Archive for December, 2008

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GSG 2009 – Changes

December 25, 2008

Greetings loyal readers. As the winter solstice approaches and the new year is just around the corner, I find it necessary to make some changes. GSG has been an extremely helpful blog in not only assisting my interest in videogames but also bringing the existing community of fellow game enthusiasts to my attention.

I started out GSG to provide an outlet for my thoughts about gaming and game design. In the five months of this site’s conception it has given me a great excuse to explore scholarly interests in a variety of games. But I believe I have yet to reach the potential of my investigations. So, why not improve this little blog with my participation from my readers?

As 2009 begins I want to experiment with a new blog format. Instead of having me stretch the month with blog posts about various games, I propose to choose one game every month and attempt to take its critical analysis to the limit. I will look into the theoretical, communal, aesthetical, interactive, and economical aspects of said game and try to bring to light the more subconscious and nuanced elements to the surface.

So please, comment on this post with a list of games that you would like me to investigate upon and by the end of this month. I will choose one that I can play, analyze, and discuss with you. Thanks and have a great holiday season.

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Orientalism, Occidentalism, and Umbrella Corp

December 20, 2008

I have been watching footage of Resident Evil 5 recently since the mass media blowout of the game. Having loved the previous iteration in the series, along with so many others, I look forward with both anticipation for the next title in the series and disappointment towards what little has seemingly change. Being unable to play the demo, as of yet, this article is merely speculation from my experiences with Resident Evil 1-4 and what I have seen so far of Resident Evil 5.


RE5
has become the centerpiece over the racism in games. N’Gai Croal wrote a very revealing article that was both acclaimed and lambasted by gamers, a typical response. One remark that does stick out to me is his comment, “There [African zombies] of being, in sort of post-modern parlance, they’re sort of ‘othered.’” I believe that he completely misses the mark on the issue of the Other and the deeper connotation within depictions of the Negro. The imagery in RE5 isn’t purely about racism.

If you look at RE4 the Spanish zombies are visually European horrors figures. It is the representation of the disfigured, unkempt, isolated European. N’Gai is on the mark when he states, “It’s a very strange thing, and it taps into sort of this very racist iconography.” But if you look at the environments, the deserted and failed industrialization in RE5 and the desolate villages of RE4, these are representations of post-colonialism. We see the failure of modernization from the failure of post-colonization. The issue of the Other in this context isn’t about race. It’s about Orientalism and the effects of post-colonizations.

When I am talking about Orientalism, it is in reference to Edward Said’s definition of the term. It is the view of the West in defining themselves oppositional to the Other: the East, the Middle East, Africa, South America, and so forth. But I must emphasize that Orientalism is not the study of prejudices and misrepresentations, it is the study of discourse. When we see the imagery of the Negro savage we should be taken aback. We should be offended. We should question the validity on how this imagery is presented. But what N’Gai does not take into account is that this game comes from the East, albeit a sort of Western Japan. But from this origin, the depictions of post-colonialism in RE5 become even more fascination to look at. Perhaps this is not inclusively an issue of Orientalism but an issue of Occidentalism.

It is a view of the Other in how it views the West. Which is unsurprising, as Occidentalism has become a prominent concern in 20th century Eastern culture. This completely makes sense in regards to the Resident Evil series. Looking back at the first game the stereotypes, the bad dialog, and even the Spanish zombies reveal a view of the West as an Other. If we take this path of thought, it makes complete sense that RE5 is a representation of Japan’s view of the West’s view of the Negro. What is interesting is whether this view has eclipsed and become the dominant view of the Other because of it. What is terrifying is how accepting this view has been for gamers, which was the original contention of N’Gai Croal.

Looking at RE5 is almost becomes the perfect depiction of Western’s terror towards the effects of colonization. Here is clean-cut, white alpha male Chris Redfield going into an environment where the Other is a zombie which is a result of Western intrusion. It is uncontainable, it is violent, and it is a burden by the fault of foreign hands. Isn’t it interesting that Sheva, his partner, is the focus of RE5 and her origins to the events of the game? Is she a globalized citizen educated abroad? Has she disassociated from realities of the continent? Will she be a three-dimensional female character? These are questions that make me antsy to see how the issues that I previously raised will pan out in the game.


Wouldn’t it be wonderful if RE5 was not merely a commentary towards racism or post-colonialism, but rather a discourse on globalism? It is interesting to see the series turn its focus abroad—zombies infections are pandemic not epidemic, of course. In three months time we will see how the game turns out. Regardless of the Metacritic score I’m sure there will be an ample amount of worthwhile material to investigate and chew on. And I haven’t even got into the kind of discourse that will grow out from the game’s multiplayer.

