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Hirasugi Blog

Knights of Substance & Nights of Little Consequence

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Hello all, its been quite some time since I updated this crusty ol' thing so it's good to be back. I only wanted to post on subject matter and topics that I felt strongly about, but since there has been virtually no news of substance (save for maybe the Ouya) I haven't really felt inclined to post much less interact on the site. That and the myriad of issues GameSpot has been having, such as the infrequent podcasts and video features (which thankfully seem to be getting on track to regularity) as well as the jumbled commenting system and the odd way blogs are mangled when transitioning from MS documents, has generally given me a dismissive tone about GS. But GS seems to be heading in the right direction, and the community while diminished still seems to be lively enough. But anyways on to what I've been messing around with these last couple of months.

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In terms of gaming I've been sinking much of my time in the Star Wars Jedi Knight Collection that I got off of a March-ish Steam sale for around 5 bucks. I already owned Jedi Knight Jedi Outcast and Jedi Knight Jedi Academy for the original Xbox (notable members of the International Redundancy Bureau of Redundancies), but I had no idea there were early entries in the series like Dark Forces released in 1995, Dark Forces II in 1997, and its expansion Mysteries of the Sith also in 1997 (most of which--Dark Forces excluded-- were PC exclusive).

Dark Forces while very dated in terms of graphics still is a rather solid shooter. There is no Y-axis in terms of the first-person aiming so the game makes concessions with an auto-targeting system. This can lead to rather frustrating instances when you are targeting from afar or trying to halt fast moving enemies hovering in your face, only to miss due to inconsistencies within the game engine. Positioning the gun in the accurate X-axis position means that the player has completed all the prerequisites for defeating the enemy, the computer should compensate for the limits it imposes with greater reliability...but oh well. Despite this, the game is very well made, and the level design is quite impeccable despite being linear in the grander scheme of things, which only get better with the sequel.

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...And good lord does it! Dark Forces II is easily the most fun I've had this year in gaming (which perhaps is a commentary on the current state of the industry). The level design is quite open, giving an illusion that all the spaces that you are traversing are very much a functional part of the world. There are great deals of hidden areas, unused houses, galleries, and enclosures that really give the feeling of a lived in world. All levels are simply stunning at just how diverse and expansive the level design and the art direction is. It also helps that the minimal story of the previous game has been replaced with surprisingly good Wing Commander-esque FMVs. The combat also is a significant improvement over its predecessor, with full control over the weapon, and get this...lightsaber combat w/ force powers!

Hell...Jesus Buddha Yoda...yess

The lightsaber combat is a bit clunky in the first person, but it still quite adequate given how early this attempt was in the grand scheme of things (heck it's still more satisfying than Skyrim's melee combat). Plus the inclusion of a 3rd person perspective makes melee that much smoother. Add that with a host of Jedi powers (both light and dark side granted) and you've got one hell of a fun game.

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I would like to see how the Xbox version of Jedi Outcast holds up against the PC version when I finish DFII. I have a feeling that melee combat would be far superior in the console version. The only trade off would most likely be the precision of the 1st person shooting aspect which I'm not sure I want to give up. Plus the game for all I know may emulate terribly, rendering it unplayable (just try playing the slideshow bonanza of KOTOR and Half-Life 2 on the 360...geez). But who knows...three more levels to go.

E3 was pretty underwhelming for me. I actually went as far as to take a day off from work just so I could watch the coverage all day and blog about each conference. But then I realized that I really wasn't saying much of substance given the trailer-heavy, QTE-laden, sugary sheen given to most of the games on display (a shame since they're all written up). Journalists could hardly extrapolate about major titles that were on the show floor, so what could my "coverage" accomplish. It was a rare oddity to find a clip of actual unedited gameplay that ran above 5 minutes. Not to mention my virtual indifference of most of the games shown. The only thing I really want to play is Last of Us, Watchdogs, and that David Cage game by virtue of being so elusive. Bioshock Infinite not only wasn't even present, it among the glut of other titles has been shoved to the pie-in-the-sky ethereal haze of "Q1 2013". So I guess I won't be able to fulfill my paternalistic protection of Lara Croft until later. Which by the way...eww...I really hope this game doesn't make a wrong turn into the Frank Miller/Sucker Punch creepy route that I feel it's headed. I swear game developer blunders are inadvertently turning me into a beret brandishing Feminist. Seriously devs, either remove this misogynistic pandering tripe, or the only progress we'll get is Princess Peach and her unshaven armpits waving a M16 in one hand with the SCUM Manifesto in the other...and no that's not amusing in even an ironic hipster way. Fix it! (or should I say patch it?)

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Speaking of catsuits, I also just saw the Dark Knight Rise, the supposed left-wing conspiracy trying to corrupt our youth. It was a decent enough of a film with some issues here and there. I felt the series could have easily ended with the second entry, with Batman running in the darkness, police sirens enveloping his caped silhouette. In this film, its mostly "Bruce Wayne Gets his Groove Back", with him brooding about reluctantly donning the batsuit while a not so crazed, surprisingly stable (and subsequently bland) mercenary tears the city apart with revolutionary monologues. I didn't really feel any sort of stake or investment with the film. The scene in which Bane holds a stadium at hostage could have easily been a memorable watershed moment for the film. Instead it pulled all of the predictable quasi-patriotic emotional strings clumsily and mixed in with cliché that had little effect. I know I should have felt something, but I couldn't help but roll my eyes at the dumbfounding degree of formulaic tropes tossed about the film. Bane was a cool-customer throughout the experience, however his motivation and back story was awfully thin both before and after the "big twist" (which should be somewhat obvious to fans deeply in-tune with Batman mythos anyways).

Catwoman was surprisingly the best part of the actual movie, imparting a nice dash of moral-ambiguity and mystery, while also being fairly competent in her own right. Which only made it that the more frustrating (yep here we go again) when she decides to change her callous self-centered ways only through the chivalry of her big hunky black stallion. It's a completely last minute inclusion that only served to undermine her character. And no this last-minute romance wasn't even alluded to (the very opposite in fact--subtle jab--you'll get it when you see the movie). The plot while needlessly convoluted in parts, is well written, well acted, and for the most part well directed. The few action scenes that are there (save the initial confrontation between Bane and Bats) is well put together as well. The movie as a whole just never seems to gel as well as the second movie. This is hardly scathing criticism given the second movie is easily one of the best superhero movie of all time, but overall it's a weak entry.

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I mostly attribute the film mis-fires to the fact that hardly says anything. Despite the off-handed slights at Wall Street and other nods to proletarian war-drum beating, the movie never really goes anywhere with it. Plus the whole dark knight message isn't really furthered in any substantive way. We kinda got all we needed from the first and previous entry, so not much really is left. Plus the movie totally trains gas-mask wearing radicalized terrorists (...too soon?).

Overall I would recommend any fan of Batman to see it, but just have your fever-pitched, yes fever-pitched, anticipation put in check before enjoying. I enjoyed my time despite some inconsistencies. Plus having Christian Bale screaming "WHERE IS HE !!?" in that blotchy slurred Batman voice is full of comic gold potiential that will last at least until the end of the year.

Also been reading a bit as well. I'm currently on the fifth Honor Harrington novels, which surprisingly have kept fresh over time. I started the novels a few months prior to the launch of ME3, absolutely famished for militaristic, exhaustively detailed Science Fiction. If the Hard Sci-Fi militaristic variant of Arthur C. Clarke sounds interesting, this series just may be for you. I also have been consumed by Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh after getting on a bit of a sociology, Gentrification, damn-it-must suck-for-inner-city-blacks kick. While certainly biased up the wazoo (and virtually useless as a quantifiable sociological experiment) if merely taken as a personal account, it's quite a fascinating read. Anyone familiar with There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz, which also details the Robert Taylor homes in Chicago during the 90's should know what to expect. Just be prepared to be depressed.

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There are others like American Gods by Neil Gaiman and a boat load of movies like the exciting Vengeance Saga, some El Hazard anime whimsy and some bizarre Takashi Miike stuff but I'll save that for another day. Dear god, I even forgot to talk about the massive whale that is Persona 3...no no no must not resist...must...move...on. It's just good to be back. I really hope GS can hit their stride like in the past. Tell me about what ya'll have been consuming of late. Knighty night and "Hirasugi!!!"

Microsoft E3 Conference- "Did we mention Halo 4?"

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Please note that I also plan on doing an all-encompassing E3 review after the event ends on Wednesday, to highlight the mid-tier and indie titles that didn't have the privilege (debatable) of being in the four head honcho's tea party. So yeah...let's do this:

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The press conference started with Halo 4, the Xbox's flagship franchise. This was especially fitting since last E3's conference ended with the trailer, teasing what was to come. The gameplay that was shown was quite impressive, the familiar guns belching hot space lead at enemies with new sound effects that are a step better than Halo Reach. Halo has always had an issue of finding the appropriate sound effects for the distinctly alien worlds and technology it sought to create. While the sounds illustrated the sci-fi fantastical elements of the universe such as the wail of a banshee, gun fire never was quite as fleshed out as their contemporaries in the field (most notably DICE even though arguably their aim for realism makes their task a bit more accessible).

The music also seems to be going in a different direction as well, ditching the traditional orchestral tones in favor a more modernized palette. Tradition beckons me to the music of the older titles, but I can appreciate 343 making the game their own.

The gameplay also seems quite solid, the guns having a noticeable impact on enemies instead of the traditional "peppering" of the previous games. It would have been nice to see context sensitive damage based on which part of the body was shot, but so far things faired quite well. Covenant was also mentioned in the sequence as well as an actual Forerunner gun being used! Different Visor modes also was integrated in the fashion of Metroid Prime. I'm not sure how this will be integrated into the game, but it could open up the possibility for puzzles being used to vary up the gameplay. Personally I think this would be ill-suited for the Halo universe, but again I am quite open to new ideas. Despite feeling rather familiar this game was easily the most impressive out of the entire conference giving Microsoft a decent momentum out of the gate.

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The next game featured was Splinter Cell: Blacklist. Sam Fisher is seen undercover around the Iran-Iraqi border infiltrating a nearby tent of unsuspecting, bickering enemies. The mark and execute function was used almost exclusively in the demo, showing off a stylish execution in similar fashion to the previous game, Splinter Cell: Convection. Sam's movements seem markedly smoother, as he is seen traversing in the middle of an battlefield mark-and-executing foes with breezy gusto, brutally bushing the nearby enemy and dispatching the reminder of the enemies with mark-and-execute again. I personally was not a big fan of the last game primarily due to the mark-and-execute system that they laud as their biggest feature. I felt that the system was devised on the coat-tails of the recent QTE explosion, delivering high-octane cinematic flair to action sequences. The downside to this fade is that this fluff is achieved at the expense of player's control. While true a melee was needed to use the function, once gained all one had to do was see the enemy and mark them, and the rest as they say is "auto-battle".

To make matters even easier for players, Sam also has the ability to see through walls just like in the previous game, so line of sight isn't even necessary. A big part of stealth gameplay in my opinion is the tension from the unknown. The uncertainty of the layout of the complex you are infiltrating, the unknown movements of your enemies, and the unforeseen consequences of every take down made stealth a heafty challenge. In the previous Splinter Cell games regardless of your ability to strategize, the act of taking down enemies was also equally as demanding. Mark-and-execute in my opinion removes this element entirely. So...hooray the return of the "press tab to win" button!

