The Limitations of Our Medium

This idea has been rattling around in my head for quite some time, and so I will attempt to be clear about what points I am (and, maybe more importantly, am NOT) trying to make.

My recent play through of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword [a masterpiece, albeit flawed (NOT the point of this post)] brought this question back to the forefront of my mind... Specifically, what are the limitations of the video game medium? On this point I want to be clear: I am NOT trying to decide if video games are art. But every medium has limitations, and I think, in order to make something truly great within it, you must have an understanding of what they are.

My position is that video games are inherently limited in terms of narrative or story. Now, I really loved the story in Skyward Sword, and I feel it is integral to the enjoyment of the game entire. Further, I believe that the story in Skyward Sword could not have been told better in any other medium. On the other hand, can the same be said of a game like Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception? Here is a story that's been done better in film, namely Indiana Jones. Without a doubt, Uncharted 3 does an admirable (probably the best) job of emulating film narrative, but folks - lets really be honest here - it's still an emulation.

Not unlike many movie posters I've seen...

I do not want to pick on Uncharted 3 as I really enjoyed my time with the game, and there are many worse offenders. But it's precisely the fact that Uncharted 3 is a good emulation that proves the point better than highlighting a bad one (a la Battlefield 3's campaign).

I think there is a child in all of us that wants to be the star of our own blockbuster. These emulations have effectively granted us those wishes. Is it all we hoped it would be? Here's a better question: What are the limitations of film? Here's one: most films are roughly 2 hours long. Do you really want to be the star of a 10+ hour blockbuster? These are important questions.

Portal 2 is a perfect example of a video game which plays to the strengths, and avoids the limitations of it's medium. Is there another medium which could even present that narrative coherently? There is nuance in this medium which can be used as an AMAZING narrative tool. Take, for instance, the thrill of uncovering a story thread in Skyrim just by stumbling over a cave or discovering some new location, or finding a wandering behemoth in Shadow Of The Colossus. These are moments which are unique to video games, and validate the medium. This is a double edge sword however, because emulations don't validate the medium; they may actually invalidate it.

Validating the medium, one alternate universe underwater new years celebration at a time.

In conclusion, I believe there is a place for video games as art, but it does not continue by emulating other forms. As the industry matures I hope that more developers will understand the limitations of the medium and use it as an advantage. (CHEESY) It is here where you can feel and actually believe you are writing your own narrative; and that is a powerful source for art.

Anyway, comments welcome! Goodnight, Giantbomb!

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Yet Another Skyrim Blog: Initial Thoughts

High Fantasy is not my thing, LONG games are not my thing, and the last time I've read a "book" inside a game was Myst (I was 12). I have been surprised at myself lately. For some as yet undefined reason, I am sucking up the world, lore, and length of Bethesda's new Elder Scrolls title, Skyrim (maybe you've heard of it). Simply put, Skyrim is retraining me as a gamer.

I am trying to define what Skyrim has that other games (Dragon Age for instance) don't, and I think it basically comes down to unpredictability. Bethesda has struck an incredible balance between cohesion and surprise with the lore in Skyrim. One of my major qualms with most High Fantasy is that, in trying to be true to a world, they often seem to be wound too tight, and inevitably become unable to surprise the consumer. Skyrim has (in my mere 11 hrs of gameplay) surprised me many times. Almost every quest/dungeon/location resolves itself in a completely unpredictable way. Magnifying this stellar balance is the fact that, for almost every scrap collected, room explored, book read, and person conversed with, you're character is rewarded.

It's a lovely game that rewards you for making your own decisions and satisfying your curiosity, rather than making you fit into a certain path. If there's a bad way to play Skyrim, it is to quest tirelessly through the main story... I am enjoying NOT doing that immensely.

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Why Mass Effect 2 Is Not Amazing

There's no denying that Mass Effect 2 is universally acclaimed, and I can seriously see why. The game has high production values, excellent dialogue, and a good combat system. The game earned a number of GOTY awards and is considered by many to be in the upper echelon of games for this generation. 

Look closely... why would you need to airbrush CGI characters? Cause the game sux maybe???

 

I, however, have struggled with this game since I beat it last year. I can see that it is good, but I fail to see why it is GREAT. Mass Effect 2 is so many things, and I believe it succeeds only marginally in any of them. As a TPS it is a little stale, as a RPG it is shallow, and as an adventure it is fairly predictable. So, while I enjoyed the game, Mass Effect 2 always seemed to be "watered down" for my tastes. One of my biggest qualms with the game is it's narrow locations. It feels like a theme-park ride, where you are "pushed through" from point to point, accomplish a task and get pushed through to the next point. In stark contrast to Mass Effect 2 is the Metal Gear Solid franchise, wherein every problem allows for multiple solutions.

