Monday, May 31, 2010

Mario Poured Bleach On Us, That Fucker

"This is the enemy telling the good guy where to swing his sword, as he's a fucking moron."

I consistently keep very few rules throughout various the contexts life often chucks at me. In terms of my little blog here, I've always veered away from the topic of how race affects games for a few simple reasons:

1: I'm African-American, so I automatically attract unnecessary attention so much easier when that fact is displayed blatantly, EVEN ONLINE.

2: I'm a BIT of an asshole, and people like to rally behind assholes because rebellion is a natural state in the world we humans develop and live in (and it always will be), but it remains a luxury we all simply can't afford to have. That basically means some of us get elected to positions on de facto grounds.

3: It really shouldn't matter either way...

--- but it does and again, it always will. No matter what the idealists will waste their time believing in or fighting for, someone will always be underprivileged, overprivileged, or just plain fucked. Anybody who thinks that a state of equilibrium can be achieved by the human race (that is while we're all still stuck on this big dumb rock) really should compare and contrast such outlandish stances with something to match The Bible.

And so here I am, making another pseudo-progressive post (which is actually on behalf of my hunger for artistic variety and nothing more), commenting on yet another failure in the realm of video-games.

Video games are far from the most pressing matter at hand in terms of recognizing 'parochial ruin', BUT for those of us passionate about medium --- make no mistake, this is one of our top responsibilities now. I just don't think it could make sense any other way not to see it through.

Now of course, we could pick out a minority presence in games...Hispanics, Asians, Blacks (I doubt America will be allowed to see anything other than a few Middle Eastern characters for quite a while) that have all manifested themselves to some degree in any given genre (obvious example here would be African-Americans in any American sports title). This does not make the issue any less prevelant however (i.e. what those manifestations actually represent), just more murky and some people are prone to analysis paralysis in such situations. The fear to act by anyone can often be more affectively damaging than acting on ignorance (which we all do anyway) --- or worse, acting on pure unadulterated malice.

I'm not even suggesting more POCs behind the drawing board because that doesn't solve the problem (and it's too fucking obvious at this juncture), and they're just as prone to fucking crap up as well. The Asians (specifically the Japanese) in our industry have proven my point oh --- so deliciously here, by allowing traditionalism and efficacy to ruin their designs from the inside out (which ironically is technically top-notch given the qualitative consensus for studios like Nintendo). Example? Well of course! I can yank one right out of the air, which I've been playing myself for the last nintety and some-odd hours...


Yeah, I'm part of the problem myself here, buying an abundantly successful franchise when I shouldn't. To be fair fair though, this will probably be one out of the MAYBE four 'new' games I'll allow myself to purchase this year, meaning I'll get over it.

So, yeah --- I've been playing a good deal of Pokémon SoulSilver over the past month, and it never fails in this paticular series that at some point I'll get hit with an overwhelming moment of clarity such as:

"Why is every person in this game either white, insultingly ambiguous, or a twisted manifestation of repressed Asian ideals? Hell, they'd snatch out all the women if they could get away with it!"

You'd be surprised when I first started getting hit with those waves of thought. The mere acceptance of what we have is a big mover of this problem as well. We put more work into ignoring said problems than actually addressing them, in any way whatsoever. The gluttony of the industry and its fans feed the business side, which has in turn effected design SO much, that developers now cannot move on thoughts such as these EVEN IF THEY WANTED TO. There's also the question of timidness that I hinted at in My Enemy (and above). Since most people banging away at the codes these days still have a lack of melanin, there has grown a very large risk of upsetting anyone that is not of European descent. Because of the human tendency to favor peace and happiness, the will ends there (i.e. minorities have nothing to become enraged about so they yield towards making the best of what they have YET AGAIN).

"Since when did white people become so timid about stepping on someone's toes? Since when did we all hide behind the fact that --- YES, there are actually underprivileged white people as well?"
"What in God's name makes you think we'll see the more nuanced underprivileged when we still can't see the in-your-face kind?!"

Really...It's not like they can do any worse (i.e. multiple genocides, slavery, general colonialism). As I've said, that avoidance of said topics can often be far more offensive (borderline patronizing actually). Sure, it could all be as simple as: "Well, we'll lose a fuckton of cash man!", but is that really the alternative fuckup we should admit to here? Anytime I see someone go out of their way not to offend me, I very dryly ask them to shoot a Patronus Charm at me instead (which is fitting, seeing as I always have to play the goddamn Dementor for everyone), at least that way I get to see something cool.

