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sayonaragalaxy Blog

Video Game Cliches That Have Gone On Long Enough


Space Marines

Who can relate to space marines? That's right, no one. I consider myself to be an average gamer, and if I look at my own body, the only thing as large as my head is my pot belly. The things I could medically refer to as my biceps are way down the list of 'large, round things on my body', and yet time and time again we jump into the boots of some bulging, semiliterate man-burger who has seemingly been training in every military discipline since a couple of weeks before his conception.

Not only are space marines trained in every form of combat, from close range fighting to sniper rifle assassinations, but they can also pilot any kind of military vehicle, including the alien ones, tanks, jeeps, ATVs, helicopters and any weird combinations thereof. No mode of transport is too complicated for these militaristic savants, and yet each and every one of them looks and sounds like they would outright fail an IQ test on the 'name' section of the form.

Walking over stuff

See those things on the bottom of your legs with the opposable big toe and finger length digits? Of course you don't, because if you did you'd be a monkey, and as everyone knows, monkeys rarely use the Internet (not enough porn). So, having established that our common-or-garden, non-freakish feet are only capable of picking up a pencil or the occasional verruca, how do videogame feet work?

We've all been there. You're down to your last bullet, with hostiles all around you. You're behind cover. To the side of you is one of your fallen enemies, the agony of the killing bullet etched onto his death mask. You move over to him and an ammo clip and two hand grenades get sucked up your trouser leg and into your inventory. Problem solved, you bound away to make nasty puddles of his friends.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't mind walking over whatever item I want to procure and pressing a button to get it. At least then I can imagine I have told my character to rummage through the corpse's bomber jacket for bullets. I don't have to see it, but it's just nice to have a say in these things.

Stealth sections

You've destroyed armies of the undead, numerous feral woodland creatures and only moments ago put an end to an unholy union twixt dragon and cactus. And yet, at certain points the game decides that if one poorly-armed guard gets a glimpse of so much as a heavily armored toe, the alarm is raised and you're thrown out of the castle or disemboweled by guards before you can say 'hang on a minute'.

The enforced stealth section grates for a few reasons, not least of which is 'if I wanted Splinter Cell, I'd buy Splinter Cell'. They never add to the story and always feel like a chore to get through before returning to the business of killing things.

Add to this the fact that you know, if the game would just let you, you could be sitting atop a huge pile of guard corpses, swigging nonchalantly on a heath potion in less than thirty seconds, and you know it's just the product of some evil level designer's sadistic mind.

Bad voice acting

Back on the original PlayStation, you were delighted enough that actual speech seemed to be coming from the pixelated lips of your hideous slab-faced hero to worry about whether their voice acting was any good. But now games look more like films, and most voice acting is done by actual actors.

With modern high production values, it's even worse when a bad voice actor from the Sean Bean school of acting (don't get me started) turns up and starts gurning through their lines whilst simultaneously chewing virtual furniture. It simply cheapens the entire experience.

During Resident Evil 5, where its protagonists have to kill Irving on a boat, Chris Redfield and I had very different motivations for doing so. Chris was understandably interested in defending his and Sheva's life, while all I wanted to do was shut him up.


You're a hired gun in a local crime syndicate. Your last hit saw you make a mere hundred dollars, and you're only armed with a standard pistol and a nightstick you took from a policeman's twitching corpse.

Why then would your next mission involve escorting your boss' daughter through enemy territory in an open topped sports car? Have these people not the slightest bit of self-preservation? How do they survive their criminal life**** How many children did they used to have?

Whatever the scenario, your charge will be roughly as intelligent as the mailbox they keep running up against, finding danger where there is none and trapping themselves behind bushes, walls, benches, zombies and the occasional curb.

The chaperone sections in Dead Rising are some of the most tense and frustrating parts of any game ever. Forget the zombies or raging psychos that could be around every corner, it's the screaming simpletons that would rather try to walk through a wall than around it that get your nerves on edge.

Exploding barrels

Yes, shooting a barrel to make it explode and kill lots of enemies is as cool as bow ties, but we all know it can't happen. Explosions need pressure, fuel and ignition. The worst that will happen if you shoot a barrel full of highly flammable petrol is that the floor will get a new damp combustible covering that you wouldn't want to stub a cigarette out on. But it wouldn't explode, not even a little bit.

The otherwise fantastic Borderlands took this premise to new levels of stupidity with exploding barrels filled with static in what I am forced to assume was an attempt to make the most impossible game object ever.

