An Alaskan journalist's perspective on local and national issues

Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

Video Games are both Art, and Culturally Relevant

Some time ago, Roger Ebert, the famous film critic, came out with an article that caused a lot of buzz both in the world of gaming, and in the world of art.  There is a clear divide on this topic, and it is interesting that there are people out there who are actually examining this critically.  It is inspiring to see people who take what is going on right now in culture and art as seriously as they do.

Now of course, there are people with no real opinion.  Internet trolls who simply want to complain about things.  However, there have been other people who have had very measured responses to Ebert’s article.  He contends that video games can never be art.  I am a hardcore gamer, but I will take the measured approach.

Can a video game be compared to a great film?  No.  But here’s the thing – can a great film be compared to a great book?  No.  That’s a fact.  Books will always be better than film.  If one is going to look at a medium and judge its artistic merit to what it can’t compare to, then, truly, nothing is art.  Can a description of a place in a book be compared to a great piece of nature in painting or tapestry?  No, it can’t.  There are some amazing descriptions in some great books, but it still doesn’t compare to great paintings.

So, what can be said for the argument of if video games are art or not?  Well, the first thing is that one has to come to a consensus on at least a couple of issues.  The first is – what makes something art.  Kellee Santiago made a great video at TEDxUSC about this.  Great art is something that creates an emotional reaction and an emotional connection with the viewer, reader, etc.

Are there any games that have produced an emotional reaction?  I think there are.  Take a look at the newest edition to thatgamecompany’s lineup – Journey.  This game is what I would want a good short film to be.  The visuals in this game are perfect, absolutely perfect.  They are flawless.  There is an emotional simplicity about the story, the same way that early Disney films were.  Plus, this game did something that most people would think impossible for a culture who demands immediacy – made people care about a character who said nothing, and for a plot that was totally vague.

This game sold fast, and the reception of the audience and critics was amazing.  A simple yet beautiful concept, and it was delivered perfectly.  It was the most basic, yet most ambitious project of thatgamecompany.

Next up, let’s examine the game Batman: Arkham City.  This game was the tipping point for me in the debate if superheroes are this generation’s version of Greek mythological heroes.  The issues presented in this game were incredible.  The ethical dilemmas of Batman and the often harsh view of him throughout this game was beyond engaging.  It was theatrically incredible.  Everything about this game was what one would expect from a great piece of film.  I have made, and will defend, claims that I think this game is better than The Dark Knight.

Now don’t get me wrong, that was an incredible film.  But this game had so much more engagement.  For one thing, the dilemmas of Batman were so much better explored in this game.  He is facing his own mortality, yet to kill the Joker, he views death as a small price to pay.  He is willing to let all of the inmates of Arkham City get killed so that he can go after the woman he loves.  He has gotten to the point where he will brutally assault people who won’t give him what he wants.  He won’t kill, but everything up to that point is fair game.  You really get the sense that he has gotten to the point where views violence as the only solution.  Much more than in The Dark Knight, you question if Batman is the hero or the villain.  He even (spoiler alert) at the end admits that even though the Joker kills and destroys everything he touches, he would still save him.  Implying that those two actually need each other.  And Mark Hamill’s final role as The Joker was simply incredible.  The best that has ever been done on the small screen.  He will never, ever be topped.

Another game to examine is a new one that is coming out – BEYOND: Two Souls.  One can’t even touch the cinematic presentation.  In fact, that is one area that Ebert will never be able to argue video games artistry.  Visuals in most all games that come out now are simply amazing.  But here, there is a definite cinematic presentation.  When Quantic Dreams is making it, you know that it has to be good.  Heavy Rain was an incredible game that was easily comparable to a good film.

Now look, you can argue there is bias on my part, since I am a gamer.  You can argue that I am simply making these claims because I don’t want to accept that games aren’t comparable with great forms of art.  Well, depending on how you look at it.  But the fact is that they are, in fact, art.

