Compromise of the Damned

I'm calling Shadows of the Damned a compromise, and it makes me sad to think about the game that way.

I realize now that this has almost nothing to do with the game I was actually playing and everything to do with my expectations. You'll be hard-pressed to read a review of Shadows of the Damned that doesn't mention its stable of Japanese talent: Goichi Suda, known for making games weird, Shinji Mikami, known for making games fun without making adhering to modern standards, and Akira Yamaoka, known for adding unsettling ambiance wherever it's needed. As someone who's enjoyed the work of all three on multiple occasions, Shadows seemed like a dream project. Suda and Mikami in particular seem like complimentary forces; Suda's eccentric design choices rarely lead to “fun” games, while Mikami's suffer from a lack of creative direction. Or at least, I think they do.

Still, I'm let down, and it's entirely because the game isn't crazy enough, which some of you might think wouldn't be possible. I don't think that's true. The undead-meets-punk aesthetic is a fine touch, and the game's tone is consistent enough to not make the look seem out of place in hell. But this is where I feel that both the narrative and ludological sides capitulate not just for the sake of making EA can actually sell (not that they really tried), but so that the end product ends up being more cohesive. Suda's knack for the absurd is augmented by the fact that for better or worse, his games don't play like anything else out there. Mikami's games play so well because he has control over contextualizing gameplay concepts, even when they seem out of place. With neither person in full control, we end up with a faster, "spookier" version of Resident Evil 4, which is a product six years too late.

When I look at it that way, I find myself at odds. I certainly think the game is good, as my three playthroughs will attest, but when I read unapologetic praise for the game, I wonder what it is that places the game so high on people's "best-of" lists for the year: is it the atmosphere, done better in almost every Suda game? The gameplay, which feels clunky when put beside Resident Evil 5? The papercraft shooter sections? Is it the story, which acts as a metaphor for how loving someone involves embracing the bad along with the good of a person? There's a lot in Shadows of the Damned that makes it good, especially when most shooters don't dare delineate from military conflicts. But though Damned is charming, it doesn't hold up well when looked at past its veil of its setting.

Nitpicks: the big boner sections go from distracting side show to painful grind, and the shooter sections later on are only slightly better. The shooting, again, isn't up to par with Mikami's previous work. Steve Blum shouldn't attempt to mimic Spanish ever again, nor should Suda. The main game and Bosses alike rely on tired lock-and-key and glowing weakpoints ad nauseum. Replay value, one of Mikami's strongest suits in the past, is all but gone here. The game ends one scene too late. These could all amount to kicking Damned while it's down, but these are the kind of things that grate on a player after the first playthrough.

As I said earlier, I do like Shadows of the Damned, particularly for its examination of a relationship past rescuing or fighting with someone. Similarly, Akira Yamaoka's soundtrack seems like the one element of the game that feels unrestricted. And I theorize that for many players, this may be their first true exposure to a Suda title, since they can play it without too much hassle, which may be why so many people laud it for being novel. But I can't escape the feeling that both Suda and Mikami could've done a better job were they each making separate games. Label me a hater, but I think it's because I'm such a fan of both Suda and Mikami's work that I hold the game up to a high standard. Or maybe Suda's messing with me by further deepening the "love the good and the bad" into the development of the game itself.



I Can't Draw

 Closest thing I ever did to "art" was a stick figure comic I did in middle school. The jokes were crude and juvenile, and the art -- and my free time -- was such that I could knock one page out every day, usually while in my algebra class. I had a few people who read them regularly, but usually because they sat at my table. Sometimes, they'd remark on a particular panel and say something to the effect of, "For a stick dude, this looks pretty good." I'd smile awkwardly -- I've never been good at responding to praise -- and keep writing. I did this for about four months.

I reached a point where I wanted to draw something that didn't look like ass, but when I started to actually try at drawing, I found that I couldn't do it. Perspective of any kind eludes me entirely; I can draw cartoon profiles and top-down views competently, but I struggle with anything else. When I saw that I had no concept of how to draw, I quickly gave up any interest I had in the subject.