Idiot townsfolk

After saving a village or town from the very brink of destruction at the hands of a gang of villainous rogues or a multi-headed dog monster, you'd expect a bit of a fuss made of you. A party, parade or naked townswoman jumping out of a cake would be nice. And generally you get some of these things in the usual cutscene following a boss battle.

After the celebrations is where the idiot townspeople come into their own. Often having no clue who you are, the local gonks resume asking you to find their lost dog/child/hat, deliver a message to someone in another part of town because they presumably can't be bothered, or simply tell you to get lost because they're dancing.

And the shopkeepers, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they wouldn't even have a shop if it wasn't for you, will not even give you a discount when you go to stock up on equipment used in the defense of their town.

Rhythm action ****mini games

Similar to the stealth sections and different from Quick Time Events, these little breaks from the usual gameplay are as welcome as a pus stained plaster in your half eaten burger.

I've got Rock Band and I'm not playing it at the moment, so why are you trying to make me dance/diffuse a bomb/collect souls with a very similar but decidedly inferior gameplay mechanic?

If I wanted to play turgid mini games, my Wii wouldn't have been under a pile of socks for the last eight months....

Impenetrable plots

Unless you are terminally unemployed or one of the idle rich, chances are you haven't got time to get through your average 18 hour story-driven game in one or two sittings. Most of us have to indulge in our favourite hobby when we get the chance.

When you have got past work, food and basic hygiene and you finally do get to start a new game, it usually begins with a twenty-minute cutscene, then roughly ten minutes of tutorial-based action before another ten minutes of watching the plot unfurl. After a while, the frequency of the cutscenes dies down, and the story is usually told through missions given by NPCs, lots of NPCs, all confusing and convoluting the story in new and exciting ways.

I love playing first person shooters, and have played every Halo game from beginning to end, but my comprehension of the story goes something like 'humans are at war with some aliens, there are rings in space that need to be turned off or sometimes on, and there are more aliens that everyone is at war with'.

Imagine how hard it would be to understand the plot of most films if you only watched them in ten minute segments every couple of days...

Have some clichés of your own that are wearing your gaming joy thin? Share them in the comments!

Distinct Differences

I like words. Particularly English words, seeing as English has the most different words/phrases/expression of just about any languages; you have to be a lover of words if you speak English, because English simply gives you so many options in ways you can convey whatever message you're attempting to get across; not loving the words merely inhibits your expression. Not that you can't be understood if you start jabbering in LOLspeak. But the simple fact that there is a words for a form of writing such as LOLspeak, or the fact that the creation of new terms seems almost limitless, words are a thing to be loved in the English speaking world.

Which is part of the reason I use "terroir" as often as possible. If you've never heard the phrase terroir [tear-wawr], I wouldn't necessarily be surprised, and the only place you'd probably be reprimanded is Napa Valley or on an SAT test. As Wikipedia defines terroir as, "originally a French term in wine, coffee and tea used to denote the special characteristics that geography bestowed upon particular varieties." Put simply: terroir is the distinct regional characteristics of something; the idea that where something is made effects what it is.

So let me illuminate by example: my belief is everything has a terroir. Music has a terroir, so bands from Texas will sound completely different from Korean bands, while Korean will sound different from French, French sounds different from Canadian, Canadian sounds different that Brazilian, et. al. Sounds are shared at times; the musical terroir of the UK often shares characteristics with that of Australia, and some bands (such as The Pillows from Japan) can sound like American based rock bands. But there are motifs and **** that the regions appreciate and emulate. Which is why when we hear a songs that uses lots of hollow drums with a fast beat and rhythm, we might say, "Hey, that's an African song." African music has a distinct terroir, simply because the music itself came from Africa.

Used in a more official capacity, the terroir of a wine helps make wine from all over the world interesting. It's hard to pick out the subtle differences in the tastes of grapes with all the loads of unnecessary preservatives that they dump into wine, but that's a completely different topic; all wine has a unique taste. That's why California wines taste different from French wines, and why when we go to shop for a bottle of alcoholic grape juice, there are so many options from all over the world. Different places spawn subtle differences - their individual terroir.

Everything has a terroir, and I don't feel that video games are any different. In fact, I feel as if with video games, it more noticeable. This entire subject was brought about in my mind due to Sophia Tong's article from the Game Developers Conference on Final Fantasy XIII.