Not only are they art, but they are also culture.  They are a significant part of modern culture.  One of the reasons that video games are where they are today is because of the culture surrounding them.  We grew up with games.  Gamers who played low-on-plot, high-on-action games when they were younger wanted their games to mature with them.  And they have.  And they still are.

I would argue that not only are video games an art medium, but they are also a cultural medium.  It is time for the prudish scholarly types to stop being stubborn and accept that video games are a part of both communities.  I think that gaming designers took what Ebert said as a challenge.  Like he said – make a game that could be compared to a film.  And they have succeeded.  Since he is a movie buff, and has admitted his bias, he will never own up to it, but it’s the truth.

Something to think about.

Gaming Consoles are Dead?

Yeah, this question was posed in a video that was recently uploaded to YouTube.  The video talked about how mobile gaming is quickly replacing typical gaming.  In a very quick response to him – what are you talking about?

The consoles that we know of right now are starting to show their age a little, but the fact is that console gaming completely and utterly dominates the gaming world.  Online games are a global phenomenon.  Most gaming companies try to have some online component to all of their games, because the fact is that the young and adult all over the world now want to link up and play games with their friends.

The guy in the video linked above seemed incredibly naive.  He believes that the young culture is all about being mobile.  To some extent, he is right.  Mobile apps are for everything nowadays.  You can upload to your Facebook page on your mobile phone.  You can control all of your devices together, and in some cases control stuff in your house through the mobile phone, but here’s the thing – it’s a long time coming for this to be applicable to gaming as well.

The next generation of consoles are looking to make their debut very soon.  It’s cool because gaming companies want to make games that have the hardware to show off their new tech.  This means that better performance, better graphics, and more save space are just around the corner.  All kinds of possibilities are going to be available for gaming very soon.

To say that the consoles are dead seems incredibly ignorant, and perhaps this fellow should have done his research.  The modern consoles show their age, but the by-product is that there are incredible games being made.  The latest generation of games (the good ones, anyway) have great stories, many on par with good film.  New games are even getting A-list actors into their production.  The game Beyond: Two Souls stars and has a rendering of Ellen Paige.  That is no small feat.

Not only that, but the speaker of the video said that mobile games are the way to go because of the fact that it is mobile.  Mobility doesn’t increase playability.  The maker of an Assassin’s Creed game wouldn’t get very far putting it on an iPhone.  The reality is that these kind of games, while being a very good diversion, are nothing more than standing in the shadow of the gaming consoles.

Saying that traditional consoles are dead is a lot like saying that traditional pets are dead.  It is blatantly not true.  This guy was giving bad advice, and it needs to be made example of, because there were people there at this lecture who thought that they were learning something.

Young people do like being on the go, but those who like games like games that are playable.  There has to be some value to the gaming experience, and while playing Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja can be fun, they in no way are looking to replace the high-quality games that serious gamers are expecting from the consoles or online.  That’s a fact.

I love video games.  This is an art medium that I have grown up with, and I am seeing it mature.  No longer are the plots non-existent or simple.  We now have nuance, subtlety, catharsis, and beauty.  This medium is coming into its own, and when games can get people like Haley Joel Osment and Ellen Paige to be a part of them, you know that you are doing something right.

Sorry, guy, but you are dead wrong.  Remember that.

The Failure of E3 and Gaming in General

This year’s E3 was very much not what people who were attending it hoped that it would be.  There were a lot of things that fell very flat, and the internet has been a buzz for weeks afterwards talking about this.  This isn’t going to be a political post, as most of my articles are, but instead a cultural one.

Video gaming has most certainly come into its own.  There is an interesting new pattern that is developing that one can follow with great accuracy – every time it is a great year for film, it is a poor year for gaming, and every time it is a great year for gaming, it is a poor year for film.  2011 was a great example.  It was an incredible year for gaming. Between Batman: Arkham City and Uncharted 3, there was a lot to love about last year.  This year is not shaping up to be so much of one.  To know the reason why, one doesn’t need to look much farther than E3.

