic and offensive representation of women if it translates into profits.
    -M. Spayth, 1UP Blogger

    2 >> A tendency to play RPGs more than any other genre.

    I accredit this to the fact that women are simply more adept at reading the subtextual and less action-oriented dynamics of any medium. RPGS are the unwitting mascot for games when it comes to plotlines, characters, and somewhat rich narrative worlds (which is sad all in itself). Over the past decade this has changed pretty substantially, but the stereotype itself is still there, which is why this still exists. The standard RPG tones of emotional depth generally just seem to catch their attention more than men, and it values things not easily apparent. This can be seen in many other facets of general life as well, no doubt contributing to the whole ‘irrational female’ image. There’s much less-obvious logic in typical female actions, which tends to confound the stereotypical male who takes things at face-value (funny how life still emulates bad sitcoms).

    “If we attempt to artificially force the evolution of women in gaming, it's going to backfire and we’ll wind up with an abundance of ‘Games for Women’ that are just plain bad. I would rather continue to play as a man, or a strong female whose breasts have a life of their own, rather than have to suffer through some painful piece of crap that doesn't contain any of the elements of gaming that I have come to love.”
    -Deb, 1UP Blogger

    3 >> The inability to touch ‘patented’ masculinity.

    The status by which men associate masculine traits to visual and personal attributes is often aided by social inertia. This is to say that ‘our definitions’ are far too fallible to set in stone because while things are still pretty much imbalanced between the sexes, they’re also still relative and change significantly as time drags on. Men don’t hold ‘patents’ on what is sometimes considered to be masculine, not anymore. Hell, the only reason I use even use the word myself is because I know people will complain about how verbose I otherwise tend to get. An example of that is an assertive woman who is automatically pigeon-holed as being masculine. Indeed there should be boundaries and differentiation, but those definitions are only as good as the times they’re applied to. My problem with this is how outdated yonic and phallic representations really are now.

    Something similar can be said of the vapid women in action flicks. Directors, producers, designers are all responsible for keeping the stereotypes going. They cannot point fingers when they, themselves, contribute to the same circle. I wish there were more women of substance in and around games but we should also demand more men of substance in and around gaming as well. The frat-boy mentality should die and games could mature but the industry knows a good thing when they see it. Sex sells and there's no way around it, the industry listens to money, not logical arguments.
    - BigMex, 1UP Blogger

    Naturally, I linked the player to the creator and came away that the relative number of girls playing games has to have some correlation to those that contribute to making them. There were a couple of distinct patterns I noticed as well; both stem from the affect that current society has on them as a gender. The first one was how socially irrelevant culture tends to make games as a whole for them specifically; it seems to veer women off at a more targeted rate than men. Though female gamers are large in number, they are and still remain a minority among the population. Simply put, girls aren’t really seen as ‘gamers’ in the basest sense, which is fairly more poignant than it may seem (i.e. if you close your eyes and think ‘gamer’ what gender is the image that pops in your head?). Even today, they remain some illusory rare treasure that males place on distorted pedestals. The way they’re raised and cultivated --- even by today’s feigned liberal and progressive stances, is often more disrupted than that of boys as well. The second part of this is direct proof of the first and that is what happens to any woman, be they a writer or simply an avid player who may attempt to even remotely address gender topics in regards to games. They almost instantly get written off for overreacting or blowing an issue out of proportion. It’s intriguing to me that the majority of ‘aggressive’ women (even those just willing to stand up for themselves individually) remain tragic figures in current times. I can even muster up some semblance inverse empathy here; as I’m constantly pondering the nature of my own magnetism. I can skip around here on my blog pissing on people left and right (with a big fucking smile on my face mind you), but if there were any image of excess estrogen applied to who I was, I’d most likely be seen as just some shrew. Coupled with my own thoughts on people generally being amiable towards your average jerk’s honesty, I’d have to propose an answer to that age-old question:

    Whoever: Why the hell do people love assholes so much?
    Me: Generally speaking, it’s because they have the ‘The Penis of Truth’.

    Regardless of what game developers say, they develop with men and young boys in mind, not females, so a female gamer tends to have the stereotype of being unattractive and ghastly, which means men won't listen to them either way. Well --- actually, I'm wrong, it's usually true for the women who are outspoken; those who are more or less your 'casual' or average gamer tend to assume what's going to transpire if they speak out. It’s steadily changing but you still get a lot of nasty comments or opinions thrown at you, and then you also have online components where guys are afraid to kick a female out or give her constructive criticism (these are things you find in everyday life too).
    - Mandy, 1UP Blogger

    Phallic honesty is a tad facile but I’ll leave that there for right now and transition towards what’s seen in relationships, as well as variations in sexuality. Gamers tend to almost righteously regurgitate the instance of a game’s mechanics adapting to more sedentary actions (e.g. talking). The logic there brings into us back to that idiotic fun argument, which I’m not really interested in entertaining right now; I’ll just state say that the common dolt who argues ‘games should be fun’ and nothing else is quickly becoming a self-affirming dinosaur. When the paths for actual relationships between people are more widely embraced by gamers, titles will be that much better for it (not to mention that the methods themselves will get a chance to evolve and open up as technology continues to expand). When we reach the arena of same-sex and androgynously toned titles, there isn’t so much of a dingy cultural lens, but a latent and abusively restrained potential. I’d assume this is because such citizens are still being treated as third-class citizens by modern society. In terms of games however, which use so much artistic fuel, I’d say they have a back door in design here. A basic example for that is the potential awareness that’s generated when a female is ‘made masculine’ or vice versa (hell, look at what happened with Jack).

