Saturday, October 22, 2005

Next Gen killed the Current Gen Star

I won't lie to you, despite my outmost respect for ICO, that game never really got to me. I know that it was supposed to be this awesomely arty yet playable game with deeply touching scenes and views, but I never really felt it.

Do I defend ICO in an argument? Yes I do. Do I even challenge those who claim they saw no magic in there? Most certainly, oddly enough, I point out everything I read about it that seemed to make sense. But how come I wasn't touched by it? How come I didn't feel all those things a game like that is supposed to make me feel?

Well, you see, I played it fairly late, specifically a while after the Xbox and Gamecube were both released, both sporting anti aliasing and sharp textures and vivid colours in pretty much all of their games. In contrast, ICO looked disappointingly jaggy, washed out and blurred. I could tell that there was a creative vision behind it but to me it was like a really great, well framed photo that suffered from over exposure and terrible JPG compression.

Ironically I'm in sort of the same position now with the next game from the ICO team; Shadow of The Colossus. I've watched so many high res videos of 360 games I don't know if SoTC has what it takes to move me with its visuals. I certainly hope it does, I suspect it will because the idea is less about image fidelity and more about scale, and I'll give it a big honest shot. What if it doesn't though?

I think art should be timeless, and I think we're probably moving towards times when games will look good forever. We've already been there once with the SNES (tell me Super Mario World looks bad today and I'll slap you until you die) and I think we'll be there again soon. I think some companies have an easier time with creating visuals that stand the test of time, and I believe some hardware is better suited for it. I think it's sad though that I'll never be able to show Panzer Dragoon Saga to someone and have them actually GET what's so good about it. I don't think PDS will ever move anyone again, and yet it's one of my most emotional gaming experiences. It's scary and it sometimes makes me want to live in the backwaters of the cutting edge graphics just to make sure I'm not missing something. At the same time I want to sit in the front so I can be blown away by new things as they come along and be swept up with the surrounding buzz of anticipation along with other gamers.

Stunning. You can't really tell what's going on in this pic though.

If I'd been in the same position in the Saturn days as I am now (multiformat gamer) I would've had a PSX and its superior 3D capabilities would've had me looking at PDS going "huh." It's frightening to think about.

I don't know a cure for me, and I don't know a cure for you if you're having similar problems. It's certainly something to consider though, that the pursuit of the latest greatest graphics may well cause you to miss some of the best gaming experiences of your life.

Azel, I will love you forever.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Violence and mr Thompson

Okay, so, everyone else has voiced their opinion on Jack Thompson and after the recent change in tone in the whole discussion I feel that I should voice mine aswell. It's impossible to comment on what Thompson does before taking a stand regarding the games industry and its content on a whole. Therefore that's just what I'm going to address first.

Violent games exist, and today they're obviously more convincing than ever in conveying that violence. You can actually craft a world and characters that make a gut wrenching scene do just that - wrench your, um, gut. That's not to say it's entirely believable, but it's sufficient for the message and the idea to come through in a striking way. The fidelity of sound and images we experience today, and even more so this coming generation, makes it possible for the creative vision to translate almost entirely intact from idea to fully realised games. This places a greater responsibility with the game maker in making the distinction whether the content serves a purpose or not. That said, considering how many companies there are that make games and how many games there are, there are surprisingly few that actually push any kind of provocative content. The ones that do however are often horror themed games that use those violent or upsetting images to their effect like a film does. The exception is, of course, the often talked about Postal 2 which serves little purpose besides being perfectly justifiable ammo for guys like Jack B. Thompson.

Postal 2 - sets our side back about one hundred points.

Scary stuff isn't the same as violence of course. Disturbing images don't make criminals out of kids, but I still think it's an important point to make, that those games use their artistic freedom to present those images in order to convey a certain sensation. I think it's important also to clarify that while the discussion regarding violence in games have been around for a long time, it's only recently that it's getting this kind of attention - why? I'm fairly certain it's because games have been brought out in the mainstream in the last 10 years but also because the violence can be rendered so convincingly now.

Even then there are a number of different ways to use violence for effect, and like anything anyone says or does artistically it must always be judged in the context it was presented. Turtles do little besides fighting all day long, and sure enough there are people who claim that Turtles will make ninja killers out of children but it still airs alongside everything else on saturday mornings when kids (yes, REAL kids) are watching. Two wrongs do not make a right, certainly, but I think we can agree that Turtles are pretty harmless. I'm sure even good mr Thompson agrees. It is in a sense violence, but its context and the spirit in which it's presented makes it less provocative.

