Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Limbo Level | Pokémon Black & White

I intended on putting up Forwards Compatible Reduxes over the week, but a string of Siliconera posts recently caught my eye. The most pertinent one is dealing with 'levels of reality', which of course inspired my typical esoteric titling. The limbo level is simply where I'm at with the recently released generation V games, and I think I might be trapped there---indefinitely.

I'm also trying out something new here in terms of formatting with this post. Mainly taken from Andrew S.'s Tales of a Scorched Earth, I've always been partial to how he cites his posts in superscript, so I'm gonna give it a whirl myself.

I've seen quite a few articles within the past week praising 'change' in regards to Pokémon Black & White. I can't really filter out the voices due to an overwhelming suspicion alert going off in my head. This alert is merely the reaction towards the toleration of incremental and 'commercially safe' changes that the series has seen over the years. It also seems that Black & White are just the newest fad for people to pointlessly mull over whether or not 'the change' question is even worth asking to begin with. Yes, some of us still think that a radical change is worthwhile for this series. In the end though, maybe I'm just the only one that's still persisting in seeing whether or not that goddamn top falls over.

"If they were to develop a new game thereafter, they would have to change all but the most basic aspects of the series."
(via Siliconera1)

As seen with most other 'change issues' concerning gaming, when a well established franchise tampers even slightly with a well proven formula (or even an aesthetic icon), our little haven virtually explodes.

Recent Examples:

  • Go to any forum board concerning StarCraft 2 and take your thinking-cap off.

  • Everybody seems to have an opinion on how Devil May Cry should look, but the fans are the last ones we should listen to (even the ones with a reasonable negative reaction).

  • The Pokémon franchise has arguably 'needed' to change since the third generation; everybody notes this---yet none of us can articulate a message forceful enough to leave any lasting impact on the matter.

    I've not played Black & White yet, and I'll have to wait until next spring like everyone else. However, judging from the few hours that I've watched, the above quote seems as if it's becoming all the more relevant now2. I just don't really see the series ever reaching a state of 'actual change' at this point. That's the easiest part of this to identify. One doesn't just change something that's generating that much cash and pleasing that many fans at the same time. Yet, I'm always left wondering 'hasn't this series been one of the few that's actually earned a bit of experimentation room for itself?' One also has to understand that when I say change, I don't mean simply stripping the clothing off the games and dressing them up again. I'm talking about something even more basic and fundamental here. The core concept itself. How do we deal with it? Both players and the developers would do well to ask that question to themselves.

    Yes, the core concept itself should be reconsidered entirely. Everybody has become so comfortable with it, they don't even care to think about what it would even mean to question it.

    Continuing on from the metaphor above, Black & White appear to be at best---the equivalent of plastic surgery, ultimately 'cosmetic' changes that satisfy the needs of everyone but the 'core principle'3 (which it also ironically counteracts). The core principle in this case is Pokémon's goal as a game. Dare we use that blasphemous argument here, one which so many gamers are becoming more and more impassioned with evolving? This would be the argument that games can extend meaning beyond mere entertainment. Pokémon's appeal is often tied up in its pervasiveness. This is an aspect of 'the core' that I don't think should be touched; there's certainly no logical reason to do so right now. It's fine as is, it appeals to children and adults alike.

    The problem though, is the perception of going back. This has to be done in order to construct a new foundation for anything. In Pokémon's case, it's neither a slight nor merit to admit that the series has tried and failed at this repeatedly4. The design and development teams may perhaps add new features or tweaks that inevitably cause ripples (e.g. TMs changed? Big. Fucking. Deal.), but they're always built upon that same foundation---always. Criticizing this process tends to infuriate fans who have become entrenched in the habitual surroundings of what they love, and their first knee-jerk reaction is to irrationally defend all change at all costs.

    The easiest solution that I've seen and have railed against for years myself is what Pokémon would mean as an MMO (one that's officially licensed anyway).

    "Trading is a core concept of Pokémon. So when you're trading, you meet with a friend and decide which one you want and which one they want. I would like to emphasize real-world communication. You don't see each other online."
    ---Junichi Masuda5

    There it is again, that 'core', that sacred line they dare not cross. In this particular case, I'd even say it's hypocritical. In what world is the Internet not real-world communication? I don't need Nintendo and Gamefreak to dictate the implications of a filtered online presence to me. They're terrible philosophers in that sense6. Indeed there's a difference, but it's not vast enough that this should be thrown out all together, especially out of some insane notion that they're imbuing physical contact as some sort of superior gaming mechanism. If they really honored that belief, they'd keep the concept intact while cultivating the MMO-prospect as well; suggesting mutual exclusivity here is just totally unwarranted though right? I mean, why give us players a choice at all, especially when you designers can excessively pervert arbitrary ideals? Silly Asians...Pokémon's for kids.

    That typecast is a problem too. Despite the series' aforementioned pervasiveness, it still to this day---retains that 'children's game' persona. Now I'm not saying the series should go Mortal Kombat or anything, but introducing some actual maturity in the series wouldn't be such a bad thing either (it wouldn't even have to change its aesthetics). The franchise at large suffers from this, coloring the entire thing in a somewhat Saturday morning cartoon identity. I'm not even suggesting that be removed, merely complemented. We live in an age of nerdom where the most exalted forms of animation blend the two (i.e. maturity and puerile fantasy)7. Pokémon, despite its proxy to this arena, has remained staunchly immune to such a potential strength for well over a decade now (and the fans are the ones that empower it). I've already noted earlier that Black and White appeared to be an admission of the series' developer recognizing this and preferring to lazily parody it. So, at best, I'm expecting Gen-V to simply say "Lol". Baby steps I guess?8

    The base settings of the game show how 'cosmetic' this change is as well. With Black & White, we're introduced to Isshu, a fictional region roughly inspired by America's cultural capital9. I'm willing to bet too that the game does nothing but passingly exploit that setting through a rather thick Japanese lens (which we tend to find humorous and nothing else). America's going to laugh at any 'cleverness' expressed in this title (and I'm being generous), and America has also been known to exhibit a definitive global trait, a tendency to want to smile without thought. Earthbound can get away with this sort of parody10, Pokémon however, cannot, not in my eyes anyway.

    "Another complaint Masuda had heard was that children were having too much trouble completing the main story of the game, and that they usually ended giving up. Along this line, the map was designed so that it would be a linear adventure and younger players wouldn’t get lost. Since most of the appeal of the game was what you did post-story, Masuda wanted as many people to reach that point as possible."
    (via Siliconera1)

    I'm sorry, but I'm never gonna be the type that strives to make kids even dumber than they already are.

    These guys appear to have been busting their ass over the past twelve years to give gamers what they want, and to be fair---they already have. I won't deny that. My question now however, is what do gamers need, and furthermore, what do the designers want? Anytime I read design insights into this particular series, I'm painfully reminded of the old saying 'work smart not hard', except the words are always jumbled around...

    The good news here is that I think I'm done talking about Pokémon for the time being. I'm sick of it. Until I get my hands on B&W and see for myself the context of what's been 'changed' or not, I'm gonna go dark on the topic for my blog. Since I see myself playing through those before I finish my little drawing project, that's the earliest I see myself coming back with all of this.


  • The Methodical Destruction of Pokémon In Black & White
  • If you play video games and can't name one Pixar, Disney, or Miyazaki film that appeals to you, you are a true aberration.
  • The Pokémon Ego Agenda & Its Response are still getting quite a few hits for me
  • It will take quite the force to ever get me to go back to New York City in this lifetime.
  • Thursday, September 23, 2010

    Forwards Compatible Redux II

    Originally Posted: June, 2009

    'The Downside of Motion Control'

    >>> By Dustin Rodgers

    As games become more expensive to produce, developers want to maximize their profit. This often translates to multi-platform releases, making games available to as wide an audience as possible. This is a good thing for gamers, but for console manufacturers, fewer exclusives means fewer reasons to buy your console.

