Monday, May 24, 2010

Is Video Gaming on a Downhill in My Life?

I enjoy gaming. No, I used to enjoy gaming.

If you know me, this is not a small matter--I spend 90% of my free time away from work playing and exploring various video games. Even at work, I spend my down time reading up on video game news, blogs, and such. You can pretty much say that I use 90% of my time awake in something related to video games. I used to be so happy to hold a controller in my hand and divulge in the action filled virtual space and act as a hero or a soldier.

However, starting some time ago, I noticed I'm enjoying video games less and less with each title I complete. Each new game I put into the game console, I enjoy less than the previous game. This phenomenon started with Modern Warfare. You can think of it as a peak of my gaming experience; it's been downhill ever since.

Below is a sample of triple-A titles I've played after Modern Warfare:

  • Dragon Age: Origins: vast, hardly interesting--feels like an exact copy of the Lord of the Ring--lore to explore, with hard-to-immerse presentation, and greatly time-consuming
  • Modern Warfare 2: great action with fantastic presentation and immersion, that ends up as a trashy Hollywood action film, and thus, a great disappointment
  • Mass Effect 2: fun action, great presentation (minus actors), with a really terrible story (and wasn't the story the focal point of this game?)
  • Grand Theft Auto IV: very enjoyable scenes (so far) that are interrupted with game parts that's not that enjoyable and breaks immersion
  • Fable 2: are you joking?

You see, for a topic worthy of a seperate post, I'm looking for some valuable and relevant experience out of video games that I can learn from to become a better human being. But all those games above? Hardly.

Is it that I am "growing out" of games? Or is game as a medium not capable of delivering what I'm looking for--meaningful and relevant experience? Whatever the reason, I feel as if I'm maturing faster than game industry, which, in my mind, is going a totally wrong direction of trying to mimic other and inappropriate medium.

Let's see what the industry has for me in the upcoming E3.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Real Question (and Answer)

In response to Christopher Totten's Gamasutra blog post, "Roger Ebert: Hero of Videogame Discourse?":

While I agree that Ebert's challenge ultimately will be beneficial to games, I disagree with the angle this essay approaches it.

When you started applying how games can be considered as social artifacts that reflects the society we live in, I must argue that virtually anything people create today can be considered just that. It's nothing unique to games.

But I think we're missing the point here.

Agreeing with Max Bowman, I think the real question is not if game is art, but if it can achieve enough artistic value to be accepted as a valuable asset to our society, and to humanity at large. I think Ebert was also asking this when he initially brought it up--he compares it to other works that he considers to have more "value." Even when he declares that games can never be art, he doesn't say game != art, but rather, people will never create a game with enough artistic value.

I know that people are actually arguing that games can achieve this status when they say that game is art. And I do agree with them, however, I do not agree with the reasons: Shadow of Colossus or Ico or a few other pop video games.

Today's games share one and only goal: to reach point B. The winning condition is to see the end of a story. Gameplay is used to make that travel from point A to B interesting, to immerse players into those elaborate, virtual worlds. At the point B, some event occurs, then again, a new point B is revealed. Player starts trotting down the path again. If delivering story is the focus, then game is not the best medium to use. Shadow of Colossus or Ico is all good, but the thing is, it still falls short--very short--of taking full advantage of what is unique to games.

Instead, I think Brenda Brathwaite got it right. Goals and rules (not mere game mechanics) are the swords and spears of games. They're what's unique about the games, and should be utilized to create unique experiences. Her games, Train and Middle Passage, does just that. The experiences you get while playing those games, are quite unlike anything else. Playing Middle Passage is nothing like watching Amistad, for example.

I think devs really should start thinking about not small machanics to make pulling that trigger feel good, but rather a bigger picture of the meaning of each and every rules and goals. All the techniques at how to utilize these in creative ways will, in my opinion, form games own language and ultimately grant games more artistic values that we are hungry for.

UPDATE: The author of the post responded to my comments. My response to his is also attached.

@Peter Park: I would argue against the goal of games simply being "to reach point B." Maybe in a game such as "Final Fantasy XIII" or some FPS's where the game is a long winding tunnel, but there are many more games where the journey can provide a wonderful aesthetic experience or allow for deep reflection. I, despite your arguments to the contrary, would cite Shadow of the Colossus as one (am I actually doing evil by killing the colossi?), as I would many of the Super Mario games (the aesthetic of a beautiful cartoon world/galaxy and the joy of movement.) I can understand your frustration and belief that the "A to B" system is where the meat of many games are, but I think you're underestimating the point of many of those mechanics in the middle. Braid is a good example of a game where you must take an avatar from a starting point to reach a goal (a puzzle piece), but I would say that the mechanics of reversing time and other time-manipulation tricks are what make the game a rich experience. Ultimately, when the player does reach the "ultimate B", the end of the game where the true nature of his relationship with the princess is revealed, the game's time manipulation mechanics are revealed to be a part of a much broader and richer theme. Do all games use their mechanics in an artistically meaningful way? Of course not. But that doesn't mean that there are no pieces of art to be found in pop games.

