Trying to Articulate My Problems with Kingdom Hearts

This leather and zipper aesthetic is really bad as well

I’m a fan of Square-Enix. I’m a fan of Disney. That should make me a fan of Kingdom Hearts right? I mean the series was pitched as a chocolate and peanut butter combination of Square’s RPG design and aesthetic with Disney’s treasure trove of IP, along with some connective story tissue to tie everything together. Unfortunately, that game never existed. In the finished products the connective tissue made up of Sora, the Heartless, Riku, and Kairi has clashed with much of the Disney charm. The JRPG-ness of the central story has spread throughout the games like cancer and added bloat and confusion to what could have been a straight forward design. Instead of emphasizing the Disney worlds and Square crossovers, the Kingdom hearts series has become mired in nonsense proper nouns like Heartless, Nobodies, and Ansem. Furthermore, the main story doesn’t really tread new ground using its many story conceits. Kingdom Hearts games rely upon the same topics like the power of friendship, the nature of the human heart, and not knowing where you belong for half a dozen games. These storytelling clichés might work in a game targeted at kids, but the downright confusing number of named characters, enemy types, journal entries, Ansem Reports, and shadow organizations make a simple plot very difficult to follow. Even worse, the games don’t even give the original story the time to shine because each game is beholden to retelling Disney movies for much of their moment-to-moment gameplay. As a result, the story feels schizophrenic: the main story takes a backseat to Disney for half the game and then eclipses the Disney stuff for the rest. All of the work and care put into the Kingdom Hearts games ultimately is in service to a main story that says a lot that means very little and a bunch of Disney sections that feel like Spark Notes versions of Disney movies with fan fiction scribbled in.

Those are my central issues with the game and I could definitely go into more detail if I had to, but I figured I would see what other people thought. The series is incredibly polarizing and I have only played the main line games so maybe the DS game and the PSP game fix the storytelling problems I see in KH1 and 2. I like individual moments in the KH games, but man does it feel like the game is much less than the sum of its parts.

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The Role of Randomness in Rogue-likes

I JUST BEAT FTL ON NORMAL yesterday and that (heart-pounding, jazz-handing) experience got me thinking about rogue-likes. The devaluing of the term rogue-like is in full effect. If a game has perma-death: it’s probably a rogue-like. If a game has randomly generated levels: it’s probably a rogue-like. If a game is punishingly difficult: it’s probably a rogue-like. Though these basic game design similarities imply a similar gameplay experience, the truth is that the variations within this “genre” result in wildly different experiences. One of the central differentiators in modern rogue-like design is the role of randomness. Each rogue-like incorporates some degree of randomness, but how and where that randomness is employed can be the difference between a game feeling tough, but fair, and feeling like a Sisyphus simulator. I’m going to take a look at a few of the prominent rogue-likes that have come out the last few years to point out how those games have incorporated randomness in their design, for better and for worse.

Every level has an end boss and an item drop, so you are always progressing

The first game I would like to look at is The Binding of Isaac, a dual-joystick shooter with all of the trappings of a rogue-like. The Binding of Isaac is full of potentially frustrating room layouts and luck-based difficulty spikes. If you go a floor without seeing any health hearts: bad luck. If you get three fart pills in a row: bad luck. However, the game itself does have an element of skill to it. Skillful dodging and shooting can be enough to progress deep into The Binding of Isaac, even without any great item drops. This skill elements helps alleviate the wild luck swings. You always feel like there was an element of personal culpability when playing since there is no randomness in how you are damaged. If you get hit, you get hurt; if you don’t want to get hurt, don’t get hit. On top of the sheer skill component, The Binding of Isaac does have some consistent upgrades built into its levels. The first floor of every game always includes at least one upgrade room. Every floor always ends with a boss that always provides a few hearts and an upgrade. Thus, the game builds some known elements that the player can rely on into its random levels. These constants help to alleviate the crushing feeling of losing a run, since the next run could immediately be promising if you get the right items on the first floor. Now elements like the slot machines, beggars, shops, and secret rooms do introduce frustration-inducing variance, but good luck is not necessary for playing a long game. Good luck is helpful, but not mandatory.

I hope you were prepared for a battle in an asteroid field!