    “Ah, but to completely remove personal affectation and rely on the basis of pure logic, a fallacy since we don't have pure logic, is an argument men have been making for years. This has also stunted men, particularly from expressing themselves and communicating. There is a middle ground to be struck.”
    -D. Farr, Author of Vorpal Bunny Ranch

    As long as those kinds of people are buying as many games as they are, as frequently as they are, then things won't change. More women are getting into the industry and more women are playing games, but we're still not seeing much of a female perspective in them. This is not to say that games aimed at women should involve ponies and games aimed at men should involve threesomes and bloody violence, but the feminine perspective (strong female leads, the use of love in a story, good writing) just aren't being accepted by gamers right now. And even if a game like that does hit, the ‘hardcore’ base of the industry will just call it ‘gay’ and move back to their ‘mature’ games (which aren't actually mature in any sense of the word).
    -C. Winn, 1UP Blogger

    In the 80's 99.99% of game players were men sitting on their asses playing on a computer, or going into cigarette smoke-filled arcade to play some Pac-Man. Then the NES budged things a little bit but I would still say that 90% of gamers were still men. It is not until we get into this generation of gaming that I think shit truly opens up. Nintendo caters to all whims now and those men who fell in love with games during 80's became game designers. Imagine the people who are falling in love with games now. I have no doubt that a large percentage of them are female.
    - TaureanWilliams, 1UP Blogger

    And another thing, I agree with --- a lot of women aren't helping the situation. I certainly haven't done a survey or know numbers, but in my experience, I run into more girls that feed into the bullshit than girls that go against it.
    -J. Williams, 1UP Blogger

    As everyone else highlighted, I think for the industry to mature, its audience has to first.
    -Nel, 1UP Blogger

    I was reading through the comments here and saw a few things that got me thinking. All of the female friends I had back in the 80's were also gamers. As we neared our 20's, all of them dropped out of gaming except me. I think a big disconnect was the lack of story/social content in most games as the 80's came to a close. I was asked often what I got out of playing games because they were viewing them as 'pointless'.
    -Tristessa, 1UP Blogger

    When none of your friends are gamers and you don't have a console, it takes a lot of effort to stay interested in gaming. However, I was one of those weirdos who constantly bought magazines just to ogle screenshots, hung out with guys for the chance to game, and kept right on with the PC. Lots of women just aren't as invested in it. It doesn't help that most guys don't take you seriously, and when you're playing online, you either have nerds hitting on you or going, "lolz, it's a girl." So yeah, lots of obstacles there. In the end, you have to be ready to be seen as "awesome, but crazy" on the guy side, and just plain crazy on the female side. There's not much of a middle group. I suppose I'm just crazy.
    -K. Bailey, 1UP Editor

    In a lot of ways, this has absolutely nothing to do with games and absolutely everything to do with them at the same time. I eliminated what the prior edition of this post featured, an actual list of female game characters I enjoyed for myself. The point of this post was to regress past the line where the actual discussion of their appearance in games appears as something we’re simply not ready for yet. Numerous artists, programmers, and designers keep falling prey to such basic things, but the onus is on the audience for pushing them down in the first place --- the gamers.

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    I Want a Calvin & Hobbes Game

    Over the weekend I finished off reading through Calvin and Hobbes entirely, a comic strip produced by Bill Watterson from 1985-1995. Initially, I began using it simply to breakup my reading of Peanuts, and was prepared to hate it for being the strip that most often got praise in the circles I tend to orbit. Well I finally succumbed it its charms after Calvin first began yelling for a bat in order to kill a monster. I’m now in agreement with those who constantly relate the two strips and what they did as an art. Schulz was a very tragic figure despite his 'success', and Peanuts above all else reflects that. It represents a very consistent commentary in terms of negativity for people, be it their insecurities, callousness, or vices. Watterson took a more self-righteous approach with his strip however, very outspokenly standing tall for the general comic as an artform. He refused all animation, merchandising, and general ‘exposure’ for Calvin and Hobbes apart from the strip itself. The only thing that’s available to date are the famous forged logos of Calvin urinating on various symbols of culture. Although I understand every bit of what Watterson refused, I still now find myself among saddened fans that feel ‘the hole’ left by his final strip in 1995.

    "Bill Watterson draws wonderful bedside tables. I admire that. He also draws great water splashes and living room couches and chairs and lamps and yawns and screams, and all the things that make a comic strip fun to look at. I like the little arms on Calvin and his shoes that look like dinner rolls. Drawing in a comic strip is infinitely more important than we may think, for our medium must compete with other entertainment, and if a cartoonist does nothing more than illustrate a joke, he or she is going to lose. Calvin and Hobbes however, contain hilarious pictures that cannot be duplicated in other mediums. In short, it’s fun to look at and that is what made Bills work such an admirable success."
    -Charles M. Schulz

    Where the game comes in to play lies all in theory as usual. I honestly don’t know if it could even be done (as I’m assuming Watterson grew even more cynical and reclusive with age), but I refuse to just ignore the potential the character could have within a game. As I stated above, the strip shares a lot with Peanuts (and Watterson has definitely acknowledged Schultz as one of his largest influences), but it’s far from being a mere derivative of it. Instead, I’d call it an edgier and far more potent blast of what made Peanuts so significant to begin with. Calvin himself for example, is an amalgamation of every character within Peanuts with one exception, Charlie Brown. Hobbes was more of a rational extension of Calvin, but ran in the same beat as him. This is to say a callous and self-absorbed six-year old boy who has no friends (unless you count Susie, who he tormented as much as he could), runs out of the classroom at his own whims, and philosophically undermines his own perception of the world at every turn he can.

    "The wonder of "Peanuts" is that it worked on so many levels simultaneously. Children could enjoy the silly drawings and the delightful fantasy of Snoopy, while adults could see the bleak undercurrent of cruelty, loneliness and failure, or the perpetual theme of unrequited love, or the strip's stark visual beauty."
    -Bill Watterson





    Particularly most speaking of the strip was how sardonic it was, often making very poignant strikes against various cruxes of culture, be it art, philosophy, or just basic human nature. Generally speaking, the best strips did this anyway at some point or another, but both Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes stood out in this regard prominently. With the rise of more stylized 2D indie-games, I don’t think it’s a leap to contemplate the possibilities of a side-scrolling C&H game. In fact, I’d even go as far to say that it’s the ideal (if not only) way to ever see Calvin animated. Watterson refused all merchandising of strip due to it infringing upon its spirit. I think there’s now a little tug room with the state of how games are made now. We’re now finally (albeit slowly) moving into the phase of a game’s maturation where writers have more leeway in titles, animation is becoming more prominent, and the overall drive to JUST make money is slowly antagonizing itself (all of which foster the spirit of the strip).

