Narrative Ideals

Monday, April 30, 2012 at 1:00 pm

200312_the_witcher_2_xbox_360_trailer_2_t.jpg


Think of the most popular video game worlds, the ones that feel alive, filled with their own unique conflicts and resolutions, often with clashing sides, but there is ultimately a spark of hope, some kind of bright light that says that all will be well, if only the world can be mended. The past few years have thrown several games, all RPGs, in the direction of gamers that create massive, complicated worlds, countries and planets that are so idealized that we, the gamer, form attachments. When you form an attachment, you gain more from a game. This attachment allows for escape, and it makes the game all the more enjoyable, and worthy of attention. It's a break from reality.

 

If video games are an escape from reality to a fantasy world where we can live outside of our unsettling reality, then I would not go so far as to say that The Witcher 2 allows escape.


More >>

It's Just Evolution

Monday, April 23, 2012 at 10:00 am

gamer-s-evolution-white-text_design.png

Gamers are a fickle bunch. I speak as one, and I'm sure the rest of you have your moments as well. More than once I have been heard to shout "Passive voice! You're using passive voice! Stop it!" at a video game when a character is speaking. It is poor grammar. It irritates me. When I see my academic background reflected in video games, my reaction is usually a twitch of rage, and then something distracts me enough that I am able to look beyond it. Gamers are, as I said, a fickle bunch, when it comes to presentation, writing, and the evolution of the medium.

Video games continue to evolve in ways that appear to be more focused on getting more people into games than pleasing the people who currently play. The medium is spreading out among the mobile crowd. I don't have an iPhone, but during my daily errands for my job, I see more than one person playing a game (Angry Birds, Words With Friends,etc.) while they wait in line at the bank or the post office. My phone has a little dice game on it, but the extent of the game is that I cue up the app, and shake the phone. It's not terribly engaging as any kind of game game, and it's guaranteed to amuse me for all of about five seconds. Perhaps mobile games for some phones have a ways to go.

So when it comes to the evolution of the medium, when a developer comes along and explains that they want to breathe some new life into an old product - clearly, the cynic states, an appeal to a certain gaming crowd based purely upon sentimentatilty and nostalgia - why, then, do the loudest and most irate of gamers immediately shriek that this type of action is a travesty, an outrage, it cannot be done. Leave our game alone! they bellow at the developer.

I may be exaggerating the reactions of the gaming masses, here, but you get my point.



More >>

Hitting Replay

Monday, April 16, 2012 at 10:00 am

Replay.jpg


In my ongoing quest to complete, or reacquaint myself with, some older games, I've realized that there are a few games in my collection that I've beaten several times. There are some that I've completed enough times that I find myself skipping over dialogue, ignoring plot points, and generally just trying to get to the game play portions, without allowing the rest of the game to interfere. It's a bit disheartening.

Some of these games are stories that I've spent enough hours of time with that I don't need to hear all the dialogue to know what's happening. I ignore side quests if they are not crucial to the plot. Having already played certain pieces of downloadable content and unlocked the correlating achievements, I don't bother replaying those segments of the game.

I started to wonder: how many times will I play a game until I finally just put it aside and say either 'not now, maybe later this year' or 'never again.'

So what is it that makes a game worth having repeated play throughs?


More >>

Room For the Old In the New

Monday, April 9, 2012 at 10:00 am

yin_yang.jpg


Everyone looks for the perfect balance in their entertainment. Sometimes you want something that challenges your previous perceptions of a film genre (David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises), at other times you want something that alters the way you listen to music (Thrice's 'Alchemy Index Volumes I - IV'), or you need a book that reminds that you that despite all you're taught in school, you really don't know anything (read Kenneth C. Davis).

I admit, my doubts about video games finding that sweet spot have diminished of late. I've become quite taken with Catherine, and I find it a compelling narrative, offering challenging, brain-twisting and sometimes stomach-churning, puzzles, and some fairly complex meditations of maturity, adulthood, and relationships. It's a bizarre yet nice change from the games that have consumed my attention in the past several months.

So, where does a gamer look for the balance among story, gameplay, atmosphere, music, and presentation in this modern world of gaming?


More >>

Booking the Game

Monday, April 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm

​The past two weeks I've spent a couple of evenings holed up, hiding away from the rest of the world, and investing more and more of my time in a particularly fantastic book entitled The Last Wish. This book, for those in the know, is an English translation of a Polish fantasy novel by Adrzej Sapkowski that gave inspiration and rise to The Witcher franchise of games.

 

If you've never read Sapkowski's The Last Wish, do yourself a favor and go out and find a copy. The seven short stories between the covers give a great introduction to the Witcher's world, and have amped up my interest for the game even more. That I've been hooked on Sapkowski's story for the past two weeks, and ignoring any other book to come my way (and, to be honest, not gaming all that much), speaks highly of it as a narrative.