FTL: Faster than Light errs further towards randomness in its design. Other than which starting ship you pick, there is no single constant in FTL to rely on. While there is certainly skill involved in how you approach battles and events, there are very few ways to plan out what encounters you engage in or run from. Sometimes you run into a ship and are offered the option to try to avoid conflict, but your choice is not always honored since the game decides what is going to happen based on dice rolls. Furthermore, most decisions are only made with partial knowledge. For example, you could try to stop a colony from getting attacked, but you never know what ship you will be up against. As a result, FTL requires both flawless execution and star-aligning-luck to beat on any difficulty, but especially Normal and Hard. FTL constantly hides information from the player and forces the player to adjust to the shitty situations it concocts. One regularly occurring event asks a simple question: do you want to attempt to fight space spiders? If you win the dice roll, you are rewarded with free scrap and resources. If you fail, a random crew member is permanently killed. These two wildly different outcomes are the random result of the same simple choice and it is that high variance that makes FTL so frustrating. The reliance on high variance outcomes for choices that are themselves determined by random chance can lead to a feeling of powerlessness or frustration if you get too invested in one run. This randomness also leads to a brutal game that offers “this could all turn to crap at any moment” thrill and catharsis that few games can muster.

These shortcuts allow a randomly generated game to have constant progress

Spelunky lands firmly in the skill camp, but it also adds an element of persistent progress that eases the journey to the end game for less skilled players. Winning a game of Spelunky requires intense skill and focus, but it is entirely possible to beat the game without having a “lucky run.” Though some exploits and tricks are luck based, actually beating the game doesn’t require a forgiving item drop or a nice level layout. On top of the game being largely skill based, the game offers you the chance to build shortcut tunnels that bypass entire sections of the game. These shortcuts allow less skilled players to see the end of the game without navigating an entire game worth of precarious jumps and traps. As a result, Spelunky is less daunting or frustrating to finish than FTL or The Binding of Isaac… if finishing the game is your only goal. Spelunky also introduces a bunch of leader-boards: perfect for inspiring multiple playthroughs. Between the time based speed runs and the max money runs and the eggplant runs, Spelunky gives players a ton of avenues of play to keep the game interesting without relying on randomly generated roadblocks.

Getting to choose heirs gives the player a bit of control

Rogue Legacy takes the constant progression found in Spelunky and adds permanent character growth to the equation. In Rogue Legacy you are able to unlock new character classes, character buffs, and skills that carry over from one run to another. Furthermore, the bosses in Rogue Legacy stay dead when you beat them. This leads to a game that can be brute-forced if necessary, since you can out level enemies and bosses over time if you are so inclined. While the game is reflex and strategy intensive, it does not require its players to truly master its systems thanks to its permanent progress. Every run in Rogue Legacy has its luck elements: your hero and caste configuration. However, even these random elements can be mitigated since you can pick between three heroes every generation and you can lock in configurations of the caste to keep the castle constant. The end result is a rogue-like that utilizes short term randomness, but on the whole is governed by attrition. Almost anyone can see the end of Rogue Legacy if given enough time. Whether that low barrier to victory is a positive or a negative is up for interpretation.

Randomness is one of the foundational concepts that rogue-likes are built upon. Too much randomness and a game can feel unfair or cheap. Not enough randomness and the game loses some of the trill and challenge that people love. Now it seems like the real question here is whether high levels of randomness are a bug or a feature. Is it poor design that it took me around a hundred runs to beat FTL on normal or is that toughness essential? Alternatively, is it good design that I was able to beat Rogue Legacy pretty quickly just by leveling or is that a devolution? Most rogue-likes present a pretty stark rejection of the player-control based game design philosophies that seem to be dominating the industry right now, but then maybe that’s the point. I personally hate feeling out of control in a game. I feel cheated when I lose due to something completely out of my control, but then again learning to accept that things can be out of my control is certainly worthwhile. Ultimately, the thrill of beating a game that seems actively malicious is a rush that few games outside of rogue-likes can offer (I BEAT FTL ON NORMAL!), and that is why I continue to play them.

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Deep Look: Bioshock- Why Rapture Fell

Hey Bombinites

Here is the latest Deep Look! Deep Looks are largely gameplay and commentary like a Giantbomb quicklook; however, I try to cover games that have been out for a while and I intend to use the videos to highlight moments and mechanics that I found interesting. Also I aim to keep the videos under 20 minutes.

