Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Confused Bunch of Lordan Residents

With the PC version of the game, I've logged over 700 hours
in the game at this point.
The enthusiast in me is rather impressed by what NeoGAF user Durante[1] put into making the PC port of Dark Souls live up to the community's standards.

The pragmatist in me however is the usual victor of my stance here, and that part of me would question these standards, mock them for their ridiculous nature, and then recklessly throw these views into my already large toybox of things that makes me generally hate the overall community of PC players of any game.

I've had everything up until version 1.0 installed because it was a lovely way to take HUDless screenshots of one my favorite games of this generation[2]. Lately though, I've become bored and ended up removing it until the iteration upgrades begin to slow down significantly and I can download a more stable version to mess around with. Even then I probably won't use it too much for anything outside of native resolution screenshots that I can fiddle around with in Photoshop and the like[3]. At this point it only becomes a tool to do something else entirely.

Put simply, they're only a necessity in terms of presenting the game in an entirely different venue (which is rarely what people argue here). They're little more than a luxury to me otherwise. They sure as hell aren't worth anything to me in actually playing the damn thing. It's been a tired argument ever since the game was originally announced  for PC after that petition earlier this year[4]. Mods and texture replacements have already begun showing up in droves and it does sort of wear down on my experience of the game. I'm willing to admit that's rather pretentious but extending a common metaphor I've seen echoed throughout any forum on the topic:

These types of alterations in no tangible way effect my playtime with the game. If it's less 'taking a Sharpie to the Mona Lisa' rather than defacing a copy for shits and giggles, it's still no less annoying. These people are still in the museum, some doing actual creative stuff[5], and others are just doing obnoxious and overdone shit that annoys people around them. Since we're still in this metaphor, I should say that I feel no remorse for children that get thrown out of the Louvre for acting like jackasses.

A more apt description for me is that asshead you never want to watch your favorite movie with because they're always complaining about something irrelevant that makes you want to slap them.
"I hate her hair..."
"Such bad acting..."
"That is so fake!" 
                          "This dude is so overrated..."
The crown jewel of computer gaming is the inherent range of options players have when it comes to not only playing the game but adding to it or supplementing in ways that are in many cases---better than what the developer intended. It is a degree of power however and I'll never place my bets against that kind of force being abused by more players than it's used competently by. Unfortunately it gives agency to the the aforementioned assheads' complaints.

Again, a situation like this isn't anything new (yet we keep repeating it as we're too lazy to find a fucking answer), as where do we draw the line? Mine is generally drawn at mods period; unless under special circumstances (i.e. innovative ones that actually could evolve into games on their own right or entire reworkings showcasing genuine reverence for the medium or a particular title[6]), they're usually just the childish culminations of idle hands. Nine times out of ten, they infringe on some perception of integrity or immersion I have wound up in the game and I steer clear of them as much as I can.

I guess this seems worse (or more irritating at least) to me right now as the the cycle of "Who's dying" has shifted to the console space rather than the PC one (btw, hasn't this same cycle happened at least twice already? ಠ_ಠ), but I have a post for that particular topic next time.

[1] He's currently on version 1.5 of his fix which includes a nice laundry list of things that could effectively extend the life of interest in it in the long run.

[2] I've accumulated a nice library of most of these images in my Flickr now too.

[3] And I'd like to see users like Duncan Harris and kodama_SS mess around with some of these things as well.

[4] I regret signing that damn thing, even now. Oh well.

[5] Dark Souls already has a Nexus and various forum threads dedicated to the hobby now.

[6] I've been impressed by Black Mesa for example.

Friday, September 21, 2012

What The Hell Happened?

So after yet another unexpected hiatus (which I apologize for by the way), I'm back again, and I bring generous tidings of exasperation and decay within the gaming community.

In all honestly I much prefer XIV to XI, but that's another post for another time...
This time, my targets are Vana'diel and Eorzea.

We'll get to FFXIV in a minute, but I should provide some relevant personal backstory on Final Fantasy XI before we get into that.

Now, I've waved my hand across most mainstream MMOs both present and past and have typically never found anything that kept me committed to the concept(s) for more than a month. Even some of the more out of the way setups that I admired (e.g. EVE Online) failed to sway me long term. This is due to a myriad of talking points, the most namely being that MMOs are designed for persistent supervision and iteration upgrades, some of which infringe upon the games' own core concepts. This becomes problematic in the long term because things that are individual or creative about these games becomes eroded over time due to many factors in these titles' development cycles.  The only one to date that has held my attention for more than a year was Final Fantasy XI. I got into it not too long after it was released in North America and played it consistently for about 2 years (with a couple of on and off months after that).