Now don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of great demonstrations.  The new installment of Halo does show a lot of promise, giving us a new setting, new characters, and new enemies.  There is also the reboot of Tomb Raider, which looks decidedly darker than its predecessors and a lot better.  And of course, the previews for the new Assassin’s Creed game were amazing.  This most certainly is a game that looks to deliver, on all fronts.

The problem with gaming right now is that there are lot of sequels, and not a lot of IP’s.  Worse than that is that a lot of the sequels are starting to look formulaic.  Take the new Dead Space game.  Introducing a cover-based shooting system with human enemies, this game feels rushed out of the gate, borrowing from what every third-person shooter appears to be these days.  Then there is Resident Evil 6.  A lot of people, myself included, are on the fence about this game.  Resident Evil 4 brought us back to the survival horror formula.  It was a lot more action-based, but it still felt like survival horror.  Resident Evil 5, however, did not. This game was an action game, and while it was fun to play, it wasn’t a Resident Evil game.

This new game does look intriguing, but we are hoping, more and more, that it will go back to the survival horror genre.  This genre is on life-support, with more and more horror games being action focused.  It’s time that the franchise returns to its roots, or at least starts heading that way.

But we want new stuff.  We want a new game that challenges conventions and really tests things.  We want to be intrigued and to have something different to play.  Video gaming is supposed to be about trying new things, testing new ground, trying to reach new markets.  It doesn’t really feel that way lately.  Of course, there is some hope.  The demo for the new game Watch Dogs most certainly intrigued, turning heads with a new concept, and a rather creepy realism to it.

But the single biggest problem at E3 is this – the lack of risk-taking by gaming designers.  There seems to be a definite formula that game designers are following these days.  Not to mention the fact that it has been over two years since Microsoft has not had any large-scale exclusives for the Xbox360.  Games are sticking with what sells, but if the anticipation of games like Watch Dogs says anything, it is that people are interested in seeing new stuff, particularly stuff that works in a different way.  Time-tested formulas are getting old.

Gaming is growing, and the quality of games is growing with it, but there needs to be a definite effort on the part of game designers not to slip into formula.  Don’t do what the film and TV companies are doing.

Lefty’s Review: Final Fantasy XIII-2

It isn’t unfair to say that a lot of us were really burned by Final Fantasy XIII.  The game had cool characters, a cool battle system (albeit with some areas that could have been better), and a story that wasn’t totally bad, but then having a completely linear gameplay which didn’t allow us any exploration at all of the really cool places that they had created for us.  It’s something that a lot of games are suffering these days – the lack of exploration.  Final Fantasy games in-particular.  Of course, with games like FFX, you were more forgiving of this, because the story was really engaging, and there were some fun side-quests that kept your interest.

The story of this game wasn’t half bad, with Lightning having been taken to a place called Valhalla, and defending the Goddess Etro from a man named Caius, who is looking to destroy her.  There are problems with space and time in this universe, which lends itself to some cool ideas, but none of them are particularly flushed out.  Like most time-paradox games, if one doesn’t pay pretty close attention, it is easy to get lost.

The battle system gets a bit of an overhaul, which is good.  The unbelievably difficult to level up Crystarium is made easier, but one could argue that they made it WAY too easy to level up now.  They do make strategy in combat much more of an issue in this game, which is cool.

The settings of this game can be very cool.  It is divided into different zones, and each one has a different time.  There are also usually very different kinds of monsters at each place, which can be pretty cool too.

The characters are also back, but the pace of this game is so fast and so unconnected that you hardly ever get to really know any of them.  I think this game hinged on most people not needing to get a new connection, but that hints even more at the greatest problem with this game.

The biggest problem with this game is that it really wasn’t needed, and it really shows how much they threw this together very quickly.  Every single element feels rushed.  The settings can be kind of cool, but there is so little space in some of them that you don’t really care after a while.