In this Deep Look I examine how the key philosophies of the city of Rapture lead it to fall. I show how several of the minor antagonists, namely Steinman and Cohen, display the fundamental problems with Rapture's founding belief of truly unfettered freedom. I also show off what makes the characters of Rapture so problematic. This will likely be my last video on the original Bioshock so I hope you enjoy!

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Estranged Parents and Whale-Monsters: a Close Look at Final Fantasy X

Hey everybody, this essay is the final part of my look at the Final Fantasy series's use of broken homes and estrangement. Please take a look at my earlier work on FFVIII and FFIX if you want some other looks at how the series has handled these themes. I'm going to go into extreme depth in discussing FFX, so spoilers abound. I hope you enjoy my analysis!

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I cannot help but feel that it is FFX’s fusion of the personal with the apocalyptic that makes the game’s complex story so compelling. FFX follows FFVIII and FFIX in combining a world-spanning adventure with a male protagonist’s deeply personal struggle to reconnect with his father. In FFVIII, Squall completes a lengthy journey of sorceress-fighting and self-discovery, only to find that he was following in his father’s footsteps at every turn, down to falling in love with the daughter of his father’s first love. In FFIX, Zidane spends the entire game unknowingly opposing his father and brother, only to further reject them both when their familial relations are revealed. Unlike the orphaned protagonists of FFVIII and IX, there is no mystery as to who Tidus’s father is: from the beginning of FFX we know both that Tidus’s father is a blitzball player named Jecht and that Tidus hates him; yet, plenty of drama still surrounds Tidus’s relationship with his father. Once Tidus ventures to Spira it is revealed that Jecht is the monstrous creature Sin, the beast whose destruction is the main thrust of FFX’s story.

This guy is the source of a whole lot of turmoil

Thus, the central save-the-world plot of FFX sets Tidus on an inevitable collision course with his dad. Over the course of FFX, Tidus grows to know his absentee father by interacting with the people whom his dad affected. Tidus’s painful memories of a drunken egomaniac clash with the accounts of Jecht’s heroism that Tidus receives throughout Spira, forcing him to reconsider his appraisal of his dad. While Tidus never fully reconciles with his father, nor does he forgive Jecht for the abuse he experienced in his childhood, Tidus does gain an understanding of and respect for the father whom he never truly knew. Tidus’s image of Ject is shown to be a caricature, a distortion that amplifies Jecht’s worst qualities while hiding the rest. In addition, Tidus’s image of his father is outdated by the time he arrives in Spira; Jecht grew tremendously during his decade in Spira and Tidus’s image does not account for that growth. Through Tidus and his father Jecht, FFX demonstrates how children build their parents into larger-than-life figures, yet that initial image does not necessarily hold true over the years. Even parents still have room for growth.

Several short flashbacks offer glimpses into Tidus’s limited time with his father. These glimpses form the basis of Tidus’s understanding of who Jecht is as a person and, based on what we see, it is no surprise that Tidus hates his father. During Tidus’s trip to Luca, he remembers his father showing him a blitzball shot that he invented. Jecht says, “Well, well, trying to follow in my footsteps, are you? I usually charge for lessons, you know... That shot is done... like this… You can't do it, kid. But don't worry, my boy. You're not the only one. No one else can do it. I'm the best!” Despite Tidus trying his best to emulate his father, Jecht responds to his adolescent son by emasculating him. Where there should be teaching there is bragging. Where there should be encouragement there is shame. For Tidus, moments like these crystallize his image of his father as a bully and a braggart.

In addition to belittling Tidus with his overbearing personality, Jecht was also an alcoholic and his alcoholism threatened to ruin his blitzball career and his family. After Sin destroys the crusaders near Djose, Tidus has a flashback while chasing after Sin. In the flashback Tidus and Jecht have the following exchange:

 Tidus: "They say you don't practice anymore, that you're gonna retire."
 Jecht: "Let them talk. I'm still the best."
 Tidus: "They say you're no good 'cause you drink all the time."
 Jecht: "I can quit drinkin' whenever I want!"
 Tidus: "Then do it now."
 Jecht: "What did you say?"
 Tidus: "You just said you can!"
 Jecht: "Heh. Tomorrow, maybe."
 Tidus: "Why not today?"
 Jecht: "Why do today what you can leave for tomorrow? There he goes again...crying!"