 
Granted, some of my complaints are grounded in my personal preference: I am increasingly bored with games that "guide" me, and Mass Effect 2's branching storylines and conversation trees only serve to highlight the dissapointingly linear combat. Perhaps a deeper customization system would've helped, or implementing some stealth combat, or larger venues for combat with many possible paths to take. We are given many choices in the game, but as a gamer I want those choices to be in gameplay FIRST, then in narrative.


I may be alone in this, but Mass Effect 2 was not a revelation, nor a truely great game. It is a good game presented very well. 
 

Now please tell me how wrong I am below... and I will attempt to defend myself.

This character is the best part about the whole game... and he's green...

 

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Persona 4 kicks ass


I just want to shout it from the rooftops! Persona 4 Kisks some serious ass... Yeah i know there's like no savepoints and other annoying things, but the presentation and combat are so infectious so unique so awesome... there's no way to ignore it!!

 

 
It's a game you'll want to master... and you will need to master to get through it. It's old and new school in a perfect marriage. 
 
GO ON, TELL ME I'M WRONG!!
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Most Unique Games (any system)

Not sure how many people agree with this, but one of the prime factors that influence me purchacing a game or not, is how unique it is... 

I get tired of repetative gameplay mechanics, unimaginative artstyles, and cliched storylines. 

To that end, what are some unique (and hopefully playable) games that you feel are worth a mention? (ON ANY SYSTEM)

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Nintendon't Anymore: & Why I'm Sad.


Recently I've put together a home arcade complete with a nice front loader and plenty of emulators. It's funny, with thousands and thousands of games to choose from over multiple platforms the only games I play for more than 5 minutes are the one's developed by Nintendo.

Sewww Geeeeewwdd...

 

See, I am an ex-Nintendo fan boy. I loved Nintendo for years, stuck with them through the Gamecube, but ultimately fell during the current generation. However, all this nostalgic revelry leads me to a terrible conclusion: Nintendo has fallen... hard, and I'm not sure if they'll ever be able to get up. There was a time that many of us can remember when Nintendo developed software set the standard for the rest of the videogame industry. Nintendo's current MO, however, seams content with pushing out rehashed titles onto their consumers, while spending the majority of their time developing hardware peripherals in lieu of actual creativity.

The root cause of this, in my opinion, is Nintendo’s inability to borrow ideas. I’ve been trying to pinpoint when Nintendo first took this unfortunate turn, and I think it began during the N64.

Nintendo refused to embrace CD tech and Sony successfully etched itself a corner of the market in part, by being able to include space hogging features such as full-motion video and large amounts of digital audio in their titles. This trend continued on in the next generation, when Nintendo failed to embrace DVD tech (it’s crazy that even in the current gen, you still can’t play DVDs on a Nintendo). The trend continues in the WII; Nintendo refuses to encourage any type of online community or deep online functionality on the system or in its software.  

Now, the truth is that along the way Nintendo has made some great games (Pikmin, Wind Waker, Super Mario Galaxy), but while these games are great, they are not setting any trends. Also, the limited selection of Nintendo developed games is not enough to carry the platform and refusal to embrace other ideas and technologies has significantly hurt their relationships with other developers.

I wish the Wii failed, because its success is really just enabling Nintendo to make the same mistakes all over again.

Is this thing going to put Nintendo back on track?? (hint: no)

 

Basically, I want to be won back, I want something more from Nintendo as a gamer… but let’s just accept this fact together: it will never happen. Goodnight Nintendo, and Good Luck.

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Favorite N64 game?


just bought a "new" controller and an expansion pak  for my n64 and bustin out the classics.Majora's Mask is maybe my favorite... which is of course blashphemy  but I don't really care its a beautiful game.

 

Perfect dark is still loads of fun, and conker's is still funny. What's your favorite, and WHY?

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A Slow Burn: thoughts on Metal Gear Solid 4


Back in 1999 on a friends playstation I had my first experience with Metal Gear Solid. Even at 14 years of age, I recall being very impressed with the atmosphere of the game, and further amazing that the entire narrative took place over the span of one evening. I remember thinking that those ideas seemed to have no place in the video game industry, but here was proof otherwise. Hideo Kojima had made his mark on the video game industry.

Now, I'll be frank, I did not play another entry in the metal gear franchise until MGS4, but thanks to reviews and screenshots I was excited for it regardless.

My first playthrough of the game left me dissapointed.

I'm not sure why I was so underwhelmed by the game. Perhaps I was expecting something more western? Or something with less cutscenes? Regardless of why, I just didn't get it, but even if I didn't realize it, the slow burn had already begun.

