Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mulling things over in a Press of Words, and something with Gamasutra

This post is just to inform those who read this that there is now a WordPress version of this blog (it can be found at and my username there is JPLC). It will be similar to the LiveJournal version in that it will have the same content as this one, essentially acting as just a mirror (except maybe in rare occasions). One day, I may choose just one place to mull over the multiverse from, but as of now I do it from three locations: here, LiveJournal, and (once again) WordPress. However, as of writing this, I still consider the Blogger location (here) to be the primary location. Take that as you will.

Also, in an unrelated matter, in my previous post (the one about console video game archival), I stated that I had also posted it on gaming news site Gamasutra in my free Member Blog. Well, it seems that it was a wise thing for me to do: the post netted me a lifetime subscription to Gamasutra's sister publication, Game Developer Magazine! You see, every week the Gamasutra staff collects stand-out Member Blogs of that week and makes a post about it (this week's post can be found here). Out of the ones they choose, though, only one is selected as their favourite, and to the person who wrote that post they give the aforementioned subscription. In this week's case, mine is apparently the favourite! I am deeply grateful and I am looking forward to receiving my first issue; it has been quite some time since I've had a subscription to a gaming magazine.

So, yeah, this is basically just a "state-of-the-blog" post. The next one should be actually about something (whenever I decide to post). Stay tuned...?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Building the future and keeping the past alive are one and the same thing.

In the video game industry, much time and effort is put toward new ventures. Whether this means merely a new instalment of a franchise, an entirely new IP, or the next console/graphics card down the road, the industry tends to keep its gaze future-bound. At least, this is how it seems to one presently outside of the industry (like myself). While the future is definitely important, it should not stand without acknowledging its history. In this case, "history" meaning "older video games". Essentially, I am saying that before going too far forward, it would be wise to archive old games.

Before going further, it would be wise to establish what I mean by "archival". In this case, I am not referring to mere records of the existence of past games and consoles. I am also not referring to the matter of actually archiving physical copies of games and their respective consoles (although this is a very important endeavour). No, in this case I mean digital archival: the digital preservation of games and consoles via the process of emulation (I am staying out of the concept of PC game archival due to my lack of knowledge on the subject). Also, I propose that these emulated games and consoles be made public for the average consumer.

Granted, the concept of digital emulations of games and consoles is nothing new. ROM downloads and the like have been available online illegally for years now. While some may claim that these illegal methods* are good enough for archival, I beg to differ. What I propose is legal emulation of old games and consoles, something which is still in a state of infancy.

Nintendo was the first to support the idea of legal emulation for console games with their introduction of the Virtual Console. It allows consumers to purchase and play digital copies of older games for older consoles (like Super Mario Bros. for the NES). Sony has a similar system in place with their PSOne Classics available on the PlayStation Network, and Microsoft has made some Xbox Originals available for download over the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. While all of these initiatives are good starts, they still have some major caveats in terms of acting as archival systems.

Firstly, each system only seems concerned with their "Greatest Hits", so to speak. Sure, one will be able to find nearly all of Mario's earlier titles in the Virtual Console, for example, but niche/unknown games are generally left at the wayside. It's understandable why this is done, though; more money is likely to be made with hits, and it would be financially unwise to keep games around that do not necessarily sell. Still, it's disheartening to see that a vast multitude of old games (including even some of the greats) are not being preserved for future generations, especially since their being digital makes it much easier to archive than it would a physical product. Server space may cost money, but it could hold digital copies of all video games ever made easily; the illegal emulation websites can attest to that.

Secondly, these systems are generally updated at very sluggish paces. At least in North America, the Virtual Console, for example, usually only dishes out one game a week (sometimes not releasing anything at all, and very rarely releasing multiple titles). Sony's PSOne Classics, in recent times, has a somewhat better track record of releasing usually two PS1 games a week (although there are weeks sometimes where only one or none are released). The Xbox Classics, lastly, do not seem to be updated at all anymore, standing still at 29 games in North America. Now, while the Japanese counterparts for the Virtual Console and PSOne Classics seem to generally fare better with more releases a week, the systems are still lagging far behind the number of titles that can be found online illegally in an instant. (This is especially evident in the case of Sony; they are a full console behind with their digital offerings since they seem to be shying away from PS2 emulation on the PS3 at the moment. Hopefully that changes in time.)

Thirdly, only home consoles seem to be the focus of these systems. Sony has changed this trend somewhat in recent times by making some of their older UMD titles available via the PlayStation Network now that the PSP go lacks a UMD drive. Nintendo, however, despite the successes of the various iterations of Game Boy, has yet to release a handheld Virtual Console equivalent now that the DSi has sufficient memory capability and an online presence. This may change in the future, though, so this complaint may be somewhat premature, but the fact that DSi Ware cannot be transferred between DSi handhelds does not bode well for such a system.

Which leads to my final complaint: these systems have some holes in regard to purchasing these old titles. While most purchases are tied to their respective systems' accounts (e.g.: Xbox LIVE accounts, PlayStation Network accounts), they are still limited to a certain number of downloads for certain things, and as stated before, transferring these purchases to replacement consoles can sometimes be a hassle (if not impossible). Granted, this is due to the industry's rightful want to avoid any piracy, but it does not bode well. This may become especially troublesome when the next generation of consoles arrives; will PSOne Classics purchased on a PS3 be transferable to a PS4, for example? One can only hope that these digital purchases are "future-proof". Then again, gamers are used to having to re-purchase back catalogues of games, so the industry may not see a need to keep this compatibility. For the sake of archival, though, it would be wise for them to do.

Solving all of these problems will not necessarily be easy (especially in the case of the ownership of the digital purchases), but it can be done. This becomes especially evident when focus is put once again on the illegal emulation scene. Vast catalogues of ROMs and ISOs have been collected by enthusiasts and hobbyists, and consoles have been emulated by people who have never worked on the originals. If this amount of progress can be made by those outside of the "Big Three" (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft), it is only reasonable to assume that more progress can be made from within. For example, a stable PS2 emulator would probably be much easier to develop from within Sony than from without.

But this all leads up to an interesting question: do the Big Three really care about preserving older titles? After all, old games go out of print rather quickly and yet the Big Three still make money with their newer titles. What incentive would they have for archival?

It's a good question. Some may say that good money can be made from the sale of older games, but that may merely be a drop in the bucket. Really, I don't think the Big Three really care about archival. It is my hope, however, that game developers themselves care and will persuade the Big Three to be interested. I would expect that many game developers would only support game archival, just like how most writers would support the preservation of old literary works and film makers the preservation of old film. History is important in any field, and being able to experience that history first-hand is invaluable. Being able to play an old title trumps any write-up describing it. Granted, my emulation proposal does not replicate the entire experience of playing a real old game on a real old console, but it is much better than having nothing at all.

Essentially, I suppose I'm saying that people will be emulating games illegally anyway. If we want to curb this piracy, why don't we just make a legal alternative for those who would be interested? It would be naive to assume every pirate would convert, but it would probably convert some, and maybe it would deter some of the future piracy of our past titles.

After all, how can we stand on the shoulders of giants if the majority of the giants are lost to history?

*I understand that emulation of a console, in some cases, can be legal by itself and that the illegality lies more in the ROMs and ISOs themselves. I refer to the emulation as illegal in this article, though, to illustrate the differences between the emulation solutions made by the Big Three and the emulation solutions made by the public.

