Monday, January 16, 2017

Steve's Top Ten Black video game characters

"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 15 is day we celebrate the late and great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His efforts and vision has changed the course of history for not only black Americans but all minorities. In honor of the Doctor and to showcase the diversity he fostered, I' m ranking my top ten favorite black characters in video games.

10. Sprocket
Viewtiful Joe Red Hot Rumble

I love all the Viewtiful Joe games; except Red Hot Rumble. I disliked the anime even more but the one silver lining is the creation of Sprocket. Not much is known about Sprocket. She was Jadow's second-in-command in anime but became Captain Blue’s assistant in the Smash Brother's Bros/Power Stone clone Red Hot Rumble.

Sprocket’s inclusion to the series seems superfluous but she added diversity where it easily could have been unchecked. I liked Sprocket's design and characterization. She was serious and no nonsense and yes a tad bit sexualized.

Pretty much his entire character.
9. Adam Hunter
Streets of Rage

As a kid playing Sega's beat ‘em up classic Streets of Rage, it was cool to see a fighter like Adam Hunter. Back then not many games had the option to play as a black man unless it was a sports game or fighting game.
And you already know his pipe game is on point.
Once again there isn't much known about Adam beside being a 23 year old ex-cop, who does bonsai and practices boxing. In the sequel he's kidnapped and his kid brother joins the roster.The first game unfortunately is the only time you play as Adam.

Sam would be proud.

8. Detective Isaac Washington
House of the Dead Overkill

One of my favorite Wii games is House of the Dead Overkill. This prequel to the House of the Dead series was drenched in grindhouse b-movie flair. Isaac is an over-the-top caricature of blaxploitation leading men and provides a hilarious contrast to the series mainstay G.

Being a homage to exploitation films, his exaggerated personality is right at home with all the mayhem. Isaac's voice actor Anthony Aroya provides such bravado and delivers each line with gusto, solidifying this badass detective as my favorite characters in the series. You can't help but fondly remember him. His cursing streak would make even Samuel L. Jackson blush.

Black man + trendy haircut + black outfit x sunglasses = Cool
7. Raven

A minute or so into Tekken 5’s opening cinematic, Raven announces the death of Heihachi Mishima then swiftly cuts down a JACK with two simultaneous kunai slashes. That’s all I needed to see! A keen eye will notice Raven resembles a certain Marvel comic book character portrayed Wesley Snipes in the movie version but Namco swears it’s a total coincidence. You ain’t slick Namco.

Being the most traditional ninja in the games, Raven is very stern and abides to his mission. Like many characters in the series, he’s fun to play but one of the more difficult characters to master. A lot of his moves consists of pokes, options for pressure, and many attacks leave him open. He made his debut in Tekken 5 and blends well with the already diverse (and sometimes wacky) cast of fighters.

I wouldn't play 'gotcha nose' with this guy...
6. Major Jackson Briggs aka Jax
Mortal Kombat

Probably one of the first black fighters I played, Jax has been a vital piece of the series since his debut in Mortal Kombat II. The game angled him as a hardened military man and Sonya Blade's superior. Who could forget his classic gotcha grab? And the sweet faces punches that come right after it. Later on, he was outfitted with large cybernetic arms and his fighting style defined him as a powerful brawler. His personality while tough leaves enough charisma to keep him likeable.

"Whooo baby!" - and you read that in his voice.
5. Augustus Cole aka Cole Train
Gears of War

Exuding the largest personality, Cole Train is a boisterous and dependable soldier. In the Gears of War series, Cole is usually watching your six while providing outlandish yet quotable exclamations. No doubt why he's one of the more popular Gears characters. He also co-starred in the Gears spinoff Gears of War Judgement but its gameplay was met with lukewarm reception;

Cole is a favorite of mine because he keeps the energy up and his reaction to some of the crazier set pieces are nothing short of memorable. He has distinct personality and it goes unmatched.

