My Top Ten of Twenty-Thirteen

This is probably the hardest list I've done for anything. Choosing which of my siblings I love more wasn't this hard. While I think 2013 was an overall mediocre year for games, number one for me has been a lock since June. While I've played a ton of games this year (and by that I mean every major release since January, including indie darlings like Gone Home), these are the ones that somehow managed to rise above mediocrity for, if not the duration, then in fits and starts.

We about to get all Geppetto on its ass.

10. Dead Space 3

Mired in scummy micro-transactions and host to a plethora of bugs and glitches, Dead Space 3 shouldn't have happened this way. At least, that's the general sentiment behind most of the discourse surrounding this game. If you can somehow stomach those problems (both real and exaggerated) what you'll find in Dead Space 3 is a good game with some great twists on the Dead Space formula. Crafting weapons is a pleasure in Dead Space 3, but where I think the game really shines is in the side missions. While truthfully they are just a means to gather more precious resources the side missions in Dead Space 3 offer a greater understanding on the universe post-Titan Station. As one of those weird people who finds the mythology behind Dead Space to be fascinating, more lore is always a good thing. There's also the little teeny tiny plot point of just what the Necromorphs are and a vague idea of how they came to be, but that is overshadowed by the kick ass Necromoon boss battle to finish both the overarching Dead Space narrative and Isaac Clarke's journey. If this game were to close the book on this franchise, I don't think I'd mind.

09. Batman: Arkham Origins

I loved Asylum, I loved City, and oh yeah! Origins is more of that! Fantastic voice performances with Roger Craig Smith (Ezio!) and Troy Baker (fucking everybody!) are backed up by a tightly paced plot that is both coherent and fun. Granular improvements to the gameplay may not seem like a big leap forward for the series (it isn't), but I don't think the Arkham formula is tired yet. I went into this with low expectations after hearing all of the Internet backlash and was pleasantly surprised that it is not the most awful game of forever, but instead a worthy entry into the Arkham canon.

Duh duh duuh. Duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh-duh-duuuuuuuuh

08. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD

Castlevania is one of my earliest memories. Not just for video games, I mean earliest memories. The sight of Trevor Belmont kneeling before the cross in Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse has been burned into my mind for as long as I can remember. Playing through Mirror of Fate HD reminded me how much I used to love Castlevania, and how much Mercurysteam understands what's appealing about those old games to begin with. While the game suffers from a weak middle chapter, both Simon and Trevor Belmont's acts make up for it with remixed classic monsters and fun boss battles. If anything, aside from Alucard's chapter, I think the biggest disservice to this game was leaning on the Metroidvania blueprint at all. Backtracking has never been fun for me and it definitely wasn't fun here.

07. WWE 2K14

It's the best wrestling game I've played since Here Comes the Pain. For fans of wrestling that are looking more for simulation instead of arcade brawling, you can't do better than this year's installment. Boasting the best roster in franchise history and a season pass that would make any wrestling fan salivate, it cannot be stated clearly enough; until Spike somehow manages to bring King of Colosseum to North America, this is the best wrestling experience you could hope for. The creation suite isn't too shabby, either.

He ruined Biz Markie, you guys.

06. Saints Row IV

I have never lost bladder control in my life. While playing the Zero Saints Thirty tutorial mission I laughed so hard I actually peed myself. That has never happened before and I doubt it will ever happen again. For as lifeless and uninteresting as the open world of Steelport is, it is greatly outweighed by the parodies, homages, and downright lunacy that is found in the main story and loyalty missions. For someone who thinks The Third didn't reach the same highs as Saints Row 2, Saints Row IV feels like the most shameless victory lap a game series could ever have. God bless those maniacs at Volition.

05. Grand Theft Auto Five

A lot can be said about GTA Five. A lot. Not all of it positive. The game I played on some levels seems radically different from the game others experienced. For me, GTA Five was a ball of exhuberant satire with exhilarating heists and three protagonists I thoroughly enjoyed for 40+ hours. While I didn't find every hidden package or buy every property, I took my time in Los Santos as a vacation from seriousness. I got behind the 80s action movie plot and didn't think too hard about what the game was trying to say. If anything, I think Rockstar was saying "stop being so goddamn serious and have some fun you wanker". In that case, I agree completely. GTA Five is a light-hearted affair that isn't interested in being a dramatic masterpiece. It isn't interested in making your cry or making you wax philosophical about the nature of man. It's a game. It's fun. Unbunch your panties and have some.

Metro: Last Light looks like my backyard on occasion.

04. METRO: LAST LIGHT

I love post apocalyptic fiction. Whether it's A Boy and His Dog or The Road by Cormac McCarthy, post apocalyptic fiction is one of the most intriguing genres to me. It attempts to depict who we as people are without the safety and constraints of civilization around us. Games like Metro: Last Light follow diligently in those footsteps and attempts to ask the player what kind of person they would be in such a scenario. It posits queries like what is the difference between killing and murder? Is morality at all relevant in a world where subsistence only comes with great perseverance and difficulty? Last Light attempts to ask these questions of the player, and while the goals are laudable, it stumbles and falls along the way. Sometimes I wonder if maybe Metro would be better served as an adventure or purely stealth-based game. After all a shooter where the "good ending" is only achievable through non-violent means is a contradiction. Still, Metro tries, and that is a hell of a lot more than can be said for many other titles.

03. BioShock Infinite

BioShock Infinite isn't about a multiverse or string theory or quantum physics or time traveling or alternate realities or even about religion, racism, or genocide. BioShock Infinite is a story about regret; regret over broken relationships and mistakes made. It's about being haunted. It's about a man coming to terms with who he is and finding a way to forgive himself in order to let go of the past. The most ingenius thing about Infinite is its presentation. What starts off as a game with all the hallmarks of a AAA budget good-time shooter slowly but surely begins stripping away the layers of intrigue surrounding the side characters, the subplots, and the city of Columbia itself. It strips these layers away until ultimately you are left with the heart of the story; Booker DeWitt and his charge Elizabeth. It's a ballsy move, in my opinion, and while there are occasional misfires in terms of gameplay elements and puzzling design decisions (hiding most of your lore in audio logs is so 2007), the whole of Infinite is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

02. Splinter Cell: Blacklist

I am an avid Splinter Cell fanboy. I love the series and I am one of those assholes that believes Chaos Theory is the absolute peak of stealth game design. I went into Blacklist with low expectations and quite frankly, ready to hate-play it. Maybe I set myself up for this but I was blown away by how utterly fun Blacklist was. Ghosting my way through the story missions and tackling the side quests with a partner really brought me back to good old days of Sam Fisher. If you've ever liked Splinter Cell, there is absolutely no reason not to play this.