(This post can also be found on Gamasutra at my free Member Blog.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Creative Curveballs: Cowboy Bebop: You're gonna carry that weight

(This is the first installment of Creative Curveballs, a series that will examine and applaud works of fiction that depict the unexpectedness of reality. As stated last post, this will be spoiler-ridden. Also, it assumes the reader knows the piece in question to avoid too much explanation. You have been warned. If you don't know the piece in question, though, the following may still be worth your time. Maybe.)

The crew of the Bebop, from left to right: Jet, Spike, Faye, Ed, and Ein

Cowboy Bebop was a classic sci-fi anime of the 1990s. The show, despite being Japanese, had a western flavour to it: the episodes were, for the most part, self-contained like in North American animation, and the music was rife with blues and jazz (specifically, the titular "bebop"). As such, Cowboy Bebop's fandom tends to encapsulate not only die-hard anime fans, but people who usually don't like the genre.

It was with this knowledge that I wanted expose my younger brother to the show. He is very much aware of my love for anime (and, more cringingly, my love for cheesy J-Pop), but he has never been too interested by it. However, we usually have very similar tastes on a number of other things, and I was curious to see if Bebop would jive with him. After much delay, I finally got him to sit down and watch the 26 episode series and the movie that followed. The results were what I had hoped: he had enjoyed it.

Something interesting came up, though, while we discussed the show's end -- or more specifically, Spike's final decision to take on his former crime syndicate after the death of Julia. My brother was disappointed by Spike's last actions. He noticed that throughout the series, Spike was very focused on the present (despite his occasional run-ins with his former life), and would even dissuade others from living in the past (Faye in particular). Thus, Spike's choice to knowingly end it all in a battle with his past was something that seemed beneath him. Spike knew better.

The reason I bring all of this up is to illustrate that Cowboy Bebop is a show that depicts the unexpectedness of reality. The show throws a curveball, and asks the audience to deal with it.

Now, I agree with my brother. By all intents and purposes, Spike should have realized that his actions would prove nothing, and they would most definitely not bring Julia back. He ignored his own advice, and death was his repercussion. It was his punishment for being out of character. But was he really?

We learn from Spike's final exchange with Faye (taking place just before he goes to fight the syndicate for the last time) that he lost an eye in the past and that he now has a robotic replacement (something which the show had hinted at previously). Spike claimed that, after the operation, one eye always saw the past with the other seeing the present. He was thus unsure if he was really alive, or if reality was a dream passing before him (this, in my interpretation, makes the assumption that Spike was unsure he survived "faking" his death when he left the syndicate years ago). This information, metaphorical or not, changed the idea of who Spike was. In an instant, his laid-back attitude was altered from being merely how he was to a possible coping mehcanism for his "dream-state".

Spike's eye disparity is only rarely made visible. During this scene is one of those times.

Faye herself was taken off guard by the revelation:

"Don't tell me things like that... You never told me anything about yourself! Don't tell me stuff like that now!"

She even goes as far as to tell Spike of her own run-ins with her past, which she had, until recently, no recollection of:

"My... memory came back. But... nothing good came out of it. There was no place for me to return to..."

It wasn't long before she got straight to the point:

"Are you telling me you're going to just throw your life away!?"

In turn, Spike responded:

"I'm not going there to die. I'm going there to see if I really am alive."

I include the above excerpts because I think they hone in exactly at my point. In the exchange, Faye embodies the mindset of the viewer, one which cannot accept the incongruity of Spike's choice with the way he had been presented up to this point. The audience may now know Spike's reasons, but it still does not seem to fit. The audience, sitting upon the expectation of knowing the ins and outs of things as they occur, is thrown, just as they would be in real life. Human beings rarely know all sides of an event, let alone what someone's true person and motives are. Cowboy Bebop recognizes this, and decides to use its main character as the vehicle for this aspect of reality.

Now, to be fair, the series does hint at Spike's deeper bonds with his past throughout the series -- especially when he encounters the syndicate -- but he still tended to look forward rather than back. The point still remains that his death was wholly avoidable, and as such Cowboy Bebop is a great tragedy. Sure, the series is on the whole an action-comedy, but there is always that twinge of sorrow, culminated in the last two episodes. And it was real in a way many works of fiction aren't. We did not wholly expect or agree with Spike's decision, but he went through with it anyway. He was not forced to do what he did, he chose it. And that's the most real thing of all, in a sense. Humanity will never act in pure logic all the time. Like it or not, it is an important aspect of life, one that should not be excluded from fiction.

(Some blog-notes: being inspired by a certain Chocolate Hammer, I'm going to be a bit more lax with this blog in terms of content. If I feel like writing, I will write here, regardless of whether I have an "essay" or not. I've been neglecting this thing for too long. As such, my next two installments of Creative Curveballs may be interrupted by other posts, but I see that as a good thing. In short, I will still write "essays", but I will also just write if I feel like writing. That is all.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Creative Curveballs: An Introduction

We expect a lot from narrative. Aside from sheer entertainment and the relaying of tales, we usually expect to get a solid grasp on what's going on in a particular piece. We expect to be able to look things over in the end and say, "well, this happened because of this, this, and this". In essence, we expect to be shown enough angles of a story from various points of view so that we may make sense of it all. This expectation, while craved by nearly all, is however not realistic.

It is not my intention to say that all narrative must be realistic. Far from it, narratives should be of anything and everything, bound by nothing but what the author chooses. My intention, thus, is to say that narratives should be allowed to be realistic in the case of audience expectations.

This may seem a trivial statement to make, but it is not uncommon to hear negative claims akin to "well that came out of nowhere" in reference to narrative. While in some cases this can be a justified statement to make for one reason or another, my argument is geared towards the times that merely mimic reality. In other words, I am coming out in defense of depicting the curveballs life can throw every now and again. Life is not a neat and tidy ball that is easy to understand, and one human will never realistically know all the aspects of a single event.

Thus, I feel it is important to celebrate works that lob a curveball every once and a while, those that play with the concept of the unexpected. As such, I am dedicating my next three blog posts to the following works: the animes Cowboy Bebop and Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the PlayStation 2 video game Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. These works have been discussed time and again by various people, but I wish to explore my own thoughts on them in the writings to come. It will also give me an excuse to post more on this blog (which I apologize for not doing).

So, prepare for the first installment (of three) of Creative Curveballs some time in the future. I don't have an exact schedule for this thing, but I hope to kick it off relatively soon. And who knows, this may become a re-occurring segment with more works. Or not. Only time will tell.

(Oh, and as a warning, the future posts on this subject will be rife with spoilers. You have been warned).

Friday, July 31, 2009

Why the goal should be "Engaging", not just "Fun".

"Fun" and its relationship to games is a topic that has been discussed ad nauseam, and probably by people more educated and eloquent than myself. Even so, I feel I must contribute my own opinion on the matter. Take the following as you will.

As the title of this post states, I believe that aiming for "fun" in the game industry is the wrong way to go. I understand this may seem a strange statement to make. To clarify, then, I think that "fun" is too low of a goal to aim for. I posit, instead, that we aim for "engaging". Before I go any further, however, I should state the definitions I am using for fun and engaging.

Firstly, I am using the word "fun" to describe something as enjoyable or amusing. "Engaging", then, is being used in this case to describe something that holds or attracts one's attention, or something that is engrossing. These definitions are not extremely different from one another, but the difference is important. The difference, in my eyes, is that fun is merely a subset of engaging. Alternatively, a way for a piece to be engaging to someone is for it to be fun.