Don't let the schoolgirl look fool you.
No More Heroes

On The 8-Bit Generation, I’ve already gushed about No More Heroes. The style, insanity and action was just my speed. One of the many characters who left an impression was Shinobu. Physically she resembles the lovechild of Afro Samurai and X-Men’s Storm; personally she is a stone cold stoic swordswoman. I’ll avoid revealing anything details but she is one of most stylish and deadliest black women I’ve seen in gaming!

She's as tough as she is striking
3. Nadine Ross
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

Want scenic visuals, charismatic characters and witty banter? The Uncharted series has it spades. As one of Naughty Dog’s prolific games, each iteration sets the bar higher than the last. The one thing I’ve always felt was side characters in the series never left a memorable mark. Aside from the big three (Drake, Sully and Elena), Chloe Frazer ranks up there as one of the stronger characters. Maybe the guy with the horse in Uncharted 3? What’s his name? You see my point! But this all changed in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End where we're introduce to Nadine Ross.

The force of Nadine’s presence is felt the moment she debuts. You can tell how meticulously she was designed from her natural hair, to her toned arms, right down to the mole above her lip. She's a woman you do not want to mess with. Let’s just say, she can throw down! I was really impressed with her and Naughty Dog must feel the same way because Nadine and Chloe will be starring in a standalone Uncharted DLC.

"Run up to your crib like CJ from San Andreas!"
2. Carl “CJ” Johnson
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

One of the most popular entry in the Grand Theft Auto franchise, San Andreas took the world by storm. After becoming a runaway success in 2004, gamers were flooded with dubious copycats over the years trying emulate the gangster-style gaming of San Andreas. But those who played San Andreas soon saw it was more than just a drive-by simulator. It was the largest and most customizable game in the franchise yet. Even its predecessor Grand Theft Auto IV was scaled back.

CJ was unlike the prior main characters of the GTA III era as he felt remorse and regret for certain actions. Helping humanize CJ was a cast of supporting characters from his fellow Grove Street family to his actual blood relatives. He didn’t have Tommy Vercetti’s brashness and was no silent yes-man like Claude. CJ laid the foundation for multilayered Grand Theft Auto protagonists for games to come.

Play this game. Please?
1. Lee Everett
The Walking Dead Season One

Lee Everett is the man. He's one of the most developed and sympathetic of the characters I’ve played in video games. If you haven’t played Telltale’s The Walking Dead games, you are missing out. Because these games are so rich in story I do not want to give anything away but you’ll quickly see  how protective and considerate Lee could be given insane circumstances. There are revelations to uncover and like many Telltale games, your decisions and timely actions guide your character interactions and control the fate of others. Lee is definitely a complicated character not because he is hard to understand but because he isn’t always morally perfect. If anything the status of the new world may have given him a second chance. Lee is not only an excellent black character but one of the best characters I've had the pleasure of playing. Dave Fennoy's gives character life thanks to his excellent range of acting. I highly recommend playing The Walking Dead Season One and experience this firsthand.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Nintendo Switch Predictions

With the Nintendo Switch event starting in a few hours, I think this would be a good opportunity to present some predictions for the latest Big N console.

1. The Switch will be Nintendo’s only pillar
For those who don't know, before Nintendo launched the DS they proclaimed it to be their third pillar standing next to the Gamecube and an alternative to the Game Boy Advance; of course this was Nintendo's way of playing it safe in case the two-screened system didn't take off and as we all know, it did very well becoming one of their most successful systems. The reason why I mention this tidbit is because Nintendo used the same language to describe the Switch by mentioning they'll keep the 3DS around. If this new puppy sells well enough, you can kiss the 3DS goodbye.

2. The Switch will be $250
Like with any other system, the price of the Nintendo Switch will play a large part toward its success. When the Nintendo 3DS first launched, I always felt $250 was way too high for the system and the public agreed. It wasn’t until the price dropped to $169.99 did the 3DS start gaining momentum in the market. The Switch at $250 is the perfect price point for it.