People always ask, Dark Souls or Skyrim? The clear answer is Dragon's Dogma.

01. Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

Dragon's Dogma is without reservation the best game I have played this year. This past summer I played it for weeks on end. As of this writing I have completed it three times (that's one original file and two New Game +'s) this year alone. I am planning a fourth. Out of all the games I have played (and there were a lot), none of the others come close to matching the joy I found in the simple act of playing Dragon's Dogma. Everything from the aesthetic to the combat, from the delightful score to the pawn system combined to form of a Voltron of pure fucking awesome. As I thought about what my best experience was in gaming this year, I keep coming back to Dragon's Dogma.

... And that's my list. That's my Top Ten of Twenty-Thirteen. Not a great year, but not a bad year, either. Here's hoping for better in 2014 and, of course, a Dragon's Dogma 2.

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Team Players are the Best Players.

Team Players, all of them.

Some people like to shotgun, some people like power weapons, and some people like the Retro Lancer charge. Me? I’m the guy who likes assists. I’m the guy who likes spotting. I’m the guy who gets on the mic and tells SmokeDawg420 that there’s an angry SOS Locust barrelling behind him looking for a kill.

Hi, my GT is Ol Dirty Bearon, and I’m your best friend in Gears of War 3.

You always hear about “That Guy” on the winning team. He’s at the top of the leaderboard, earning MVP ribbons hand over fist, but his stats say 3 kills to 5 deaths. Then, you notice he has 12 downs. Then, you notice he has 5 revives. Then some people think, “Wow, what a noob, why is he helping other people?”

But not you, not if you’re smart.

You see, a lot of people who play Gears multiplayer like to think, somehow, it’s all about the instagibs. It’s all about the three-on-one KABOOM ribbons with the SOS. They like to think that, if it was just them against me and my squad, they’d tear us to pieces. The problem with that thinking is that it’s all about “me,” it’s about what “I” want. Newsflash: Gears of War is a team game.

That’s what this blog is all about. I want to teach you how to be a Team Player, how to earn a crap-load of ribbons, and how to, above all, win the admiration and respect of your peers. See, it’s not just you that will turn the tide and win the day. It’s not just your buddy XxAssASSinatexX either. It’s all of you, working together.

Here are some basic tips and loadouts to get you on the path to not just winning the battle, but the war.

Proper team work, as displayed via beautiful screenshot of the Locust Horde.

Support Gunner

Lancer

Gnasher

Frag Grenades

Gorgon Pistol

SPECIAL: Mulcher

Classes don’t exist in Gears 3, and they shouldn’t. Everyone customizes their starting loadout for their own style of play. This particular loadout is designed to make you a walking tank—so long as you hide behind a couple squad mates and know what you’re doing.

Tips: Spot your enemies. I mean it. The first instinct of a Support Gunner should never be to try and get the kill. These are the fearless warriors who would rather spot an enemy incursion and try to down an enemy before looking for the glory kill. They spend a lot of time behind cover, and they always, always stick close to a friend. If your friend moves one way, you move behind. You’re a follower in this role, not a leader. Your gunfire is meant to suppress and contain the threat, and reviving your squad takes priority over your precious KDR.

All of the Support Gunner’s weapons are designed to do two things; one is to suppress the enemy, the other is to down the enemy. The Lancer and Gorgon Pistol are great weapons to do this with, as with focused fire from two or more squad mates it brings any opponent to their knees. Even the Scouts. You know, the flippy assholes who like to dodge like they have Parkinsons.

Assassin

Retro Lancer

Sawed-Off Shotgun

Smoke Grenade

Boltok Pistol

SPECIAL: OneShot

Tips: Are you the kind of player who loves to Roadie Run? Who loves to sneak behind the enemy team and blow as many of them away as you can with a single SOS round? Yeah, we know who you are, and we don’t like you—unless you’re working for us. The Assassin is a master of the scenic route. They will never actively engage an enemy entourage coming straight toward them. Their first instinct is to run as far away as possible, as they know a single Retro burst or SOS round will not save their lives.

Assassins also love to employ the use of Smoke Grenades. They know it doesn’t down, they know it doesn’t kill, but they also know that a well placed Bag n’ Tag smoke bomb will do a hell of a lot more to disrupt the enemy team than attacking up the middle. The Assassin is also patient, willing to wait thirty seconds for a power weapon spawn to return, and when they see the enemy coming toward it blissfully unaware, the Assassin rolls into them, and lets a hearty blast explode from both barrels. The beauty of the Assassin is that, for some reason, they frustrate enemy players. A lot. That’s why they’re a healthy asset to any team. Can you think of something more demoralizing than getting one-shotted with two friends by a single SOS round?

And remember, a good Assassin is always letting his team know where the enemy is.

Grenadier

Torque Bow

Boomshot/Digger

Boltok Pistol

Frag Grenades

SPECIAL: Mortar

Tips: The Grenadier loves to make things go Boom. They’re the ones on Xbox Live party chat doing their best impression of the Boomer. They’re the ones who save your life from a 3-on-1 with a well placed Boomshot. They’re the ones who know just which walls to tag with a frag. In short, when you see a Grenadier coming, get the hell out of the way. Then again, the best Grenadiers are the ones who you never see coming.

If you’re going to play as a Grenadier, remember that while you have the heaviest artillery, the hardest hitting firepower, you’re not invulnerable. You’re not Superman. Always stick close to a buddy. A Support Gunner, if you can. While they spot and lay down suppressing fire, it gives you time to charge up a Torque Bow shot, throw a well placed frag, or unload with your Boomshot. Grenadiers love their Support Gunners, and Support Gunners all too happy to help.

Yeah, a lot of these pictures have little to do with anything. They're pretty, though.

General Philosophies

These are general tips designed to get you playing more like a Team Player. You’ll notice after following these philosophies, you will not only rank up a lot faster, but you will also reap the spoils of warfare in Gears 3 unlocks, modes, ribbons, and precious, precious medals.

REMEMBER: 15 SPAWNS PER TEAM, NOT 15 SPAWNS FOR YOU This is the most obvious one I’ve seen. Too often people treat their spawn pool as a plaything to be disregarded. At worst, they think it’s a score card. It is neither of these things. The spawn pool is there to let you know that you are not just beholden to yourself and your own safety, but to your teammates as well. If 15 drops to 14, that isn’t just the fault of the person who died, it’s your fault as well. You could’ve been there to protect them, you could’ve been on the mic telling them about the two-man team coming up behind him. Remember; you’re not playing just for yourself, you’re playing for your squad.