Most expressive endeavours (books, movies, television, visual arts, etc) dabble in a wide range of subsets of engaging, but games – aside from a few exceptions – seem to focus primarily on fun. A simple example of this would be Tetris, a game that can engage players for hours on end with naught but fun in the form of a puzzle of falling blocks. A not-as-apparent example would be a game like Bioshock which, despite its heavy message, still strives for its gameplay to be fun – dispatching foes is another puzzle to be conquered. Fun is a brilliant subset of engaging, and it is one of the most effective of the subsets, but there are others to choose from. It would be wise to define and exemplify some of the other subsets before moving on, though.

There are many ways to make an expressive endeavour engaging. As previously stated, one of the ways is fun. Another way is to be abstract. Examples of this would be abstract arts, whether they be visual, literary, or otherwise. Some of these pieces would never be classified as fun or beautiful, but they still manage to engage, even if the number of people engaged is not as great (a number of Andy Warhol's works could fall into this category).

Another way to engage is via beauty. Examples of beauty are bounteous and are visible in both nature and the realm of the artificial (from roses to paintings to people). Beauty is not necessarily fun either in some cases (witnessing a sunset is beautiful, but the act probably wouldn't be described as fun, much like the sunset itself), but it engages.

Yet another subset of engaging would be unsettling. I use the term in this case to be an umbrella that spans from concepts of horror to pieces that aren't necessarily frightening in the same sense, but still terrible. When a piece is effectively unsettling, one can become transfixed without necessarily desiring it. An obvious example of this would be a horror movie that gets screams, chills spines, and raises adrenaline. In this case, the unsettling visuals get one's blood flowing. There are however, cases of unsettling visuals that are just as engaging, but do not elicit the same biological highs. These cases are the primal opposites of fun, but are still thoroughly engaging. These are cases where one cannot look away, despite all urges to do so.

Despite the fact that there are more subsets of engaging to speak of, it is these specific unsettling things I wish to discuss the most. This is due to the fact that I think they are really the farthest things from fun one can get, but they are still engaging. A specific example of a piece that uses this unsettling factor is the film version of Requiem for a Dream (some spoilers may follow, be warned). It is a film that examines the lives of a group of addicts, whether they are addicted to physical desires, unattainable ideals, or both. Near the end of the film, there is a scene in which one of them undergoes electroconvulsive therapy due to a deteriorating mental state. This scene is highly unsettling as the viewer has witnessed this person's downfall, and must endure the sight of this person writhing in pain over and over again. This scene is by no means visually appealing or fun to watch. It is essentially visual torture, at least for myself. I have stated many times to those I know that I never want to see that scene again, but when I first saw it, I could not look away. Despite these negative feelings, I do not regard the scene as something that should never be experienced. The film is an excellent warning about going over the edge in more ways than one, and I highly respect that it did not pull any punches in depicting the terror of it. It was entirely engaging and worthwhile, but it was in no way fun.

To some, this idea may seem to be a turn off. This is an understandable viewpoint to have. But in my opinion, the opposite end of the spectrum of engagement is just as important as the end games are most comfortable with. I do not mean to say, however, that no games have ever tried to reach for types of engagement beyond fun. Examples that spring to mind are the Mu Training in Mother 2/Earthbound, the final boss battles of the games in the Mother/Earthbound series, and the Arsenal Gear sequence in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (things that better people than I have gone into vast detail with). All of these examples use gameplay to express something that is not fun, but it still engages the player. Even more examples exist, of course, but the point I am trying to make is that the ratio of engagement is heavily skewed to fun when it comes to games, and it should not necessarily be so.

In the end, I suppose I am championing the idea of more variety in games. There is room enough for fun games, unsettling games, beautiful games, games that combine subsets, etc. I have heard too many people discuss the "right" way to make games. I posit that there is no "right" way. As long as the player is interested in playing, the game's existence is justified. The player's engagement is all that matters, and there are many more ways to engage than just by fun, as ridiculous as that may sound to some.

Before I end, I know that this will probably stir up a "games as art" debate. I am under the belief that anything can be art (and as such, “art” is a bit of a bogus term), so please do not condense this idea into another "pro-art" or "anti-art" stance. I merely wish for much more variety in the world of video games, and for more experiences that engage in ways other than just fun (especially in the non-indie game scene). Fun is all well and good, but it is most definitely not all there is, nor is it all that there has to be.

End rant. I hope I made sense.

(This post was initially made for Gamasutra and my free Member Blog there, but I am also posting it here due to my abhorrent lack of posts. My computer’s all nice and fixed now, so let’s hope I make some more posts in the near future!)

Monday, May 18, 2009

If it ain't broke, it soon will be. Also, House meets Haddaway.

Yes, I am still alive, despite what you may have suspected. It seems my initial promise of more blog posts during the summer was heard by the gods of digital destruction, and they appear to want to toy with me for as long as they can.

Y'see, my Internet has recently been very, very screwy. Disconnections and the like abound, creating chaos and havoc everywhere. On top of this, my laptop's monitor has decided to stop functioning. It may just be the screen, or it may be a video card issue. Either way, it is presently unusable, and it will have to be taken to someone for a fix (I'm using my brother's laptop to punch out this post). These problems will make timely posting very unlikely, so until things get resolved, don't expect much. I hope to be done of this madness soon, however.

Now, if this were any other day, I would probably have ended the post at that as I do not have much else to say presently, but this is not any other day. No, this day is important, to a degree. This day is the day of What Is House. Allow me to explain:

I had watched the Season 5 finale of House M.D. with my brother recently, and we were both impressed. The show is going to be very interesting come Season 6, and I await it with much impatience. The finale itself, though -- especially the final scene -- was a fine piece of television. I will not try to spoil it for those unaware, but the final scene was a montage of events with music playing over top (this kind of montage is not uncommon for House M.D.). It was a good montage, but soon after watching, my brain came up with an idea to make it better. Well, maybe not "better", per se, but definitely funnier. My brain had decided that the montage would fit smashingly with Haddaway's hit song What Is Love.

I'm not sure how that thought came to me in the first place, but it was a powerful enough thought to spring me into action. I found the end montage online, muted it, and played it alongside What Is Love. The results were uncannily hilarious. Thus, the below video was created by me and hosted on YouTube (the video is flipped, though, so YouTube doesn't freak out; the audio is fine) (House M.D. Season 5 finale spoilers contained within the video, watch at your own risk):

(Direct YouTube link)

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did when I first "discovered" the hilarity. Feel free to share the URL with friends. =P

Until next post, then. May the gods of fixed computers ensure that it happens soon.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

If you see Solidus Snake and a crashed Arsenal Gear on the news tonight, you now know why

I know I just posted (the previous post was about Mirror's Edge, it's right below this one, please read it as well), but something just came to my attention:

Today is Thursday, April 30th, 2009. The Plant Chapter of my favourite game (and thus the majority of the game), Metal Gear Solid 2 for the PS2, was set in 2009 (the game was released in 2001) on the dual dates of April 29th and April 30th. I think this is something worth mentioning.

Happy MGS2 Day(s) everyone! Time for a poorly-Photoshopped picture to mark the event, woooooo!


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Come fire, come fire / Let it burn and love come racing through

Imagine a city. In its past, it was a dirty and dangerous place. Safety was a luxury, something not inherent in the world. To ensure safety, the people turned to City Hall, and gave those in power the ability to carefully monitor and protect them. Dangerous information and digital communications were filtered by the government until such data was safe for public consumption. The people needed these restraints to save their lives. They could not be totally free if they wanted to live.

But some did not enjoy this new way of life. Some wanted to cast off these restraints and communicate without scrutiny and fear of censorship, to be free once more. These people, however, realized that City Hall was too entrenched in everything to do anything of meaning within the system, so they instead chose to act outside of it. "Runners" were born, messengers of sorts who would scale the metropolitan mountains of metal and glass and deliver information that their clients did not want to be filtered or censored.