3. Mario at launch
This one is more of a longshot because despite seeing Mario footage during the trailer, all rumors have pointed to this coming out on a later date but I believe Nintendo is going to surprise us. I think by having a brand new Super Mario Game at launch shows confidence and that Nintendo is holding no-bars in the release of the Switch.

4. Redesign (in about 2+ years)
This may be jumping the gun but if the Nintendo Switch becomes a runaway success, I foresee a redesign not too far off. At the time of this writing the battery life hasn’t been confirmed but I’m willing to bet the new redesign will not only improve the battery but add improvements to the systems internally.

So with that said, I hope the Nintendo Switch is successful. I’m very eager to see one in person and to purchase one on launch day!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Street Fightin’
I am a huge fighting game enthusiast. I grew up playing Street Fighter 2, Fatal Fury, and Mortal Kombat on my Sega Genesis.  I watch a lot of streams of local tournaments and of course I watch the awesomeness that is EVO, which is one of the biggest fighting game tournaments in the world. I love the competition, the comradery, the showmanship, and overall community that is represented within the Fighting Game Community (FGC). Street Fighter 5 is going to be released in February and has the potential to be the most rewarding and best fighting game ever.
                 Let’s rewind back to 2008 with the release of Street fighter 4. Admittedly, at the time I wasn’t really that into fighting games. My favorite fighting game at this point was Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution (which I think is one of the greatest fighting games of all time) and Street Fighter had pretty much been in hibernation with its last release, Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike coming out in 1999. I could never get into 3rd Strike because of its odd character roster and difficulty. That’s not to say it isn’t an excellent fighting game because it is, but it was pretty hardcore to learn and master. Street Fighter’s comeback in 2008 was sort of a renaissance for fighting games. There have been very good fighting games released between Street Fighter 3 and 4 but none had the impact that Street Fighter 4 had.
                Street Fighter 4 went back to its roots with a more familiar character roster with 4 new ones, a new focus system, and an Ultra Revenge Combo to help turn a losing match in your favor. It looked awesome in 3D, ran smoothly at 60 FPS, and seeing it and playing it in arcades brought back a feeling of excitement that I haven’t felt in a very long time in fighting games. I couldn’t wait for the home release that would come about 8 months later in February 2009.
                The home version was a fantastic game. It included more characters, a decent training mode, and the biggest addition which was online play. This wasn’t the first time a Street Fighter game was online but it was the most important feature of the game. You could finally play against competition from around the world. The online play for me was pretty good (but not perfect because it can be laggy and was full of rage quitters) and I learned how much better the competition was once I played online. Overall, it was a fantastic game that for me didn’t really need much more to it. It wasn’t the most balanced (Sagat, anyone?) but it was fun and I felt like I got the most out of it. That was until the released Super Street Fighter 4 and the problems for me started to arise.
                Similar to the old Street Fighter 2 with its numerous releases with Street Fighter 2, SF2: Champion Edition, SF2: Turbo, SF2: The New Challengers, etc... Street Fighter 4 started to head in the same direction. I think most fans were happy with the new edition of the game as it added 10 characters, new stages, and new mechanics. However, it kept on coming with an Arcade edition and finally an Ultra edition to Street Fighter 4. The original arcade release of Street Fighter 4 featured 16 characters and its final edition featured 44 fighters. While that seems great, it almost started to feel cluttered and started to show a lack of creativity for characters. For the hardcore, these 44 characters give players a lot of choice and variety but for me it became too overwhelming. Let’s take the shoto characters for instance. Shoto characters are fighters that based their fighting style off of the Shotokan Karate fighting style of Ryu. In Ultra Street Fighter 4, Ryu, Ken, Akuma, Sakura, Sagat, Dan, Evil Ryu, and Oni are all characters that fight based off this style. Now for most hardcore enthusiast, these characters are very different from one another but to most players they are very similar. You can master one and have a decent idea how they all work. Of course on the higher levels of competition, they are very different but the idea that they are similar is the same.
                Another issue with all these characters is that it throws the balance of the game all over the place. I got a good handle on the characters in the original SF4 but with all the new characters added, it creates a lot of new match ups and sometimes creates characters that are way too strong compared to others. Arcade Edition’s Yun was a great example of a new character that pretty much dominated the scene because of his speed and power that made him almost too good. Playing online, you would mostly run into that character which made the game kind of boring and not very fun. Though future patches would address the issue, they eventually are replaced with a new dominating character (now I hear it’s Elena in Ultra SF4). I don’t mind new characters added to a game to keep it fresh, but I think there is a point where it becomes too much.
                Street Fighter 5 will release on February 16 with 16 characters initially, then in the first year will slowly add 6 characters down the line as DLC. Capcom promised that this version of the game will be the only version as to say there will be no Super, Hyper, or Ultra version of Street Fighter 5. That’s a great sign that Capcom has listened to its fans. It even offers a way to unlock the DLC without paying for it (though I am sure that it won’t be the easiest process). Sure there may be an edition of the game that comes with everything unlocked but there will be no need to purchase a new game like there was in SF4. I hope that Street Fighter 5 doesn’t get too character happy, as its improvements over SF4 get me excited again for fighting games. As for the specific changes to the game, stay tuned to the next Street Fighint blog update.

Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review

Game of Year 2015

Excuse the text for this review. Blogger is acting up, I'll fix it as soon as I can

                 The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the best games I have ever played. I’ve only just recently heard of The Witcher which is based off of the book series of the same name by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Everything in The Witcher 3 was created out of pure love. Created by CD Projekt Red, The Witcher 3 boast a fully realized, living, breathing world that is unlike anything I have ever experienced while playing a game. The game sets the bar so high for quality that I am actually worried that future games won’t come anywhere close to it.
                The game takes place in a medieval setting with war, swords, magic, and monsters. It continues the story of renowned witcher, Geralt of Rivia. A witcher is a human who was experimented on as a child to bestow them with super strength, stamina, senses, and the ability to use some magic. Witchers are known to be the best monster hunters in the world and are usually hired to handle monster problems.  I was worried that I would be lost because I haven’t read any of the books or played the previous games, but the Witcher 3 solves that problem early on in a clever way that I won’t spoil. You will have a greater appreciation for the world if you have played the previous games but it isn’t in anyway necessary to fully enjoy the game. Geralt is on a quest to find his long lost protégé Cirilla who is being chased by the “Wild Hunt” (think Game of Thrones White Walkers that can teleport where they want). Geralt wants to find her before the Wild Hunt do.
                The Witcher 3 is an open world RPG where players can explore locations, fight monsters, take on bounty contracts, race horses, and pretty much do everything you can think of in a medieval style game. What makes the game so special is the effect that you as a player has on the world. Open world games usually give you the choice of being good or evil, with not much of a middle ground. The Witcher 3 presents players with choices that never have a clear effect when you make them. Usually, without knowing it, the game makes you choose the lesser of two evils and I really enjoyed how it made me really consider my options. Sometimes people in the game lie to you, so you can’t go around trusting everyone you come across.  I’ve never struggled so much with choices in a game. I usually play games as a paragon for all things good, but you quickly learn to be more rational about your decision making.
                The Witcher 3 is absolutely gorgeous from a technical and artistic perspective. I got a decent computer rig with a Nvidia GTX 970 and Intel core i5 so I was able to use the maximum settings and it performed at a smooth 60 frames per second at 1080p resolution. The world looks so alive, with a complete day and night cycle, dynamic weather, impressive lighting and shadows, draw distance detail, and a lot going on in the background at all times. Geralt even has real time beard growth. Each part of the world feels different and has its own sense of flora and fauna. The swampy lands of Velen are home to people who are just trying to survive and it’s host to a lot of bandits. Novigrad is a large bustling town full of shops, bars, arenas and host to many interesting characters. Each environment feels unique and it never gets dull to look at.
 Geralt can fight monsters, complete quests, and explore the world to gain experience points to increase his level. There are always quests to do or events to take part in and completing these missions are the best way to get stronger and get the best equipment. Leveling up increases stats which allow you to be able to dish out and take more damage as well as equip better weapons and armor. Each level awards you with an ability point to put towards a specific skill branch. This allows you customize Geralt based off of three properties, Physical attacks, Sign (magic), or Alchemy. You have to spend carefully because you have limited spaces for the skills you acquire and also some skills are just more useful than others. Alchemy seems like it could be very useful, but there isn’t much incentive to acquire those skills over attacks and magic.
                Combat in The Witcher 3 is also satisfying as it rewards careful preparation and strategy. You will die if you go into battle swinging your sword recklessly. Human enemies can easily surround you and even if you are at a high level, you can still be defeated rather quickly. Monsters are definitely more interesting to fight as they require a bit more planning to be successful. Monsters have various weaknesses that can be exploited to defeat them. After defeating monsters, your bestiary updates with helpful information about the monster you defeated. Books scattered across the world also contain useful information about monsters. Before battle you can drink special potions you create to give you enhancements that will help in battle. You can also apply oils to your blade that will deal extra damage if the oil is strong against a specific monster type. On the standard difficulty level applying oils and potions isn’t really needed but on the higher difficulty it is somewhat a necessity for survival I recommend playing on the difficulty above normal to get the most out of the game.
                The Witcher 3 is a product that was made by a developer that only has 2 other games to its credit which are the prequels to this game. It goes to show that it when given enough time and care that a game can be everything that a developer wants it to be. The Witcher 3 cuts no corners and gives you a world that you can spend easily over 100 hours in and still not finish everything there is in the game. It’s gorgeous, engrossing, thoughtful, and overall entertaining. I recommend going out and supporting a developer like this because you can tell it was a labor of love and they deserve praise for what should easily be the best game of 2015 and should be considered one of the best games of all time.