Though Jecht does not seem to be an especially violent or belligerent drunk, his apathy still damages a young Tidus. Tidus is confronted with his supposedly great athlete of a father wasting his gifts by drinking and lounging. Jecht cannot even lie to his child about straightening out his life. Had Jecht given Tidus some impression that he was struggling with his drinking or trying to recover his former glory, perhaps Tidus would have grown to see his father as flawed, but largely well-meaning. However, because Jecht seems to revel in his sloth and inebriation, Tidus sees him as deadbeat and a showoff who belittled his son at every opportunity.

Though his hair is fabulous, he is crying on the inside

Beyond the direct damage that Jecht inflicted on Tidus through his failings as a parent, he also dealt a bit of collateral damage when he left Zanarkand. Tidus’s mom was deeply in love with Jecht. So in love in fact, that she often ignored her son whenever her husband was around. This led Tidus to “resent him, even hate him” for stealing his mother’s attention. Once Jecht left Zanarkand, Tidus’s mom “just lost her energy” and seemed to give up on life. From Tidus’s perspective, Jecht was responsible for his mother’s unhappiness as well as his own since, as far as he knew, Jecht either abandoned him and his mother or died training (basically just another form of abandonment). Jecht couldn’t even leave without breaking something.

As a result of Jecht’s many abuses, Tidus formulated a monstrous interpretation of his father. This construct emphasized all of Jecht’s crimes at the expense of his humanity. During Titus’s time in Besaid, he has a dream that showcases his exaggerated image of his father. Tidus dreams that he is on a dock with both Yuna and Rikku, deciding which of his minor crushes he would like to pursue when big, bad dad shows up. Dream Jecht says, “You, with a woman? You can't even catch a ball! Oh, what's the matter? Gonna cry again? Cry, cry. That's the only thing you're good for!" This dream tormentor is comically petty, combining Jecht’s bullying and his go-to insult (“Gonna cry again?”), essentially saying Tidus couldn’t even get a woman in his dreams. Despite how exaggerated this version of Jecht seems, when Jecht shows up in this dream Tidus shrinks down to a child again, cowering in the face of his father. In this scene it is clear just how much repressed anger Tidus harbors towards his father, and just how much of a boogeyman Jecht is to Tidus. In making Jecht so cartoonish in this dream, the developers show how extreme Tidus’s interpretation of Jecht is. Tidus sees Jecht not as a person, but instead as a symbol of a time when he felt like a powerless child. Though Jecht was a bad father by most accounts, he certainly was not as petty as Tidus imagines.

That is one heck of a personal demon

Tidus’s issues with his father also manifest themselves in another, more dramatic fashion: Sin. The giant whale monster that terrorizes the world of Spira is Jecht…literally. After leaving Luca, Auron tells Tidus about his father: “he is no longer human. But then... I felt something of Jecht there in that shell, couldn't you? You must have felt him when you came in contact with Sin… Sin is Jecht.” Sin functions as both a central antagonist for the game and as a larger-than-life metaphor for Titus’s issues with his father. Sin is a representation of the monstrous image that Tidus harbors of his father: at Sin’s core is Jecht, but the great danger is all of the artifice around him. While Jecht is physically “no longer human” the image of Jecht that Tidus carries with him for much of the game never was. Tidus’s image of his father is based on a snapshot of Jecht from 10 years before the events of the game. By the time Tidus arrives in Spira, Jecht is no longer the man he envisioned. Jecht did a great deal of growing while on pilgrimage in Spira and Tidus’s static image of him does not consider that growth. Sin trails Tidus throughout his journey to Zanarkand, surfacing in Zanarkand, Baaj, Kilika, Djose, Macalania, and at the final encounter. In all of these encounters Tidus feels a little bit of his father inside the monster. Like Tidus’s dream version of his father, Sin is one part Jecht and a whole lot of something else. In fact, during the final encounter with Sin, there are several boss fights and full levels that occur inside of Sin before the party even encounters Jecht. Much like how Tidus has to cut through his own childish conception of who his father is to finally understand his dad in the game’s final moments, the party has to physically cut through layers of Sin to defeat Jecht.

