Options should always be a standard
- May 13, 2013 1:01 pm GMT
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Before I begin, please take a few minutes and watch this. If you've already seen this, please then advance, or if you don't want to watch, please skip to the quote, because that's really all you need to know.
"You paid up to 60 dollars for a game; you should have some option to experience all the content. ... If you paid for content, do you not have the right to all the content you bought? What if books spontaneously combusted if you didn't understand certain words, or movies refused to unpause until you took a quiz to prove you knew who all the characters were?"
What brings this blog about is my current experience with the first Fire Emblem I'm playing for the GBA. 10 years later, the series FINALLY gets a casual option that turns off permadeath and allows you to save anywhere. Why, oh why, did it take 10 years for that to happen?
"But... but... permadeath makes you think harder about where you're moving your guys!"
Sure, it does. What I don't enjoy, however, is the random death that can happen to even the smartest of people. For instance, that sorceress hidden under the fog of war that can reach out 10 blocks and vaporize your character because she scores a critical on you? How about your knight, who never should have missed, misses and the swordsman with the Killing Edge, who never should have hit you, hits you with two criticals in a row? Or how about you execute a perfectly laid out plan only for it to become a clusterfvck because the game spawns 10 new enemies you weren't ready for?
Of course, part of this frustration is my fault as I'm somewhat of a perfectionist. I cannot accept losing a single character, so if I lose one, I have to start the mission over. Even if I've spent 45 minutes and about to finish the chapter but lose a guy to the boss, I will start it over. Even if I lose a character I don't use, I will start it over. It would have been nice had someone 10 years ago realized that not everyone who plays Fire Emblem truly appreciates this so called "difficulty". The game isn't that hard for me, more as it's just a time waster. I will still end up beating the game; it's just going to take me longer.
And that's the thing. I don't have as much time as I used to have. I found myself with more games coming out this generation that I want to play, but I haven't gotten to yet. Again, it's sort of my fault for adding more pressure to my hobby, because I've decided to focus on my backlog of games. Every time I view a loss in Fire Emblem, I think of how much extra time I have to spend on it it when I could be applying that time to a different game.
Now, this goes back to the argument of hardcore vs casual where the "true" fans don't want to see easier options to make the game appeal more to the casuals. If you watched the video, then Jim has debated that point far better than I could have done. The thing is, you still get your hardcore experience, and the casuals get their casual experience. If a "noob" beats the game, why does that bother you? YOU beat it on a Ultra Mega Super Hardcore Of Which Makes Me a Bad Ass Mother Fvcker mode. Pat yourself on the back.
But honestly, Jim's point about paying money for a game and not being able to enjoy it because it's too hard is a great freaking point. This is entertainment, and this particular medium - video games - is all about fun. What happens when someone of a lesser skill level gets frustrated with the game? That fun decreases. Not finishing a game you paid for is like not finishing a tasty steak or tofu burger if you're a veg; it's a waste of money. So, I'm glad there's an Easy mode in Dark Souls; I'm glad there's a casual difficulty in Fire Emblem: Awakening. It means more people are able to experience those games in their entirety.
In fact, I'm almost tempted to say that microtransactions are a good thing, which would contradict something that I'm adamant against, but I understand more now why companies put them in. They want to attract more people, the less skilled or the more impatient players, who can unlock things at the ready - for a cost - so they can skip through all the bullshyte that the rest of us go through to really enjoy our games. Of course, Dead Space 3's a bad example of this, because they redesigned their upgrade system specifically for microtransactions, and I won't play it because of it. I still view microtransactions as capitalizing on the less skilled and more impatient gamers, but at least they have the option to breeze through the game at their leisure.
This isn't just about difficulty, though. I also think that every game needs a subtitle option for the hearing impaired (most already do). I think there should be more lefthanded controllers and handheld consoles. I think there should be standard options to save wherever you want, even in the middle of a cutscene, because you never know when something comes up. You can always pause a movie or bookmark a book; why can't you do that with video games? I would also love to play a Rockstar game that allows for more tha one save slot, because I may not be the only one in the household interested in playing it. And I always want to see an option to play as a character that you yourself want to see. If it doesn't make sense within the game's story, at least you have the option to make it nonsensical.
Of course, we can't change the fact that vampires sparkle in Twilight. We can't write in more meaningful dialogue and character development into a Michael Bay movie. We can't put more zombies in Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride Prejudice and Zombies. This is where games differ from movies and books. Yes, we pay money for movies and books, and everyone who starts them can finish them. That isn't the case with games, and that's not how it's supposed to be. Since many games have shown that you can customize certain features, you can actually have a better experience than the game maker originally intended. So, instead of making optional options an option, let's instead make them a standard.
Social Awareness and GameSpot: Love it or Leave it?
- May 12, 2013 4:13 pm GMT
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As you may have noticed, articles, editorials and news features having to do with various social issues surrounding gaming (or with a gamers' slant) have been making an upswing here on GS. These issue range from violence in gaming to mental illness and so much in between. As gaming becomes more of a mainstream form of entertainment, the gaming community is growing, as is our social awareness of such issues. And, with the increase in the gaming population, there is bound to come an increase in pieces reflecting on social issues and their perceived relevance to members of this community.
Some pieces have been met with good debate within the community; others have been scorned and readers have threatened to leave GS for posting what they consider information that is not newsworthy. Still, some have even been praised for bringing awareness to issues that may be embarrassing for gamers to bring up on their own and opening a dialogue for change, or at the least, a better understanding of the highlighted issue.
