Friday, November 30, 2012

MMM: Mini Movie Mreview of some weird horror movies

at 2:35 PM
Alright, it's just about time (or I guess it is time...) to knock out another MMM, before I get too far ahead of myself. Like usual, here comes a crop of mostly horror movies that you can find on Netflix Instant Q. Four of these five are worth your time, so open a new tab, get over to http://dvd.netflix.com/queue and start adding.

Dead Heat
Weird.
I don't know who in the damn hell Joe Piscopo is supposed to be, but he sure ain't no damn actor. He has an awfully distracting presence in what otherwise is a pretty cool genre crossover. The film fakes you out at first and has you thinking it's going to be Lethal Weapon, but all of a sudden the main cop dies. Then he comes back to life. Then the other main cop dies. Then he comes back to life. The notion of these detectives investigating their own murder is pretty novel, though in reality it boils down to a revenge tale. It's still fun to see the main characters axed with the fervor of a horror film. There are also some creepy horror/scifi FX that contribute a more interesting look to the film. It's a buddy cop zombie flick! Give it a shot, but be warned that Piscopo's humor is eye-rollingly try-hard obscene.

Re-Animator
Dear God Re-Animator is fantastic. This is the best horror film I've seen in an age (yes, better than Hellraiser or Basketcase), combining gorgeously inventive gore (I'm a sucker for intestines coming to life), a totally unhinged Jeffrey Combs performance (I wish I could find you the clip where he yells "Oooverdooooooossssse!"), Barbara Crampton's excellent rack (famed also thanks to From Beyond), cartoony violence (Combs stage-wrestling a zombie cat), and a suspenseful plot that just begs for a sequel. Sure it's not a particularly 'scary' movie, but neither is anything. Just... go watch it. It's a waste of my time to describe it here. It's on Netflix IQ, you've got no excuse. Use my account for all I care. You'll be telling your friends about the laughs and gross-outs for days. Yes, please.

Annnnnnnnnd, that's it for Hellraiser. You may remember I'm a fan of the first two, but 3 abandons their strongest elements. We no longer have a cool, evil protagonist; instead we're split between a lame reporter do-gooder and a cheesy, sleazy tough-guy club owner. It's just... lame, sorry. The movie kinda works if you completely forget the Hellraiser tie and watch it as a humorously bad B-movie. I mean, it has this:
The previous movies told dark fairy tales about isolated individuals drawn into a frightening, mysterious alternate dimension. The threat was the waning barrier between realities, the inevitable pull towards a bizarre and unknowable world whose grisly inhabitants seemed all too happy with their own mutilation. Hellraiser 3 is about some ghoulies getting lose and terrorizing a town. The real villain before was the portal, the Lament Configuration: an arcane puzzle box that stumbled into the protagonists hands. Now it is firmly Pinhead, the somewhat silly slasher monster from the cover. If you want to know how the franchise went wrong, this isn't the worst movie ever. It's not good, either.

Mimic
Probably considered a lesser Guillermo del Toro work, this nonetheless shines with his acclaimed art design. It's a movie about giant hyper-evolved bug people living in the sewer of some city. Don't expect it to make a shred of goddamn sense. Seriously, it may have more plot holes than any non-time-travel movie ever. But you're not watching for plot anti-holes, you're watching to see giant bug people, and on this del Toro delivers. He's thankfully a smart enough director to keep his monsters in the shadows, letting our imagination do the heavy lifting, but we still get plenty to wince at. The biggest shortcoming is the wavering of scale - the bugs are supposed to feel like a threat to humanity, but as long as everyone stays out of the sewer, it seems like they don't kill anyone. So, I dunno. Watch it if you're a fan of del Toro's gruesome monstrosities.

You're probably expecting this to be bad. A sequel with a fraction of the budget and missing the lead (and most famous) actor isn't usually something anyone looks forward to. Surprisingly, Tremors 2 isn't half bad. It may even be better than Tremors, though I don't hold the original in the high esteem some do. The first Tremors was kinda boring, and the comic tone destroyed the tension. The monsters seemed to abide by almost Bugs Bunny rules, where you expect Kevin Bacon to disappear by putting a bush between himself and the camera. 
Tremors 2 works because it tones down this comic absurdity and delivers as a monster-hunting actioner. It's like the evolution between Alien and Aliens (with a much worse and 90's-er series). The lack of Bacon is hardly felt, though his replacement is the most unnecessary element of the film. The Starship Troopers era CGI isn't as tragic as some make it out to be, although there are one or two brutally ugly scenes that kinda just work as jokes.  Worth a look for anyone who enjoys scifi action. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

This site does not carry the daily opinion of Peter Molyneux.

at 9:36 PM
I just wanted to make sure you guys knew that, since apparently a part of the fabric of the gaming press is reporting on what Peter Molyneux is thinking everyday. I get that the guy is a snide quote factory, and I'll grudgingly accept that he's a kind of industry icon, but perhaps now is the time to remember that old idiom "if you don't have anything nice to say, you probably shouldn't write an acceptance speech for the Grammy's". And more importantly, "if it's not interesting, don't publish it on your website, or else you die".

Wait, shit, didn't I just say I don't report his quotes?
This is prompted by the second Molyneux quote about not being impressed with Nintendo that's made the rounds in the past month. Why, as Molyneux's PR person, do you keep putting out the exact same quote, and why, as a blog editor, do you publish the exact same "story" about him saying the exact same things? On the PR side of the equation, it makes the guy look like a jealous asshole, and on the news side, it makes your site look like trite flame bait with the typical tabloid excuse of "it's our responsibility to give the people what they want".

Punch Out that Red Steel P3

at 11:20 AM
Punch Out!!, like traditional fighting games do for 2D or 3D, gave us an expansive look at the mechanics that can be used in first-person brawling. It played up the attack/counter and illustrated how to make close-up combat an action-reaction chain, rather than relying on concerted combo strings as in more mobile games. Red Steel 2 brings some of those mechanics to life in an actual adventure, becoming more of a proper brawler than Punch-Out!!.

A quick remark: aside from branding, Red Steel 2 has nothing in common with Red Steel, a totally forgettable shooter from the Wii launch. I'm of the opinion that Ubisoft made a horrendous mistake marketing Red Steel 2 as a sequel, as it's clearly its own game, but that's another discussion. Just be aware that any time I say Red Steel in this article, I mean the second game - I've barely even played the first.
The elephantberg in the room is of course motion controls, but let me save that for the end of the discussion. As soon as the first baddies appear and you see the enemy-tally popup below your health bar, you'll know this game is a brawler. It's even so kind as to remind you with semi-invisible lazer-walls that block your progress until you clear the enemies. There's really no shooter left in this architecture; you enter a room, the foes roll out of the woodwork, and the dance continues until one side is lifeless on the floor. You'll engage enemies individually, but the threat of those surrounding you remains present.