Gameplay pessimism aside, I do find Sam's new emotional direction quite interesting. In the gameplay sample he is seen ruthlessly shooting an unarmed man out of vengeance, then lies about the cold-blooded action to Grimsdottir. This Breaking Bad take on Fisher seems intriguing, if only the gameplay held up. We shall see sometime in 2013.

Andrew Wilson of EA Sports then presented on Kinect integration into EA Sports titles. It's no secret that I am no fan of sport titles, but what was shown was interesting. In the newest installment of FIFA, voice commands could be given to your players to direct the flow of the match, as well as silly things referees reacting to you cussing him out over a bogus call. These are primarily supplemental gameplay additions, but I believe this additional freedom is one of Kinect's strengths. Adding context to motion controls on top of pre-existing controls is a great way of expanding gameplay. I love my controllers. I love moving my characters through rich environments, and jamming on the trigger button to unleash unholy shards of vengeance splaying, butt kicking, world turning, and asphalt shredding goodness. What I don't like is pulling up a menu to issue commands--let me just use my voice. So good on them for integrating Kinect...too bad this purely optional supplemental content seems the only thing Kinect seems to get right (hence my lack of purchase).

Speaking of Kinect, Fable: The Journey had a...trailer. Yep that's about it. No pomp and circumstance, and no real gameplay. The game seemed to be placed in more to emphasize Microsoft's exclusive line up of Halo 4, Fable: The Journey, and...

...um

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In terms of gameplay the game doesn't look all that challenging, the player flailing their enchanted hands to dispatch TOOOTTALLLY KAWAII beasties. And that was about it, once again reaffirming my fears that Kinect really is not a compelling system for games purely based around it (at least so far "cautiously optimistic"--Steel Battalion watsup!)

The new Gears of War game, Gears of War: Judgment (ominous voice end) also had a trailer with no gameplay whatsoever. Not a huge Gears fan, but the trailer hit the right tonal notes of serious big meatman lighting up locust troops like Syria on a Saturday. But again, it was a rather cryptic trailer that revealed next to nothing.

Next was the unveiling of Forza Horizon with wubba-wubba dubstep drops bleeding from its exhaust pipes. The trailer was well done, but again...no gameplay, no gameplay innovations touted, but at least there were wubba-wubbas (proving once again how overplayed brostep is in trailers). Wubba-wubba and drop.

Next up was Yusuf Mehdi, demonstrating easier Kinect-enabled search options, in this case searching movies by genre. The integration of multiple languages was another plus. I also appreciated the small gesture on Mehdi's part for speaking a few different languages to demonstrate the support for other languages besides the tongue of the gods. An entertainment partnership was also announced between Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Machinima, and Univision.

More sports! NBA live streams were announced with some 2400 live games, as well as NHL coverage. 24-hour live HD coverage of ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN 3, and ESPN U was also announced. While not applicable to me, this for sure will give another option for sports fans on the Xbox. There are already a legion of individuals that have ditched cable all together, in favor of Hulu Plus, HBO Go, and Netflicks. Having sports included as well is a great thing. My only concern is if this will be billed as an all encompassing bulk subscription, or a sub-by-service offering.

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'Xbox Music', Microsoft's new cleverly coined music service was also teased, showing people jumping in their living rooms listening to the latest Black Eyed Peas joint (because that's how we all listen to music). The service is claimed to have 30 million tracks, with no other elaboration or demonstration. Is it streamable content like Spotify? Is it online radio like Pandora? Is it free? Is it paid? Did I mention we have Halo 4?

The CEO of Nike also unveiled Nike Plus Kinect Training, after a lofty self-indulgent introduction. This new game serves as a Kinect trainer, gauging the accuracy of your movements with the on screen prompts, and judging your performance accordingly. You are then given a score dubbed 'Nike Fuel' which then can be shared with your friends. I found this to be a cool little trinket especially since the only downside to taped Tai Bo fat burning extravaganzas of old was that the baldie wasn't able to yell at you for cheesing through the harder bits. While cool that you can share your 'Nike Fuel' score with your friends online, I can only assume the Nike Band (which records your physical activities outside of a gaming setting) is a separate purchase. If this isn't bundled with the game, this cool supplement would probably be irrelevant due to lack of widespread use. Regardless, this game was quite integruing given the popularity of this market.

Tablet integration using a new feature called Smartglass was another big talking point. With Smartglass any smartphone or tablet should be able to share data with the Xbox. For example a movie that you stream on a tablet can be transferred to your TV with the click of a button. The tablet then becomes a supplemental device, offering information about the cast of the show and other extra goodies to distract you from the very thing you're watching. In another demonstration, the presenter watched an episode of Game of Thrones (the best show on TV I might add), with the tablet acting as a map, reacting in real-time with the action that was occurring on screen. While this was mostly superficial fluff, one could say the same for Snuggies...and man are those things cozy. I do however suspect the 'any device' assertion, since the logistics involved seems a bit too impressive.

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The long overdue internet browser was also introduced. So instead of finding workarounds using the Media Center, Xbox users finally get a sanctioned version. Kinect was also integrated, namely the use of your voice to call up websites...quite nifty. One of the biggest issues I've found with the PS3's online browser is the awkwardness of using the joystick as a mouse. They managed somewhat of a workaround by having the tablet act as the mouse pad that then translates onscreen. I have one major issue with this whole browser business: The websites shown were heavily streamedlined into neat boxes stacked on top of each other, in a fashion most likely rendered by the Xbox browser for ease of access. I wonder if this translation occurs to most sites, and therefore subsequent issues that may entail with as many variables present from site to site. This also begs to question why anyone would browse online anyway since you can use aforementioned tablet in your hand to do it. Not to mention you may have a laptop you already queued up for quick GameFaqing or Team Four Star episodes during Witcher 2's godforsaken load screens.

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Next was one of my favorite demos, not to mention one of my most anticipated games of this...I mean next year (sigh). I was rather worried about the QTE heavy sequence of Tomb Raider shown during last E3. This time around actual gameplay was shown...and oh was it excellent. The same motifs of previous coverage were present in the game, with Lara as a budding adventurous desperately struggling against both the elements and baddies scattered throughout the island. The gunplay was in rare form, each shot having a nice weighty girth as the lead ripped asunder the jugulars of the villainous pirates. Limb sensitive damage was also shown, the enemy reacting appropriately to a shot in the knee cap (instead of clenching their stomach as if afflicted by a particularly gnarly bout of ulcers every time the bosom heron appears onscreen). The sharpness of the combat as well as the smooth movement clearly shows Crystal Dynamics taking notes from Uncharted, finally making the lukewarm combat of Legends, Anniversary, and Underworld modernized. Lara's jumps had a great since of gravity, due to a greater frame count in animations. Environmental interaction was also present, barrels being used to smash enemies situated below. I hope the system is truly dynamic instead of the occasional situational instance, but we shall see. The latter half of the gameplay devolved into QTE heavy sequences ala the tradition of these past shows, but at least we had real gameplay in the beginning. Oh and the Xbox gets the first DLC as really there only way of gain a sorta exclusive edge on Sony without actually owning any additional exclusives (woohhoo laying out DLC plans before even finishing the game).

Surprisingly Phil Spencer also unveiled the new IP titled Ascend: New Gods by Toy Soldiers developer Signal Studios. The game shared the miniaturized world aesthetic, but in place of the stratagem, was pure action. Of course this is pure conjecture since no actual gameplay was shown (I wish I can just invent the acronym NAGPWS). Generally I wasn't impressed by even the trailer. Next.

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...was Resident Evil 6. If anyone had any reservations about the Resident Evil losing their survival horror roots have another reason to lose sleep. The movement seems to be in the same vein as RE5 with additions such as shooting from the ground and rolling. The combat shown was also heavily in favor of quickly shooting zombies in the torso and moving on to the next objective than the more claustrophobic slow approach of zombies in say RE4. Personally I'm not a fan of Resident Evil. I can certainly see why gamers love the series though, and the gameplay here seems too much of a tonal and mechanical departure from the series. But really it's not my place to say.

Next Alex Ruiz introduced Wreckateer, a castle destroying game for the Kinect reminiscent of Rampart (god I love that game). The player is able to control the trajectory of the cannonball and watch the chaos ensue. Personally, the game could be quite fun if not for the sluggish pace at which the cannon ball was manipulated mid-air. The nearly 20-second air time is far too lofty for any sort of challenge. Rather this was a design decision or a concession for the Kinect's lag is yet to be determined. Regardless...not too impressed.

Next was the South Park title introduced a few months back from GameInformer. South Park: The Stick of Truth is an RPG situated within the South Park universe (and that's about all we know). The look of the show was perfectly replicated; however then again this was merely a trailer, not actual gameplay.

Next was a performance by Usher to celebrate the inclusion of his new song 'Scream' into Dance Central 3. The performance was decent if not a bit jarring for its inappropriateness in a game conference. I found it funny that the energetic, acrobatic dance moves used by Usher throughout the majority of the performance didn't even have Dance Central 3 involved in the process. When the game finally booted up for Usher to jump in, it was noticeably more stilted than the beginning of the performance. What was meant to be a cleaver extension of the 'dance-like-a-star' motif that these sort of games are geared towards, instead showed how incredibly disconnected it was to the real thing (similar to the absurdity of eager DDR fanatics taking their memorized directional steps on the actual dance floor--only Kinectified).

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Next was Call of Duty Black Ops 2. Here's the thing, I have a great distain for the recycled tired scripted linearity of the COD series. In fact that is not an entirely controversial statement to make given many gamers' negative sentiment toward the franchise of late. And of course the politics revolving Activision side certainly is not helping matters for Treyarch. Personally I was looking forward to what BLOPs 2 could present for the series when I read that there would be tactical gameplay, drone conflict, and a fresh near-future setting. Unfortunately the demo showed was basically the same derivative Call of Duty tripe that they gotten away with since COD4. The only real difference I could uncover from all of the rubble, dude-bro fist bumping, and cussing is that there are now drones at the player's disposal. This however is rather shallow as well since it only entails selecting a target and letting the floating turret distract the enemy while you flank them (because AI as robust as a herd of drunken Lemmings totally need flanking). Even the flying sequences did not appear to give you full control of the vessel. While the camera was controlled, I could not find any indication that you couldn't digress anywhere beyond the designated path before getting slapped down like a toothless child that wandered outside his playpen. Bah.

Summary:

Microsoft was quite underwhelming this year. Similar to last year Microsoft focused on a set schedule of focusing on the core games in the beginning, pushing applications, Xbox Live initiatives in the middle then digressing into casual gaming and ending with a final much anticipated core title at the end. While the line-up of core games was promising, they were mostly known titles shown last year with some minor gameplay samples. Additionally the gameplay was riff with quicktime sequences that showed more flash than substance. While I understand that these QTE integrations and set-pieces show well, they merely are the equivalent to trailers. I must praise however Microsoft's valiant efforts in the Xbox Live space, particularly in the Kinect integration. These improvements however are rather cosmetic niceties. Having an easy to use internet browser is long overdue, and the tablet integration for better connectivity is a plus, if not limited. My greatest complaint was the lack of any real reason to be invested in the system due primarily to the lack of gaming exclusives. The inclusion of other titles such as Splinter Cell and Tomb Raider, while interesting are multiplatform. By far the most disappointing conference of E3:

Final Grade C-

More to come!!!