The first topic that has really exploded across this site is feminism and gaming. It is also arguably the most hated, but is definitely one of the most polarizing. Don't worry, I'm not going to go on a rant about my actual opinion as I've done so on the numerous features on the site. Some of the more notable and commented-on pieces are as follows:
Dead Island sparks sexism flap (September 8, 2011 - 531 comments)
From Samus to Lara: An Interview With Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency (June 12, 2012 - 3724 comments)
Halo 4 devs speak out against sexism (October 30, 2012 - 700 comments)
Naughty Dog: games don't need males on cover to sell (December 12, 2012 - 454 comments)
Publishers said 'You can't have a female character,' says Remember Me dev (March 19, 2013 - 1131 comments)
Documentary on sexism in games hits Kickstarter (April 29, 2013 - 1366 comments)
A significant portion of the comments in these articles are decrying the fact that these pieces are even being published, that the issue of sexism in gaming either does not exist or that even if it does, there is no place on GS for this kind of piece. From my observation, the response to these articles was overwhelmingly negative.
Next on the list is the debate about how the violoence portrayed in video games may (or may not) affect people who play such games. Various studies have been conducted and opinions run the full gamut, some saying they affect us and may desensitize us to others saying it can help us manage pain and improve other aspects of our lives:
GS News - Violent Video Games can Ease Pain (September 11, 2012 - 134 comments)
Senator introduces bill to study violent games (December 20, 2012 - 1183 comments)
N.J. Gov: violent games must be examined (January 9, 2013 - 1447 comments)
Obama calls for game violence research (January 16, 2013 - 1298 comments)
Former FBI profiler says games do not cause violence (February 25, 2013 - 261 comments)
Study: Violent games can desensitize players (May 10, 2013 - 806 comments and counting)
This series of pieces seems to draw more of a debate than a simple "GTFO of GS". There doesn't seem to be as much of an internal argument between users as there are just differences of opinion which are handled in a more respectful manner than the issue of sexism and gaming.
Lastly, GS has gone even deeper into gamers' psyches by promoting a feature on gaming and depression and mental illness in regards to the gaming community:
Survey examines links between gaming, behavior (November 15, 2010 - 170 comments)
Study links pathological gaming to depression, anxiety in kids (January 17, 2011 - 606 comments)
Light in the Darkness: Dealing With Depression in Games (February 8, 2013 - 71 comments)
Depression Quest: A Retrospective (February 19, 2013 - 25 comments)
Video Games vs. Depression (May 3, 2013 - 1888 comments)
The last link, a relatively short documentary which was featured on the front page, has garnered a LOT of support. Comments on pieces in this group tend to be more positive and supportive in nature.
It seems to me that the most negative feedback comes from pieces where users feel judged or stereotyped themselves, which is no surprise: nobody likes to feel like they are being judged in a negative light. But pieces that analyze parts of the community and offer insight without judgement, such as the depression pieces, are welcomed overall, mostly because they are more helpful and not telling the user they need to change, or that the industry they hold so dear needs to change. Personally, I, too, enjoy these kinds of social awareness issues the best because I feel they can impact the most users in the most positive way.
I actually enjoy watching GS grow up and report on social issues. I feel that there is more than enough content on the site to the point that if you absolutely hate mixing social issues with gaming, you can find plenty to read and keep you busy without having to bother with content you really don't like. It also baffles me why so many people comment with such vitriol when GS does tackle these issues. I understand the voicing of the opinion that GS should not have these kinds of pieces on the front page, but what I mostly see are people trolling such pieces and massively increasing post counts on pieces they think shouldn't exist anyway, which is sort of defeating the purpose--but that's beside the point.
So, how do YOU feel about how all of these social issues are being represented here on GS? If you love it, what other ideas would you like to see tackled or acknowledged? If you would rather leave it behind, what would you like to see instead, and do you feel the presence of these issues truly undermines your ability to enjoy the rest of the content on the site?
Star Trek Into Darkness - Film Review
- May 12, 2013 2:39 pm GMT
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Reviewed on May 9th, 2013
Universal presents a film directed by J.J. Abrams
Screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch and Simon Pegg
Running Time: 132 minutes
Released: May 9th, 2013
In 1966 Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek as a TV series and coincidentally this was the same year that director J.J. Abrams was born. The show was pitched as a space Western in the vein of Wagon Train, which was a Western mystery show set on the Frontier. Star Trek converged with the start of the Vietnam War. Roddenberry had already seen action as a fighter pilot in World War II. To counter Vietnam, his version of Earth was a society without conflict and in space there were galactic truces, race relations and a sense of unity aboard the ship the Enterprise. As with any good Western, there was moral code of ethics between men, no matter how pointy their ears might have been. Roddenberry believed in a disciplined society that could be unaffected by war or religion. Spock for example was said to be modelled on a police Chief he knew when he was part of the LAPD.
After many years as a TV show and dozens of films, someone decided Star Trek should be reinvented yet again and Abrams was hired to transform it into a glossy action film. As a filmmaker J.J. Abrams is somewhat of an enigma. One of his heroes growing up was Steven Spielberg. When he was a boy he was hired to repair some old film footage for him. Spielberg would later produce Abrams most personal film Super 8, a movie that typifies the director's career. Part of the film is a loving tribute to home movies and geek culture, while the other is a bombastic, overblown blockbuster, short of any personal imprint. He's a slick filmmaker, I enjoyed his TV show Alias until it became ridiculous, but he struggles to find the balance his idol has between action and character. Into Darkness is a better film than the messy 2009 film though. The best scenes overcome the generic, simplification of the action genre by retreating back towards the essence of the original show: a morally ambiguous grey zone, where the values of the characters and their races are tested. However, the characters are still bound by a rigid story structure, where at least ten elaborate set pieces take full precedence over the human and Vulcan drama.