The sword combat is a loose application of what we learned in Punch-Out!!, with horizontal/vertical slashes standing in for high/low punches and dodging becoming more free-form (since you can move in any direction). Attacking from the sides and behind becomes a major strategy, as does protecting your own flanks. The best expansion on the formula is the addition of special moves which translate a quick sequence of inputs into a scripted sequence of blows onscreen. This makes you feel like one of the opponents from Punch-Out!!, lending character and player-determined style to what would otherwise be a vanilla fighting-style.

Where Red Steel 2 really shines is in the immediacy, the sharp viscerality of the battles. Something I alluded to in my recent Dishonored post was the brutality inherent in being so close to your victims. While Red Steel 2 doesn't attempt any intelligent commentary on the violence, it does turn it into a furious whirlwind that flies by your screen so fast that you can't help but feel like a wicked samurai. This is where the first-person identification with your avatar becomes critical - you aren't watching a Dante-esque badass blow through a swarm of nasties, you yourself are bringing each one down individually. The impact this brings to a brawler goes beyond what it contributes to a shooter, because you're right there, speedily dashing and twirling around.
Sorry that I couldn't find a great gameplay video - most people apparently suck at this game or refuse to properly use the motion controls, instead trying to play it as an early Wii "waggle" game and thus not being able to do the moves properly
This would be a blast on it's own, but goes even further thanks to the Wii MotionPlus controls. The validity or usefulness of motion controls as a whole is a sea to sail at another time, but in a game attempting to draw you as close as possible to the violence, their contribution can't be overstated. Are they necessary to make Red Steel 2 work? I don't think so. The FPBing has enough going for it already. But the difference they make particularly to special moves is what sells the game. Especially when returning to a game after not playing it for a while, I'm always annoyed to have to remember that A-X-X-Y-X does the big fancy combo. It's a level of inapproachability. Here all you need to know is that if you want to do a left-right swing followed by a stab, you... do a left-right swing followed by a stab.

I'm gonna wrap up this discussion next week when I bring you up to date on Zeno Clash (which I bought last night) and maybe a bit more of Dishonored.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Top Ten SRPGs: Part Threeve

at 4:12 PM
Wait, Earthbound isn't a Strategy RPG, that reference makes no sense. Can't change it now. Must... move... forward... to talk about a few unique occupants of the genre.

7. Gladius
Here's obscure for ya. A non-Star Wars LucasArts game from the middle of the Gamecube's life-cycle that I've never heard mentioned even once by another player. Did anyone out there play this game?

The game's advertisement is immediately misleading - it's not really a game about gladiators. Well, it's a game about tough guys who fight to the (kinda) death in a ring, but it's not historically set. The first (or second) quarter of the game takes place in an ancient-Rome analogue, but it turns out that this Roman nation sits directly next to Dark Ages Scandanavia, ancient Egypt, and the Asian steppes. These worlds are populated both by their traditional warrior classes and mythological beasts. This gives a memorable best-of-mythology feel to the setting where you'll see secutors duking it out with giant scorpions, mummies, and bearskin-adorned barbarians.

The game utilizes a combination of group tactics, rock-paper-scissors, and timed/metered critical hits along with a streamlined command system (where you can skip through movement turns directly to actions) to create generally fluid and fast battles that feel less disjointed than in other strategy titles. Some games go full-on board game and use turn breaks as an escape from realism, but Gladius (and as we're about to discuss, XCOM) feels like it could play out in real-time if you stopped the pauses for commands. This draws the player closer to the battle, making each decision feel more immediate and weighty.

8. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
A game I've of course much discussed recently, I debated for a while whether Enemy Unknown is really an RPG. I'm not gonna go through my entire justification here; the main role-playing principle which is indeed a central element of the game is your relationship to characters. They may not speak except for zingy one-liners and have no relation to the plot, but they provide a medium for the player to express himself uniquely. I doubt anyone could get through Enemy Unknown without feeling like they've been in the trenches with their squaddies, feeling every alien kill and human death in congruence with their collective avatar. This projected emotion is executed better than XCOM far better than many by-the-books RPGs, so it's clearly more deserving of the label.
The game feels almost like it needs to be labeled 'action' as well, but in reality there are no coordination-based efforts. XCOM's pacing is nerve-racking, between the fog of war obscuring anything outside the soldiers' fields of view, the permanent character deaths, and the immediacy with which friend can become foe. Even with its futuristic setting and extraterrestrial threat, the game displays the emotional depth of a true war narrative. The "terror missions" in particular evoke images of 21st century urban unrest and its consequences.

9. Knights in the Nightmare
Admittedly, I feel like it's almost an insult to include this game here, since it so completely defies the conventions of genre as recently discussed. Knights in the Nightmare (and many of St!ng's other games) picks and chooses what appear to be a few familiar ideas and mixes them so wildly that it's no longer recognizable as any remotely familiar formula.

KITN (I read it as "kitten") is SO weird. It's a game about ghosts. Each battle has you reliving the final moments of a new set of knights lives, as you are gradually worked into the immediately-post-apocalypse story. You play as the cursor (wha?) as it silently revives these tragic dying memories. Honestly it's all a bit beyond my capacity to describe. The story is a Germanic tragedy, one which in this presentation seems to say... nothing matters and all life is doomed? K, so we listen to death metal all of a sudden?
Don't try too hard to understand the gameplay from video. Just go try the DS version yourself.
Thus rooted in insanity, it's no surprise the gameplay should be so far off the rails. As you piece together your lost memories and one-by-one raise an army of dead knights, you'll be trying to construct logic out of a similarly disparate hodgepodge of systems that remind of this jigsaw approach to the whole. KITN is a narrative in which time does not necessarily pass linearly, but rather contracts toward a point. It is a game about taking small parts and embracing them without understanding (but eventually experiencing) what makes the sum work so well together.

How can you top the bizarre masterwork of KITN? Well I'd say you'd not only have to go off the genre rails, but you'd have to do it with like a goddamn Shakespeare of a plot. Which game is it? Come on, anyone who's reading this has to know by now.

Oh, sorry, not to blue-balls ya. Here:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I challenge you to Chrono Trigger.

at 12:12 PM
It's kind of annoying when you're already ahead of the blog game with features and then one of your buddies makes a thoughtful, discussion-engendering post, and then you have, of all things, a good idea. I'm all "slow down, content train!" That's what I said to my computer, by using something called an "inside voice". It's inside your brain.

So convince me to play Chrono Trigger. I know there aren't a lot of readers out there, but anyone who wants to comment, or you in particular, fellow bloggers, tell me why I need to play Chrono Trigger. I played six or so hours of the game as a youth and was awfully unimpressed by the scripted battles and dorky story, but I'm more open-minded now. I can go back - they were always coming back.

Ugh. When Mark of the Mole comes up on your iPod's album shuffle, your stomach just has to turn.