Tidus’s static image of Ject is challenged by several different perspectives that Tidus is presented with during his pilgrimage. Thus, over the course of the game, the player is able to gradually see beyond Tidus’s prejudices about his dad. Each of these different perspectives is necessary in order to understand who Jecht really was as a person. One such perspective is Yuna’s. After being insulted by an opposing blitzball team in Luca, Tidus and Yuna have the following exchange:

 Tidus: “Putting people down... They're as bad as my old man!”
 Yuna: "But, Sir Jecht was a kind and gentle man!"
 Tidus: "Well, not my Jecht."

While Tidus bristles at the mere reminder of his father, Yuna contradicts his appraisal. It is telling that Tidus replies “not my Jecht,” as it foregrounds the difference between Jecht, the man, and Tidus’s Jecht. Yuna knew a kind and gentle man who protected her father during his pilgrimage, while Tidus only knew the disappointing figure he saw in Zanarkand. In a way, Yuna’s interpretation of Jecht is the opposite extreme of Tidus’s. Yuna was also a child when she met Jecht and her interactions with him were also limited. However, Yuna formed her perception of him based upon a few positive interactions, while Tidus’s were negative. This causes Yuna to view Jecht as an honorable hero, instead of a drunken loser. Neither Titus nor Yuna’s conception of Jecht are particularly nuanced, but by seeing how different each of them feel about Jecht it is easy to see how much one’s opinion of another person can be tainted, both positively and negatively, by a handful of firsthand experiences.

Auron, Tidus’s main father figure in FFX, also complicates Tidus’s simple image of his father. Auron is the only adult that Tidus meets that had a peer relationship with Jecht, making him one of the most reliable sources on Jecht’s personality. Many of the anecdotes that Auron provides about Jecht paint a confident if naïve man with a strong moral compass (which of course also describes Tidus). One such story occurs on the Mi’ihen Highroad after the party learns of a monster roaming the road. Auron and Tidus have the following conversation:

 Tidus: "A large fiend... Let's go get him!"
 Auron: "Why?"
 Tidus: "It's the right thing to do."
 Auron: "It's the right thing to do?"
 Tidus: "What'd I say now?"
 Auron: "Jecht said that a lot, too. And every time he said it, it meant trouble for Braska and me."

Now based on Tidus’s memories of his father “it’s the right thing to do” does not seem like something he would say at all, let alone “a lot”. However, Auron spent what was likely months journeying with Jecht during Braska’s pilgrimage. During that time, the two men bonded and grew from begrudging allies into good friends. Although Auron did not fully trust Jecht at the beginning of their journey together, he eventually grew to respect the blitzball player from Zanarkand. By the time Tidus arrives in Spira, Auron has subsumed Jecht’s fathering responsibilities. He passes down messages to Tidus that Jecht could not.

 Auron: "Jecht loved you."
 Tidus: "Oh, come on, please!"
 Auron: “He just didn’t know how to express it, he said.”

Auron is able to tell Tidus about his father in ways that Jecht could not articulate himself. Jecht was kind, caring, and selfless, but he was not eloquent. Through Auron’s perspective we can see many of the positive traits that Tidus was unable to see during his time with his dad.

Those Jecht Spheres hold a ton of character development. Find them!

There is one last bit of evidence that Jecht did not stay the monster that Tidus envisioned him to be: objective recordings. Throughout the world of Spira you can find several videos that Jecht recorded during his time with Auron and Braska. In these recordings Jecht goes from a drunk in a cell and grows into the hero that Yuna remembers. Jecht quits drinking. He makes promises to go back and see his son. He stands up for the weak. Jecht even comes close to openly expressing love for his son. What seems like every key moment of Jecht’s journey is captured on these videos, or in living memories in Zanarkand. These recordings allow the player to see how similar Tidus and Jecht are in personality and action by paralleling Jecht’s videos with moments in Tidus’s own journey. For example, Jecht encounters the same monster on the Mi’ihen Highroad that Tidus does and his reaction is to defeat it, saying, “Hey, come on! It's the right thing to do! Everyone's depending on us. Besides, it's good practice.” On top of simply connecting Tidus and Jecht, these videos also allow Jecht’s unfiltered personality to shine through. He is exposed in these videos in a way that reveals a man struggling with his flaws while exhibiting his strengths at every turn: an actual, complete human being, rather than a caricature. In these few optional pieces of side content, Jecht’s full range of emotion is laid bare and you get a sense of what Tidus missed out on when Jecht left: a great father. Who knows whether Jecht would have become a great man without going to Spira, but it is clear that the Jecht that exists in FFX would have left a completely different impression than the one Tidus brings into the game. These recordings bridge the gap between Tidus’s monstrous father and the great hero Jecht that is known throughout Spira.