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Game Narrative – More lucid, less linear

December 19, 2008

I truly believe that the videogame medium has reached a point of maturity. In fact, it has matured extremely quickly comparatively if we look at other forms of media. But clearly, the narrative form in the realm of the gaming space has a long journey ahead of itself to gain the same sort of poignancy, emotional weight, political stance, or respectability with other forms of narrative media. I do not care what you say, the majority of the time if I want a good story from the game I will read a book. We invest a larger percentage in our experience with a game rather than trying to take away a thematic message. The concern with the player is moreso the input rather than the output towards the game. Of course, as I have posted previously there are various experimental games that do blur the line between these two authoric intensions and there are always exceptions to the claim.

But, even though I do not believe that videogames have reached a point of prominence in linear narrative design I wonder why the opposite approach has not been done instead. I am not referring to the kind of open world, choose your own adventure foray. But rather a more restrictive, autuer-esk apporach of revealing a story–if any. Given a game’s set-piece, episodic nature of its design believe a more experimental design towards narrative structuring has immense potential in the game space. Why not offer a more “playful” and cerebral experience rather than forcing plot points and emotional benchmarks? I have discussed my appreciation of non-narrative games in the past and I have no doubt touched upon the difficulties of the narrative, in general, for games. But this is the first time I have discussed narrative experimentation. Where is my French New-Wave Godard, Lynch labyrinths, Van Sant fragmentations, or Linklater stream of conciousness?

Last year’s Odin Sphere has a particularly unique narrative design that I wish more games would take advantage of. The game had an array of passages integrated into a story book structure where the player would take the role of multiple characters in numerous but an overarcing storyline. Way of the Samurai was another game that required multiple playthroughs with various endings (seven if I remember) each unique depending on the faction you chose and who you allowed to live. The black sheep of Zelda games, Majora’s Mask, is one of the most unique, enthralling and experiemental games in the series from it’s assumption that the player knows the ropes of the game mechanics to the time-limit sensitive narrative. It may be telling that both these games are Japanese titles and both of them are moderately successful comparatively to the normal blockbuster.

But as the gaming industry continues to grow into an oligopoly of studios, I hope that smaller development houses will fracture off and create more experimental narratives in games. Or at least, a sub-studio within a developer will have the balls to take the risk along with a business model to be wise enough to develop and market the game. The problem is that non-linear narrative itself is a risk, a gamble to the mass audience. Games are already confusing enough as players attempt to learn the controls and the mechanics of the gameplay. It makes sense that one would believe that streamlining a narrative to create a sense of cohesiveness and attachment to the game is necessary. But like any narrative or media, these are just excuses to not take risks and attempt something different. Which is a problem with our gaming industry in general. A risk is not successful unless it is either a Metacritic success or a sales success. I will not go into the problems with reviews and the response toward them because I am sure they have been discussed elsewhere ad nauseum. It is a mindset that had been criticized upon for years if not decades.

I did not come here to talk about the specificialities of risk. I came to talk about experimentation. And we need more experimentation, not only in design but also narrative. And what better way to open up new ideas for game design than not experimental narratives? They say to always take baby steps and the game industry has. Whether is it the occasional intextual game interface in the Metal Gear Series, the dream sequences in Max Payne or even the fear of death in Dreamfall. Experimentation is a good thing and we need create a community where developers are allowed to make mistakes and still survive in the business. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as consumers and embrace ourselves as enthusiasts.

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Dude looks like a lady – Adventures of a female avatar

December 16, 2008

With the recent release of the Playstation Home beta–a release I believe was too soon–I decided to test the waters. I created the typical avatar that resembled my likeness and proceeded to walk around and just load all the areas in the service. Of course, there was dancing, a few people playing games, the awful Twilight trailer and music video, and some chatting going around. A was pretty boring experience in Home which has yet to implement enough content to keep my interest. So I figured to try a gender-bending gamble and create a female avatar.

I decided to go with a fairly attractive female avatar. Give her some gloves for attitude and maybe some earphones. There isn’t much you can do in the clothing and accessories department in Home right now. So I finished making my girl and went out on the town for a stroll. Already I see her move her hips as she walks. Nice play Sony, I look pretty sexy. Immediately the experience seems quite different. It is not a stretch to claim that Home is pretty much a sausagefest. There are a couple girl avatars but it is predominantly made up of guys and a few creative avatar characters here and there. I clearly stick out like a thumb and I get the strange feeling that I am being watched all the time.