Now that my mood has been so unceremoniously replaced with gloom, I've almost lost the enthusiasm. No, let's get to it. If Chrono Trigger is indeed one of the greatest games of all time, there must be a reason to play it. There has to be something I could take away from playing it. So tell me what that is and maybe I'll judge it as worth a shot.

Monday, November 26, 2012

LPGA for the Holy Day: Christ, mas NiGHTS!

at 8:26 PM


You heard your ear right, Greg and I are LPing Christmas NiGHTS to ring in the Christmas season! Is that what the expression is? "Ring in" the season? That couldn't possibly mean anything. Well anyway, we set out once again to prove that there's no time better than 3AM to record a meandering and uninspired commentary track.

Genre-response. Got too long for the comment box.

at 12:01 AM
My immediate reaction to Andrew's post was Jesus man how can you mention jazz and Nazis in the same sentence without linking:
Moving beyond that....

Sometimes it seems like video games as a medium are entirely consumed by genrefication, but I think that's because - somewhat conveniently - genre and mainstream have been united. In music and film, genres are considered something of second-tier entertainment. Literature too - Vonnegut once said something along the lines of "literary critics often mistake the Science Fiction rack for a urinal". Consumers tend to split into two groups: those who follow mainstream trends and dabble in genre only for the "crossover" hits, and those who become dedicated to a particular genre to the extent that it becomes the medium to them. To horror fans, for example, cinema EQUALS horror. 

Who DOESN'T like horror movies, tho?
Genre tendencies should only really be dangerous to that first group - the genre-fans, while they may more eagerly look to work subscribing to their rule-set, in fact tend to be the most discerning when it comes to their neck of the woods. The genre machinations become a baseline, and the fans are therefore able to extract the individuality that sits on top of that. This is what Andrew is presumably referring to with his Skyrim example.

As I was saying, the entirety of the video game mainstream is consumed by genres, so almost everyone becomes these genre-fans. It has become the norm, and therefore developers aren't afraid to simply say "yeah the game is an RPG" without worrying that that will consume its identity.

That isn't to say there aren't plenty of bad genre games, formulaic titles that usually sport a large number at the end of the title. These also tend to be the best-selling, because a dumb marketplace wants a dumb product - that's the reality of commercialized art. But those games made with the realization that it's not enough just to knock one out by the numbers still often bring interesting concepts to the table while still relying on a comfortable format to draw in a player base. 

Of course, at the end of the day, genrefication in any medium is an inevitability, because any successful idea is going to draw emulation. A game that at the time seemed to defy all expectations (e.g. Resident Evil 4) often ends up becoming the new standard. What to do about that... I don't really know. But it hardly concerns me either. The Dead Kennedys aren't any less brilliant for the existence of Good Charlotte, nor is Alien devalued by Species III: The Speciesening. 

Also this all might be kinda hypocritical because I think I hate genre games. Every time I list the genres I hate, it's like, all of them. RPGs, FPSs, stealth games, barf. So uh... how's that for insight?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Adorno, Baudrillard, Nickleback, and video games?

at 10:51 PM
Long time, no blog.  Hey y'all.  I got a "good" one for you, though.

Theodor W. Adorno was a German dude who wrote all sorts of stuff about mass culture when he wasn't busy fleeing the Nazis.  In his essay, "On Popular Music," he argues that there is a difference between "popular" and "serious" music, and that the latter is much, much better than the former.  Now here are a couple of notes for all you kids following along at home: Adorno, a marxist, was all about the idea of a Culture industry which mass produced its wares and then used them to manipulate the population into being passive consumption-bots; another thing to note is Adorno was quite the classical musician himself, and, judging by the adoring way he describes his works, has a passionate attraction to Beethoven.  He was also super into a bunch of 12 tone stuff.  Which sounds...unique.  




My take on this particular assertion by Adorno is that the man just wasn't hip with the cool new jazz music the kids were playing.  Sucks for him, he wrote it in 1941 when bebop was busting out on the scene and turning jazzinto a truly new and talent-driven art form.  I find his argument's failure particularly interesting because I think it's MUCH more valid today than when he was busily writing.  The type of dance music he was referring to was vastly more unique in comparison to popular music nowadays, which is in fact standardized to farcical levels.  In fact a Spanish study recently proved, like scientifically even, that music is boring as all hell now.  And, fun fact, even the Nazis loved jazz so much that when Hitler tried to ban it, popular taste made it an impossible task.

Here are some hilarious examples of popular music getting away with artistic murder.





Man, the Nickelback songs are actually super catchy when theyre stacked.


But since this is a video game blog I'll spare you and talk about how I think this whole line of thinking applies to video games.  One point Adorno makes, which rang very true to me, was that the standardization of music into genres makes it easily consumable, so much so that regardless of details like the particular artist or lyrics, we expect and indeed have the same reaction to each song.  Is this true for any particular video game genre?  That's a good question, I'm glad I asked! 

I think so, but maybe to a lesser extent than music.  Certainly there a plenty of clones out there, stealing basic game mechanics and even settings and adapting them over and over again in a Baudrillard-like simulacra.  Think Elder Scrolls is genre-defining and unique in a bleak landscape of RPGs?  Nope.  Dungeon Master did it first with surprisingly similar mechanics in 1987.  Now,I am not going to sit here and go through each genre because I think the issue of game cloning is clear, if not decided.  Perhaps the interactive element of games decreases the extent to which we can, as consumer-bots, passively absorb the products of the culture industry.  That'd be my guess.

Adorno digs his "serious" music because he thinks that these works are comprehensive; each section and detail relies on the whole to take on meaning.  Meanwhile popular music relies on details to differentiate itself and provide emotional impact, while the whole is a standardized piece of trash.  It's hard for me to very seriously disagree with this sentiment but I think that a relativist attitude, like my white-privilege, should be checked at the door.    Sure, maybe a few particular runs in a sax solo are what make a whole jazz tune so goddamn cool, but that doesn't mean it's somehow less meaningful then Schoenberg's artfully put-together pile of noise.  In the same way, a really inspired level in Mario Land 3D isn't going to be respected because it is woven into the pattern of the entire game.  It is just the particular that elevates the whole.  One of my favorite quests in Skyrim, where you get enlisted by a spirit to help him keep another, probably more evil spirit, locked in his tomb, is completely disconnected from every other plot line in the game.  You simply stumble upon it in a cave.  But it makes the entire thing a much more absorbing and satisfying experience.

This subject begs more questions then there will ever be answers, especially from myself.   Is there a "popular" and "serious" divide in video games?  Has the reproduction of a model, the simulacra of video games, become worse as the medium has progressed?  Is this bad?  To what extent do we consume video games simply because of genre-expectations?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Punch Out that Red Steel P2: A meditation on First Person Melee

at 4:22 PM
There may not be an established FPB (first-person brawler) genre, but if we wander through the annals of gaming history (okay) we'll stumble upon a few games that approach the notion, or at the very least contain elements of influence for the theoretical genre-to-be. The most outright, blatantly advertised-as-such game is probably Zeno Clash, but because that's pretty obscure and I've yet to play it, you'll have to hold your pants on while I discuss some games that anyone has ever played, Punch-Out!! and Red Steel 2. Please note that I'm more familiar with Super Punch-Out!! than its NES precedent, so I'll be using the franchise name to refer to the games interchangeably. They aren't that different.

