Is Video Games Making us Stupid? [Look at Games 1]

Is video games really making us stupid? Are their subliminal butchery seeping into our already government zapped brains?

Or are they harmless to anyone remotely resembling a normal human being, and helping us forget the world is a bit shit for a while?

Let’s find out in todays:

“I play games and I’m not stupid,” I hear you cry – well don’t. Crying is for babies and pathologically subnormal individuals. You are stupid and you’ll just have to live with it. Why are you stupid? If you’re asking that, then you’re probably the stupidest of them all.

Modern technology allows us to guess what Einstein would've been like if he had played 'Games'.

If cartridges and game packs are to blame for internet forum memes like “That’s million bucks” then it’s too late for the likes of you and me, brought up in a time where the effects of virtualised games were not apparent. However in today’s media savvy world the badness done by these so called ‘entertainment’ devices is too uncomfortable to sit with. Like a Large Hadron Collider.

Let’s look at the facts. Before video games were invented humankind had achieved feats as great as landing on the moon and making Nixon’s eyes excrete. But today, intoxicated from game's social numbing, no human has so much as looked at the moon without wondering if an elephant is bigger. Figures suggest it’s only getting worse, and that as video games become more real, our own reality becomes muddled in stupidity.

It doesn't work in real life.

Todays newspapers are full of headlines such as: Gameboy’s on ‘The Game’, Sonic makes 6 year old boy crush obese man's turtle in jumping frenzy and regrettably Minister sacked for waving Sixaxis at female boobs, a surreal incident where Minister for Outside Activities Mr. David Nown forgot he was at a meeting and started trying to jiggle the breasts of the opposite colleague because he thought she was Rosemary.

It appears our friends at Fox News have been warning us of the sin of video games for years.

You may feel normal. You may even think yourself less aggressive than those you know who don’t play video games. Hey – I feel the same. Is it possible that in our stupidity we’ve just not realised what monsters we really are?

Put us out of our mind-wrongity for christ's sake.

Unfortunately the evidence given to us by the media is so numerous and incomprehensible; the answer appears conveniently to be yes. And there’s nothing we can do about it, other than line up in a nice little queue and ask someone with a bloody powerful sniper rifle to blow our brains to bits and thereby saving us all from our own stupidity.

But wait! Could the abundant media reports be bias, misleading or inaccurate? Did video game players recently help in the fight against AIDs?

Well that’s for you to work out. And if you’re as smart as you look, you may need to put those videoized game units down, and get cleverer.

Thank you, goodbye, and try not to do anything too stupid.

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The Music of the Shenmue Saga

The Music of the Shenmue Saga

Shenmue had a lot of money spent on it by Sega. A lot. So much in fact that for a while Sega infamously had to drop the 'a' from their company logo because they had run out of money, and had to use an upside down and reversed 'e' (this story may or may not be 100% made up by me just a moment ago). The quality of the Shenmue series is often debated, but in this blog I'd like to focus on something a little different.

For me, Shenmue 1 and 2 have some of the best soundtracks ever made for a video game. Not only are they a wonderfully rich audio experience, but also a vast one and often more emotionally moving than the game's storyline. Here's just a hint of some of the fantastic music from the Shenmue saga.

Workers' Pier

"Workers' Pier" is one of the first tracks you'll hear in Shenmue 2, and it sets the tone wonderfully. There's a hint of stranger in a strange land about it, reflecting Ryo's own situation. The drums and warm bass-like drops give it a nautical background, whilst the pipes at the foreground underline that this is a game set in the East, and you'll find few western influences (other than some spill over British in Hong Kong). It's a great wandering track, especially as the strings seem to wander themselves throughout the piece.

Stand Quarter

The "Stand Quarter" track is bizarrely dominating. Each time it plays you're reminded that Ryo is in Kowloon for a reason, and a deadly serious one at that - to find his father’s murderer and kill him. There's a sense of urgency about the piece, stemming from the relentless deep stabbing string sound, and the hurry up of higher, faster, scaling strings. This urgency is well placed, as it appears later on in the games story, and exists in the part of Shenmue 2 where the main action takes place.

Encounter with Destiny

The original Shenmue's "Encounter with Destiny" is another favourite of mine. It's a piece that never actually really gets going and I think that reflects Shenmue 1's pace brilliantly, albeit maybe by coincidence. There's a sense of scale to it, as if this is the beginning of something big, which it of course was intended to be but never was. There's an aura of mystery as the harp is played up and down, and the plucked strings that appear as quickly as they fade give hints that there's defining moments ahead, all whilst the track seems to wrestle with itself as it tries to tell the Shenmue story in one, but in the end settles for revealing that there's more to come.