Score: 5 out 5
Pro:        Gorgeous, fully realized world.
                 Great characters and writing.
                 Always new and exciting things to do.
Cons:      Occasional glitches
                 So much content, might be overwhelming.

                Requires a lot of time to get the most out of the game.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Rainbow Six: Siege Review

Seize the Day

Two of my teammates were dead and the rest of my squad knew we had limited time to extract the hostage. Though we had more teammates alive than the opposing force, we had to figure out how to get the hostage out safely or eliminate the opposing team. One of my teammates used his operator’s special shield to draw enemy fire while I snuck in the room from the opposite entrance to grab the hostage. As I was extracting the hostage, my other teammate defended me using his long range sniper and we safely extracted the hostage. It was intense, nerve wrecking, and one of the most satisfying experiences I have ever experienced in multiplayer gaming. That is Rainbow Six: Siege in a nutshell…when it works.

Rainbow Six games have always been more strategic in terms of gameplay and Siege is no different. Based off of real counter-terrorist units from around the world, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege focuses on more intimate engagements based around objectives. There is no radar, respawns, killstreaks, and friendly fire is always on. Running and gunning will get you killed very quickly. Head shots with any gun always kills, and most victories are decided well before the shots are fired. What makes Siege unique is its confrontations that take place in environments with a huge amount of destructibility. A lot of walls can be breached or even just shot through (depending on the gun and surface of the wall). Hiding behind walls isn’t the safest option for victory. The key to success requires you to be methodical, tactical, and have great teamwork. The game has a very realistic feel to it where great planning is rewarded with mission success, while a lone wolf approach is often punished by failure.