GHOST CAMERA: YOU’RE NOT USELESS IF YOU’RE DEAD

A big thing I’ve noticed is that when the chips are down and there’s one man against five, the entire team will often go silent while they wait for their brother in arms to die a painful, gibby death. It doesn’t have to work that way. If you find yourself to be out of the game, waiting for the next round, get to work. Ghost Camera is there for a reason, and it can help your remaining players turn the tide and bring victory back from the jaws of death. Don’t be afraid to speak, to inform your team where the enemy is moving. Guide them, tell them where to go and what to do. Just because you’re dead, doesn’t mean you can’t help.

BE KEVIN COSTNER, BE THE BODYGUARD

The blue guy beside you isn’t just a random bot, it’s a person. It’s a person who enjoys the game just like you. For this battle, for this war, they’re your brother, so treat them like one. Pick them up when they’re down. Share ammo when you find it. And always, always, stick together. One man covers forward, the other looks back every so often. Get into the ritual of sharing and caring, and you’ll find that when you’re down and need help, your brother will be right beside you, ready to chainsaw every Locust prick in his path to get you back into the fight.

THE WIN IS WHAT MATTERS, NOT YOUR KDR

Everyone has a bad game. Hell, last night I had a game where I went 1 and 10 after three hours of excellence. If you find yourself having a bad game, don’t worry about it, and work for the team. If you can’t catch a kill one game to save your life, focus on spotting, focus on finding the enemy placements and camping zones. Don’t be afraid to take a bullet for your brother. And, hell, if all else fails, equip a frag grenade and run into a group of enemies. Get downed, and pull that R-trigger as fast as you can. It works for the terrorists, it’ll work for you.

And that’s all I got for now. Those are my tips from going to a .5 KDR with 20 wins and 50 losses, to a 2.3 KDR with 200 wins and 94 losses. Like I said, the spoils of war come with team work, and no other way. If you find yourself falling into bad habits, just remember that the win bonus will taste all the sweeter once you realize that it wasn’t just your friend who made it all happen, it was you.

It was all of you.

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How I understand Dark Souls

With careful poise, shield at the ready, Matthew Rorie stepped forward onto the crumbling bridge. It was a beautiful vista, an enchanting land devoid of explanation. I sat and wondered to myself, “what is this place, what is its purpose?” only to have that question answered in the next fifteen seconds.

As if ripping a hole into this fictional hell world, fire lit the screen. Rorie’s avatar flailed around the bridge, trying desperately to escape, but it was of no use. His avatar crumbled, dead, on the ancient stone bridge. It was only when the familiar Japanese text, “YOU ARE DEAD”, perhaps stating the obvious, that we finally saw the culprit. A gigantic, red, spiky dragon as if ripped from the nightmares of a young boy.

Matthew Rorie and his friends laughed, poking fun at the sudden death. Beneath that laughter, that joyful expression and digs at how “THIS is Demon’s Souls”, there was an uneasy tension. While it was fun and games, Matthew Rorie knew he’d have to reach that same spot and reclaim his lost Souls, and his Humanity. It was a tension filled trek back to the bridge, stabbing monsters and only engaging enemies when he had to. Matthew Rorie soon found himself on the bridge, and stopped strategize.

Bows only seemed to piss the dragon off. Running forward and back only seemed to reset the dragon as soon as it disappeared off-screen. The tension only mounted as Rorie strategized, while Brad and Vinny watched quietly to see if Rorie would succeed.

What followed was harrowing. Slowly but surely, Rorie figured out the pattern. He fell ghouls, out-witted the monster’s fire, and found himself on the precipice of the under pass. This is when I found myself actually wanting to buy Dark Souls. A game I was convinced by the Internet was a hard, unfair, grief-a-thon from the developer, From Software.

What draws me to this game? It isn’t the combat, which looks methodical and plodding. It isn’t the hardcore nature of the game, or the eerie monster designs. What draws me to this game is its world. It’s the ambiguous nature of it and the vague messages contained within. The tired, beaten down voice work I had only experienced in titles like Silent Hill 2 was back and in full force. For what few moments of respite there were, they were all too brief. Soon Rorie would be on the move again, walking slowly, shield in hand, waiting to conquer the next challenge that awaited his spear.

It soon struck me, between the ducking and weaving, the throaty bellows of “oh my God”, the awkward cheering from Vinny and Brad, that this was a game not often seen in today’s playing field. Played alone, I can only imagine how terrifying an experience it must be. It was all too easy to romanticize stumbling upon a black knight that was not only too strong for your level, but hunted you for as long as it could, before leashing back to its spawning ground.

Then Rorie found an armoured boar.

Through trial and error, careful plotting, and two bags of puppies for luck, Rorie somehow defeated the beast, and found himself hunted by arrows and skeletons with shields. It was an intense chase, from seemingly one end of the map to the other, Rorie was hunted, chased, hounded by these unholy creatures. Desperately seeking safe haven, there were nail-biting near deaths, pitfalls, and false finishes. And yet somehow, some way, Rorie found himself at the next Bonfire. It was a resting place that offered brief sanctuary. Somewhere the hellish beasts could not follow. It was then that they decided to end the engaging “quick look” of Dark Souls, and I found myself awestruck by the possibilities of the world.

The world itself is something mysterious, ambiguous, and all together enthralling. I want to wade deep into the world to see its nooks and crannies, to experience the terror of encountering an enemy too strong for you, to attempt to flee and find safe haven before the monsters hunted you down and slaughtered you. It always bothered me to think of the “Souls” games as action, or adventure, or even RPG. Those titles didn’t fit quite right. Now, though, I know why. Dark Souls is a survival horror game, in the truest sense of the genre.

The allusions to Silent Hill may not seem apt. After all, one is about a twisted town that takes your inner most fear and twists it into a psychological skull-fucking, and the other is about being dumped into a world that hates and wants to kill you. There is no reason. There is no moralising. There is only you, your arms and shield, and a hundred thousand monsters standing between you and sanctuary. Yet I can’t help but feel the same, intangible pull toward Dark Souls that I felt when I played Silent Hill 2 for the first time.

I knew nothing of that game when I bought it, only that a friend had recommended it for being a “scary game”. I find myself in much the same situation here, looking at Dark Souls. I know more about this game than I did Silent Hill, but I still feel as if I don’t know anything. I find myself unable to wait. The thought of fumbling through the dark. Shield in hand, wondering where the next danger might pull me. In short, I’m looking forward to being scared. It’s been a long time since a game scared me.