There is also the problem of the worlds being almost all the same.  While they are divided into different time-zones, the fact is that the worlds of this game are simply different versions of the same places, which gets really old, really fast.  When I first heard that this game went all over time, I thought that maybe the idea was to recapture some of the cool places from the original game.  Alas, such was not to be.  Everything was down-scaled and fit in very quickly.

If there had to be a word for this game, it is – rushed.  Not one element feels like it was explored.  This game seemed like it wanted to make up for as bad as XIII burned the fans of the Final Fantasy genre.  It had a lot going for it, but it under-delivered.  Why did Square Enix feel the need to make this game?  It really does feel like this was something made to save face.  As nice as it was to see Lightning again, this wasn’t needed.

Instead, Square Enix could have been working on something more interesting, like the game that those of us who actually are die-hard Final Fantasy fans are all waiting for – Final Fantasy Versus XIII.  There is talk around the water-cooler that they are giving up on that game.  If so, then a lot of people are going to be very pissed.

In summary, this was a lack-luster game.  It very quickly over-promised and very quickly under-delivered.  A shame too, because with the effort put into this game, they could have had Versus XIII done by now.

Peace out,

Lefty

Lefty’s Review: Journey

It’s rather rare for a person to truly be able to defend something as being “revolutionary,” “game-changing.”  To make that claim, you have to be able to back it up.  And you have to be willing to show that you are not just saying this.  With this game, I am making the claim that it is game-changing.  I genuinely believe that Journey is game-changing in many respects.

This is a game that, like everything else thatgamecompany has made, has flown under the radar.  But, also like everything else they have done, it is different in every sense of the word.  It is so strange, to look at the works of thatgamecompany, and to try and have a single opinion of them.  It’s not really possible, to be honest.

The first game that I saw of theirs was flOw.  It was a game that put into practice a psychological theory by the same name.  While it was simple, and a little bit odd, it was fun.  Next came Flower.  This game is unlike any that I have ever seen, and a game that I play whenever I am feeling down.  That game puts you in the place of a gust, collecting flower petals and taking them to destinations.  It’s a simple, yet beautiful concept, and they use it perfectly.

Journey is their latest creation, and the name really does say it all.  This game is about a creature wandering the desert.  There are two strata to this game – mystery and beauty.  You are gradually learning about the fate that befell your people, along with trying to find your way to a mountain in the distant.

Your character roams vast stretches of desert, ruined cities, deep underground caverns that almost look like underwater places, and mountain peaks.  Each of these offers a vast array of visuals, and the poetry from this is amazing.  Each aspect of this game is beautiful, and doesn’t try to hide this.

What is truly amazing about this game is that the visuals are not shooting for realism.  They are shooting for poetry.  The cel-shading can be a little odd, but it always works perfectly.  The textures of the sands, the flowing of the snow, the gently movements of your arm-less character, they are all just so perfectly done, even though it in no way looks like a real person.  That is genuinely impressive.

So, why call it game-changing?  Why say that it is revolutionary?  Well, the reasons for that are simple.  The first is because this character you play never talks, but you are able to feel for him.  In one section, you are trying to climb a mountain peak.  You can clearly tell that the cold is weighing on him.  He is slowing down, getting sluggish.  You never know what his motivations are, but when you see how hard this journey is for him, you feel for the character.

Next is that the landscapes is so visceral, and makes you marvel at it.  Never before have a I seen something in a video game and thought to myself – wow.  That is unbelievable.  It really goes out of its way to try and make you feel like you are journeying with him, seeing what he (or she.  You know nothing about what kind of creature this is, which adds to the mystery) sees.  These aren’t just cool visuals, they are visuals that you are a part of.  Because this creature never speaks.  There isn’t two words of dialogue in this game.  It really is like you are there.

And the last reason is because this game leaves you with something to think about.  I’ve went through it at least four times now, and I still am pondering.  There is something constantly to debate, to wonder, to think about and to come to your own conclusions.  That is amazing, and definitely makes this game hopefully one of the first to come into the real of true artistry.