    There’s also the various tools of Calvin’s imaginative subconscious which could make some lovely mechanical wrappings without becoming mere gimmicks. Spaceman Spiff, Stupendous Man, and tools like the Transmogrifier all have endless applications of game usage in this context.

    A few example rules I proposed to myself:

  • Some of the various 'rules' cannot be broken. The strip is built on the premise that the reader can either accept Calvin’s perspective on life, or the reality of everybody else around him. Those rules must be obeyed at all times (i.e. anytime another ‘real’ character is onscreen, Hobbes cannot be anthropomorphized).

  • No voicing, the use of text bubbles would be far more gracious in a game like this, and it would help play with the animation and visual design as well.


  • The animation itself would have to be phenomenal. The strips were all drawn in the style that basically communicated movement in every panel. Anything that ever comes along to animate it would have to top even that. It would have to naturally pick up that beat of movement and expression.

  • Absolutely no narrative, or at the very least small arcs that can flow in and out of one another. Having some quirky plotline that superficially meshes with the game's cultural status wouldn't be enough and it would be insulting. Having the game designed to be infused into the strips own world however, would be clever as hell. Not just because of the possibilities, but because of the respect it pays to the strip as an art itself.

  • How Hobbes and Calvin are utilized would have to be delicately handled. This is assuming there’s even room to make Hobbes controllable. Personally, I can see him working more in the context of the newer age characters that have far more memorable use as 'actual characters' alongside the player (i.e. Alyx Vance). With the way Hobbes constantly makes dry statements on Calvin’s often-impulsive craziness (e.g. the famous sleigh rides), it may be better to simply let him follow the little guy around while conversing with him.

    Of course this game will never be made, it's far too dangerous of a risk. It also has too many hoops to jump over (e.g. I can't imagine Watterson being so generous to even allow it a consideration) and I'd be one of the fans to actively boycott it if it even began looking remotely insulting towards the strip. I just thought it would be fun to lay the idea out, as usual.

    ~sLs~
  • Friday, November 6, 2009

    Snoot & Study Blog #1

    I decided to take the logic I used to refrain from schooling (which we’ll conveniently sidestep) and turn it into a productive process for my blog. A generally and commonly known issue with American schooling (all I can speak for) is an issue of retention. It’s mostly structured for commoditizing information on a short term basis, usually leading to better grades and better ‘opportunities’ (my air-quotes here are extremely facetious by the way). Of course this is a generalization, but its rate of fallacy is pretty damn low nowadays. Not only does this relative ‘truth’ affect the entire perception of the ideal that schooling is supposed to nurture, but it actively castrates the actual goal of learning to begin with. Plenty of people fall through cracks for all sorts of justifiable reasons, some are just lazy, and some know how to work the system through self-applied work ethics and ambition. Of course some of us have egos so gargantuan, we end up smashing them against problematic ideals just to amuse ourselves (*cough*).

    To stack yet another blog series on top of the other three or four I’ve got trickling out, I thought I’d give this a try as well. These posts will be aimed at tackling any book I happen to think fits a certain ‘pedantic quota’. With that, I’ll merge it with my own cynically obsessive drive and offer interpretations of the book’s context as a layer to place over its relevance with video-games. Textbooks are ideal for this, as they present certain facts (and knowledge trees) which go a long way to further thought, perception, and context. The good news is that I’ve been on a bit of a non-fiction binge for the past year. The bad news is that I ritualistically burned most of the textbooks I bought in school for reasons we won’t get into (however if you’ve read what I did with the unrevealed designs for my hypothetical games and most of the drawings I know will get too much attention, that should give you a clue).

    I’ll make it a point to keep the title and details of the book itself a secret (as much as I can anyway); I think the age-old quandary of ‘judging a book by its cover’ will affect a lot what people read with these. I’m not all that interested in recommending that one checks out the book I’m using because that’s basically all it would and should be in the end, a simple recommendation (though if they proactively seek out or even recognize what I’m using, it will still work to the ends I intend to accomplish). Instead, I’m going to use the book’s ‘power’ to temporarily augment my own voice; you know --- continue to spread my virulence. I look around in the context of any kind of writing about games and I’m surprised at how much of a minority that subjective writing or personal analysis still is (I still stick out because of it). People are so willing to dig into objective facts, cite other accredited works, and stand (rather goofily) on top of the thoughts of others. Having an original thought is not common trait among people anymore; if it wasn't so disgusting, it would be hilarious.

    The first book is mainly concerned (rather unsurprisingly) with theories derived from that tired horse that I never seem to get tired of beating, art.

    Chapter 1 – Introduction

    Humans have a ‘need’ for art. They desire such creation to express something apart from themselves. I’ve frequently pointed out a rather often-overlooked fact that the nature of a video-game almost dictates that the player become an author to a certain extent. A frequent point of contention these days is how much the player is meant to have; some of us still crave to be told a story while others seem to be driven towards having their hand seen in the game to almost vain extremities. The curse of living in these times is double edged, mostly due the diversity granted to us. It often fosters a significant degree of dissatisfaction (which is further exacerbated by the consumerist struts) with what we wish gain from art in the first place (something typically subjective and personal).

    An interesting paradigm to present is a world or an arena in which a player is only granted access to very few games, not to mention limited access to other mediums. The human condition also has an alarming ability to adapt and apply meaning to just about everything. This is a creed I’ve specifically drawn from myself. Eliminating the need for things such as piles of shames and a explicit tie to the games being released around us really only serve as haze for me. I certainly don’t condemn those things; I just acknowledge that they distort my own reality with the medium. I’m always going to be more interested in what someone is obsessively playing from two years ago rather than their thoughts (no matter how insightful) on something released in the past month.