The very last moments of FFX see Tidus brought face to face with his father one last time. He followed his father’s footsteps for much of the game, eventually outpacing his dad (in a similar fashion to Squall in FFVIII). However, Tidus’s reunion with his father is necessarily complex. Tidus finally tells his father “I hate you,” which feels like an exorcism of Tidus’s Jecht-shaped boogeyman. Tidus is finally able to stand up to his father for all of the pain he went through as a child. Jecht is still unable to tell his son how he feels before they clash, but after Jecht is defeated, he says “That's right. You are my son, after all.” This is as close as Jecht gets to directly telling his son he loves him or that he is proud of him. Yet, he still cannot bring himself to do it. Though saying “You are my son, after all” carries some of his meaning, his inability to emotionally communicate with his son proves to be the one flaw that Jecht never overcomes. Despite Jecht’s failure, Tidus replies to his father, “You know...for the first time, I'm glad...to have you as my father.” Holding his father in his arms Tidus is able to finally see past his decade-long hate to see the tragic hero that his father had become. This all is the reconciliation that FFX provides. It is far from perfect, and the game leaves you with the sense that there are volumes of words that this father and son want to say, but don’t. Tidus and Jecht do not end the game as friends, but they do share a mutual respect and understanding that was expertly created through a world spanning adventure.

Final Fantasy X does an excellent job of showing how great an impact formative experience can have on a child. Tidus’s entire relationship with his father is framed and marred by transgressions his father carelessly committed a decade before the events of the game. Those few moments spawned Tidus’s lifelong grudge against his father and turned his father into a symbol. For Tidus, Jecht represented personal weakness, laziness, and selfishness; all of these impressions took years and tremendous life experience to overcome. The prejudices of youth are sewn deep and are difficult to uproot. However, in the decade that Tidus is separated from his father, his father grew into a much better man than the one who left Zanarkand. It just takes Tidus the entire game to realize his father’s growth. It requires a lot of craft to turn a story about fighting a giant whale-beast into a metaphor for a son reconciling with his father, but FFX does just that, and isn’t the world better for it?

All quotes were found here: http://www.gamefaqs.com/ps2/197344-final-fantasy-x/faqs/43142

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Deep Look: Bioshock- Architecture

Hey Bomb-niciates!

Here is the latest Deep Look! Deep Looks are largely gameplay and commentary like a Giantbomb quicklook; however, I try to cover games that have been out for a while and I intend to use the videos to highlight moments and mechanics that I found interesting. Also I aim to keep the videos under 20 minutes.

In this Deep Look I show off some of the small architectural details that define the city of Rapture in the early moments of Bioshock. Watch me break down how the values of Andrew Ryan and the city are chiseled into the very walls of Rapture. I only cover the initial level, but there is more than enough to dissect thanks to the dense level design. I leave no wall ornament un-turned in my search for symbolism!

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Ryan Davis and Final Fantasy X: Loss in the Internet Age

Spoiler warning for the end of FFX! Spoiler warning for the end of FFX! Proceed at your own risk!

For the last few days I’ve had Final Fantasy X and Ryan Davis on the brain. Tomorrow will be the one year anniversary of Ryan’s passing and I have been working on a long essay on FFX, so the two topics have been ping-ponging around in my head. The scene from FFX that keeps coming back to me is the very end of the game, after defeating Yu Yevon; the scene in which Tidus fades away. In that closing moment of FFX, Tidus is both present and not present. He seems to be visibly untouched, talking to Yuna and the other party members. He looks so healthy. He sounds so normal. Yuna refuses to believe that he is dying: he is still right in front of her. Yet, when Yuna reaches out to touch him she passes right through. He is irrefutably gone.