And I regret it quite a bit. I see so many artists that aren't professional post some amazing things online and I wonder how they did it. I wish I could be like them. I wonder what would've happened if I hadn't given up, and maybe tried to actually get better at it. Like most people who consider themselves "creative-types," I think that I've come up with something that deserves to be on paper, but I can't do it. I'm consistently jealous of anyone who can draw, ink, and color their own work. It perpetually astounds me.

I know that my skill lies in writing (if it lies in anything at all), but writing can be such a boring skill. When you're a good artist, it shows. You can show anyone something you've drawn and they can immediately make a basic assessment, because art's appeal is immediate. The best of the best clearly outshine the crap.

People can recognize great writing, sure, but it's much more difficult. For one, if I end up writing for a living, it'll be in English, which means my parents will never be able to fully understand what I do or how I do it. This also means that it's more difficult to point out areas that need and improving. You have to learn certain rules. Those exist in art as well, but a rule comes with a clear-cut visual representation, most of the time, whereas some composition rules can be difficult to sift through.

When I took my Creative Writing class last semester, I kept telling myself that the things they were teaching me didn't apply to me as much because I was a visual storyteller. If I ever actually committed myself to writing a story, it'd be a comic, a movie, or a game. Because that's the way I think. Visually. I could very well get an artist to do the actual art for me, but It wouldn't be the exact way I had it planned. Perfectionist that I am, I'd hate that. I'd hate it even more when their version of my idea was better than mine. Which means I might be stuck with stick figures for a long time.    


Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt

 I feel off the anime bandwagon a years ago. But dismissive as that sounds, that means I used to watch it. I used to love anime. The characters we so cool, the action was intense, and some times, plots could get more intricate and heady than the movies I was watching at the time. Anime has a incredible, over-the-top charm that immediately makes it a divisive form of entertainment (this interest can still be found in me, since I effin' loved No More Heroes). Of course, the rabid and often embarrassing fanbase could be another thing against it gaining any sort of mainstream acceptance.

But, it was inevitable that I'd get to the point where I saw that every anime had several flaws. Unbelievable plot that were dragged out way after their expiration date, cliche-recycling, and undue focus on exposition, and way too much fan service. How many modern animes have a character with a latent ability that's overpowering them? Also, at some point, I couldn't stand the art style. I couldn't sit through a single episode of Code Geass back when that was huge because the art was unbearable. Death Note was the last anime I can remember really getting into.

This is a very circumlocutory way of setting up that Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt was the first anime that's piqued my interest since then. I'm not entirely sure where I first heard about it -- the Anime Vice panel at the bottom of Giant Bomb pages may have been the main culprit --  but for whatever reason, I jumped on it. There's  the obvious element of TNA (which P&G overflows with), but if that was the only reason, then I had many more options to choose from.

I think what attracted me to it was that I assumed that it was anime's take on American animation, as well as a parody of actual anime, a suspicion that, while fairly obvious, turned out to be more accurate than I though it would be. You're given a loose setup (Panty and Stocking are angels who have to kill ghosts in order to get back into heaven), then left to watch a monster-of-the-week framework. After watching the entire first season, I ended up liking it quite a bit, and I can say that without feeling like I'd soon post a video on YouTube compromising any respect I'd earned up to that point.

Everything about P&G is so stupid and crazy that it's hard not to think the show is doing it for effect. It appeals to a very juvenile sense of humor (the first monster they fight is made entirely made of shit), and it makes no appeal to craft any sort of story besides its premise until the very end of the season, which, unfortunately, it's at its worst. Because it doesn't take itself seriously in any real capacity (like so many anime do), the farcical fight scenes are that much easier to swallow, and it makes the show as a whole more enjoyable.

It even manages to deviate adeptly from its insane plot; one episode has a man whose daughter is a fan of Panty and Stocking, being fired from his job and forced to promise his daughter that she'll get to see her idols for her birthday. This episode takes a completely different tone, and it (hopefully) shows that Gainax has more than just fan service and parody planned for the series.

So yeah, I liked Panty & Stocking. Enough to watch it in Japanese with subtitles, something I've never done. I think the fact that it's stupid and it knows it is a huge part of why I can enjoy it without hating myself. And the soundtrack's not bad either.    