You are Faith, one such Runner. Welcome to the Mirror's Edge.

As the above trailer illustrates, Mirror's Edge is a video game that attempts something quite novel. The idea of traversing a city in a parkour/free-running type manner is nothing new as similar mechanics can be found in the Prince of Persia series and Assassin's Creed, but the way it is handled here is quite unique. By placing the player within their in-game avatar via the use of a first-person view, and by making the avatar's limbs and the like visible while in this view, the game attempts to convey the feeling of actually doing these acrobatics. Granted, it is of course only a mere shadow of the actual activities of parkour and free-running, but within the bounds of a video game, it feels very real and visceral. EA DICE, a team usually known for the Battlefield series, has thus succeeded, in my eyes, in bringing the essence of the traversal of the urban landscape to the PS3, Xbox 360, and the PC.

While most agree that Mirror's Edge provides a quite unique and thrilling experience, opinion varies on other aspects of the game. Common complaints are that the game is too linear in its execution, that the plot is quite weak, and that the game is quite short. These are all valid complaints in my book, but they do not irk me as much as they irk others.

Firstly, in regards to its linearity: Mirror's Edge is a quite linear game, but I personally don't see anything wrong with that. The game was never striving to be an open experience, but more of a carefully crafted sequence of events with thrilling chases and acrobatics never in short supply. It's sometimes imperfect in this regard, but still holds up quite well. I would have to admit that an open world game with the controls and the like of Mirror's Edge would be quite fascinating indeed, but I can't fault Mirror's Edge for not being something it wasn't even trying to be in the first place.

Next, to tackle the point of the plot. The story is not great, to be honest. It is a tad run-of-the-mill dystopian rebellion, and the twists can be seen coming from quite a ways away. Even in saying this, though, it's not terrible. If I have a major gripe with the story, though, it would be with the 2D animated cinematics. They dash all immersion quite instantly by pulling the camera to a third-person view instead of the in-game first-person, and by being, as stated previously, two dimensional. They're not too shabby in execution (though some scenes and movements look a tad odd), but they seem heavily out of place in the game. What's especially head-scratching about the inclusion of these 2D cinematics is that there are some cutscenes that are done in-game in a first-person view. It's as if the team couldn't decide which approach to use. This predicament thus makes the not-terrible story seem weaker. I can only hope that EA DICE realizes the folly in this regard, and repairs it for possible future instalments of the game. An example of these cinematics can be found in the below video (it's the first 2D cinematic in the game).

To sidetrack a bit, though, the character of Faith is worth mentioning separately. For one, she is the primary protagonist: those following the video game industry know all too well that female lead roles in games are unfortunately all too rare. It's nice to see, then, that Faith is one of the better female game leads (for those unaware, she is standing on top of the crane near the end of the first video of this post, and she is the primary focus/narrator of the second video). In the realm of the physical, she is refreshingly quite average looking (no huge bust, no revealed ass, no Asian stereotyping, etc), and she is clothed as one would expect a Runner to be (nothing showing that shouldn't be, but comfortable enough to be acrobatic in). In the video game world, this is a good sign. In the realm of her personality, she's not too remarkable, but better than most video game females. She exudes an air of being a "badass girl", but it's not overdone (for the most part; there are some instances where it could be argued otherwise). She is confident, but not shut off from her emotions. She is paranoid and distrusting of authority, maybe even to an excess, but it's dealt with well in the game. She's a character I gladly support, in the end, and I only wish that we see more positive female characters like her in future games. God knows that we're sorely lacking in that department. Sure, Faith may be no Alyx Vance of Half-Life 2 fame or Jade from Beyond Good & Evil, but she's a much more welcome lady than those from Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden.

Now, to get back on track: the game can be called short, yes. In my own personal playthrough (I have been playing the PS3 version), I completed two playthroughs of the game (one on the Normal difficulty and one on Hard) in 2 - 4 days. In comparison to most games, this is almost laughable. But even so, I do not regret the length. The game, in my eyes, seemed to be a good length for what it was going for. Then again, I am generally more accepting of short games than most, but even so, there's also plenty of replayability under the hood of Mirror's Edge. The Time Trial mode allows you to race against the clock to reach checkpoints in maps that come from the game (minus enemies and the like), and getting the better times are no easy tasks. The downloadable content maps are also no pushovers, and are quite entertaining to play (unlike the other levels which are taken from the city of the game, the DLC levels are completely abstract and designed to test the full extent of one's skills, and I love them). Additionally, the Speedrun mode allows the player to attempt to complete the game's Chapters as quickly as possible. Granted, these "race" modes may not tickle everyone's fancy, but considering the speedy and acrobatic nature of the main game, the modes fit in quite nicely.

So, to conclude then, Mirror's Edge is a game worth your time, despite what others may say. It contains an experience that cannot be found anywhere else, and Faith is quite a refreshing female protagonist. In fact, I may even venture to say that if the game came out at a different time and did not have to compete with behemoths like Fallout 3 and Far Cry 2, it may have even been given generally more positive reviews. The game is a bold move, at the very least, in terms of the first-person acrobatics, and EA DICE should be applauded for attempting something new. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it definitely deserves a taste. I'm hooked on it, anyway.

Oh, and before I go, here are some "bonus" videos.

The first is of some of the abstract DLC maps I mentioned earlier. When I say abstract, I mean abstract. They are a blast to play as well as to look at. Have a gander:

The second is of the theme song of the game: Still Alive by Lisa Miskovsky. It's possible to find an instrumental version, but this is the original track (and one of the lines is the title of this post). I have to admit, I first was adverse to the vocal version and preferred only the instrumental, but as time went on, the vocal version grew on me. Have a listen:

Until next time, then!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

And as soon as it had begun, it had ended, and I had been left to start anew.

No, I have not forgotten about the blog. Far from it. It has been nibbling on the edges of my mind, and I have had urges to post many times, but I halted myself from acting on those occasions. The school year was coming to a close, and final assignments, exams, and procrastinating from either took the utmost precedence. But my last exam ended at 2:00 PM two days ago (Thursday, April 23). The school year, she is now over. The summer, she can now begin.

And with the summertime shall come more posts. The blog shall become lively again, if all goes well, and thus you will have something to read. I have been devouring the PS3 game Mirror's Edge as of late, so a post on that can be expected in the future. Also, I aim to finally make some posts on animation since it is, as stated in the first blog post, as big a part of my life as gaming is. In short, I have ideas for future posts, and this summer will see those ideas come to fruition.

I apologize for making this such a short post as one would expect something more substantial after quite a period of textual drought, but be comforted by the fact that there is more on the way. The end of the school year has freed up my time quite substantially, and I do not plan to let all that free time go to waste.

Until next time, I leave you with something that will hopefully make you smile (it sure made my day when I found it):

Monday, March 30, 2009

Wind Waker, Fanboyism, and Growing Up

This morning, after coming back from an 8:00AM to 11:00AM class, I booted up my Wii and finished the final fight in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. I decided to play Wind Waker from start to finish not too long ago (maybe around the beginning of the month), and this morning brought an end to that journey (a journey which also ended with collecting all of the in-game Nintendo Gallery figurines – well, except for an entirely optional one that would have required a Game Boy Advance and a link cable, but I no longer have a GBA). On the surface, it is nothing really worthy of mentioning. At first glance, the fact that I beat the game may seem like merely a footnote. But this game and I have a history of love/hate, a history that could not escape my mind throughout the playthrough. This playthrough, though, seems to have changed that history. After defeating the final boss, I can once and for all say that I no longer hold enmity toward The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

Before going any further, though, it would be necessary to delve into the aforementioned history. Wind Waker was released in 2003 (according to Wikipedia), and at the time, I was a fresh-faced 13 year old. It is safe to say that, at that time, I was still in the realm of fanboyism. Namely, I was a major Legend of Zelda fanboy. Granted, I still love the series to this day, but in my 14th year (and no, that’s not a mistake), my mind was much clouded by the thick fog of “brand loyalty”. But it seems even this may require another tangent of history.