Images like this still populate the internet and they still make me smile just as much now as they did when they were new

In the current age of the internet no one is ever truly gone. Once upon a time, authors and poets spent lifetimes to create a single work worthy of publication and hopefully immortalization. Leaving a mark on the world was neigh impossible. Until about 10 years ago, when it became neigh impossible to truly die. Nothing on the internet ever truly gets deleted, and at this point almost every internet user has produced more indestructible personal data than Shakespeare. When Ryan passed away over a year ago he left behind a legion of fans and friends, but he also left behind days of videos and podcasts. He left behind books of reviews. He left behind several personal diaries worth of tweets and forum posts. If anyone wants to see what a vibrant person Ryan was they can simply tap into the eternal present that is the internet. Ryan will always be hosting a podcast or a Quick Look there. He will always be wearing his poncho, his crappy blonde hair, and his handlebar mustache. Until something happens to the endless server racks out there in Kansas, some of Ryan’s camera-captured magic will exist and he will still be present, yet not present. In working for a website, Ryan left behind a functional legacy that will preserve much of what made him such a beloved person and that legacy is always available. There is no fight to hold him in our memory because as far as the internet is concerned he never left. In FFX terms Ryan is a lot like the people on the Farplane. Everyone who passes away in FFX ends up on the Farplane where their images can be infinitely called back by loved ones. The image is crystal clear and perfect, yet is just that: an image, nothing more.

This "hug" is still one of the most effective symbols the Final Fantasy series has ever created

In FFX, once Yuna understands that TIdus is fading away, he attempts to hug her. You can see that the two of them are clipping through each other, not making physical contact. Yet, in this moment of touch-less embrace the emotional connection between the two shines through stronger than ever. In being “held” by Tidus as she slips through his arms, Yuna shows the desperate, grasping love that every survivor feels after a loved one passes away. You try desperately to hold on to that loved one, at first physically, then in memory. But, ultimately you fail one way or another, the person passes and memories fade. In the end, Tidus ultimately fades away permanently. However, in the modern day, digital memory never fades. People never go away completely. The reams of data they leave behind is always out there. There is always a part of them out there to reconnect with, but sadly never enough. There is always a ghostly silhouette left behind on the internet when a person dies nowadays, lingering. Present yet not present. I really don’t know if it is better to have this permanent record of a person’s day to day work available for all to see. I don’t know if it is better to simply hold someone’s memory in our hearts and cling to that memory desperately, knowing that the memory will fade. I do know, however, that the symbol of Yuna slipping through Tidus’s clinging arms is more powerful than his ghostly form floating in the Farplane forever.

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Rest in Peace good sir

P.S. I also want to add a little less academic memorial to remember Ryan by. I remember last year hearing about Ryan passing away and i didn't know what to do. I sat up in bed all night knowing that someone who I had spent almost a decade listening to and watching on various shows and podcasts had gone away. I knew that the sense of loss and astonishment I felt couldn't compare to what the guys on the GB staff were going through. He had been a person I thought of as a friend, but the people at the site were the ones he called friend. All I could do was be astonished and grieve and hope that the writers and producers whose worlds were rocked found a way to persevere.

I learned from Ryan how to lead a discussion without dominating it. I learned that the funniest person in the room does not have to tell the most jokes. I learned that if you enjoy life enough, people will follow. He would likely never have known he was teaching me, but he was.

Following his passing I redoubled my efforts to pursue game writing and game studies. His passing was a flash point for me. I remembered my own mortality and I remembered that writing about games is one of the things that most brings me joy. I remembered that although my pursuit may seem inconsequential to others, if you enjoy life enough, people will follow.

I did not know Ryan well enough to speak about who he was with the depth of admiration he deserves. However, I can say that he helped form who I am and what I'm doing. I can say that I was one of many kids who grew up following that man and I am a better person for it.

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Deep Look: Final Fantasy 8- World Map Secrets

Hey Bombstacios!

Here is the latest Deep Look! Deep Looks are largely gameplay and commentary like a Giantbomb quicklook; however, I try to cover games that have been out for a while and I intend to use the videos to highlight moments and mechanics that I found interesting. Also I aim to keep the videos under 20 minutes.

In this Deep Look I take a look at the many hidden secrets of the world of FF8. I show the breadth and the depth of the content on FF8's world map that can easily be missed, such as the monster of Obel Lake, the Island Closest to Heaven and Hell, and Cactuar Island. I also explain some of the design decisions that allow FF8 to be easily explored. This will probably be my last look at FF8. Next Stop Bioshock!

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Deep Look: Final Fantasy 8- Item Refining

Hey Bomberinos!