Knights in the Nightmare PSP Impressions

Last year, I reviewed Atlus and Sting's Knights in the Nightmare on DS. At the time, I championed its radical-if-complex approach to the Strategy-RPG genre as well as its unique take on item management. The game's theme of impermanence genuinely surprised me in a number of ways, and I felt like I was one of the few people talking about it back then. It was something I'd never seen before, and I felt compelled to tell people about an overlooked game that I had found.

As I downloaded the new PSP port of the game, I felt like I was setting myself up for a letdown. Perhaps I had liked the game a little too much because I felt I had to in order to advocate the game to other people. I had mentioned a few issues I had with the game, and felt like those issues would come back to bite me and convince me that I had glazed over them the first time through the game. Additionally, I expressed some doubts about the PSP's ability to handle the very DS-centric game back when the port was announced. In short, I was cautious with my expectations.

I'm happy to report that I was mostly right about the game when I first reviewed it. The game's hectic bullet-hell gameplay and time-management strategy still coalesce into something that's both fun and methodical. You'll still feel just above water in between battles, killing units to make others more powerful and attempting to grow your ever-diminishing supply of weapons. Through both the game's staccato story sequences and the fact that almost everything in the game is in short supply – your turns, what you can do in those turns, how many more moves a specific unit can make, the number of times you can use a weapon before it breaks, the items you need to recruit more units – as well as the steep difficulty curve, you're never quite at ease. It makes for something similar to Demon's Souls, another game from Atlus that found its reward in letting players just barely get by huge obstacles.

I also found that the PSP was quite capable of handling most of the these mechanics, despite my doubts. The wisp used to select items and attach them to units for use works well with the analog stick, and even has adjustable speed settings, allowing you to bounce around the screen or carefully avoid complicated attack patterns. In fact, the game's screen, simply by being bigger, manages to avoid most of the cluttering issue that plagued the DS version. I still found myself accidentally selecting the wrong unit or weapons here and there, but much less so than before. Button controls don't fare as well, however. since you'll have to toggle often to select certain details on the battlefield while preparing your units.

 Some of my original issues return as well. Even if you don't skip the hour-long tutorial process, you'll be in over your head sometimes, forgetting how to actually win battles, exploit elemental weaknesses, or use High Skills, all of which are central to winning some of the later battles. You're receiving a lot of data at any given time, and it can overwhelming to manage so many elements at once. 

 Overall, though, the PSP is not significantly hindered by the machine, and in some ways is even enhanced by it. Knights in the Nightmare is still a overlooked gem that offers something fresh, even a year later, and I'm glad that my convictions still hold true.

(As I was unable to finish the game in time – it's pretty long! – this does not qualify as a full review of the game.)


An Idiot and His Go, One Year Later

With everybody in a tizzy over the 3DS and its current line-up, the internet seems to be forgetting the important industry milestone that occurred a year ago today: The launch of the PSP Go. Uh... yeah.

Around that time,I wrote about both why I thought the system was right for someone like me, as well as my initial outings with the system. Back then, the system – along with Sony's digital distribution initiative – was still fairly young, so it was difficult to assess where the store would be going and how their digital promise would hold up.

So, a year later, as someone who's essentially been tethered to Sony's online store, I'm finding myself in an odd place. The biggest thing currently haunting me is that not only is the 3DS going to stomp everything in the portable market this side of the iPhone as soon as it's released (my wallet included), but, if statements from developers are any indication, Sony's also getting ready to jump into the next-gen portable fray. Meanwhile I'm part of the forgotten market, the child Sony probably doesn't want to think it has to support.

But I knew that my love affair the Go was going to be short-lived, even as I walked in the store and payed for it. In the back of my mind, I was somewhat aware that, whether for a PSP-3000 (having hypothetically hated the Go) or for a PSP2 (at the time, it seemed likely that a new PSP would be announced this year), I was coming back to that GameStop. The Go's days were numbered even as it launched. Man, this is starting to sound like a eulogy.