The appeal of XI came long before a conscious realization that the things it did as an experience wouldn't be acknowledged by me personally until I played Demon's Souls almost 10 years later [1]. Put succinctly, it wasn't a happy experience for the most part. Most of the time I spent in the game was fraught with fear, frustration, and exasperation. The world of Vana'diel was large, alive, and it didn't give a fuck about you or what you like.
"One of the things I like about FFXI is that it doesn't care about you. It's a big place with big threats, and you are not a special and magical snowflake. The fact that the world is this spread out is just a little way of reminding you of that, meaning that every time you successfully navigate through the wilds, it genuinely matters. The wild feels wild."[2]
I went back to XI recently and leveled a Ranger to 95 in less
than a month. Abyssea really has had an effect on this game.
So yeah, I spent the better part of a year just trying to make it to level 30 and when I was just getting going---more of my friends at the time started joining in. This is where the Final Fantasy online games really start to shine, as its content is a sort of 'forced grouping' in which you can't really go anywhere or get anything relevant done unless you have a buddy willing to suffer along with you. This creates a barrier of entry that not too many people get past as I've noticed a large trend of people who like to solo their content more and more in MMOs these days (and the irony of that has never been lost me by the way). At the time, it was the perfect mixture of disciplined play (albeit somewhat obtuse and brutal to a detriment) thrown in with a style of comradery in suffering that actually made the whole massive multiplayer online thing finally work for me. Unfortunately, playing Final Fantasy XI at some point actually will become a job and anybody with actual life events going on will immediately learn the definition of priority if they're still trying to play. I learned that lesson with those little off and on sessions I mentioned above, be it a relationship, school, or a national disaster, there was just no time for XI after 2005.

Five years later Final Fantasy XIV suffers a disastrous launch which haunts it to this day. To be fair, most of that haunting has to do with bad video-game reporting that didn't bother to keep up with the game over the next two years as it endured a rather interesting growth period. So interesting in fact that what's currently happening to it hasn't been seen in any other MMO I'm familiar with---well ever. Apocalyptic events certainly aren't new to MMOs but ones that are intertwined within a drastic software and concept change is. After Naoki Yoshida and his team came on board, they basically reworked the 'bad version' of the game while considering the fan's input and admitting their own initial failure along the way. As of patch 1.23b, the game is what I've frequently described as a sort of 'diet' FFXI, which is both good and bad in a lot of ways (none of which are worth getting into here). What was given to us in 2010 wasn't the same game, in fact even calling it a game then is almost too generous. Half the content and mechanics were unfinished and the game's already high barrier to entry was riddled with questionable design choices all over.

Now the game is an above-adequate successor to Final Fantasy XI, save one major factor.

The community.

With each patch the game world's moon edges closer to crashing
 into the planet (a key storyline path). It will eventually and wipe out everything,
which the developers are tying into the client change, revamp, PS3 launch, etc.
It's such an ugly creature now that the game has almost turned me away multiple times. A lot of this is endemic of any modern MMO because of the saturation of the Internet and general access to knowledge concerning these types of games. Pre-2004, it wasn't nearly as easy to even navigate the games Everquest and Final Fantasy XI, and this is partly what made them such vicious games to play. This was so troublesome to the point where people actually bonded together to surmount these challenges and they formed lasting relationships, some of which persist to this day.

However, the gaming populous has changed and with knowledge (and age) comes bitterness, elitism, and just a general sense of cynicism that takes over these games at a much earlier phase now. Both Final Fantasy XI and XIV have suffered this in spades. I even went back for a month to XI to test this theory and I was right for the most part. If one doesn't have a dedicated group of at least three to constantly engage content with, chances are that they will not stick with either game for more than a month, and I wouldn't blame them. The communities do not make up for it anymore. And the design paths that some of the more accessible online RPGs have taken affect this perspective too.

It's not everybody and there's certainly some servers where this is better than others, but generally speaking---the bad far outweighs the good. Players aren't welcoming, humble, or modest about this engagement with these worlds. They're asocial, selfish, and myopic in a way that ruins playtime for others around them. Personally, I've become numb to this effect, which is why I've built multiple linkshells (a guild of friendly players) in XIV and rejoined another group of old friends in XI. I've stopped playing the latter though simply because I don't have the time for two MMOs now, especially two like Final Fantasy XI and it's little brother.