    This generation, Microsoft and Sony have each had a difficult time separating their release lineups from one another. Services like the Xbox Live Marketplace and the Playstation Network have provided several exclusive titles for each machine, and console-specific downloadable content for Fallout 3 and Grand Theft Auto 4 has also been successful. New distribution methods like these are worthwhile for console manufacturers, but they are not as alluring to gamers as full retail exclusives can be.

    Thanks to the Wiimote, Nintendo has found a way secure exclusive game releases without having to pay for them. Because many Wii games cannot be played without the motion controls, every Wii game (including the ones ported to the system) is an experience exclusive to the Wii. In conjunction with other factors, the unique control scheme has actually resulted in more exclusives for the Nintendo’s Wii than exist for the Xbox 360 and PS3 combined.

    By changing the way we play, Nintendo was able to overcome the bidding war Microsoft and Sony had fallen into. That was until last week, when both of the lagging companies arrived at E3 with their own ideas to change the way we play. Microsoft’s depth-sensing camera, Project Natal, and Sony’s motion-sensing wands, are both unique and exciting ways to play a game, but just like Nintendo’s Wii Remote, they open the door for more exclusive console games. This controller diversification is a move opposite to a single-console future.

    Gamers are always interested in new ways to play games, and the new technology offered by Project Natal, the DualStalk, and Wii Motion Plus fascinates us. The prospect of 1:1 detection of movement sends gamers reeling from the potential applications. We seem to be impressed by each company’s shift toward motion input, but what negative effects could this have on our future? Do we want our gameplay to be console-exclusive? Do we want to play with more peripherals? What effects will this have on PC gaming? Could precise motion detection actually make games less accessible? Even if you think it can do no wrong, I’m still interested to hear your thoughts on the implications of motion control.

    >>> Second Take, Matthew Armstrong

    I’m all for diversifying the market, but if all of this mumbo jumbo is nothing more than a subtle farce to achieve some blind goal that games should be accessible to “everyone”, well I’m totally against that. It could also be the first real progenitor-leap at virtual reality as motion-control is a fundamental movement in how that eventuality will work. How does Natal really plan to make Milo something worthwhile? As harsh as it sounds, I’m leaning more and more towards the opinion that the developers are caught up in the novelty of the technology, more so than the actual practicality of its usage. Even if this technology works precisely as intended it will reset the way games will have to be made for a while (further exacerbating my earlier stance here that they keep leaving behind already-amazing tech in lieu of something that MIGHT be more superficially profitable).

    I honestly just hope the technology can find the fruition it deserves. Even the Wii selling as well as it is, only managed to mildly dent the design of its own motion controller interface. If you have an argument of contention, please present it. The Wii Motion Plus is an outright admittance at this fact. Think about it…how many games have really made us appreciate the worth of motion control? For me, I honestly can’t move past the pack-ins party games like Wii Sports and Wii Play (and even those can only keep my attention in the company of others). It’s always been on the slower end between a simple gimmick and something uniquely surprising (which only a few games use either way). I appreciate the idea of things like Wii-Fit and Wii Sports Resort, but that’s not for me so it’s kind of irrelevant to my point.

    My point is pretty much that all these developers are simply throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. This in turn causes a chunk of the gamer population to develop built-in noise filters when dealing with the fact. It’s not because they’re bad ideas, bad technology, or even bad games. It’s because developers are now striking out to aimlessly wander around in even darker territories than they have been and it’s a little more than annoying at this point.

    Oh, and don’t even get me started on how much all this crap is going to cost either.

    Roundtable Discussion

    >>> Jeff Grubb
    Editor, Forwards Compatible

    It is as if Sony and Microsoft didn’t get the memo. The technology behind these devices almost doesn’t matter. Sure, it matters to those of us that are writing about games every week, but it doesn’t really matter to the typical consumer. The normies have already decided which machine they want to buy for their family’s waggling needs. The Wii has already won this race. Even the Wii Motion Plus has won the 1:1 race, as if that matters.

    Natal and Ball-on-a-Stick are going to have their great games, but what is the potential that either of these technologies will be bundled with every single system sold in 2010? Zero. There is no chance of that. What exactly is the business model for Sony and Microsoft to lure the companies currently making exclusive Wii games to more barren pastures?

    Natal isn’t going to be cheap, how much do we think that thing costs? Two camera technologies and a built-in processor? I think the technology has great potential, but its potential in the market is meager. Sony has a better opportunity, they should have several PS eyes already in the wild and shipping glowing balls on a stick should be relatively cheap, but how hard is Sony going to be pushing this? Sony will have to abandon its current posturing as the high end one box for all needs. Also, I’m not sure that I’ve heard anyone talk about this before, but Sony might also need to cut the price of the PS3.

    These concerns are only the ones that I could think of, just wait till the third parties actually sit down and consider this. There will always be early adopters, both on the consumer side and on the development side, but does Sony or Microsoft have a plan to take these motion technologies into the next several years?

    >>> Matt Spayth,
    Editor, Forwards Compatible

    When examining the possible downsides of motion control, I believe Itagaki put it best a few years back in an EGM interview. Below is an excerpt summarizing his early impressions of the Nintendo Wii:

    “Games are all about input from the player and output from the game. Obviously, increasing the number of inputs increases the number of possibilities. What makes videogames fun is that the output the game gives you is many more times more impressive than the input- you push one button, and your character does amazing things.

    The formula starts to break down as the inputs get greater. If you have to shake the controller madly, you’re upping the input for the same output. When you get to a point where the balance favors the input, and the output remains the same, well, if I have to do all this jumping around, I might as well ride a real Jet Ski.”

    Itagaki made these comments before the Wii was released, and for the most part, his observations hold up quite well. Personally, I’m also concerned that an over-reliance on motion controls could eventually destabilize the balance between the input and output. As of right now, many Wii titles still uphold the formula that Itagaki addresses. Take for example Punch-Out!! The motion controls simulate real punching, but it nonetheless feels like a traditional gaming experience.

    While technically impressive, I’m a little concerned that Project Natal might fail to keep this time-tested formula intact. Do I really want to kick an invisible soccer ball around when I could reenact the same movements in my backyard? This is where 1:1 controls can become problematic. The relationship between the input and output doesn’t have to be perfectly balanced. In fact, too much precision could undermine the gaming experience.

    Don’t get me wrong, I was very impressed with the demo that Microsoft showed, and I believe the Natal provides some potentially excellent gaming possibilities. The real trick though to making this technology work is by preserving the balance that Itagaki mentions. Can this be done? I think so. However, if developers get too carried away with motion controls, the end result could be the demise of videogames as we currently know them.

    >>> Daniel Sims
    Editor, Forwards Compatible

    I have responses to everyone’s view on this presented since the Second Take, but I’m gonna start with Jeff’s and snakeLinksonic’s. I don’t think motion control is really going to come into its own market-wise or game design-wise until we’re fully into the next console cycle.

    Jeff is right that Microsoft and Sony aren’t going to get anywhere near Nintendo-level market penetration with their current motion control devices. This is why the Wii remote wasn’t simply an add-on for the Gamecube. Some have already speculated that the Natal launch will be like a console launch - an “Xbox Natal” that will be as the Wii was to the Gamecube.

    Whatever they do though, it won’t truly matter in the market until the next console cycle when motion control will come standard with every system. The same issue struck online gaming, which penetrated barely 10% of the gaming population on the PS2 and Xbox but is now integral to each console’s working and is used by roughly half the user base. This is also true for game design which sLs addressed in the second take.

    Console gaming has always come in generations of innovation followed by generations of refinement. 3D gaming when popularized with the N64 and PS1 was still embryonic and not as refined as 2D gaming was by that point, refinement of game design in 3D didn’t really come until well into the PS2’s life cycle.

    I think that the Wii2, real Xbox 720, and PS4 will come standard with probably more refined motion control schemes and by then developers will start to have a handle on what kinds of games they should be making for motion control. We’re already starting to see the beginnings of it with Wii Motion Plus games.

    In response to Itagaki’s quote about input and output, I think it’s absolutely true that we play games partly because they let us do amazing things with less input than they would really require. While one can argue that the gap between input and output is closing on the Wii, I think that if developers are careful it won’t close completely or cross over.