    Though art tends to contradict the concept of structure, it’s also entirely reliant on it. Boundaries and limitations are things it typically cannot be without. Though the rise of retro-styled games is nothing new, we still rarely get minimalist styled titles. When we do, it’s along the lines of Everyday Shooter or some other implicitly music-based games. Certainly no discredit to them, it's just that they lean on the weight of a far more powerful medium to please an audience bred to demand first and question later --- much later (they judge before they truly question anyway).

    How many games feature ‘subjects’? Sure, this could just equate out to the avatars, cursors, or characters we’re all used to, but an active subject being dealt with? It’s fairly rare, still. Developers have already set up basic ground rules for design. The past twenty years have been rather progressive for the medium, so playing with basic principles now is not only a possibility, it’s been peaking its head out in various titles over the years --- fairly big ones as well (e.g. what would a title such as Portal read like without the Half Life continuity?). We can now play titles on an iPhone that took an entire console to run two decades ago, yet we’re so caught up in the novelty of that fact, we can’t even see past it. Let’s not even get into abstraction either, as first games will have to start prominently addressing subjects to begin with --- let alone hiding them in abstract works (which could basically mean anything, I know).



    One could argue that form equates to what we’ve pigeon-holed as ‘genres’ and it’s something we’ve skipped over adequately fleshing out. We’ve run towards and messed over content as well. The will for a game to have a message is simply overshadowed by the demands being asked of it. The fact that animated titles are just starting to become a frequency will serve as a testament to this in terms of aesthetics. Be it Okami, A Boy and his Blob, or even The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, something is still contributing to the visual virginity of the medium. This chastity belt has been tied to games by media and the perception that a game should not deeply impact a person’s life, lest they become some gun-toting sociopath who just-so-coincidently happened to have played a Grant Theft Auto title in his/her life. The mechanics of a game --- have they yet moved into anything even resembling abstraction? I’d argue no, as we still rely on goals and structure in our games. Often without a proper subject, the game’s ‘flag and castle’ (i.e. making it to the end) becomes a surrogate subject. Games are mostly a bad night of sex between Semi-Abstract and Naturalism. Realism is only affective as far as visuals go, we've effectively disallowed otherwise.

    I’ve stopped using the term ‘gameplay’ in most contexts because it’s become a term which means nothing to me anymore. To further bolster this post, I’ll state that some people would use it as the definitive subject of a game. It’s fair, but flawed --- mostly on the premise that a gamer will always be driven to compromise unity. How the game works together or flows is something that will always be under constant scrutiny for players. This is because they spend their time fighting with concepts rather than ideas. While the two terms will no doubt show together up in your average thesaurus, they are still separate words for a reason. Games are still built on concepts, which is just a non-pretentious word for theory; it has an implied ‘this is that’ clause. Ideas are far more nebulous and require a distinct injection of bias, opinions, and subjective truths. Games fight with this because the act of play kind of muscles in on the act of thought. To ‘contemplay’ in this age of gaming is very rare and even when it does happen, it’s only because the player is willing to go the extra mile to meet the game for themselves.

    The ‘blind’ allure of interactive fiction would have more in common Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ or even Mondrian’s ‘Red, Blue, Yellow, Black, and Gray’, much more so than a game actually depicting the visual similarities between the two. Perception is key here and manipulating what the game is will require an act between the developer and their audience as well. There’s a very large wraith of objectivity hovering over how games are seen now and it filters into how they’re played as well. Watching people talk about games always translates to me and multiple children tugging on the same stuffed animal.

    On one occasion above Milan, over in the direction of Lake Maggiore , I saw a cloud shaped like a huge mountain made up of banks of fire…
    -Leonardo Da Vinci, Treatise on Painting

    The Divine Simulacrum – Any instance that shows the creator and their created at war with each other.

    Hell, do I dare even comment on the state of narrative? We’ve all set it ablaze with the desire for sophistication and in doing so have degenerated to becoming little more than over-zealous pyromaniacs. Some of the paintings that I absolutely detest tell stories, yet we want our jumping batch of polygons to do it all. Present the choice of free will, and people will be tenaciously driven to kill their beliefs, ambitions, and themselves. One could easily categorize people that take such pride in the concept of their choice as a gamer being nothing more than ‘ludological atheists’, driven to smash out or reconfigure any semblance of what I term as the ‘divine simulacrum’; man destroying their personal God (which in this case, is the developer’s intent). Don’t get me wrong either, the other side runs much hotter, letting all passion dictate reason. Few ever waste their time trying to climb to the middle ground because picking a side often rewards more meaning, more so than climbing to that middle ground for a better view. In the state we’re in, the industry currently resembles Ancient Greece, people with the devout acknowledgement that the flimsiest veil lies between them and powerful gods that resemble themselves. Games are the only artform that proactively profess a state of free will, which seems to (rather consistently) only confound those of reason, and seduce those of passion.



    Do we consider the tools of which we engage the game? The controllers are already being accompanied by motion control technology, which only runs second-fiddle to the computer. Computers build the game from the ground up and our understanding of them (as an audience) is still sporadic at best. Of media --- for example, can we simulate the effects of charcoal somehow? Not literally of course, but can it somehow translate the effects and influence that it generally has on the artist/audience and factor it into a game somehow? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched to me.

    Scale, size, composition, planes, frames, positive/negative spaces, optical and conceptual perceptions, etc, etc, etc…

    There’s a vast chest of things that games have either only grazed or overall disengaged because we cast them off prematurely when they’re toyed with. Twenty years in and we’ve already repeated the same mistakes as before, basing the eras of our games mostly on a singular aspect that composes them (something that games absolutely scream to be taken apart from). To rid one’s self of the rules --- I personally don’t think games will ever do that, but then I don’t trust gamers to do that (and only gamers can do it).

    Too much time is simple wasted blaming developers, dictating what’s right/wrong, and avoiding everything else out of misplaced mindsets of inferiority. I’d rather sit back and condescendingly talk down to myself…as I’m inherently a part of the crowd I take such pleasure in pissing on.