This is a great game, and I hope you all play it.

Peace out,

Lefty

The History of Resident Evil

Well, now that the newest sequel to the Resident Evil saga is coming out, I thought it would be nice to take a look back through this game’s history.  What makes this game’s history unique is that the newest addition to the Resident Evil saga is going to be Resident Evil 6.  Six games, and a plethora of off-shoot games, and this series is still going strong.  Unlike the Silent Hill series, where the later games have gotten progressively less interesting, Resident Evil is able to fall, then bounce right back.  That said, let’s take a look at what is one of the most amazing game series that has ever been.

The original Resident Evil changed the name of the game in the video game world.  It introduced us to the survival horror genre.  Many will argue that other games, like Alone in the Dark came before it, but really, this was the game that made the genre what it is.  It introduced us to the Umbrella Corporation, and their evil experiments.  It also gave us the first two mainstream protagonists – Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine.  Then there is an awesome antagonist who is introduced – Albert Wesker.  This was a game that was as interesting to watch as it was to play.  It had a lot of action, sure, but it was the story that was the most intriguing part.

While making your way through the Ashford Manor, You learn of what had befallen the occupants.  You learn of the T-Virus and what is it is capable of.  Wesker is revealed to be an Umbrella double-agent, and there is also the Tyrant.  This game is awesome because it makes a very personal connection.  The voice acting isn’t great, and the effects weren’t good, but for its time, this was an amazing piece of work.  Looking at this game and its merits are a lot like looking at the film Jaws.  It is a good movie, even today, because it was able to influence you.  This game did the same.  It scared the crap out of people then, as it does now.

Next up came Resident Evil 2.  This took the horror of the first game, and put it on a much larger scale.  Here, the entirety of Raccoon City is infected with the T-Virus.  You play as either Leon Kennedy or Clair Redfield.  These are two new protagonists who become key to the Resident Evil canon.  Regardless of who you pick, they are both coming into the city.  Leon is a cop who is on his first day.  Claire is looking for her brother.  Both wind up becoming trapped in the chaos that has consumed a city that is trapped by nightmares.  There is also a character called Ada Wong.  Whether she is good or bad, nobody can say.  She is either and both at the same time, always with her own agenda.  She’ll do good things, while also doing bad ones.  There is the introduction of the G-Virus as well, an upgrade of the T-Virus.  While the engine of gameplay for this wasn’t all that much better, the story was much better.

It kept to the genre by making it much more personal.  My take is that the idea behind it was that this was a city.  It could be your city.  You could be one of the people who is desperately trying to survive in a city overtaken by the dead.  It’s kind of scary to think about.  With films about this concept getting better, it is kind of weird to wonder what you would do if the dead started coming back to life.  It really makes one think.  But this game was a sequel that was actually better than the original.

Now, the thing which also broke the Resident Evil series was the third – Resident Evil 3: Nemesis.  The problem with this game was that it didn’t really bring anything new into the fold.  The story was interesting, but the gameplay was boring, and the backgrounds that were made were all the same.  It was literally the same as Resident Evil 2.  The biggest change was the addition of a new bad guy.  Now, this was pretty cool.  He is really a cool boss.  The cool thing about him is that he is always after you, always trying to kill you.  No matter where you go, this monster is there with you.  He will hunt you down forever, if that’s what it takes.

What this game primarily was good for was adding to the canon of the series.  Jill Valentine is trying to escape from Racoon City before Umbrella destroys it.  While she is, the Nemesis is out, hunting down the last of the STARS (Special Tactics and Rescue Squad) members.  The gameplay was repetitive, and the backgrounds were old, so many people thought this was going to be the end of the Resident Evil saga.  And for a while, it looked like they might have been right.  There was a chasm of off-shoot games that were made.  Some of them were good.  Others, not so much.