 

That this book is what inspired two critically acclaimed video games tells me that this could be my new way of introducing people to fantasy literature as a legitimate form of contemporary writing, just as the games might introduce otherwise reluctant readers to the books, thereby opening their eyes to even more fantasy literature that might pique their interest.


More >>

Semi-Serious Nostalgia

Monday, March 26, 2012 at 1:00 pm

memory_lane.jpg


Nostalgia is something that seems to strike gamers often. If filmmakers are dead set on remaking classic films with new technology and appealing to newer audiences with bigger, sexier, and louder spectacles, then gamers are certain not above embracing older games either remade, remastered, or simply rescued from the bin of obscurity. Fondly recalled experiences with video games drive the industry in some aspects, and, sometimes, I think nostalgia for other forms of entertainment drive the interest in newer products.

Roaming the aisles of video game stores has the potential to bring out one's inner child at all times. Consider the number of Mario, Zelda, and Sonic games on the market; any adult who played those games as kids can't help but want to play a little bit of the new product, if only to feel like a little kid again. Granted, as gamers, we usually feel like little kids getting to play make-believe in a pixilated world, regardless of the types of games we play.

 As good as my memories of old television series, books, and even some previous generation video games are, looking at those products now I see flaws, issues with writings, presentation problems, and more than a few cringe-inducing moments. Sometimes an advertisement can really make you question your inner child, and what the wisdom of following such a thing is. 

Enter Lollipop Chainsaw.

 


More >>

Bioware Caves to Pressure, Loses The Respect of This Gamer

Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 1:00 pm
Mass-Effect-3-Female-Shepard-627x246.jpg

You've probably heard the news by now that Bioware is changing the ending of Mass Effect 3, due to the fan outcry. I won't go into details or spoilers here, just in case you haven't beaten the game, or if, like the fellow on the mulitplayer server last night, you aren't interested in the single player campaign at all. Bioware has chosen to listen to a vocal outcry among a group of fans, and it sounds like they will release alternative DLC and other content to meet those fan demands for closure, and a more definitive ending.

Personally, I think this is a terrible decision. I loved Mass Effect 3's ending. It had me thinking, choking back tears, and admiring the sheer amount of creativity, passion, and drive of the writers and developers. I feel as though Bioware has created one of the finest gaming trilogies, and one of the finest stories that I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

And now, all I am seeing is them caving to pressure and changing the ending to please their consumers, their fans, who, quite frankly, don't have any right to demand anything.

More >>

The Gamer's Myth

Monday, March 19, 2012 at 10:00 am

El_h_roe.png


When I was growing up, my favorite stories were mythologies. I didn't care where they came from, or whose culture they belonged to. I wanted to know, to understand, to explore why a certain person was remembered, why certain cities mattered above others, why one story element could be found in hundreds of other stories.

Mythology plays an extremely important part in video games. It's not necessarily a game's internal mythology that piques a player's interest; it's the influence of real world myth and legend on the game's narrative and characters. Some of the most influential games are based around mythology and epic tales of struggle against and between gods and men.


More >>

When Video Games Meet Cinematic Experience

Monday, March 12, 2012 at 10:00 am

film-canisters.jpg


What seems an age-old debate about video games and art has been on my mind quite a bit this past week. As I get lost in Mass Effect 3, I'm stunned by the complexity of the cinematic action sequences, the gorgeous musical score, and the intense, emotional story. I'm also conflicted with regard to my feelings about the artistic expression within video games. Usually I'm one of those people who states, rather firmly, that video games are not art, at least not yet. However, with video games shifting into a direction that places as much emphasis on a film-like experience as a game, the gap may be closing.

The past few years have presented us with many games that present themselves as video games, and cinematic experiences. There are games that might as well be films; they just require some audience participation. The Mass Effect series, the Modern Warfare games, Killzone, and especially the three games in the Uncharted franchise, are all interactive movies on top of being video games.


More >>

Graphic Oddities

Monday, March 5, 2012 at 10:00 am

House-Decorations-Plants-and-Flowers-320x180.jpg

Graphical presentation in video games has reached new levels of brilliance and intensity in the last few years. From the lush renderings of forests in Skyrim, to the lovely star-studded galaxy maps of Mass Effect, and on into the recreated historical settings of the Assassin's Creed games, graphics have moved beyond cartoonish presentation into bold near-realism. There are times when it seems that one could reach into one's television and pluck a flower clean from the plant in Skyrim.

So what happens when you are playing a game and something just seems off about the visual presentation? This happens not with environments, but with the physical movements of a character on screen. There is nothing quite like a brilliantly realistic face suddenly not emoting properly, or eyes not blinking, even when a character is staring straight on, to boot you out of the experience of gaming. Immersion nothing, if I see eyes that don't blink, my brain snaps back to reality and thinks Well I've seen this movie before, and I know it doesn't end well.



More >>