All cynicism and market speculation aside, how has the Go treated me, the consumer? After thinking it over some, my verdict is “not too bad.” Compared to the DS this year, the Go hasn't exactly trailed behind as much as it usually does, and for the most part, I've had a steady stream of games to play on the thing. I've toned down my portable gaming across the board, though, so it's possible that I've always had something to play because I haven't spent too much time with either it or my DS recently.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker has been my big PSP experience this year. After Portable Ops thoroughly disappointed me, Peace Walker ended up being a much better game, even if its bosses did err on the side of being obtuse. That was the period of time when I had the Go wherever I went, and would play it whenever I had time.

Since then, there's been a smattering of smaller games: Fat Princess, Tetris, and Mega Man X: Maverick Hunter. I haven't been able to dive into too many games since then, most notably Persona 3 Portable, since my brother has been hunched over P3P between raids on Icecrown Citadel. Further in my backlog are Valkyria Chronicles 2, Ys Seven, and the eventual PSP port of Knights in the Nightmare. I'm going to be using the Go for a while.

But much of the hate against the Go was directed at what it doesn't have. I'd really like to see Lumines on the PSN store in some capacity, as well as a couple of other games, but for the most part, companies have been pretty good about putting their games up on the store. I always sigh whenever a publisher decides not to put their game out digitally, but so far, I don't feel like I've missed out on anything major.

That doesn't mean Sony's off scot-free, though. I still think it's their responsibility to make sure that every game out there is up on that store. Even if it isn't that big of a deal for me, hearing that Square Enix won't be putting out Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep digitally, I still feel like a second-class customer, something that shouldn't happen to someone who's supported your attempt to try something different.

So in the end, yeah, maybe the Go wasn't the best idea in the world. But I can still respect Sony's attempt to go digital-only, floundering as it was. And aside from the fact that I could be playing Lumines, I don't regret having gone with the Go; I wouldn't have used the UMD drive on a 3000 that much anyway, and would've worried about what memory stick had what on it. Though I'm currently concerned about whether my digital PSP games will carry over to Sony's new hardware, I'm still going to enjoy my time with the thing, however short it's going to be.

And seriously, that “Pause Game” feature is a lifesaver.


More Pixar, Less Uwe: The Hopeful Future of Videogame Movies

I like to think that the “videogame-to-movie” formula thrown around at many a movie studios goes something like this: find a game property that’s popular enough to bring in revenue, see if you can land the project without paying too much money, design a movie that’ll appeal to the fans’ expectation of the videogame it’s based on, add some action setpieces, than see if you have time to tell a story.

This has worked out with varying degrees of success over time, though as a whole, they’re considered awful to meddling. For every Resident Evil -- arguably the only videogame movie that stands on its own, without much of a need to know the subject material -- we get several Uwe Boll movies and other generally bad adaptations. Most videogame movies either go for broke on the game’s subject matter (Mortal Kombat, Prince of Persia) or try to adapt that same subject matter into something more of a film (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, almost every Uwe Boll movie), and few of them are able to strike a balance that will resonate with fans and interest the general movie-going audience.

The recently released Scott Pilgrim, a movie that’s not really based on a game but rather uses videogames as its central influence, is seen as the first movie to ably straddle the line between pandering to fans and appealing to everyone else. I make the distinction “fans” and “everyone else” because Scott Pilrgim seems to do the same thing; there are jokes and references for people who’ll spot them and feel like they’re in the in-crowd, and jokes for the rest of the audience. That’s not to say that’s a bad thing -- I did enjoy the movie as a whole -- but as I watched I couldn’t help but feel that the movie could’ve done without so much insular material.

Though it’s likely that the reason Scott Pilgrim works is because its subject material is from a graphic novel rather than a game, there are certainly things about the way that the movie handles its material that many of the studios looking to bleed some extra cash out of fans could learn from. The flashy and over-the-top aesthetic is something that won’t agree with everyone’s taste, but it does serve an important purpose aside from making the movie resemble the comic: with such comical (excuse the pun) imagery floating around, it’s difficult to take the movie too seriously. This means that when something crazy is happening, you can suspend your disbelief more easily, and when the movie tries to be serious (something it admittedly doesn’t do too often) it cuts most of those things out, letting you know it’s time to invest yourself.