Final Fantasy XIV has become an interesting entity here for multiple reasons, the biggest of which is that it's a mainstream Japanese MMO that's being overhauled entirely rather than given up on, no doubt out of some sense of namebrand pride (or 'legacy[3]' if you want a nicer term for it)

Interestingly though, XIV's diet effect kicks in to the extent of outdated and moderately maintained knowledge via wikis and guides. Gamescape for example isn't bad, but it isn't exactly the bastion of knowledge that Final Fantasy XI's wiki is and as far as I know, there is no way to keep track of XIV's economy either (starkly contrasted with XI, which has a few sites that allow access to the game's auction house on the web). Thanks to this slight lag effect of ignorance, the community is a little more tolerable to me. However, even that reprieve is cut short from the simple fact that a nice chunk of Final Fantasy XIV players are XI converts who become unrealistically unhinged at any change that further differentiates the game from Final Fantasy XI as opposed to making the game more similar to it.

We'll see what I have to say about the game at the end of this year/early 2013 when it has it's new launch.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is interesting to me because of these reasons. Excluding the lore tie-in to destroying the game's world to being reborn with a brand new client more suited for an MMO with cross platform play between both PS3 users and PC players, it's Final Fantasy's first online attempt at doing something modern and evolving rather than appeasing its usual belligerent and worthless user base that isn't worth pandering to anyway. While I do earnestly fear Yoshi-P and company will try to fuse modern concepts that more accessible games like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2 utilize, this might at the end of the day do more good than bad for this game and I'm willing to keep myself open to it as long as they don't go overboard with it. It's interesting for that fact alone. In such a weird genre market, Final Fantasy Online has been backed into a corner. I'm intrigued to what actions it will take now.

[1] My post detailing my 'first love jitters' with Demon's Souls a few years ago.

[2] Eliot Lefebvre, 'The zone design of Final Fantasy XI

[3] Final Fantasy XIV's official lodestone post concerning it's Legacy benefits program. Even the game sticking to the subscription fee model has been ridiculously challenged rather than considered by its own fan base. I forget which podcast I heard it on (I'd guess Gamers with Jobs), but I've always liked the statement that the models themselves aren't the problem---far from it, its simply the low number of options people have when it comes to paying.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gamer Entitlement

This is something I've seen popping up quite frequently recently and I myself have always been on one side instigating the conflict. That is of course, the notion of gamer entitlement.

If you'll note, I recently posted a rather distasteful view on PC gamers being specifically guilty of it, but now I'm willing to admit that coming at the idea from that angle is somewhat problematic as it's not like like the issue is exclusive to them, merely predominant amongst them---which is only in my personal experience (hopefully). With the recent mess of EA, Bioware, and IGN, I keep seeing a counter-sentiment popup that seeks to demonize 'the misuse' of the term, going so far to bring the political instances in concerning the term's 'inception' and how it's applied particularly amongst gamers. This is foolish because even if one believes the term is being misapplied (which it really isn't), it's more or a less a defensive stance to take for any number of reasons concerning gamers as a whole (e.g. insecurity about how we're viewed as a community).

My stance is easily predicted as one of this entire blog's rules of thumb hinges on the concept that gamers are not the special little somebodies we often make ourselves out to be and are frequently the most problematic parties in the gaming community at large. Now the aforementioned Bioware/EA deal is not one I'd personally lump this argument on (this one particularly reads more as a publisher/development name-calling gamers as a defensive maneuver in favor of a lazy/questionable development choice), but it did present few things to me that I've either ignored or never bothered to muse over until now:

I. Reactionary responses are not typically the proper responses here, especially if they're based off things like emotion, subsets of morality, or nostalgia. That's nothing new. The main focus with this is that it's a reactionary stance, not necessarily a proactive one.

II. Games still have no place as far as a cultural sense of self is concerned. Yeah, little SnakeLinkSonic believes games are art and maybe they've been deemed as such by a few 'official' arenas, but still---very few people actually address them in this mindset and this outdated mode of thought is beginning to eat its own tail.

III. Because of point 2, the subjective variables widely vary and spin out of control when examined in any type of forum or discussion. People ready to take on a Che Guevara outlook when it comes to purchasing a game and pretending as if they're out to change developer practices really need to have their head examined as they're essentially throwing cotton balls at a brick wall and sincerely expecting it to fall over.