"The intention was to make Final Fantasy XIII a cutscene-driven game.... [Toriyama] went over some focus-group data that was collected in Japan and the United States, and it seemed that the Japanese audience liked the story and characters more than the American audience. He felt like the team made the right choice by focusing on cutscenes and the battle system, because players in both regions responded well in those categories.... Toriyama also compared Japanese RPGs to Western RPGs by using screenshots of Hit Man and Tomb Raider as examples. His point was that in Western games, the game is played through the player's perspective, not the character's. In Japanese RPGs, the view is a third-party bird's-eye view. He said that in Japan, people want to see a film and not necessarily identify with the character but observe and enjoy the movement and emotions of the character. The Japanese feel comfortable as third-party bystanders."

There are miles of literature, both official and unofficial, strewn across the internet about the differences between Japanese RPGs and Western RPGs. Words and words about which is better, which better conveys the story, which is more fun, which is more inventive, which is more interesting, and so forth. The differences between Japanese and - particularly - American RPGs is no new topic, and the clear disparity between them has all but been in plain site for any gamer who has been playing since the late 90s.

This is not a discussion about whether Japanese or American RPGs (or any game, regardless of its geographic origin, for that matter) are better for worse. This is a discussion to show WHY they are different. And that distinct difference that is ever-so present in these games, for me, is their terroir.

Different motifs, different standards, are held in different countries, and these countries expect to see these standards met in their video games. Speaking on the realm of modern gaming, right now in the United States, we are obsessed with the Sandbox concept: the idea that while playing the game, the player should have complete freedom: freedom to do what he wants, freedom to go where he wants, freedom to play the game at their own pace, freedom to play the story in different ways, and freedom to potentially alter the story by your actions, if only slightly. We see the Sandbox in games all the time, and while some games may use the idea better than others, the popularity of the freedom is definitely there. Simultaneously, a popular motif of Japanese gaming - as mentioned by Sophia - is storytelling. Japanese games are known for their incredibly rich, dense, powerful storylines. Everything from Metal Gear to Star Ocean has a long, compelling story that tries to wrap the player up in a blanket of fiction and put them to bed for the night, dreaming some pretty wild dreams.

The point of contrasting these two motif stains is to show the disparity of the regional differences. Do Japanese gamers like the Sandbox concept of gaming? I'm sure they do! But you tend not to see this mode of gameplay used in Japanese games, and therefore, it is less of a popular mode of expression within video games, within Japanese culture. And don't get me wrong, before you begin to say I'm acusing American gaming of having lower than par storylines. What I mean to convey is that Japanese games are immensely more story driven than American games. Think of Left 4 Dead. The premise was resoundingly simple: here you are, here zombies are, go here to be rescued, the end. Now think of Grand Theft Auto (any one of them, starting with III). The premise, though more complex than Left 4 Dead's plot, is still resoundingly simple: you are a person who is somehow involved in crime, returning/entering a big, fancy city; then, through a series of minor plot twists, you slowly rise up in the ranks and become one of the most dominate crime figures in the city. The ****of the GTA games ALWAYS represents this simple storyline. The GTA series is also one of the most successful I can think of in contemporary history, selling millions of copies, and entertaining millions of people. But GTA and Left 4 Dead and GTA are distinctly American games, and they meet the American standards of a more simplistic storyline, with a further emphasis on Sandbox features and direct interaction with the gameplay mechanics.

It's the terroir of gaming. Japanese games love their vibrant, complex plotlines, while Americans enjoy the way games are played. Japanese gamers enjoy playing games for their personal experience of the story, while Americans enjoy their gameplay experience. Which is better or worse is a non-issue; simply, the distinction and understanding of this distinction between the regionality of video games is something we - as educated, intrigued gameplayers - should all be aware of. Being aware of gaming terroir opens up new doors. If game developers become more aware of the terroir that gaming has, they will be able to make huge advancements in the way their games are made. Because in a growing international community, where nearly everything is shareable, the gaming community is going to begin to evolve. American games may begin to alter the gameplay, attempting to offer an extremely complex story while allowing gamers their freedom; Japanese games may become increasingly less linear, offering more options of player-alterations in story or more freedom in general.