So why the hell Punch-Out!!? Not only is the game not first person, but it's clearly a fighting game, not a brawler. It's so close over-the-shoulder though (your character is goddamn transparent!) that I'm willing to use my imagination and call it first-person. Since the camera is static, there's clearly nothing that would fail to translate to a first-person game. As for the dueling nature, come on guy. You know brawlers and action games are just wide-scale implementations of fighting mechanics! In 1992 the terms were completely interchangeable - Final Fight was liberally referred to as a fighting game, and Street Fighter as a beat-em-up. I don't think it's that hard to imagine a Punch-Out!! with three or four fighters in the ring, but the game was so caught up in being a realistic boxing simulation that Nintendo was afraid to cross that line. So let's look at the mechanics.

It's not obvious how to make a fighting game fun without bogging it down in Systems (look at Guilty Gear and it's Super-Counter this and Hyper Roman Mega Greek Cancel), but Punch-Out!! was way ahead of its time. Sometimes it's dismissed as a rhythm game, but that's not any fairer than calling Arkham Asylum the same thing. There are clearly rhythmic elements to the combat, simply because the interplay is reactionary. The player has to observe, look for patterns and openings, and respond with defensive and offensive maneuvers. A pure rhythm game requires fixed responses to cues - when you see an X on the screen, you press X. Punch-Out!! creates gaps for improvisation. If a jab is coming, you can duck, block high, dodge left or right, or counter-punch. Which to do is left to the discretion of the player and his overall strategy. Reflexes are key, but so is strategy. How do you outsmart your opponent and knock him into submission?

I make an Arkham Asylum comparison despite the fact that Punch-Out!!'s combat goes beyond that. It can't simply be transposed into a third-person overhead action game. The strategy of the combat plays up a relationship between the player and his opponent, a direct chaining of relentless action and reaction that keeps them locked face-to-face. There's no backing away, no running for cover - the tension is built because the battle is up-close and personal in a first-person perspective, because every missed opportunity is not just the loss of a hit, but a gained opportunity for the enemy.

This brings us around to the complexity of this enemy. The focused combat needs an opponent worth focusing on, something that can't be taken down by a repeated string of standard attacks. Attacks need to follow some structure in order to allow the player any strategy beyond blind reflex, yet a vast repertoire has to keep him on his toes. Punch-Out!! gives the combatants a flurry of moves to draw on, even more than the player has at his disposal, and distinguishes different opponents by their preference. Learning these preferences also serves to slowly build up the player's own skill-set, his understanding of how to deal with moves in every situation.
What says complex, sophisticated foe better than clown?
Punch-Out!! is a game offering a lot more than meets the eye. It's not a simple rhythm game and certainly not a boxing sim, but rather a first-person fighter that demands the same acuity and alacrity as its side-scrolling and third-person peers. A FPB could stand to learn from the complexity of Punch-Out!!'s opponents and the tension it builds with locked-in head-to-head battles.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dishonored: A game about killing. In a real way.

at 12:21 PM
Alright, "salsarito" is officially dead to me. Lucky you. If this were Dishonored, it would by now be throttled, decapitated, stripped of flesh by ravenous plague rats, or disintegrated by a wall of electricity. It's a brutally violent game, and that's a tough statement to make in 2012. What really gets to me about it is that every enemy is executed with an abrupt flourish of savagery. Your character makes a point to ensure that they are dead. This is an excellent touch of design in a game that at every point reminds you that killing is unnecessary. There is a tangible difference between nonlethal incapacitation and murder, far more resonant than a typical shoot-them-in-the-head-with-a-dart or shoot-them-in-the-head-with-a-bullet. As your character slits throats, plunges his sword to the hilt into tender joints, or straight up swipes a head off, you're reminded that you're taking lives, not just draining health bars.

The story wastes no time reminding you that this gory detail isn't intended (or at least, isn't solely intended) as a feast for the eyes of bloodthirsty desensitized gamers. Your first foes, as a politically motivated assassin, are the corrupt usurpers of power in a once honorable (hah!) regime. This of course means that the grunts in your way are going to be the police and soldiers of that empire, who believe it's their job to stop you. Perhaps some of these conscripts are as ill-intentioned as the bastard nobles writing their orders, but perhaps they think they're doing the right thing. On your first assassination mission, a friend of the revolution begs you to spare her uncle, a captain of the guard, who she insists is a good man trying to make changes from the inside. It's up to you to decide whether you give a shit, or whether you can afford to leave him alive. You may end up caught in a situation where he has you at gunpoint and you've no choice but to kill him. Average foes may furiously charge you after seeing a cohort stricken down, shouting "you've just made someone a widow!" These feel like real people - are you okay with killing a cop because you don't like the law?

If you aren't okay with that, then don't play that way. It may take a little lateral thinking and the occasional outright retreat, but the tools and skills are available to finish the game without taking a single life - not even those 'necessitated' by the story. Each situation can be approached with stealth or force, and may lend itself to one, the other, or neither. This is not a Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory or Mark of the Ninja, in which "you can go in guns blazing or stick to the shadows" equals "you're supposed to stay hidden, but if you're spotted you can (chaos) theoretically shoot your way out". There have been setups to which I started with a stealthy approach that was quickly abandoned when I simply couldn't figure out a way to progress. Nonlethal play isn't the correct approach or a challenge mode, it's simply an option left to the player.

The moment I realized that the game had been successful in rendering killing meaningful was when I met a gang of thugs trying to force their way into an old lady's home. Up until that point (about an hour into the game), I'd been mostly sticking to nonlethal takedowns on the guardsmen I'd faced (after I'd finished experimenting with the combat system). I started to prepare sleep darts to eliminate these three assholes, then I realized - fuck it. Why am I sparing a bunch of lowlife gangsters? I dropped from the roof - sword-first - onto the soon-to-be corpse of the first one, then slashed his punk friends to bits as they exclaimed "no one kills one of us!" Well, I did, and it felt damn worth it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Punch Out that Red Steel P1: A meditation on First Person Melee

at 3:23 PM
As popular as are melee action brawlers (God of War) and first-person games (Halo), it's a bit odd that we don't see the two notions cross over more often. It's clearly not because each viewpoint is intrinsically connected to the gameplay style, as shooters are just as commonly viewed from varied removed perspectives as they are from the eyes of the avatar. Even those games that do hand you a sword in first-person tend to draw from pre-existing genre standards, like RPGs or FPSs, rather than defining a unique FPB. Allow me to coin that term right now to save myself the hassle of typing "first-person" a million times in this post. FPB = First-Person Brawler, FPS = First-Person Shooter (in case you're new to Earth).