@Christopher Totten: You say that the point of video games may lie within the journey between point A and B. I don't disagree completely. However, saying that is, IMHO, same as taking a book, and trying to make the book look aesthetically pleasing, like monks did in Medieval Age where they wrote a same book over and over while trying to make each letter as beautifully as possible. The work can be appreciated as artistry in writing skills, but it misses the point of writing a book: communication.

The gameplay between point A to B can be masterfully done, as it has in Super Mario Galaxy (to come to light, I've yet to play this game. But I have no doubt that it is fun... I do plan on playing this some time in future). However, my argument is that game as a medium can be used to do so much more than making pushing A button fun, just as a book can do much more than be a display of scribing skill.

For Braid, while it was indeed an exciting revelation at the end, I think the movie Memento was infinitely better implementation of backward progression of story and that "oh-shit" moment to put an exclamation point at the end. Even for Shadow of Colossus, I strongly believe that it could be a better experience were some master studios like Studio IG to create Original Video Animation of it.

My point is that there are other mediums to do a singular, uni-directional narrative experience better than an interactive medium can do. To really realize the full potential of game, I believe we should focus on the system itself than just game mechanics or telling stories.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wait, Haven't I Played This Already?

"Thank you sir, may I have another?" by Micheal Abbot, The Brainy Gamer

So, for the past few days, I've been mesmerized by all those sweet, sweet trailers and gameplay footages of exciting and adrenaline pumping action filled games shown at E3 2009. I guess this is precisely why I failed to really understand why I responded to each of big press conferences in the way I did. When I read the post I've linked above, it hit me: Everything shown here at E3 is pretty much the same thing I've enjoyed so far.

As Micheal puts, "[i]t's pretty much one male power fantasy game after another (featuring, by the way, powerful white guys presented on stage by loquacious white guys to an audience of mostly white guys.) Awe-inspiring technology aside, it's hard to see where the progress is." High-powered action FPS? Check. Brutal stealth game? Check. Cool cars? Check. How about meaningful, touching, and deep drama that reveals something about ourselves? Um.... not check.

As you can see, the line up of titles at the conferences tell what kind of audience they had in each hall: as Micheal quotes Heather Chaplin's rant at GDC, "[they] aren’t men. [They] are stunted adolescents." And thus, each companies showcased toys that'd make them go awe and yay about.

When I finished Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, I was truly satisfied; it was the pinnacle of what today's video game experience can bring about. However, it was released already two year ago, and I moved on. I want to see something different now. But Moden Warfare 2 demo, while intriguing, didn't seem like a full sequel; with same gameplay mechanics, it was more of an expansion pack.

The change I want is not here.. ..yet, I hope.

Sony... Well...?

So, E3 is officially underway, and Microsoft, Sony, and the Big N have had their two-hour-long press conferences. Nintendo held the same old presser with numbers, show-and-tell's, and some announcements; nothing that exciting for me here, not that I expected much out of it. Microsoft--my console creator, and thus, where my obligatory alligence lies (I kid)--pumped my adrenaline and left me happy and excited for contributing a chunk of my money to its big, fat bank account for it to get fatter. But Sony? For someone who wanted to be blown away by their vision, see a crazy dogfight between it and other companies with new and exciting titles, I must say I came out very disturbed. Disturbed because I wasn't excited at all.

Sure, they did announce next next Final Fantasy title, Final Fantasy XIV, but as soon as the word "Online" was shown, I stopped caring. (I am not about to start caring for any other MMOG than upcoming The Secret World.) They also showed many huge titles, like Assassin's Creed 2, God of War III, Final Fantasy XIII, and so on, but nothing really blew my mind away. Well, except The Last Guardian.

But none of these were new, nor that intriguing.

AC2's gameplay was marginally better than the first. Sure they showed various things to do, but I think guys at Ubisoft Montreal got a wrong idea of what players actually want: variety of quests to do, not more gimicks and tricks.

God of War III also showed pretty much the same gameplay as the two previous games: chained blade action, check. Brutal finishers, check. Huge and action filled backgroud, check. So, what's new? Just better graphics, I guess.

And Final Fantasy XIII? SquareEnix has been teasing the game for like eternity that I feel like I've already played that game.