Then again, maybe there will be a resistance to any change from any region; maybe this difference in terroir - while definitely important - is something both regions will strive to maintain, for it definitely opens up the palette for different, unique games which offer two vibrantly different experiences. And with the growing popularity of games, new ideas and markets are quickly beginning to open: the ideals of absolute freedom and the activism of players in the overall gaming experience, as seen by the Icelandic CCP Games - developers of EVE Online - have completely changed the way people look at MMORPGs; the new concepts of the 'interactive cinematic experience' as seen from the French Quantic Dream, who developed Heavy Rain, are changing the way gamers and developers think of gameplay and what a game is; and the concepts of intense customization and ability to have your own personal, completely unique experience with a game, as expressed with British games - from developers such as Lionhead Studios and Media Molecule - also completely revolutionize the way people can experience their games. As more regional developers begin to release big-name games to the international public, and these countries individual terroirs begin to be expressed to a wider audience, people will have to learn to fathom completely new ideas in the way games are played. What would a Brazilian game be like? How would one play a Czech game? What sort of motifs would a Russian game use? The options are nearly infinite, which is exactly why the terroir of video games is such a fascinating topic, one that many should attempt to become aware of as we play through our favourite games. The world around us is unique, and not merely due to geography, but also do to the distinct cultural differences between us. And it is the differences that can help us - all united by our love for gaming - closer together to discover new experiences, and ways of playing the games we love.

Busy Body

I guess I should start writing in this blog sometimes. But time, time, time, it's so difficult to keep up with things these days. Between classes at universities, responsibilities around the house, the faux semblance of a normal social life, and any other number of miscellaneous commitments, it feels like gaming and blogging often fall by the wayside. I finally wrote an article for Voilà! today featuring La Blogotheque's video for I'm From Barcelona à le métro de Paris. This article was sadly the first in a long while. Uni definitely kills all creative productivity in a young person's life. But alas.

I've been quite entrenched as of late in the gaming world as well. It's a hard life, finding so many RPGs interesting, as these are sadly the games that are most often the longest in plot. Not that I should complained - I'd rather have a long and extremely complex plot than something thinner than the paper in my bathroom. But it also means that I have to continually put different games on the backburner if I want to continue pursuing newer games and attempt to stay current in my gameplay. I suppose my tendency to play very slow does not work to my advantage.

My major gaming encumberment of the moment is the massive Final Fantasy XIII, as anyone with a brain could've probably guessed after they read the words 'RPG' and 'long and extremely complex plot' in the same sentence. The game has been living up to all the expected hype thus far, and I'm pleased to say that I'm more than entertained by it! The story is, as aforementioned, especially complex, and in many ways a little hard to keep track of. With all the new concepts introduced in the game - L'Cie, Pulse, Cocoon, Guardian Core, PSICOM, Focus, et. al. - the learning curve on the plot's depth can be a hefty investment. Add onto this the detailed gameplay ****that Final Fantasy XIII, and you've got your work cut out for you. The back and forth action meets retroactive storytelling process the game has been offering though has certainly not been a disappointment. Receiving the backstory that leads up to each of the characters current events is an excellent mode of plot revelation, and keeps you on the edge of your seat, waiting to figure out how each character came to be as you meet and interact with them.

There have been heaps of complaints bashing the linearity of Final Fantasy XIII. But my stance is don't believe what you hear. I freely admit, as many reviews have come to say, the level designs themselves are extremely cramped and linear. But as for a linear plot, I feel it is a necessity to keep you focused on the absolute objective the game is intentionally charged with: telling you a wonderful story. And a wonderful story it is! Final Fantasy XII seemed a disappointment to me, as the characters seemed to be very clichéd and overly-expected from a game released by Square-Enix. With Final Fantasy XIII, the characters have deeper personalities, and are more rounded out, which makes telling their stories and playing as them that much more interesting. The comparisons/relations between Cloud and Lightning are also something I didn't expect when going into the game, but something I'm also very thankful for. Both characters are very rough, and both have a heart of gold deep down. And while it's easy to point out comparisons between the two, there is enough disparity to make it clear that they are two different people. Besides, how can you not respect Lightning? She is the first lead heroine in the entire series of Final Fantasies, a series which has been around longer than I have existed. Twenty or so years later, and a girl is finally given the lead role. And what's more, she is completely uncliché; she doesn't have double-D's, she isn't overly emotional and feminine, and isn't made to be an extremely slutty individual, while still keeping her damn gorgeous looks and sexual appeal. This lack of clichés, prominent in many RPGs (and games as a whole) is extremely refreshing, and Lightning's rough, deep, passionate personality along with her dashingly handsome looks make for a wonderful lead character, and one who easily earns her title as first feminine lead in the series.

I don't believe I've played for ten hours yet... possibly, but I'm not entirely sure. The fact of the matter is, I can find very little thus far to critique of the game. The story is solid beyond belief, as consistently aforementioned. On top of the this, the new advanced Paradigm battle system is bar none on excitement effects. The battles end up very edge of your seat, as you're intended to abandon the more grandiose concepts of strategy so often held dear in turn-based combat, and rely more on instinctual gut-reaction fighting in these fast-paced instances of combat. Yet, despite the speed that these battles progress with, the paradigm system allows, as all the hype professes, a constantly changing battlefield, allowing you to quickly flip-flop from attack mode, to healing, to defensive, and back again. It's definitely an innovative system of battle, and in my opinion, a definite improvement from the somewhat jerky battles in Final Fantasy XII, where the gambit system often failed me.