So what do we have to work with? What games attempt to tackle this unspoken-for FPB salsarito? The Shock games (System Shock through BioShock) encourage you to lean on your wrench, both through hand-to-hand upgrades and classic survival horror ammo scarcity. However, these games are still shooters first and brawlers second. The layout of the environment is in accordance with FPSs of the eras that spawned them, whether it be corridors in System Shock 2, or two-sided rooms with cover positions in BioShock. These layouts encourage static defensive positioning, not aggressive free-form space manipulation. To put it simply, enemies function on rails or like turrets, rather than reactively covering an open area. In shooter form, characters are also fragile. Both enemies and the player must avoid damage to sustain longevity; they make swift, lethal assaults rather than trading blows. Despite providing a close-range combat alternative, these games are definitely shooters guest-starring melee.

If the presence of guns undermines melee sensibilities, why don't we look to swords and sorcery? The Western RPG has one of the longest standing traditions of first-person games - as a matter of fact, it even predates the FPS (uh I assume - Wizardry came out in 1981, I don't think any FPSs existed before that, but I could be wrong). The older games implement turn-based battles, but action has become popular in recent years. Ultima Underworld was actually developed by Looking Glass Studios, who would later bring us the aforediscussed System Shock. These later games, most popularly Elder Scrolls IV & V, rely mostly on the restrictions common in action-RPG combat, and are unsurprisingly no more FPBs than Diablo is Devil May Cry. It's all about rinse-repeat, powering up a character and assigning them a skill-set, then using the same skill combo ad nauseam. There's no sense of physicality and momentum to the clashes, you either stand still and pound away or kite an enemy along, and again that's in part because these are fodder enemies. Their capabilities are nothing like yours and they exist just to soak up blows.

These two umbrellas, FPS and FPRPG, cover a surprisingly large segment of first-person gaming. You've of course got your adventure games, flight sims, and racing games, but they obviously aren't what we're looking for. Where can we look for straight-up face-to-face bludgeoning action? As you may suspect from this setup or - nay - the very title of this piece!, I'm about to throw you two examples of what I'd call an FPB. Before we talk in depth about Punch-Out!! and Red Steel 2, allow me to first namedrop a few probable FPBs that I haven't yet had a chance to play. See, it's easier to write about classic games, because I can whip out an emulator and try out twenty in an hour. Anyway, FPBs-to-check-out include Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, Zeno Clash, Karateka (2012) (it's uh, kinda the right idea, if not exactly first-person), and Rage of the Gladiator. I'm starting up Dishonored today and will add that to the discussion in the near future, and you can check out Greg's recent review of Getsu Fuuma Den here.
(skip to 1:50 for combat, sorry, I don't know how to start an embed from a time mark)

I'll be back tomorrow to talk about about how Punch-Out!! establishes first-person hand-to-hand combat as a viable and repeatably fun gameplay mechanic in a manner that screams to be mimicked, and how Red Steel 2 uses the beat-em-up confrontation structure and foe equivalency in conjunction with the limitations of a first-person viewpoint to make for extremely dynamic combat.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Top Ten SRPGs 2: ContinYOUd

at 4:18 PM
This is the part of the strategy RPG cake where I take you down memory lane to look at some genre classics that provide popular tweaks on a generally accepted framework of Chess Plus. What I mean by that is grid-based gameplay with alternating turns and pieces that only have one type of action. These games vary mostly in their implementation of the notion of role-playing, as you'll come to lovingly understand.

What?

Anyway.

4. Fire Emblem: Pick Which One You Like Best
As the years have passed, Fire Emblem seems to have evolved the least of Nintendo's mainline series. Complain all you want about Zelda and Mario being formulaic, but they take us on journeys through worlds. Link sailed across the ocean and soared through the skies while Mario sunbathed in the tropics and reached for the stars. The adventure and discovery make old mechanics new again. Fire Emblem loses this because its trademark is the setting, not the characters. The heroes change every time, and the castles stay castles. So there isn't much to see - oh well, strategy games were never about the scenery anyway.

The Fire Emblem model is very cut and dry. Units have flavors which define their relationships: axe beats lance beats sword, archer beats magic, so on. There's not much rolling of the dice on the battlefield; once the machinery begins to turn, you won't be surprised (or have to react) to the results. That makes Fire Emblem a preparation game, all about choosing the right units and the right equipment. The choice to take a character into battle carries a greater weight because they each have their own back-story and persona. They may chat with the characters next to them, or perhaps have a town or enemy to uniquely interact with. 

5. Shining Force II
Of the Shiny Forces, I've only played II, so this is a freebee. At first glance, Shining Force is just an even boringer Fire Emblem. Seems like the battles go slower, you have less units, etc. Yawn. Actually what you're witnessing is that Shining Force is more a traditional JRPG than its other SRPG compatriots. You're first clued in by structure of the game. You walk around in towns, chat about, and explore a world map. There are shops and churches and castles, as one would see in Dragon Warrior or Ultima. Battles can be escaped and replayed. This sets a leisurely pace for the game. 

Shining Force wants you to get in there, take your time, and beef up your team. You'll hit the wall occasionally, even if you think you're playing with strategic perfection. Part of the experience is investing time in each character, learning their individual strengths and weaknesses. There aren't the rock-paper-scissors hierarchies, so each unit is more well-rounded and self-sufficient. I'm saying you can grind, got it? To some that is a most comforting notion.

6. Romance of the Three Kingdoms VII
Alright, finally, something interesting. Romance VII is a large-scale, territorial strategy game. Based in historical scenarios, some would call the game a simulation, as it demands that the player manage economy, culture, and diplomacy across his very own Ancient Chinese Dominion. It's true that Romance VII presents itself as a numbers game, all about allocating resources and

Wow you know I'm realizing here how boring strategy games are to write about. Admittedly, plenty of people find them boring to play as well, but I find something impossibly soothing, engrossing, and rewarding about these games. When I sit down to play Romance of the Three Kingdoms, I know I'm going to lose a few hours of my life, and yet am satisfied to see the growth of my sandcastle. There is a quantifiable element of success that goes beyond a high score or kill/death ratio, a constructive effort with nigh-tangible results. The more granularity the game provides and the more hardship one must overcome to amass his little kingdom, the more gratifying it is to witness it come to be.

ROTK7 offers exactly as much control and granularity as you need, through its RPG element. You don't rule directly over the land and all of its day-to-day business, rather this is handled by warlords with individual statistics and predispositions. These characters allow for indirect and personalized development of your domain, keeping the details hidden while you watch your borders expand.

Come back next time to learn about some non-traditional, and maybe even Western!, strategy RPGs. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Last Story: The Game That Kind of is a Strategy RPG (if you squint)

at 2:04 PM
(Yourself is compiling his list of top ten strategy RPGs, so I figured I'd write about the second one I've ever played. The first one being Knights in the Nightmare.)