And perhaps that’s where From Software is coming from. Perhaps that’s why they chose to disable party chat, voice chat, and any kind of chat. After seeing the game in action, and gaining an understanding of what it is, I can’t help but feel this is a game tailor made to scare the bejeesus out of anyone who plays it. A kind of ambiguous horror that only grows more terrifying with more understanding. As it stands, my pre-order is ready, and I can’t wait to shit my pants on October 4.

7 Comments

On Roland: a contradiction

 I am a narrative-driven gamer. What I mean by that is I am in the game first and foremost for the narrative experience. The world, the characters that inhabit it, and the story that those two things weave together are often more important to me than the actual gameplay. It sounds odd, but it's just how I happen to enjoy the games I play.

It should count as no surprise then that Borderlands - the sleeper hit of 2009 from Gearbox Software - ranks highly amongst my favourite games this generation. 

For the uninitiated, Borderlands is a fantastic game full of personality and wit, and the sort of awe inspiring nerd-dom that'd make even a Trekkie blush. It is, to not put too fine a point on it, a geeked out adventure across a backwater shit-hole of a planet.

With an introduction like that, it is safe to assume that I loved the game. And I did. I still do, in fact. Having recently downloaded and played "Claptrap's New Robot Revolution" to completion, this game is still amazing, witty, and full of fun, satisfying Roleplaying Shooter goodness.

There is a problem, however.

From the beginning, when Gearbox first announced the classes and characters you would play as and meet in Borderlands, I was drawn to one specific character in particular. While Brick, Lilith, and Mordecai had their own personalities and quirks, I couldn't help but be drawn to the Soldier character, Roland.

Intergalactic Bad Ass 
Maybe it was his thousand yard stare, his serious demeanour, or his lack of enthusiasm for the murder and mayhem that was being perpetrated. To me, Roland looked like a guy who had stepped onto Pandora and instantly regretted his decision. He struck me as the kind of man who did not appreciate the Mad Max inspired insanity, nor did he care for the endless stream of psychopathic pugilists and carnivorous wildlife. To put it bluntly, in a sea of clowns and utterly insane characterisations, Roland struck me as the only "serious" character in the game.

So why is it then, that I see a problem? Well, the problem stems from the fact that Roland the Soldier's aesthetic design says one thing, and his personality contradicts it entirely.

From the scraps of information on the four characters in Borderlands, what can be discerned about Roland is that he was a mercenary soldier who worked for the Crimson Lance. On a wanted poster in "Secret Armoury of General Knoxx", he is cited as wanted for murdering a superior officer and desertion. From there the imagination can run wild on the possibilities.

Considering the kind of PMC that Crimson Lance is, it is not outrageous to presume that Roland was not an evil bastard on or off the battlefield. The little backstory we have on him seems to suggest that he was at odds with the officer in question, and in a heated battle killed him. From there, he was forced to flee not only the Crimson Lance, but presumably anywhere they (and Atlas) had a strong foothold in the galaxy. That would bring him to Pandora.

Now, unless Gearbox decides to come out and say I'm full of crap and my imaginary backstory for Roland is stupid, I'm going to assume that this is correct, and that my initial impression of Roland the Soldier was not far from the characterisation depicted in his design.

So then, what is the problem?

The problem is his personality. The tone of his dialogue, what he says, it all seems wrong. Shouting things like "Critical beyotch!" in a joyous coo, to me, contradicts the serious, rough around the edges demeanour his design illustrates. Furthermore, it also seems to dig up something I see as a niggling problem within the Games Industry.

Roland is black. He is a black man. His visual design indicates that he is also a hardened veteran of the Crimson Lance. Why is it then, that he is portrayed in dialogue as a ghetto child using long out of date (within the fiction's universe) slang and a playful, murderous streak to him? There's a disconnect there that I don't quite understand, and it will make this next section pretty uncomfortable to type.
Needs more gun. 
 I am not going to come out and say Gearbox Software's depiction of Roland the soldier is racist. It's not. What it is, however, is a stereotype. It's a stereotype of a black man with a gun shouting slang and acting like a fool. This wouldn't be so bad if his design harkened to that kind of personality, but it doesn't. There is nothing in Roland's design that even hints to this kind of nature.

So the question is, in my mind, why? Why is his dialogue so stereotypical of a black man in videogames? Why is it that Roland's design says "hardened soldier" and yet his personality screams "WHAT IT DO DAWG?" I'd like to think that this was a miscalculation on Gearbox's part, but the truth, I feel, is a lot more disheartening.

I think, at the truth of this matter, is that Borderlands was made by a bunch of mid-30's white guys. That in and of itself is not a bad thing. Not at all. What is bad, however, is that this group of people took their only minority character within the game and turned him into a stereotype. What does that say about Gearbox, let alone Borderlands? The only black character in the game talks like he's a thug from Compton. Again, this kind of characterisation wouldn't be terrible if Roland's entire design wasn't a complete contradiction to his personality.

And that, I feel, is at the heart of my problem with Borderlands. As a game it is a lot of fun, and its narrative (what little of it there is) is a entertaining romp that is also very intriguing to think about. Taken from a design perspective, however, Roland the Soldier's characterisation is a glaring issue in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable title. 

It's also an issue within the Games Industry at large.

It would seem to me, having played close to 250 titles this console generation, that most video game writers do not know how to write minority characters. The very few exceptions stem from Rockstar Games and their portrayal of minorities in the GTA games (and now Red Dead Redemption). While there are stereotypes and caricatures in those titles, there are also serious characters as well. So why is it, then, that so many video game writers have a hard time writing minority characters? Why is it that video game writers have to turn every minority character in their game into a caricature, if they are to be given a personality at all? It doesn't make sense to me, and as a would-be writer myself, I find the lack of character in these caricatures sad and disheartening.

So I suppose I leave it to you, the Reader. Do you agree with my analysis of Roland, or not? Do you think there is a problem with video game writers and minority characters? If yes, if no, leave a comment below, and tell me what you think of this whole ordeal.    
21 Comments

So... what the hell IS Icarus?

We are almost 24 hours removed from the unveiling of Irrational Games's new piece of software. It is titled "BioShock Infinite", and it looks pretty damn good. 
 
There's a problem, though. 
 
I'm not sure why, but in the previous month I have been discussing theories with many Irrational fans over what direction their next title could take. We discussed sequel possibilities, new ground they could cover in narrative, or even genres. Of all the things we discussed, of all the game possibilities that crossed our mind, a sequel to BioShock was never once on the table. 
 