The most interesting aspects of the plot are when Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Kirk (Chris Pine) butt heads over their different beliefs. Kirk is tasked with tracking down a rogue agent named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is now essentially a terrorist bomber, causing havoc in London by using desperate people to do his bidding. This leaves a chilling, lasting impression, particularly when the film adds a layer of complexity, with Spock insisting that Harrison should be captured and trialled first. He's at odds with the order of the mission and Kirk, who wants revenge for the death of a colleague. Cumberbatch is frighteningly good in the film, a massive improvement over Eric Bana's villain in the first movie. The tension he brings through his menace, his arrogance but also his ability to cast doubts in the minds of the protagonists about who the baddies really are, is a magnetic quality that is hard to prepare for prior to seeing the film. What a terrific find he's become over the last few years.
However, by ingraining itself in the structure of an action film, a lot of this ambiguity is undone. Whereas action and moral ethics fought and overlapped persistently in The Dark Knight, Into Darkness' rhythm is too discrete and foreseeable. The action is timed acutely to follow a stretch of exposition, dividing itself between moments of ideology and combat, and the emphasis on set pieces means the lines between good and evil become transparent again and remove the crucial shades of grey. Abrams also seems more interested in choreographing lavish action sequences than exploring the personal side of the drama. His imagination in the set pieces is limitless. He employs an array of frenzied techniques, including rapid cutting, tilting cameras, overhead shots and quick pans, to breeze through the action. Yet when the characters stop to face one another and talk his direction has none of the same flair or creativity. The actors sit or stand still, with the camera perched on their shoulders for dull reverse angle shots that don't heighten the tension.
Rarely do we ever see these characters in their downtime either. Without any inner life they become ciphers for voicing conflicting moral ideas, like instinct against logic or law and these conflicts are often resolved within a scene of one another. After watching Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan recently, which Into Darkness borrow from, it's also fascinating that Kirk is viewed as an ageing man who has to start thinking about death and his legacy. In this film he's more on par with Tony Stark, able to bed two alien girls with tails at once. That amplifies where they're aiming this film at, in spite of the occasionally intriguing layering of the story. For a franchise that prides itself on going where no man has gone before, the Enterprise is starting to travel in circles.
Ten Years of Gamespotting
- May 11, 2013 12:38 pm GMT
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Today marks exactly ten years that I have been a Gamespot registered user. In the time that I have been a member of Gamespot my life has changed. I've gotten married, been through three jobs, three apartments, bought my first house, had three children (triplets, no less), and a vasectomy.
In case 2003 still doesn't sound like it was that long ago, consider that Nintendo's premier platform was the Gamecube, The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker was causing a furor among fans for its cel-shaded graphics, Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne was released, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time single-handedly rebooted the franchise.
Zelda: Wind Waker - The amazing graphical prowess of 2003 gaming
A lot of change happens over ten years. The internet didn't really become pevasive on mobile devices until 2010. In fact, I didn't even have a cell phone when I first registered at Gamespot. At the time, therefore, sites like Gamespot were both the primary source of information and news for video game enthusiasts as well as the only real social outlet we had. I registered because Gamespot offered downloads for many PC games, including patches for said games, and a reliable source for downloading was desirable. There were competitors, but every site had its own culture and the heavily moderated Gamespot community ensured that there was a bit more maturity relative to other sites. And no, I'm not saying that the average Gamespotter was mature, just more mature than competing sites.
It wasn't until 2007 I started writing and publishing content to my Gamespot account. I'm not sure why, but I needed an outlet at the time. I had transitioned to a new city, leaving behind familiar surroundings and college friends. It was a bit random at first: Some complaints about Sony here, and a couple humorous blogs there. Then I wrote a blog for consideration by the site Editors for the Gamespot "Soapbox." At the time, this was a much desired emblem, since it was both rare and there were few emblems to be had overall. More importantly, anyone holding the emblem could post directly to the front page of the site simply by categorizing their blog entry as an "Editorial."
I garnered the Soapbox emblem with the Editorial, "I've killed you, and no, I don't feel bad about it." At the time violence and video games were a big topic of conversation, for no particularly good reason. It's still a fun read six years later.
Once I gained the exposure of the Soapbox I started receiving hundreds of views and comments. I started writing in earnest; it was a bit convoluted at first, but eventually I sorted my thoughts into columns of popular topics. I did a "Geek to Chic" series, which were basically tips for nerds not to stand out quite so much. I had a slew of humorous entries, personal finance, and tips on PC building. I tried a "Gamespot Cribs" series, but it never gained traction. An index to some of the better entries follows the end of this blog
Then Jeff Gerstmann reviewed Kane & Lynch: Dead Men.
That singular event resulted in an upheaval of users that rallied behind Gerstmann, relieved from Gamespot due to his critical comments on a game that had been heavily advertised on the site. Gamespot lost many, many great bloggers, union managers, volunteer community managers, and employees after his dismissal, and has never fully recovered.
There were additional missteps from a user standpoint. The launch of Gamespot FUSE to capture and integrate social media with Gamespot was a massive undertaking, but essentially bifurcated the community. You had some users migrating to FUSE, and others that preferred the persistent format of the traditional forums and user blogs. Gamespot abandoned the Soapbox for a time, dropping it from the front page and alienating some of its contributors, most notably GabuEx. Livefyre replaced Gamespots comments system in there somewhere, though this was a good move, in retrospect.
In the past two years Gamespot has made great strides to recapture the magic of 2007. They brought in Synthia Wieres to help Jody Robinson with community management and social media. The Soapbox was rebooted and the staff have interfaced more directly with their community on an ongoing basis. They introduced "Rangers," users that are not moderators so much as site cheerleaders, which has been a very good thing, and which I've been a proud participant. Finally, CBS Interactive picked up Giant Bomb, bringing Jeff Gerstmann and friends back full circle, and reintroducing many old users to their former stomping grounds. I still miss many users, and wrote an homage to said users in 2011 (link), but there have been quite a few great users filling their shoes, as of late.