As I pass people I realize how much I stand out as a girl in the game space and wonder if people are following me or the conversation pop-ups that appear are directed at me. It is extremely revealing and oppressive that privacy begins to dissolve and suddenly I become the center of attention. I quickly run toward a group of girls that are dancing as if it were an oasis. They dutifully ignore me. Girls, just as guys, are as afraid of creating online relationships. There is no reason to believe that just because I am the same sex automatically makes us friends.

I decide to go to the bowling alley. I have had the nudging impression that I am the center of attention so I decide to embrace it. I sit down on the floor in front of a television in the game space that is playing a video loop of Playstation games and peripherals. A male avatar decides to sit down next to me. Is he hitting on me? Suddenly, a small group begins to for around me. Someone greets, “What’s up niggers?” I reply, “Racism.” He quickly leaves. It comes to attention of my male companion that I am ignoring him. He gets up and begins to dance with thrusts as his virtual crotch rams into my virtual face. I appear to be giving him a blow job. Quickly, I perform a thumbs down with my avatar and leave. I assume the guy feels bad as he begins to follow me. Seriously? He just raped me in the face and now he wants to be friends. I am immediately reminded of President Laura Roslin from the show Battlestar Galactica. Errands force me to leave so I turn off my console.

Later that day I finally get a minute to turn on my PS3. What do you know, I friend request from my male abuser. I do a quick search of the screen name on Google and I learn that kid is in high school. Do I continue our doomed relationship and string him along? No. I actually have a heart and more important things to do with my time. Request rejected. Come back for my next blog post as I see how a more “homely” female avatar lives in this Second Life clone.

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It’s just bad business

December 14, 2008
“War. War never changes.” – Fallout 3
“War. War has changed.” – Metal Gear Solid 4

These quotes demonstrate the schizophrenic nature of the games industry. The past year analysts have been announcing remarkable growth in the industry, yet many studios are laying off workers and announcing disappointing sales numbers. We have just come off the fourth quarter avalanche of games and the outlook is tepid. SCEA can announced a number of jobs lost and Electronic Arts has just laid-off 6% of its employees with more projected to come. Disappointment in sales for Mirror’s Edge, Rock Band 2, Boom Blox, and Little Big Planet have been surfacing, the Need for Speed franchise has been placed on hiatus, and it has been a disappointing year in EA Sports. Not to mention the numerous game studios that have gone into bankruptcy.

Now, this can merely be a testament to the current failing economy and the claims of massive growth in the videogame market can be contested as speculation. But the videogame industry cannot continue functioning in this manner for very long. Nintendo has changed the market of videogamers just as the Xbox had done for the PC gaming market. No, this is not a crisis but the way business is done today will not be able to sustain itself. Studios releasing over a hundred of titles and compression the majority of its AAA product in the fourth quarter will no longer last. There are too many games coming out simultaneously and too many overly invested games.


The videogame industry in America is controlled by a handful of studios: Activision, Electronic Arts, 2K, and Ubisoft. I have left out the hardwared business because what I’m discussing primarily concerns development houses. Reiteration after reiteration of the franchise will fail, we already see that today with the dipping sale of sports games and many gamers have been screaming fatigue this year. The gamble Electronic Arts took with new franchises has amounted in stock drops in the company. The problem is these studios are placing business models that overestimate sales from franchises to new IP. They are also overestimating the maturity of its sales to previous generation videogames. This entire market has changed with the introduction of Wii and the failing economy. The studios can’t continue churning out these blockbuster games and expect to gain a fair return on all of these titles. There are just too many titles competing with the same financial backing and quality taking up the shelf.

In ten years the videogame industry as it is today will be unrecognizable. The current way games are released and produced will become unsustainable for these high profile development houses. We have seen the PC market drastically change with fewer AAA titles, scalable system specs, and a multitude of smaller games coming out at a steadier rate. We already see the companies like Capcom put out smaller titles on virtual console and few AAAs in retail or Atlus releasing a moderate number of AAA titles steadily throughout the year. Some of these are new titles, some reinvisioned, and some reiteration.

Make no mistake, the videogame industry is growing and maturing. But the way business is done from production to marketing is changing. Hardcore games are approaching maturity in the market and casual games have just emerged into the mainstream. As casual games become the big elephant in the room the dynamics of games development and finance will change. We can’t assume that Madden or Halo will find market growth the same way as Wii(blank). The effects of this console cycle will undoubtedly effect the way games are developed and as the industry continues to grow and more competition enters we enter an evolving landscape on the number of games released, the quality it produces, and the way it will be sold to the consumer.

