Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Last Guardian: Why I worry so...

Team ICO, Oh Team ICO.

Why hasn’t this game been released yet? No, seriously. Why?

Do you hate us? Have we not used Shadow of the Colossus and Ico as glowing examples in the “videogames are art” argument? I will literally buy a PS3 to play this game – well, that and Final Fantasy versus 13 – because your pedigree means so much to me. I would buy this game before I would buy food.


Alright, how about a little back story. The Last Guardian is a game about a boy and his giant griffin released by the earthy manifestation of god Team ICO. Preceded by ICO and Shadow of the Colossus (the Nick Drake and Big Star of video gaming) Last Guardian has quite the reputation to live up to.

The Last Guardian was also announced in 2009 meaning that it’s been in the works since at least 2007. Well, after trailer after trailer and updated screenshot after updated screenshot, it’s finally going to be released in early 2012. Quite frankly, that’s ridiculous.

The ICO mythos has never been accused of being a story that’s over told. You could sum up the plot of both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus in a couple of paragraphs and I would be surprised of The Last Guardian is going to be any different. In fact, I’ll predict the entire story right now.

Boy is in trouble, probably because someone is trying to sacrifice him to something. Boy stumbles across giant bird thing and after some light tension they become friends. Bird thing saves boy from baddies. Bird thing dies.

What? They killed Argo. This doesn’t take rocket science to figure out.

What I think is happening is that The Last Guardian is being “Portal 2”ed. Portal 2 was an infinitely easier game than the first Portal. This is because they play tested the game WAY too much and it was made easier as too make sure no one’s brain hemorrhaged when challenged with a mildly difficult puzzle. This lead to a lot of really easy puzzles and a game that felt really padded out all for the sake of accessibility. On one hand this is okay – I want more people to play video games – but at the same time I feel like it took away from what, made Portal so great.

Here is a quote from Fumito Ueda, “I also want people who are not serious game players to try out this game. So I want the controls to be simpler than before.” This attitude usually leads to games being insultingly easy. In Portal 2 it was really hard to get immersed in the game world because you were being shuffled from one scene to another never really getting much of a chance to take it all in.

In Shadow of the Colossus there is a battle where you have to get a flying dragon Colossus out of the sky. As the player, you spend a lot of time staring at the sky trying to figure out how to get the big guy to come down. This is a carefully planned gameplay decision which is meant to give scale to what you are about to undertake. The Colossus seems so small in the sky and when it finally swoops down to attack you it feels much bigger than it actually is.

It feels like a Colossus.

I worry that they are in the process of trading accessibility for immersion and if that is the case then that makes me kind of apprehensive. Without immersion Shadow of the Colossus wouldn’t have been the game that it was. The same goes for Portal.

Sometimes you really need to just stare at a wall while figuring out a puzzle.

Sometimes it’s important to feel confused and lost.

My prediction is that The Last Guardian is going to good but not a successor to the games that came before. It happened to Return of the Jedi, it happened to Return of the King and it happened in other things that don’t have “return” in the title.


Silent Hill 3!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars

Alrighty, you’ve had enough with the philosophical waxing. Lets do a game review.

I have a special place in my heart for Turn Based Strategy (TBS) games. All the way back from Tactics Ogre to Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (essentially the same game). This probably had to do with my obsession with forcing others to blindly follow my orders. I usually pretend to be the benevolent dictator that I wish would come and fix this country. Leading us to a brighter tomorrow where all decisions are made for the collective cause of the common identity. RISE my minions and I will lead you all to Eudaimonia: the sovereign collective fatherland!


The tedium of playing stupid Ocarina of Time for the 30-bazillionth time was really starting to get my goad. I went to check the reviews for 3DS games and the superfluously named Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars: The Final Tussle: Clancy Edition 3D: Chapter One: Episode 3: These Wretched Days: and A Bag of Chips by Tom Clancy caught my attention. I was interested because to my surprise the game had gotten good reviews but also wary because of the phrase “good for a 3DS game” came up a lot.

This worried me but I gave it a whirl anyway. Well, it’s 2 weeks later and according to my activity log I’ve been playing Shadow Wars for 18 hours 45 minutes and average a 1 hour session when playing. Needless to say Shadow Wars is not only good for a 3DS game but it is good, period.

First there is the story.

I’ve never read a Tom Clancy book or even played any games that he’s had a hand in creating. However, Shadow Wars almost makes me want to change that fact (I said “ALMOST”!). One thing that I noticed about Clancy or at least this game is that it is essentially a Westernized Ghost in the Shell/Appleseed story. In fact, I would say that this plot could have been written by Masamune Shirow if he one day decided that he was terrified of Russians and their pesky ideals. The anti-Communist sentiments are a little heavy handed but you can always pretend the Russians are the Others and you’re a mercenary hired by Charles Whitmore and BOOM season 4 of Lost.