Perhaps this does apply more to single player narrative tales than anything, but that's just another example of defensively circumventing an issue by juxtaposing something else of lesser (or ridiculously greater) value. Since narrative has been a primary mode of expression and meaning for us in both fiction and non-fiction since our neurons started firing, it takes priority here. This will at least be until other modes of development step up to render it obsolete (which I doubt is even possible at this point).

"Someone should make a another State of the Emergency game where all stereotypes and cliches are turned into one big offensive ball of mechanics..."

I thought it'd be nice to address this in some way on my little blog while the 1% of me that actually cares is strong enough to fight back against the other 99% of EXTREMELY vindictive Nihilism. It'll be gone by the next post I guarantee you --- much like Entei on Route 36.

And to close, I know I entirely missed out on Metal Gear May (I've been --- occupied), but that doesn't necessarily mean I can't apply the same logic to either June or July, especially with Peace Walker a week from release now.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Enemy

Out of the big five ‘ism-olog-apys’ that I personally delude myself into ascribing to, the one I’m least likely to comment on is one I also tend to classify myself as in terms of being an artist: Romanticism. That won’t surprise anybody who has even the vaguest comprehension of human literature, but if it does surprise you, then this post is for you. Mostly though, this ‘silence’ on my part, is due to the diffusion that the term ‘romance’ has seen in the past two-hundred years. Simply put, whenever the term is brought up now, people automatically assume the idea of ‘love’. This leads to me tending to get even more sarcastic and condescending of people who seek to use the word as a means to grasp overly idealized standards for love. To be fair, the definition does have its basis in the Romanticism (love is simply an entry point to ‘romance’, as it was the Romantics who first tempered the emotion ‘with lies’), but it’s become an institutionalized concept that people now feel is their goddamn birthright, which is a problem in any general prognosis of the ‘modern relationship’ these days (ESPECIALLY between men & women).

I’ll digress there though, and spare you my larger conspiracy theories and simply state that the continued reign of Neoclassism will bring a fall to this industry. Why? I say it’s one of the major factors for why games have no periods at all. Of course we’ll be able to look back on the game industry a century from now and possibly tack on some conveniently hindsight-aided labels, but that’s already gotten us into trouble with various art periods as it is.

"On a personal level I feel that the object-based model (artist makes object, collector buys object), leaves something away from the experience. Art needs to re-enter life and to affect people at large as gestures, as life choices, NOT just as objects. “Art” is too concentrated in the small confines of the artworld and let’s face it, not everyone will fit that mold. “Art” needs to step out of its specialness and to re-enter the world as something more mundane."
-Comment on Edward Winkleman's Blog

No, what I’m talking about mainly concerns the fact that the craft, the medium, its critics --- they all spawn from fixed Neoclassical ideals. Hell, the closest thing we use to even identify games these days are fucking genres, how games function in play --- for individuals subjectively (that latter part automatically renders any branch of NeoC obsolete). The fact that games actually express very few things runs deep, but as far as I can see, one major contributor is this old period of art --- by far. Remnant aristocratic thought that’s been adopted by pretentious (more often than not) overeducated Eurocentrism.

And I very rarely use that term too…'overeducated'. How can one be overeducated? Certainly in times like these, it’s a virtue to be embraced, right? However, when such knowledge accomplishes little more than marks on a resume (or vague abstractions posted on the internet which all of five people will actually read for that matter), then what fucking good is it? Seriously, let me know.

For the programmer, artist, or designer that works on a game, this means little more than what we’ve already seen. It’s no secret that most people sitting behind those positions hold the base white male attribute (hell even those writing about and PLAYING THE FUCKING THINGS hold this base). This isn’t surprising nor should it be any real shock to one that has glanced at even an outdated census report for varying relevant countries with ‘game significance’ (Japan does very little as an opposing argument too, so don’t try it unless your aim is simply to annoy me). What is relevant here is what all cultures still have common, they all consistently embrace mediocrity, and stifle eccentricity.

In terms of ideals, games are mostly sterile projections of Western epileptic pop-culture. Even some of the Japanese are guilty of that much considering how they often lean on the Western world. Solid or even exemplary mechanics get fast-food ideas wrapped around them, stuff of no real sustenance that at best --- leads one to other ideas in other mediums. The ‘L’ needs to be added to the ideas in games, and beyond the realm of indie and pointlessly obscure titles as well. What's considered high caliber now is just disgusting on so many levels (no pun intended).