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"Were you aware of it?"

December 3, 2008

Thank-you John Hodgman for allowing me to borrow your phrase despite the fact that I did not obtain any permission to do so. If you can’t tell this is another filler post, but there are a couple of links I would like to share between the short spurts of free time I currently have at the moment.

The Unfinished Swan
This demo was shared to me by a fellow classmate. Why the hell has this game not been developed for the Wii?! It is a great navigational game where you user attempts to paint a blank canvas to traverse through the game world. Designer Ian Dallas has created a very intriguing little game that has the potential to be something much more than this flash demo. While searching Google Images this little photo came up and brought a grin to my face.

Braid Designer Lecture
Taken from the game’s blog:

“This lecture was given by Jonathan Blow (introduction by Jason Della Rocca) on November 19th, 2008 at the Montreal International Game Summit. This lecture focuses on the story-centric paradigm that we use to design a large number of games, and why I think it is problematic. Both pre-authored and dynamic story are discussed. It’s a heavily-revised version of this lecture given a few months ago in Brighton; This new version is probably better.”

I suggest everyone to give this a listen as it is always great to hear from a designer talk not only passionately about his game but about the interactive medium.

Little Big Planet Level
Here is a wonderful level created by Richard Teller designed around the “Improvisation” series from Expressionist painter Wassily Kandinsky. If you trek over to his
blog he deeply goes into his philosophy in designing the level around the aesthetics of the painting rather than merely forming a recreation of the work. It is a great little read that I believe designers, artists, and anyone that has Little Big Planet should read. Already, I am tempted to purchase the game just to play more levels from this designer.

Grim Fandango Design Documents
A month ago was the 10th Anniversary of the release of
Grim Fandango. Criminally I did not blog about it when I had the chance. The game had a profound impression on me and it is the reason I stayed interested in video games long after I had sworn off playing and buying games for years. It was the game that solidified my love for the Adventure Game and no doubt its intimate association with the “end” of the genre prompted me to stop playing games during the immediate period after. Tim Schafer has a wonderful post about the anniversary on the Double Fine website and best of all Schafer has released the design documents for Grim Fandango revealing concept art, various scripting scenarios, and his own reflections on the game today. It’s a great present for those that still adore the game to this day.


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Automaton Grinding

December 1, 2008

With Persona 4 right around the corner, I found myself visiting the world of Persona 3 FES. This will mean that I am currently immersed in two a RPGs: the CRPG Fallout 3 and the JRPG Persona 3. Gah! This will probably mean that I will have to unplug both my console and my computer if I intend to get any work done these final weeks. But one aspect in particular with these RPGs is the addictiveness of the grind. This, of course, occurs in all games of length and it is my largest detractor of the medium.

It is the moment when the immersion and charm of the game wears off and the player is left merely going through the motions of playing not enjoying or even experiencing the game. They are left mindlessly playing. I have reached that point in both Fallout 3 and Persona 3 where I often find myself becoming extremely disinterested in the story and focused on leveling up my character for the sake of it. It’s what I suspect most MMO players do when they aren’t performing raids. It is the shutting off of the brain where the interactive becomes more attune to the passive.

The question eventually arises: Am I enjoying this? How can you tell? It is similar to when a fan watches a television series after it has jumped the shark. They are more attached to the routine of watching the show than actually enjoying its content. It is a problem with many long playthrough games and with length becoming an unwarranted desire of consumers I only see this problem extending onward. The grind of an RPG is just as bad as artificial length in other games such as the fetch quest. More often games with extended length detract from a greater shorter experience that could have been.

But maybe I am being too hard on the grind. One can say that the sense of routine and boredom can be related to the sense of dailiness one finds when they play an RPG. This is especially apt with games like Fallout 3 or Persona 3 when the course of a day and the passage of time is almost imperative and necessary for the game’s narrative and experience. There is almost a bit a genius in how the grind in integrated in these games where you would do the same tasks repeatedly in a game the same way it would occur in actual daily life.

Still, the automaton grinding can be infuriating to no end both as a player and a critical theorist. It is the dumbing down of what one would think the main attraction of the interactive media to be. You become less of a participate and more of a witness. Looking at the monotony of RPGs and MMOs one wonders why this has not been a major criticism as it has in other game genres. Perhaps it is the sense of rewards such as experience or loot. Or perhaps it is something we except from the genre. Regardless, I know I will be killing (#) ____ once again when I enter the game world and “loving” every second of it.