Prelude to Awesome

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Hey guys and gals, if you haven't heard...E3 is upon us!!! It's been quite awhile since I rode that blogging horse, so it feels good to be back. While I have lurked every so often on GameSpot and read the occasional blog, I've generally gone underground (like I presume the majority of GameSpotters) since April-ish. Like last year I'm going to be blogging my impressions of the conferences with as much expedience as possible. I'm not going to kill myself this time though, by trying to post in between conferences (that was insane). Instead I'll try to get everything nice and sparkly by 8ish/9ish PT. But first the happenings of these past few months:

The big deal these past couple of months was there wasn't anything that was a big deal. Really, there hasn't been any notable news even worth mentioning in passing. Sure we have pundits, analysts, and sources from the sovereign state of Atlantis make claims of next-gen tech at E3, or a new Half-Life 3, a lack of an optical drive in the Xbox 720 (a name coined by said individuals, for all we know it can be the Xenon 2) and other verbose acid dreams .

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On the flip side of this desperate need for traffic revenue, we have the actual ACTUAL news, which has consisted of Capcpom boxart misprints and unproven developers dying a swift and concise death for gambling too high (Kingdoms of Amalur). I could have also talked at length about the Zampella and West case, but here's the skinny: We don't know which actual side is right due to bias, the actual hard evidence we did get namely James Bond hilarity of Project Icebreaker as well as access to IW's juicy contract with Activision doesn't make a heck of a difference since the case came to a settlement (also EA and Activision early reached a settlement as well). No new skeletons dug up, and no postmortem from the IW heads or Activision due to the terms of the deal being strictly confidential ?darn. Also what did we learn?Activision is pretty protective about their Call of Duty brand which subsequently makes them rather greedy...the second coming is upon us!

There's also been a myriad of issues concerning this site. I'm actually all for the redesign on the main page. The layout is clean and concise, with the tab system helping with the organization of the great deal of content. While I still wish the actual news has more visibility than the features, the news stories are right under the bar as well as certain pieces having their own features anyway. I like how the new comment system allows for users with different views from the majority are not censored via a thumbdown $***storm. On the other hand this has come to the expense of the thumb up feature...sorta. Now you can actually see who exactly agrees with your comment, which I think is rather silly and irrelevant. In the past I found it to my favor to look at the greatest number of likes on a comment section of an article to be a great sampling of decent arguments/reactions that the majority of the readers shared. Now I get to count icons, which is...different I guess.

There also seems to be an issue with old comments not registering anymore. All of my older comments from previous blogs are completely gone. This is by far my biggest complaint, since there were some truly interesting gems among that small lot that I treasured. As a further reminder of what once was, an afterimage of the past comment count still is embedded on the article page. This count preview also seems to afflict newer content as well. I routinely see a 0 comment blog, only to click on it to see that there is in fact 20 comments actually there...weird.

I've also had some issue with GS actual content as well. I love Quoted for Truth (despite having difficulty finding older episodes), Start/Select, and Escape from Mount Stupid, and Secret Code. But I really miss the canceled content, such as Jody Robinson's Sync, SoundByte Radio, and most importantly an actual podcast (one of the major reasons I frequented the site).

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I'm a bit more ambivalent about everything else like marathon features, Skyrim mods, and other opinion pieces. I actually like some of the editorials, most of them well written if not a bit on the short side. My issue comes with how the features are of the subject matter other sites would focus on (or worse included in their actual news articles--GameInformer). I came to GS for the features that you wouldn't find anywhere on the internet. Of course I know the customer isn't always right, fans have been bashed by game sites continually with the "entitled gamer"-moniker since ME3, almost to the degree of mockery. While I think they are generally right (namely consumers who consider games as art only when it makes them happy), but I've been there, seen that, read it on GamesRadar. What about Carolyn Petit's feature on Poison and transvestite issues in gaming? What about issue of homosexuality in gaming? These features were fantastic discussion points that were well thought out and deserving of attention. Not to mention the actual news that did occur was not nearly as punctual as other sites. GameInformer for all the crap I give them has been my go-to for news, since GS oftentimes are late hours if not days to the party.

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So I've been a bit hesitant about the new direction GS has gone in. But hopefully E3 will kick the site back into an actual rhythm of operations, as well as spark some fresh blog entries and community interaction. Thanks for stomaching my unfocused rant. As sour as this entry is, I?m still hopeful of GameSpot's future, especially with the partnership with GiantBomb!! And of course my excitement as a gamer can't be higher today! With that, I'm off to see today's big news! See you guys tonight!!

Eggs, Stigma, and some Wenching

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Well I've been rather scattershot with my gaming lately, and seeing as I don't feel a particularly high calling to defend some major polarizing gaming catastrophe nor have the patience to solve the detrimental effects of used game sales, I think I'll just talk about what's been on my gaming palette.

Obviously I've finished Mass Effect 3 if you've followed my entries. Usually with this series I automatically have a second play through in order to see the other side contrary to my fem-shep paragon sainthood (which may inadvertently be a product of subliminal sexist projections thanks to societal conditioning…me am Alpha-male you am wife after all). I just haven't felt the need to this time around. It's not like the game was bad, in fact there was nothing I could really find fault with. Heck it beat the snot out what I thought to be the impassable threshold of ME1. But I think my fatigue is due to oversaturation. I was bathing in pools of hype for years, in addition to the exhaustive news coverage the game seems to be getting both positive and negative, and that's just news, let's not forget the countless editorials and opinion pieces (myself guilt as charge). Even as I write I feel a bit blasé about bring it up for the one millionth time. So I'll probably come back to it after some much needed incubation (or subsequent DLC comes through the pipeline). Which speaking of DLC, I'm sure ya'll have heard about the new supplemental ending DLC due this summer. First of all woot, because I'll finally be home in Chicago to actually enjoy it, and most importantly: totally called it! (well so far at least).

the witcher

I also finished the original Witcher, which (heh) I enjoyed immensely despite having some noticeable issues with my one time subscription with OnLive (I canceled after I beat the game). My PC is an absolute dinosaur, which hasn't been much of an issue since ironically many notable PC titles don't require much in the way of horsepower. This of course overlooks the higher tier of existence inhabited by the graphical gods of Crysis, Battlefield 3, Arma 3, and the likes of other omnipotent avatars. The thing is most of these games I have no interest in, since I kinda play games for their concept and mechanics, not if I can see real-time footprint rendering in multiple soil types. Not to mention the actual games that I would have borderline interest in like BF3, are readily available on consoles (not as comparable, but I'm not exactly counting texture resolution by the square nanometer). This did however change when The Witcher 2 was released on PC. I was delighted to find that the 360 would get an enhanced port (got that sucker preordered, alas no Dark Edition), but being a continuity fiend I just needed to play the original first. Unfortunately my PC just fell outside of the tech specs, so I was forced to make a leap of faith with OnLive, an online video game stream site. How did it turn out? I think you can already surmise my opinion.

Onlive

OnLive is a cool premise, just with poor execution. The ten dollar play pack which contains some hundred or so 2007ish titles is a steal for The Witcher and S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl alone. Unfortunately the service can only stream in 720p and that's on a day it doesn't feel belligerent. The textures are appallingly ugly in spots and the resolution dresses every figure even in the best rendering in a fuzzy haze reminiscent of the PS2 days. Artifacting issues are also abound, turning a hectic battle through a swamp into some surrealist LSD-fueled fever dream with pixel square patches the size of oven mitts riddling the player's vision. Either this is an infant company desperately trying to keep up with its small player base, or it's some elaborate impressionistic revival from a secret society of former MKULTRA nutcases. Conspiracy and intrigue aside it renders a lot of the game's area nearly unplayable. This is especially true for the swamp and field levels, which due to having highly detailed textures in the every iota of the foliage makes for a headache inducing migraine. It also doesn't help that the service is straight-up unplayable via WiFi, killing the whole portability thing laptops are so useful for.

And this is when the service is at its best. The service also has quite a bit of dropouts, crashes and errors that automatically yank you from play. No internal save state, nothing, just pray that the game's autosave function isn't over a half an hour old (which happened quite a bit I might add). Am I glad that I waded through all this BS to play The Witcher…yes, which is a testament to the quality of the game. There are of course problems, such as a heavy reliance on fetch quests, the juvenile nature in which it approaches women (sex "conquest cards" ala Don Juan—gotta catch em' all), bad delays in targeting, and lack of any real tutorial for the highly complex systems in the game, but it still is a fantastic game.

The combat is quite good, reminiscent of Dragon Age Origins, but a much heavier reliance on player skill and strategy than pure numbers. The maturity treated to the political climate of the world is also very well done, each NPC (and even your own again off again main squeeze) having a decent dose of gray spread in the mix. The morality system is also much more ambiguous than its more preachy counterparts. Oftentimes the philosophically morally "righteous" stance will end up causing much more harm than good, in addition to factions that Gerault (the main character) can align with both being equally deplorable (only in different ways). Do you fight for hypocritical dogma, hiding their intense racism with falsified piety and religious zeal, or do you fight for the oversimplified fanatism of the rebels, justifying indiscriminate butchery for selfish aspirations of former glory. Or do you fight them both, endangering not only yourself but the many loved ones under their overbearing thumbs. Any game that makes me stop and stare at the text opinions agonizing over the decision is a game that really succeeds on a narrative level. The game was a bit padded in parts. While the investigative sections in Act 3 (don't worry no spoilers) were novel at first, they wore very thin after awhile. The enhanced edition also included some optional side quests. They are mostly mediocre fair, a majority of the offerings being fan mods. These missions don't contain voice acting and the writing and characterization are oddly inconsistent with one's personal choices and lore (since your decisions are not imported in). Seeing a once embittered archrival in the story giving you a hearty pat on the back at your wedding is disquieting for sure. But no spilled milk here, my excitement for the next game can't be higher.

pans lab

Its kinda funny I can only juggle one RPG at a time, but I also seem to be in a perpetual state of playing some RPG. After I finished The Witcher, I filled the void by revisiting the original Shadow Hearts, which I abandoned to play Deus Ex, which I abandoned to play Resonance of Fate…and the backlog continues to snowball O.O. The game is quite good, particularly in its mood and setting. Seeing a dark horror RPG is a nice contrast from the bright pastels and bubbly optimism found in most JRPGs. Sometime you don't want to save the world with a reluctant androgynous teenager. Sometimes a badass demon-hybrid-mutant-human is much more suited for such a role. Also the post-World War I European setting really sells the occult horror that the game wears on its sleeve (if not occasionally undercut with ill-advised wackiness). Unfortunately I can't say the same with the writing, the story, or the characters, but it's at least attempts to break free from some of the tropes of the genre, too bad not nearly enough.

I've also made my hesitant first step into the world of visual novels. I was very cautious about these games, since most of them are brainless erotic depravity unsuitable for most people. I have always hated dating Sims. In general they seemed to be made solely for the purpose of perverse fantasy and bastions for horrid writing. The fact that the visual novel scene is almost entirely made up of this particular genre, didn't help this perception. After researching here and there, I may have unfairly generalized Visual Novels as a whole. There are some interesting pieces out there that have nothing to do with nudity and fanservice (or at least contain sparse amounts). So with that I made my tentative leap into a game called don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story (not kidding that's the title), a SFW game with the player placed in the role of a teacher trying to manage his drama-filled students. It's written quite well, moves at a nice leisurely pace, and has an interesting take on privacy in our modern era. Some moments can teeter into the cliché-storm of anime at times, but generally it does a good job of not straddling said cliché for too long.