The one useful thing I've seen in this attempt to fight back against the use of the word entitlement is highlighting that the term in itself isn't inherently negative. The connotation is what these gamers are reacting to. Though I believe it is a serious issue amongst us as a whole I rarely find myself using the term in earnest these days. I often throw it out just to see if it will get a rise out of some players---and it always does (and I'll instantly plead guilty to playing troll towards PC-centric players in particular here).

Sometimes I actually do see well-thought out criticisms, stances, and voices of reasonable dissent on certain 'issues' gaming is currently having but it's never around when a topic is intertwined with the notion of entitlement, as it directly incriminates the gamers themselves. People have a vested interest when it comes to talking about things they've purchased or want to purchase. So, it's not that much of a leap to say that their judgement in situations such as these are just as much subject to criticism (especially when it's manifesting itself en masse like the way it is these days), and even moreso when gamers have a history of trying dogmatically to rationalize their purchases.

It's never been about trying to 'hush' voices of dissent here (which is a popular stance these arguments attempts to take). It's about questioning where some of us draw the lines in terms of things like 'consumer morality'. Some people are quick to draw a huge-ass circle around themselves to which no amount of logic or reason can penetrate without directly cutting through said person's highly individual areas of comfort and world views.

Where I specifically have a personal interest in the matter here is the above 'point II', as 'Games as Art' are rarely treated as such and are still for the most part a consumer product. People only acknowledge the romantic part of this notion. Developers wish to be called artists but buck against any kind of warranted criticism (which is a cornerstone to what being an artist is about), Publishers want it because it lends some sort of exploitable gravitas to the medium (but they won't admit to their business-minded interests), and gamers want it because it validates their poor little hobby on a number of levels; yet we can't handle conflicting opinions and let our passions run disgustingly rampant. Many gamers protect themselves on the entitlement issue by grandstanding or stretching the concept of videogames as a consumer product rather than an artistic piece in a medium and therein lies where I personally stand on the issue.

Of course it's much more complex than an 'art or not' binary, but I've yet to come up with a better path that doesn't involve me picking a side and staying there; since I regard mostly every game I play now as a work of art, that means I'm willing to accept some drawbacks as far this outdated mode of approaching them is concerned. One of them is the entitlement issue and I always logically arrive at applying the negative 'spoiled child' connotation to the term as I see it's warranted most of the time. Even if a player has legal right to a certain product, the points of quality and its value as a product will dirty up the stance considerably, because as much as I hate to admit it, nobody really TREATS games like art when it comes down to simple results and effects.

Gamers want to be apart of the process without any of the danger and the reviews they so circle-jerkingly denounce as so biased and compromised are nevertheless useful when examining the game for potential purchase, so is its community, developmental transparency and plenty of other relevant factors weighed in with their own critical thought. Raising standards to impossible levels and expecting developers to miss or meet with no-room in between is really the problem here; even strictly as a consumer---coming at a purchase as if you deserve an overwhelming amount of quality for a certain amount of money is rife with issues (some gamers really do believe they are above playing a game that's seen as a '7' by the already-problematic mainstream gaming outlet/review mindset). Gamers themselves have twisted the meaning of a word---and more importantly a concept; people wielding it as a buzzword to denounce others as overly-demanding consumeristic brats are symptomatic of a much larger problem here.

And at the end of the day, even those problems are just the die being seen from one side (e.g. journalism, development, publishing, mainstream media, etc...etc...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Castlevania's 'Shadow'

Completing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow over the weekend has granted me a new appreciation for Castlevania's current state of affairs in today's gaming landscape. This is mostly because of the tendency for everyone to get tunnel vision in terms of what they think of when coming to the series in general. What I'm mostly referring to here is the nigh-sacred reverence for Symphony of the Night. I'm guilty of this myself, though I'm personally more accountable in bias for the artistic design and influence concerning people like Ayami Kojima, rather than getting too romantic concerning the actual playstyle[1][2].

Initially, my cautious optimism caused me to delay the purchase crosshairs on the game because there were a couple of paths it could have taken[3], so I held off while still keeping it in the back of my mind. After playing the demo, I was convinced to keep waiting because I was an idiot and made the classic mistake of offering up too much judgement by a demo alone. Then after finally snagging it for eighteen bucks through Amazon, I sat down over the weekend and dug into it properly. My general consensus is it's a great 3D action game with no desire to become a fantastic one. Part of me is a little hurt by that feeling, but the rational side outranks it in asserting that this game is not obligated to reclaim is former days of glory due to a misplaced sense of nostalgia on my part. There were more troubling things about the game that I think were far more pertinent regarding its overall experience, and the series's namesake was just a trivial matter in the end.