That Scott Pilgrim doesn’t take itself too seriously while also lending at least some emotional weight to its subject matter is perhaps that can learned from the most. So, taking that to one logical conclusion, I’ll make my selfish suggestion for a videogame movie: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

I think most of you know where I’m going with this. See, when most fans say they want a Zelda movie, they opt for The Ocarina of Time, not considering that without its gameplay to back it up, the most seminal entry in the series would look like a Lord of the Rings knockoff.

An animated Wind Waker film, on the other hand, would capture the style of the series much more capably. Zelda, no matter how it looks, is about child-like wonder and exploration, something that you can easily find a counterpart in film in Hayao Miyazaki's stuff. You wouldn’t even have to insert subtle themes into this adaptation; give me a first act where link learns the basic of being a hero, a single dungeon, and a final act where he fights Ganon, and at base level, I’ll be satisfied. The animated style lets you get away with much more than people get away with.

Thinking about it some more, it’s possible that most videogame adaptations could do with less attempts at grabbing at the PG-13 audience and more an attempt at capturing our childhood through animation. Videogames, at their core, are about the wildest kinds of unreality, much like animated movies are. Games could be cast in a much better light when compared to likes of Pixar instead of Michael Bay. And for the most part, it’s not like we could do much worse.


Losing My Obsession

I really, really have to use the restroom. Too bad I'm at a midnight launch and I can't exactly hop out of my place in line; the Super Smash Bros. Brawl tournament going on while the clock ticked closer to twelve is entertainment enough to distract me, though. The collective adrenaline of people watching two people playing a game through a piece of glass while waiting outside on a cold March night – I live in Nebraska, after all – also helped.

The previous two months had been filled with such soul-crushing anxiety about the impending release of the game that I could hardly focus on anything I was doing at the time. I counted down the days and my anxiety worsened every time I checked and realized I was still however many days away from playing the game. So, having to do a little dance was a small price to pay for seeing the game in action for the first time.

I lose my second match in the tournament, and my brother manages to make it to the final round, for which he receives the first copy of the game at the store (the other guy was busy getting a trophy). But, as disheartened as he was, we take our game, go home, I use the facility, and we get down to playing through Brawl's single-player. We reach the end of it before the end of the day, and after messing around for a couple of days, we move on.

It was weird for me, because I kept asking myself, “Really? You've been a mindless idiot for the last couple of months for a game you only played for a week?” I don't think I was disappointed, exactly, but rather I just felt the deflation of my excitement so rapidly that I was quickly hating myself for unable contain myself the way I did. I thought about the game most of the time I was awake, and sometimes when I slept.

I think this experience was my last time being truly excited for a game. In retrospect, Brawl wasn't exactly the best game to lose my mind over, and since then, I think I've developed a more calm approach to excitement. Or perhaps it's possible that my overinflated anticipation for Brawl killed my ability to wait for anything with bated breath. I've certainly tried to rile up excitement for a game since then, such as when I skipped a day of school to play Fallout 3 and wound up only playing about five hours of it, but I haven't been able to become as excited as I was for Brawl. That kind of bothers me, since I feel like wasted that excitement, Brawl being the game that it is and all.

I loathe midnight launches now. The last one I attended was for Mass Effect 2, but I only went because No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, the game I actually wanted, came out on the same day. So while my brother was waiting around for StarCraft 2 at a nearby GameStop, I was watching the latter half of American Psycho  with a couple of friends. I didn't need a special collector's edition, and I was going to buy the game online anyway.

Starcraft 2 was I game that I'd been waiting for since I beat the original almost ten years ago. I played custom matches online for almost a year straight, and I'd eaten up any kind of complimentary fiction along the way. For all intents and purposes, I should've been as rabid for a sequel for one of my favorite games of all time as I was for Brawl. But even after I'd paid for the game online, I played a mission and then played some Super Mario Galaxy 2, listened to some podcasts, and read a book. I wasn't eager to devour the game as much as I thought I would. I was definitely enjoying it, but I just couldn't get into the mindset to sit down and play it for hours on end.

I don't think I'm jaded. I still love games enough to make them my main hobby, and I'm usually the kind of person to find fun in games even when they don't deserve it. I can certainly tell you that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a ton of fun.