You see, like a sizeable number of Zelda fans, I met Wind Waker with a quantifiable dose of scepticism. Coming off the heels of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, entries which seemed to uphold a “realistic” approach within the limits of the N64, fans were expecting another realistic outing with the Zelda that would appear on the GameCube. This sentiment was only heightened when, in 2000, a video was shown at the now defunct Space World video game trade show in which, to show off the GameCube’s potential, a realistic Link and Ganondorf battled. The following embedded videos are of the duel in question (the first video is the 14 second clip that most people are accompanied with, but the second video, although lacking sound, is a rare look at the full length 24 second clip):

In 2001, however, the video of the true next Zelda for GameCube appeared at that year’s (and the last) Space World, and it had a much different look. The 55 second video is embedded below:

That video was an early version of Wind Waker, a game which seemed to be a complete 180 degrees in the other direction of the realistic style. Wind Waker was colourful, carefree, and adopted a very cartoonish style. Many fans were expecting realism in the next Zelda, and were thus disappointed with this early look. When the game was finally released, the feelings were still there.

Now to get back to my 13 year old self. At the time, I was still “hurt” that the Zelda game was not the realistic dream game I had hoped for. In my “pain”, I joined other disgruntled fans on the official Zelda forum, the Hyrule Town Square (I think my username there was The Unknown, maybe with an underscore between the two words). The forum, which eventually became part of the official Nintendo forums that exist today, had quite a few threads dedicated to demonizing the game, and I was a participant in them. The fervour only increased when players reached the end of the game and learned that, in the game world, the land of Hyrule – the setting of almost all Zelda games – was ultimately intentionally destroyed. This seemed like a slap in the face to the fans at the time, and I was not willing to forgive Wind Waker for it. Regardless of what image the above may paint, though, I had in fact enjoyed parts of Wind Waker, but this was the final straw, especially because it seemed to indicate that future Zelda games would no longer take place in Hyrule.

However, these disgruntled Zelda fans were greeted with quite a surprise at E3 in 2004. A 1 minute long video had been shown of a Zelda game that would not only take place in the beloved Hyrule, but also feature a realistic style that was much more in line with the video shown in 2000 at Space World. The video, which is embedded below, was an early glimpse of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess:

On its release in 2006, those once angry fans wholly embraced the “new” visual style, and the rest, as they say, is history.

To return once again to my story, at this time (at 16 years of age), I had come to forgive Wind Waker to an extent. It was not the apocalyptic end of the series and Hyrule as I had once thought, but even so, I still held some animosity toward it. It was never really founded on anything substantial, and it was thus probably just remnants from that age of loathing, but it was there.

It had remained there for all these years up until present (now 18 years old), though it had been slowly ebbing away as time went on. And then the time that was mentioned in the post’s beginning came in which I decided to play Wind Waker yet again. And like I said at the beginning of all this, I no longer feel enmity toward it. Sure, it has flaws like all games do, but when it comes down to it, it’s a great light-hearted Zelda game, still visually astounding, and actually quite groundbreaking when you think of it (Example: They decided to get rid of Hyrule. Bold move indeed). Ultimately, I had a good time playing through it again, and I would recommend giving it a go to others.

The point of all this? It seems that today, I might have grown up just a little bit. Shed a lingering piece of fanboyism, perhaps. Whatever the case, it bodes well for the future. If I encounter another game or creative piece I love/hate in the same fashion, I can merely point myself to this experience as an example.

That being said, my love/hate for Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is a different matter entirely, but that can wait for another post. =P

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Video games VS Real-world games: The limitations of the machine

There has always been a sort of disconnect between video games and real-world games (such as tabletop role playing games, board games, etc), regardless of the fact that real-world games gave birth to the video games we all know and love today. In a real-world game, regardless of multiplayer aspects or not, the game consists primarily of humans interacting with a set of rules. In a video game, not only are humans interacting with the rule set, but a computer is as well. Some may argue that the computer and the rule set are more or less the same thing, but in this writing, they will be referred to as separate entities. This distinction, while seemingly arbitrary at first, is very important in determining what exactly players can do in games. Specifically, the presence of the “computer” greatly limits what the player can do in current video games when compared to real-world games.

The very nature of video games themselves – namely that they are played on computers, regardless of whether said computer is a PC, cell phone, or console – limits the scope of what a player can do in a video game. A player can only do what the rules enforced by the computer dictate. This contrasts greatly with what a player can do in a real-world game. The human element of real-world games allows for ambiguity, imagination, and creativity. A player can think of something completely novel, present the idea to other players (or to themselves if it is a single-player game), and a decision can be made on whether to allow the idea within the rules or not. Those who are strict with real-world game rules will cite this as blasphemy, but for a large number of real-world gamers, modifying a game on the fly is not only part of playing itself, but entirely possible as the ultimate choice is made by people. Examples of this can range from the decision on whether a goal was made or not in a sport to how exactly to tackle a hairy situation in a tabletop RPG. In a real-world game, the sky is seemingly the limit.

When we examine video games in this light, however, we see the opposite. As previously stated, the computer limits what players can do. It must adhere to the rules that it is presented with, and it does not have imagination or creativity with which to modify a game on a fly. Even if a video game presented the player with tools that would allow them to modify the game as they played, the tools themselves would be limited by merely another set of rules that cannot be broken. The player in a video game cannot barter or effectively communicate with the computer to allow for real creativity as the computer is a machine. This greatly hampers not only the player’s interactions, then, but also what video game experiences are even possible to create.

At present, not much can be done to alleviate this. However, there is a hypothetical way that this video game “computer problem” could be overcome. Granted, it probably would not happen in our lifetimes, but the possibility is there. The solution I am referring to is strong artificial intelligence.

By strong artificial intelligence (AI), it should be established that I am not referring to artificial intelligence as it currently is in video games. By strong AI, I mean a computer that could think. This may be in the realm of fantasy for some, and for those, this could still be an interesting thought experiment. But for those who are confident in strong AI being created eventually (like myself), this could be a solution.

If strong AI, after its conception, was put into a video game, it would essentially replace the “computer” aspect of the video games we see today. It would act as a virtual game master of sorts that would manage the game world and rules. This would be similar to how the computer used to handle things in a video game previously, but the difference would be that the strong AI system would be able to be creative. The player could thus communicate to the AI interesting and novel ways to tackle a situation in a video game, and the AI could thus modify the game on the fly to accommodate the interesting idea (ideally, being very similar to a holodeck from Star Trek). Granted, this would require a vast amount of memory and processing power, but that’s why this scenario is hypothetical. In a toned down version of this scenario, the AI could merely act as a way to communicate realistically with NPCs and the like instead of having video game players navigate trees of pre-scripted dialogue.

Also, in any conception, strong AI in a video game would result in a slew of social and ethical problems, but that’s something to tackle in possibly another post.

