Archive for the 'Ponderings' Category

09
Sep
08

The derivative nature of games and art

Sometimes gamers just need someone to give it to us straight. It helps if it comes from a fellow fan, as is the case with Pete Haas’s editorial over at the games section of Cinema Blend, instead of some blowhard like Roger Ebert.

Haas begins by explaining that although RPG’s are his favorite genre, there are some conventions that need addressing. These are the things that pop up in almost every RPG. Everyone knows they’re outdated methods for moving the story along, but everyone just accepts them as a standard of the genre and there’s nothing to be done about them.

In reality, this is something that plagues the electronic entertainment industry as a whole – most everything is derivative, at least to some extent.

The worst offenders, of course, are EA’s annual sports titles, but they’re an easy target. Every Japanese-style RPG is using methods that are over two decades old. Western-style RPGs have their roots in Dungeons & Dragons, a game that’s been around since the birth of Jesus. Now D&D’s new rule-set is pulling in aspects of the MMO’s that it originally inspired. Yeesh.

I’m not saying that being derivative is always a bad thing. The derivative nature of games allows gamers to pick up a brand new title and play it with reasonable ability if you’ve played a game in the same genre before. You may have noticed this puzzles non-gamers. When I first popped Dark Sector in (I only rented it, don’t worry) to play, my girlfriend happened to be sitting in the living room with me. When I started running around and shooting without any prior instruction, she said, “How do you know to do that?”

Also, take a look at Braid. It is an absolutely wonderful and inspired game. The art direction is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The puzzles are great, the story is mature and left open to individual players’ interpretations, etc. But, when you get down into the nitty-gritty, the game mechanics, there are clear roots to the game. The platforming comes straight from Mario, the time shifting mechanic arguably from the recent Prince of Persia games. The key here is he takes those two elements and twists them together into something completely original. Spore, which essentially compiles stripped down versions of 5 different games also comes to mind.

We find that the derivative nature of games extends across most mediums – film, music, painting, architecture, sculpture, etc. When is the last time you heard a rock song on commercial radio that didn’t involve guitars with a lot of distortion and a Intro-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus construction? Or the last time you saw a movie that wasn’t based on a (graphic) novel or comic book?

We are all building upon the creations of the greats who came before: Garriot and Carmack, Picasso and DaVinci, Hemingway and Dickens, BB King and Van Halen. The way that a medium evolves, though, is to recognize the things that just aren’t working anymore. These RPG conventions no longer capture audiences’ imaginations. There must be better ways to show the story and portray the action in this genre and in all video games. Hybridization/genre-mixing has been a recent popular means of creating fresh experiences for gamers. But soon we’ll all be tired of RPG-FPSes (Fallout 3) and Puzzle-Platformers (Braid) and Puzzle-RPGs (Puzzle Quest).

Makes me wonder what the next big splash is going to be.

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14
May
08

FOLLOW UP: The Wii’s Software Library

So, I’ve gone on and on about why the Wii is actually really lame and not worth the investment for anyone who’s taste in games extends beyond mini-game compilations.

It’s been a while since I checked up on the Wii’s top rated games over at Gamespot, which I originally referenced in a previous post. But, it’s been a while. So, I thought I’d pop back over and see if the Wii has redeemed itself, at least in terms of software library.

Short Answer: No.

Long answer: Seven of the 10 highest-rated games are still first party titles. It only futher proves my point that the only company that’s not making mediocre titles, if not downright shovelware, for the system is Nintendo. This has been a problem with every Nintendo system post-SNES. I suppose top-notch third-party support doesn’t matter to the average Wii player. However, it matters to the core gamers (or, it should).

Moreover, three of those seven titles aren’t even Nintendo Wii games in the true sense – they’re games from other Nintendo systems made available via the Virtual Console: Paper Mario (N64), Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES) and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64). It’s pretty sad when you have to rely on titles that are a decade old to fill the top 10. Expand the number out to the 50 top-rated Wii games on the site, and half of the games are Virtual Console titles previously released on other systems.

Speaking of ports, I find it noteable that of the three top 10 third-party titles on the Wii, two were previously released on other systems. Okami (PS2) and Resident Evil 4 (GameCube) were highly rated on their original systems, but were ported to the Wii to take advantage of the motion controls. The only exclusive, non-Nintendo game in the Top Ten is No More Heroes the admittedly innovative action game from developer Grasshopper.

My point here is that the shabby software library available to Wii users doesn’t justify the unholy number of units Nintendo has sold. People DO love a gimmick, I suppose…

28
Mar
08

No daughter of mine…

…is going to get a tramp stamp.

Seriously, I almost cried when I saw this linked on Fark. Usually, I just post little tidbits and leave some half-assed comment. But this particular find made me so sick, I just have to expound upon the subject.