When I turned on my PC yesterday afternoon, I went to Giant Bomb to see what the new game from Irrational could be. I then read the headline "Irrational's new game BioShock Infinite". My heart sank a little, and my mouth kind of did this twitchy thing. 
 
Of all the possibilities my friends and I had theorized, of all the caveats we fathomed, we hadn't expected something so... predictable. 
 
Irrational Games makes very good games. In 2007 they released BioShock, which became a champion of sorts for the Games as Art discussion. With how final the last chapter seemed in BioShock, I was honestly taken aback by how out of left field the sequel's announcement felt. 
 
Irrational Games's next game was not supposed to be BioShock. It wasn't supposed to be SWAT 5 or System Shock 3, it was supposed to be something new, something daring, and something worthy of the mantle that Irrational Games has taken up since BioShock's release. While BioShock Infinite looks promising, it does not generate the excitement I felt when I played BioShock for the very first time, nor does it seem to have the same flare that made Rapture come alive. This leaves me wondering "why?" 
  
Irrational seems like a very talented studio. It is because of this--as well as seeing and hearing the imagination of the group--that I am struck dumb by this. Why is it a First Person Shooter with Light RPG Elements? Is this all Irrational can do? Or how about, why is it called BioShock Infinite? What is infinite about BioShock, or the narrative? Does it deal with infinity in some way? Probably most maddening of all, is what the hell is Icarus? 
 
These questions are moot, I suppose, since BioShock Infinite is not seeing a release until the year of 2012. At this point then--as a fan of BioShock and Irrational Games--I am left sitting here with no feeling one way or the other about BioShock Infinite. There's no anger or feeling of betrayal, no excitement or even feverish fanboy squeals. It's just... confusion with a slight shrug of the shoulder. 
 
I honestly expected Irrational's next title to blow me away. Turns out it couldn't even blow a balloon for me.

2 Comments

I hate Kotaku.

 Why the hell do I go to Kotaku?

It's a question I've been struggling with recently, but perhaps some back story in is in order?

Over the past month or so, I've been mostly reviewing my Internet-viewing habits. Internet shows I watch, forums I frequent, and even websites I visit have fallen under the dutiful eye of scrutiny. The more I've thought about what I do online, the more I've realized that about eighty percent of the sites I visit, the shows I watch, and the people I interact with are just pointless.

However, this particular post is about Special K. Kotaku. The Gamer's Guide. You know the place that has more typos than an ESL classroom's first lesson?

Or how about the one place where a creepy gaijin gets paid to write about schoolgirls in their underwear?

Yeah, you get the point.

Kotaku used to be a good website, I thought. Whenever I had found myself taking inventory of my news sources, I found myself putting Kotaku almost always to the top of the "keep" list. I'm not sure why, now that I think about it. It could have been the staff, although I don't like any of the writers. Or perhaps it had to do with the quality journalism, although most of Kotaku's posts seem to be two lines of text followed by a republished article, and a misleading headline or two.

Really, looking back, I have absolutely no idea why I've been going to Kotaku all this time.

I don't think it's for the community, though. The people over there, I've found, are not only rude and obnoxious, but they also slavingly pander to the staff of Kotaku as if the "journalists" were gods perched atop Olympus itself. The community at Kotaku also tend to treat comments as their own personal sounding board to bitch about anything. Just today there was a short post about Machinarium being on sale for $5.00. What's the first user comment?

Why of course, it's decrying people who pirate media as soulless, unfeeling monsters.

What bugs me about this is not that it is two-faced and hypocritical, but that the balls on the users of Kotaku are so big that they threaten to crush what little integrity the site has left. Seriously, whoever put it in the minds of the Kotaku faithful that piracy was anywhere near the same level as murder, rape, or even theft needs to have the concept of piracy explained to them. 

Of course, try arguing that with the Kotakuites and see how far it gets you.

Honestly, I think I'm done with that place. Giant Bomb's community may act like a bunch of "cool story bro" dicks sometimes, but the truth is that I'd take the fun and loose atmosphere of this site over that pseudo-intellectual wankfest that masturbates to pictures of Crecente's hair while discussing how intelligent they are.

So I guess, uh, long live the Bomb.    

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Tim Schafer's Got a Problem

This is a blog/article/something with a lot of words written down by a guy who has no clue about what he's talking about. For the most part it's a rambling mess, because the writer in question approaches each blog/article/lotsadamnwordsthing with a general idea and that's about it. Fair warning, this could get pretty damn long. 
 
 Tim Schafer. Funniest Man in Gaming.
Tim Schafer is an interesting chap, isn't he? 
 
He's got that sort of Mad Scientist hair-cut that many self-flagellating faux-intellectual aspire to craft, and he's got that kind of wispy half-beard that speaks of "I'm an artist, and I don't give two shits about what I look like". These are bad qualities when discussing someone who hasn't seen hide nor hair of success. However, this man, this Tim Schafer, has had quite a bit of success, hasn't he? 
 
From my understanding, his first real writing success (and that is the key understanding here; Tim Schafer is a writer first and foremost) from the Monkey Island series of games. From there he also wrote and produced titles like Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle. From my understanding, these are adventure titles and reputed to be very funny, if not touching on some emotional level. 
 
I write this all down because Tim Schafer, to me, is someone who has a lot of good ideas... and absolutely no damn clue on how to execute them. 
 
I will profess here and now, that I am the quintessential Nobody. I haven't accomplished nearly any of the feats Tim Schafer has, and I doubt I ever will. Life has treated us both very differently, and personally, I do like his style. This blog, however, is about the misconceptions we as the gaming community seem to have about this chubby, innocuous artisan. 
 
Let me preface this odd little thing by stating that I have only played two of the Monkey Island titles, skipped his later adventure games, and have only played his most recent foray into the console market in the last six years. It is armed with this lack of knowledge or, perhaps, this removal from Schafer-dom that I feel I can articulate why it is his games, for lack of a better term, don't sell.  
 
It's funny, though, isn't it? Tim Schafer is held up by many gamers with fond memories for his work as someone to be inspired by. He's done a lot of interesting things, experimenting with genre-melding and has, consistently, crafted well-done tales about many different objects. He's made funny games, he's made a serious game (From what I've been told, Grim Fandango fits this description), and he's made bat-shit-crazy-why-the-hell-not games (Brutal Legend). Yet in the entirety of Tim Schafer's catalogue, I can't help but wonder why it is that this modern day comedic genius has not really seen the monetary success he seemingly deserves.  
 