So, the first thing I wish to comment on is the frequency of times that I felt myself falling into approach of playing the game as I would have the previous console entries in the God of War franchise. I consider this a major problem as the game (Lords of Shadow) is good enough to stand on its own, but most of the time it simply makes no effort to assert that case. Some of this is a reflection on me too, as I felt myself slipping into autopilot in how I went through the motions regarding the game's various setpieces and formulaic action sequences. I also noticed that this weakness if you will---was typically offset by a strength which has always been an attribute the series possessed (which I've also always favored). That is of course, the artistic design of the series. The gothic-medieval aesthetic that's more or less defined the entire series since its inception is embraced full-bore in Lords of Shadow, and it's no slouch in this game either. Though it's somewhat generic, the presentation and attention to detail in the game is no less phenomenal. Even disregarding the admirable technical aesthetics, the implementation of things like the in-game bestiary went a long way in helping me connect with it. Added polishes such as the hand-drawn animations of combos and upgrades were small things that made tedious management in the game a pleasure to access.

The depth of the combat is contingent on a number of factors, and what I mentioned above (concerning my 'autopilot') bleeds into why I took away a more negative perspective from it and that was that the game doesn't really stress you to the point where you'll need to act with proficiency with the combat cross. Even though I went through and bought a couple of upgrades for myself, I still ended the game with more than 40,000 experience points to spend. I rarely felt the need to upgrade and half of the time forgot it was even available option to me until I got a trophy regarding passing a certain experience gain. Once I grasped the concept of parrying attacks (which I didn't really get pushed to do until about the 60% mark through the game), the game's setup of feeding more rune meters became the core rhythm of play for me (in a good way mind you, just not in terms of developing the potential of the combat mechanics). I didn't need any of the extraneous attacks and bought some of them based solely on how they looked rather than any real strategic purpose.

What I found out by the end of the game is that it actually does have a depth that's on par with the more heavy hitters such as Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, but it's only there if you go out of your way to grasp it (which is a problem for me). I must stress again though, I didn't notice this at first, but after seeing how I transitioned from just whacking things with the cross in the first three to four chapters, to honed moments of timing in terms of dodging/counterattacking showed me just how much I was taking for granted in this game. It does go beyond the limits it sets up for itself, but it doesn't vastly exceed those limits for the most part; it spends more time trying to make the player think it does.

I realized as the game drew past that 60% mark how much my perspective on playing God of War (a title I'm really not that fond of) specifically colored some knee-jerk reaction in me, which was manifesting through me hyper-judging the way I played in terms of not addressing the game on its own terms. That's something I blame myself for. Somewhere between my distaste for God of War and my reverence for Devil May Cry lies Castlevania's rebirth, caught in the middle like a victimized child in a bad divorce.

If one steps back to look at the superficial similarities the games possess, it becomes clearer to see how easy it is to slip into this mindset. Some examples include:
  1. The QTE sequences in Lords of Shadow, an unpopular design choice that more or less began with the God of War titles (as far as the genre is concerned) are sprinkled everywhere throughout the game.
  2. The setpiece moments are akin to God of War as well, where the 'epic' production value of the two games can be taken as more similar to each other than they are with any other games in the relevant genre bracket.
  3. Piggy-backing off that last point, both Gabriel and Kratos are depicted as very distinct demigods who have been ordained by the Gods themselves to perform feats of extreme supernatural strength. This is very unlike the over-the-top craziness of something like DMC, and has more of a mood of a 'mere mortal' who has just breached the perimeter of the pinnacle of human strength and combat effectiveness. Both are single-minded men who are stubbornly focused on either revenge or redemption (and I'd even make the argument that Kratos works far better as a character in his game that Gabriel does in his).
  4. Visually, the Combat Cross will look more or less like the Blades of Chaos to anyone just glancing at the game. Functionally the two diverge quite wildly after Lords of Shadow's initial four/five chapters, but it doesn't help matters as far as this general perspective-alteration will go.
  5. God of War's marketing prominence works to Lords of Shadow's lack thereof as a detriment. Being one of the major mascots for Sony since the original PS2 game, God of War has more or a less become a premier title for Playstation owners at large. Lords of Shadow in comparison is a reinvention of a dated action-scroller that has had two mediocre 3D installments on the PS2 with this new game being a 'reboot' by a relatively unknown Spanish developer. The only people likely familiar with the series outside of its namesake anyway are older players too jaded to care giving it a further look, and I don't mean simply mean playing through the game either. I mean accepting a self-awareness of these things and addressing them mentally as they go through the game[4].
I think it's fair to say that there were a lot of contextual pressures pushing the general perception of the two games together. I personally had to continually apply extra focus to appreciate the game's combat more than I do and in the process of doing so (which I'd liken to the effect of having to use my imagination in an unnecessary fashion), it causes a rippling of sorts which just cancels the damn effort out as a result. MercurySteam needs to find some way (any way) to distance itself from even the superficial appeal of the God of War series. I knew that was going to be a problem two years ago when the game was first shown (the referenced entries here at the bottom of this post show that sentiment as well). It (GoW) is just too pervasive of a title that many people have invested their interest in now, and I'd even go as far to call it a threat to the Castlevania's future on that basis alone. Just in public perception, the game is a danger.