There's a sense of desperation in JRPGs today. You see a general frustration with PlayStation-era JRPG trends as the genre tries to gain new relevance. Combat can't be all menus, cutscenes absolutely must be skippable, so on and so forth.

Enter The Last Story. Initially, its combat doesn't do anything out of the ordinary; you attack automatically by rubbing up against foes, your party members assist you in real time--stuff I first encountered in Final Fantasy 12.

But with only a few minutes of gameplay under its belt, The Last Story introduces stealth shooter mechanics. By holding ZR, you can aim a crossbow in third person, and by pressing A, you can hide behind cover. So, by crawling behind cover, you can sneak around enemies and snipe them. I understand the need to experiment with the genre, but does it really help to throw in elements from Gears of War WinBack?

I found that one particular battle from the first chapter highlighted The Last Story's stealth shooter side. Up ahead, the enemy formation held one healer surrounded by grunts. If I decided to charge straight forward, I'd meet the grunts head on. I could handle them easily, but the problem was that healer. He could heal them from his protected position behind a line of grunts. The front line would constantly get healed, and I'd never break through their formation.

The smarter option was to sneak around the side of their formation, using cover to remain hidden. Luckily, the enemy party hadn't seen my party in hiding. So, I tip-toed behind cover until I found a good location for sniping the healer with my crossbow. I fired a shot, all but taking him out, and all hell broke loose as the enemy party realized I was invading their personal space.

The same formation that seemed so advantageous to my enemies was now their downfall. Once I killed the healer, I was planted right in the middle, able to strike their back line of troops. Meanwhile, the three other members of my party rushed up to meet me and took out the front line. The battle was clean and quick.

The largest difference between RPGs and strategy RPGs is the sense of space. In strategy RPGs, you can flank enemies, you can bottleneck them, etc. In games like Shining Force, spells have an area of effect; Blaze level 2 hits any enemy within a two-block radius, for instance.

And that sense of space is what stealth mechanics add to The Last Story. If you study the terrain, you can often use it in your favor against the enemies. For example, attacking an enemy from behind cover will deal bonus damage. In other words, where you attack is important.

The Last Story has a nifty assemblage of mechanics that develop the JRPG's action/strategy edge, but at the end of the day, they're often undercut by execution.

Taking a strategic approach is often pain-staking compared to the tried and true method of running into everything until it dies, especially given the low difficulty of many battles.

And, when the game does encourage you to play around with landscape and stealth, your party members will be sure to give you the full run-down on how to win that fight. For instance, for the battle detailed above, my party immediately told me exactly what to do.

But it was worth a shot, and it's a game I'll gladly tip my hat to.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Yeah yeah, slow week

at 6:51 PM
Been busy, chill the fuck out. Guess I'm kinda saying that to myself since I'm the only one it bothers, but when you're all OCDy it is pretty annoying to miss a post for a day. Have this playlist instead.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnOrzkSx4nc&list=PL099529203B17F7BE&index=1&feature=plpp_video

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

LPGA Revisited: One level from Mega Man X

at 6:00 PM

To make up for my lack of a post yesterday, enjoy this lovely micro-LP (EP?) from the days before we were known as LPGA. The full Let's Play of Mega Man X features Greg and many of his other friends, and can be found, I don't remember, somewhere. Needless to say, this is the best part.


Give this game a shot, revisited: Comix Zone

at 11:19 AM
I've picked up Comix Zone once or twice in the past, only to be frustrated by its lame difficulty so quickly that I tossed it aside before moving past the first level. Who hasn't? Giving the game another shot, I was surprised to find it's actually spectacularly ahead of its time, as possibly the most cinematic, narrative-driven 20th century sidescroller I've ever played. Not what you were expecting to hear, was it? That's because this forward-thinking architecture is a bit muffled by the in-your-face brawling challenge and idiosyncratic art-style. The game is usually brushed away as a small footnote in the Genesis library, notable only for its immediately effectual presentation. Play a little longer, and you'll find an experience far more unique, one that utilizes its comic book inspiration for more than just pretty graphics.

Comix Zone may very well have been made by people who had never played a video game before, or were at least extremely new to the medium. There are dozens of weird decisions that go so thoroughly and unintuitively against convention that the designers must have been either completely unaware of these conventions, or looking to boldly set them alight. I lean toward the former because their sights don't seem set on a particular target, rather they haphazardly reinvent left and right. Death resets the entire game! Punching things drains your life! Fighting game controls except with a jump button! It's like they played Mortal Kombat once and then assumed all other games were based on that. It's kinda weird and amateurish, but not in a bad way. Not in a remarkable way, either. In those days, plenty of games popped up with this kind of "I can make a video game too!" feel. Play the other Strider II sometime, or anything developed by Culture Brain.

If you get caught up in this, and you will - momentarily - you're likely to quickly pass on Comix Zone as a game with a gimmick and nothing more. That'd be a shame, because a little more time reveals that the comic book theme of the game is much more than a gimmick. Games often mimic film in an attempt to add narrative depth, adopting the trends and proven success of an older and more artistically acclaimed medium. I'll discuss elsewhere why I think this is often a mistake, and that "cinematic" should be a dirty word in the gaming community, but we can at least acknowledge that it's business as usual. Is it any more a gimmick for Comix Zone to borrow the presentation of comics than for Ninja Gaiden to use cinematic cut-scenes to tell its story? Only when you take into consideration the fringe presence of comics in the scholarly and popular artistic communities.
The narrative structure of comics turns out to lend itself surprisingly well to video games. This is an episodic structure, a presentation of sequential static scenes with discrete leaps in time and place linking them together. A structure which can be whittled down to only moments of action without sacrificing fluidity. This works perfectly for a game, which wants to take you to as many places as possible in as short a time as it can, without ever taking the control away from the player. It also needs to keep in each place for long enough for action and exposition to occur, rather than a film which will continuously move.

Note that none of these techniques are unavailable to film, as in fact it and comics are already excruciatingly close art-forms, presenting a union of imagery and language. The emphasis, however, is different. For a game of the 2D era like Comix Zone, comics offer a more natural influence. A smaller field of view must be crammed with more details because the viewpoint will always be static, changes in location need to be discontinuous because walking is boring, and action and exposition need to be able to be set aside for one another, rather than passing by so quickly that the player loses track.

The end result is that every situation in Comix Zone is narrative-driven. Every panel of the game's stage structure needs to justify its existence and needs to be different from those before and after it. This divides the gameplay into micro-stages that only last thirty seconds or a minute, and imbues each with only a small chunk of narrative, rather than relying on a five-minute cutscene to explain the subsequent thirty-minute level. The story is developed throughout the whole of the game, and while gameplay still relies on a repeated fighting mechanic, each fight is the result of some new plot development and is given a reason to exist. This is wildly ahead of its time in 1995 when the age of Streets of Rage beat-em-ups was just coming to a close, where you accepted that sometimes a bad guy actually did just have a literal army of thugs to stall you.