I must also admit I have never played Psychonauts. I've heard from all who have played it that it was a fun platforming game with a cool story and really hilarious scenarios. I can safely say I had no interest in the title, and skipped it in lieu of something else (as I imagine many other gamers did, as well). So what does that leave me with then, to try and articulate Tim Schafer's lack of monetary success? 
 

Fucking cool protagonist. 

Brutal Legend. 

 
This game was destined to be fantastic, I thought. I can remember sitting in front of a Mac's convenience store--on the curb with my butt staining the short-cut summer grass--and flipping through that month's Game Informer magazine. It promised the reveal of the "next comedic adventure by Tim Schafer's studio Double Fine". It was intriguing, and I had never really heard of this Schafer character before, but the art design was inspired, and it looked genuinely different from anything else I had seen that year. I read the article, I enjoyed it, and I began to look forward to Brutal Legend. I mean, surely a game that was a simple ode to classic heavy metal was going to be a success, both critically and commercially. It had seemed that, with the rise of Guitar Hero and the return of Rock N' Roll, that a game of this magnitude, a game that had you playing as a demon-slaying Metal Roadie in a fantasy land ripped straight from heavy metal album covers... it just seemed like a can't lose scenario.  
 
And oh my God, how I was wrong. 
 
Now, Brutal Legend isn't a BAD game. Far from it. Each of the game's mechanics work competently well. The problem, however, is that none of it--all mashed together--is exactly fun. It's just... not. The hack and slash elements are slow and stilted, lacking the fluidity of a Devil May Cry or a God of War title. The open-world adventuring was slow and tedious thanks to the poor navigational system and lack of mini-map, and the RTS elements... well... let's just say that if Blizzard couldn't figure out RTS controls for the N64, then there's simply no hope for the genre on a console. 
 
So why is it, then, that I and many other gamers endured the lacklustre gameplay? Was it for the story? The characters? The plot? No, I don't think so. When you boil it down, distill Brutal Legend into its most basic components, what you have is a rather bland I-can-do-everything sandbox game. The design is certainly inspired, yes, and the musical score (when not being assaulted by Amazing Metal™) is decent. The voice acting, too, is well done and each character is brought to life quite swimmingly. So why then, does this game not live up to the hype? 
 
It seems to be that the Tim Schafer name has become a brand of sorts. For evidence of this, look no farther than the boxart for the game Brutal Legend. It has his name in a decent sized font right on top of the logo. "A Tim Schafer Game". What does this say, then? I think, honestly, the pretension one must have to think his name will sell a title is a little preposterous in this industry. Games are not the same as television or film, because there is no single creative vision. It is the collaboration of a hundred artists working together under a shared vision. It can be steered by a producer or a "Creative Director", but in the end, it's not their project alone. You can't point to one game and say "This game exists because of a single person". You just can't.  
 

 FOR THE METAL!

That, in my opinion, is the first sign of Tim Schafer's problem. 
 
So again, why did this game not live up to the hype? If I were to put a finger on it, I'd say it's because while Tim Schafer has tremendous talent as a writer, he has absolutely no idea on the basics of a well-designed game. A game cannot stand alone on its story and voice acting. You need interesting if not outright fun gameplay to reward the player. This coupled with the lack of an oversight on "his" project, and I believe that is why we have the RTS elements that we do. I'm pretty sure that if he were simply The Writer, what Brutal Legend would have become was a competent hack-n-slash with some open world elements that was well written and beautifully designed. Alas, we did not get this, and I feel that the major culprit of this nefarious deed is Tim Schafer himself. 
 
Honestly, why is it that this game has such loving detail spent on its writing and cutscene composition, and yet almost no attention is paid to the gameplay? The gameplay is key, isn't it? It's the reason we play games, or at least, that's what most people would think. 
 
And yet we have broken combat and barely functional RTS gameplay. I mean, it baffles me. After all these years and all of these great RTS studios have tried and consistently failed to bring an RTS to consoles in a competent way, what the hell could have possessed one Tim Schafer to think that Brutal Legend would have worked out differently? 
 
I almost hate to say it, but I think it's arrogance, on his part and EA's. 
 

 I like Jack, and I like Tim. They should work together again. Hopefully I'll be able to play it without frustration.

And that's really what it boils down to: arrogance. To Tim Schafer's credit, the man is genuinely a funny and a seemingly nice individual. While it may be emasculating to say so (and that is not my intent), I honestly don't think that man could harm a fly. He just doesn't seem to have a mean bone in his body... and yet, why is it his games just fucking suck at gameplay? It's arrogance. Plain and simple. 
 
I think the problem with Tim Schafer Games™ is that the man has no one challenging him. Everyone from the gaming press to the gaming community reveres Tim Schafer's work for being brilliant fiction for the medium. There is only so long a person can ignore that kind of praise without starting to believe it. There is nothing wrong with confidence, but once you start believing everything you touch will turn to gold, that's when you let little things like bad animation and jarring navigational systems muck up your game.  
 
What Tim Schafer Games™ needs is someone to challenge him. Not the aloof arrogance of believing that good writing will see you through to critical (and more importantly, financial) acclaim. The man has been in the games industry for almost--if not--twenty or more years. He cut his teeth on adventure titles where gameplay consisted of clicking on objects and seeing what got you through a puzzle and what didn't. To make the leap from that to third-person platforming, to third-person hack n' slash-and-everything-else-too is not a good idea without some entity overseeing it and making damn sure you get the gameplay right.  
 
As it stands, Tim Schafer does very good writing, but really, when you boil it down, the man needs people around him that won't gawk at his creativity and lavish him with high praise. What the man needs is someone willing to say to him "That's a bad idea", and like all technical and not creative types, they can be the unsung heroes that often save a title.  
 
So what's the point? 
 
The point, I suppose, is that Tim Schafer is a very talented writer. What he is not, however, is a talented game designer. I think, personally, that the more critical the gaming press and community becomes of this aspect of his work, the sooner we will see a rise in quality. And perhaps, maybe, just maybe, the first financial break-out title for a man (and studio!) who so richly deserve it... if only for the sheer creativity he and Double Fine bring to the table.
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What it Could Be, What I Hope It'll Be -- A thought on Black Ops


 I needed a header of sorts.

Picture this, if you will: 
 
 
The sun boils your skin, fresh with mosquito bites. It's 196X and you're riding gunner seat against the humid breeze in South Vietnam. Your brow is caked with dirt and sweat. You've been running on empty since the last fortnight, and only now that you're due some R&R, you're thrust back out into the jungle to meet Charlie head on.  
 