As stated previously, the AI “solution” is quite a complicated and far-off way to solve the problem of the computer’s “stubbornness” in a video game. From where I sit, however, it is the only solution I see to the problem. AI would be the only way, in my mind, to allow video games to be as flexible as real-world games. Some may claim that it is not necessary for video games to have the flexibility of real-world games, but it is my opinion that players would only benefit from said flexibility. Until we solve this problem, video games and the players themselves will be limited by the machines the games are played on instead of their own imaginations, no matter how cleverly the games hide the limitations. Games do not need to extremely flexible to be worthwhile, but I can only imagine the vast amounts of fun available in a system not limited by the machine.

A man can dream…

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Procrastination, Cycles, Drive, and why I could Never be a Businessman.

Those who know me well know that I am a big fan of procrastination. Like, a BIG fan. I have the box set and everything. The posters are on my walls. I can recite the theme song by heart (including the musical notes themselves). I am the president of the fan club. HUGE fan.

Metaphors aside, I am known to procrastinate quite a bit (hell, I’m procrastinating on an assignment right now). Things that need doing that cost something (marks, money, etc) still get done in the end, though, so in that respect, all’s well. The problem with my procrastination is that it also fits into other areas of my life.

Y’see, I have great urges sometimes to create something. Whether it is a written work, a comic, a drawing, or even work on making a game of some kind, I feel the need to do it. My inspiration, however, comes at some inopportune times (in the shower, in class, trying to go to bed, when I’m out, etc). Granted, this is the case for most of humanity, but in my case, it means that things do not get done. When I get the inspiration, I tell myself that I will tackle it later when the time is right (like when I’m not in class, or after my shower, etc). The problem is that when my initial inspiration fizzles, however, it does not rear its head again when I actually do have the time to do something. When I have the time, my mind blanks, and my skills seem to fade. Since the muse is no longer with me, and since whatever I would make would be for myself and not really worth anything outside of that, I decide to go do something else instead. While doing other things BOOM, inspiration again. But again, it fizzles when I actually try to act on said inspiration. This is a cycle that has gripped me for quite a decent portion of my life, and it has led to some strange behaviours on my part.

By behaviours, I mean in relation to my emotions. When inspiration hits, it is a damn powerful force. I feel invigorated, that I can do something with myself. They say that the greats in their respective fields did what they loved just for the hell of it, and dammit, I’m gonna do it too! But when the inspiration fades and I result in nothing, I feel like shit. A waste of space. Sure, I get things done that cost me something in the end, but when it comes to creation for the sake of creation, I do not have much to show for it. That is, as much as I would like to have. I hear tales of others who enter the arts and the like who can’t do anything but what they love: kids who have written novels in their grade school years, artists who have sketchbooks filled with creative pieces. When I examine my life and find that I do not have those things, and when I notice that I lack the drive to create this things, I get down. Sure, I do other things to cheer me up, like listen to music, watch some good animations, play some games, and I eventually get out of the rut (thus leading myself to another bout of unwarranted inspiration). But it always nags in the back of my mind that I haven’t successfully acted on my inspirations. My lack of a “portfolio” of sorts gnaws on my consciousness, making me subtly uneasy. It is a cycle that drains me in one instant and invigorates me in the next. It is a cycle that I wish would cease.

Then again, I hear of artists who go through the same thing, in different respects. Some artists make what they can, but are continually convinced that what they made is shit, that they’re no good. This self-loathing in artistry is well documented, but in my case, it is underlined by the fact that I don’t even have those shitty things to lament. I make things here and there that I keep, but as previously stated, in times when I could make something, I usually don’t. As an example, I am making this blog post right now, but part of me is confident that it will be quite a while before I do anything else creative.

And I guess that’s my problem. What I should do, what I need to do is man up and do something. The main thing seems to be that, without a deadline or a cost, I choose not to do things. But I say now that I am going to actively try to change that. I will attempt to do, each day, something constructive and creative that is outside of what needs to be done (like work, school, etc). I will make something, whether it is a blog post, a drawing, something written, etc. Even if what I make is shit, I will keep it and continue. Hopefully this habit will help me break my self-injuring cycles. Ideally, I hope that this leads to me doing even more things a day just for the sake of them, and that it jogs my mind into conjuring my inspiration when it is actually needed. Ideally, this will end the feelings of utter uselessness that I feel I experience far too often.

There. Now it’s in writing. Before, I would make similar commitments, but in my mind. My mind, however, is a very malleable place. But now the text exists outside of myself. I have something to look to, something to push me on. I pray that it is enough. I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of a new age for myself. An age, dare I say it, of “magical wonder” (trademark).

Lastly, before I decide to publish this, I must mention that I could never be a businessman. My Intro to Entrepreneurship class is teaching me that. All of that work done for green (as in money, not environment), all of it revolving around green. Where did the humanity go? Where did doing things because you believed in them go? I know the way our current society works demands the dollar above all else, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way. I am not declaring a solution, and I could go into more detail in another post, but I just think it’s worth saying that, in the example of creating one’s own business, one should do it because they want to create something, not just for some green (working to avoid poverty notwithstanding).

To recap: I must do something each day for the sake of doing it. That is my new creed. May it lead me to where I wish to end up.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Change of tone, introducing of accounts.

It had been a while since I last posted, so I decided to give it a shot with this. Previously, I had been reserving myself (mainly) for thought-out “essay”-like posts (with my Watchmen and Flower posts being prime examples). While I will probably do more “essays” in the future, I have decided that I will post in a less formal matter as well. After all, a blog’s a blog. Mind you, that doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily be pouring my soul or anything, but it will mean more personalized posts from time to time. Hopefully it works out well, and hopefully it gets me to post more often.

That being said, there are some blog-keeping things I think I should bring up.

Firstly, I have changed my username here, on Blogger, to JPLC. I was previously The Unknown, and although I have been using that name in various places for years and I think of it as mine, I realized that things could get confusing. After all, I have quite a few different usernames in use in various places. Thus, I decided to go a more personal route with JPLC. The LiveJournal version of this blog is under the username jplc as well, and it’s a name I’ve been using in various other places. I think it will make things less of a headache, so that’s always good. Hopefully this change doesn’t rock anybody’s world or anything. =P

Secondly, I have set up an account on Twitter (username’s JPLC). I know it’s kind of useless to have at the moment considering you need people to follow you before you can really do anything meaningful with it, but I created an account there just in case. Everybody’s hopping on to Twitter, it seems, and I thought it would be best to get signing up over with now. If it goes south, I can always get rid of the account anyway, so that’s a plus. I have put the link to my Twitter account on the side column thing here, and on the Blogger version of this blog, it can display my 5 most recent “tweets” too. Fascinating.

Lastly, I have set up a Gamasutra account (Gamasutra uses users’ actual names for all its members). For those who are unaware, Gamasutra is a video game oriented site in which students of gaming to game developers themselves can interact. Another thing I did just in case, and since I am headed into the industry anyway, it seems prudent. Plus, there’s a game job finding helper thingie there too (some have called Gamasutra the Monster of gaming). Again, a link to the account is in the side column thing.

Also, in a completely unrelated matter, I am attempting facial hair. My ideal is a beard of some kind, but as of now, it is a ‘stache, some cheek hair, chin hair, sideburns, and neck hair. I personally don’t mind how things look at the moment, but I will have to wait until I return from living on residence to get a proper reaction from family and the like. It’s true that I could post a pic or something, but I’m deciding against that. =P

So yeah, hopefully this post leads to posting more regularly in the future.

Until next time…

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. - Who watches the watchmen?