Again, when one looks back on this industry, who’s the say what will be the general consensus? It could possibly work out to depict various trends that actually lead somewhere with substantial meaning. However, they could also represent the collective thought of countless, cacophonous, and politically-correct nitwits trying to appease each other an inch at a time.

Modern complaints of video games often stem around the flow of:

*And Yes, emulate the high-pitched & sardonically mocking tone*

“Games need to be more socially aware!”

“Games need to be more culturally sensitive!”

“Games need to be more gender sensitive!”

And so on…



What people are craving with those demands are actually old Romantic tenets because they’ve become rightfully exasperated with the blatant limits of Neoclassism. Games do NOT need to do the above things, all they need to do is approach any of them in a thoughtful matter. Since the most people can muster now is to simply whine about their identity (rather than individuality), any progress is lost towards the realm of games, where large teams of people are just thrown into a design pool with one another. There’s now no room for the prominent manifestation of periods in games either because of my vitriol above or in addition to:

>> Social gaming has become a foundational force in how a game will typically be designed. The obsession with hyper-connectivity ruins various engagements with people both in play and behind the drawing board.

>> People are less rebellious in societies that permit mediocrity and excessive optimism, and with the modern globe in the state it is, the countries making games now have no ‘fire behind them’. The arenas of thought now (e.g. positivism) are just as oppressive as religion was centuries ago, and nobody seems to notice. All this stupid civilization is actually good at is emulating the past in new bastardized ways.

>> Technology still remains BOTH a privilege and luxury.

With the newly-found appreciation for literary muscles in games, Romanticism is a hard one for us to even digest now. Even the indie scene is struggling with this antinomy; building but trying to express (and having very few resources to do so effectively). Romanticism in general was ‘lost’ because it was so flexuous with the times. Neoclassism wasn’t because it was not a fluid abstract; it was a fixed concept people were easily able to rationally jump on and progress to a state where building worlds on systems would be mirrored by the methodology which gave rise to the system to begin with (all while lacking passion).

For games, does this extend only to single player narrative tales? The neojackass would certainly say so. No, they can even progress into the now-tired definition of game mechanics as well (and these are already scattered around in the best games as it is, but they're usually by accident) What Romanticism truly deals with is generally considered to be dangerous by today’s society. There awaits horror for gamers beyond what the triteness of Resident Evil and Silent Hill can generate.

It also would no doubt clear out a great deal of estrogen & ethnic errors this industry is so admittedly PLAUGED with as well. In some effect, this has already started and I’ve seen it struggling to rise up in the blogosphere (of all places) of people WRITING about their grazing with Experiencism.

Again, this is hard for most gamers to understand (because a good deal of them are both lazy AND stupid). It’s even harder for designers to implement because of the business model that has structured the industry and the slow pace at which artistic muscle is added to games. They’re built in such a way that makes craft FAR more important than expression, clarity FAR more important than personality, and so on and so on.

There’s also a rather astute tendency for people in general to jump on the optimist train. There’s more to gain out of life than love and happiness and such emotions are more often NOT ‘positive’. I crave digital engagements that EXPRESS real horror, real offense, a true representation that the majority of this planet is suffering, not prospering and pretending not to suffer.

Perhaps it truly is moronic to call for an advent of things such as Romantic games, but I’ve never claimed not to be a moron. Yes, I’ve zombified a centuries-old rivalry and haphazardly (and rather violently) thrusted my own agenda into it , but --- well I can leave it at necrophilia for today.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Metal Gear May #2 // Metal Gear Solid // Part II

Artistic Pixels // Canyon, Nuclear Weapons Disposal Building, Caverns

All of the Solid games have had a significant visual impact, but the ‘original’ was amongst the few to make gamers truly value underpowered systems for what they could accomplish in terms of graphical fidelity.

All of the cutscenes in Metal Gear Solid occur in the game’s own engine (with some effects masked over them), mouths/eyes appear more vague than most PSX titles at the time, and there’s an odd jitter to the characters as they speak. In fact, if one is looking for it, they can individually see the pixels in every corner of the game. Yet, because of these things --- not in spite of them, the game looks better for it.

The odd jittering helps to give the characters life and often presses forth the illusion of individual mannerisms. The lack of facial detailing is compensated for (though a better word would be ‘complemented’) by the codec sequences, where the player will spend a good chunk of their time watching detailed drawings of the characters actually animating. If you would like to try something weird, play through the game while closing your eyes for every codec sequence (the difference is definitely jarring enough to make note of). Also, even though Shinkawa’s illustrations weren’t prominent in the first title (I’m not counting the codec avatars), this game helps to form synergy with his art as well. Despite the highly detailed illustrations of the series’ mainstay artist, there is consistently a type of vagueness to the likeness of how he drew the characters in every single game.