Monty Python did a sketch in which a knight gets his limbs cut off and blood sprays everywhere. Does that upset people? Some perhaps, but again, the context takes the effect out of it for most of us. Lastly, Pulp Fiction is one of the most celebrated films of the 90s and by many considered one of the best films ever, period. It contains some very graphic scenes of violence, but its context.... Okay you're probably fed up with me going on about context.

My point is; why isn't GTA viewed exactly the same way as Pulp Fiction? It's clearly a fruit on the very same tree, but despite that it's taking enormous amounts of flak. Why!? Let me tell you why: I'm willing to bet my own set of testicles that the ones who are upset by GTA still view gaming as something kids do, and the console itself as a toy. It isn't. GTA was never meant for 15 year olds, that is fact. According to studies conducted by the Entertainment Software Association the largest group of gamers today are 18 years old or older, so why then is it so surprising that the content in games these days reflect that? If the problem is kids getting their hands on those games you're looking at two problems; parents don't give two shits about what their kids are playing or the kids simply download the latest GTA off the net.

Piracy and bad parenting; hardly the fault of the games themselves.

Do I believe that a violent game makes murderers out of kids? I think games, just like any other medium, have a big impact on kids in deciding what's "cool" and what's "brave" and I believe that concepts like heroism and ideals like that are definitely affected. Is it a deciding factor? No, I don't think it is. Is it a worrying trend that some kids run around thinking it's cool to steal cars and shoot cops? Yes it is. I don't think you can blame that entirely on games though, I think that's a result of our general culture. It's hardly a new concept that crime is "cool" either. Bad boyisms have always been around. Idiots have always been around. This paragraph is entirely rethorical though of course, since kids aren't meant to play GTA in the first place.

So there you have it, basically. My stance on the video game industry and its violent games.

Now, finally, my opinion regarding Jack Thompson:

I think he's a complete and utter twat. Not because of his original sentiment that kids shouldn't play games like Postal and GTA, but certainly because of every single step in his efforts to enforce it. Also, his actual knowledge regarding the games seems severely lacking. You'd think a guy who makes a fuss on this extreme level would at least sit down and play the games properly, not just read up on them. (on IGN of all places!) Calling GTA a cop killer simulator and implying that someone actually used it for practicing killing cops (must be the PC version then, or else he's got a surprise coming if he thinks real guns auto-lock on everything but the guy he's trying to shoot.) is nothing short of retarded and it's really just more evidence he has no clue whatsoever about the actual goal in the game.

Unusually blatant and stupid from the otherwise witty and brilliant Penny Arcade.

Wrapping this enormous post up, I want to stress that I don't think people should brush off the entire problem at hand. There is an issue of kids and teens playing games meant for a mature audience, and if we can come up with a solution instead of just yelling and laughing at Jack Thompson then that would be awesome. Come on people, we can do both.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Tomonobu Itagaki isn't a dick after all

In a (sort of) recent interview with 1UP Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden creator Tomonobu Itagaki turns out not to be a sexist arsehole, so I can't hate him anymore. Well, I could technically still hate him for wearing sunglasses indoors because that alone is a criminal offense to anyone with half a brain.

However, he actually said some genuinely insightful things that I very much respect. The highlight of which is;

"I just want to say that people who really want to know about videogames should avail themselves to master a traditional game like Chess or Backgammon, find one and master it. In particular Backgammon is a good choice. The way it's played is a good example of having simplicity and a lot of depth. I've never seen anything in the videogame domain that had better playability than that."

He continues...

"The only reason that videogames have become the more popular medium is because it's interactive visual and audio and it's easier to do by yourself. But people who really want to know the essence of gaming, in all its forms, should definitely master a traditional game. There are plenty of games within the realm of gaming that are deeper than videogames. So it's kind of pointless to debate playability in videogames without first learning the basics in that regard.

You know there are people out there who say "Graphics aren't important!" That's ridiculous. It's the whole point. And that's why the games that we make are incredible visually, and we always try to make the playability as good as we can, because that's the whole reason for the existence of videogames."

I think I just pasted enough of that interview to get my swedish behind into some trouble. Let's just hope nobody actually reads this.

Anyway, you can read the full interview and more at

He says lots of funny things and even likes Pikmin, that's awesome!