But maybe that experience with Brawl was a good thing. I want to play Dead Space 2 and a bunch of stuff coming out as much as the next guy, but I can wait. Maybe it's because I play more games in general and don't really a need a game to come out to keep me busy all the time. Or maybe it's because I've learned to keep my expectations in check enough to where I'm not really so excited for a game that I lose my perspective anymore. For now, I'm content to let the games come to me. I'm going to take StarCraft 2 nice and slow, and maybe I'll enjoy it more that way.


I'm a Sociopath, and (Maybe) That's Okay

Jeremy Parish recently posted a blog entry in which he expressed his fatigue with the shooter genre and the increasing focus on glorified violence at E3, as well as within our industry at large. He took particular umbrage at the fact that many of the games highlighted at E3 focused on “crossing a line”.

It's an invisible line, but it's one that -- for me, at least -- is very real. It's a line built of motivation, of intent, of tone. The near side of the line is a place where violence exists as a means to an end; on the far side, violence is the end in and of itself, and the goal is to explore it with sociopathic abandon.”

Leigh Alexander took a similar tone in her Kotaku column, where she was dumbfounded by the celebration of war and violence in our medium, and attempted to reconcile people's – men's in particular – urge to fight, to compete, in almost every way possible, with the realities of our world.

In the end, nationalist war, faction against faction, has been part of the human experience since the very beginning. Like it or not, it's always been something deeply part of who we are; it makes sense that our simulated experiences, that our play, should seek to tap into understanding and experimenting with those concepts.”

As I read both of these pieces – especially Parish's – I found myself agreeing with them, cheering for the death of the boring and repetitive shooters that currently populate shelves. My recent play list consists of several shooters, the entirety of the God of War franchise, as well as several of its knockoffs. The gruesome variety of deaths in these games made me grow weary of games that focus on the kill as the payoff.

At the same time, I'd also become bored of most multiplayer modes, which, for me, rarely amounted to more than a hamster on wheel scenario where the fun was in running endlessly, as well as the occasional treat.

But as I continued to mull my thoughts on the subject, I realized that Parish and I actually differed in our view of spectacular violence. While I was underwhelmed by the showing in the general sameness I felt from the shooters at the show, he felt as though they were going to far in their demonstration of violence to appease what he felt was an increasingly sociopathic audience.

It's one thing for a game like, to take an example from my current playlist, Persona 3 Portable to send you into a dungeon every midnight to slay demonic shadows that threaten to consume the world of the living, and quite another thing altogether to earn bonus point for chasing down a mutant who's running from you in terror and killing it by emptying a machine gun into its anus. (Achievement unlocked: "Fire in the Hole.") One of these places the player in the role of protector, the other in the role of psychopath. Personally, it's not a jump I'm comfortable making.”

Now, I won't be the one to defend Bulletstorm's sense of style, nor will I question Parish's tastes – he points out early on that he's personally not interested in killing for the sake of killing. But I do question his stating that the other side lacks a solid defense to his point of view.

People who agree will say, "Right on!" while those who don't will tell me to chill out, lighten up, grow a brain/spine/sense of humor, etc., etc. It's a shame, because I'd like to see a rational dialog on this subject, but the change can ultimately only come from within the medium...

I again can't speak to the kinds of conversations he's been a part of, of course, but I think it's possible for the side that enjoys the myriad destructive style of Bulletstorm to argue without resorting to the “It's just a game” defense, because using that defense is similar to bankrupting yourself: it's a temporary safety net, but your access to other options is severely limited, and it ultimately weakens your standing.

As Parish mentioned in his article, the people who enjoy games revolving around the murder of enemies are well within their right to enjoy them. However, I think there's more to enjoying violence than being excited by the mere violent death of another person. There's ludological reasons to be excited about having succeeded.

There's the obvious disconnect between what happens on-screen (the mastery of systems and mechanics that allow someone to excel) and the actual consequences of the action – even the most hardcore Call of Duty player can be a mass-murderer online and still be a pacifist. Yes, a lot of them will talk a big game, but only a small percentage of them would kill without justification. They may be power fantasies, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I don't think that there people who haven't had a fantasy involving someone's wrongful death, Mother Teresa included*.