Katawa Shoujo

On the heels of don't take it personally, babe, I also started playing a game called Katawa Shoujo, a visual novel by indie developer Four Leaf Studios. What drew me to this game was the fact that it was developed over 5 years based on scrap concepts posted on an imageboard. A team of anonymous artists, programmers, and writers made this labor of love and then distributed it for free on their website. The fact that this experiment alone even generated a game is amazing in of itself. I was very cautious however because this was a NSFW dating sim as well as having rather touchy subject matter (which I won't even think about touching with a fifty foot pole in this post). What I discovered was probably the best game (narratively) that I've ever played. The characters were fully realized and believable, and most importantly the subject matter was treated with impeccable maturity, elevating the plot instead of being used as some sort of shallow hook.

I am a cold cold, person, but I even mustered out a light speckle of manly-tears on multiple occasion throughout the game…it's that powerful! I won't even bother going further since the game demands a full entry, but one MUST play this game (if you're of age of course). If you are still wary like I was about the game being erotic fodder for deviant introverts, I would say lurk the game's message boards on GameFAQs and read the user's experiences. Furthermore read the reviews, and read the articles (one that was even featured on the first page of The Escapist! http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/features/9529-The-Un-Sexy-Dating-Game- Long form because the blog links are acting stupid), and you'll find an immensely well done title in very good taste that is hardly deserving of the negative stigma of its larger medium and genre. Furthermore the game is made free by the creators themselves so what have you got to lose. And even if one doesn't want to take the risk of being offended by the nudity (as anime nudity in general is a bit off-putting), users thankfully have the option of disabling the content. More of that in the future…maybe (if I'm feeling particularly scandalous that day).

Also, I don't usually talk about my game collecting, since I usually don't get anything worth mentioning. But I managed to snag a mint copy of Suikoden II and 5 for a decent price just recently. Both of these games have basically been my white whale for a good 4 to 5 years. Besides Suikoden Tactics, which is a spin-off anyway, I have completed my Suikoden collection at last!!! Finally I can play the first one without any inhibitions! I still have some other pricy items I'm still searching for, namely The Misadventures of Tron Bonne (which may not even bother), Brigandine, and anything done by Working Designs on the Saturn. But this is a big step since it is considered one of the rarest PS1 titles in its library. As a small note I picked up the Limited Edition of Persona 3, marking my first Shin Megami Tensei purchase! I've always been curious about this series, but have always been turned off by the difficulty of finding them locally, and the high calling price online. I'm on a bit of a "dark-RPG" kick thanks to Shadow Heart, Fallout 1, and The Witcher so I just couldn't resist.

Oh and kudos to the new GameSpot and Giant Bomb page setups, really clean and efficient! And of course my condolences to Mr. Tom Magrino who got let go from the GS Staff just recently. He really was one of my favorite personalities on the site so seeing him go was quite sad. This and the fact GameSpot is ignoring the issue completely. All I can say is didn't they learn from 2007! They even had a video explaining the events of Gerstmann's firing, something I saw as an apology of sorts from keeping fans in the dark about the situation. Ah well. Farwell buddy...

tom magrino

Good Luck and "Hirasugi!!!"

…oh yeah and happy late egg-worshipping day!

Mass Hysteria (A Reaction)

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Mass Effect 3 has launched the conclusion to Shepard's story and his struggle to liberate Earth from the clutches of the Reapers. The player presumed that they would be able to see the fruits of their toils, victories, and moral challenges reflected in the ending of this otherwise phenomenal game. Instead they were treated with a convoluted conversation with the Catalyst explaining nothing about the Reaper threat in addition to dissolving player choice into three meaningless decisions that played out in the same fashion.

This came to be quite the shock for players, myself included, seeing our beloved franchise built on the fundamentals of choice and sophisticated exploration of moral issues regarding racism, tolerance, unity, genocide, mortality, the definition of sentient life and even medical morality. While initially crushed seeing my hundreds of hours of investment made completely null in little more than ten minutes, I eventually started to see the hidden kernel buried underneath the internet rage after reading up on some theories and replaying parts of the game myself. If my favorite theory the Indoctrination Theory was in fact correct, this previously putrid ending may very well be the greatest meta-game publicity stunt I've ever experienced. Yes I can see your eyes rolling into the back of your head as you curl your tendrils to write a hasty retort of my incompetence, just stop and give the possibility a chance.

Femshep End

If I have to be the madman on the hill proclaiming end time revelation, I willing accept the role. Perhaps this is the result of my feeble fanboy psyche trying to justify Bioware's supposed gaffe, or perhaps I am merely grasping at straws from ghostly specters; What I do know is that it is unlikely this jarring conclusion from one of the premier development studios would be so aloof to nose dive in the final act of their original universe 5 years in the making. Also note just how incredibly quiet Bioware is regarding this controversy, with their only response seeming quite guarded:

"I didn't want the game to be forgettable, and even right down to the sort of polarizing reaction that the ends have had with people–debating what the endings mean and what's going to happen next, and what situation are the characters left in. That to me is part of what's exciting about this story. There has always been a little bit of mystery there and a little bit of interpretation, and it's a story that people can talk about after the fact."

-Casey Hudson, Project Director

It almost seems Mr. Hudson wants the ending to be experienced by as many people as possible in order for more to "get" the ending as well. After all wild speculation is more fun than gripping and moaning about Bioware's fall from grace.

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WARNING

For obvious reasons subsequent sections contain massive spoilers only intended for players that have completed the game. You have been warned:

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The Decision

I am an ardent fan of the Indoctrination Theory, an apt observation that I hardly can take credit for myself. Providing every aspect of the theory seems rather silly so I'll just summarize it. The theory states that Shepard due to continual exposure to Reaper technology has been subtly indoctrinated over the course of the three games. The indoctrination process comes to fruition during either the start of the game or when he/she (this going to get old so I'll just keep it as "he" in true misogynistic fashion) is blasted by the Reaper beam during the final push. The vent boy, whose form is conveniently used by the Catalyst does not actually exist, but merely a proxy of the Reapers to emotionally manipulate Shepard without revealing their malicious intent.

The evidence for this theory is quite overwhelming. For brevities sake I won't list the numerous examples for this article, but I urge curious individuals to take a look at these sources:

Bioware Forum Theory- byne

Zetaboard Indoctrination Theory- T3HFish

Indoctrination Theory- Thanatos34

Mass Effect 3 Ending explanation- HassanAlHajry

The citadel that Shepard and Anderson are beamed to in actually is a Reaper induced hallucination meant to steer Shepard to his final decision toward the end:

To either control the Reapers, synthesize organic and synthetic life, or destroy all synthetics.

This entire sequence is the physical embodiment of Shepard's inner struggle to unclench himself from the effects of indoctrination. The Catalyst is a tool of the Reapers meant to deceive Shepard into a decision that benefits them while the Crucible is the macguffin to lead him to this point. The control and synthesis options while bleak are emphasized as the most positive decisions, while the "kill" option is strongly dissuaded (but not enough to key Shepard or the player of this bias).

The control option represents the Illusive man. That resolve and ideals alone can best the beast and advance civilization in the galaxy. Quite a simple misguided philosophy that while seemingly altruistic really is egocentric and power hunger. This is by far the most transparent embodiment of Cerberus.

The synthesis option is quite deceptive, directly appealing to the unity philosophical underpinnings drummed into the player's head throughout the adventure. The very structure of every single game revolves around unity among diverse groups, even enemies to overcome a greater overarching threat of overwhelming force. Mass Effect 2 reflects this in the most literal context, having the player gain compliance with their squad mates via loyalty missions in order to come together and defeat the Collectors. If we remember, the Reaper philosophy of absolute subjugation and assimilation of all beings into a homogeneous mass is fairly similar to the synthesis conclusion of mass conformity to a hybrid life form. Despite all of its supposedly righteous ideals of unity, it is the closest to the Reaper agenda. Unity at the exclusion of diversity is a falsified version of reality. While appealing it is an ideal that is contrary to the universal themes of unity despite socio-political, national, or racial differences that the series so adamantly preaches. The Alliance exemplifies this very ideal, a single organization comprised of the resource from nation-states on Earth and its colonies abroad. I liken the Reaper ideal of centralization to that of Fascists during World War II fighting the Allied Nations. The Allied Nations embodied diversity generally building resistance against Nazi Germany's ethnic cleansing. And guess who won…

Geth

The last and final decision is quite interesting in that it ends the Reaper threat all together. This of course is not in the Reaper plan book at all, and is positioned as a Renegade option to further confuse the player since Paragon (for better or worse) has customarily been the moral "righteous" option in Bioware games. Also note the Crucible warning that this decision would not only destroy Shepard but all synthetic life. This is a dilemma pushed on two equally potent fronts. On one side is the destruction of the synthetic life, a decision made profoundly more difficult due the games emphasis in humanizing the figures and on the other self-preservation. The introduction of Legion was the start of the series sympathetic tone toward synthetics, issuing the question of Geth freewill, but it hardly stops there: Freewill within AI explored during the Project Overlord DLC, the heretics, elaboration of the not so one-sided Morning War, as well as EDI's own self-awareness and humanization…by far the most personable. With all these decisions, things are further complicated with the instinctual desire of self-preservation. Adding the reality that dying also means that the player will not be able to interact with squad mates, crew and LIs and sacrifice is a rather hard pill to stomach. The brilliance of this conundrum is that Shepard is already dead. Wait…what!? Yup!

As we said Shepard is indoctrinated. The final ascension to the Citadel is a hallucination, and given the overwhelming casualties of your comrades around you and the white beam that fills your screen, most likely you are either dead or close to it. This is fascinating because once again the Reapers are manipulating Shepard from not choosing this option despite him basically being dead anyways. This explanation also explains the absurdity of Joker and your comrade that rushed in battle with you outrunning the relay chain-reaction, and landing on a non-descript island in every ending (with minor variations). This dreamlike sequence is just that, a final fever dream of Shepard of his own happy ending. Shepard dreams of the most ideal situation (which from the outside eye defies reality) in order to justify his own decision.Regardless of if it was the wrong one or not. If you as a player threw your control down in anger over the shear confusion of the ending, went to bed and dreamed up your "true" happy ending with martinis and space football with your crew, generally your doing the same thing Shepard is doing: comforting himself with his ideal version of reality despite his clear disillusionment.

Yo Dawg

Which leads to another interesting kernel which has been the source of the majority of fan ire. All three decisions end the same way (besides a color swap in the explosion). The reason behind this is that despite Shepard's "decision" on the fate of the Reapers, he lost regardless. This trial while positioned as the deciding factor of the fate of the galaxy in actuality is Shepard's trial of rather he is indoctrinated at the end of his journey or if he prevails over the effects and dies with freewill. And here comes the masterstroke that I think makes this ending so brilliant: The player is going through this indoctrination themselves!

The player similarly to the Illusive Man and Saren has to go through this trial despite the feeling that they have no control over the outcome. If one remembers Shepard generally has no dialog options to grill the Catalyst on his wild assertions. Like his enemies, Shepard is in a nearly impossible situation, where he doesn't even know the implications of his decisions. He doesn't even know that he is being tested, similar to the player not knowing.

