By sparky_buzzsaw 2 Comments
Trumpeteers, sound your horns. Bartender, get out the cognac and serve 'em up. Sparky's Update is back, baby, and I'm ready to teabag the minds of all my readers once again. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, bloggin' time is here.
Just Dropped in to See What Condition My Condition Was In
Here's the skinny. Last we spoke, I was lamenting the fact that my 360 was broken and I couldn't repair it. Well, guess who's still broke and still hasn't bought a new Arcade to replace his old system? That's right - this dude! My 360 is still shelved, and the DS has taken some nasty bumps, leading to a broken set of shoulder buttons. Thankfully, the contact points still work some of the time, so it's not a dire situation for most of the turn-based games I play. I've been gaming primarily on my PS3 and laptop, thanks to massive amounts of Steam purchases over the holidays.
On the PS3 front, I've primarily been replaying classic PS1 games like Wild ARMs 1 & 2, Final Fantasy Tactics, and a taste of Suikoden. I've also been power leveling like one crazy foo' on Disgaea 3, acting as a bullet magnet in Resistance 2, and mopping the floor with dragons and scummy bandits in Dragon Age. Much of these games will be covered in the coming weeks, so if there's anything in particular you want me to bullshit about, just drop a comment and I'll cover it.
Thanks to Steam's incredible run of holiday, weekend, and midweek sales, I've not been short on PC games for quite some time. I've been knocking out most of the Telltale titles, including the first season of Sam and Max and Tales of Monkey Island. I've also been fighting frustration with the buggy Morrowind, crackin' that whip in the two LucasArts Indiana Jones adventure games, collecting mad amounts of loot in Torchlight, and fighting down impossible odds in Red Alert 3. It's been a slow couple of months personally, so gaming has been sucking up a lot of free time.
Writing 101, or How to Turn Your Average Game Into Something Memorable One of the things we've seen time and time again is an otherwise fantastic game dragged down by one hell of a crummy story. Take Resistance 2 - the game mechanics are fine, and some of the battles are damn awesome. But the story isn't about to win its writers any awards. At best, it's a serviceable story that serves to link its set pieces. At worst, it's laughably cliched macho bullshit ripped straight from the pages of a bad sci-fi action novel. Based solely on the story alone, I'd have thrown the game aside a year ago and never looked back. But solid combat mechanics, hectic multiplayer, and visible enemies turn this into one of my favorite shooters.
But we've heard that story a thousand times - games with craptacular stories make for a pretty overdone topic. What we don't often talk about are the opposites - games with poor gameplay transformed into great games because of fantastic writing. We're going to stick to some of my perennial favorites and games bound for that status. Let's use the classic Monkey Island games as a prime example. Strip the first couple of Monkey Island games down to their essential gameplay mechanics without the writing, and you'd have nothing more than overly short exercises in pixel hunting. Some adventure games can stand on the merits of their puzzles (Myst), but honestly, without the clever and witty writing found in the Monkey Island games, they wouldn't have two legs to stand on. Other adventure games that I'd consider classics run into the same category of "great writing, crappy gameplay," like the Sierra adventure series Police Quest (which had a tendency to rely heavily upon proper police procedure due to its intended use as a potential training game), Space Quest, and yes, even the beloved first few entries in King's Quest. Without their decent writing, all these games would have been pretty darned terrible.
Tales of Monkey Island is a bit of a throwback in this regard. Whereas I really didn't have many qualms with the gameplay in the Sam and Max episodes, I thought Tales of Monkey Island had some atrocious mechanics. Most glaring is its most basic - walking. What is it with this game and Heavy Rain in that something so basic as walking gets so thouroughly butchered? Second, there are certain repeated puzzle elements, namely involving maps and secret forest paths, repeated far too often for its own good. A great deal of depth could have been introduced just with a few more variants on its puzzle elements. But Tales of Monkey Island is a true classic in my mind, regardless of these problems, thanks to clever writing, spot-on voice acting, and memorable characters like Guybrush's first mate.