The game has 3 modes: Situations, Multiplayer, and Terrorist Hunt. Situations is a basic training mode that tasks you with 12 different missions to complete which will get you ready for Multiplayer and Terrorist Hunt. Situations is the closest thing you get to a single player campaign and while it’s useful for practicing, don’t expect a Tom Clancy narrative because there is absolutely none. There are 12 Situations, each tasking you with goal to achieve which basically gets you ready for the real meat of the game which is Multiplayer. In certain Situations, they allow you to use an operator which can get you familiar with how they work. Terrorist Hunt is the Co-op or firefight mode of the game. You work with 4 other teammates (or lone wolf if you are feeling brave) to either kill terrorists, play a hostage variant, or disarm a bomb. The standard difficulty is pretty easy because the AI has terrible aim and doesn’t quite act intelligently. Take your time and you shouldn’t have trouble clearing missions. Ramp the difficulty up to realistic, and it becomes one the hardest multiplayer experiences around. Enemies have near-perfect accuracy and kill you and your team very quickly. They still aren’t very smart but it doesn’t matter when they barely miss a shot. Sometimes it borderlines on not being fair but with enough persistence, patience and good team work it is possible. I’ve only completed a terrorist hunt on realistic one time and played it a lot.

The real bulk of the game is the Multiplayer which is a 5 on 5 Team Deathmatch variant. There are two ways to win, either eliminate the opposing team or complete the objective (hostage extraction, defuse a bomb etc.). Most matches end with the elimination of the opposing team, though occasionally the objective will affect the outcome of the match. Playing the casual playlist usually ends matches with kills but playing the ranked playlist opens up more possibilities as players will be communicating and working together.

Before each round you have an option to select a specific operator for the mission. 10 unique operators are available for both attacking and defending. These operators are very important for success as each has a unique gadget that will help get the mission complete. Attacking operators have tools to help them breach walls and defenses.For example, Fuze can set up a cluster charge that can penetrate walls and set off deadly grenades or Blitz has a riot shield equipped with a light that can temporarily blind your enemies.  Defending operators like Kapkan can set traps or Mute, who can place down a signal jammer which disable drones and gadgets.

One of my issues with the game is the progression system. You have to unlock your operator using the one of the games two forms of currency. Renown is used to unlock operators, weapon attachments, and weapons skins and is earned through completing daily challenges and completing matches. While operators initially don’t cost much, after a while they require a lot of renown to unlock all of them.  Some of the weapons skins cost 10,000 renown and you only get about 150 to 200 a match. Each operator’s equipment is unique to them and so are the skins, so if you want to unlock a lot of them, it becomes a bit of a grind. The other in game currency is only obtainable through micro-transactions and can only be used to purchase skins at a much lower amount than renown. I think it’s a shame that a $60 full priced game has content on the disk that is locked unless you pay more money for it.

While the gameplay is solid when it’s working, the game is riddled with glitches and server issues. Sometimes the hit detection is a little questionable and it’s hard to tell if it’s lag or not. I’ve gotten stuck on walls a couple of times, fell through the floor to my death, and heard of people seeing themselves in the third person, and seen many characters clip through walls. Another problem that really isn’t the game’s fault is team killing. Once in a while this happens by mistake, but there is an abundance of people that will shoot you on your own team for fun and it can really take you out of the mood. Unlike most games where you can respawn after dying, here you are dead for that round which can leave you unable to play for a few minutes.

Visually, the game leaves a little to be desired. On the PS4, it looks like a PS3 game with low resolution textures and moving at 30 FPS. Some of this I understand due to it being online multiplayer but its underwhelming none the less. The destructible environments fall apart how you expect them to which is great and the engine they have for it shows good detail when walls are being blown up or bullets shatter glass. It runs at 30 FPS on PS4 and Xbox One and 60 FPS on a decently rigged PC. It won’t blow you away but the destructible environments are impressive.

Rainbow Six: Siege is a very fun multiplayer experience. Each match plays out very differently and there are a multitude of ways to approach each encounter. Success is dependent on good teamwork and coordination but you need a team that’s ready and willing. There isn’t much to offer offline or in terms of playing alone but if you got group of friends ready to seize the day, then you are bound to have a good time with Rainbow Six: Siege as long as the glitches and server problems don’t come up.

                            A clip of a match I played with friends (NSFW)

SCORE: 4 out of 5
Pros:      Great multiplayer where teamwork is essential.
                Destructible environments
                Each operator feels unique and useful
Cons:     Graphics are subpar
                Glitches and connection issues

                Team killers

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

I am a little concerned about the future of games and movies.