I’ve spoken at great length elsewhere about the benefits of having a sexually liberated society. Men have always been allowed, per se, to be complete hornballs. It’s “natural,” even expected that men really enjoy sex, or watching other people do it. Or even just thinking about it.

Up until recently any woman who enjoyed having sex because it’s fun and feels good, was thought of as an immoral whore. Conventional wisdom was that, for women, sex was about pleasing their man and having babies.

These days its a lot easier to find women who really enjoy sex for the sake of it, though it’s still typically frowned upon for a woman to have sex with a lot of different partners and not feel guilty about it. And I’m talking about responsible (wrap it up, people!), consensual sex.

HOWEVER…

There is a problem, it seems, with all this free-flowing sexuality. Every time I go to the Mall of America (which is not very often, because I hate malls), I end up walking by a store called Libby Lu, which is apparently a place you can take your pre-teen daughter and have her dolled up like a whore! Isn’t that fantastic? This place always has kids in it, and their parents are just standing there smiling like morons!

From the Libby Lu Website:

Company Information

Our Mission

At Club Libby Lu®, our mission is to create special memories by encouraging tween girls to express their imaginations and individuality. Club Libby Lu offers products and experiences that promote a unique shopping experience that makes every girl feel special. Our staff (called Club Counselors), “Club” environment and merchandise mix provide the ultimate girl experience. Girls join the Club, where they become V.I.P.s (Very Important Princesses®) and enjoy a fun, safe and special place where they can unlock their inner princess™

Inner princess!? This is what it means to be a princess now?

 Image from NJLife Blog at NJ.com

It looks like a “tweener” brothel. These girls are dressed as scantily as the flesh pile that is the bar scene in Downtown Minneapolis.

My point is  the kind of things this company is doing to these girls can’t be healthy for their sexual development. Why can’t little girls be little girls? Tell me the benefit of slapping a bunch of makeup on them and dressing them up like they’re in a Brittney Spears video.

Image from The Washington Post Photo Store

Ugh.

14
Nov
07

Well, this was unexpected…

The reviews for Assassin’s Creed have started rolling in, and I’ve got to say I’m surprised at the widely varying scores for the game. I haven’t yet played it, but you know how it usually goes with these high-profile releases. That there’s anything less than an 80% on Metacritic is actually refreshing.

I can’t help but feel a little alarmed – I put a lot of stock into loving this game. I planned to spend my weekend playing Assassin’s Creed, in celebration of completing the rough draft of a very long academic paper, which I’m currently putting off. The major criticism seems to be that the action gets repetitive and the combat isn’t all that satisfying. The mechanic of scouting out locations then gathering information and perpetrating the crime seems to be the only thing you get to do in the game. That actually sound pretty awesome to me, but I can see how you’d want more. After all, you did pay $60 for the game. Why should you only get to do the same thing over and over again? For those of you who think that may end up being frustrated, I have a novel suggestion:

Take a break and play something else.

I’m not trying to defend Ubisoft for designing a game that ends up being tedious. I’m merely proposing that there’s a way you could enjoy the game even though becomes a bit repetitive.

Game reviewers essentially have to play the game from beginning to end in a short period of time. But we don’t. We have a million other games sitting on our shelves looking for some love. So, if you get bored after the 3rd or 4th assassination, throw something else into your CD tray or switch to a different platform. Better yet, play a board game, read a book, watch some TV or a movie – I can’t believe I’m about to say this – GO OUTSIDE. Then, when you find yourself itching to get back to your part-time assassination career, it won’t seem so repetitive.

Seriously, you don’t have to finish the game in a marathon session.

On a completely unrelated note:

Apparently, there are some strict rules of acceptable behavior for professional bridge players?

12
Nov
07

Breaking News: More senseless killing in Iraq.

Imagine this:

You’re in traffic, driving home from work one day when you hear sirens behind you. You glance in your review mirror and you see flashing lights coming up fast. The police officer who’s been directing traffic at the intersection where you’re stopped holds up his hands to stop everyone and allow the police cars through, unhindered. You wait patiently as you watch as the police cars go zipping by. After they’ve moved past, you start to move your car closer to the curb when you hear three loud noises – CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! You feel a sting and the warmth of your blood spreading across your chest. You see others running up to you, trying to help you. Then your vision goes black.

What would you think about as you sat there bleeding to death? Would you think of your family? Pray to some god to save you?

I know you probably don’t come here to read about the situation in Iraq. Foreign policy isn’t really my forté; I tend to leave that to others. But this story, via the New York Times, made me angry enough that I wanted to say something about it here. From the story, if you’re too lazy to go read the thing:

An Iraqi taxi driver was shot and killed on Saturday by a guard with DynCorp International, a private security company hired to protect American diplomats…

Three witnesses said the taxi had posed no threat to the convoy, and one of them, an Iraqi Army sergeant who inspected the car afterward, said it contained no weapons or explosive devices.

“They just killed a man and drove away,” Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said in his office on Sunday afternoon.