I do applaud the game's presentation and world[5], but the narrative itself is marred by by an arguably useless main character and a sense of gravity to the game's situation. Wygol village is the only area (other than the introductory village) off the top of my head in which Gabriel is even given any more human contact aside from Zobek, so it's kind of hard to grasp me and my quest to 'save the world'. Gabriel as a character is stoic, flat, and exists mainly as a reactive force throughout the entire game (defined only by a 'dogmatic will to move forth for the sake of love'), and the only factor which counteracts this is---Zobek. If I didn't have Patrick Stewart's voice narrating Gabriel's supposed thoughts and intentions to me after each stage, I'd outright hate the game's main character. This kind of tertiary character development is a good way to pick up the slack, but I don't think it was an intentional move; it would have helped so much more if the themes Zobek communicates throughout the game were in turn actually expressed by Gabriel himself, no matter how subtle. Having him simply reply '' to his part in Claudia's death for example, is kind of missing the whole point. His damn-near motto to all the titular Lords of Shadow in the game can pretty much be summed up simply as some variation on the phrase:
"You will not stand in my way."
Moving along, the puzzles in this paticular title were moments where I constantly found myself annoyed, not because I feel they're out of place on principle in this type of game, but because these paticular ones just didn't belong (that or they only exist to make me think the game is grander in scrope than it actually is). Every single puzzle in Lords of Shadow is an arbitrary time-waster that does more to hamper progression through the game (cheaply extending the game's length) rather than making one gain more appreciation for the world itself. The scrolls of fallen brotherhood warriors tries to fill this void somewhat, but it's simply not enough given this is a 20+ hour game for most people.
“Puzzle” is such a loose term in the case of Lords of Shadow, as what are set up as tests of logic have one obvious solution, or a solution that can be brute forced without much thought. There is an equal amount of lever turning and switch activating, sometimes while under assault. There are switch panels that will do damage if they are selected in the wrong order. There is a game of battle chess. Lords of Shadow is already a game of substantial length, so these activities do more to sidetrack the player than searching for a glowing ledge to leap over a wall. Well, all except one."[6]
As a more positive note to that. Lords of Shadow also accomplishes three mechanical allusions to other series which I didn't expect at all. The Shadow of the Colossus 'shoutout' if you will---was the flimiest and comes out mainly through the three major titan battles that do more damage in perception (look above at that list I made) than good. The middle-ground one for me was the Portal callouts which is referenced humorously in two brotherhood scrolls and in-game mechanically as an entire sequence in the Necromancer's realm. The strongest was something I didn't even notice until late in the game as something I'd been taking for granted the whole time and that's Prince of Persia. the platforming in this game is abundant, yet fluid and enjoyable with very few wonky or weird areas. My only personal complaint on it works in tandem with the game's linearity. A glowing ledge will always show you the path you're to take next. The game isn't set up for exploration and that's certainly a topic worthy of discussion here.

The linearity of the game itself is a tossup for me. At times I enjoy it, others---not so much. I love Symphony of the Night, but i hold no devout loyalty to it, so my appreciation for a title such as LoS has more room to grow. What I will say is that due to the more accessible approach to the stages, there's no real incentive to explore apart from the few areas where the design itself is arbitrarily making things unnecessarily tedious (I recall a specific instance in the Titan Graveyard that's a shining example of this simply because I couldn't move the damn camera). Some areas should be more dense instead of pathlike (e.g. Carmilla's castle), but that's asking the developers to approach its method of progression in two separate fashions; something I know not many of them are fond of (and even less are competent at).

