Monday, March 30, 2009
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
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
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
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
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
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.