I've seen friends I've met through Gamespot go on to become hired and subsequently move on from Gamespot, as was the case with Donklejohn. Danny O'Dwyer started off blogging just like yours truly before picking up an actual Gamespot paycheck, and there he's been making entertaining shorts about some of the most random things I've ever seen. It's a far cry from his Bioshock game footage days. It was great to meet several of the staff at PAX East 2012 and put real faces to their digital replicants.
Danny O'Dwyer doing what he does best. I'm just not entirely sure what that is.
It's strange to think of how much time and energy I have allocated to Gamespot in the past decade. Ultimately, though, it has been a rewarding online community filled with wonderful people. I have been frequently absent the past twelve months due to volunteer work, my family, and career monopolizing every free moment of my life, but I do hope to once again contribute to Gamespot in some meaningful way in the coming months.
Thank you, Gamespot staff, for creating a rich and vibrant community. For giving me the opportunity to be heard, to improve your site, and to support its ongoing development. I wish nothing but the best to each and every employee and member over the next ten years.
- May 6, 2013 5:01 pm GMT
- 0 Comments
There was a news post on Gamespot recently entitled "Documentary on industry sexism fully funded." (http://www.gamespot.com/news/documentary-on-industry-sexism-fully-funded-6407948) And to the surprise of no one, like all posts related to the subject of sexism in the games industry, the comments section was flooded with disgruntled male gamers decrying and denying the need for such an expose. I'm roughly estimating 90% of the commenters were opposed to the documentary, women in gaming, women in general, feminism or any combination of these things. It's difficult to understand how anyone could look at the fear, anger and outright misogyny in those comments and not come to the conclusion that the gaming community has a problem with sexism.
I've been trying to understand the root of all this anti-female sentiment think I may have finally figured it out. It has to do with peripheries of the man-boy mentality that's so common with men in the gaming community. I think what we're seeing is a large portion of the males in gaming basically don't understand women, are ultimately afraid of them. Some of it has to do with resentment at the way they've been treated by women in their own lives, or at least their perception of the way they've been treated.
I've taken a sampling of the comments this article elicited to show where I'm coming from. I think everyone can agree these reactions are not unique. If you've read any of the comments sections related to gaming and sexism you've heard all these things before, many times. The comments are attributed to the Gamespot members who made them. I don't suppose anyone can justifiably get mad at me for using their comment, after all it was made in a public forum and the members are relatively anonymous. I'm thinking I get to claim fair use. I'll try to make arguments against the general mindsets on display in the interest of enlightenment, but I don't think it's strictly necessary. The comments themselves more than support my basic premise.
First of all we see the comments that lead me to believe these guys have issues with their personal romantic lives:
Gamers are the nerdy kids who treat women nicely and therefore don't get girlfriends since girls like asshole sports jocks. - Saketume
The games industry shouldn't bend over backwards to accommodate a group that has traditionally laughed at it. - Pulfasonic
Generalizations to be sure. There are as many different women as there are men and we're not all looking for the same thing in a partner. If one has been been rejected and laughed at by one woman or even a few of them, and said woman went on to date "asshole sports jocks" that's a reflection on her, for better or worse, not an indication of what all women want.
Then we have the lack of general understanding of women that either puts them on a pedestal:
Ideally we expect women to be these sweet innocent people. - Gen007
Or attempts to knock them off the pedestal the commenter thinks women have put themselves upon:
Femi-Bushido (the Way of the Woman) - you can make mistakes, you can ruin the whole dev project, you can bitch about anything without any particular reason, you can make films about mistreatment of your kind. And nobody has the right to criticize you - shuwar
Female gamer, on the other hand, is used as a cry for attention. Like "Look at me!! I am girl who plays games. Tee hee!" - underoath83
Remember the good old arcade days where you had to EARN the respect by proving yourself amongst other gamers, females apparently just want that respect like its their God given right... - musalala
Women in 2013 don't want to be idealized, put on a pedestal, put in an ivory tower or anything of the sort. Nor do they expect to be given a pass in the face of a lack of aptitude because they're female. They want to be treated as an equal in their professional lives and in their personal lives, not instantly thought less of simply because they're a woman. Of course there are some misguided people who think women are inherently better than men but they're in the minority. Just as he-man woman haters (whether the hate arises from fear or something else) are in the minority. The problem with the games industry is many of these guys seem to have been attracted to it and they're in wildly disproportionate representation.
And then there's the false comparisons:
"And what about MEN getting harrassed online? There are 2 sides to each coin but feminists only want to see one -,-" - hella_epic
"nobody gives a shit about every single man being built like a tank" - Pulfasonic
The simplest way to dismiss these arguments is to point out that two wrongs don't make a right. That's elementary school logic most of us should understand. In this case I'll go beyond that to say that men are not harrassed online simply because they're men and men generally like to be presented as the ultra-buff strongman. Sorry guys, it's just the truth.
Then finally we get to the outright fear some of the comments aren't afraid to put to words:
I cant wait to listen to these steps to (emasculate) change the environment for the better. - zombielandv
Games are mostly for a male audience and we like seeing some skin. What's so wrong in that? God why do All groups now start to hate on games??? - amvivin
Yes, that's what we have here. The scary, indecipherable women are coming to destroy gaming. I think that's the root of all the hateful comments that are provoked by the issue of sexism in the gaming industry whenever it comes up on Gamespot or elsewhere in the online gaming world. Fear is the at the root of, and the basis of the rhetoric that always shows up when one group is afraid that another group is going to step in and uproot their way of life. Arguments that are made in situations regarding serious things like segregation, universal sufferage and immigration and with more trivial things like video games. But if history tells us anything it's that these fears are never realized when the new group is ultimately fully included. What generally happens is benefits are granted to everyone involved. Yes there are changes but nothing of value is lost, the world is usually enhanced by the expansion of the community.