I'll wrap things up by stating that I'll glady purchase a sequel if MercurySteam feels up to it, Lords of Shadow at the very least proved to me that they know what they're doing. I'll take their 'rebirthing' of the franchise for as long as they can develop it and I'll far prefer it to the likes of any future God of War entries[7]. If they can find a more lasting method of melding the Prince of Persia-style platforming with the battle system (while making the latter a more engaging learning experience), it will easily be a favored game setup in my eyes. As is, Lords of Shadow is still a more-than-worthy entry into the series and I'd go as far to say I enjoyed it more than the majority of the older titles.

1. The term is known as 'Metroidvania' and not 'Castleroid' for a reason, and was used trenchantly in the days of SotN's heyday as a pejorative and not the mark of design prowess it typically carries now.
2. Notice how every game (mostly portable) after SotN tried to be SotN too? Yeah, that didn't do well to gain my favor in the long run.
3. See my initial post(s) on the game's announcement a few years back. []
4. I can't imagine Lords of Shadow pulling great sales figures in mostly for these very reasons. One also has to consider that even under the assumption it 'has to', is it only because of its namesake?
5. Despite the mass hordes of demonic and satanic forces in video-games (in addition to the plethora of titles using Christian mythos), I enjoyed an actual confrontation with Satan himself. That is a surprising rarity in video games at large. This came at the expense of however, my treasured encounter with series mainstay 'Death' (who is still in the game as a major character, but never actually fought).
6. Andrew has a far more generous take on the game's combat, but I think he's using 'assert' in a slightly different manner than I am, because I found myself still agreeing with the gist of his post.
7. And I'm assuming an inevitable competition there as people will continue to waste time comparing the two when it belongs in a separate league. I suppose there are worse comparisons like Skyrim and Dark Souls to worry about though. As long as it remains there however, I'll continue to instigate the drama with Castlevania's superiority. ;)

Friday, January 13, 2012

And---I'm Back

Two things have happened since my last post in October---well three if you focus on what concerns me and posting here on a consistent basis:

1. I now have a full-time job.

2. I bought myself a new computer.

3. My gut reaction to all things gaming right now can be summed up with silence.

So while I do have much more to write about now, I have less time to actually do it, coupled with the fact that my will to do so is being tampered with a very resolute irreverence to everything going on right now (yes, even more than usual). There are a  lot of changes occurring across the board, but the same can be said for me as well, so I'm just kind of coasting along with the flow of things before I take any staunch positions on some of the more relevant points of interests going on (e.g. SOPA[1], digital distribution[2], the next console cycle[3], etc.).

So the topic for today is that new computer and where I've been in regards to gaming for the past few months. It won't surprise most people that I've always identified more as a console player, but even as a preteen I've been known to have little short bursts/phases where I'd just arbitrarily run off to start playing in front of a computer instead. Well that trend is starting to happen again, except this time the landscape has changed to such a drastic extent, I'm predicting things will be a bit more permanent this time[4]. As of now, I've owned (at some point or another) every major video-game console since the second generation[5].

It wasn't until the sixth generation that I started to get sick of the entire process (which I'll admit was largely due to my bitterness concerning the Sega Dreamcast's fate at the time). Since the fifth generation however, I've kind of automatically fallen into keeping a Nintendo and Sony console around, but now my loyalty and respect for Nintendo has eroded almost completely, which just leaves a shaky relationship with Sony. Concerning that exasperation that kicked in during the sixth generation, I played the first PC title I really fell in love with as well, StarCraft. I didn't even know what the hell it was called at the time (and I wouldn't until about five years later when I finally got my own computer), but my exposure to the RTS genre was something entirely new to me; it lasted, it was engaging in a way few console games ever come across, and maintains its allure even to this day. So, when I properly got into the game in my early teens, I spent just an entire year playing StarCraft and nothing else.

This is the point at which I'll target me seeing the beauty of PC gaming in general. However, though these 'beauties' are merely shorthand for 'things I identify as positive shit that I simply can't get from console-play', they quickly began to lose their appeal the more I saw how they rippled through other players. I'm certainly not one to extrapolate from a singular experience, but using one particular memory as an example, one of the earliest interactions comes from me discussing/tinkering with the computer of an older player when I was about ten or eleven. I'd guess he was in his late teens or early twenties at the time, but long story short---I tried engaging him on the level as a fellow Star Wars fanatic and ended up at the point where I was coldly dismissing everything he said as the whining of an entitled, effete, and elitist brat, which if you'll note, should be two entirely different topics to begin with.