But they couldn’t have been more wrong.  Resident Evil 4 brought this series back to life in an incredible way.  It changed everything about the games, from going away from the pre-rendered backgrounds, to a new way of controling the characters, with an over-the-shoulder style.  This game was one of the pioneers of that as well, and now, well, almost all action games are using it.  Another change was the enemies you had to fight.  In the original games, while there were the occasional monsters who were pretty hardcore, most of your enemies was a slow-moving horde who gave you plenty of time to blow their undead brains out.  But Resident Evil 4 makes this horde faster, smarter, and even able to handle weapons.

Unlike in the first 3 games, this one features a new form of BOW (Bio-organic weapons).  These people are infected with a parasite called “Las Plagas.”  You play as Leon Kennedy, on a mission to recover the President’s daughter, Ashley.  Now, in mentioning her, it needs to be pointed out that she is the one major short-coming of the game.  She is annoying, you are always having to protect her, and she can’t do much of anything.  The best moments in this game are when you’re alone, having to square off against the monsters of this game.  It also brings back Ada, which is pretty fun.  All in all, this was a great game that definitely breathed new life into this series.  In a HUGE way.

Next up is Resident Evil 5.  This game was less about the dark and terror aspect that made the original games, and more about action.  And good for it.  One thing that needs to be mentioned right away is that the main character, Chris Redfield, also has a partner, but unlike Resident Evil 4, his partner is not some helpless kid.  Her name is Sheva Alomar, and she is not only cool, but tough.  She is part of what makes this a fun game.  And she has to be tough, because you are fighting some really bad goons here.  Amping up the evil of the previous game, these undead are also made from Plagas, and now can not only handle weapons, but also guns.

A lot of people criticized the fact that it wasn’t all that scary, and that was always supposed to be the idea.  There was also criticism of the idea that this game was racist, since it featured primarily black zombies.  Of course, what isn’t mentioned is – it’s in Africa.  A game about living death that takes place in Africa would have African zombies.  Who knew?

The story of this game was pretty cool.  It brought back Wesker, and it gave him the awesome-ness he always deserved.  In this game, he is the ultimate boss.  He is nigh unkillable, until he mutates.  There is a running joke among gamers that all these awesome bosses are awesome until they mutate.  At which point, they become kind of pathetic.  Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII, Saddler from Resident Evil 4, and many others.  But that aside, he is still awesome, and it’s a bummer they killed him off.  Still, it was an exciting sequel and the series held strong.

Now there is the latest addition.  It is slated to come to the consoles on the 20th of November.  The previews for the game have laid out pretty well what the premise is.  This game is unique in that it doesn’t have just one or two playable protagonists.  It has at least three.  There is Leon Kennedy, Chris Redfield, and a new character.  All three have their own sagas going on.  I am very excited to see how they tie the stories together.

From the preview I linked above, the premist for Leon’s story is that he is with the President, who wants to tell the world about what is happening, and how dangerous the situation is.  The President gets infected, and Leon is now having to make his way through another city that has ended up like Raccoon City.  Chris is still with the BSAA.  He is on a mission in China.  It starts out looking a lot like Resident Evil 5.  He is responding to a report of an outbreak, and from the looks of things, it gets pretty out of control.  The new character, he seems to be a mercenary who is working for money.  Why he is fighting for them or his backstory is still a mystery.  But this definitely looking to be a fun addition.

While also adding depth of story, this game appears to be mixing up the kind of undead, from the typical zombies from the original games, to the Plagas.  It is looking to be a lot of fun.  I am definitely excited for it.

This game series has remade a genre, and from the looks of things, isn’t done yet.  There are signs with this game that it is approaching a conclusion.  Maybe that’s just me. The stakes are much higher, and the whole world is starting to come to terms with the idea that humanity isn’t safe.  These monsters are everywhere, and can destroy the entire planet.  It seems to be that this game will be elevating the human aspect of living in a world where the undead can destroy a population quickly, and nobody is secure.

We’ll see on November.

Peace out,

Lefty

Tag Cloud