Reapers

This is all presented in Lovecraftian-horror, the lack of control in the midst of a massive indifferent force, incomprehensible to human thought. Take the Crucible's explanation of the Reaper intent (which is has been parodied so much that I smell the stench of meme-hood brewing): "the Reapers were created for the sole purpose of ensuring the existence of organic life in the galaxy, through the assumption that all synthetic creations will eventually turn on and destroy their organic creators." (Source)

No matter how you slice that, it is a logical fallacy…but that's the point. One could interpret this as the Catalyst merely spouting bull to have Shepard accept this inane but resolved conclusion in order for his attention to be drawn elsewhere. The other possibility is that this conclusion is in fact the Reaper's doctrine and (from our perspective) incompressible—cliché but possible. Regardless of the conclusion it still presents the Reapers as an indifferent incomprehensible inevitability instead of a simple adversary. The very fact that all of our decisions were meaningless in the face of such a force is far more potent than any character dying, or any other cheap narrative ploy seen in the majority of entertainment. The player's very perception of their playtime has been shifted, and the purpose behind those decisions are invalidated. But what is most important is that this dire reality shows the message of this series.

While true the end result was outside of the player's reach, the experience, the journey that was taken, and the characters that one met and loved were meaningful in itself. The end goal is never definite, the good guys don't always win, Jersey Shore exists (therefore there is no god), and slapping unrelenting prepubescent enthusiasm and self-confidence to one's issues does not suddenly make your will reality (contrary to what Naruto might tell you). The universe is far too vast, life far too incomprehensible to be ignored, overcome and kicked in the junk with an omni-blade. Instead the mark of a fulfilled life is one that exerts oneself and one's morality contrary to the hostility of the environment or situation, not of virtue for the end goal, or payoff but for the fact that it was right in of itself. The virtue is the journey and the current reality. Shepard did not waste his time just like you as a fan haven't, you've lived you've experienced and that should be enough in of itself. But here's the kicker—there's more to the story…

The End Game

illusive man

All this artsy fartsy pretention is all well and good, and certainly a nice twist to artists' propensity to end all stories with a rose, a slap on the bum, and tied together in a dainty bow, but would they (Bioware Ea with a stress on EA) allow such a risky ending. My answer: Yes…kinda. And if you thought this whole theory was a stretch, better grab a drink for this one, we're dipping into the wondrous world of aluminum hats and FOX news…

First the easy part, either EA was only concerned about profit and therefore did not care about the damaging of the ME brand with such a fiasco (unlikely), or they were onboard with the move due to unforeseen plans to secure profits in an alternate way. I believe that this ending was done to make an unconventionally artistic expression, I but I also feel that it serves as a larger meta-game to reemphasize the themes of the story, while also drumming up interest in subsequent DLC purchases ie. A win-win on all fronts.

My prediction is that a DLC pack including the "real endings" will be released for free (I hope) sometime in the upcoming weeks or months. This will serve to pacify widespread player discontent (see Child's Play Protest) while also elaborating on the true meaning on the ending. The DLC will be a sort of aftermath of the indoctrination scene in London, with your final decision entering into a bonus mission of sorts. The very fact that we see Shepard return "back to Earth" (even though he never left), will prove the Indoctrination Theory as true, satisfying fans with full control of Shepard, having the potential to fittingly say goodbye to Shepard's buddies, while Bioware has the props for having the balls to let this ending incubate as the supposed conclusion for however long we have to wait. This prediction is based on a current rumor going around that said theoretical DLC will be titled "The Truth" (Source). The additional layer of manipulation I was talking about extends even further here by the mere fact that we do not understand the ending (ala the current chaos of controversy currently) a sort of misunderstanding and disorientation that Shepard experienced himself. The "indoctrination" therefore not only extends in context of the game ending itself, but the fan reaction provides an additional layer of meta-game. This compromise not only aids both sides in terms of respect it heightens the theme of the series as a whole with a decent social experiment to boot.

proof maybe

Furthermore according to numerous fan surveys in many a forum, the majority (I've heard as high as 98%) of fans did not like the ending. I can only conclude that the vast majority of this percentage simply did not "get" the ending like me, in other words succumbing to Bioware administered "indoctrination". The minority in contrast "got it", they resisted the falsification they were being fed. I think of this as representative of Shepard himself, even though I am almost certain Bioware didn't think this far out. Think about it, according to the lore many cannot resist indoctrination, it in fact can happen to even the most well-intended player (ala you). The fact that Shepard could resist places him on an even higher level of reverence, that you in no small part played a role in. The players themselves are therefore used as a contrast from Shepard. If true, and believe me this one is a stretch, this would be a whole new level of Role-playing. It closely mirrors the future of Gamafication (where reality itself is used as a gameplay tool) that has been thrown around by overzealous GDC panelist for years. Bioware I believed used player expectation and human behavior to pull this fiasco. But really only time will tell…

Again this is incredibly wild speculation, but then again that's always the most fun. Besides at worst I'll just chalk my manic ramblings to being a victim of internet sensationalism. But if I'm right…hmmm

Honestly I hope for Bioware's sake that it goes this deep, or at the very least the Indoctrination Theory or a similarly deep context for the ending is more than just face value. Post your opinion, speculations, heresy below!

Mass Migraine

by on

So it's been awhile since I did an entry. I mostly attribute my inactivity in the community to the slow news-cycle traditionally attributed to Q1. Sure I could talk about Resident Revelation misspellings (in addition to the incessant commercials still playing), or Mass Effect Deception "patches", or the rare kernel of good fortune for Double Fine via Jumpstart, but that hardly warrants ranting or raving. I also have been in a bit of gaming slump as well. I basically ignored playing video games since New Years, with my only resurgences from hibernation due to the shockingly addictive Mass Effect multiplayer included in the demo. Mostly I've been watching a ton of the Walking Dead, Community and reading a host of fantastic books (particularly the Honor Harrington series). However now that we are finally approaching the release of Mass Effect 3 my enthusiasm has return reinvigorated for March 6th (which by some mystical alignment of the planets falls under the second day of spring break!)

But I must confess after these controversies of late regarding the From Ashes DLC, I have a horribly bitter taste in my mouth. Before I proceed, the rest of the entry regards plot SPOILERS to Mass Effect 3. Granted it is no worse than GameSpot's own articles regarding the news but I wanted to give fair warning regardless.

ashes

If you haven't heard already the From Ashes DLC, includes a mission on Eden Prime, a new weapon, an alternate appearance pack for every squad member and here's the kicker a Prothean squad mate. Yes a live Prothean. This all comes packed in for free with the $80 N7 Collector's Edition, but for those with the standard edition it retails as day-1 DLC for about 10 dollars extra. With this said, I was dumbstruck by the utter insult of such a gesture from Bioware (although not unpredictable). I immediately rushed over to the ME3 forums on Bioware's site, Gamefaqs, and GameSpot's own ME Union (which is an awesome union if you haven't checked it out already) to voice my outrage. There was a surprising amount of arguments in support of such measures as EA's legitimate right to monetize their hard earned properties. These counter-arguments only grew more emboldened when Casey Hudson, project director of the series defended the DLC through his twitter feed stating the 3 month gap after the game was finished allowed them to work on the DLC hence the reason for its lack in inclusion into the main game:

"It takes about 3 months from "content complete" to bug-fix, certify, manufacture, and ship game discs. In that time we work on DLC."(Casey Hudson)

The fact that Bioware would cut out this very crucial aspect of the story to further monetize the already exhaustive pre-order, retail specific buffoonery, is nothing short of laughably morbid. In terms of the 3 month statement, I must agree with Hudson that this is a perfectly reasonable practice. Creating DLC for a game already set to ship is a common practice in the gaming industry, and delaying the release in fear of fans moaning about its timing on the first day of release is a bit unwarranted. But why not simply release the content for free, especially of this magnitude. They could even make the free content nothing but the Prothean character, no special mission, no extra goodies, just him/it. Charge for the rest, and it would be a perfectly reasonable proposition.

What strikes me odd about this incident is just how strikingly familiar this is to the previous game (only far more appalling). If you remember when Mass Effect 2 was released all new copies regardless of if they were standard or collector's editions were grant access to the Cerberus Network. The network was a one-time activation granting access to the entertaining Cerberus Daily News Feed as well as a host of free downloadable content. Included was the extra character Zaeed including his loyalty mission, Normandy Crash Site mission, Cerberus weapons and armor, the quite useful Arc Projector weapon, and the Firewalker pack. If the game was obtained used $15 was charged—this in my opinion was completely acceptable. While certainly people that bought the game used would be penalized, I saw it as completely acceptable means to incentify day-one purchases instead of bartering with GameStop's sleazy barrel scraps (which publishers and developers see absolutely no profit from). Regardless of which product a fan of the series was to buy, as long as their purchase was new, they where guaranteed to a complete product. This insult is even defended further by Bioware's Michael Gamble who posted in the ME forums:

"The Collectors Edition has been advertised from the beginning as containing a bonus character/mission, but we were not at liberty to provide the details. The Prothean is optional content that is certainly designed to appeal to long-time fans, which is why he is part of the CE offering (the version many fans would be likely to purchase). Mass Effect 3 is a complete – and a huge game - right out of the box." (Michael Gamble)

The difference in this situation firstly is that the From Ashes content is exclusively free for collector's editions of the game…which is costs a 20 dollar premium. The fact that a standard copy has to pay ten dollars for content that should have been on the disc or made free is absurd, after Bioware demonstrated a similar (yet far more fair) model just two years prior! This day-one business wouldn't have ignited my internet rage receptors quite so vigorously if it weren't for the context of extra squadmate in question.

The Protheans as any Mass Effect fan will tell you are the essential pillars of the series. Without the existence of the Protheans the mass relays and the citadel cease to exist. And it just so happens if those are gone, all the races as we know it cease to have any relevancy since they have no means of contacting each other. The Asari do not assemble the Council, Humans do not discover the Charon relay orbiting Pluto, and the First Contact with the Turians never occurs. The ME universe as it exists in its present form cease to exist. Even ancient precursor history aside, they have a major impact on the narrative structure of the games themselves. Shepard's encounter with the beacon on Eden Prime that initially launched him on his mission to unravel the mystery of the Prothean race, the source of Liara's years of study, their mutated reincarnation in the form of the Collectors, the abduction of human colonies initiating ME2, the creation of husks, not to mention the very knowledge of the Reapers' existence (since we wouldn't have Prothean warnings of their imminent arrival). Since the Protheans are inexorably tied to the Reapers, try for a second removing them from the main series. After all they're just the main antagonists. Ya know the whole point of playing ME3 to begin with. Yeah. As much as I like Zaeed and Kasumi, they simply do not have the narrative weight that is inherent in the mere existence of a Prothean. Even if the thing simply flaunts about the ship like a garish piece of wallpaper only moving to relieve its bowels in your bedroom like a senile pup, it would have more significance than the Overlord, Arrival, and Lair of the Shadow Broker combined!

me3

As for the theories of the content being deliberately withheld from the game disc to sell it separately as DLC, I honestly have my suspicions that I readily blasted in my reactionist fury on Twitter and in comment sections. But my "proof" was merely the leaked screenshots of plans for the DLC character to actually be a Prothean. This only really proves that the character was planned to be a DLC addition to the Collector's Edition from awhile back. While it certainly suggests that there was intent to segment the content, it does not suggest that the content was built at the time of the leak. I can only dismiss my suspicions as pure speculation in my suspicions, since they are nearly impossible to prove. So in that regard I do apologize for making those inflammatory comments, regardless of how well-intended they were. I have also apologized to Mr. Hudson via twitter formally.