TBSs are kind of like chess. Certain fighters have specific way that they can attack and you build strategies based around what you’re given. Shadow Wars can boast one of the most well-balanced and thought out approaches to TBSs that I’ve seen. Generally when playing a TBS it starts off simple enough but by the 10th mission your options get so out of hand you feel like you’re trying to order off the Cheesecake Factory menu.

In R-Type Command you start off with a easily understood fleet of a few ships. By the time your fighting the Bydos in a black hole you are inundated with so many options of fighting tactics that it’s nearly impossible to choose between the long range fighter that can cloak itself within 3 moves and not use it’s secondary weapon or the long range fighter that can cloak itself within 2 moves but you can use the plasma cannon. Does it really make that much of a difference?!?!

What I like about Shadow Wars is that you are given a core group of 6 soldiers who have specific jobs. They can be tweaked a little but not enough to feel overwhelmed with the “spice of life”. What happens a lot in TBSs is that you pick a team based on some light intel. Whether or not that team bodes well depends on your ability to pick a team that will strategically give you the upper hand with info like: “there will be a battle, it happens in space”.

I hate this approach.

What this boils down to is that there is no strategy involved. You play a battle, figure out what you’re fighting, typically lose and restart the battle with a reformed party that is based around the weaknesses of the baddies you just fought. You basically use your first battle as a cheat sheet for the second go around. Shadow Wars builds maps based around the party that it already knows you are working with. This translates to maps are created with an answer built into them. Essentially, the problem has a solution.

This is what makes for a great TBS game. If you like Final Fantasy Tactics or Advanced Wars but hated playing the same level 50 times because you didn’t have the clairvoyance to know exactly what you where up against. Well, my friends, Shadow Wars will quell that nagging irritation and also hold you over till Nintendo starts throwing free games at you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Casual or Business/Hardcore?

Lately I’ve been struggling with the concept of what exactly constitutes a casual gamer or a hardcore gamer. I started at the Mecca of legit info (Wikipedia) and found myself even more lost. Yeah, I know this is Wikipedia but where else am I going to find a definition? Hardcore gamer was described as people who “prefer to take significant time and practice on games.” And generally I thing this is a pretty accurate description.

This foil conjures up images dead eyed 30-something males who invent things like the Totino’s Taco. Or of Code Red guzzling, gold farmers, slowly supernovaing into fits of nerd rage and hypertension when some n00b snatches up all the loot. Refusing to LARP because that would require too much physical activity. RED, RED, WHITE, BLOCK! For Darkon!


However, while thinking about this subject I watched a Zero Punctuation episode that described FPSs by saying, “you point at things you don’t like and they go away. They’re not exactly the 12 Task of Hercules”. Fair enough however this got me to thinking (now that I’m done with school I can do as much of that as I need). This made me think of another game rarely associated with hardcore gaming: Angry Birds.

You point (birds) at things you don’t like (pigs) until they go away.

Quick disclaimer: I’m going to keep this discussion about FPSs to the online multiplayer and kind of ignore the campaign.

What? You did.

In most FPSs the main attraction is playing multiplayer online. A general simulation of this activity can be summed up by point, shoot, point, shoot, kneel, teabag, scream, repeat. Or if you’re feeling a bit more multicultural you can play in the middle of the night and have a fat, lazy Limey man-child expound on how fat, lazy and man-childish YOU are. POINT BEING that it’s a bit repetitive and though strategic variation comes into play it’s no different than Salmon is to Nantucket Red.

Angry Birds has a similar sort of repetition to it as well, which usually is categorized by the term “casual gamer”. You have birds, you fling them at a perplexing combo of basswood and reinforced concrete magic, and pigs go away. I get the appeal to this kind of simplicity, I being someone who can boast total kick assery at Super Bust-A-Move.

Yeah, there’s a storyline in Angry Birds but for this discussion it will be ignored.

What? You did.

Wait a minute! There seem to be a lot of similarities here. There is monotonous gameplay with varying levels of difficulty, questionable addiction to said gameplay and a distaste for narrative that would make Joseph Campbell roll in his grave.

You all are the same people!

Replace the Spetsnaz with pigs, the SPAS-12 with a slingshot and aforementioned British mutant hate speech with weird Sims 3esque jabbering and you’re essentially playing the same game. Granted, I’m making some rather broad generalizations but there’s a bigger point to be made. Not just about gamers but gaming as a whole. Just stick with me.

So, what does this mean? Are hardcore gamers actually casual gamers? Or vice versa? Can the Financial Auditor with a wife, kids and house who spends 4 hours a day carefully grooming their FarmVille crop into the Dharma Initiative symbol be lumped with the Cheeto munching, profanity spewing Data Analyst who just got a chopper gunner and is going to ensure total PWNage in your mom’s face?