To this day, MGS4 is the only current-gen game I've played through more than once, and I've play it 4 times.... all the way through. It is a strange thing, there are significant aspects of the game I don't enjoy (e.g. the cutscenes/story, the sneaking mission in europe), but the slow burn is a large fire now, and I am addicted to the game. I think I've narrowed the reasoning for this addiction to gameplay, but that somehow doesn't seem complete. I feel a slight euphoria whenever I think about the gecko or the camosuit, and I don't think I would be drawn to the game as much if they were absent. The opening section of Act 2 in south america is of particular significance to me; the wealth of options in that camp alone is really amazing. And while I never really enjoy weapons customization, I do it religiously in MGS4. I've searched every body, found every secret, and played through each section with multiple different tactics.

MGS4 is the perfect balance of everything that makes games great, and I think that's what makes me keep coming back. I don't understand the story (the whole meme, gene, scene thing confuses me), and there are a few design decisions that baffle me, but there is a phenominal game here and I keep finding it.    Kojima has once again made his mark on the industry...

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No Pleasure Junkies allowed: my thoughts on GTA IV.


Coming up on three yeast since GTA IV was released, and folks.... this game is still the most relevant, deep, and satisfying game world ever created.

RELEVENT: Since GTA III, this franchise has always been about pinpointing the feeling of an era while remaining current and relevent. GTA IV is more so than ever. Liberty City, like all American cities, is a post 9/11 world. There is obvious parody which is fine, and other games do parody, but GTA IV does the best kind of parody, it innundates you with an entire world of quality parody. Of course, the usually radio system is in full form, but the addition of television and internet systems add multiple outlets for Rockstars parody of a perfect pitch. There is no more relevent game in the market today than GTA IV.

DEEP: GTA San Andreas was an amazing game in its own right, but Rockstar took a different approach to GTA IV. Instead expanding the game world further, they shrunk it, and made it deaper. There are elements of GTA III in almost every game made today; not just in open-world games either. If Super Mario 64 showed developers how to use the 3rd demension, GTA III showed them how to make living 3d environments. Rockstar has taken the next natural step with GTA IV and created an imperfect & lived-in 3d world. When you drive through the world you will eather, 1) Take it for granted, or 2) be in awe of it's complexity and functionality.

SATISFYING: PLEASE do not overlook the world of GTA IV by trying to make it through the story. If you do that you are missing the point and should be playing Gears of War or a similar such game. Instead, take your time with it, play slowly, make friends, watch some tv, go to a show, get drunk... Listen, if you play GTA IV like a game, you will completely miss it's greatest strengths. If, however, you try your best to live in Liberty City for a while, you will see how astonishing this game really is, which is soooo satisfying.

In conclusion... do not play this game if you are an impatient pleasure junkie who prefers firey explosions (even though the firey explosions are great) to creative explosions. GTA IV is a creative explosion. If you grew up in the era < or = to n64, this game is a revelation on the scale of Ocarina of Time. Live in it and enjoy! Thanks for listening.      

62 Comments

Working Toilets: Thoughts on the videogame DENSITY trend


I can shoot my rifle, and my gun

"Hey the toilet works!" is what my brother yelled across the house after playing through about a half hour of Duke Nukem 3D. I ran down the stairs, through the living room, and into the computer room in spectacled disbelief only to find that yes, indeed (and against all odds) the toilet worked!  That was 1997. 
 
In winter 2002, I had another one of these "working toilet" moments. After landing on Talon IV in Metroid Prime, noticed it was raining, I looked up. Beeds of water formed on Samus' visor. "That was a nice touch," i said aloud (to myself).
 
A couple years ago I played through Gears of War on my PC. I had another moment: there was a section of wall (in a war torn city of course) where the drywall was gone and you could see the plumbing through the wall! I just stood and stared at it for a while. 
 

Last week, a little late of course, I started playing through GTA IV on my PS3. I had like 5 working toilet moments in the space of a couple hours! Holy shit, the rail system works? Holy shit, there's an in game internet? Holy shit, I've been watching tv for like 20 minutes in this game! I watched a fender bender, and the two parties got out and exchanged information!

With realistic grime generation technology



 
There is no question about it, videogame worlds are becoming denser, and while some developers decide to focus on bigger explosions or prettier textures; to me, DENSITY is king. It's these moments in games that really hit me, when I realize that the best years of gaming are actually ahead of us, not behind. When a developer takes the time and care to make the game world work, I get a good feeling about the future of videogames.  
 
 
 
 
I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's awesome that the videogame industry is still an industry that cares enough to make the toilets work.

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