There are so many more great tracks to experience in the Shenmue saga, all of them available to find on YouTube, and I advise you to have a hunt and browse about, giving them a listen. Some of them really are beautiful pieces of music, whilst others are more ambient and subtle in their nature. These days you don't see many video games that have an entire sound track based on the sounds from the far East, so I recommend you make the most of Shenmue's.

Note: The links in this blog come from a YouTube account called 'Ziming' and not mine.

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Looking back on Shenmue.

Shenmue. Some people love it, some people hate it. There's no in-between. (There is).


It's one of my favourite games of all time. But I'm a realist - it's not perfect. I played it again this week to completion, with the rose tinted glasses firmly locked away, and  a good few years between my last play, I've been able to see Shenmue for how it really is.
 
First of all, one thing that hasn't changed is that Shenmue was a graphical marvel, and to this day still (just about) stands up to the relentless weathering of time. The textures are a bit blurred now, and the character movements jarring and angular, but despite this, it still looks okay. Shenmue's world feels real, it's detailed, it's populated with vending machines, shops, an arcade and bars. There is no copy and pasting in Shenmue, every location is unique. 
 
The story, in my opinion, follows suit. It was great at the time, and still presents itself as deep and intriguing, one which I want more of (but I'll get to that later).
 
However, the controls might be pretty awful for today’s standards. I don't think they were considered great at the time either. Ryo plods about like his legs are numb, and he can only get a rough estimate in his mind of which direction to travel. Once he's running, he moves more freely, but has the turning circle of a tank. On more than one occasion, controls stopped me dead in my tracks as I tried to go somewhere or do something quickly. Sidestepping would've been great, for those moments you need to do an almost 360 about-face to go to where you just missed.
 
The pacing was often criticised for being too slow. For some there are too many days where you are doing nothing, progressing hardly at all. Failing to speak to the right person at the right time can mean an extra day lugging boxes about at the harbour. For me, this wasn't an issue. In my recent play through hardly a day was wasted, there was always something to do, but to those at the time who were playing it without experience, you can often find yourself wondering around in frustration talking to guys who 'have some stupid business to take care of' and can't talk, or girls who are 'sorry' but just 'aren't interested in boys'. This leads me onto another problem...
 
The English voice acting in Shenmue is like a rollercoaster. It's up and down at the best of times, and at the worst it's stuck upside down for 3 hours as your brain slowly disintegrates. A few characters sound fine, most are middling, but some are absolutely atrocious.  One character at the Harbour told me to 'Go away! Now!' in what may have been the greatest Spongebob Square Pants' Patrick impersonation known to man. Ryo himself comes out with bizarrely out of place comments that sometimes sound as if he has gotten the entirely wrong end of the stick. The English voice acting in Shenmue is no Metal Gear Solid, and considering they are both from roughly the same period, shows that Sega's localising team did not fire on all cylinders. Still, Mircrosoft decided to drop the ball with Shenmue 2 too, so, who am I to judge. This is a local issue though, because the Japanese voice acting, from what I've seen, is absolutely great, and as poor as the English voice acting sounds at times, the developers themselves must be applauded, because every intractable character speaks verbally and not through on screen text. That in this day and age is still an impressive feat, and one that makes Shenmue more real, more engrossing. Shenmue feels more real to me than GTAIII ever did, back on the PS2.

 Yo, bro! No one speaks normal in Shenmue, maaan.


 
The fighting reminded me of Yakuza. I know that it is actually the other way round in terms of release dates, but I meant what I said. Is it a good thing that Shenmue's fighting mechanics play like a 2010 release? Or does that tell us something about Yakuza's combat? Either way, I found the fighting to be better than I remembered , and for a 10 year old game, that's pretty good.
 
I admit, there is some pretty strong criticism in this blog about Shenmue. That doesn't mean I like it any less though. Looking back, it's a rich world, made all the more amazing by the technical prowess flexed at the time, and it's deep storyline. It's a game that has wonky controls and a few pacing problems, with the odd bit of voice acting mediocrity you wouldn't expect from a pioneering series. But it's a game I enjoy playing. It's a story I want a conclusion to.
 
I've ordered Shenmue II, as I never bought the sequel, instead playing friend’s copies, or the Xbox version on occasion. I'm aware that it doesn't end the saga, and that's a real shame.

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My Top 5 Crazy Street Fighter II Moves

SFII is a great game. You don’t think so? Well I don’t like your attitude mister.