Absolutely. You say tomato, I say ketchup.

It seems to me that these labels don’t really bring anything to the table when it comes to explanatory power. They do not define any sort of character trait that is intrinsic to casual or hardcore gamers. We all love playing games (well, at least most of us do) and all in all these labels are essentially meaningless in their current iteration. The demographic of gamer has broadened so far that using them almost sets us back.

It may be better to actually drop these terms completely and lean toward labels that encompass us all as gamers rather than create rift between us. Many a time I have heard the “casual gamer” get the short end of the stick because they are “ruining the industry” by not knowing that Angry Birds is just a copy of Crush the Castle and thus snuffing out all innovation. Or conversely, the “hardcore gamer” demanding that games like Silent Hill 2, ICO, Out of this World and Killer 7 be considered legitimate forms of art and are met with eye rolling only paralleled by a Williamsburgian plastered on Four Loko.

It’s all just kind of silly.

In the end it seems these terms are used in the same way that a Philosophy major would call a neophyte a "sofa philosopher" or how Joe Lunch Pail would call the academic an "egghead". At the end of the day all these labels really do is generalize and create rifts. This alienation is rather disheartening especially when you consider how much gamers are alike.

It is important to find your identity in gaming as to help others understand your point of view as well as help define this amazing new medium in the art community. There is a cavalcade of possibilities out there in terms of knowing what we like in a game and what games are.

I think it’s about time to throw out the old filing system.

HOORAH for games!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How the "Nerds" Ruin Everything

So, Nintendo is in dire straits reporting losses for the first time in over a decade. They dropped the price of the 3DS a dramatic 33% to $170, they’re giving us fan boys 20 free games to keep us from sending them mail bombs and Saturo Iwata (Big N’s President and CEO) is taking a 50% pay cut taking full responsibility in a way that you would never see the US financial industry stoop to. Nintendo has debased themselves and lie prostrate at the their consumer base begging for forgiveness.

But you know what, I don’t blame you, Nintendo. Get up off the floor. This is not (entirely) your fault. But who’s to blame? Yamauchi couldn’t have lost $300 million with nary a sea of rolling heads.

Who do I blame?

YOU! Yeah that’s right, you (no, not you Nintendo, get off the ground, geez) or more specifically what passes for a “nerd” these days. You people who buy Donkey Kong wall stickers, who shop at, who listen to Anamanaguchi, who though that Tron: Legacy and Transformers was AMAZING, who’s “best of” consists of Megaman 2, Final Fantasy 3, and Ocarina of Time, those who show a sliver of excitement in another Bill and Ted movie, who bake Portal cakes and make DNF jokes about Duke Nukem’. I’m talking about all of those dinks out there that cannot be satisfied with anything that has come out in the past 2 decades. I hate all of you.

Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

See, wut had happen’d is that Nintendo (and 3rd party supporters) have spent all their time working and releasing games that appeal to those who fall under the above categorization. All these people are contrarian nostalgiaphyles and wouldn’t be caught dead playing a game that they hadn’t researched to death, torrented and condemned because it didn't emulate the innovative gameplay of Pong.

This new breed of gamer is terrified of any sort of change. If a Mario game comes out it better emulate Super Mario 3 or Super Mario World. If not it will be eternally damned by those who are fairly sure that those where the best games ever and all new ideas should be stifled like one that argues that 2+2=4 (oh, literary reference).

I’ve heard the launch of the3DS being compared to the Virtual Boy a lot. Well, I guess they where both 3D and Nintendo released them and that’s about where the comparisons end. This is the complaint that only a self-satisfied nostalgiaphyle-nerd would make showing off their ability to constantly check Boing Boing, Topless Robot and i09 (generally, I like these sites they're just patronized by the "nerd" equivalent of hipsters).

I like Nintendo and specifically I like the 3DS. We wanted a handheld system with better screen resolution. We got it. We wanted retro games available on online shops. We go it. We didn’t want to be told about it 4 years before it actually came out (yeah, I’m looking at you Team ICO). We got it.

We’ve looked this gift horse in the mouth so hard that we’re falling out the horse’s anus.

Was it rushed out? Yes, that’s why there aren’t many games. However, the fact that the first major title to be released is a port of Ocarina of Time only supports my position that Nintendo has jumped through rings of fire to satisfy these contrarian nostalgia-holic faux-nerds. Well, congratulation you’re ruining Nintendo, gagging the game industry and built Sauron’s Tower with Legos.

Iwata, I accept your apology and I will happily take your 20 free games. And I will happily spit in the face of everyone who already played them on an emulator.