It's even less of a cause for anxiety in the world of gaming. For better or worse, games aimed at men that include all the things that attract men aren't going anywhere. The appeal to masculine sensibilities is still present in movies and any other entertainment you can point to and it will always be present in gaming as long as men want it. The benefits we'll see by welcoming women to gaming as both developers and players are a more diverse selection of gaming themes and mechanics, expansion of the audience and growth of the industry that benefits everyone involved.
Spring Breakers - Film Review
- May 5, 2013 5:44 pm GMT
- 0 Comments
Reviewed on May 2nd, 2013
Icon presents a film directed by Harmony Korine
Screenplay by Harmony Korine
Starring: Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and James Franco
Running Time: 94 minutes
Released: May 9th, 2013
In 1995 Harmony Korine wrote the screenplay for the Larry Clark film Kids, an unflinching drama about kids engaging in underage sex and drug use. Two years later, Korine made his directional debut with the bleak, apocalyptic Gummo, which charted more absurdist waters in a post-apocalyptic world of boredom and young people running amok. Troubled youths is a reoccurring theme that has stayed with this former skateboarder right up till now.
Spring Breakers is a more accessible and commercial film than Gummo but its short of a narrative and it lacks the matter-of-fact treatment of Kids. There's a memorable visual style and a bizarre, entertaining performance by James Franco, but not enough story or insight to certify its importance. The film is long and flabby, its characters and plot underdeveloped and Korine's direction lacks certainty. Is this a critique of a self-absorbed generation, a comedy, a thriller or just an exercise in perversion?
The film is about four bored college girls named Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine), who want to party during spring break. When they can't pool enough money together for the trip, they decide to rob a diner. They reach the spring break destination, only to be arrested by the police and then bailed out by a man calling himself Alien (James Franco). He is a drug dealer that encourages them to join him on a crime spree and wipe out a nearby rival gangster.
In an interview with the Australian movie magazine FilmInk, Korine discussed his intentions for the film: "I make movies because I like the story and the characters. I'm not making a movie that's an indictment on American culture, or a movie that's about boobs or guns - those are parts of that world and that fabric, but it's not about that." As Korine suggests, the film's point becomes extremely elusive, particularly when the filmic style is separated from the theme, and his direction relies on technique to substitute plotting.
The early scenes work to instill feelings of belonging. The long shots of the still, tired, grey and empty college grounds reflects the girls' isolation because they fear they won't experience anything new or meet anyone exciting as everyone has already left for spring break without them. These shots are juxtaposed by the party scenes, which are filmed through the extensive use of montage, with music playing over slow-motion and highly saturated images.
It provides these ugly scenes of drinking, drugs and senseless nudity as a dream-like vision of paradise in the minds of these morally corrupted girls. "Pretend it's a video game...act like you're in a movie," one of the girls says to further highlight their detachment from reality. The night scenes reflect darkness in mood and lighting but also moral decay, with only the fluorescent colours of the girls' costumes brightening the screen to suggest their belief in their own self-importance, while the broader landscape of society fades into the shadows.
However, the film's voyeuristic disposition reveals Korine's apathy towards character development and narrative thrust. Korine's costume choice of leaving the girls in their swimsuits for most of the film, and the way that his camera lingers over those raunchy party scenes, evokes an unintentionally creepy sense of perversion. Apart from the opening scenes, the elaborate neon visuals eclipse the story and characters, with the repetitive vision of raunchy partying making the film seem excruciatingly long and banal.
Selena Gomez is the only standout of the girls, proving that she can act by showing some believable emotion. However, the religious symbolism of her character barely registers as one-dimensional and the other three girls, despite their intimidation factor, are underwritten and lack distinction. James Franco provides the most memorable role of his career as Alien, a cross between a hip-hop rapper and the Devil, who has a cornrows haircut, gold teeth and dresses like a gangster.
He's utterly mesmerising and funny, but what exactly does his character want? He uses the girls for crime jobs but never really needed to as he has his twin henchmen. Sex is an option he fulfils, but not straight away either. A promising seed of conflict is planted when the girls look as though they'll rob or kill Alien, only for the moment to fizzle out. He embodies a bastardised version of the American Dream: to take everything you want, while you can, but not understand what to do with it. In a very funny scene, he showcases all of the useless things he was able to obtain, including several kinds of shorts, a looping copy of Scarface, and nunchucks.
Alien's artlessness is amplified strikingly through the film's best and strangest scene, where he sits at a piano, surrounded by the girls dressed in pink balaclavas, carrying assault weapons, and declares Britney Spears as one of the best singers of all time. He starts singing Britney's song "Everytime" and then a montage opens with the song playing over images of the girls' crime spree. Decadence is visualised magnificently but in the end the film is hypocritical: a hasty attack on a pop generation when the film itself is not art but poorly disciplined and morally questionable.
Blood Mages and Mutes: A Dragon Age Origins Retrospective
- May 5, 2013 7:02 am GMT
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Dragon Age: Origins kicked off an oh-so-brief period in this generation where BioWare was getting the credit and attention that it deserved. For about a year, starting in late 2009, BioWare could do little wrong. DAO and Mass Effect 2, the one-two punch that showed us that BioWare could serve both its EA masters and its devoted fans in equal measure.
Looking back through the lens of Dragon Age 2, The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3, its been incredibly difficult for me at least to look back an remember anything about the original Dragon Age with a rosey-tint to everything. I've been doing this on and off with all of BioWare's more recent titles, checking in to make sure KOTOR is still as fantastic as I remember it being and reminding myself that there was a reason why I was never drawn to Jade Empire.