On March 6, 2009, the film that had been in development hell for so many years was released in theatres. Referred to in some circles as an impossible film, it is now complete for public viewing. Many hold an intense interest in its existence. Being an adaptation of one of the most revered graphic novels of all time, it has an immense reputation to fulfill. The novel’s writer, after being unhappy with previous adaptations of his other works, wants no stake in the film, claiming that the work is ideally a novel, not a film. After seeing the film on opening night, I feel it is my turn, like many other fans of the graphic novel, to thus contribute an opinion. In the following, I thus discuss my feelings toward the film version of Watchmen.

For the uninitiated, I present the first official trailer that was released for the film (the song in the trailer is unfortunately not present in the film, however):

Before going any further, I must warn you that spoilers of both the film and the graphic novel are contained below. If you do not want anything ruined for you, turn back now. If you do not care, proceed. If you skip this paragraph/spoiler-warning and read said spoilers without the intention to, the fault is yours. If you want an un-spoiled final opinion, however, feel free to scroll down to the last two paragraphs.

Let us begin.

The film version of Watchmen is a tricky beast. On the one hand, it attempts to stay as close to the source material as possible with most lines and scenes being virtually identical to their graphic novel counterparts. On the other hand, however, the film cannot contain all of the source material due to time constraints as its running time is 2 hours and 42 minutes. This results in some added scenes that are meant to deliver the missing content to some extent, but in a different ways.

For example, in the graphic novel, the reader is introduced to the world of Watchmen via fictitious newspaper-clippings and book-excerpts included in-between chapters. These pages of text are not only perfect chapter-closers, but they deliver much needed back-story to the reader without breaking the novel’s flow as the clippings and the like are supposed to be actual written works from the novel’s universe. The film, being unable to present these pages of text to the audience due to the medium itself, attempts to deal with the majority of the situations via a slow-motion sequence at the film’s beginning. In the sequence, various crime-fighters from times before the events of the story itself are depicted defeating villains, taking photo opportunities with the media, and dealing with their eventual ends to their careers whether by retirement, arrest/institutionalization, or death. This sequence itself is mainly silent while music plays over top, and as mentioned before, it is meant to acquaint the viewer with the world of Watchmen. The way it is done is quite nice for those who have read the graphic novel as it shows some of the events that they only read about previously in visual detail, but for those new to Watchmen in general, it seems that these images may be more confusing than helpful. As previously stated, I am a fan of the graphic novel, and as such, I had read the novel long before the film’s release. It is thus hard to put myself in the situation of a Watchmen virgin coming to see the movie, so my assessment may be invalid, but I think it’s something worth mentioning.

There are other events besides the clippings/excerpts that have been removed as well so that the film could remain under 3 hours. Notable examples would be the Tales of the Black Freighter and the scenes involving the young man reading the comic alongside the news vendor’s stall. To be fair, Tales is being released as its own animated film on DVD separately (and it will be included in the Director’s Cut of Watchmen’s DVD release as well). Alternatively, the news vendor and said customer technically appear in the scene of New York’s destruction, but without the previous scenes, they act merely as a nod to fans as opposed to being true characters.

Speaking of New York’s destruction, the end disaster has been changed as well for the film. Instead of being a constructed “alien threat”, the film’s disaster revolves around a reactor built with Dr. Manhattan’s assistance to mimic his power. This reactor is seen by the public to be a way to generate clean energy, but Veidt uses its power to destroy major cities around the world at the film’s climax. Since the machine’s power mimics Dr. Manhattan’s power, Dr. Manhattan himself is blamed for the disaster. Due to this, the world in the film is united against Dr. Manhattan rather than the “alien threat” present in the novel. This change, in my opinion, works well for a live-action audience, and while purists may see it as unacceptable, I do not mind it as much.

What was kept intact in the film, however, is largely spot on, in my opinion. All of the actors look and act, for the most part, as one would expect live-action versions of the novel’s characters to look and act. My only real peeves in terms of the actors are the second Silk Spectre and Veidt, though. The Silk Spectre definitely looks the part, but I kept feeling that her acting was a tad subpar. Then again, I’m no actor, so I may just be nitpicking. I felt that Veidt, on the other hand, was way off. In the novel, it is supposed to be a surprise that Veidt is the enemy as he comes across as a generally upstanding citizen. In the film, it is laid on quite thickly that Veidt is the antagonist, not only by making his Ozymandias costume much darker and menacing, but by the acting itself. It could be that my previous knowledge of Veidt’s intentions sullied my ability to see Veidt as good in the film, but I doubt it. To ultimately know, I guess I would have to ask a Watchmen virgin.

After all of that “preamble”, then, it is time to give my final opinion. I feel that the film version of Watchmen is nothing to ultimately be disappointed about. I must admit that I did not enjoy it as much as I could have, but things could have been much, much worse. In that respect, the film in its current state is probably the best of all possible Watchmen film adaptations. Purists may scoff at it, but those willing to give it a chance will probably enjoy themselves. That being said, however, I am not sure how audiences unfamiliar with the graphic novel will take the film. The film does not seem to explain itself as well as the novel did. Thus, I feel the film is a good companion to the graphic novel, but as its own film, it may be a tad shallow.

Regardless of all that, go watch the Watchmen film. It’s not a waste of money, that’s for sure. And if you haven’t read the graphic novel yet, I hope that all the buzz surrounding Watchmen has inspired you to do so. If you think you’d like Watchmen, then you’d probably love the graphic novel. Alternatively, if the Watchmen film does not seem like it would tickle your fancy, then the graphic novel just might be the thing for you; you may be a Watchmen purist without even knowing it!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Flowing flying fun found in Flower

Very few PS3 games successfully make use of the SIXAXIS motion-sensing functionality. In most games it makes appearances in, it seems tacked on and arbitrary, as if it were an afterthought (grenade throwing in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, I’m looking at you). Even odder is the fact that some games designed specifically to use the functionality don’t perform very well (the Lair fiasco being the prime example). With all of these bad examples, one might think that the SIXAXIS is thus a lost cause, a failed attempt at being a Wii remote clone. Thankfully, thatgamecompany, like they did with flOw, demonstrates in their newest outing that the functionality can in fact be implemented properly if care is taken. The game, Flower, not only successfully utilizes the SIXAXIS motion-sensing capabilities, but makes it quite fun as well.

An official trailer for the uninitiated (the music in the trailer is not in the game, though):

Flower is a simple game with a simple – albeit somewhat strange – concept. Each level of the game is a “dream” of a flower on a windowsill in an unidentified metropolis. In each dream, you control the wind in a field by tilting the SIXAXIS (or DualShock 3, if that’s more your thing) and collect flower petals by flying over closed flowers. When you fly over a closed flower, it will bloom and the collected petal becomes part of a cloud of petals that are continually carried in the wind you control. Additionally, any button on the controller (not including the PS Button, Select, or Start) will cause the wind to speed up, allowing you to cross great distances with ease. The more flowers you cause to bloom, the more colour and life you restore to the world, thus causing more flowers to sprout and previously inaccessible areas to open. All of this is accompanied by soothing music consisting of violins, guitars, piano, flutes, and other woodwinds. Additionally, when a flower blooms, it will emit a note of one of the instruments, thus making the gameplay a hint more musical (and for those using a DualShock 3, the accompanying rumble for each blooming flower is quite satisfying).

This simplicity may not be for all gamers, but for those willing to give it a chance, they will discover a treat: successful use of the SIXAXIS. Control of the wind is something that becomes intuitive merely minutes after playing, and using the PS3’s analog buttons to control wind-speed is quite useful – that is if you’re using the right button (I found R2 to be the best choice as I felt its trigger-like nature allowed me to easily control the intensity of the wind, but I’ve heard that an analog stick can have the same desired outcome). Manoeuvring via tilt is a tad “floaty”, but just enough that it feels like a natural part of being the wind. I had immense fun looping around the levels, zig-zagging this way and that, and turning around in mid-flight just to appreciate the massive cloud of colourful petals I had accumulated.