I won't travel down the “games aren't really ruining our kids” path any farther than that, because I'm not in a position to definitively state anything on that subject. I do find myself conflicted, however; am I crass and immature for saying that I eagerly await Metal Gear Solid Rising, one of the games Parish cites as crossing that invisible line, with its graphic dismemberment system, or are the people who take issue with games like this simply acting out of some holier-than-thou mentality? Neither of these extremes are true, obviously, but it's difficult to see the grays in this situation.

I'm not afraid to say that I'm at the very least interested in Bulletstorm and I'd be lying if I didn't say it was in part because of its over-the-top brutality. I just don't know if I should be. Clearly, the game seems like an attempt to market to the needs of the people who want to see some gruesome violence.

I've never been the kind of person to find a game so offensive so as to write it off completely solely principle, and perhaps there's a problem with that. Perhaps I simply haven't found my line yet, or I haven't developed strong enough morals. Perhaps it's easier for some people to make the emotional disconnect required to enjoy these kinds of games.

But I don't want this discussion to add up to “People already have opinions, and they're not about to sway one way or another because of a blog post” as Parish mentioned. As the comments section of his article showed, we can have a reasonable dialogue about topics like this.

As for his worries about the industry's current focus on such titles, I think that it's certainly true. The games we see on TV most often are the bloodiest ones, or the ones that show only the superficial strengths of our medium. But that's always been true. Our current face to the outside world is odd combination of “yeah, bro!” titles and fitness games for everyone else.

But the fan of anything will have to dig deeper than television ads to find the best of the best. We need games like that to draw people to our medium. Much like movie industry, our blockbusters tend to fund our indie darlings, however indirectly. And as long as games that push the medium forward exist, regardless of the amount of gore they utilize, I don't think we have all that much to worry about. And from I what I've seen, there are plenty of titles that I'm excited for that aren't rated “M”.

I have a feeling that throwing a guy into the air and making him explode is going to get old quick, though.

*I'm so sorry.


Work-time Fun and Abusive Game Relationships

 Work-time Fun is one of the few games that genuinely confuses me. You can talk about the byzantine storylines of games like Metal Gear or Modern Warfare 2 all you'd like, but I tend to be able to follow them, even if it is after watching a cutscene a second time. I don't say this to brag, because even when I don't follow a story's logic I can roll with it and still have comprehensible game experience. With Work-Time Fun (abbreviated to the appropriate "WTF"), even the gameplay itself throws logic out the window. Every time I play it, I'm left wondering why I played it and oddly satisfied at what I've just done.

A long internet-time ago, I wrote about Flower, Sun, and Rain, a game which I proposed had intentional flaws designed to continually asked the player why they were playing the game. It was a bit egotistical and counterintuitive to do so, but I ultimately thought it was a creative quirk that you took part and parcel with an already odd game. Suda 51 was trying to purposely divisive or incompetent, which, depending on who speak to, is a pretty consistent mantra of his.

But Work-time Fun is without question entirely spiteful in its design. Essentially a collection of oddball mini-games that range from counting the number of people in a crowd to sniping people inside a skyscraper with "happy bullets", with only a few unlocked from the start. In order to unlock more games, you have to earn money playing the games you do have. Once you have enough money, you spend it on vending machines that cost 1, 5, 10, and 50 dollars. The mini-games vary in yield per play, but 50 dollars will take you around an hour or two to play.

The vending machines won't always yield a game. Your hard-earned cash could be wasted on trinkets and other stuff you don't want (unless trinkets are your thing). Not only that, but certain games are tied to certain machines, which makes unlocking them frustrating as hell. With progress as slow and random as it is, collecting everything will take you quite a while, especially if you want each and every title, game, and trinket. 

You gain titles for things like playing Pendemonium, a game that involves nothing other than putting caps on the top of pens and nothing else, for 100 hours. The game doesn't "end" and you decide when you've felt enough monotony. The counter on the bottom of the screen has 36 digits. I haven't been able to check if all of those zero's can actually change. But that hasn't stopped people who seem obsessed with this game. From a GameFAQs guide by user Ahlyis:

Doing 5,000 pens an hour is not too hard. You may want to kill yourself after, just for a change of pace. But it's not hard to exceed 5,000 pens per hour if you can stand the monotony. 

