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Right in Front of Your Face

Elitism still is the big divide. It’s the biggest obstacle facing games today. Elitism is the belief that some individuals, who form an elite — a select group of people with intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views are the only ones that matter.

We are that elite.

Many of my friends resented when Nintendo positioned itself as a beacon to attract non-gamers (including some of my non-gamer friends, interestingly enough). Now, after piling them with shovelware for years, we see our dusted Wiis and state “The Wii Is Dead” in a dismissive tone that implies “See, we were right all along. You shouldn’t have abandoned us. We are the ones that get it, not them”.

Because (OMG!) gaming is art. And we are (obviously) the only ones who can see it.
Some pieces of art are difficult to understand or appreciate. That’s why the elite is the elite; and have Bach playing on the background as they discuss the peasant situation. The thing is that while there is only schooling and experience in the way of turning the Average Joe into H. E. Pennypacker, for gaming there is also the issue of skill. How can grandpa even start to appreciate games when just comprehending the controls is bound to take more spasmodic accidents than his patience and time could afford?

Yes, folks, this is my Omnitopic entry!

No matter how unapproachable a book or a movie may be, one can always get through it. The same is not true for gaming, as the skills it requires are primarily related to manual dexterity – which is not a trivial thing to acquire. It’s mostly an aptitude after all. Gaming is built on progression and not matter whether this progression if linear or open ended, the plot is not. One cannot skip to world 8-8 if one cannot even pass world 1-1 (and the first warp zone is hidden in the world 1-2, mind you). This is troublesome. It’s like buying a movie without knowing how to read it.

I find this unfair, especially now games are maturing into a narrative driven medium. Read the rest of this entry

Interruption!

Game characters are terrible conversationalists. I came to this conclusion after the last three games I’ve played: Fallout 3, Mass Effect 2 and Metroid: Other M.

First, we have Fallout 3’s Lone Wanderer of the Capital Wasteland. This is a guy whose dad probably was a big fan of the sentences “Don’t you interrupt me while I’m talking!” and “Look at me when I’m talking to you!”. Years of scolding in an isolated confinement left a mark on the boy, who is now traumatized beyond belief: when talking to the Lone Wanderer, he will never interrupt you or look away. Like a robot, he will wait until the final period before starting his response.

Then we have Samus. Samus was raised a bird-like alien race that must have been similar to Mass Effect’s Elcor race. Like the Elcor, Samus mechanically speaks irrelevances in a vapid monotone. She makes an effort to state her emotions as she probably thinks a kickass Power Suit won’t fully transmit the message of love, imaturity and brattiness she wants to spread across the galaxy.

Finally, we have Commander Shepard from Mass Effect. Dialogs in Mass Effect closely follows the standard perfected by Alfred Hitchcock: show your protagonist doing something, cut to the other person’s reaction and cut back to the protagonist’s own reaction. It is very rare to see two people talking while dividing the same frame in Mass Effect. The game’s cinematic presentation goes a long way in trying to convey am almost realistic conversation – and Mass Effect 2’s ability to interrupt some dialogues by performing a Paragon/Renegade action only adds to that.

However, not even Mass Effect is able to present us with a fully realistic dialogue. Actually, it’s interesting to note that, like Samus and the Lone Wanderer, Shepard also has his own unique idiosyncrasies. His idea of conversation, for example, can be summed up by him saying “Tell me about this. Tell me about that.” to any NPC he encounters.

In fact, I’m yet to see any game whose characters talk like in real life. It’s almost ironic that the game series most known for its elaborated scripts, Metal Gear Solid, follows a ludicrous conversation repertoire that consists of repeating each statement said in the form of a question. In form of a question?

How long will it take for games to grasp that this is not how real dialogs works.

Dialogs don’t actually work like this:

But more like this

Games now behave pretty much like the first talked movies did back in the 1930’s. It was a director called Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep, Red River, Rio Bravo) that taught movies how people actually talked, eventually influencing Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve) who ended up influencing Quentin Tarantino.

Not Hawks related, but I use whatever excuse I can get to post this gif.

What Hawks noted was that we almost never wait for people to finish talking. We talk over one another. What he did was simple: he wrote his dialog in a way that the beginning and ending of sentences are entirely unnecessary. Voices overlapped in a rapid-fire repartee… and it made sense. It sounded spontaneous, natural.

As games strive to tell better narratives, getting some ideas from Hawks makes perfect sense. Instead of allowing gamers to skip dialogs, allow them to interrupt the NPCs (which also implies interrupting the subtitles, which, in turn, implies in more dynamics subtitles that don’t uncover the character’s entire sentence before the sentence is actually spoken). Instead of just allowing gamers to choose what to speak, allow them to decide when to speak as well (and add some consequences for that too). Instead of hiring voice actors with head traumas that prevent them from expressing anything but the emotional state of an asparagus, hire some actual talents and record them together (as well as allowing them to improvise some of their lines).