    Right now I’m playing Virtua Tennis 2009 on the Wii, and its’ perhaps the first Wii game I’ve seen that is actually deeper and requires more skill compared to its PS3 and Xbox counterparts because of how much more control over your character is afforded the player. Despite this, the actions played out on screen are still exaggerated as Virtua Tennis is still an arcade game. What matters however is that you can feel a more refined difference between your inputs now.

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    Enrich or Expand? | BioShock Infinite

    I enjoyed you BioShock---really, I did, but I never loved you. I apologize for leading you on.

    You see, I'm one of those people who played System Shock for the first time afterwards, tracing Rapture's lineage 'through the looking glass' and subsequently having my prior enjoyment of the game irreparably damaged because of it.

    This is so much in fact, that I've still not seen it fit to try out BioShock 2 yet. It's also in spite of the frontlash (for lack of a better term) I've recently seen for it as well. This means I've been in a consistent position of apathy with the 'Bioseries' since 2008 (i.e. when I played System Shock). Of course I have my biases like anyone else, idiosyncrasies that dictate why such a 'robbery of affinities' would even occur. Yet, I do find my reaction towards the new BioShock: Infinite rather---bewildering.


    Mostly this is because I actually liked what I saw. I have my usual complaints of course (we'll get to a few of them in a bit), but for the most part, the things that have troubled me about the prior games have taken on a new form now. This new form is somewhat enduring to me. So, first let's look at three appeals---the ones to my emotions.

    1. Not only does this game take place in the skies, but there's a sense of infinite scale that the original BioShock was pretty much cut off from entirely. That game's entire modus operandi was in a failed underwater utopia, which pretty much enforced claustrophobia at all times. Columbia however, looks to be expansive, with some sense of placement that allows the player to 'feel' beyond their immediate surroundings. This doesn't exactly seem like a hard thing to do with a first-person game of any type, yet I see it so rarely (especially outside the realm of RPGS). This makes Infinite stand out to me.

    2. It also takes a very industrial aesthetic and lays nationalism all over it. I suppose I could share in the descriptions some have drawn up here, most notably calling it a Steampunk-looking game (which isn't necessarily wrong or anything), but that's not what it shouts to me---not first anyway (it's personally not Victorian enough from what I've seen). It takes a more general retro-futurism approach and almost cleverly splashes 'America, fuck yeah!' all over it. This gives it a bit more breathing room visually and distances the look from just being generically in-tune with a commonly seen look that inspires nerd-boners these days.

    3. We're now using an actual character (who is ironically voiced by Garrett's voice actor, whom I've often complained about not speaking enough in the Thief titles)? To be fair here, I have to reiterate that I haven't played BioShock 2 in any form, so I don't know exactly what players are controlling in that game. From what I gathered with today's released footage however, I'm going to make a guess and say that this is not a generic form we're meant to transpose ourselves (in that lazy free-form way) to accommodate for. It's always going to be more appealing to me to have a character who is written into his or her own world.

    Where'd You Come From?

    One aspect of the original BioShock that I found disappointing (which was exasperated exponentially by System Shock 2), was the placement of a single emotion:

    Fear.

    I felt fear in System Shock 2, whereas I simply felt in place 'doing what I was supposed to do' whilst playing through BioShock. One of the initial trailers for the game that I still kind of love is also one that I kind of tag as being a bit misleading now.


    Now, while Infinite doesn't really look like it will pick up on that horror-thread to any mentionable extent (I'd be an idiot to expect that), it also looks like it could instill in me what I was supposed to get from two other games that I'm a bit 'against' these days. These two other games (and my complaints about them) are not new if you've known me for over a year, as the revulsion occasionally builds up and spills out at fixed points now. If you don't know what these two games are yet, bear with me for the next few paragraphs while I have a little fun (assuming you don't just scroll down to see what they are). I've only seen the correlation in one other place today, so hopefully it hasn't been spoiled for you yet.

    What BioShock (as a general series) and 'those games' seem to have in common is an excess of weaponry, a distinct quota of control that's never taken away from the player. For me personally, this kept all moods in a rather close proximity to one another as I played through the original BioShock. Be it plasmids or firearms, I was always able to customize everything to my liking, which ironically---I don't always happen to actually like. There's also the question of who's opposing you in these games as well. In 'those games', there was an easily dropped (and stupidly controversial) ball, concerning the color of the pursuers' skin. With Infinite, I see something else... I don't see mutilated and mutated 1950's mascots wearing ball masks and shouting incoherently. I don't see the depiction of third world fodder slinging primitive weaponry at me (did you get it yet?). What I DO see is a gaggle of ultra-nationalist white people, and lo' and behold---that actually DOES kind of leave me unsettled.

    It doesn't help that Infinite appears to be at least a partly 'tag-along-girlie' experience either, further relating itself to 'the other games'. Elizabeth's importance mirrors that of an equally important character in one of 'those games' (though fittingly enough, the other one features a permanent tag along).

    Though I think Corvus, Kate, and Michael's commentary were fairly healthy given the abundance of shooters we already have, its this title---probably one of the few, where I'll welcome the presence of firearms in such a manner. Depending on how the game turns out to be designed, I'll even extend that argument to encompass the above mentioned aesthetics as well. I can't firmly take this position quite yet though, as there's a lot that's still left to be seen, and this game is well over a year from being released. In short, I think the sentiment against guns were far more fitting for BioShock, BioShock 2 (possibly), and yes---Biohazard 45. You're a tad late there guys. =p

    Worries

    If Infinite does in fact degenerate too far into that Post-Biohazard: CV state, I'm going to have a problem (and judging from the trailer, it looks like that line will be easily crossed too). I suppose it's a good thing that Irrational inspires such a problem with me now, but it's still a problem nonetheless. The way the player interacts with denizens of Columbia looks to be very similar to Leon's first hour or so of Biohazard 4. If Infinite can somehow manage to keep that specific form of resident evil (no pun intended), it will actually do what those games failed to, inspire a newfound sort of tension in me.

    Despite another personal appeal dealing with some of the game's 'supposed political thematics', I really hope it doesn't mishandle the theme which appears to be the popular 'addressing' speculation at this point, anarchism. If it does do this, I'm hoping it doesn't juggle the concept akin to what BioShock is called forth for constantly in terms of Objectivism.

    Another thing troubling me at the moment are the potential for 'safe roads' in this game. Infinite seems to be contingent on building somewhat elaborate thematics around extremist politics. The worry here is what certain circumventions will be made, be it its writing or just in general milieu to avoid certain 'controversies'. A video game making a funhouse mirror out of American nationalism is a desire of long odds at this point, but still something I'd love to see.

    Yes, it could turn out to be a bitchy and rather nit-picky complaint, but the transport systems are going to weigh down down on me, as will any other spectacle moments and enemies (e.g. apparently the Big Daddy was replaced with something that wouldn't look too out of place in Fallout). I'm simply hoping they're kept to a moderate level at this point. Gaming has enough roller-coaster rides, it doesn't need a popularized literal one too.

    All that said, I'm actually looking forward to this game. It's far off enough that I don't simply feel pressured and annoyed by its release (as well as its fans), and perhaps I'll even find the will to pick up the second game now as well.

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    Video Games Industry | Better Than It's Ever Been?

    Hardly...and I'm fucking sick of hearing it.

    I mean yes, we could spout off some quick numbers and irrelevant facts that would seem to suggest as much, but I can guarantee you each and every one of those claims are made by a person who most likely has passed some sort of twisted and hedonistic event horizon, rendering all their opinions as amusing conjecture at best.

    The claim that things have been the same however, has far more of a lasting significance here (even if that's somewhat fallacious as well). The growth in this industry is akin to that of a human being. It's easy to long for childhood (i.e. retro games), and it's just as convenient to pretend like 'times are so much better now!' (i.e. hop on XBL every night like a dumbass and refuse to question anything else).

    What's difficult though? It hardly ever gets seen enough so it might not be that recognizable; its the appreciation of a overall continuum and not just 'this is better, but this is worse!' This means that we respect everything that comes along with it, both good and bad (as well as what it means to even perceive as such as well). People have trouble with such this antinomy, especially when trying to decipher meaning from it. This is particularly prevalent in the United States, as people have perverted happiness here as some type of end-game idealistic goal (and the morons think they can actually claim altruism at the same time with this attitude too).