Dragon Age is the first of the games in my retread of BioWare's back catalogue that I've invested serious time into. With Neverwinter Nights, KOTOR, Jade Empire and Mass Effect, I've dived in long enough to remind myself of the flaws, the slavish adherence to the classic BioWare formula and the characters before pulling out in the fear that I might get sucked back in again.
DAO is the exception. I've been ensnared by a BioWare game for the first time since Mass Effect 2, I'd almost forgotten what it felt like. This is partly due to my previous experience with DAO. I'm not a member of the PC master race, but since starting a game with my elven mage "Rad" on the PC I've realised that my playthrough on the 360 was the inferior experience. Textures were rough, the framerate was rougher and one can only see so many radial menus in one game. The PC is the platform the game was designed for; it's prettier, tougher and easy to control, making what should have been a brief check-in a commitment to see it through to the end, all 60 or so hours of it.
Around ten hours in, it's finally dawning on me why Dragon Age Origins is secretly one of BioWare's best efforts. Nothing about the world, mechanics or story is particularly novel or original. Some elements like the relationship between the mages and the Chantry are intriguing, but on the whole DAO is unashamed homage to its D&D predecessors with a healthy dash of Lord of the Rings thrown in for good measure.
That's not to say it's not enjoyable. It's actually shocking how well DAO handles the "there's an unstoppable evil coming and we must unite a bunch of different groups together to help fight it" conceit given how poorly structured and paced Mass Effect 3 was, a game with essentially the same setup. How does one emphasise a terrifying threat? Answer: have it beat the good guys into a pulp in the first encounter. As lifeless and uninteresting as the Darkspawn are as villains, BioWare does a great job in making them seem unstoppable. The devil is in the execution rather than the fiction with BioWare and Dragon Age Origins is a testament to that.
However, you can play a game within Dragon Age: Origins. It's called 'Spot the BioWare cliche.' One point if you managed to predict that the young nubile Leliana would talk about 'forbidden fruit' by your third chat, another if you guessed Morrigan was going to be a party member before she even spoke because someone obviously put a lot of work into that character model. It's like watching a Wes Anderson film, so many elements are exactly the same yet you don't really care because you're enjoying it so much. Then again, part of the reason why I've stuck with DAO for 10+ hours can been because of how deftly BioWare shift between being formulaic and being adventurous. Characters end up joining your party without the obligatory fanfare that leads up to Archangel taking off the helmet or rescuing Bastila, dialogue choices are rarely a choice of altruistic, murderous or painfully unfunny. It's like BioWare knows you're fan, knows you've stuck with them, and is constantly throwing out curveballs that make you smile.
This doesn't mean that any of the flaws get much of a pass. They're generally minor in nature: the hilariously mute rictus of anguish my character's face portrays whenever something dramatic happens, the way a fight with a low-level bandit will cover you with the same amount of bodily fluid as a battle with a troll and the moments were clicking on a spell causes me to move it out of my hotbar, rendering it useless until I pause and dig through the skills menu looking for it. But if you think about the issues previous games from these developers had to surmount, these quibbles are all so very trivial.
For all its merits, Dragon Age Origins is still cut from the same cloth as the developer's previous work. It's just a more lovingly crafted, honed and refined BioWare game than its brethren. Their games' mechanics are generally serviceable, DAO's gameplay is quite fun. Their characters are often well-developed with their own specific dogma that you can help them out with, in DAO those issues are a lot darker without an obvious resolution. It's better BioWare, but for some reason it's not the game that I'm going to remember in the context of their glory days.
Mass Effect 2 is a flawed game. But it balances on a knife edge between being just another BioWare game and utter brilliance. Its shooting mechanics are stiff, the cover-system is awful and almost everything you'd associate with an RPG has been stripped out. It is, basically, the anti-Dragon Age in many ways. But, the highs of Mass Effect 2 are so high, trading the consistency of something like Knights of the Old Republic for a few dramatic moments that stand as some of high points of this generation for me.
Returning to Ferelden in optimal circumstances, knowing now what I didn't know then, Dragon Age Origins seems like the last hurrah for BioWare's past. From that point on, it feels to me like they struck out along a riskier path that involved them trading what they knew in the hope possibility that their writing talent could carry very un-BioWare like games. With Mass Effect 2, they caught lightning in a jar. Dragon Age Origins isn't lightning, it's the culmination of years of hard work, dedication and iteration and damn does it show. A friend of mine adores DAO, and I'm afraid I can't say I share his sentiments even though it has invaded my life in a way that it previously had not. I do however, respect it not only as a piece of art, but as a piece of craft.
Recall at this point, that little mention has been given to its sequel. That's because in my mind, I'm imposing a moratorium on Dragon Age 2 for everything other than discussing the proverbial "beginning of the end" or the analysis of EA's financial position. There's only one real Dragon Age game to have been released and its the one that wasn't churned out in 18 months by the B-team while everyone at BioWare and EA frantically tried to end the trilogy that was bringing home the bacon.
At least going back, I know for sure what can be done with sufficient time, enthusiasm and money in the hands of a studio that seems to have lost its way.
Hanging with Theives and Ghost Hunters
- May 4, 2013 11:20 am GMT
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So I haven't written anything in a while. Lately there's so much news about everything and I keep making the mistake of scrolling down through the GS comments under various news stories and reading things that make me say "I must go kill myself now." But instead of going on another editorial rant, I thought I'd talk about what I'm currently playing as so far these are two of the best games I've played in 2013.