BUT, I've learned that these things are interrelated for a number of reasons not worth getting into for a blog focused primarily on gaming. What is relevant however, is that I've noticed recently that PC players in particular get sore about being called on this (which I of course take as a defense mechanism implying a certain degree of truth to it). As many times as I've had the similar experiences throughout the years I was always wise enough to assume that just because that's been my experience doesn't necessarily mean they're all like that, and to some extent that's true. I've met plenty who aren't. Sadly though, the bad have always far outweighed the good for me. This segues into my next point which is what I started with and that's the new computer. Since about 2010 I was looking into buying a laptop to use as a gaming machine. Gamers will instantly find out that asking this question on any major forum/outlet in which there are generally knowledgeable PC players is met with the same response:
"You want a desktop, blah-blah-blah opinion---conjecture---opinion."
I was fine with this response initially, hell I even expected the discrepancy between a gaming desktop and a gaming laptop, but this persisted even after I made myself abundantly clear that I had no need for a desktop machine and was positive about the laptop. In fact, the more I clarified myself and what I wanted, the more arrogant/ignorant the response became. Personal standards became unwieldy tools (i.e. dick measuring and whatnot) which these people ran around swinging like a child with a wiffle-ball bat. Overrefined perceptions on things such as framerates and high resolutions become a common point of contention in these threads. Patience or not on my part, I just ended up disregarding all knowledge from people with more experience in the matter (see two paragraphs up for some deja vu), and taking a leap of faith whilst using my own judgement and know-how to make a purchase.

It wasn't the lack of ease generally associated with PC gaming that turned me away from it (the typical response from any console player 'scared' of playing on PC). In fact, I loved learning about any hiccups that surfaced with various computer configurations and why a game was or wasn't working; it was dealing with the players that turned me off of it time and time again (and I'm willing to bet more people have a similar response, if they're looking close enough). I've yet to come across a worse gaming fandom that makes the medium an unnecessarily impenetrable place to enter. Despite the dark outlook I may have on gaming in general, I do believe that a lot of the strife can be avoided through practical understanding and common ground, but the experience of PC players has always been one of more division and fanboyism amongst an even larger sect of consumers who all generally love the same thing. This is even ignoring the casual player derision on-top of the more sophomoric shit like 'console wars'.

This is notably relevant towards the recent petition to get NamcoBandai to release Dark Souls for the PC[6]. Before last week I was sharing this sentiment:
"I'd gladly buy it again on PC. But even if it's not ported, and I wouldn't fault them for that, I hope their future releases are on the PC." [7]
As it stands now? I honestly couldn't give less of a fuck about PC players and their hangups with 'consolization' or whatever insecure tangents and faulty logic they can fly off on concerning one game that wasn't released specifically for their platform. Now I arrive back at the same point of me just getting assy about it simply because I 'went out' and interacted that specific fanbase regarding the matter[8].

And once again, I'm forced into taking the 'high road' argument on a matter simply because gamers by and large are a very unique brand of fucking idiots[9].

1. As a unfunny joke, I'm actually hoping it passes, as people don't really learn their lesson in this world until you break their fucking arm and this punishes everybody on the Internet on a idiotically large scale.
2. I have a big feeling this is going to get real aggressive as we transition into a new batch of consoles now, despite the fact that high-speed internet access isn't as pervasive as some publishers would like to believe.
3. I'm interested in what will happen, but I'm done hopping on console releases for a while. It's not the investment I used to buy them for anymore, and I'm much more willing to invest in a PC and simply pick one console best suited to my tastes.
4.  My new computer effectively renders both my Wii and 360 library obsolete. The Dolphin emulator actually makes digging my Wii out a nonsensical act and I now own every game on Steam that I've had on the 360 (excluding the first Gears of War, which I could get on GFW if I felt repurchasing it anyway).
5. ...though I don't remember shit before the third generation...
6. I did stillsign it because I still agree with the notion that another Japanese developer/publisher outside of Capcom should consider the platform, but my care doesn't extend an inch past that now.
7. Rayalas's reddit comment [link]
8. It doesn't help that I frequent reddit these days and the fanbase for those particular threads are heavily biased in favor of PC games.
9. See 2-1 [link] in which I note the hypocrisy between all players and their lack of resolve to note the flawed acts of representation in gaming media, despite the fact that I really detest the concept of egalitarianism.