    Here's a quick napkin-list of why people commonly think we're living in such great times now with the bold text just highlighting my thoughts.

    1 - "These games look so great now!"
    No they don't, they're a narrowly and hollowly viewed set of styles reflecting the perverse cultures that make them. There's rarely any cross-breeding and overlap and when there actually is, it becomes lost amidst whatever demands that marketing and audiences are currently making at that given time.

    2 - "I can play with my friends online!"
    You're that easily fooled eh? I call it the can-kicker effect, and it's something more of you should be aware of. Human beings are social creatures, this does not mean we should just lower our standards simply because of that fact.

    3 - "So much work goes into them, it's a thriving medium, it's an art!"
    Work smart, not hard. It's not a living breathing thing, it's a well-oiled machine. People would do well to make that distinction now. Perhaps we can tilt the table towards that more biological metaphor eventually, but now's not that time (so stop jumping the fucking gun). People rarely doubt the actual work that goes into a game, but they DO tend to forget about it. They forget about it to the extent as to not even question it, wherein lies the greatest challenge here.

    If you're honestly going to take the the money route (i.e. 'games are a major financial force now!'), then we're in more trouble than even I thought. I refuse to acknowledge that one beyond these two sentences.
    "I look around Tokyo Games Show, and everyone’s making awful games; Japan is at least five years behind"
    -Keiji Inafune, (source)

    That's not the first time that Inafune has expressed such a sentiment, but at the same time, that New York Times article eschews its own topic buy presenting some quick-hit statistics that really don't hold up in the long run. It talks very shallowly of how Japan's relationship with 'overseas' markets (they're just talking about the United States by the way, a problem in itself) has tinted their eyes towards design. The 'Westernization' of video games is a bigger problem than people are letting on at the moment and it expands well beyond what I've been bitching about with the likes of Crackhead Dante and whatnot.

    What's not addressed is what's actually relevant, the rather selfish tennis match that Japan and America have been playing with video games for over twenty years now. One very easy example would be concerning narrative thematics; with all the incessant whining about religion and its origins now, this planet is full of a lot of wacky ass mythologies that extend well beyond the limits of what dear Odin and his friends can offer us. That said, Europe has surely become a bigger factor, but it's still akin to the second string quarterback in a football game, appreciated by not necessarily always needed.

    At the very least, we can all say that design has moved forward to an mentionable extent, but the only reason that people are perverting nostalgia and rallying behind indie games now is because the foundations laid out in the past twenty years were done so haphazardly. Base concepts and ideas are really only beginning to become addressed now. Cinematics in games, literary themes, and even fundamental & mechanical design theories are just starting to become serious topics (not to mention any academic discourse on such things). This is very much opposed to the idea that 'it's just a game', which still holds its worth by most, so such topics will be fighting an uphill battle for decades to come. Even the very idea of 'this game sucks!' is poison now, and any type of critical analysis on a game is seen by most fans as some personalized attack.

    God forbid fans actually form a relationship with a game. They just think loving it unquestioningly is the answer. Heh, and like all human relationships, unwitting idealization for the sake of happiness will always lead to problems. Good luck with it!

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Deceptive Design | Pokémon Black & White

    It's been a common complaint for the past two generations of Pokémon titles that the designs have been getting worse with every game.

    I've danced around this with earlier Pokémon-related posts, but my take on this is simply that Game Freak and Nintendo have fallen into rather destructive a habit of meeting some sort of twisted quota to pander to the masses (this is a consumer product we're talking about after all). The designs are rarely just plain bad, but when the most detrimental of them manages to churn up a collective disdain, aesthetic credibility immediately gets called into question. People are also natrually geared to take things that garner any sort of general consensus seriously, even if it's far more than worth their time to begin with. This is all but surprising, seeing as how we gamers have always had snooty tastes.

    When one (most notably an artist) has a condensed level of style however, they will immediately build a stronger (and far more recognizable) style. This essentially equates to the old 'quality vs quantity' adage. This is also why the audiences and people in a position to judge are so prone to hold on to the original 151 Pokémon's design as being somewhat superior. They really aren't, they're just as moronic-looking as the rest. I'll even admit to still being tethered to this concept myself, as I can certainly point out the design issues I have with each and every single little critter I've seen thus far. Remember that little project I mentioned? It's on hold now thanks to Black & White temporarily overloading me with sketch-ennui, but I do intend to finish the damn thing (I stopped at around #62, Poliwrath). I noticed this stuff however, in their entirety after drawing the twentieth little jackass, Raticate.

    It would seem that the following formulas have some credence worth laughing at:

    Perception + Nostalgia + Compression = Quality
    Opinion + Generational Shifts + Expansion = Natural tendency for audience to 'rebel/react' somehow

    As an artist, I personally find this particular facet of the franchise fascinating, if only because I'm so ignorant to the inner-workings of how Ken Sugimori engaged with the rest of the development team. I have absolutely no damn clue who is designing the characters and various 'Pokes' now, but I assume it's not just him (i.e. he drew the original 151 Pokémon himself from what I understand).

    When the first three starter types were revealed for Black & White, the backlash against all of them was more immediate and explosive than the last, almost confirming that the effect increases in intensity with each generation. I suppose the grass snake didn't catch as much hell as the pig and the otter, but he was part of the 'trio of worsening' nonetheless.

    I can't source this definitively, so take it for what it is. Supposedly, it's an interview featuring Sugimori and Yusuke Ohmura:
    KS: "I really struggled the most with the Water-type [starter] this time."

    YO: "There was talk of, 'Wouldn't a sea otter be good for the Water starter?' But it was a really close decision in terms of what this sea otter would become once it evolves. In the end, we decided to have it evolve into something with a completely different appearance."

    KS: "Of course, we want to make the starters into Pokémon that remain with the player throughout the game, so we hope to make them evolve into creatures that offer a surprise to the player. We always make an effort to throw in some twists and create third-stage evolutions that have an impact."

    YO: "There was also talk this time about dividing the three starters into Japanese, Western, and Chinese styles of design. Tsutaaja was based on Western design, and Pokabu was rooted in a Chinese style, so I was told, "Let's make Mijumaru into a more Japanese-style design." Someone even asked, 'Can't you make Mijumaru into a samurai?' [*laughs*]"

    Everyone: [*laughs*]

    KS: "I worried about it for a while, and I eventually went to go see the sea otters at the aquarium. I happened to catch the sea lion show while I was there, and I became aware of the sea lion's power. 'Well, let's try blending a sea otter and a sea lion', I thought. I came up with the idea of making the shell on Mijumaru's stomach into a sword (katana) and using it to fight, and that's how I completed Mijumaru and its evolution."
    (via Bulbapedia, also Pokémon Pia originally)

    Just grabbing a design from a recent game that I've been playing this week to show all this at work:

    This guy looks like he could easily sneak into the National Pokédex right? This is actually Sheep Man, from Mega Man 10. The lineage of Pokémon is growing, it's certainly expanding, but it hasn't moved but a few inches in terms of artistic diversity. I'd love to make a biased attack on this as an Asian ideal, but that's a debate I'd rather have on its own formal right, far removed from this rather small and ultimately pointless topic.

    The ideal---the axe to grind for me here would be a more science-related approach to creating the characters/creatures. Yes, you heard me right. We've had (or at least I've had) enough of Japan's nigh-ritualistic 'culture display'. Right now, I'd have to assume that any sort of design for these guys in constructing the creatures is based almost completely on cheap aesthetic appeals. This is opposed to any type realism or practicality. This is quite deceptive, as on the surface, it appears to be what's actually being done, some fantastical simulation of reality, but it isn't. A grass pokemon for example, just looks like a generic land dwelling baddie were it in any other videogame. Very few of them actually look drawn to facilitate a bond to the environment/setting they're supposedly from or embody, they simply have touchstones that obnoxiously scream so (e.g. Charizard's tail). I'm not falling for it anymore you sneaks.