The early ‘90s was a horrible time, where people were trying to distance themselves from the ‘80s, but in doing so just came full circle and failed miserably. Luckily Street Fighter II was here to rescue us from our sins without sacrificing itself, unlike someone that lived in 0 BC and shall remain nameless; I’m looking at you Mr. J. Christ.

But Street Fighter II was like that friend of yours who acts normal, and you start to get used to their quirkiness when all of a sudden they go all crazy on you and do something you’ve never seen before. (If you don’t have one of these friends, guess what, you’re the crazy one.)

Sure we’d seen fireballs already at this point, SF had that covered. But SFII was about to get all crazy in its move sets. Here’s my top 5.
 
(For some reason whenever I try to make a list, it fails to submit, so here it is in blog format)
 


1) Spinning Bird Kick

There she is. Thinking about all the ways she can kick your ass.

A Shoryuken is technically possible in real life. We can all jump, and we can all uppercut. A flaming shoryuken? Still possible. Just put on a glove, set it on fire and away you go. It works, just ask my friend one-hand Mike. But the Spinning Bird Kick? That’s crazy. As well as accidently promoting racism and the view that hitting a woman is okay if it’s a street fight, SFII was also telling us that young Chinese women can defy gravity and spin UPSIDE DOWN whilst creating a forward momentum as they kick the gonads outta their opponent. Yatta indeed.  

 

 This guy can do some pretty amazing stuff.

2) Hundred Violent Sumo Hands

 We’ve all punched at some point in our lives, whether during fisticuffs, martial arts practice or mimicking the end of The Breakfast Club. If you practice hard enough you’ll realise you can alternate your punching pretty fast. That’s all well and good, but unless your arms are blurring, you’re just as pathetic as the next guy. Honda’s Hundred Violent Hands are so fast you can’t see what’s happening, only feel your body become ever tenderer. Awesome.

  
 

3) Stretching Limbs

ゴムゴムの!

Dhalsim can breathe fire. FIRE. That makes him instantly better than you. I’m sorry but it’s true. But what sets him apart from those fire breathers you see at the circus nobody’s raving about? His limbs stretch. Stretch Armstrong would be jealous of this guy, heck, Neil Armstrong would be jealous, and he’s been to the Moon and back. Dhalsims crazy arms and legs allow him to punch you square in the nose from the other side of the room, and that, my friends, is pretty cool. It’s like One Piece’s Monkey D. Luffy, only better, and I like One Piece.
 

 Scream in pain.

4) Psycho Crusher

So you’ve reached the end of SFII. M. Bison (or Vega if you’re from Japan and therefore used to getting the correct and initial or release of everything in the world) awaits you. You’re in control at first, throwing a couple of Hadoukens, whipping out a Tornado kick and then proceeding to think you’re about to beat the game. Until, suddenly... ZOOM! Kay – O. What just happened? Aside from two Earthbound references in a SFII article, you just got your anus handed to you by Bison the Buggerer. Oh, didn’t he tell you? He can FLY THROUGH THE AIR, spinning like a screw whilst engulfing himself in Psycho Power. And to top it all off, he just jumped on your head, and it hurt. Splendid stuff.

 

5) Electricity

 He just wants to be loved.

Blanka (not Blarn-car, you silly E-mericanz) can make Electricity come out from his body. I don’t think I need to say anymore than that, do I? I mean, just look at the guy. He is the epitome of craziness in SFII. He’s his own power generator, his own cigarette lighter, his own Van Der Graph. This isn’t street fighting, it’s street lighting. Okay that was poor, I know it.

 


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Game OST of the week - Metal Gear Solid 2 - Yell "Dead Cell"

There are many great games out there with fantastic OST's. Each week (when I can remember to) I'll post about one song from an OST that I think deserves attention.


This time it's Metal Gear Solid 2's Yell "Dead Cell".

My Boss claimed this sounds like something you'd trip out on whilst getting high clubbing, but I actually think it's rather good.

The original MGS and it's sequel are only set four years apart, but Sons Of Liberty's soundtrack has a certain 'futuristic' feel to it, even though both games at the time of their releases were set in the future. This is probably in part due to the games 'digital age' theme, though in all honesty MGS2 has many themes. Even the classic, now rarely heard in Metal Gear Games, Metal Gear Solid Theme is given a futuristic makeover, with electronic sprinklings during the opening, and squealing synths replaced with a military like drum roll.

What I like about Yell "Dead Cell" is that it's wild. It feels like a loose cannon, unpredictable and slightly unsettling. Words that sum up the Dead Cell members quite well. In reality it's a perfectly timed, intricately composed piece that instils excitement, panic and fear all at the same time.