Tack these visual ‘strengths’ on to the general ambiance of the music (e.g. the sharp piercing sound cues) and the game becomes ‘coldly’ attractive in terms of its aesthetics (meshing with the game’s entire backdrop). The problem with such strength is that it quite effectively alienates some people, killing a chunk of its overall audience by giving off a distinct vibe of ‘aesthetic grit’; luckily for me, that plays to my passions.

“Well boss, I hope you are happy. He got the card.”
-Vulcan Raven

The codec/radio mechanism sadly becomes less integral in the series as it progresses and what’s really beautiful is that this even extends into Metal Gear Solid’s predecessors as well. If you want an example of this, in the Famicom titles, the radio was an often vital source for information while at the same time being essentially worthless due to localization, area cues, and just general weirdness in presentation (e.g. see getting the the rocket launcher from Jennifer in the original Metal Gear).

Around Snake’s first meeting with Otacon, the game does manage to find some wiggle room for itself in terms of dialogue and cinematics, but this comes at a cost as well. Again, it’s far from perfect, but some of the cues, transitions, and deliveries are more than solid (no pun intended), even by today's standards in average films. This is mostly what Metal Gear Solid will be remembered for as well, its most sublime flaw.

“Huh, you don’t like girls?!”
-Psycho Mantis
(amusingly enough, it was that line that freaked me out more than Mantis reading my memory card)

So, after saving Hal Emmerich’s life is when Metal Gear Solid takes it’s most drastic and disappointing turn, which is also my harshest criticism of the game:

The cinemas take over.

Now, I don’t mean that in the strict literal sense some would take that as (especially concerning a Metal Gear game), but merely one where the Experiencism manifests rather violently in front of the players' eyes (as opposed to the ‘global senses’ that the best games are known for). After this point in the game, the rest of it essentially cuts back on all stealth mechanics and strengths, and this lasts until the credits roll. Now whether or not the player is engaged at this point is a purely subjective phase, but the progression is as follows:

>> Finding Meryl by her ass.

>> The iconic encounter with Psycho Mantis.

>> A backtracking sequence intergrated into a Boss encounter with Sniper Wolf

>> Detainment and backtracking throughout the game’s initial areas.

>> A sequence of tension throughout the communications towers culminating in a boss fight and a ‘first grade math class’ problem.

>> Yet another encounter with Sniper Wolf.

>> Descending into the maintenance base where Rex is held.

>> Shape memory alloy craziness.

>> Betrayal, information, and the iconic boss encounter with Rex.

>> A high speed chase.

>> End of game.

Now the point of that isn’t to downplay the importance of the playtime in between these events, but to highlight that Metal Gear Solid is a game of experience, rather than play. It’s also why I won’t really argue with those who often take the stance that Snake Eater is the zenith of the series (which harkened back to Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake as a genuine synthesis of consistent ‘stealth play’ and story). The stealth portions in this game however, are so minimal they’re almost irrelevant for the latter 60% of the game. Every sequence not held in cinematic regard is merely edged along by a brief encounter with maybe two or three guards and every area is void of the terrorist occupation the game tries so hard to play with.

Metal Gear Solid lays its own definition out for the player, but the problem is that it’s the deviant of the bunch as well, drawing a rather fat-ass line between what should, could, and will happen in a Metal Gear game. It's the only game that truly uses 'the box' and that box has 'cinema' plastered all over it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Metal Gear May #1 // Metal Gear Solid // Part I

I intended on picking a single theme to blanket over the entire series' playthrough, but when I actually sat down to play, all that will jumped out of the window. So, I decided to tackle each game as an individual by using whatever arbitrary idea pops into my head, which still manages to complement the mess I pulled off last year. For Metal Gear Solid (PSX), I decided to write up on each individual sequence in the game as I play through them. The difficulty is on extreme this time, as I wanted a drastic change of pace.