    Strictly speaking from the videogames' position, all that the players are given simply amount to little tidbits regarding the nature of their respective species. This usually means one or two sentences that the player could most likely make up on their own anyway by simply looking at damn things. There was never any actual authority being displayed with the design of these creatures and the slow revelation of this fact is what people are actually feeling and thus reacting to now. What little there is becomes 'lost in translation', which isn't simply going from Eastern to Western audiences, but more of a designer to consumer one as well (not to mention an artist to audience one too).

    This also got briefly mentioned in the Ego Agenda and its response (and here's another), but the creatures' appeal is just becoming a thinner and more insulting veil to view them through. THIS would be why I'd say the designs appear to be getting worse with each generation.

    The only thing that's really changing here are the people playing these games. The artists of course, change too, but nowhere near the pace of the former. These artists are not just simply scraping the bottom of the barrel. It's much more complicated than that. It's part of my definition of an artist to problem solve and to deceive. The problem is that these guys are now MAKING UP their own problems unnecessarily and becoming bogged down and weary while trying to deal with an audience that's been trained VERY WELL to 'eat their work and ask for seconds'.

    Image Credits:
    Images via The_Katbot, 1UP.com, Mega Man Knowledge Database, and random crap I dug up via my own Tumblr

    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    BioShock: Infinite | Anarchism | Quotations

    I'm far too lazy at the moment to actually comment directly on the article, but RPS slid out a little post yesterday concerning BioShock: Infinite. I found the commentary interesting (and of course, humorous), so in the interest of pumping out more content on this blog again, I figured I could stick them up here rather than my Tumblr like I normally would. I need to start exercising the will to write here again. I'm very much out of practice and this helps that.

    "Anarchy has never meant an absence of organisation and a life of complete chaos except in the slanders of royalists and conservatives (which have become the standard, which I think means they won)"
    --->Muzman

    "If there is an Emma Goldman character, she’ll probably be the representative of the “good anarchist” faction and the (perhaps penitent) conscience of the game, unless they surprise me."
    --->perilisk

    "I surely hope Infinite isn’t just doing Anarchy the same way Bioshock did Objectivism. Boy would that be dull. Just painting a picture of the US back when it had a far more interesting political landscape than it’s had for most of the 20th century would be far more interesting."
    --->Muzman

    "Actually the *American* anarchist movement was very active in the late 1800s, the timeline of Bioshock Infinite. Bombing campaigns, the whole nine yards."
    --->Torgen

    "it’d be great if a game (and most other forms of fiction, for that matter, with a small number of exceptions) could actually manage to depict Anarchists realistically (and with an actual knowledge of some Anarchist history), but i’m pretty pessimistic – it always gets cocked up, and you get caricatures made by people who’s conception of Anarchism goes barely any farther than terrorism, punks, and Crimethinc (not that i’m suggesting that, at least, the terrorist aspect should be ignored, as at least THAT is historically important)."
    --->feighnt

    "First of all there are many radically different flavors of anarchism. Most prominent are anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-capitalism. Anarcho-capitalism is about abolishing monopoly of government on things it has monopoly over. It does not mean no law or no police. It means free market in those things."
    --->boniek

    "I really wouldn’t say anarcho-capitalism is prominent outside of the Unites States. Or outside of the internet, really. If you talk to a European anarchist and tell them about anarcho-capitalism they’ll look at you like you’re mad."
    --->Loveschach

    "Anarchist splits, in Barcelona? Unless you hark back to the days of pisteleros and the CNT/FAI division there’s not much happening but your usual fighting of Fascism and Stalinism. If it’s anarchist infighting you want that’s mostly been done through the medium of name calling and pamphlets since the time of this games setting, bullets should be saved for reactionaries after all."
    --->Cian

    Castlevania: Lords of Shadow | Worth Being Optimistic?

    Though the only thing I have left on my personal list to play for this year is Epic Mickey, I've also have received a donation today that will allow me to finally play (and subsequently write about) Demon Souls. There is a wildcard for me this year however, which is what this post is about, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
    Crushing Legacy
    Now that God of War is finished (sort of...) and Dante is apparently on crack, I'm predicting that even more people will be willing to place an unfair burden on this game. This is especially prevalent in the current population of gamers who don't have the time and patience (*coughorintellectcough*) to digest what could be the successful transition which we've only seen in this industry a few times before. This would be the change that an inherently powerful 2D game franchise makes when moving into 3D Space.
    As it stands, Castlevania has birthed a sufficiently confused audience. Most that have praised Kratos's outings for example, have also hidden themselves within a sphere of insularity, built specifically to ignore its lineage as well (look at something like Dante's Inferno and try to debate this). Due to this, Castlevania has indirectly suffered, if nothing else---in mere general perception. I wouldn't go as far to suggest that this has bled through to its development as well, but I don't necessarily think it would be that big of a stretch either.
    Mediocrity
    Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness were not bad, they were just unabashedly mediocre. This troubles people because the Castlevania lineage is a strong one. So strong in fact, that it has 50% of a genre description along with Samus Aran's exploits (i.e. 'Metroidvania'). This is where the inherent problem is too, as the metroidvania setup prioritizes exploration above all else. Combat is simply something that happens along the way. The transition to 3D however, has caused Castlevania to take on a distinctive hack-n-slash persona, to which people have regurgitated rather angrily (though in my honest opinion, healthily is a better adjective there).
    So what happens if this game is simply a mediocre button-masher again? Well personally speaking, it will be Konami's official third strike with trying to make the series stick with me in 3D (I'm not counting the Nintendo 64 version). I have nothing against MercurySteam, but I think they're just a part of what has recently become the main theme in Japanese game design (seen on full display at this year's Tokyo Game Show): Westernization (which isn't new really, but damn have they hit the gas on that shit this year). At best, these guys (a European studio I believe) seem poised to make a slick and polished but still formulaic hack-n-slash with RPG dressings. If it's just that, I'll be okay with just a rental a nod of praise. If however, it does turn out to be a 'questionable' God of War clone, I will be angry and you will read about it. I don't have the type of mental energy it takes to simply ignore all the facts and expect the the 2D realm of one of gaming's most revered to just magically translate to 3D space. If you want to be blindly hopeful, you're reading the wrong blog.
    "In his narration, Cox said that the finished game will feature 50 levels through which protagonist Gabriel Belmont must fight his way to the iconic castle. Along the way, as I saw, he'll encounter a vast number of enemies -- their diversity was equally impressive -- though there will also be allies, human and animal. Gabriel's mentor, voiced by Patrick Stewart, was shown, as was the spirit of his wife, who in the game's story has been killed (along with many others) by the creatures set free by an evil sorcerer. At different points, Gabriel was shown riding a horse and a giant eagle."
    -Joystiq [Source]
    The fact that it's expansive does suggest the potential for exploration, but being a big playground full of diverse enemies can also be fairly deceptive. If these guys step up to the task, they can really make a name for themselves.
    The Transition to Tales

    "Astounding? It looks like a Japanese soap opera. It's got God-awful cliches and corny mocaped acting. The purpose of the trailer was to show off the amazing story, cutscenes, and all star voice cast, and it showed something that, were it a film, would play at 2am Sunday on SyFy. I appreciate the set and character design and the game itself may be quite good, but these are wretched cutscenes. Unwatchable."