You take a long look at the rest of the Hueys with their blades cutting against the thick, muggy air. You're not quite sure, but you think maybe this day in Hell, more than all the others, has finally broken the thermostat.  
 
This is where the adventure begins. Or at least, it's what I hope to find in Treyarch's fourth foray into the Call of Duty line, entitled Black Ops. 
 
 Apocalypse Now Name-Drop.
The reason I try to paint this picture in so many words is quite simple: I seem to find that I'm having more and more faith in Treyarch not only as a developer, but as a narrative-driven studio. 
 
Their previous works were confined to the straight and simple "good versus evil" approach to World War II. While this is common and many would agree that it's just fine to chest-thump and flag-wave over the single greatest victory in the 20th Century, one also has to wonder--just what could the boys and girls at Treyarch do without the confinement of a pre-determined narrative? 
 
It's a question I ask because while many lament Call of Duty 3 and World at War as buggy and inferior to the Golden Child offerings from Infinity Ward, I can't help but find that, underneath the graphics and the FPS gameplay, World at War was, perhaps, the better game. And if not the better game, perhaps the most meditative of the series.
 
I know, blasphemous. Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2 featured tighter controls, better weapons, and a more fast-paced, frantic story (much to the chagrin of narrative enthusiasts for MW2). However, I can't help but remember that Treyarch were not chest-beating or flag-waving with World at War--they were trying to tell a coherent narrative about war itself. About how alien and brutal the Japanese soldiers were (and not without respect for their warrior mentality), but they also touched upon the true gravity of the war and just what the cost of it was (ergo: Stalingrad/Russian missions). It is with these nagging little thoughts that I can't help but wonder if, maybe, given a theater of war with more loosely defined morals and more grey area to explore, just what could they show us that we haven't seen before? 
 
A lot of people are quick to dismiss Treyarch as the bastard child of the Call of Duty family, but I don't think that is the case. If anything, I think of Infinity Ward and Treyarch in the following analogy: 
 
Infinity Ward - The handsome frat boy who knows how to show you a good time. The experience is a dizzying haze of instant gratification and disorienting, heaping helpings of Awesome. The next morning, you awaken sore and achy, with a headache threatening to go USS Ishimura on your pure skull, and the faint recollection that what you went through was a lot of fun, but if only you could remember what made it so special. 
 
Modern Day Poet. I think. 
Treyarch - The poet. He's clumsy and awkward, and while he rambles in what he tries to say, what he tries to preach, he stumbles over his words because he's not used to an audience. By himself, in his own little world, he can tell sweeping, grandiose tales full of adventure and thoughtful platitudes... but in a crowd, his message and story is lost in the white noise of a house party. In essence, he's hanging out with the handsome frat boy, and if he ever hopes to grow, he needs to realize he's got a future if only he reaches out to take it. 
 
I mean it when I say this: World at War was the most provocative stance on World War II in our medium. It wasn't in the cutscenes, and there were no heavy-handed "messages" distilled through dialogue from faceless NPCs. Everything you saw, every climactic battle and every scary-as-shit Spider Jap hanging in the trees was a comment on not only the Pacific Theater, but on the nature of war itself. 
 
Please, feel free to tell me I'm smoking crack and I'm seeing things--but I can't help but feel that the reason "Giant Zippos" were included in World at War was not because "it'd be fun", but to show you what it was to burn a man tied to a tree alive was like. Better yet, they wanted to put you in the shoes of that poor bastard who had to take the Giant Zippo and burn other men alive. In any language, the screams of anguish and suffering are universally understood. 
 
So why is it that I believe Black Ops will wind up being a thoughtful, narrative-driven experience? It's not the FPS gameplay, or the no doubt Tom Clancy-inspired plot they will saddle it with. No, it's the experience. It's the little moments, it's seeing the Fall of Saigon not in pictures, but through the eyes of a soldier who was there. Seeing the faces of helpless Vietnamese civilians fleeing to the rooftops for Air-Evac and being told "only eight at a time" would be a harrowing experience in our medium. Especially if it was us who had to pick who to save, and who to leave behind.
 
And yet, Vietnam will be just one facet of a much larger war. The Cold War as it is commonly known, will no doubt be the focus of this epic. From what little can be gleaned (from leaks last year to rumours and speculation), there is a theory out there that you will play the role of one soldier, and will be following his career from the Cuban Missile Crisis all the way to the Iranian Embassy in the 1980's.  
 
It needn't be said, but I will say it anyhow: This is extremely fertile ground to explore. Not just for the nature of the conflict between the Soviets and the Americans, but also instrumental to perhaps understanding the deeper threat behind M.A.D.--Mutually Assured Destruction. 
 
To date, there have been only three Nuclear disasters in the world (that this author is aware of), the two bombs dropped on Japan, and the Chernobyl Incident. Many gamers were not even alive during Chernobyl, let alone around to really understand the nature of just how fucking scary it was to live during the Cold War. 
 
Duck and Cover: it's a joke now, but it was serious back then. Nuclear fire was a very real possibility, and it was the covert as well as the diplomatic background shenanigans that almost brought the world to an end--and also saved it. 
 

 Yeah Yeah, I'm long-winded. Sue me.

Perhaps Black Ops will be just another shooter with an intriguing setting. It's a very real possibility. However, this author cannot help but think that Treyarch is aiming for a higher watermark. I think, personally, that we're going to become very acquainted with just how close the world came to ending during the Cold War. And while it may be wrapped up in a harrowing single-player experience--I believe, if handled properly, it can prove to be an educational one. One to teach the gamers who didn't have to live in fear of Nuclear Fire, or of an irrational fear of Communism infecting the Great America.  It could educate as well as validate the unsung heroes who saved our collective bacon. And without them, we wouldn't be here.
 
And of course, Black Ops could turn into a really shitty game that has no redeeming qualities whatsoever--but where's the fun in thinking that?
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How a Fighting Game Brought Me Full Circle

This blog is about Super Street Fighter 4. Sort of.
 
Full Disclosure: I am a complete and utter Street Fighter fanboy. I have been playing Street Fighter games since first seeing (and playing) the first Street Fighter II cabinet in a seedy Chinese restaurant in 1991. Keep that in mind if you think this blog veers off into pure-gushing. It might. I don't think about these things or edit them. I'm lazy and my thumbs are sore. 
 
And with that out of the way... 
 
It's three o'clock on a Friday afternoon. Winter is finally over here in Central Ontario, and while the beautiful green vista that greets me for my morning coffee on my front porch is shining particularly bright this day, the only thing I can think of is the shrink-wrapped, yellow-and-gold box with the slightest tint of lime green. In my hands is something I never thought I would've seen not a few years ago. I was holding Super Street Fighter IV, and I was ready to throw down. 
 