Poor Sly had been sitting on my shelf for some time. It's not that I didn't want to play it, I just had a backlog of stuff to finish and was trying to make a dent before starting something new. We've all been through that. Thankfully Link's Awakening, Paper Mario Sticker Star and Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed all got finished. With Sonic's game I got the credits but still need to try to get all those stupid stars to unlock Reala and Ages as well as finish the GPs to get Eggman. But booted up Sly 4 and so far I'm loving it. Maybe it's just my love of platformers starring cartoony mascots and it had been a while since I finished the Sly collection. OMG HE'S NOT WEARING HIS MASK!! This is actually amusing as Sly being a racoon wore a mask over his mask so he really doesn't look all that different. I love the visuals. Sly looks amazing on the PS3 and it's always nice to see an HD game do something besides make dirt look good. And as usual as soon as I entered the first main stage, I wasted a ton of time running around collecting bottles so I haven't gotten to play as one of the ancestors yet. It's also nice to see they finally got a decent voice actress for Carmaletta. Also I can't believe Bently turns the van into a time machine without making a mention of 1.21 Gigawatts or Flux Capacators. Come on, isn't that a given?
I'm going to be honest. I didn't love the first Luigi's Mansion. I liked it ok, but I didn't love it. I borrowed it off my nephew long after I had a Gamecube just to try it. In fairness it was better than Luigi's last starring role Mario is Missing but smashing your hand with a brick was more fun than Mario is Missing. So I was not going wild for the sequel, but after seeing so many stellar reviews particularly perennial Nintendo hater Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation liking it, I was curious. I played the in store kiosk a few times and once Paper Mario Sticker Star was beaten, I traded it in for this and so far, it's pretty good. I like the playful ghosts and the polterpup is adorable. Seriously I love the ghost puppy. He's cute and a little derpy and I think he needs to be a Pokemon for X/Y. Who wouldn't love a ghost pup who's strong against psychic Pokemon?
So now for some shameless self promotion. Seeing as how I have over 500 followers I might as well promote my other works here. First of all, I write reviews. That was the main reason I first joined this site so please read and like my reviews. One a note, I recently wrote an Epic Mickey 2 review and it's under the WiiU version but the version I played was the Wii version. Not a big deal as it sucks no matter which console you play it on.
Also I used to head 2 unions but my job changed and I no longer had the time or energy to put into maintaining them.
One such union was titled Under the Radar which was devoted to not only indie games but smaller, less promoted games that often got overlooked. It came about when I got tired of people constantly complaining about no good Wii games and ignoring such great gems like Little King's Story, Muramsa, Klonoa, as well as other overlooked gems. But recently the current leader of UTR wanted to start it up again and we're looking for new members to help us. http://www.gamespot.com/unions/Underradar/forums.html
The second union I am still leader of I have let falter and only 2 or 3 of us post regularly there. This one is called The Serious Discussion Union. If you liked some of my more serious, in depth blogs and want to further discussions on things like whether or not there will be a gaming crash as well as current events and such. It would be nice to have some contributions there as well.
Well it's too nice a day to be sitting inside playing video games. I'm going to sit out on my porch and play my 3DS.
On Gaming and Depression
- May 3, 2013 5:07 am GMT
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Ive been called out on here with having anxiety and social issues as if that makes my points moot. Its true, I do struggle socially and have some anxiety issues and depression, but I think that makes my points more poignant, as I make them first hand. In my life, Ive hardly ever touched drugs, Ive never had a drinking problem and Ive managed to maintain healthy and happy relationships. In my times of need when I didnt have people to reach out to, or they werent willing to help, video games became my way of escaping this sense of isolation.
I moved to Massachusetts from Maryland almost ten years ago. I didnt know anyone here, outside of my mom and her wife, and my exit from where I spent the majority of my life had its fair share of hostility. So I became that guy who lived in his moms basement.
Video games have always been in my life, they still are. As a kid, I remember playing on my dads Atari and him getting my brother and me a NES. Later I got a Genesis and I remember squealing with delight, I was 10. Throughout the years, Ive had a number of systems and have spent a large amount of time with each. This didnt become a problem until I had moved to Massachusetts and fell into my own pit of despair. Apologies for the cliché.
My best friend here at the time was a big gamer. He wanted as many friends as possible getting whatever system he had playing whatever games he wanted to play. When I met him, he wouldnt shut up about me getting a PC that would play World of Warcraft. Little did I know that this would take over my waking life and send me in an emotional tail-spin.
I played that damn game for nearly four years. I finally stopped after my now fiancée gave me an ultimatum and made me see what damage the game has done. I skipped work, often shirked plans and would spend my weekend obsessed with doing dungeons, raids and daily quests. Unfortunately the game missing from my life left a hole that I felt like I needed to fill as soon as possible.
My spending problems got worse again and my skipping out of work continued. I horded games and movies and they took over the majority of my attention. This caused a rift between me and my fiancée and I started therapy and continued to struggle. Having to learn things the hard way, as I often do, it took both my job and my relationship hanging by a thread to make me realize that I really did need to get my shit together.
My problems dont stem from video games alone, but from a lifelong miss-lesson that stuff is love. I believe doing stuff that makes you happy is important in life, but its also the balance of priorities and realizing whats really important that helps. Im by no means through my issues, but I acknowledge them and am now not ignoring them. I still enjoy gaming and know what games to avoid. I dont condone the use of gaming as a tool for healing depression, however. I believe that too much of one thing can lead to addiction/ emotional dependency, which leads to other kinds of issues and even more depression and instead of lessening the problem, it can expand it in other ways.
Why is it always about the breasts?
- May 1, 2013 11:36 pm GMT
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Yes that was a serious question. Why is it?