Again, there is little for me to quip at with Final Fantasy XIII. One immediate complaint though is the pace of the game as a whole. While there are frequent breaks and lulls between adventuring and battling, this game is progressing extremely quickly, and can be hard for some folks to keep up. The characters all get their due and proper as far as speaking roles and character development. But the retroactive storytelling means you don't get to learn a whole lot about your characters at one sitting; you have to internalize what you're given, and continue your adventure, waiting to learn more in the future. Fortunately, the game has a nifty compiling system, that allows you to review all the characters, glossary terms, events, and prologue events to your main adventure at any time of your choosing. If I weren't so caught up in the progression of the game, I'd probably spend more time doing my storyline homework, and reading all this compiled information.

Another complaint is the level design. As said, it does get fairly claustrophobic, most of the gameplay taking place on tight roads or small bridges that lead in generally straight directions, with minor curves and no real room to stretch your. The platform jumping gives the levels a lot of scale, but when you've been holding your joystick forward for the last 3 minutes after every battle, it's easy to get a little annoyed with how cramped you can feel. It's a sad feeling that in all the gameplay I've experienced so far, my characters have yet to take a fundamental rest in their actions. Even now that Hope and Lightning have reached Palumpolam, they're forced to sneak around rather than wander the town freely and explore. Finally, the pace of the battles also seems to be a bit obtuse. The battles are entirely intended to be speedy, hoping for you as the player to pick the most effective paradigm to blast through your enemies HP until their staggered, allowing your pummeling to be infinitely more effective than it already was. As a result, battles become VERY short, some lasting less than 30 seconds. While on one hand, this can make one feel like a badass and very confident, on the other hand, it feels as if the celebration of a battle hard fought is somewhat reduced. With quick one battles and speedy celebration, it feels that these battles are less your skill and more your your quick thinking's happenstance and NPC's lucky actions that saved the day, rather than your strategic efforts. Then again, this issue is overcome when you combat the mini-bosses and more fearsome opponents, battles which last significantly longer and give you a reason to be proud for your efforts. Without a doubt, Final Fantasy XIII - besides a few minor gripes - has left me in now way disappointed.

Fortunately, I played my way through Heavy Rain after only a few hours exposure to the addictive properties of Final Fantasy's ridiculously intense storyline. A review will definitely be coming for Heavy Rain in the extremely near future. But this is by far one of the neatest, revolutionary games I've played in ages. It's a shame that Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation manhandled Heavy Rain with such a negative review; it's possible, though, that he's just a cranky Englishman who has played far too many games and has thus become a bit overtly-cynical for his own good. Not that he isn't a wonderful dude and a great critic of games, merely that he may be missing some of the more simple pleasures in modern gaming. Sure, the start of Heavy Rain is fairly slow; stripping your main character to his birthday suit, watching him lather up in the shower, and shaking your SIXAXIS controller in different directions to help him dry off may not be the most exciting things you've ever done in video gaming history. But the game is revolutionary for other reasons: the graphics are some of the best I've ever seen in any video game, even rivaling the prowess of Square-Enix in FF XIII. Which Final Fantasy boasts the sleekest, sexiest, HD images one could ever hope to see, Heavy Rain shows of some of the most hyperrealistic CGI ever thought possible, showing every blemish and microreactions you could ever hope to see in your characters. This extreme attention to detail helps tell a fascinating murder mystery that is truly ingenious in scope, and an adventure to experience. The ease that this game is played, with the unique interactive storytelling concept, makes this game extremely more accessible to folks who may not be hardcore gamers; I definitely intend to introduce this game to my mom, who's a lover of mysteries, and hasn't played her way through a level of NES Mario in her life. The fact that I'm confident she can play this game shows leaps and bounds about the accessibility of this game. Furthermore, if you go into the game and give it the benefit of the doubt - hold it up to none of the hype it's been given, and experience the story and gameplay from a very pure and naïve perspective - I can all but promise you'll be completely engrossed in the story and wholly entertained by the weird ways in which you must performance actions within the game. Simple, honest, very well orchestrated gameplay. Can you really ask for more?

That's enough for a first post. Expect to hear more of Heavy Rain in the near future. Until later.