However I cannot stress enough my distain for these practices. Note the implications of Gamble's reasoning for including the content for free in the CE that "long-time fans" would "be likely to purchase". Basically Bioware is stating that true fans of the series not only pre-ordered, but were willing to pre-order the $80 Collector's Edition. So as a fan your copy is only truly complete if you spend $80 in order to get the DLC for "free". Sure at the very minimum you will spend at least $70, but the standard edition alone will not make your copy complete! Forgive me for having a moral code regarding corporate dealings with their consumers. Forgive me for feeling cheated that I must prove my loyalty to a company by buying the most expensive premium for every sequel they can dream up. Oh and nuts to you if you tried to pre-order a N7 CE only to realize every retailer sold out several months ago! True fan, I think not, should have done it in July! Nuts to you if you think you're entitled to complete games at all. Heck, if corporations want to make you pay by the freakin level what's the problem, corporations have to make money somehow, after all they are people. And good luck if you are completely frozen with inaction by which retailer to even pre-order from, since they all have their own exclusive crap that I need to shift through.

(slumps in exhaustion)

So what now…

femshep

Honestly I have no clue. These business practices morally offend me as a consumer. For these very reasons I have stayed away from most Ubisoft products (particularly Assassin's Creed, and other DRM-laden traps), and Activision properties. EA was on my list of distain until they started releasing some decent IP and initiated their promising EA Partner's program. And honestly I don't have the will power to resist buying Mass Effect 3, like so many outraged fans beating the revolution drums of boycott (heroic but too much for me). Mass Effect since 2007 has been my most played game and most beloved game that I have ever experienced. I never have considered myself a "mega-fan" of any game series. One of my all time favorite games Okami, still isn't good enough to warrant the almost feverish mania that I seem to hold for Mass Effect. So far I own nearly every media available regarding the Mass Effect universe, with a few art book stragglers missing here and there (but one day!!). But this series is near and dear to my heart, making my deflation of this recent controversy that much more depression. I'm still looking forward to ME3 however. So look what you made me do Bioware EA! I was planning on making my resurgence on a positive note about how excited I was for thisupcoming release, how addicted I am to the multiplayer, how exquisite the single-player demo is. But no… more shifty cow dung in my soup that I have to write about.

Anyways, I'm planning on getting back on that blogging horse. Next entry will probably be on a much more positive note since I've been experimenting with OnLive, played The Witcher for the first time in anticipation of the 360 Enhanced Edition, and beaten Bayonetta!

Oh and some game is going to be released on XBLA. Something about skaters in Tokyo or something typically Japanese and insane—

jetsetradio

JAJAJAJAJAJAAJAJAJ JET SET RADIOOOOOOO!!!!!!

God I miss this game

"Hirasugi!!!" the Gallant Gallstone

Zelda the Comformist

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So apparently no one likes jokes, or at least in my case well placed sarcasm. I'm sure any GS user has experienced the torrent of rage from the Legend of Zelda skyward sword review a month or so ago, that ONLY got a 7.5, because apparently objective analysis is thrown out the window when preconceptions of greatness cloud the better judgment of the overzealous masses. Defending McShea in multiple posts in the same video review in question eventually wore on my patience. Seeing my well constructed retort countered by blabbering Nintendo fanboyism convinced me to just vent in one post and let it go after that. That's not to say that dissenting views where all gibberish, but typically simple reactionist slogans of anger were much more lauded. Which begs the question: is the thumb down button a means of censorship? Now I understand the need to block out the existence of clearly incendiary comments, that only serve to troll, but opinions that differ being blocked from the consensus seems awfully reminiscent of the very injustice thrown on McShea. I could continue but the real purpose of this post is to just state my two cents regarding the review, and reviews in general. I know I'm late to the party but I figure people will at least be a bit more receptive now that there has been some incubation time and the dust has settled (a bit).

zelda

First of all one problematic position reviews find themselves in is them getting so big to the point they develop audiences. Biases within sites should be all but negated by having journalist of different affinities for various genres naturally reviewing those specific games. This however doesn't mean they should specialize and not diversify, they should have a diverse palette of game genres under their belt to round themselves out. GameSpot does a great job in this regard, each reviewer fitting their particular niche well, able to objectively assess a product while being versatile enough to actually give another property a shot even if it doesn't fall directly in their ball park. In my opinion, while not perfect, they are a nice balance of being in the middle of the undue severity of specialty review sites (such as RPGamer) and the lax generosity often found in amateur reviews all over Youtube and of course sites like Joystiq—who uses the fact that they are a multi-faceted "blog" to sidestep journalistic integrity.

While I was surprised at the Zelda score at first, looking at the reviewer's points, and actually reading his review as well (which I doubt the majority of complainers bothered to do) he makes a solid foundation for why the score is so lukewarm.

First off, McShea as a critic has no obligation to pad his review to cuddle your own insecurities. His job is to assess his experience with the game, analysis the parts that function and those that don't and make a value judgment not on the individual parts, but the cohesive whole the product creates. Lost Odyssey is easily one of my most beloved RPGs of this current generation. The game however is not without its problems. The magic system is way overpowered, particular songs are recycled throughout the game, and despite having some standout characters, most were JRPG archetypes. Objectively the game is quite flawed most likely scoring no more than a 7.5, but the experience fits together so well, tries entirely new subject matter, and is enjoyable most of the way through, that as a whole the benefits outweigh the faults—hence my 8.5 score. Zone of the Enders however does not benefit from this cohesion, despite the individual elements working competently, giving it an inevitably lower score whenever I get around to reviewing it. But this lower score should in no way impede on anyone's anticipation of a game. If I was to cut off all potential games I wanted to play at say 8.5, I would be missing out on a treasure trove of incredible titles.

matrix

We must remember, McShea simply was not ragging on just the controls as his only criticism. Many "retorts" have been 1 minute demos of players playing out Skyward Sword's controls, with comments exclaiming with joy that these short snippets encompasses their entire play experience with the game. The review sites also state the repetitious nature of the combat, as well as the easily exploitable enemies as other fundamental flaws of the game. The problem with the other reviews plastered about the internet is that these elements have become dismissed as inherently "Zelda" instead of objectively deconstructed for their validity in the current game market. It then becomes an issue not of true criticism but one of upholding the golden ideals established in tradition against the adverse "dangers" of modernization. And be aware this is not merely a slam against Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are also quite guilty (the only difference being they are slightly padded from the effects of stagnation by having a stronger 3rd party developer base).

Gamers also need to look at reviews themselves in a different light. This unexpectedly vicious reaction seems to suggest just how unhealthy gamers' perceptions of game reviews have gotten over the years.

A Review is not a statement of your Enjoyment:

Shocking right? Review scores in my opinion are like cultural marker points or sorts, distinguishing quality in titles after the fact than currently. What really is the difference between the experience of a 7.0 game to a 9.0 game. Both are quite enjoyable, but really its only a matter of polish. Ninja Gaiden Black is a brilliantly polished title, scoring an average of 9.5. When compared to say Mr. Mosquito their simply is no contest, Black is objectively better. Does that diminish ones' enjoyment of Mr. Mosquito, heavens no! I seem to enjoy games around this middle point the most in fact. Enter the Matrix by all accounts was a terrible game, but I sure wouldn't have known it if I hadn't talked to others or read online, the game was fun! But ten years from now the polish certainly will add up towards Ninja Gaiden's continued validity while Enter the Matrix will be sweep to the wayside.

Personally I use reviews as an introduction to a game I have moderate interest in, or a game I currently plan on buying but want to have a heads up on the issues I might face. If I am interested in a game, I will pick it up— that simple. I make my own assessment through researching the developers, art director, composer, looking at gameplay videos, interviews, and screenshots. The problem with the typical gamer it seems, is that the score, an awfully arbitrary measurement of your actual enjoyment, serves as the end-all be-all for their purchase. Reviews are the opinions of others, not your own! I just recently played Uncharted 3, and while a great game with a huge degree of polish, it wasn't a game that would be embedded into my conscious for years to come. Games like Metal Gear Solid 3 and Okami and Super Metroid are these top tier, perfect 10 games. But again gamers lashed out at a score they thought their precious property was justified to get simply by existing.

Uncharted 3

I think the fact that people get offended that another person doesn't agree with them is a terrible societal ill that extends beyond the confines of gaming. The difference with gaming is that our community bashes reviewers' and commentators' dissenting views with cries of foul play or incompetence. What pisses me off is not that a favored reviewer is having his creditability put on the cutting table for every assessment, it's the fact that this industry implodes every time there is an opinion differing from the sea of journalistic conformity that already chokes this industry like a pulsating cyst. As a relatively new medium, this critical analysis of our art form is absolutely crucial to our growth. I would even go so far as to say it is as important as the development of games themselves! We hypocritically bemoan game makers for not pushing the art form past the juvenile design/artistic philosophies of a one-dimensional power fantasy, while we simultaneously slam reviewers when they finally take a stand to put the very games on the market through a critical lens. Grow up! Never as a gamer have I been so repulsed by my own community, that we would resort to such McCarthyian mob-rule buffoonery. And we were doing so good too… We won the supreme court case, paving the way for true artistic expression with the fear of censorship, we got admitted into the Smithsonian for a 2014 art show, and the US government officially granted auteur developers a shot at grants—legally solidifying our place as an art form!! They… who previously didn't think we had the relevancy or the maturity to warrant the same constitutional rights as other forms of art. They…who crusaded against us since the 90's thinking that our games provoked child aggression, obesity, social introversion, and trained individuals for future Columbines. They…who have tried dismantling our ESRB system in favor of a draconian convoluted nightmare. Yet when they finally acknowledge us, we rip our own legitimacy apart. November 15th 2011 will be remembered as a sad day in gaming on this site and I earnestly hope this incident gets reassessed as everyone's grossly inflated hyperbole diminishes. Shame

Merry Insert your Denomination Here!!

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Hey guys it's been such a long time since I last blogged. So no, I'm not dead, despite what I might feel from the insanity that was this last semester of school. But I did quite well academically, so I can finally enjoy my holidays without the pervading dread of low markings. But most importantly I can start blogging again!! I noticed that as time progressed, my entries have become far too academic and lengthy for my (and undoubtedly others) tastes. While my last entry on graphics was an issue that I held dear to my heart, subjecting people to a two parter was a bit much I have to admit. I'll still put out the occasional meditative musing about the video game industry (with a touch of pretentious for good measure), but mostly my entries will consist more on issue that I don't have to write a book in order to discuss and updates on what I'm actually doing (ya' know because it's a blog after all). So what better way to jump into this holiday season than to discuss what I plan on playing over my break.

ff1

I have started playing the original Final Fantasy, although to my surprise the game was surprisingly archaic. In fact it wasn't even a traditional RPG system, with action-RPG elements scattered into the mix and other oddities such as easily exploitable health potion drops and so on. After four hours of mind numbingly boring combat I noticed the source of the problem. I wasn't playing the original FFI!! It was Mystic Quest, the game famously decried by Final Fantasy fans as being a dumbed down beginner's RPG in every aspect. In fact the game isn't even a Final Fantasy entry, it simply shares the name for marketing reasons. With that minor gaffe I popped in the right FFI title, which I have enjoyed much more. The combat lacks spectacle, and the enemy selection is a bit strange (then again so was FF7), but other than that its a very solid title that I look forward to playing through.

nier

I also beat the cult-favorite Nier for the 360. I can see why the game didn't fare so well critically. The controls are very loose and the combat animations lacking, in fact everything just feels incredibly off. However once one looks at the entirety of the game, I can see why this is the case. The game switches between multiple game types seamlessly throughout the adventure. One moment you will be fighting in the standard 3rd person perspective 3d combat, then switch to a Diablo-esque above-head view, to shoot-em up gameplay (with your magic shots replacing bullets), to a host of countless other camera angles used for dramatic effect. This hodgepodge of camera views grant a great variety to the gameplay, however no particular mode feels optimized enough to feel like a polished action title. Jack of all trades, master of none. This is disappointing since beside the lacking combat and limited scope of the environments you visit, the story and the characters are quite good. I was practically kissing the screen when I realized that I wasn't an angst filled teenager unwillingly tasked with saving the world, but was instead a father with the sole purpose of saving his daughter. The fact that I didn't have to save the world again for the umpteenth time, made this new theme that much more potent. Add that with a kid with a medusa-like condition (ala Rogue from X-men), and a dirty mouthed hermaphrodite, all leading up to a crazy last chapter twist and a creative use of game saves to accent game themes (something I've never seen done) and you've got one hell of a game. I was so pleased that I may even review the thing, but no promises. Play the game if you can overlook its flaws.