In truth this week could've been one of any number from the Metal Gear games. The soundtracks to this series are consistently good. But it was Yell "Dead Cell"'s ability to take me back in time, to relive the moment I first faced Vamp and the others, that made it to this times Game OST track of the week.

Take a listen and tell me what you think.


  
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Game OST of the week - Wind Waker - Ocean

There are many great games out there with fantastic OST's. Each week (when I can remember to) I'll post about one song from an OST that I think deserves attention.

This week I present to you Ocean, from The Legend Of Zelda: Wind Waker. It's no secret that Wind Waker is my favourite Zelda game. I've played pretty much all the Zelda games, minus the CDi triumphs, and for me none of them capture the sense of adventure as well as Wind Waker.

The music in the game is, as with most Zelda games, fantastic. I believe the audio jump from the N64's Ocarina Of time to this Gamecube title was just as impressive as the brilliant cell shading.

Ocean is the track that plays when you're sailing from island to island. At times this can become monotonous and frustrating, but somehow Ocean manages to keep you going, and converts a potentially boring portion of the game into an ambitious exciting and grand voyage into the unknown. The beat matches the rhythm of the sea, and the odd crashing symbol fits the turning of the waves perfectly. All of this is done whilst keeping the melody extremely close to the Zelda theme, making it feel familiar yet new at the same time.

I actually really enjoyed the sailing sections, it was new and different, the colours were bright and bold and the music adventurous. It's a track that has always stuck in my mind, and that can only be a good thing.

Take a listen, and tell me what you think.

  

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What I played this week (III).

I gotta say, I haven’t played a variety of games this week. I usually find myself having played a series of different genres, somehow or another, but this week it’s just been Persona 4 and Crystal Chronicles. I’ve already spoken about both of these, but I’m going to speak about Persona 4 a bit more, because this game just keeps on giving.


Persona 4 (PS2)



If you’re looking for spoilers, endurance runners, skip to the next section.

Ted, one of the weird and wonderful Bearsona 4 characters.

I’ve just finished the void quest. I really liked the style of this dungeon. I have a little gripe with Persona 4, and that’s all the floors within a dungeon look the same. P4 makes up for this on the most part though, because each dungeon (I’ve seen so far) is totally unique. The boss was great, and really enjoyable. It did have me going ‘Oh Christ, no!’ a couple of times, mainly when the heavy elemental attacks started to crunch my probably under levelled party of MC, Yuki (S.Link max), Teddie and Chie, but I managed to pull through.

The visuals during the battle were a cool little extra too, showing up a retro-style battle command menu from the point of view of the boss, letting you see what it looks like for you to be the enemy in a battle for once.

After the battle came the omelettes, and I thought that whole little sequence was pretty funny, and heart-warming, something many RPG’s don’t really manage to do. Persona 4 really makes you feel a connection to the characters, and isn’t dissimilar to Mother 3 in that respect, including the omelette eating.


Nintendo- DSi Burauzaa

DSi Browser (NDSi)



This isn’t a game, I know, but I downloaded this today and my god is it poor. I really didn’t want it to be, but it just is. Maybe it’s the hardware, but I tried to load giantbomb.com a couple of times, and each time it failed to load due to memory constraints. I’m not sure who’s using the DSi browser, but apparently they’re browsing sites made in 1996, because the DSi can’t handle anything else.

That’s a little (or very) harsh, because it did load bbc.co.uk eventually, even if it didn't play any flash content. But I recommend people stay well away from this as a main browser. Then again, people who are using the DS or DSi to browse the internet are clearly nut jobs, so...


A pretty uneventful week, as Persona 4 and Final Fantasy took up most of my time. Next week though, a whole plethora of games will be played, and with a SNES (pronounced SNEZ where I'm from) and a Mega Drive hooked up, it's gonna get retro!

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Game OST of the week - Mother - Pollyanna.

There are many great games out there with fantastic OST's. Each week (when I can remember to) I'll post about one song from an OST that I think deserves attention.

Mother on the VC... a bridge too far? Okay that was awful, sorry.

Today it's Mother and Pollyanna (I Believe In You). I remember reading somewhere that at the time of it's release, a comment was made about Mother's music, and it went along the line's of 'it actually sounds like a song', rather than a generic sounding backing track I guess, which was somewhat more common to video games back in 1989, and I'm sure that Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka, the composers, would've taken great pride from that. Pollyanna, for many Mother fans, is a special song. It's actually quite a moving peice too, and the way it achieves any emotional stirs form its listener are quite subtle.