Here is the latest Deep Look! Deep Looks are largely gameplay and commentary like a Giantbomb quicklook; however, I try to cover games that have been out for a while and I intend to use the videos to highlight moments and mechanics that I found interesting. Also I aim to keep the videos under 20 minutes (maybe I should have called them actual quick looks).

In this Deep Look I show off the different ways you can refine items in FF8 and how refining items makes the game COMPLETELY BROKEN. I also look at FF8's card game, Triple Triad, and show how to turn cards into items into profit! This will be my last look at the junction system so I hope you enjoy it. As always feedback is greatly appreciated!

18 Comments

Deep Look: Final Fantasy 8- Junctioning

Hey Bombadeers,

Here is the latest Deep Look! Deep Looks are largely gameplay and commentary like a Giantbomb quicklook; however, I try to cover games that have been out for a while and I intend to use the videos to highlight moments and mechanics that I found interesting. Also I aim to keep the videos under 20 minutes (maybe I should have called them actual quick looks).

In this Deep Look I examine the junction system in FF8 and show off how junctioning effects the combat and leveling in FF8. I explain how the junction system radically changes FF8's combat when compared to standard jrpg combat. I also explain how the junction system and scaling enemies disincentivize grinding and reward knowledge and skillful play. I hope you enjoy it! As always I love feedback and I am still striving to get better at this video thang so all criticism is welcome.

Edit: I also finished a Deep Look of more advanced junction techniques if you want something a bit more broken.

59 Comments

Splatoon: Changing Shooters by Moving the Target

I was impressed by this latest series of E3 press conferences and announcements. I saw a ton of cool looking games that make me excited to jump in to the next generation of consoles. I was astounded by technical showpieces like Sunset Overdrive and Destiny, as well as indie triumphs like No Man’s Sky and Cuphead. Going in to the conferences I wasn’t sure which games would grab me, but there was one fact of which I was certain: Nintendo could do nothing to get me to buy a Wii U. I skipped out on the Wii and I rarely played my Gamecube. Honestly, I have never even been that invested in the mainstay Nintendo franchises. I thought there was no game they could announce to get me to want a Wii U, much less a multiplayer third-person shooter. Then Splatoon came along.

Let me preface this by saying I haven’t liked a competitive shooter of any kind since Gears 2 on the Xbox360. After Gears 2, my group of Xbox Live buddies fell apart and my tolerance for the limitless abuse of Xbox Live mainstays waned pretty hard. I just do not find myself longing to invest hundreds of hours into a single game anymore, and running the skill treadmill for a shooter is the last place I want to be in gaming right now. Even with all of these preconceptions I love what Nintendo is doing with Splatoon. By fundamentally changing the goals of a third person shooter, Nintendo has reinvigorated my interest in the genre.

Even Spatoon's color pallet is a breath of fresh air in a stylistically stale genre

I love the idea of shifting the end-goal of a third person shooter away from kill streaks and body counts, towards movement and territory control. Shooters like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Titanfall are putting mobility at the forefront of their military shooter reinvigoration plans; however, the way you actually win at Titanfall or Call of Duty does not actually require you to make use of that mobility. Killing someone with a sniper rifle or a rocket launcher does not need a preceding double-jump and wall run; the game’s developers are treating mobility as an additive, rather than transformative innovation. In Splatoon it looks like you will need to be constantly traversing the map to claim territory. Killing enemies may hinder them from shooting walls, but it won’t actually win you the game. It seems like you could play that game in an entirely passive-aggressive way, avoiding conflict and tagging every wall in sight. It even seems like that may even be a viable and useful strategy. You can even play defense without killing an enemy by breaking their “highways” of continuous paint, thereby slowing enemy advance or preventing escape. The ability to turn into an invulnerable and fast moving squid also allows for rapid movement and it further ties the actual act of shooting with the game’s mobility systems. In Splatoon you shoot to move and you move to shoot. By changing the way you win a game of Splatoon from the standard shooter win conditions, Nintendo has opened up a whole host of new mechanical space and play style variations.

I’m not sure if I am going to buy a Wii U to play Splatoon, but I will say that it is the first multiplayer shooter to get me excited in a good long time. Leave it to Nintendo to invent an entirely new shooter game type and design an entire series of mechanics around that new mode. Every time I count them out they always manage to surprise me.

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