    ~sLs~

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    Synthetic Play | Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

    I actually own Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and while I certainly had fun with it, I ended up tossing it in my trunk as another title I’d just as soon reminisce about rather than actually play again. With everyone now ‘suckin the sack’ for Uncharted 2, I felt compelled to get my hands around ‘the experience’ somehow (though I still stand by Assassin’s Creed 2 as the only title I’ll possibly buy this year). So being that people consistently rang out on how cinematic the game was, I decided to give the game a post for itself, but with a twist; I made the best out of my own stubbornness (being broke also works here nicely as well) by ‘synthesizing a playthrough’. It’s actually not as exciting as I’m making it (or failing to make it) sound, but it is simple. I downloaded an entire playthrough from YouTube, stuck them all on continuous play, and sat watching the entire game while miming engagement with my PS3 controller in hand. This is me addressing that that bit of assedry. I’d love to say I’ll make it up to Naughty Dog someday, but judging by the numbers and scores that the game is pulling --- I’ll take solace in the fact that they probably don’t give a damn either way.

    Animatory Acknowledgement

    I always sing praise for animation when I see it and I think it’s here that Uncharted shines most prominently. The way Nate’s model looks when it jumps, descends stairs, and even the more subtle instances of his ‘breaks’ as the player moves him all look gorgeous in this game. Things such as the stair animations and wet clothes specifically were in the first game as well, but they plug into the scenery more effectively in this title, mostly because of the banter and precision of the sequences. I’m pretty sure I even caught the son of a bitch wiping away rubble as if he got it in his eyes. Speaking of the audio, it’s specifically setup to aid the game’s own visuals (I call it auditory animation).

    “Wow, that’s convenient”
    – said by Nate just after a cutscene where he notices some ammo nearby as the player regains control

    “Of course it’s locked, it’s always locked…”
    – said by Nate at the beginning of the game as he makes his way from a crash site

    Contextually speaking, this is a master stroke --- as there’s a generous window of variance for when the player will hear any banter at any particular moment. Some of the enemies still ‘melodranimate’ but that’s fine, as that gripe is already steps above the first game, when it negatively impacted the play itself. I’m actually surprised some of the pans to reflect the scenery weren’t more self-indulgent. Due to that, the game even gains itself a sense of humbleness despite being directly linear. There’s also some engaging instances of just good design in this title as well. For example, In Nepal --- there’s a distinct point where Nate has to let Chloe out of a building in order to help him. After shooting the lock, the player has to then kick the door in to release her. This is opposed to what I was expecting where after the lock was shot, she would just come barging out. The trigger point was still there, it simply requires a tad more contextual interaction. Shooting the ‘scarecrows’ falls into this category as well (specifically the points where they grab Nate); they could easily be misconstrued as quicktime events, when they’re actually keeping the player in the loop --- a bit more than what the traditional QTE fails at to begin with.

    Henry or Ben?

    This question has begun plaguing many gamers and it didn't go away with this title's release. Nate and his adventures are really a bit reminiscent of both, I just kept jumping to National Treasure from the simple springboard of me enjoying those films more (yeah, I said it). I think people are hesitant to relate the game to the likes of NT simply because it's not as acclaimed or 'iconic' as Indiana Jones, so jumping to Spielberg's films is an easy safe haven for gamers to once again wage their war with validating video games in a cultural light. The humor, the pacing of the quest, and even the progression of its characters all resonate stronger for me when held in tandem with Disney’s templar mess. Why the title is related to things like Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones is just the game becoming self-victimizing.

    “Great, the power’s out and the girl’s trapped. I swear to God --- if there’s a zombie around the next corner…”
    -by Nate as he travels he scrambles outside of a building in Nepal

    “See ya….*mumbling* jackass…”
    -Nate, following a stealth kill where the player pulls a sentry out of a window.

    The fact that it’s taking place in jungles and admist the perils of lost treasure exploits are just mere ‘aesthetic coincidence’. What sealed the deal in this comparison for me however, was the music. Make no mistake, Edmonson did a fantastic job on Uncharted 2, but I always found myself wandering aimlessly in what the music happened to be doing in conjunction to the action on-screen at the time. When I layered Rabin’s score over some of the sequences however, the game simply felt better to me --- but also presented the problem of how well the sequences themselves are meant to communicate with the player’s own actions. The cueing of layers as Drake makes his way across certain areas are but one example of this.

    At this point we also have to consider the cultural permeation of the game’s own world, which is what I think Among Thieves favored over a more 'Rabinesque' scoring. The absence of leitmotifs for example (apart from Nate’s Theme that is) is definitive proof of this. The game isn’t tying itself together through its music mainly because it’s using so much background muscle. Generally speaking, most ‘cinematic games’ don’t do that at all (and I’m left to wonder why?). Anyway, my main statement to make here is that the title could have used a more effective stitching in this area. The pacing of Rabin’s National Treasure score is just something I personally thought worked there.

    Set Pieces

    The falling building shown during the E3 demo was as impressive as ever, but there were a few other sequences in the game that even made my hateful ass do a double take. The most talked about one apart from that previously mentioned building shown at E3 is the train, and I’m sad that my synthetic play barred me from feeling any of the tactile maneuvering in that sequence. Though it’s a very eye-catching portion, it’s also very subtle --- using a good deal of visual and audio backup to reinforce an already gorgeous scene.

    “HO---ly shit...”
    -Nate spots an attack chopper while shimming across a beam

    *windless* “I’m okay…”
    -Nate, after falling from a large Nepalese statue

    Once such example are the train crossing signals, which I found hilarious each time they were dodged. It opens up a dynamic to play against while the player makes his/her way towards the front of the train. My favorite portion of the train was when it began to ascend into the mountains. There’s a specific spot where a helicopter is firing on Drake who can in turn make use of a nearby turret. Meanwhile, the train itself is curving around an inset turn in the mountain. This means the player can see in full beauty the scale being set by the background. Across a huge gap between the mountains, they can view the front part of the train curving around the bend as they fire upon the helicopter. There’s a sense of placement there, an admirable visual dynamic that gamers just don’t get too often. There were a couple of instances on this scale, such as a sliding platform in Shambhala or chase sequence that basically amounted to platforming between moving enemy trucks.