    ---chargen, [Source]
    How 'intelligently stupid' can we gamers get before we're just plain stupid? P.C. gamers will answer that one before anyone, but this guy seems like a good advocate for the point at hand.
    Should Castlevania have a 'tale' now? Well---I'm going to go with yes on this particular case. In an age of new wave titles that have proven themselves to have impressively engrossing and engaging tales, Castlevania as a concept is one that can still plug itself with a bit of innovation if done correctly. The staple enemies, weaponry, and aesthetics all mean something in the game's twenty-year old lore. Now, the 2D games only needed minimal narrative points to chug the player along, but pretending like that's tantamount to what a 3D game has become is these days just silly. For a useful compare/contrast, look at Sonic the Hedgehog, which is in the exact opposite position now; given a story and characters where they were never needed (or at least expounding upon them excessively and unnecessarily). When they actually were effective, they were minimal, and this is because they were not meant to be the substance, but rather the flavor. The shift for Castlevania on the other hand, would have to be more nuanced and FAR more balanced. This is a tough design plane to dance on as well, because at the end of the day, Sonic had it rather easy (and Sega still managed to fuck that up). All those platformers had to do was was focus on the structure of designing play that meshed with old 2D design principles, but this was ignored out of a blatant attempt to capitalize on Sonic's already-waning '90's coolness' instead.
    "We wanted to have big enemies and things like that, the scale and the epicness of it all. The comparisons to God of War are, I think, unfounded. When people see the game, play the game, they'll see that Lords of Shadow is actually a slower-paced affair. There's more exploration, there's more freedom for the player to look around levels and find things. Sure, we have cool combat and cool setpieces; you need to have something like that to appeal to gamers today. But we still have those elements that made Castlevania great. We're not moving that far away. I think when people see the game they'll go, 'That's Castlevania.'"
    -Dave Cox, [Source]
    I have absolutely no evidence apart from this guy's word that he's not just saying what he knows everybody wants to hear.
    Castlevania gets a much dirtier hand to play in comparison to the likes of Sonic though, having to balance a real-world anchored art design with a responsive system of play that nurtures exploration AND combat. Not only that, but what used to be narrative vectors in the 2D landscape have become engagement tools in 3D, which I will admit and predict most likely to just be cliche tropes we can find in any pulpy fantasy novel. The balance is the key here, but I think what I mentioned above in 'Crushing Legacy' will play far more of a factor than it has to, while also letting the tale take up space where it has no business occupying. This is what defines most hack-n-slashers too. There's typically no room for permeability between play and narrative when both are obnoxiously flying off the charts to draw attention to themselves, neither of them making any kind of meaningful commentary on the other.
    Recycling
    The audiences are expecting a God of War clone, but God of War only exists because of Devil May Cry and Devil May Cry only exists because of Castlevania (a tad facile yes, but true enough for this post's point). See where this is going? The series is about to begin eating its own tail by playing up to consumers' latent desires for the next 'glowing-shit-to-hit-fuck-yeah' game. I sincerely hope I'm wrong, but I just don't see how or why MercurySteam would be interested in breaking the mold here. If it's a good God of War clone, then people will pay for it, plain and simple. They're not out looking to revitalize the genre, nor to bend it, or even to break it. If you think about it that way, the likes of Retro Studios are a true aberration in this context. What's missing from all the footage I've seen on the game has been a sense of exploration, but this is something that will only reveal itself with the game's actual release.

    "Lords of Shadow is a melancholy tale of this guy trying to bring back his dead wife. So we wanted to have a somber and dark musical score to go with it. We still have Castlevania themes throughout that you'll hear and you'll find familiar, but they fit into the game and the world that we've created...I'd say a third of the score includes classic tunes that long-time fans will immediately recognize."

    -Dave Cox, [Source]
    The periphery importances I don't doubt at all. What little I have heard and seen has definitely led me to expect a legacy-worthwhile scoring and impressive visuals, but those things can't save the experience if the above factors aren't addressed. What works in Castlevania's favor here is that these two things are extremely important to the series as a whole. So if the developer is displaying some sort of competence there, perhaps not all is lost.

    It looks fluid sure, but if the game is simply a linear and cinematic romp, fans (myself included) will revolt, and the countless God of War accusations will be proven to not simply be the result of excessive trolling.

    At the end of the day, I'm just not expecting something that will successfully harken back to the above mentioned principles that the earlier games had (and I'm beginning to think that it's a lost cause to even desire at this point as well). This also means I'll be placed to enjoy the game in such a light that could very well be far removed with what made me and many others love the series to begin with.
    That said, I don't really think anybody else should either. It's pretty much parallel to low expectations, but I think that's more than fair here. Misplaced optimism will only end up leaving us broken and beaten here. If I'm completely off the mark with this---well, that means we finally got something rarely seen with these types of games. I'm perfectly fine with that.

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Forwards Compatible Redux

    Originally Posted: June, 2009

    'Get Gameplay Gone'

    This is a reposting of a topic me and various other gamers discussed last year concerning the usage of 'gameplay' in our culture's lexicon. I'm reposting it for Mike Schiller & Ben Abraham, perhaps they'll find something to add something to the topic.

    Spearhead Topic by Matthew Armstrong

    Like the concept of the genre, the notion of gameplay is starting to cripple under the weight of the 'perceived industry'. I’ve personally been responding to the term negatively for years now, but it seems that people are finally starting to understand my disdain. For the writers, I suspect it’s just a matter of understandable convenience, as not everyone wants to launch into long-winded dialects analyzing the minutest introspects of their opinion. For someone like me however, I revel in the nature of 'experiencism', and I advocate shoving along the common perception for the term 'gameplay'. It needs to reach a critical mass, so we can finally move beyond it.

    So why abolish the term? Well, there’s certainly no animosity towards a word, never is. It’s the ideas and concepts tied to the word. Gameplay is an offensive umbrella term, usually lumping any number of things together in order for the player to further or clarify (rather superficially) their own experience with the game. I’ll give three primary examples for why I think the term earns its own disdain. If you think the term is necessary, by all means defend it.

    I - Mechanical Collaboration

    This means taking any of the numerous aspects of a game and retrofitting them with the term in order to distort or skew the personal perspective of the title itself (it’s 'backwards experiencism' in my eyes). For example, if one enjoys the sound of the game, then they should simply say so (and why). Simply wrapping their quick-witted audio references around flag of gameplay is treacherous (to both the sound design and the game).

    II - Subjective Nebuli

    To solidify one’s own opinion is a great thing to. What troubles me is when people use the backdoor jumping point of objectivity. People don’t like having their personal views crushed so they often seek out the established world’s perception in order to help validate their own opinion. It’s worked for plenty people throughout the times, but it’s a verisimilitude at best. If you really want to accomplish something, scale the heights of your own opinion, don’t just climb on backs of other people’s work, it’s just lazy.

    III - “Genre”lization

    We actually covered this as its own Spearhead not too long ago. This is a double-edged sword because not only does it hurt the public perception of what a player’s experience encompasses, it insults what the developers have done in the first place. Furthermore, they become working gears that cater to that insulting whim, which is sad in itself. How many developers have set out in the sole mindset of 'Let’s create a kickass First Person Shooter!' and nothing more? See the inherent problem there? My biggest fear is that the bulk of gamers are too far gone to see it at this point. It’s like they’re staring at a stereogram from an old Highlights for Children magazine. A lot of gamers just need to learn how to cross their damn eyes.

    I’m not advocating that gamers stop using the term altogether, but simply clarify their usage of the word (and demand further insight from those that use it). It’s abusive to whatever game is in question when said person begins to hide behind the term 'gameplay'. It’s the difference between hearing someone say “The Patriots” and “La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo”. If a gamer cannot clarify those ends, then they’re nothing more than escapists to me, which opposes me on an entirely different level altogether.

    If you don’t look suspicious when someone simply throws out the term now, you should. It’s surprising how some opinions crumble like dirt clods when the guise of gameplay is gutted.

    Second Take written by By Jeff Grubb

    I understand that some people bristle at the use of the term “gameplay,” the way the term’s numerous meanings work as a coverall can sometimes be annoying, but I think we just all need to decide exactly what the definition of gameplay is. I get the feeling that my consistent use of the word does not necessarily jive with the way the word is used in reviews. Unfortunately, I don’t think gameplay is a word that was devised with a proper definition attached to it, instead it earned its vague meaning through common use.

    Reference.com says about the word, “generally, the term gameplay in video game terminology is used to describe the overall experience of playing the game excluding factors like graphics and sound.” I think this definition would work fine if it weren’t for the word “overall.” This makes the term too vague. Reference.com continues, “despite criticism, the term gameplay has gained acceptance in popular gaming nomenclature, being the only common phrase describing story quality, ease of play, and overall desirability of a game all in one word.” And one number is supposed to sum all this up?