Last week, Jason Schrier from Kotaku published an article where he likened the artist of Vanillaware games, George Kamitani, to a fourteen year old boy. Why? Because of the character pictured above. Kamitani humorously fired back by posting a picture on his personal Facebook of the Dwarf characters from the same game shirtless, winking, and affectionately embracing. The caption under the picture read "It seems that Mr. Jason Schreier of Kotaku is pleased also with neither sorceress nor amazon. The art of the direction which he likes was prepared." Some took it lightly; some took it as an offensive crack at Schrier's sexuality.
Schrier later apologized and explained his reasoning for attacking Kamitani's designs. He said "...its embarrassing. Because I love Japanese games and Japanese RPGs and I don't want them to perpetuate the ugly 'boys' club' mentality that has pervaded gaming for almost three decades now." A lot of apologizing from both sides was made. In an e-mail to Kotaku, Kamitani explained that he found the art in works such as Dungeons and Dragons and in JRR Tolkiens works appealing. However, he decided that the initial character designs wouldn't stand out amongst the flurry of fantasy designs already parading in not just games, but books, movies, and other media as well. So he exaggerated his character designs in a cartoonish fashion. All of the designs are exaggerated, not just the busty sorceress. Kamitani's intent wasn't to be a sexist pig or alienate female gamers. It was just a simple artistic choice. Despite that, today, Gearbox's environmental artist has also put in her (very nasty) two cents about the art and Kamitani.
I am very disappointed by all this. We are nowhere near closer to a more accepting and inclusive gaming industry or community. All that's been done here is the shaming and ridiculing of a very talented artist. I mean, Kamitani has been likened to a teenage boy, a homophobe, a terrible artist, and a sexual deviant. That is completely ridiculous, rude, and uncalled for. People took one character design out of context and then decided to turn it and Dragon's crown into the poster child for what's wrong with the gaming industry.
Never mind the gorgeous trailers that display a wide variety of beautiful and detailed locations. Never mind the interesting beat 'em up style gameplay. Never mind the detailed and gorgeous 2D graphics. Never mind that Atlus finally announced a release date and promised future updates for the game after a long stretch of silence. Once again, never mind the fact that all the character designs, male and female, are exaggerated and cartoonish.
Now, I'm not one of those people that gets offended over people being offended. I know whenever stuff like this happens, multiple tirades against political correctness and people being too sensitive come up. But I believe that everyone has the right to be offended over whatever the heck they want. What's nothing to me might be offensive to someone else. I take no issue with that. Here's what I do take issue with though:
1.) Being offended over something and then trying to get it banned and out of the hands of everyone else who doesn't share your values or sentiments.
2.) Getting offended and then relentlessly and maliciously shaming someone or something when its not even warranted.
The latter is surely what happened here. George Kamitani is a talented man, and his artwork is absolutely gorgeous. Another article on Kotaku celebrated his designs after Schreir decided to mock him. The artist of Skullgirls, Alex Ahad, stated that he was inspired by Kamitani's work. He spoke highly of Kamitani's designs and Vanillaware in general, stating that he has the utmost respect for them. I don't think anyone can deny his talent. His art is celebrated and marveled at on a number of different sites by fans and critics alike. But what happens as soon as he draws one of his character's breasts too big?
"BURN THE WITCH!"
All this, while infuriating, isn't what bothers me the most though. People like Schreir say their justification for screaming "sexism" is to make the industry more inclusive and get it away from this boy's club mentality. That is an admirable goal and I can get behind that. However, I can't get behind spewing vicious insults at a talented artist for one character design, nor do I get behind people who throw around the word sexism at the drop of a hat.
I wrote about this many many moons ago in a blog about sexism. The issue of sexism in the industry is something I take very seriously. But at the same time, I can't help but shake my head at attempts like this to stomp out sexism. Its just not effective and its extremely misguided. Situations like these that get severely blown out of proportion are not helping the problem. Silly things like this usually end up desensitizing people to the real issue.
What about the real world? What about real issues like the pay gap in the gaming industry or online harassment? What about malicious sexism directed at living, breathing, human beings? What is shaming Kamitani going to do for these women in the long run? How is calling Kamitani an immature and creepy sexual deviant making the industry and community more inclusive?
Also, what about the people who are actually making conscious efforts to make the industry and the community more inclusive? A few weeks ago on April 22nd, the #1reasontobe panel was held at the Game Developers Conference. Inspired by the #1reasonwhy hashtag that blew up over twitter late last year, a number of women from the industry spoke about their experiences in the gaming industry. They talked about both the good and the bad of working in the industry, and what could be done to change the industry and make it better and more inclusive for future game developers. I watched it online; though I'm sure it must have been a completely different experience actually being there.
It was a very emotional and moving panel. Afterword, people thanked and praised the women leading the panel, noting that their words and actions today were inspiring to future female game developers.
To me, this is far more productive. Its far more productive when, in response to some guy with his foot in his mouth saying sexual harassment is normal and part of the fighting game culture, a number of players come out and say, thats not true and its not tolerated. I also think Kim Swift's sound and fair advice is far more helpful. I think both Meagan Marie's game industry advice on her website and her encouragement of people to not be afraid to call someone out on their inappropriate behavior and speak up for yourself are far more helpful. I'd like to see more of all of this and less "LOL who hired the teenage boy to do this crappy design."
Now, I don't see anything wrong with a polite, calm, and logical discussion on how women or any other groups are portrayed in games. But while its better and far more polite than what Schreir did, I still think focusing on changing the industry from the inside is more productive. After all, once something is out there its out there. The way I see it, a more inclusive and diverse industry that is willing to take creative risks would definitely make the problem of negative or sparse portrayals of women and minorities in games much better. Mocking George Kamitani will not.
So lets veer our eyes away from the sorceress' chest and focus on the real issues here.
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