…witnesses to Saturday’s shooting said they saw no reason for the guards to open fire on the car, a white Hyundai with a taxi sign on the roof, driven by Mohamad Khalil Khudair, 40.

The convoy came barreling down the exit ramp from the bridge around midday, [Sgt. Ahmad] Hussein said. “We saw them coming, so we ordered the traffic to stop,” he said.

The crowded traffic on the ramp came to a stop, but as Mr. Khudair tried to pull closer to the side of the road, a gun in the rear truck of the convoy fired several shots into his car, Sergeant Hussein said. At least one bullet went through the windshield and struck Mr. Khudair on the right side of his chest, the sergeant said.

I’d like to start out by saying that I cannot even fathom what being a security detail in Iraq is like. It has to be tough constantly worrying that just about anyone could be ready to kill you. However, it’s the job of the men and women who work for these private security forces to work calmly and rationally in high-pressure, high-stress situations. It simply baffles me that they would open fire on a vehicle that they had already passed for no apparent reason. Remember that one of the witnesses is an Iraqi police officer. They had stopped the traffic at the intersection to let the convoy pass. The car was nowhere near the convoy at this point. Then, for no apparent reason to any of the witnesses, they shot at the vehicle.

The guy who speaks for DynCorp International in the story says that the guards reported they shot at the vehicle, but were unaware that anyone was injured.

Why were they shooting at the vehicle in the first place?

This may not be a good comparison, but if a police officer or marine or security detail in the United States opened fire on a vehicle, they’d better have a damn good reason to do so. There are very limited, specific situations when police officer in the U.S. can fire at a suspect. There’s an internal investigation just about every time a police officer discharges his/her firearm to make sure he or she acted within reason. It’s a big deal for a police officer to fire their weapon at someone.

It goes to show that Iraq still has a long way to go before it’s stable.

I wonder what Mohamad Khalil Khudair thought about.

09
Nov
07

Does anyone else think something’s wrong with this?


So, Spike TV has announced the nominees for their annual Video Game Awards show.

Award shows.

I, for one, hate the damn things. They’re self-congratulatory, mutual masturbation exercises where an industry glorifies itself.

But, I think they may also be a sign that your medium has reached mainstream acceptance as a viable form of entertainment and perhaps even, dare I say it, art.

Art on the right.

The thing that bothers me about the whole thing, though? They’ve nominated games that haven’t been released yet!

I don’t know about you, but that calls into question the validity of such awards. A number of them are close to release, to be sure, and I’m sure they’d be the nominees anyway. But what if Rock Band comes out, and the multiplayer elements are broken, or not implemented correctly? What if the CryENGINE2 is so demanding that all but the most top of the line systems have to play the game at its lowest settings, which based, on the demo, makes the game look like poop?

How can you ethically nominate a game without seeing the finished retail product, and experiencing all of its elements, including online community and play?

Because these rewards are a joke, at this point. I think it’s a good thing for video games to have a televised reward show. But it’s being shown on a channel that plays CSI: reruns, a show called Manswers, and wrestling all the time.

wrestling

No! Not the respectable Olympic Sport! The poorly written, poorly acted, misogynistic soap opera for trailer-trash idiots!

Yeah, that’s the one. Fucking morons.

09
Nov
07

Strikethru

This originally appeared in the comments of Coyote’s blog post this morning. Since I’ve had trouble finding something else to write about today (I was going to talk more about Call of Duty 4, but I want to at least finish the single-player campaign first) this will suffice at least until I can find a tidbit to write about at some length.

Since we’re spouting off opinions about the writers strike, I’m going to have my cake and eat it, too!

I agree that writers aren’t being compensated enough for the work that they do. I’m not saying writers alone keep shows running. Although it’s pretty obvious to me when the writing is poor; not even the best actors can save a scene that has the lines:

Gordon: “I never said thank you…”
Batman: “…and you’ll never have to.”

You just kicked my ass for 2 hours with the best Batman movie ever made and you end with THAT!? Seriously?

Writers are an important part of the (not-so) well-oiled machine that is the entertainment industry. I think the writer’s strike has become something more than just renegotiating contracts. It’s become a David & Goliath type battle. We’re all rooting for the little guys to win. But they’re no different from any other union that’s decided to go on strike – be it airline workers, technical library staff (just happened where I work), or assembly line workers at your local auto plant.

Wait, on that last one they just lay you off. My bad.

So, yeah, let’s not forget that they did know what they were getting into when they signed they’re contract and that now they are renegotiating that contract for what they feel (and I agree) is a more appropriate salary. There’s no need to make it a good versus evil battle for social justice. It’s just business.

Oh, and there is no cake.

I guess the cake is a lie, or something.

There is one piece of interesting news today, but I’ll just mention it because I’m not yet sure how I feel about it.

Mark Wahlberg = Max Payne.

Yeah, I don’t know either.




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