It's certainly heavier on action than any genuine comic book or film could be while still carrying a story, but what is important is that the action is tied to the narrative. That means the game is actually watchable, not just playable (hence the longplay above! Check it out, because I assure you, you won't make it to the end otherwise, not without a lot of dedication). Games don't have to tell stories, but those that do should look to an example like Comix Zone as a means of accomplishing it without abandoning the tenets of the medium.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Top Ten SRPGs: The first three, TRPGs

at 1:49 PM
Allow me to copy the top ten rules here, they apply the same as ever. Same as it ever was....
DESERT ISLAND DISC! These are the ten games I would take if all other qualifiers were forever destroyed. That means there is a strong preference to take only one game per series/creative unit; however, this is not a strict rule. I may find myself unable to dispose of either Highway 61 (Revisited) or John Wesley Harding.
NO RANKING! The ten are presented arbitrarily ordered unless otherwise noted.
NO COLLECTIONS! Re-releases and remakes are okay, but no anthologies. Games must be originally intended as a standalone work.
WHAT I SAY GOES! These are my choices. They aren't the games considered the best, or that were the most influential or successful. They are my subjective preferences. I will provide as much objective reasoning as I can, but at the end of the day, I like what I like and am always right, and you like whatever stupid things you like, because you're an idiot.

If you weren't with us last time, you'd be wise to read the intro, where you'll learn the difference between Strategy RPGs and their subset, Tactical RPGs. The first three games I'll cover will fall into the Tactical category.

Give me let you a little history of tactics games. 1995's Japan-only Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together seems to have instantiated the genre standard, and was closely followed by Final Fantasy Tactics, which brought the idea to Western shores. Though LUCT was published by Enix and FFT by their arch-rivals Square, both games were directed by the legendable Yasumi Matsuno. LUCT itself was the bastard child of two games: Ogre Battle (also Matsuno-directed) and Fire Emblem (a then-Japan-only Nintendo franchise). Ogre Battle laid out the class and terrain systems that the genre would adhere to, as well as the notion of unit facing (side- and back-attacks), while Fire Emblem was responsible for appropriating the grid-based antics of strategy and tabletop games, themselves likely inspired by simple old chess.

Until recently, the original LUCT and FFT were very expensive to get one's hands on, and Fire Emblem required a Famicom to play. Proving that there is a Baby Jesus in heaven, in the last five years all three games have been remade and released in the West on DS or PSP. You won't see them on this list, because I haven't gotten around to buying a PSP to play LUCT and FFT, and Fire Emblem... well, let's just say another Fire Emblem might make an appearance later on. But it isn't a TRPG, so erase it from your brain for the time being! With a pencil eraser! Because your brain is a pencil!

----------------------------------------------------

1.) Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (GBA, 2003)
Hey, I said FFT wouldn't be on the list, didn't mention anything about the pseudo-sequel. This game saw the reunion of Quest with their former compatriot Matsuno under the Square Enix banner, where they produced their second, and probably last, tactics game together.

The game's greatest strength is a superb job system, which requires frequently rotating your characters' classes in order to give them ridiculously broad skill sets. It can get a bit unbalanced, but never requires grinding, and keeps your army in a constant state of flux. No character ever becomes useless. A range of character races provides further variety to the system. There are hundreds of possible class permutations, and (as always when such numbers are tossed about) while some are superficial and will only be explored by the most hardcore players, the result is that every player will feel like he has a unique set of characters of his very own engineering.

A weird feature that I feel obligated to mention is that the world map starts off blank, with a bunch of empty spaces where towns and battlegrounds will be. As the story necessitates the introduction of new areas, it gives you an icon to place on whichever space you choose. This customizable world map seems to serve little purpose, but hey, it's unique.

2.) Tactics Ogre: Knight of Lodis (GBA, 2001)
We jump from the most popular Western Tactics series, to the most acclaimed in the East. I haven't played LUCT, but if every other Quest game is any indication, I'm sure it's fantastic. Until then, we have Knight of Lodis. This side-story (gaiden!) to the original Tactics Ogre tells the backstory of a character who I won't reveal, because it's a pretty big shocker (or so I'm told by fans of the original).

Knight of Lodis implemented the concept of Achievements long before they were foolishly made an OS-level idea on Xbox (quick question: do you pay more attention to your Achievements or your Mii?). Characters are defined not by their numerical statistics, but by what they've done (represented by medals they're awarded). Kill too many beasts? You'll never become a Beast Tamer. One-hit kill a weak enemy? You're now eligible to be a Berzerker. Killing lawful opponents will sway a character towards chaos and vice-versa.

This is role-playing at its finest. Characters defined not by what they say or choose, but what they do. Show me, don't tell me. There are consequences to every action, rewards and punishments, and they'll influence the story in ways you weren't expecting. Which of the plethora of endings you reach will depend on ambiguous dialogue branches (not of the save/kill variety, but rather philosophical musings on the purpose of war and the reality of love), your choice of soldiers (did all of your men fall to chaos?), and who died or lived through the final battles.

Ogre Battle is a series for which I have endless praise (don't think you've seen the end of it on this list, let alone this blog), and Knight of Lodis upholds its shining standard.

3.) Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (PS2, 2003)
Prinnies, dood! Disgaea is real fucking weird. You probably aren't expecting how weird. It's irreverent and bizarre humor may be in line with anime tradition (it calls to mind FLCL in particular), but you still probably won't expect it when a spaceship shows up in Hell to try to blow you up. Also, prinnies are half-penguin, half-bombs, which I believe are said to be created from human souls.

What the game is primarily known for, and of course the key element to winning a cult following, is that the content is essentially bottomless. Every single item in the game contains a dungeon. Every character can be leveled up to... Lvl 9999 I think? And it's not like they move way faster than in a normal game - that's going at a pretty standard pace. I think my characters were like level 30 when I beat the game for the first time. And you're meant to reset them to level 1 all the time! You can also go to Demon court and try to pass Demon laws, and then fight the Demon jury if they don't Demon pass.
I must admit I never quite "got" all these weird systems in Disgaea. It seemed neat, but I'm not the kind to dump six hundred hours into a single game. The reason I've included the game here is that the battles themselves are quite clever. While most TRPG battles are interchangeable (note that I barely mentioned those in FFTA and Knight of Lodis), Disgaea throws in puzzle elements. Sometimes you can't kill your opponents, or every square on the battle field is instant death. Certain mechanics (namely including these uh gem thingies) need to be manipulated to solve each battlefield. Sometimes the battles play out straightforward, and other times you have to fight nearly fifty enemies all crammed side-by-side onto the same tiny grid.

----------------------------------------------------

Next time we'll be departing from the Tactics subgenre to discuss some more traditional (and sometimes much older!) Strategy RPGs.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Strategy RPGs: Intro to a Top Ten

at 2:47 PM
Hey y'all, it's snowing! Or, it was supposed to snow today. How romancetic. There's nothing I like better than curling on a cold winter's day. Yes, curling, the sport of true men and brooms all across the world.