The ultimate goal is to recreate the naturalness of the interrelationships between characters; something that game characters have yet to recreate. We need not only better dialogs, but better mechanisms to convey these dialogs. Mass Effect’s conversational monsters/obstacles are nice and all, but it’s high time the medium as a whole evolved from that.

METROID: OTHER M – Review

METROID: OTHER M is a videogame developed by Project M, published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Wii. It was directed by TAKEHIKO HOSOKAWA, YUSUKE HAYASHI and YOSHIO SAKAMOTO.

Shigeru Miyamoto has had some pretty inspiring ideas in the past. The last genius idea attributed to him that I can remember was turning the third-person perspective of Metroid’s gameplay into a first-person perspective. The jump from 2D to 3D is a dilemma every classic, pixelated game eventually has to solve and Metroid’s case was particularly difficult. The franchise actually skipped the Nintendo 64 generation simply because Nintendo could not come up with any viable idea. Now, the first-person perspective solution made so much sense (thanks in large part to the sensitive efforts of Retro Studios) that it became hard to think of future 3D Metroid games in any other way. So that was my first interest when I approached Metroid: Other M: a game that was probably what most gamers had in mind for a 3D Metroid before Metroid Prime was created.

Directed by three people, Metroid: Other M is mostly Yoshio Sakamoto’s brainchild, who was also the game’s writer and producer. He was the person who directed Metroid Fusion, my absolute favourite Metroid game (and I have played them all, even the Pinball one). So that was the second reason I was anticipating this game.

Other M, however, doesn’t feel like a Metroid game. Until now, the franchise hasn’t really been about Samus Aran or her apparent loneliness, but about the place she is in. This concept is inverted in Other M with controversial results. In the end, despite the game’s boldness, Other M is a soulless affair filled with innocuous good intentions. It is schlock.

Read the rest of this entry

Mercenaries should all wear Ponytails

I hope Tom forgives me for pushing this Just Gamers post down, but I couldn’t resist commenting about something I’ve noticed in Metroid: Other M. Initially, I wanted to save the comment for some future review, but frankly, who knows when I’m ever going to put my hands on that game .

If there is one thing that bothers me about games in particular is when functionality is dropped for the sake of a possibly interesting design. I’ve always been an advocate of the opposite: that form should follow function. Even if the form in question is Mario’s cap and its function is merely to give Miyamoto an excuse not to draw hair with pixels.

So, I was trying to find something interesting at Kotaku today (and it wasn’t easy) when I came across the picture of Samus used in the Japanese box art.

That’s so stupid, I thought. Samus shouldn’t use her hair inside her helmet like that: it might go into her eyes in a critical battle or something. It’s dangerous! A skilled mercenary should know better. Read the rest of this entry

Just Gamers

The crucial conversation of this generation of games is not whether games are art, but rather whether we, the games journalist, should be reviewer or critic. The most recent catalyst of this crucial discussion is (http://g4tv.com/games/wii/61992/Metroid-Other-M/review/) this review of Metroid: Other M, which criticizes the game not so much for its technical aspects, but rather for its story and its portrayal of characters.

This raised an internet shitstorm, much like Jim Sterling of Destructoid’s various reviews do (like the 4 he gave to Final Fantasy XIII): instead of objective, “the graphics are shit, but the game is well paced” criticism, a games journalist dared to offer an opinion on the quality of the game. They offered a subjective experience of the game, how they saw the story’s themes working, and got a thousand plus hateful comments from people for it.

What was in these comments? Tucked away inside folds of misogyny and personal insults, there was one running theme: it’s just a game, so how can themes matter? Why should we interpret characters when the developer does it for us? That the only purpose of games, the only criteria they can be judged on, is fun.

This is immediately ironic, because fun is subjective in and of itself. I hate roller coasters. I’d rather read about sports than go on a roller coaster. In fact, I find reading about sports quite fun. One cannot define ‘fun’ in a way that is not subjective. Commentary on things besides technical aspects and “fun factor” bring accusations of unprofessionalism and attempts at rationalization from the game’s fans who can’t stand anyone in the world not loving their precious video game.

There’s also the (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/writersroom/8050-Writer-s-Room-Mafia-II-is-Not-a-Game_) interesting case of Mafia II, which has gotten wildly varying reviews. Some people claim it to be the true evolution of the interactive medium, while others vilify it for not being interactive enough, not being “fun” enough. There’s that dangerous qualifier again.

Video games, I have long said, will not truly be art until we treat them like art. Sure, it’s great to talk about a game like Ico being art. That’s not the hard part. You can make art out of anything; if modern theories of art has taught us well, it’s that if you try hard enough, any object or concept can be art. Making a video game into art is no different than making a box fan into art: if you try hard enough, both can be emotionally effecting.
Read the rest of this entry

Metroid: Other M Live Action Trailer

Gotta say, that’s a spot-on depiction of Zero Suit Samus–almost ridiculously so. Fans will undoubtedly be taken aback by the voicing, though. Overall, I’m still a sucker for live-action trailers so this looks downright sexy to me.