    If that is the case then the word deserves all the criticism that it receives, it just isn’t how I have been using the word. When I say the word gameplay it is used to describe the play of the game. If a game’s mechanics are the rules of the game then the gameplay is the way that you interact with or against those rules. If the mechanics of Donkey Kong is to get from the bottom to the top using ladders and jumping while fighting against enemies that die when you hit them with a hammer, then the gameplay is the way that you control and how the jumping feels. If gameplay has never meant that, then there has never been a specific word for describing that.

    This comes back to the need to criticize people who write about games, specifically those who review games. The idea that a writer may use the word gameplay to describe everything from control to story is absurd. However, I would hate to see the word be retired completely; I do think it serves a purpose as I defined it. Adjusting a commonly used word’s meaning is impossible to force, that sort of mass redefining is a natural occurrence, so I won’t wait up for that.

    While writing this I have to admit that I am sort of flabbergasted. I’ve heard people complain about the use of the word gameplay and I always wondered what the problem was. I figured either I didn’t understand the definition of the word or I just hadn’t been reading the same reviews that others have been. Now that I realize what all those reviews that put a number by the word gameplay intended I am offended. This is no way to be reviewing games. It is the experience that matters, and to try to separate so many different aspects of the experience into some cloudy and formless blob and throw it all under a makeup word is confusing and pointless.

    Instead of expecting the writers to get better of their own accord we could also vote with our clicks. There was always a group of reliable reviewers whom all knew how to talk about games, we need to read these people and to make it clear that we appreciate the thoughtful over the lazy.

    Roundtable Discussion with Dustin Rodgers, Louis Lantos, Matthew Armstrong, and Jeff Grubb

    >>> Dustin Rodgers
    Editor, Forwards Compatible

    SnakeLinkSonic mentioned a very interesting and relevant point to this discussion, genres. The definition of gameplay is different depending on the game. Because new genres are being created every year, the definition of gameplay continues to expand. If we were to define precisely what gameplay is, it would limit what games can be. Gameplay must remain a blanket-term to ensure the inclusion of new games, and therefore must retain some ambiguity or vagueness.

    More specific than genres however, are the games themselves. The gameplay in Lumines is judged in a different way than the gameplay in Call of Duty 4, and even a closer relative, Tetris, is entirely different. While some games share common ground, falling blocks or a first person perspective for example, that is more to do with a genre than gameplay. No one would compare Portal to Mirrors Edge in terms of gameplay, but they could both be described as first-person platformers.

    Gameplay can vary widely even within the same series. For example, Super Mario World and Mario 64 share similarities, but the gameplay is very different. When we consider all of the factors that contribute to a game’s gameplay, we can see that gameplay is different for every game. We can’t define a term when it has so many applications. Perhaps it would be best to understand gameplay as the inner workings of a game, whatever they may be.

    I prefer to see gameplay as what makes a videogame a game. The rules, the balance, and the game mechanics coming together to make a game, and not a screen saver that requires a controller. It’s not a very good definition, but I don’t see a way to avoid ambiguity.

    >>> Louis Lantos
    Editor, Forwards Compatible

    I think both Jeff and SLS hit on the idea of the term “gameplay” being a useful social tool for people; conversationally it makes it far easier for one member of the gaming public to engage another, on a fundamental level. It tends to open up the doors, as such. Once you’ve used that catch-all, then you can further elaborate on the experience, for instance, “the graphics are pretty incredible” or “the way you can level up your character along the way is cool” e.t.c. Not many people go on the analytical breakdown when talking casually about games, not unless they’re sure they can involve the person they’re talking to on that level. So, as far as social use goes, I definitely think it helps, and fully condone it.

    Now, on a critical or journalistic level, I take the opposite stance. Because the circumstances change, and you’re now being paid to breakdown a game to an audience of enthusiasts (or people enthusiastic enough to be reading about video games) you are obligated to be more informative. It’s lazy and pointless to be a journalist who throws down such a broad term and then moves on, it does a disservice to your readers, and makes you look like a shitty writer. Unless I’m reading FHM magazine, and, as always games coverage is an afterthought that reads like it’s been strung together by some douche who’s read a press release and never touched the game he’s discussing, I expect a more evolved level of engagement.

    As far my personal spin on the term, and what it means. Me personally, when I describe gameplay to someone, it means exactly what it says: the way the game plays. Gameplay to me is me picking up the controller and getting a sense that I’m enjoying the experience of me pressing buttons to create actions; its a primal reaction to the experience. I would never used the term gameplay to define sound or visuals, it’s purely the act of playing the game. Certainly the audio and graphics have direct implications on that playing experience, but if I want to make a point of those I would normally address them directly, for I cannot control graphics or sound (usually); they’re just there.

    >>> SnakeLinkSonic
    Editor, Forwards Compatible, The Misanthropic Gamer

    Is there anything to be said about how those “lower-tier” write ups receive our literary fecal matter? Like Lou said, there are some contexts in which the term has it’s place. However, if I read something, even in a Playboy magazine, I expect to hear some inkling of individual thought. This is strictly opposed to the reality of what we get, with things like “the gameplay is solid”, there’s no worth in words for that kind of game articulation.

    I’m not going to pretend that everyone must launch into in-depth discussions about a game’s makeup, but it really doesn’t take that much to convey what one enjoys or sees beneficial about a game (contrary to however I may write, heh).

    Remember what I said about fecal matter. Well, look at it this way. The progenitor-thought writing for games function as kidneys in our own bodies. When we develop our own disorders (i.e. some of us using the term wantonly), the idea gets passed on and accumulates (spreads) across the internet until we have a SUPRISE! kidney stone, a sometimes too-large collection of dissolved materials that cannot be passed by the body in a traditional fashion (an umbrella term that’s become too large for people to really understand what someone is trying to say).

    >>> Jeff Grubb
    News Editor, Kombo.com Editor, Forwards Compatible

    I think that we can safely declare here that the idea of using Gameplay in the body of a review is — as Louis says — a disservice. Even using it as a heading for a portion of the review seems a bit silly. Tell us about the experience of the game and at some point you should be explaining the gameplay. However, if I am in a colloquial situation I don’t wan to be corrected for my use of a word that I know everyone will understand, since chances are I am using it as one step in the path of explaining my thought.

    Dustin’s last paragraph is key, though, for those who would choose to “reclaim” the word. The ambiguity of the word comes from the ambiguity of games themselves. There are so many different things that make a game a game and so many different ways of producing play, that we need an ambiguous word to represent that idea. However, and I am repeating myself, the conversation can not end with “the gameplay is good/bad.”

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Tokyo Game Show 2010 - 'DmC'

    This is a reposting of Tumblr comments I've been making throughout the day regarding the recently announced Devil May Cry being developed by Ninja Theory & Capcom.


    Er, okay. This the new Dante. I’m intrigued and willing to see how it turns out, but seriously? There’s an almost insane fervor already amongst the audience. As always, it’s split into two sides; it’s either “OMG ITS HORRIBLE” or the people who say “Be Calm, & Stop Your Bitching”.

    I’ll have to side with the former in this case, as the latter is consistently putting way too much faith in Ninja Theory (and this is coming from someone who prefers Heavenly Sword to God of War). Ninja Theory has not earned my trust and this new skinning of the series will have to strive to attain just that. Until then, I’m bitching my ass off.

    First of all, if you’re using ‘the trailer looked cool’ logic to validate any transgressions done here, remember that this is Ninja Theory, whose game(s) have been consistently well-presented. Making a resolute judgement from that alone is idiotic no matter what side of the fence you’re on (i.e. hopeful & vitriolic). This is ignoring the fact that a single trailer will not give much ammunition to make such opinions last with any game.

    Next, let’s take a look at Dante’s appearance, the most controversial of this bit. If you’re simply ignoring the change he’s taken out of some misplaced need to ‘give it a chance without criticism’, you’re being a moron. The games have alwaysbeen highly sexualized (through the use of their males) and highly reliant upon their aesthetic flair. Such a drastic change should healthily spark this type of response. This black hair, skinnier frame, and audaciously brooding appearance make this something completely different. This leaves to question, why even bother calling it Devil May Cry? It just smells fishy.