The mechanic, being as well crafted as it is, almost seems wasted in Flower, though. Don’t get me wrong, I loved flying about as if I were some kind of happy-go-lucky wind spirit, and I do not regret my time with Flower, but the mechanic feels like it could go even further. Maybe not to be used for precise flight in an aerial combat type of game, but I could easily envision it being used in some kind of travel mechanism. Maybe in a Zelda type game, for example, for the player to advance over large stretches of game space easily, they could activate a levitation ability that would function in the same way as Flower’s wind control (maybe even controlling the wind itself to lift the protagonist). The beauty of it would be that only one button would be needed for wind speed control (again, I recommend a trigger type button like R2 or L2, but a customizable button scheme would be best). After that, flight control is controlled by tilt, and thus all of the other buttons and analog sticks can be used for other means. This could result in flight combat and the like, or even just being able to use required items and abilities during flight. This flight could also allow for intricate vertical environments to explore as well. Granted, this whole idea is nothing new, but flight is done so well in Flower that I can’t help but think of it being adapted to other genres.

I suppose what I’m really getting at is that flight in Flower was fun, and I wouldn’t mind doing it again. Whether this is via the same mechanic in a new game or some kind of additional Flower levels via DLC (hopefully thatgamecompany hears me on this one), I would be highly interested to play some more. I know I could always just boot up the game and play again, but something new is always exciting. Flower itself may have been the perfect length for what it was, but it’s no where near time to close the curtain on its flight mechanic.

The short version: if you have a PS3, play Flower. Some inexpensive carefree flight may just do you some good.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Writer's Block: Jackpot

(In my previous posts, I mentioned that these blogs would be identical except for the odd chance that there would be unique content for each blog. This almost became unique LiveJournal content, but I decided to share. On LiveJournal, there is a feature called “Writer’s Block” where someone posts a question to jog people’s minds and have them answer. The question itself is below in quotes, and my answer below that. To see answers others have posted, just follow the “view other answers” link. Enjoy!)

“If you won the lottery, what would you do with your newfound riches?

Submitted By [info]kimbereli09

View other answers

My Answer:
I won the lottery? But I didn't even enter... And now I have all this "money" in my name...
Someone's obviously trying to dump dirty money on me, to get rid of it before the cops stumble upon it. Or maybe I'm being framed? But for what? And why me?
I gotta figure this out fast before the media gets a hold of this. They'll come to congratulate me on my winnings, give me a hand shake, and basically paint a bulls-eye on me. This money came from nowhere, and I'll be damned if I trust any of this.
Fine, if fate's gonna throw me this curveball, I'll hit it out of the park. I'll take the money, but I won't be defenseless either. I guess it's just time to do what's right.
It's time to become Batman.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mulling over things in two places at once

Before I start up this blog good and proper by giving a post about a topic of my interest, I would like to inform you, the reader, about an intriguing new development. Well, I understand that “intriguing” can be a subjective term, but hear me out, ok?

This blog – Mulling Over The Multiverse – can now be read on two separate websites! It’s true! You can read it and comment on it here on Blogger, or you can hop on over to LiveJournal if that’s more of your thing. For those interested in making the jump, the URL is . I will still be Joseph Cassano in both places, of course, and my username in the LiveJournal version is: jplc.

Why would I do this, you ask? It just so happens that I have quite a few blogs that I frequent on both sites. As such, I thought it’d be easier for me to have accounts in both places so that I wouldn’t have to forcefully point any would-be readers I meet on either site to a different site. Of course I still supply the option for would-be readers to make a jump to my other blog-site-location-amajig, but now they’re not ultimately required to.

Finally, just to be clear, ideally both blogs in both locations are to be more or less the same. There may be some minor differences (such as usernames being different for each site), and there may be unique things on each site if certain situations call for it, but in the end, it is negligible. This whole mirror-blog venture was started for the convenience of any readers, so I do not aim to defeat the whole purpose by having drastically different content on the different sites. K?

So, to conclude, you can now read this blog both here and at LiveJournal. I’ll keep this tidbit of info and any relevant URLs handy in the Blog Description section on the right, so don’t worry about having to hunt down this post in the future.

(For anyone who cares, this post was posted on both sites in more or less the same form by using Windows Live Writer. I’m testing it out as a blog writing tool, and so far, it does not disappoint. Give it a look if you are having double-blog-posting-woes. Maybe it will help?)

Friday, February 6, 2009

The obligatory introductory post

Hello and welcome, one and all, to Mulling Over The Multiverse – which you could also refer to as, if you so choose, “MOTM”, “Multiverse”, “The ‘Verse”, or “The Blog By That Crazy Guy Who I Am Avoiding Eye Contact With”. I am your host, Joseph Cassano (although my Blogger username is JPLC). Sit down, take a load off. Relax. Shall I take your coat? Would you like a beverage? No? Well then, if you are fine and comfortable, let us begin.

Now first, I should probably reveal a bit more of myself, just so we can all be on the same page (relatively). I am, as I said before, Joseph Cassano. I am an 18 year old male Canadian who is attempting to achieve an education in game design in my post-secondary studies. As that probably indicates, I am a big gamer. I was born and raised on consoles (my first system that I can remember, in fact, was a SNES, though I have played the NES in my day). I may not be a big PC gamer as I do not find the interface (keyboard and mouse) to be intuitive for me in terms of gaming, but I have a great respect for the PC gaming scene. My current gaming hardware thus consists of a PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo DS, and sometimes my cell phone. I hold no special allegiance to any one brand (I shed whatever fanboy-ism I had long ago), but I am more knowledgeable of Nintendo’s and Sony’s efforts over Microsoft’s for the mere fact that the only Xbox 360 I actively used was my brother’s. For the sake of conversation, my favourite game is Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance, but I have a wide assortment of games that I can easily say I love. Alternatively, I have games that I enjoy in nearly every genre, but if I had to choose favourite genres, I would have to say RPG (mainly JRPG), Action, and Action Adventure. It is safe to say that games are thus a big part of my life.

Games, however, are not all I am interested in. I am a big fan of animation of all kinds, but I tend to lean more towards anime as it is much easier to find works that take themselves seriously in anime than in North American animation (my knowledge of the animation scenes in Europe and the like is sorely lacking). That does not mean I do not have any Western animations that I love, however. Examples of animated efforts that I adore, regardless of where they were made, are Studio Ghibli works (My Neighbor Totoro, Whisper of the Heart, Howl’s Moving Castle, etc); Pixar works (WALL-E, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, etc); Satoshi Kon works (Paranoia Agent, Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika, etc); Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion; Shoji Kawamori’s The Vision of Escaflowne and Macross Plus; Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant, and many more. I also try to keep an eye out for interesting web-based animations, and to that end, I am a frequenter of and YouTube. Yes, animation, like gaming, is a big part of my life.

But that’s not all! I also love philosophy (though, admittedly, my knowledge of the various fields is limited), fiction, non-fiction, music, reading, writing, the Internet, life, the universe, and everything!

I have a wide range of interests, and this blog will thus be about all of them. Granted, I may tend to write more about one area than others, but I am letting you know that there is no distinct “theme” to this place. This is a place for me to reflect on my interests, no matter what they may be. So, if you, the reader, are willing, I invite you to stay a while. This place will have no strict schedule or anything, but I would be honoured if you gave it a chance. Do not think of this as “good-bye”, then, but more as “see you later”.

And so it begins…