My (2nd) best: 
101,000 total pens 
73 defective units 
$3,027.81 base salary 
$2,016.00 bonus pay 
$5,043.81 final paycheck 

My best: 
1,000,011 total pens 
$20,791.74 final paycheck 
306,993 defective units 
Only $1.20 bonus pay (I did almost none of the run while trying for accuracy) 

I didn't worry about making the pens correctly, simply on putting a cap on and moving on. Took me about 5 months of casually working on this to complete it. 

I'm not sure what "casually" working on it means, but 1,000,011 pens at 5,000 pens an hour amounts to about 200 hours. Add the 20 hours from his second-best, and I could work through Persona 3 and 4 and have time for a run of Half-Life while he capped away. I'm not berating the Ahlyis for wasting his time, I'm just in awe at the obsession that games like this can inspire it. 

There are plenty of games just like this in Work-time Fun; most them feel like the work you're doing to get to the foal rather than the fun. It's ironic, then, that the goal happens to be getting more games and useless objects. It's a weird, obsessive cycle that won't end for quite some time.   

 But, the design being intentional and all, there's a bit of a charm to it. Like a girl who can't leave an abusive boyfriend, I come back to Work-time Fun time after time. It's never for too long; usually, I'll be sitting somewhere, waiting for something to happen and not feel like playing anything else on my PSP. Perhaps there's something about hating the player that appeals to certain kinds of people. It could also be the oddball Japanese imagery that populates the menus.

It really does feel like some sort of weird version of hell (the game was called Part-time Hell in Japan), and there's something unique great about it. I just don't know why I keep playing it.

Have you guys ever had an abusive relationship with a game?    

Google Pac-Man: Pac-Man Fever Becomes a Cultural Epidemic

Commonplace assumptions of quality place the original in higher status than the proceeding products; the remake or sequel is a derivative product, and therefore lacks to spark of originality that created the classic it derives. Attempts to market a recreation of a product are often met with mixed results, but most will agree that no matter the quality of the remake, it cannot surpass its inspiration.

Google Pac-Man changes all of that, and revolutionizes not one but two industries in the blink of eye. By creating a version of Pac-Man that's playable in your browser through Google,  Namco  Bandai and Google have no doubt ignited what's likely to be called "The Browser Revolution of the year Two-thousand and Ten."

The impact of this product simply cannot be overstated. It revolutionizes the way people find access to games; there is no doubt in my humbled mind that by 2012 people will be playing Mass Effect 3 through Ask Jeeves, and competing in that year's Call of Duty iteration through Yahoo, without the need for graphics cards.

It revolutionizes the way we use search engines and websites. Websites will become navigable exclusively through a video game, and early visualizations of the future of the Internet as a metaphysical world will become reality. Increasingly realistic version of the Internet will become the priority for companies around the world. Second Life was off by such a small margin...

Most importantly, it revolutionizes the way we revolutionize. The way we change things in our culture will be affected by the sheer power of such a change. Not since the Internet itself has something dramatically changed the way we traffic information. It's also important to note that it's the only commercial product which notorious imageboard 4chan has met with universal praise, a claim I don't have to back up.

But all of this change would be rendered moot of the gameplay and graphics weren't up to current standards. From the two-and-a-half levels I played of the review build, I can report that both of those things hold up. The sprites look as clean and crisp on my  1920x1080 monitor as they did when I played the original in the arcade. It's ironic that a remake of a classic game has usurped Uncharted 2's graphics throne.

Simply put, rearranging the traditional Pac-Man board in the shape of the Google logo can be called nothing but a masterstroke. It retains the gameplay formula while changing the strategy completely. Dodging  Blinky, Inky, Pinky, and  Clyde becomes something else entirely when planning your route into the G's crevice. The gameplay creates something that is undoubtedly art, and turns all of gaming into art by association.  Ebert cannot refute this evidence, and will not even try.

Not once in my two years of reviewing games have I ever called something "The Greatest Thing My Eyes Have Beheld," but Google Pac-Man deserves nothing else. Fans of the genre will enjoy its divine simplicity, and outsiders can only stand in awe of its impact on our planet.

Score: 3/5