Max Payne

I am also playing through Max Payne for the first time in honor of the third entry coming out in the indefinite future. I wasn't particularly excited for yet another Rockstar title, since their open world titles tend to be far too unfocused, which leads to my interest diminishing overtime. But their linear single player experiences are top notch, as evident by this fantastic title. The noir feel to the story is just so repressive and thick, that it pervades every pixel of the world rendered in the game. From the sleazy strip-joints, to the stained bed spreads, the drugs, the organized crime the violence and the sexual deviant undertones throughout creates a coherent world of sleaze that the noir genre is known for. I also like the apocalyptic themes inserted throughout—a very nice touch. The gameplay also holds up quite well. It still has the typical Rockstar white dot reticile, this time however aim-assist is nowhere to be found, making confrontations that much more tense and challenging. In fact I wish current games wouldn't be so terrified about letting the player fail. Gamers, at least the adamant ones, are not deterred by being defeated, in fact it propels us. It's almost as if we want to wipe the smug indignant look off the game's imagined face and reclaim our battle worn honor. Which actually segways into my enjoyment of Bayonetta. The game can easily ravage the unsuspecting player, yet it provides the tools to vanquish (huh, another example) those cheeky little angels into hellish oblivion. But Bayonetta is a can of worms (see bottom image) that I will cover at a later time (yay more controversy!)

Bayonetta

Well happy holidays, for whatever religious/philosophical denomination or lack thereof that you subscribe to. I pray/chant/will into existence that the turkey will line your tummies and that the festivities will wash over you into exhaustive submission. Feel free to share what you guys are planning to play this holiday.

Others stuff I'm playing:

Metal Gear Solid 4 (PS3)

Metal Gear (MSX2)

Final Fantasy VII (PS1)

WipeOut 3 (PS1)

Kinetica (PS2)

Evil Zone (PS1)

Contra (NES)

"Hirasugi!!!"—the Cheesecake bandit

Graphics (Part II): Aesthetic Renaissance

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Graphical Forecasts: A Spot of Razor Bumps

Graphics (Part II): Aesthetic Renaissance

NOTE: This is a continuation. Please read Part I first if you haven't. Unfortunately GS has a text blog limit,as well as a restricition on the word $tyle hence the "$" -_-

This may be a positive instance in which only gameplay can be refined, story, music and other crucial parts of games can only be innovated. Graphical stylization could also be the next big thing similar to the advent of color in cinema. When color was first made available in film, it was initially used to brush over the picture with, a uniform flat coloration with no regard to artistic vision, one reason why many critics at the time cried foul that the advent of color would harbor the destruction of artistic cinema (similar to my own ravings). However as lighting and coloration began to improve, directors started utilizing color in more than just a broad coloring screen, but as a canvas to develop their artistic vision. Hopefully gaming too will be able to do such things as well. What truly terrifies me is the temporary aftershocks of such a "crash" or stutter. It took the film industry decades before it could grasp the artistic potential of color. Oftentimes black and white were simply used instead despite the abilities to film in color solely due to their lack of experience. Gaming is a historically accelerated market that may not be able to interest the tastes of its audience in a timely fashion. In all honesty, I have complete confidence that the market will rebound if such a thing would happen, and I can foresee a renaissance in video gaming, where the degree of realism has little if nothing to do with the success of a franchise. It just might be with a few less developers…that is what's hard to stomach.

Even now game developers, particularly within the indie game scene are doing the exact opposite of mainstream trends and limiting their palette, be that visually or graphically in order to derive a much more potent message that would have been lost if a greater polygon count was sought. In a way through limiting the framework the artists are able to focus the message in a particular direction or within the certain context of the story, creating a much more potent, cohesive product (and one hell of an aesthetic).

In a GDX address in 2009, Jason Rohrer, an indie developer known for his experimental art games discussed the general state of the industry, also echoing the impressionist aspirations of such "de-makes", praising their beneficial place in the current stagnant industry. Earlier this year in an interview section concerning video game art he boldly suggested that we haven't even gotten to our classical stage yet in gaming:

"Well, I've been an advocate for a long time that before we jump into modernism and post-modernism in games, we sort of need to establish conventions. We would need to have a classical period before we can have a modern period. We need to learn how to do something even basic about the human condition."

He continues:

"We're still going towards that ideal of being able to replicate the physical world with all these locks of hair and the little tuft of moss in the forest, all the things that the triple-A companies are trying to do this console generation. It seems like it goes along with the idea that we're heading into this classical period. Once we've established that sort of language of games, then we can start tearing it apart." (Source)

mad world

Ed Fries, a former Vice-President of game publishing at Montreal International Game Summit 2010: during the original Xbox and creator of the de-make Halo 2600, gave a 2010 keynote in Montreal similarly echoing Rohrer's sentiments. He stated that working through constraints garners more interesting titles citing Madworld (Wii) and Minecraft (PC) as examples. He expands upon this by directing his focus to true beauty being a product of deconstructing the complex and diluted. Broadening his scope he referenced works outside video games namely a particular fugue of famous composer Johann Sebastian Bach:

"Why would he [Bach] put himself in such a constrained environment? It got me thinking about this idea of constraint and art. Why do artists in other forms put constraints on themselves? The last 30 years of gaming have been about taking away constraints. As we saw from those Greek vases, progress is a funny thing, but progress and art don't necessarily go hand-in-hand." Later while discussing painting he said, "the artists got to the point where they could do whatever they wanted, and paint whatever they wanted. What happened? In a way, art got really boring. When everybody can paint reality, everybody could paint the same thing."

"Maybe we've had it wrong. Maybe we've been in this rush to get rid of these constraints that we thought were so limiting to our progress going forward in the gaming business. Maybe there's something to be said for constraint," (Source)he concluded.

He also discussed his development of Halo 2600 and how the constraint yield more efficient code and gave rises to implication as expression instead of explicitly showing everything. This minimalistic approach extends to the larger arts as well. While ancientGreek sculptures are clear masterpieces of the human form, the significantly more stylized Cycladic variant predating Ancient Greece are no-less brilliant. In fact the Cycladic art has even inspired modern interpretations of the form.

Furthermore I don't even need to demonstrate the validity of surrealism, abstraction, cubism, modernism, and futurism; all philosophically striped down art forms. So it begs to question, why not video games?

mgs

Which is quite true. Take the original Metal Gear Solid (PS1) for instance. This title utilized a limited "cool" palette with an intense emphasis on the color blue, grey and black in order to accent the narrative and establish a philosophical motif. Snake was a lone warrior, behind enemy lines, with unknown elements running rampant on both the opposition and ally side. Furthermore it conveys a cynicism about the nuclear proliferation process, and how despite what many believe to be a new era of global stability, logic, and patriotism the reality is we are just as brutish and chaotic as times of old. It also explores the actuality of a small number of plutocrats controlling the fate (in this case our mass annihilation) of the majority. Also notice how in the last scene (SPOILERS) when Snake and Ocelot exit Shadow Moses after Liquid's (third) defeat, the palette changes to bright and colorful yellows and whites for the first time. The previous sterol coldness of tangled political bureaucracy and global conflict are replaced with a warm humanistic hopefulness. The fact that a game from 13 years ago can still command such a mastery of visual information is stunning.

Jonathan Jacques-Bellêtete art director of the refreshingly vibrant Deus Ex Human Revolution, also shares such philosophies which undoubtedly aided in the game's fantastic reception this August. In an interview he states regarding the direction:

"The $tyle is very homogenous in the game; it's not a very photorealistic game. It's a stylized game because I truly believe that, if you have a proper stylistic visual language, that actually makes the world more credible -- not photorealistic, but credible -- because everything fits within the same visual language." (Source)

And this philosophy was evident in the visually unique black-and-gold art $tyle of Human Revolution, that fit perfectly with the Cyberpunk-Renaissance motif. My only qualm was the egocentric audacity of designing the main character with your face as the basis -_-

wtf

A newly formed environment were such principles are actually harbored and profitable virtually destroys most copycat modern-day shooters, and naturally makes for a much more habitable environment to the long forgotten Shmup, sidescroller, platformer, puzzler, and RPG genres.

Centralization and Connectivity:

square

I also foresee the homogenization of graphics as a way for dramatically decreasing the cost of development for many games. Recently it was reported that Square Enix's new engine titled the "Luminous Engine" is currently in development, with eventual hopes that the tech will significantly decrease the time, and money of development costs for the game. This will provide a gorgeous palette to base a title on (in addition to finally having an alternative to the ugly, overused current Unreal Engine 3 (which only Epic seems to optimize properly). Even a new reiteration of Unreal Engine 3 is supposedly under development, showcasing in an impressive demo(I wouldn't be surprised if "The Samaritan" became an emerging IP in subsequent years). The benefit of having a top tier centralized engine, is that development costs can be focused on the more artistic and creative aspects of gaming. A low budget title could still have top notch graphics, while still giving the freedom to explore alternate gameplay avenues without the need for arbitrary pissing contest with other triple-A developers. Many games suffer similar characteristics with summer blockbusters within the film industry, high octane action squeezed into convenient digestible narrative pellets, with slow motion set pieces garnished on top. The difference is that the film industry also goes through an Oscar-bait period in the year, yielding much more meaningful pieces (if not pretentious). As long as these films break even, their endeavors were well worth the effort since name recognition actually carries weight (one aspect of Hollywood I actually respect). Gaming hasn't gotten to this stage in its development as a medium. If even a sixteenth of the gamers in the US knew the work of Suda-51 there would be a much greater return on the abysmally selling Shadows of the Damned. Sure one could point to Q1 being a golden period for these titles, but "critical darling" often means the game was probably only bought by the developer's aunt and the shmoe he carpools with on the way to job fairs.

In a recent Gamasutra interview, the recently departed Keji Inafune (from Capcom not this world—too soon?) discussed his design philosophies on two social games that he is planning to release under his new company Comcept. In his promotion he mentioned the future direction of the game industry in which an intersection between social gaming and traditional gaming will come into fruition and breed an entirely new gameplay not graphics.