    That is of course, the million dollar question as Capcom tries to make this series appeal to Western audiences more. There’s definitely some worthwhile European flavor in this (e.g. take a good look at that left sleeve), but it’s still a bit of a hard sell to Americans. I suppose the silver lining is that this presents a brand new opportunity for such a male figure to be sexualized, but I’m not hopeful (at least beyond what the game will accomplish for itself by merely existing). An effeminate male is not necessarily a bad thing on paper, but using a recent cheap blow, Other M sounded great on paper too. Even now, the knee-jerk reaction seems to be calling this Dante ‘gay’; as far as upsetting the natural order of prepubescent and insecure males, this redesign is doing something good in that regard.

    Again, the logic that ‘change is good for change’s sake’ falls flat on its ass with this game. By using the defense that “Well Devil May Cry has always been ludicrous!”, there shouldn’t (and didn’t) exist the first game’s appeal to begin with (making it an insular argument mostly from ignorance). If you haven’t played Devil May Cry (or even Heavenly Sword for that matter), why even bother grinding your axe here to begin with? This holds true for people who didn’t like the series before this change either, as this just gives them the reservation that “well maybe I’ll like it now!”. No, you can’t have that cake, eat it, and then try to lecture people on the methodology of eating cake. I just won’t fucking allow it.

    ‘Western Appeal’ could essentially mean anything people. Most of us that have played Heavenly Sword are worried about this for a number of reasons, here’s two:

    1. The Japanese are convinced we Americans just don’t like hard games (and to be fair, most of us don’t, we’re just whiny and effete that way). Devil May Cry has always been a game with an embedded difficulty curve that nigh alludes back to old side-scrolling beat-em-ups (it’s probably a better Castlevania incarnation than that series’ actual 3D successors as well).

    2. You can give Ninja Theory a vote of confidence, but granting them a ‘fuck yeah following’ is again—-idiotic at this point. Their track record—-well it doesn’t really exist. Enslaved isn’t even out yet and we’re already being hit with this? Come on, you have don’t need to be a mathematician figure out that equation. Something just doesn’t add up here. If this is a simple reboot, then DMC fans are officially out in the cold to watch from a distance as ‘their series’ burns in their eyes. If it’s Capcom throwing the series to the wolves out of some last-ditch plea (masquerading as an experiment) to see if the series can be milked in other ways, then things are about to get very ugly—-fast.

    So, did this series need a reboot? Only time will tell as this game becomes more exposed to us. My guess however, is that it needed a revamping, not a reboot. This is a key point most will ignore in favor of shouting at each other from opposing sides of threaded opinions. Giving DMC a more Western flavor was a concept I was honestly open to intially, but now I’m more than willing to viciously question this. One implies evolution, the other implies a lazy impulse to destroy and start over because some creative barrier has been reached and the developers don’t have the time and/or patience to deal with it.

    For those expressing sarcastic confusedness towards people caring about the story or characterization of the series up until this point; you’re just are being insipid and hypocritical. The ‘quality’ of the series’ narrative is almost completely irrelevant, as the reaction here isn’t that DMC has ever had some awe-inspiring story, but that it generated an insane amount of style through its use of ludicrous camp. Of course it’s silly to suggest definitively that all of that has been lost with this single trailer, but I don’t blame people for their worry. I also say ‘almost’ because a good deal of the following that the series has accumulated has been due to the overblown and silly (nobody is arguing against that here) characterization of Dante. He was the Hideki Kamiya’s take on ‘cool’. Some of us swallowed that pill and rather enjoyed it. If you’re going to be a dick about that, at least stick it in the right hole.

    It might be safest to say right now that Bayonetta was/is the DMC5 that fans should take interest in now, ignore this incarnation entirely, and let the dissenters-turned-hopeful-fuckasses have their two seconds in the sun. As it stands, the people making that argument are using a dangerous form of subjective rampancy to justify this change. In essence, they can have it if they so desire it. The fans have already gotten four games already that they can enjoy. Let them pretend this is something they can get behind for the time being.

    Quotes From GAF & reddit

    How many threads do we have where half the people say they like the art direction/character design in western game X and then you have the other half say they prefer Japanese aesthetics and character design for game Y over game X? 

    Both games may have cheesy, cliche designs, or may not be the height of originality but that’s irrelevant. It’s about fundamental differences in each group of developer’s backgrounds that will become evident in the game, starting with the way Dante looks.


    I’ll liken it to a description I read on the proper way to write something like Hiragana or Kanji. You have a certain order you do each stroke in. If it’s not written properly a native will likely be able to tell. It may look like whatever character you were trying to write, but it’ll still seem off. Like if one were to write an eight by just drawing two circles one on top of the other or if you write an ‘a’ reversed starting with the tail.


    I’ve yet to see the final product so hopefully this game won’t seem “off”, but going by the tone of the trailer and Dante’s design, I have a hard time being optimistic about the way this will turn out.
    I’ve said it once before, this looks like it’d be a nice entry as a new IP by a western developer. The next entry in the DMC series… not so much.”
    -Dali

    “I’m calling foul, you can’t use the game name, the character name, revamp the appearance, farm it out to another dev, and then go ‘well no see, this was just an experiment’


    Ultimately, the elements that make DMC an awesome game are the combat, the combat, and the atmosphere. For me personally, the character isn’t as big of a deal, only insofar as he contributes to the atmosphere.


    I don’t trust NT in any way shape or form in regards to the combat, and I don’t know about the atmosphere (the city looked cool enough in the trailer), but they sure aren’t winning any points with the character design.


    You know what’s really bizarre about this is that it’s happened twice before - Raiden and Nero had immediate backlash, you’d think they would have learned by now.


    More, they already had one screwup with Bionic Commando in 3d, and now they’re giving one of their biger franchises to a dev that has already proven they _can’t_ make the type of game the fans love? How much sense does that make?”
    -Victrix

    “The only hope I have is that this isn’t Dante and is in fact some insane dude(maybe another half-demon) who is masquerading as Dante. I know it’s a 0.01% chance but most of that trailer focused on people asking him his name which I found interesting.”
    -Kusagari

    1. i kinda loved heavenly sword
    2. but i haven’t seen anything from ninja theory that suggests they can make an action game worthy of the dmc lineage
    3. visually this looks rad imo, and if they were going to outsource to a western dev, i’m glad they didn’t even attempt a pseudojapanese visual style
    4. animu nerdlingers don’t really have much business sneering at hipsters or even twilight mall goths — you are below everyone on the coolness scale, as your continued virginity attests


    let bayonetta be the new dmc, let this be — i dunno — whatever it is. hope it turns out well, will give it a shot”
    -drohne

    “I am speechless. I am without speech.”
    -Pureauthor

    “Why not just leave Dante like… uhm…. Dante?!?”
    “Because it would make sense.”
    -Jocchan & Tryckser

    “So why not make a new series and IP? Changing Dante for the fifth game in the series, this drastically is fucking insane.”
    -Suzzopher

    “Well, at least they’ve found their target audience. People who don’t like DMC, don’t like Dante, and have no idea how awesome Ninja Theory are.”
    -Victrix

    “Perhaps I should get to playing Bayonetta…”
    -Bankoiia

    “Two things:
    1. Devil May Cry does not NEED a reboot
    2. This so-called Dante in the trailer is a abomination
    It’s good to hear that people who worked on Devil May Cry before are involved. The trailer, however, doesn’t leave a good first impression.”
    -Barakov

    “I dont know if the game is gonna suck but the trailer sure does.”
    -apana

    “Capcom’s not making it, just publishing, so you’ve got bigger things to worry about.”
    -LoompaOompa

    Now of course we all could just simply relent at the fact that this is the trailer for a game that’s most likely at least a year from releasing. You know—-reserve all judgement just to play it safe, but what good does that really do? Save you from being wrong? If you do happen to like this change-up, then say so. If you don’t, please cry your ass off; most importantly, say why you’re taking either position. I’d rather hear these things than people appeasing each other like a bunch of of fucking whores. Don’t bring skewed righteous cowardice into such a topic, as you’re just contributing the equivalent of dogshit.