What I'm driving at here is that gameplay mechanics can sometimes play second-fiddle. It's ideal that all games should have equal parts writing and gameplay, but we all know that until games evolve a great deal, we won't see this consistently for a good long time. Hell, Hollywood has been around for over a century, and we're still getting crap thrust down our gullets every day. But sometimes, try looking beyond shaky gameplay for those hidden gems. At the very least, with Tales of Monkey Island, you'll get a few hours of solid laughs.
Movies, Books, and Da Rockwilder I'm a long-time fan of Stephen King, though I've been highly critical of his work since his last fantastic novel, Bag of Bones. His writing over the bulk of the last decade has defined the phrase "phoning it in," but with his newest novel Under the Dome, I can see a glint of the old writer that I know and admire so much. It's certainly not a perfect novel by any means, with a pretty flat protagonist and a shoddy deus ex machina, but he does enough right to turn this into one of his better novels. It's certainly his finest effort since the afore-mentioned Bag of Bones, and the concept alone warrants a read by any fans of some of King's less horror-centered works.
I've watched many, many movies since we last spoke, O Reader of Mine, so I think we'll just run through the last few movies and shows I've watched. Boondock Saints 2 is horrible, save for a decent final third and a dream-speech by Rocco. It feels like it was directed by an seizure-addled homophobic child with tendencies towards ADD, and given Troy Duffy's commentary, I'm inclined to think that I'm not far off in that regard. Duffy comes across as a self-important douche, and he frequently points out directing decisions that prove his incompetence as a director and a writer. It's an atrocious movie in almost every regard, which is a shame, because I loved the first.
Californication continues to prove itself to be one of the finer shows on television, with sharp dialogue and a fine blend between tender-heartedness and occasional caustic wit. Duchovny's work is consistently brilliant in the show, and I'd love to shake the hands of the writers. I don't always agree with its existential nature, but that's a minor nitpicking detail to a show with real balls and miles of talent.
You're Welcome, America proves to me once and for all that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay have oceans of talent. For every silly, brainless project that they release, they come up with something almost slyly intelligent like this (and that's not to say that I don't love their less brainy projects - the men can no just about no wrong together). Mixed in between lowball comedy bits are true little facts that drive home just how hilarious Bush's terms in office truly were. And Ferrell even sneaks in a very poignant moment reflecting on the pain Bush must have to feel whenever he contemplates the number of dead soldiers and civilians. It's stand-up comedy at its finest.
What You Should Be Reading Rather Than This This is a new section to Sparky's Update, but in honor of all the long-term and new friends I've made on this site, I'm devoting it to some of my GB friends' blogs. First and foremost, each week I'll be giving out the I'm-Not-Worthy Award to one blog or blogger in particular who I think has really done some outstanding work, either in the week or in the past few months. These bloggers are top-notch writers, and you'd be doing yourself a disservice to be reading this and not their work.
This week's inaugural I'm-Not-Worth-Worthy Award goes to Dankempster. Dan's writing is consistently top-notch, and he has quickly become one of the finest writers on Giant Bomb. His superb look at Final Fantasy 7 takes a serious look at an old favorite, offering both praise and criticism in fair measure with a keen eye towards what worked years ago and what works now. So long as he keeps writing them, I'll keep on reading them, and you should too.
Other shout-outs this week - Giant Bomb's favorite prodigal son Sweep is consistently funny, sharp, and occasionally controversial. Concurrent to Dan's look at Final Fantasy VII, check out SamStrife's look at Final Fantasy IX. Dalai's blog is pretty random and entertaining. Emilio has been providing lists of great games for gamers on a budget - your wallet will thank you for this one. One of the chieftains of the Wii Defense Force and a long-time blog supporter, Claude provides some pretty awesome content. And finally, we come to GamerGeek360, with his semi-weekly installments of his achievement updates.
Thank you all so much for your support of the old Sparky's Update, and here's hoping for years more of continued friendship, good times, and happy gaming. Kick ass, ladies and gentlemen, and always remember where your towel is. Until next time, I'm out!