When Steve and I created this blogsite 4 years ago, we set out to write and cover new and old games with the experience of being long time gamers. I considered myself part of an elite group of old school hardcore gamers that grew up on the original Nintendo Entertainment System and continue to play games till this very day. Lately, I have started analyzing movies from a critical perspective and there is a similar trend that they follow. There is a growing lack of creativity and originality in movies and games. The advance in technology creates such a realistic fidelity for movies and games which I believe has a huge impact in creativity.
I recently started to play older games that I loved growing up and discovered that they haven’t aged so well. This is likely because technology has made some older games harder to enjoy. This had me thinking about games as art. Technology hasn’t significantly change the way human beings experience literature, paintings, or sculptures. There has always been a heated debate as to whether video games could be considered art in the same ways as movies, books, paintings, theater, and other traditional forms of art. Roger Ebert incited a huge discussion by taking the side that video games can’t be considered art. "No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets." (Ebert, 2013) Initially hearing this in 2013, I was outraged because I’ve felt that games have evoked more emotional responses from me than more traditional forms of art. Art is defined as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

            Shadow of the Colossus is a prime example of games as an art form.

            Games and movies are heavily influenced by the technology at the time. Video games are able to look more realistic and present a graphic fidelity that becomes more lifelike. Movies can create amazing visual effects that create the sense of true imaginations come to life because of the progress of computer animations. While this improves the experience for our visual and audio senses, it also changes our expectations. Going back to an older game after a long time, the first thing most people will say is “Did this game always look like this or did this feel so weird”. I think that experience doesn’t apply to classic books, paintings, and sculptures. Yes, there are classic versions of games and movies that are timeless and are great despite the limited technology, but they are few and far between. The increase in technology also comes with a new problem, an increase in budget. Games and movies have budgets reaching into hundreds of millions of dollars and with this much money being spent, developers avoid risky new IPs and instead go with safe bets like remakes and sequels. That way they will guarantee large sales and make a profit


Super Mario World - 1991 and Super Mario Galaxy 2 - 2010 respectively.

               Video games as a medium is in its infancy when compared to paintings, sculptures, and literature but isn’t too far off when compared to cinema.  In fact, cinema and games share a strikingly similar sense of progression that is very dependent on the current makeup of society at the time. With both forms of medium, you have your universally considered classics such as Casablanca or the Godfather for movies and Super Mario Brothers or The Legend of Zelda for video games. However, the current landscape for both mediums are very limited to what is most profitable instead of creating a piece of art that is an expression of self.
Mainstream movies and games are mostly void of original ideas. I’ll name just a few movies that are coming out in the future that are either remakes, sequels, or adaptations of books. Point Blank (remake), 50 Shades Darker (book adaptation), Avengers: Infinity Wars (two-part sequel), The Magnificent Seven (which personally I am thrilled about because there is just a lack of western movies even if it is a remake) and the list goes on. Now I am not saying that there aren’t any original movies coming out or that these movies won’t be any good, I am just stating that it seems the biggest releases are movies geared to make huge box office numbers regardless of their quality. Games are pretty similar. The biggest selling titles are mostly sequels such as Fallout 4, Madden 16, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and Mario Kart 8. All of these titles reap maximum profit while mostly sticking with a relatively safe formula. I can’t fault the big name companies for going in this direction. Star Wars: The Force Awakens broke all sorts of pre-sale ticket records and that is before it was even released.

COD is one of the biggest selling games every year and this is the 12th 
installment in about as many years. The series doesn't stray too
from its roots. giving us the same experience every year.

            Even new ideas can be hampered down by the ability to create aesthetically pleasing movies. The prequel Star Wars movies are (not at first) considered terrible movies by most fans. I don’t think they are that bad but the complaints are valid. The movies are full of lasers and explosions and greatly choreographed fight scenes which make it a great visual spectacle but almost take no consideration in telling a story. Also, there was so much special effects that it creates images that don’t even look real which can take viewers out of the movie all together.