    Linearity

    A blind spot that I initially had with this kind of game was the degree of variance in terms of exploration, but I reset my stance on that after this game. This is mainly because I acknowledged what the game was doing for itself while completely ignoring everyone else’s take on the matter. Granted, I should have done that in the first place, but the irony is that I fell into that trap while actually playing through the first game; I’m moving away from it with this title, which I still haven’t even technically played yet.

    The endless comparisons to stuff like Tomb Raider ended up being little more than confusing roadblocks for how this title was seen rather than the touchstone comparison they were no doubt meant as. It’s a damaging perception that weakens all games, but Uncharted just fell prey to it even more since it doesn’t have such a large family in terms of that specific type of adventuring play. To say the game is linear isn’t a slight against; it doesn’t need to be composed any of all the expansive tropes that all titles of today are often lauded for. In reality, I think this game more closely resembles Prince of Persia than Lara’s exploits (e.g. the verticality of the game’s areas like Nepal), but even that’s a stretch to simply to relate it somewhere. I did notice one glaring weakness in the game’s main strength though and that was one of formulaic awareness. During multiple times over the course of the game, Drake is constantly paired up with someone who he can talk to while making his way towards his current objective. It’s certainly broken up by the game’s own pacing (and the caliber of the dialogue), but it’s not completely hidden. It’s dangerous because it undermines every cinematic merit badge the game earns for itself. No matter how good Elena, Sully, or even Flynn’s characterization turned out to be --- the game kind of stumbles in its own quicksand regarding this.

    This Year and Last Year’s Model

    Rather than try and negate out the worth of both female leads in this game (which I'm automatically compelled to do due to their acclaim *I didn’t notice how that initially read, whoops*), I’ll simply exceed to the notion that Naughty Dog is paving some admirable ground with its depiction of women. The flaw which Uncharted 2 rather unabashedly acknowledges itself is the differentiation between Chloe and Elena. Simply put, I didn’t need the ‘new model’ to begin with, so I ended up antagonizing its very presence. Chloe annoyed me personally, but in all honestly --- I felt that the game would have functioned just fine without her. To her credit, the dynamic she presents is carved out rather nicely, but the only thing she ended up serving was not playing into some cliché love triangle plot (which could have been avoided entirely by her absence to begin with). Both she and Elena acknowledge each other without becoming embittered over Drake, but that’s about it. If nothing else, both girls in the same game risk infringing on the character of Drake, which risks compromising their own individuality simply to make him a more 'interesting hero'. This is doubly so when concerning Elena, who in both titles comes across more effective as an actual character rather than a narrative springboard. Chloe can be taken out entirely whereas Elena simply cannot. I’d be interested in hearing what drove Chloe’s conception to be honest, as the need to ‘update’ Elena was unnecessary in my eyes.

    “A tank? What the hell do they need a tank for?”
    -By Nate as he makes his way along the train

    “Sorry love, this isn’t a movie, and you’re not the plucky girl who reforms the villain and saves the day. It’s just not done like that.”
    -Harry Flynn, right before releasing a grenade

    So yeah, Uncharted 2 is definitely a progressive title in terms of cinematic games (all I really cared about in the first place), but it’s still not quite something that will make me any less of an ass when looking at my games. There’s a level of craft and design in this game that simply begs attention to itself. Since gamers seem to be so perpetually starved for the medium being seen on equal narrative playing ground as its predecessors (an illusory ideal mind you), titles like this fall prey to shallow over-indulgence. Thanks to that, it’s a game I’ll happily wait to play for myself.

    ~sLs~

    VGA 1-4 [Scene Slice]

    Video Games as Art 1-4
    Originally Posted: Tuesday // February 19th, 2008 10:55:28 Central Standard Time


    All mediums should play off of each other to some extent and because of this, games have the luxury of keeping in crew with three other very powerful mediums (i.e. literature, music, film). The tools those mediums present should be questioned before anything. However, when a cutscene’s length rivals the game's actual duration of playtime, a very dangerous line is crossed and presents issues we’re going to get into now.

  • The cutscene is definitely a tool to consider for video games. It’s passively meant to engage the player, while continuing to carry along the plot in conjunction with the title’s fundamental interactivity. It almost innately causes innately amongst gamers because it’s the medium’s own culmination of an identity crisis. Whether it’s the scenes of Metal Gear Solid or the extensive text from the second disk of Xenogears, the cutscene raises a lot of questions for gamers.

  • They serve as a splint for the young medium to stand tall amidst its predecessors (films, novels, music,etc). The problem these days is the reliance being constructed around the use of the, almost to the point of it becoming integral in the design process. The good news is that the medium seems to be naturally progressing towards the in-game experience more. The bad news is the negativity that still surrounds the use of them. The connotations surrounding them being archaic, disruptive, and simply detrimental is something that needs to be addressed.

  • Extended text serves the same crutch and is even more guilty of this problem due to the simple nature of people not preferring to read when they sit down to play their games. A book is a book, and a game is a game. Sure, there issues like money, voice actors, sound design and such, but that can't be hidden behind forever. In some cases this is more problematic, as the line is far murkier in the things that can be presented as text for the player to read.

    "Sometimes I would simply rather have a character talk to me while I'm completing an objective. It's totally dependent upon the context though; I don't think games quite know that yet."