Take a listen, and tell me what you think. Then, learn you some Japanese boy, 'cos you buying Mother 1 + 2 for the GBA! Ahem... Sorry about that.

Oh, and I'm aware in the video it's Ness walking about, instead of Ninten.
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Used games - who actually loses out?

As far as I see it, if someone is buying a game used, that means it was once bought full price. So the publisher isn't losing money there, and the new owner might become interested in that game and buy the follow up when it's realeased, new. If the game wasn't cheap due to use, then that buyer wouldn't have bought it... because they didn't when it was new. Phew!

Anyhow, if the game is selling well used, it must have sold well new.

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What I played this week (II).

FFVIII (PSX/ PC CDROM)


I've been playing a lot of RPG's this year. FFIV, Chrono Trigger and now Persona 4. I thought I'd compound my haven't-got-time-too-many-rpg's problem, by starting FFVIII again. I'd forgotten how long it takes to actually get going in VIII. When it came out I loved the battles, and thought the GF attacks looked pretty good. With hindsight, those attacks take way too long, and can get very frustrating. The game looks how I remember it, so I guess it's just about holding up in the visual department. Just. Even if their faces do look like they've taken a beating. Nice sound track and pretty rounded characters, but Persona 4 might trump this.

Oh man, I hope this battle cut scene goes on longer.

FFCC:EOT (NDS)

Another Fantasy claiming to be Final, this time for the DS. Actually, I got a DSi on release and bought this with it. I have the Gamecube FFCC game, and enjoyed playing it with my mate at the time, so we decided to grab this and give it ago. Like PSO, it’s surprisingly addictive once you get going, but nowhere near the WoW level. You know, the 'I'm either going to max this character out, or die first' level. Unlike PSO, it lags like a top class lag student who’s in the best lag university in the town of Lagsville. The soundtrack isn't as great as I was hoping; especially after I read somewhere that it was like PSO's soundtrack, which I really like. However its middle-ages England fete music does the job. Graphically it's one of the DS's better looking titles, with some really nice, detailed areas. Bizarrely on the DSi's bigger screens I think the menus look a little more fuzzy, even though I know it's the same resolution. The controls are a bit clunky, it must be said, and the jumping is hit or miss due to the isometric angle. The DSi’s D-Pad seems to be less accurate for the diagonals than my original DS, but maybe I just need to get used to it, as I skipped the DS Lite. Although I'm having real problems connecting to other people playing it, I'm enjoying it. Even though I keep getting stunned by people trying to hit the enemies I’m near.


Halo (Xbox/ PC DVDROM)

I'm not a Halo fan. Sorry. I've not been playing the single player either. Sorry. This last week I played some of (a lot of) the multiplayer component and I was surprised at its aptness. I still think I'd have more fun playing Goldeneye 64 multiplayer, but Halo's multiplayer certainly stands up against many FPS's multiplayer’s that have been

Oooone. Twooo. Buckle my shoe?

recently released.  The game doesn't look too bad either, however I still hate its over-epic music.


SSFIITHDR (PS3/ Xbox 360)

This game felt wrong after playing so much of IV. In fact, as good as HDR is, I wished I was playing IV. It made me realise how much of SFIV they got right. That being said, I do love the look of HDR, unfortunately I don't love its remixed soundtrack. It’s surreal to see the HD sprites bobbing up and down to the old 16bit frame rate, but it actually isn’t detrimental to the game.


Persona 4 (PS2)

Because of the game listed below, I didn't get anywhere near as much time on this as I wanted today (Sunday), fortunately I played it quite a bit during the week. Rise

You can't see it, but Yosuke POUNDED an enemy. Just saying.

has just appeared on TV, so I guess we all know what that means, right? It's got to the point where I no longer see this games craziness as strange, but appealing, like

EarthBound. I kept seeing 'you didn't have the courage' and 'your expression is too low' on answers at first, and then I didn't see them for a long time, resulting in many blushes from the characters. However I must've got lazy, as they've made their way back.


Hard Drive About To Fail III: The Clone War (PC HDD)

Okay, it's not a game. My hard drive has gotten louder and louder lately, and the chkdsk was a bit 'whoa man, what's up here!', so I decided to buy a new one. I tried various free software to clone the disc, settling in the end on the one that did it right. Pretty good thinking, eh? This lasted several hours and on top of watching Jenson Button sit in his car in the rain took up most of my day. Luckily I got some Persona 4 in, and now it's time for Echoes of Time!

What games will I play next week? Who knows*? So tune in!

* I do, it's: Persona 4 and Echoes of Time.

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