What's with "curling up by the fire" or whatever such oft-repeated Cold Winter's Day Xpressions? I hate that kind of phoned-in memory imagery. You know what it looks like because you've heard the expression before. Were that not the case, you'd hear "curling up by the fire" as someone calculating ∇ × F where F is the rate at which that bank I just blew up burns to the ground. No you wouldn't. Why would anyone need to know the curl of that function? It would be useless. It wouldn't even be a vector field for that matter.
Remember on exams when they would make you draw stupid vector fields like this, then add stuff like the curl? If you haven't been there, you may not realize how impossibly annoying it is to hand-draw this many tiny arrows and distinguish their angles and lengths by such a small factor, while the clock ticks away your three hours. Hey, where did everybody go? This is interesting!
On an afternoon like this, I like to divergence up under the covers and grab a nice fresh Japanese Tactics RPG. I originally intended to make a list of just TPRGs, but it turns out there aren't enough worth playing to really sustain a top ten. So instead I'm going to broaden the category to Strategy RPGs in general. Allow me to distinguish the terms, since careless writers (EVERYONE BUT ME) tend to jumble them interchangeably.
This is what a TRPG will always look like; you probably recognize it like your own mother. Whom, by the way, you definitely should not have strangled. That wasn't nice at all!
I use the term T[actical]RPG to impose the tightest possible genre restriction. It refers strictly to games that play exactly like Tactics Ogre (to my knowledge the first to define the standard, as well as the tradition of using the word "Tactics" right there in the title). These form a sub-genre which fully falls under the larger SRPG salsarito. If you're blind and couldn't see that image, let me wordalize the concept of the TRPG: it's set on an isometrically-viewed elevated grid, usually sized to the screen, with individual character placement and facing, using a traditional experience-leveling system with jobs/classes/skills and persistent units.
Check out Valkyria Chronicles as an example of an SRPG will very little in common with TRPGs

As TRPGs carve out their own niche within SRPGs, SRPGs are themselves encapsulated in the larger RPG salsarito. However, they can also be considered a subset of strategy games, as they share elements with XCOM, Nobunaga's Ambition, and Famicom/Advance Wars. So really they're an intersection of Strategy and RPG. I'm trying to phrase this as set theory since I've unwisely chosen a mathematics motif for this post. The main defining element of an SRPG is that the player controls a force (strategy) of independently developing components (RPG). A pure strategy game has you controlling generics (essentially descended from chess), while a pure RPG puts you in control of a uniquely developing singular control unit (either a single character or a party). 

I'm not going to bother listing examples from either genre, because the list will give you plenty if you still don't get it. Plus I don't want to spoil anything. So come back in a little while as I kick off another Thrilling Ten Tops: SPERG edition.

Dang (wait since when do I censor myself on this blog, I mean "Damn"), I never made a ROM-ney pun

at 9:02 AM
Now the election is done and Obamanation is renewed, so I won't get to make a timely joke combining ROM files and Republican presidential candidates for many years to come. Unless Sarah PAL[region]in shows up again.

Hang on I bet I have one more in me. Uhhhh... hmm....... how about a, uh............ ROM Paul? Comedic genius strikes again!

And THAT'S why you stop while you're ahead. [picks up fake arm, walks off camera]

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Is 3DS being marketed poorly?

at 2:14 PM
Here's a quiz for you. Is the 3DS:
A. An entirely new software platform or
B. A DS that can play games in 3D

I only bring this up because this weekend I for the third time got into a conversation with someone who misunderstood what is a 3DS. The individuals in question were casual gamers and parents, who of course make up the largest consumer base for the device, so it's extremely important to Nintendo that they get it. But I've heard this enough times now that I'm going to refrain from calling my friends and coworkers idiots and pin this one on the N of America marketing department.
Is this a 3DS?...
In this 21st century and age, electronics consumers have gleefully fallen victim to incessant insignificant tech upgrades, with a new letter and number being added to every product name every year. This has impacted brand loyalty - maybe it's just because I'm an adult now, but doesn't it seem like people are less virulently Apple vs. Microsoft/Google/The World? - and mixed in compulsive dedication to owning the newest devices. Because god forbid that that phone you treated like a precious diamond in March actually be worth keeping for a year. 

Getting off topic.

"GET OVER HERE!" - Topic, 1 second ago

The point is that Nintendo has been edging toward this trend with its handheld devices - understandable, as they share market space with iPhOnEs and Droidbots and tablets. They've kinda been doing it for years - look at Game Boy Color and Color Game Boy (not a joke, they are very different). More recently, the DS had four revisions: 

the DS in 2004, 
the DS Lite in 2006, renewing the form factor,
the DSi in 2008, adding... I dunno something,
the DSi XL in 2010, increasing the screen area.

Shortly after the last of those, 
the 3DS came out in 2011 adding 3D (and also a whole new software library)
the 3DS XL in 2012 seems largely (EXTRA largely (sigh)) to have replaced it in stores..

...or is this one?
I listed them like that for a reason. Look how, were I Biff "Average" Consumer, I might not be able to tell the difference between the Lite to DSi gap, and the DSi to 3DS gap? As of 2010, four DS models existed and they all played the same games. [the following is the misunderstanding I've heard repeatedly]: Why do I need to upgrade again now in 2012? Oh, the new one has 3D and can play some of the old DS games in 3D, which the old DS can't. But... I don't really give a shit about 3D. I think I'll pass.

Then two years from now, these same people are going to be baffled why there aren't any new games for their DS, and how come Best Buy and Target don't sell any non-3D games? They don't realize that this was a generational leap, the same as PS2 to PS3, because Nintendo is spending so much time explaining "it can still play your old games!" Regular DS games are no longer being made, and the old device will soon be obsolete. 3DS has been marketed as "DS with 3D! and also a whole new software library", rather than what it should be, "DS with a whole new software library! and also 3D". Because whether you're looking at the incremental life-cycle of obsessive geek-turd phonelets or the stable as-of-six-years-ago console race, the idea of needing to buy a new platform for an entirely new generation of software is vanishing.

I expect the Wii U is going to encounter this issue as well, and hopefully Nintendo does a better job of distinguishing it as a complete hardware overhaul with its own brand new software library. Um, I say I hope, but they haven't, and it's going to be out in a few weeks. It's already going to be a hell of a time getting consumers who feel like they got burned on Wii ("it was fun for two weeks", "collecting dust") to come back for another round, without even touching the fact that the mainstream gaming press has seemingly already determined the platform's damnation. The 3DS may have bounced back, but the DS brand was in better standing than the Wii is now.

Oh well. Nintendo are morons at business. And I say that knowing full well that the company is run by people with more money in their pockets than I will ever see in my life. They just aren't gonna be in it for the long haul if they keep making stupid decisions; when your only strength is as a software company, how do you keep hardware afloat?