    -Randy M., 1UP Blogger/Artist

    At worst, a cutscene simply lives up to its namesake, slicing through various game sequences, separating them into simple extended play areas. Such play areas are punctuated by cutscenes and can be written off by most as nothing more than narrative fluff. One of the big hot-button solutions to this is recent rise in context sensitive scenes in games (e.g. QTE). At first this was cool and somewhat innovative (for example, God of War); now people view it as a sort of offensive cop-out. Some will even go as far as to say there is no solution to this problem when it's right under their noses in games they've no doubt already played over the last decade. The way some scenes are presented in Assassin’s Creed for example, show plenty of promise in dealing with this dilemma more effectively than various QTE instances. Stronger attempts to provide seamless transitions between the actual game and various cut scenes are a somewhat new watershed solution seen in titles such as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. There are also a countless number of ways to circumvent such problems by empowering the contextual narrative (e.g. the logs and tapes in both BioShock and System Shock 2).

    One of my most basic conclusions in analyzing the players’ stance with cutscenes is the weakness of a person's cognitive reception for engagement in a videogame (a consensual toleration level if you will). Plenty gamers simply won't go past a certain extent to connect themselves to a game. Others are unwittingly susceptible to their own hollow opinions and are weakly equipped to handle such scenes, therefore they devolve to simply antagonizing them. This can be seen in the consistent praise of being able to pause scenes. Sure, it practically has the benefit of allowing the player to go to the bathroom, take a break, or simply skip them altogether. However, if one scrapes even an inch of that practicality away, they’ll find the gamer’s ‘fear of castration’. If there is no pause sequence for instance, the player submits totally to the game itself and is forced to relinquish the control that most define video games for having (see last entry for my diatribe against gamers building those constructs). Some are simply more sensitive to this matter, and this is the driving force behind the animosity towards franchises such as Metal Gear Solid, whose scenes often total into multiple hours.

    "Totally agree with you about the codec sequences in MGS - It would be fantastic if they played out while you were running around doing things. There's enough downtime between alerts that I think they could pull it off (though Kojima wouldn't do that) Also, Excellent point about immersing yourself in the characters and, to some extent, becoming the characters. A lot of people have been playing games for so long now that the controllers are like extensions of their hands anyway, so once you grasp the controls of a game, you don't even notice that it's there. I think that's why a lot of non-gamers have trouble getting into games these days - unintuitive controls take them out of the experience."

    Kat B., 1UP Editor

    It's pretty damn hard for me to be effectively disconnected from the game, so things like cutscenes have never bothered me in the slightest. Consider the weakness I just mentioned; are those people really only pressing buttons to make their characters move on the screen and absolutely nothing else? In this sense, aren’t all player actions virtually cutscenes, differentiated only by time frames? It certainly sets some things into context when considered in its entirety.At no time in my entire life have I been pushing a button to make someone jump when in actuality I am. Some people will be able to grasp that concept instantly and some will wonder where my sanity is at (if you aren't wondering already). You've seen those people that run around constantly jumping in some videogames right? I'm one of those people, maybe not for the same reason, but I am. It's the equivalence of stating over and over an admittance of faith that my mind eventually accepts and is honed to:

    "I am jumping..."

    "I am...jumping."

    "I...am...jumping"

    "I'm jumping."

    "This is me, I am actually jumping."

    "Like you, I really enjoy the MGS titles. Certainly these games contain a lot of cinemas, but overall they work quite well. I don't like it when the cutscenes could have blatantly been a gameplay experience. This is definitely where more developers need to draw the line: the cutscene should be a necessary cut or escape from the interactive nature. Overall, MGS2 didn't work for me in certain moments because several cutscenes just felt superfluous."

    Matt S., 1UP Blogger

    If you do happen to understand that, then God bless you for sticking with me. I have never in my entire life pressed a button to make Snake flatten against a wall, Dante swing his sword, or make a death-defying leap of faith with Mario. If the controller still exists in your hand then you're more of a problem than the game actually is. This is why you will see me jumping around like a nutcase in some games (most of the time it's TBC based RPGs that allow it), because sometimes even I simply end up playing with a controller in my hand. I'm constantly adjusting my mind to the way I am playing a game when I do that, especially when I am playing games that are difficult for me personally to connect with. As broad-ranged as I am, I don't like everything, but a key significance (not to mention dying art) in this consumer-based industry is finding enjoyment in even the things that one doesn’t typically like. If you don't step outside of your box for the things you that you claim to love, then you're never going to grow and you're insulting them at the same time.

    "I mean --- who would have thought that the act of simply climbing a ladder would have so much resonance."

    Nel, 1UP Blogger
    [Note: He's referring to Krasnogorje's tunnel]

    Like I stated in my last entry, one of the big games that always comes up whenever people start quarreling about the narrative in games is of course, the Metal Gear Solid franchise. While I love these games past the point of being an insane fan boy, I do recognize the issues within it as a game. Recently, MGS4: Guns of the Patriots attempted to rectify the series’ long withstanding archaic game mechanics that have plagued the series since the original playstation ‘Solid’. Not once however, have the MGS titles attempted to stray from their overabundance of cutscenes, as they define a significant portion of the series to begin with.

    A good question is why would my favorite games series fall into the category of games that lean so heavily on cutscenes? Firstly, I should reiterate that where they disconnect some people, they engage me that much more; especially if the duration of such scenes are within reason. Still, I've allowed myself to see from the perspective of the populous that has been complaining about this issue. As such, I stand by the assertion thatMetal Gear Solid is the maximum influence movies should have on games as they are. How much more satisfying would the serie’s trademark codec/radio sequences be if one was still actually playing the game in real time? If absolutely necessary, the codec screen could be inset at the bottom of the screen (think Heavenly Sword’s dual scenes). These kind of transmissions could pass time effectively between alert/evasion phases as well as serve as an emotional experience in cases that don't involve the player actively going to another screen, putting down the controller and having to listen to 5-10 minutes of conversation. It would also open up a new dimension of varied interpretive experiences while playing the game (i.e. "dude I was in the locker when I found out Liquid Snake fucked my mother!”) A lot of the scenes in the MGS series could translate more effectively into gameplay segments such as these. It doesn’t even have to be every single sequence, just key instances (i.e. which alludes to the argument of editing the entire franchise again). Even Guns of the Patriots dropped the ball in this respect, opting not only to downplay the codec sequences, but cutting the character out of them entirely. This is to the point where people who actually enjoyed such transmissions were pushed to the breaking point themselves (the player could only access Otacon and Rose for themselves).