 Though the effects of the original Star Wars are modest today, it features a very relatable story. The prequel trilogy featured an abundance of  special effects and poor acting for the most part.

Remakes aren’t anything new to movies and even some of my favorite older movies are remakes of an even older movie like Scarface (1982) which is a remake of the Scarface (1932). Gamers have been waiting for years for the recently announced Final Fantasy 7 remake. I think remakes, reboots or reimagining are great ideas when done correctly and within a reasonable time frame of the originals release.  True Grit (2010) is an awesome example of how to do a remake, the original True Grit (1969) was a great movie that was relatively unheard of unless someone loved old westerns. The remake recaptures the vision, mood, and essence of the original with a touch of Coen brothers style to it. Add in some great performances and you have an Oscar worthy remake. On the flipside, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, while not terrible, featured less of the humor and more spectacle which loses some of the magic the original had. Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory was a fun movie with witty dialogue that brought real and surreal together that made for an enjoyable movie. Game remakes are similar but for the most part play it safer. Usually, they are the same games with a graphical upgrade and maybe new features thrown in that makes the game more balanced or more in line with current features. However, there are some new remakes of games that completely reimagine the original and create a product that is completely a new experience sometimes for better or worst. Nintendo’s classic Metroid was completely remade in a game called Metroid: Zero Mission which added surprises, new missions and bosses and a completely new epilogue.

                                             True Grit: A remake done very well.

There are many original new ideas for movies and games but unfortunately they get looked over by viewers and even publishers. Movies and games are risky to create and cost a lot of time and investment. This unfortunately doesn’t help promote creativity due to the financial need to be successful. While I still believe that games and movies are art, I believe that the future of both mediums are in danger of becoming stale and full of projects to generate money instead of creating work that elicits feelings and responses from its viewers. This worries me that we may be in a storm of big name releases that just mimic great ideas in the past. I'm not saying that these projects don't give us great movies and games because that would be untrue. I am just concerned that there may not be room for newer ideas anymore.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Mediocre RPG crap-a-thon: The Awakening

What makes an RPG mediocre or downright terrible? Sure, everyone knows of the classics RPG games such as Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Grandia, or Pokemon. These games feature great game-play mechanics,fantastic music, and/or a great story. In the late 90's and early 2000's RPGs were everywhere thanks to the popularity of Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation. Some of these RPG's were pretty good and others were atrocious. I was 10 years old when I started to love RPGs and I would play any game I could get so quality didn't really bother me as long as it had basic RPG elements. It was during this age that I completed some really awful RPG's such as Beyond the Beyond and Quest 64 to name a few.

This got me thinking about the question I posed above and I decided to get help from a few friends who thankfully volunteered to play RPGs that were considered either mediocre or abysmal according to various media sites. I will chronicle some of their experience as well as get feedback about the games they are forced to tolerate. So we picked a total of 12 games we have access to from all generations of gaming. Justin Belding, Tamel Edwards, and I will each get 4 games to play and we must play all 4 games and finish at least 2 of them with some exceptions to that rule (games marked with a *). We rolled a 20 sided dice to choose the games and the results are as follows:

Breath of Fire 4

Final Fantasy 4: The After Years
Beyond the Beyond*
Super Ninja Boy

Wild Arms 2
More meh....
Granstream Saga
Lufia: Fortress Of Doom *
Blue Dragon

Infinite Undiscovery
Final Fantasy 2
Saga Frontier 2
Quest 64*
I spent $90 on this turd...

Games marked a * are considered either exceptionally bad or time consuming so if either of us chooses to finish one of these games then I consider the quota for completed games met. I still want each game to be experienced for a quick synopsis. I will capture some gameplay with commentary for certain games in the future. This will be a somewhat long project but I want to just examine certain things about what makes a game enjoyable or detestable. Can we  find a hidden gem? Appreciate what a game developer was trying to do? I hope to find out some common threads or interesting ideas about games in general from this experiment.

Stay Tuned.