I guess I consider Sony to be the one to evolve the industry with its support to artistic games, more innovative narrative games, and so on. If they had shown Heavy Rain, or some more titles like that, I'd probably have rated this presser much, much higher than Microsoft's. But well, Sony thought they needed to mimic others, and so, they failed to impress me.

My score for Sony: C-.

Games shown at Sony's E3 2009 Press Conference that I care about:

  • God of War III
  • The Last Guardian
  • Final Fantasy XIII
  • Final Fantasy XIV Online
  • MAG
  • Assassin's Creed 2
  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
  • Gran Tourismo 5

Monday, June 1, 2009

Aaaaaaand Microsoft Hits BIG!!!

Image from Kotaku

And just like that, Microsoft Press Conference has come and gone. (You can view the full video here.)

Thanks to the conference and ever so thankful live streaming services (especially, today's productivity at work has been utterly pathetic--The whole thing was two-full-hours long!

The conference had Splinter Cell: Conviction, Modern Warfare 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Forza Motorsport 3, working demo of Final Fantasy XIII (and it's surprisingly early release window, Spring 2010), and... Hideo Kojima's appearance and the introduction of a brand new title, Metal Gear Rising! (If you thought Raiden looked awesome in MGS 4, you're gonna love this--it's a whole seperate title with him as the main character!)

There were many, many more announcements and videos and demos, and my head's just mesmerized with all those goodies right now. My response to the conference is basically written out at Gamasutra.

PS. Today isn't exactly E3; it's pre-E3 conferences with E3 starting on Wednesday. Still, I can already tell, it's going to be a hell of a fun week. Now, I have to make sure I do get some work done...

EDIT: Games shown at Microsoft Press Conference @ E3 2009 (that I care about):

  • Modern Warfare 2
  • Final Fantasy XIII
  • Shadow Complex
  • Crackdown 2
  • Left 4 Dead 2
  • Splinter Cell: Conviction (!!!)
  • Forza Motorsport 3
  • Halo 3: ODST
  • Halo Reach
  • Alan Wake
  • Metal Gear Solid: Rising
  • Possible future title by Steven Spielberg...?

Non-Game features shown at the conference that I care about:

  • Project Natal (mo-cap feature add-on for Xbox360)
  • Nilo (Lionhead's Virtual Intelligence boy)
  • Netflix sharing
  • Facebook extension
  • Tweeter(!)

E3 2009 Is Here!

E3 2009 has finally arrived at LA Convention Center, and in about 2 hours, the highly anticipated Microsoft Press Conference will begin. (You can watch web streaming via Gamespot HERE.)

With two years (or was it just one year?) of scaled-down, or rather, dumbed-down show, this year's E3 is said to be the return to the former, glorious show with large show floors, extravagant booths, and, of course, booth babes.

E3 is the time when big players in vido game industry make numerous announcements of coming products and services, it is an exciting event.

And as a Xbox360 owner, I am psyched about Microsoft's press conference and what they have up in their sleeve!

How about you? Are you excited??

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Finally, An Emotionally Attachable Game

Game developers have long been, and still are, cracking their head to come up with a game that will have a big emotional impact on players, something that will make your heart pump a bit faster, sweat a little, and.. oh, bring tears to your eyes. But if you think a bit harder, there are some titles that have already achieved all this, and the next title from Japan's acclaimed developer of ICO looks like it's going to be the next to do this.

And the game is Project Trico, which is probably a temporary name. The game features a little boy and a mythical, giant animal who seems to be fond of the boy, and follows around and helps the boy navigating in ancient looking platforms and structures.

Watch the trailer HERE.

While watching the trailer, I immediately realized that these people hit the nail on the head of the whole "emotional game" thing. By creating a meaningful interaction between the player character and the adorable friend (san the tail... ew), the developer can pretty much embew the game with any emotional effect it wants using these two characters.

The key, I think, is to create a believable animal, a sentient being outside the player's control, that player can become attached to. Surely, this is easier said than done, however, there has been some games(?) that were able to achieve this: Tamagotchi and, more appropriately, Nintendogs. These titles brought about relevant emotional attachments from players to these virtual beings very strongly. (While I make this sound like I know it all, I haven't played the latter title, nor spent too much time on the earlier. So, take my words with a grain of salt.)

I've long thought that the next step for games to become a relevant artistic medium is to somehow involve one or more animals and create a chain of interactions between player and the animal that would result in a story-like experience. Project Trico seems like it's geared to achieve just that.* It is very heartwarming to finally see a game that has potential to advance the medium as a whole, and show the world games' hidden potential.

But then again, I may be setting myself up for a huge disappointment. But we'll see.

*Fable II and its dog could have been the title to achieve this. However, it failed miserably because the game simply isn't about the relationship between the dog and player. So, they completely missed the perfect opportunity to exploit and become a hallmark of modern gaming.