"I think that eventually, we'll see a new kind of game which is neither console nor social, one that overcomes the obstacles that both current game$tyle have to deal with. I don't know what that's going to be yet, though, so that's why I'm trying to learn more about this market. I know you can't just do the same quick-fire-cash method everyone else does, or else everything's going to be a me-too game."(Source)

Renowned hype-man Peter Molyneux also echoed that many triple-A studios will revert to social gaming:

"Triple-A is here to stay. When TV came along it didn't replace the movie industry. Social gaming is like TV. It is going to co-exist because, frankly, there's too much money in it. Slowly the publishers are moving in on this space. They will nibble away at the market. My advice for anyone doing iPhone games is to be original, think about the things the big companies won't try." (Source)

ghost in the shell

Interface and connectivity also seems to be a feasible direction for the industry as well. Long have console manufacturers dubbed their respective units as "entertainment systems", but there is much to be improved upon. While fantastic that Netflix has found tremendous success on the 360, and the Kinect has added cozy voice recognition technology, there is a significant amount of ground to cover:

- How about not making Windows Media Center not so obtuse

- Playing your games on your console and transferring your progress instantly to your handheld (PSVita's "Transfarring") or controller (WiiU)

- Better integration of your console data unto your Facebook account

- Cloud saved digital copy of your game along with a physical copy

- A way to transfer said cloud catalog to another console via a password system (with some restrictions)

- Downloading DLC and demos via your phone and having it ready when you arrive home

- Games that inadvertently effect one another similar to the GameBoy Player addition to the Gamecube

- Direct integration of one's favorite gaming news website onto your console

- Justin.tv (now Twitch.tv I believe) directly viewable on consoles

- PC to Console competitive gaming to not be an expectation (although you can forget about shooters)

- PC to Console integrated experience similar to Dust 514 and Eve Online

- Stat data stored on controller via a strip or VMU-esque attachment for easy portability

- "Social" achievements such as setting up a public gaming session with a particular amount of people at a particularplace (hello arcade generation!)

- Syncing one's controller with another to instantly view and select their Gamertags

- Viewable database of Gamertags that frequent certain games of interest

-In-game forums of certain games via text or chat.

These are just a few ideas I pulled from just five minutes of casually dwelling on the issue, clearly some creative stuff that we didn't even think we wanted could very well be the next big thing (who thought Achievements would be so big six years ago).

These predictions may be too far reaching, too broad (or too longwinded) for some, however that is the fun of speculation. Hopefully this seemingly dreadful incident forcibly goads the industry out of its collective complacency. Give me your own predictions for the gaming industry, ways to improve upon it…or just call me a crack-pot—regardless thanks for reading to the musings of a gamer with too much time on his hands…Or perhaps spending my time in less appropriate avenues when more pertinent (but drab) matters should be addressed. Oh well :P

To the Homework-mobile!! "Hirasugi!!!"

Graphics (Part I)- Arms Race to Oblivion

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Graphical Forecasts: A Spot of Razor Bumps

Graphics (Part I)- Arms Race to Oblivion

LA Noire shook the markets with a whooping 3 million units sold worldwide. Coupled with the power of Rockstar's name, realistic graphical prowess and animation, gamers globally were in collective awe of just how realistic the game was. I still find myself reading comments throughout the interwebs of how the facial animations in LA Noire have "spoiled" them, diminishing the tech of other games currently in the market (and now it seems Battlefield 3 is taking its place). Despite these many improvements game development has become quite derivative of late, namely the rise of the FPS, while lesser niche genre continually shrink up. Even RPGs, a traditional bastion for mainstream weary vagabonds, are becoming quite stale with the exception of some titles across the pond embargoed because apparently they won't sell (I guess), or titles canceled because apparently we didn't care enough. I could see the physical manifestation of this gamer desperation for fresh veal during the release of the quirky Atlas title Catherine with a surprisingly lucrative reception. But time marches on, and with the next console generation on the foreseen horizon (2013-14 ish) what will these current market trends entail for the future? Sit back and brew yourself a cup of coffee, this gaming reflection may take awhile. For the sake of time of readability I separate the two sections, so if you are inclined to berate just remember to read both sections first.

Dark times my Padawan:

Currently the gaming community is faced with an invisible dilemma, an impending doom that some are completely oblivious to, while others recognize the issue but see it as an inevitability (Matrix reference ftw!). The Question: What happens when we reach the graphical cap off point, where technology reaches the point of photorealistic graphics indistinguishable from real life?

emily

Now, I know many gamers are familiar with the "Uncanny Valley" a phenomenon in which realistic renditions of the human figure (mostly related to the face) mirrors actual humans so closely that it inspires revulsion and disgust. Just watch Polar Express and you'll know what I mean. Thankfully as technology improves, this minor aftereffect of graphical 3D rendering technology will dissipate as shown by the visual stunning film Avatar by James Cameron. So it is only a matter of time when gaming similarly reaches this zenith as well.

The problem isn't about reaching this point. All one has to do is look at the current state of Uncharted 3 released on this generation to see the possibilities of next-gen graphics. For those naysayers, all one has to do is look at the graphical growth made in just this console generation alone. It is what happens when we can no longer climb the point of absolute realism.

As any scientist may attest, scientific innovation does not move in a linear fashion, instead it is exponential growth, a series of massive spikes as new technological are made. Personally I feel that graphical growth has hit a particular snag. I'm sure one can chart graphical growth through memory capacity, video cards or whatever tech mumbo jumbo to come to a conclusion, I'll just be historic about it. While it has been a steady increase in graphical prowess, the process has certainly slowed and the allure from generation from the next has been significantly diminished over time.

pop

The jump from the 8-bit third generation (1983-1992) to the 16-bit fourth generation (1987-1996) was immense (think Wolfenstein 3D to Mario 64). An even more drastic jump can later be seen from the transition from the 16-bit Super Nintendo to the 32-bit/64-bit fifth generation (1989-1999). This period in gaming was almost exclusively dominated by 3D rendering (due to improved technology and a major Sony pressure on third-party developers) in a previously 2D based field. Now granted by today's standard the early 3D trailblazers look awfully untextured, and had edges that could gauge an eye out, but at the time it was an indescribable revolution. Now compare that same since of proportionality from then to say the 128-bit sixth generation (1998-2005). If you then do the same and compare the sixth to this current gen (2005-2013?), one can conclude there seems to be quite the slow down. Sure the graphics have increased. I mean now we can gawk over the unshaven chins of 2-Dimensionally characterized 3-Dimensionally rendered heroes, and bask in the glory of the muscular sub-structures of a car—I mean horse, but can the jump from the next generation really mean that much of a shift?

I don't think so…

Streets of Rage 2

I feel that by this next generation we will have reached the threshold of graphics for gaming. Companies seem to be racing at breakneck speed for absolute graphical perfection, only to be inevitably stopped dead in their tracks by the lack of any real feasible graphical progress. Let's not kid ourselves here, while innovation in gameplay have been made, quality of music has grown, and new levels of interactivity have been unlocked, these features are merely side-dishes in the real arms race of today's battlefield. The gaming industry has vaulted toward this inevitable ceiling since its very inception although thankfully it was not held a such high standard today. Sure Streets of Rage 2 was a sexy title when it was released in the 90's, but if it wasn't for the music, unique characters, level design (more like art design since it was basically one long corridor), and razor sharp controls it would have been hard to distinguish this from the glut of other Double Dragon-me-too brawlers. That's not to say that graphic-centric games didn't exist, they just weren't as prominent. While they may attract the attention the occasional unsuspecting consumer it is merely a minor hiccup, disappearing as quickly as they came (the games Vectorman (GEN), Ballz (SNES), and the colorful Bubsy the Bobcat (GEN) come to mind—Vectorman being the only decent title) while games with solid design live on through sequels or minor interpretations of that base. Graphics while important were impossible in their own right to justify the existence of a game. The disturbing truth of the matter is that the industry of today relies far too much on polygon count, and texturing individualized pimples as a selling point of a game instead of the more pertinent aspects.

What scares me is the aftermath of impacting the invisible (yet impregnable) wall that game developers so adamantly vie for. Developers untested in the art of innovative gameplay design may stumble upon its own weight and we as a consequence may face an even greater influx of me-too product which may inadvertently crash the industry. One may think that I'm jumping the gun a bit, allowing my pixel-adorned imagination to take the better of me, but I assure you denizens I am enlightened! Of course now I am obligated to bark "Repent" with my hastily scribbled cardboard sign decrying infidels, but indulge me for a brief moment.

AC2

Take for example the video game crash of 1983. This was a time in video game history where the industry was facing tremendous growth, many companies making their leap into the video game software and hardware industry. Due to the lack of regulation, many sour apples were vomited out of many a game studio with the sole purpose of absorbing a quick profit. Some products went as far as to be overt marketing ploys, serving merely as an interactive advertisement in the form of a game. Customer dissatisfaction and general confusion of the score of shovelware, and a multitude of gaming platforms and their innumerous incantations lead to a sharp decrease in game sales altogether. Consumers were not lured back into the gaming industry until the NES, which intentionally positioned itself as an entertainment system (hence the name, and countless plastic peripheries) in order to regain consumer trust in the investment. Nintendo also took measures of quality control, with only approved games having the "Nintendo Seal of Quality" and they had a notoriously iron grip on what was licensed. Believe it or not that actually meant something back then. The rest, as we know it is history…

My reasoning is that the minor jump in graphics will yield games that are relatively the same mechanically and graphically. While the industry will not buckle under shovelware, it will from the devastating effects of consumer disinterest (hardcore), increased competition from the booming mobile market (casual) and an ailing economy (both). While true new IPs will be introduced during this time (as many do during a console launch), a large push will be the "next-gen" reiterations of the beloved golden calfs in the industry (namely Halo 4, Assassin's Creed 5, and Uncharted 4).

FF27

One must also note that with the launch of new systems the main draw is the improved graphics and interface, not the actual games themselves. Many launch titles possess gameplay elements that are very last gen. In fact it is quite common for games such as Kameo: Elements of Power released at in the 2005 launch of the 360, to originally be developed late in the life of a last-gen console (in this case the Gamecube) only to be bumped up to take advantage of the expanded market. As excited as we were for Call of Duty 2, Kameo: Elements of Power, Perfect Dark Zero, Full Auto, Blinx: The Time Sweeper (XB), Orphan: Scion of Sorcery (PS2), Evergrace (PS2), and Oni (PS2), they were largely mediocre experiences. Naturally developers became more acquainted with the hardware after they work out the kinks in a year or so of incubation. The problem that I foresee for this upcoming generation is that there will no longer be that initial satiating effect. So let me rephrase, while it won't crash the entire industry (since there will still be stubborn devotees buying systems day one), the market will sputter and won't be nearly as profitable in the beginning of the launch, which is a historically crucial window for the consoles future (just ask the Saturn). The counterargument could also be the PS3, however that systems problems stemmed from the $600 price point for the console, not the software. Diminished returns on already segmented sales (thanks to the likes of evil corporate resellers who paradoxically step on their bread basket) on even more expensive triple-A titles, will certainly cause companies to falter considerably during this period in time.

As a recent example of these possible future is the release of the 3DS. The next-gen handheld has sold reasonably well, although not nearly as excitable as Nintendo anticipated, since the software consisted of mostly ports of products previously on market a year ago, or re-imagined rehashes of old Nintendo mainstays. Hence their feverish $80 price cut not even a year after its release. And this is freakin Nintendo were talking about!

But now that we got the negativity out of the way I believe there may be a positive up-spin to this doom and gloom premonition and conjecture…

^(SEE NEXT ENTRY)^

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