Omnipresence Beyond Castration // Docks, Heliport, and Tank Hangar

Despite the fact that I’m playing on extreme, the warped sense of realism that it’s meant to inspire is pretty much mutilated by the concept of perspective. Angles, views, and corner-cameras all of a sudden become immensely important as the difficulty is kicked up. Placement in any stealth title is a top priority and a fair sense of surrounding just isn’t granted in this game on the extreme level (The Soliton Radar is stripped from the player here essentially leaving them ‘naked’). The sense of distance in a third person game reeks strongly of the omnipresence always granted to a player in ANY title. For Metal Gear Solid specifically, there is an individual aspect to it which exacerbates this distance, and it’s a feature I’ve hated all the way up until Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence.

...The damn camera...

The bird’s eye view essentially puts Snake in a terrarium for the player to look at only semi-joyfully. Once he/she realizes the nature of the game (which will happen pretty damn fast), they'll start seeing some glaring flaws in design. For MGS however, this has sort of in itself worked to series' favor (astonishingly enough). Consider the point I made above. Basic psychology can come into play when addressing Metal Gear, as the brain is simply more likely to recall events laced with negativity and despite the love one may or may not have with the game, Metal Gear Solid does this lacing. I'm certainly not suggesting this was done on purpose (I think Kojima admitted the camera was meant to hinder Asian proneness to motion sickness). Not only is it embedded with fundamental design flaws, but it's layered over with the visual design of the game as well. I'll detail this point later, but the heliport has to be one of the most memorable experiences in the game due to the small touches of ambiance granted by the lack of music a and the snowstorm backdrop. The player will be forced to engage this as a sort of half-hearted tableau vivant. The fact that the player is stationary during most (if not all) of their observations in this game is immensely important to it as an individual title.

For all the love-harping I’ll do on Metal Gear, it will remain the most minimal stealth game series as things currently stand (people get usually get confused here because thematically the games are a mess). Most other purposefully designed hide-and-seek titles will introduce variables that the player is to be aware of constantly (e.g. light meters). Metal Gear didn't even formally adopt that until Guns of the Patriots (though it kind of started in Snake Eater). Metal Gear Solid forces the player to rely on basics during every sequence. Particularly on the harder difficulties, the player will be stopping every few feet to hit triangle and survey their surroundings. This is obviously frustrating to even the most patient players, but lovers of stealth are rarely impatient to begin with, so they’ll probably eke out some sort of begrudging enjoyment here. It’s a retroactive sense of engagement to always be enclosed by surroundings and palpably grasping one’s own deficiencies in surveying it. Metal Gear shines (and burns) here.

“Maybe so, but I’m starting to develop kleptomania, I just keep putting things in my pocket.”
---Solid Snake

Due to this aforementioned distancing, the player will have grounds to engage the game's story as well (I will admit praise of the game's minimal mechanics leaving room for this to happen between players at their own individual pace). Now whether you think the game is a beautifully crafted tale or a cinematic mess of glory is totally irrelevant at this point, as both extremities can/will/should appreciate the concept of a game with a message (no matter how contrived it is). Metal Gear Solid certainly wasn't the first (nor the best), but it was a bold and perhaps relatively new step for games to make nonetheless (it still kind of is in many respects too). Within the first few hours, the player will be introduced to the concepts of nuclear deterrence, technological politics, and various other real-world counterparts in terms of 'information'.

Metal Gear has always gotten an A for effort from me due to it consistently going just a foot beyond what most games only do by allegorical function (and even that's a generous stretch on my part). The sad reality however (other than the fact that it still remains one of the few big-name series to do as much), is that Metal Gear (as an overall series) often doesn't deliver its messages coherently. It will typically leave the stupid confused, the critical appalled, and the remaining fans unable to articulate the true strengths of the series. It makes sure not to cross any lines that will be upsetting and it even actively retreats in some aspects of its narrative. That said, it does go to notable lengths to accurately introduce to the player just the general importance of nuclear waste, and by the time they make it to the nuclear weapons storage building, the mechanics actually try (albeit miserably) to become an extension of the narrative. We'll get to that in the next entry though.

In short, there's a difference between blaming Metal Gear games and criticizing them. If it can inspire even one twelve year old to go crack open a book and find the half-life of plutonium's isotope (239), then that message is far from a failure. Most of the things that people paradoxically whine about in the Metal Gear games are delivered elsewhere by titles such as Splinter Cell, but that's another sad story for another sad day.

"So they just close the lid and pretend like it'll go away?"

"Essentially, yes. And they're not even doing a good job of storing it. Many of the drums are corroded... with nuclear waste seeping out of them.
---Solid Snake & Kenneth Baker

What would truly be naïve is to simply assume that there is absolutely no truth to claims like that no matter how fictional they may be.