    "Metal Gear Solid 3 made me hate cutscenes; it simply tried to romanticize me to death."

    James W., 1UP Blogger

    My curiosity towards the title Uncharted 2: Among Thieves stems mainly from of my obstinate stance on the Metal Gear Solid franchise. It seemed like a more progressive title than the implosive MGS4 and after watching the entire game, I stand by that now. While synthesizing, I noticed scenes which specifically blend certain scenes or quick sequences that would normally be saved for cutscenes in actual play. An example would be the falling obstacle in the chamber that Nate and Chloe explore in Nepal. The way certain shots are set up in condition how the player can or cannot die all factor in here and Uncharted 2 specifically utilizes this forte constantly. As an example, I could that Among Thieves ‘logic’ and apply it Guns of the Patriots:

    The extensive scene in Act Three of MGS4 after meeting EVA could have been a sequence of much greater power if the player was granted actual control. During this scene, EVA launches into a long dialogue explaining the events that transpired after the events of operation Snake Eater, and how affiliations like the Patriots came about. To its credit, the scene was aided by the typical Shinkawa sketches and graphically designed flower animations showing a visual motif for The Boss’ actions and how they rippled across the next fifty years. The church is set up to specifically give way to shots of Noriyoshi Ohrai’s paintings of various Metal Gear Solid 3 touchstones while the player is maybe granted sight to them for a matter of seconds before it resumes its self-indulgent scene. The track ‘Paradise Lost’ could have stayed, not to mention EVA’s explanation, and the scene could have been designed around how much control was given to the player for that scene specifically. Even simplistic solutions are available here, such as the scene playing out with an Assassin’s Creed type movement system. Even the floral designs could remain while being overlaid (with an extremely low and customized opacity) over the sequence itself. Scenes such as this, not to mention the graveyard instance in Naked Sin could have communicated much more profoundly to the message MGS4 so oppressively attempts to state. On these grounds, I think newer titles such as Uncharted 2 move the bar up just a tad, as its constant use of ‘play within dialogue’ is something titles like MGS4 could have used even more effectively had they deviated from the cutscene system just slightly. The cutscenes don’t have to disappear entirely (or even majorly), but a dynamic is presented when they’re broken up; when things like pacing and transition are considered far more.

    "My problem isn't that he forces you into viewing too many (or long) cut-scenes; my main problem with him is that he just isn't a very good writer. While I loved certain scenes in all of the MGS games, I didn't find the story of MGS3 to be much better than an old episode of GI Joe. It seems like he is caught between making an action movie, and making a political statement."

    Fandel M., 1UP Blogger

    *sigh* The Japanese…

    The transitions between sequences go a long way in how cinematic scenes set themselves up as well. Loading screens are far more disruptive than the actual cutscenes in most cases. If the blending between scenes and play were more efficiently addressed in modern titles, they’d certainly be much better off. Perhaps this is something developers miss out on as they spend the majority of their time creating, rather than enjoying. The small nuances of what the player sees is explosive when compared to that of the developers (which is an assumption, but I’d rather be proven wrong than not say anything). How the screen cuts, switches, or pans has become immensely important in a game, which is what I saw in Uncharted 2. As a result, I’d say that this is where games actually need to look towards film for help. How scenes transition into each other is almost as important as the content of the scene itself sometimes, so anytime the adjective ‘cinematic’ is used, I’ll be looking here from now on. For all the growth that games have made, they still struggle the player’s influence over simple sequences such as showing two characters talk to each other. The progression and deficiencies of titles such as Guns of the Patriots & Among Thieves are definitive proof of this.

    If we look at something like Xenosaga, the same rules apply, but the playing ground for criticism is buried more in the grounds of what composes the JRPG. Very few games involve the Xenogames’ pedantic path of a story dipped in philosophical beliefs/religious undertones. My guess we won't see anything even close to it for a long time (if ever again). Even fans of the game have stopped for YEARS at some parts only to come back and find themselves loving it just as much, but just simply bogged down in the overall cutscene length and bland running around. Xenosaga Episode I was a relatively solid turn based RPG. It suffered mainly from being a tad overly technical and bland. Episode II took the same setup and watered it down to the extent where they almost lost their fanbase (which was crucial to the series making it as far as it did mind you). This left Episode III to finally hit a sweet spot between the first two games, which is all the miserable little series could have hoped for at that point (especially considering that the entire series went to hell and back again from a developmental standpoint).

    "I just want to say that I think your idea to include the codec sequences during gameplay in MGS is brilliant. Leaving options open to the player is always welcome. I still sometimes like to have a breather and watch cut-scenes (or in this case, codec sequences), but at other times (waiting for alerts to die down) your idea would be a godsend."

    Adam S., 1UP Blogger
    [Note: I'm still fairly disappointed that MGS4 didn't utilize this more successfully]

    A new level that has been seen in Half Life is the perspective of an entity. Gordon Freeman has no real character or personality within the Half Life world. He simply just exists and is acknowledged by everyone else. This is brilliant on plenty of levels because it leaves room to the gamer's imagination. They can just simply put themselves into his place taking on nothing more than just his name for the ride. However, it does weaken the impact of characterization in the game itself. In the end, one could call the player a passively interactive watcher on the entire Combine/Earth ordeal. Gordon isn't there, not really, not as it seems right now. If they're isn't some extraordinary good reason to why Gordon is the way he is, then I'll be extremely disappointed with the entire series story-wise because it will almost discredit a good majority of what makes the game so great overall as a storytelling device; he just can’t get away with what characters like Master Chief and Samus do. Still, what Valve has done here is pretty damn excellent. Movement, interaction, and a definitive connection between the player and their avatar on the screen must be maintained to some consistency for some gamers and it's a desire that should never be ignored entirely, but not bent to with the strictest priority.

    ~sLs~