 Only cheap suckers spam lightning.
I'm holding it to savour the moment. Sitting on my wooden porch, my knees knocking together like some anxious teenage girl, I lightly trace the embossed logo on the cover and a twitch of a smile creeps into my face. My eyes close and for a moment, and I can smell Ho Lee Cow's Chinese Restaurant. It smells like chicken, rice, and curry. I've just jumped into the time machine in my brain and dialed back all the way to 1991. To the day I first laid eyes on something called Street Fighter II
 
I remember being a young boy, my tiny boy-fingers trembling with some trepidation as I plunked a quarter into the cabinet, laid my hands on the dingy, grimy buttons and stick, and went about getting my ass handed to me by the green fella you see right there. I handily lost, and then I plunked down another quarter. 
 
And then another. 
 
And then another... 
 
Soon my mother was calling me. She had finished her shift and was now going to take us home for a summer afternoon filled with BBQ Durgers and weekday cartoons. I did as I was told--as I was wont to do at that point in my life--but I could not get that game out of my head. 
 
I remember telling anyone who would listen about how amazing this game was. "It's a game, and you fight," I said with a certain gleam in my eye. No one else really knew what to make of it--they didn't care, and to be honest, the idea of a game inspiring the imagination of this young man seemed more cute than worrying. Mortal Kombat hadn't been released yet, and so there was no reason to worry. 
 
My grandmother is a 77 year old woman with a bad knee and missing a foot of her small intestine. She's a hardened Christian Warrior but she's also the sweetest woman in the world. Perhaps I feel a little wrong that in my eager youth, I had convinced her to buy me a SEGA Genesis--strictly because it had "Street Fighter II". To her credit, she didn't deny me, perhaps because she's always treated me like her own child or because she felt like getting me to shut up about the stupid "game with fighting green people". I didn't know--still don't--and honestly don't care. 
 
That Christmas I got my first 16 bit console. A SEGA Genesis, and a copy of Street Fighter II: Championship Edition. 
 
I played that game religiously. I learned to play and worked my thumbs so hard with the awkward controller that I now possess twenty year old calluses on my thumbs. It was the first addiction of many in my life (Well, gaming I mean), and it has and will always hold a near and dear place in my heart. 
 
It struck me then, sitting there on my porch, the radio playing some hip tune from the 90's, that I finally realized that my life had, in a way, come full circle. 
 
A few years ago, I kind of lost the plot, you see. I started trying to justify my hobby of videogames as something as grandiose as other mediums are perceived. I'm sure we've all been there with our hobby--but I did it in a big, bad way. I wrote essays and turned them in for grades. I told anyone who would listen about the emergent nature of our artform, and I even tried to hold a lecture on the subject. All of this is in the last five years and, looking back, I was kind of an ass about it. 
 
I do believe games are art, but that's not the issue here. The issue is that I started grading games on things like emotional impact, about digging deep and finding the symbolism in a game like Gears of War (and to be honest, there's a ton there). It became less about enjoying the pleasure derived from games, and more about finding what each title was trying to say. 
 
Growing disillusioned with my lack of findings, with the fact that games were not--I argued--maturing at the rate I felt they needed to, I was kind of almost ready to dump the whole hobby entirely. I had long ago abandoned fighting games and sometimes, just sometimes, I would casually think back and reminisce to the titles of my distant past. I'd say "Man, they should make another Bionic Commando", or "Whatever happened to Earthworm Jim and Vector Man?
 
The biggest question, however, was thinking back to mid-2007 and saying to myself, "I'd love to see a new Street Fighter game." 
 
Needless to say, Capcom granted my wish. At first I was thrilled and bought it day one in February of 2009. I enjoyed the ever-loving snot out of it, and dove right into the multiplayer (this was something I had never experienced in a fighting game before--save for the friends using my second GENESIS controller). I got my ass handed to me. Repeatedly.  
 
It came to a point where, while I had finally managed to compete in over 500 LIVE battles (1200, last I checked), I had always become increasingly annoyed with this game. I was still enamoured with Games As Art, you see, and I could not, for some reason, see the forest for the trees in Street Fighter IV. 
 
After a month or two, I put it down, and forgot about it. I don't know why--perhaps it was getting my ass handed to me or perhaps it was the rather slimy "pro players" subculture--but I just stopped. Capcom had tried, and failed. 
 
And now, flash-forward to (now) May of 2010, and here I am, back in the saddle and coming right back to where I started. There was a certain kind of magic when I held that game in its shrink-wrap. A certain kind of adrenaline rush that one only experiences when they are engaging in something truly adventurous. Sure, to many of you, it was just a stupid 2D fighting game, but to me, Super Street Fighter IV summed up 17 of 22 years on this planet. And now, I finally get it. 
 
 I am 20-3 in SSF4. Thanks to this apathetic hero.
It's not about Games As Art. It's not about Roger Ebert or anyone else either for or against the idea of Games As Art. What it's about--at its very heart--is about making someone get shivers down their spine when they hear the opening notes of a familiar theme song. It's about having a reveal trailer for a title that people have been fantasizing about for years. It's about finally getting your game on launch day and fulfilling a person with so much joy their eyes are about to burst and shoot lasers made of rainbows. And for me, Super Street Fighter IV is that game. 
 
Where am I going with this? I'm not quite sure. All I can say is that I've pumped ten to twelve hours into this game right now. I've accumulated a ton of icons, titles, completed challenges, and I've completed most of the characters in arcade mode. I've also had roughly 24 matches online... you know what? I got it. 
 
My point is this: 
 
Mass Effect 2 wowed me and made me feel genuine tension in its climax. Silent Hill 2 made me thoughtful and scared. Half-Life 2 showed me a person can rise up and become the hero a world needs, and a fat Italian plumber showed me that conquering dragon-turtles and saving the Princess is an incredible adventure, no matter how ridiculous.  
 
What Super Street Fighter IV has shown me is that, games don't need validation. They don't need encouragement. They don't need vehement defense when people "just don't get it". What they are, need to be, and have always been, is a gateway to another world full of adventure and love and loss and everything in between. What they are, at the very core of the matter, is a magical place where, if the gameplay and the animation and the visual design and the music all come together in just that special spot, you can take a full-grown man and turn him into that five year old boy who first touched fingertips to Sanwa buttons and fell in love. 
 
And in the end, that's what it's all about, isn't it?
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