Monday, April 20, 2009

"Storytelling" in games: Part 3?

It's been a while since I touched the subject, but my train-ride from work got me thinking about it again.

To date, my favorite Japanese RPG has been, and still is, Final Fantasy IX. Why? Because as far as plot and presentation, I find it's the most uniform, and well thought out.

What it comes down to is style. FFIX presents it's world through pre-rendered backgrounds and areas, as did all Final Fantasies of the PS1 era. Because of this style, the scenes were relatively static. You walk and move your character through what is essentially a painting, with "walls" coded into the game to create the illusion of surface and space. So you couldn't "move the camera" or center the view behind your character; what you see on screen is all you will get.

Developers worked around this by creating multiple backgrounds for certain areas, and automatically shifting between screens as you approached borders. This was also implemented during story-scenes, which of course, gives the scenes a much more cinematic appearance because of the "dynamic" view shifts.
Lastly, as you can see above, FFIX and plenty of other videogames employed FMV. Essentially computer generated movies/ shorts, these play during dramatic or important scenes, and are wonderfully directed and exciting.

The result is a great mix. The story scenes go from simple, one camera scenes, to shifting perspective and panning scenes, and finally the FMV, which can be as dynamic as a real movie. But the beauty of FFIX, at least for me, is that the story is not overbearing. Perhaps because its because the story is presented through text/ speech bubbles, that the dialogue never gets annoying, as it does with voiced scenes. The FMV's are always a treat to watch, and the cinematic panning and shifts can still catch me by surprise. Maybe the variety of methods the game used to tell it's story made it so easy to enjoy.

I'll need to chew on it some more....

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Misogyny? In My Videogames? Part Tres

Let's wrap this matter up, before I go off on a tangent.

Here's the thing: Sex sells. It sells porn, it sells movies, and it sells videogames. And you can hate me for saying this, but it's not all bad. There is a good kind of sexy, and there is the tactless, shallow kind. Bayonetta, for instance (see the trailer in my "On a Lighter Note" post) is a heavy sexual trip. Innuendos abound, over-the-top sexiness, partial nudity, and God knows what else will be in the final product. However, its sexuality is so rampant and silly that the game can't be taken seriously; it becomes almost parodic.

Blade and Soul is another game with scantily clad women. But notice too, that many of it's men are scantily clad. This is Hyung-Tae Kim's style. He draws in a style that pretty much ignores any anatomic accuracy, in exchange for a look or feel. Which is why his characters are either hulking and half naked, pretty and half naked, or pretty, half naked, and massively boobed. It's like he captures everything I'm writing about in one art style.

So I judge a games tact based on balance. Either make the sexuality so over-the top that it's silly, or make everyone half naked. That way, everyone wins. Or loses?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Misogyny? In My Videogames? Continued...

You see, men are divided into two camps in videogames: the "pretty boy", and the "manly man". There is no in-between. Japan in particular is notorious for super-prettying its males in videogames. In many cases, the only way the untrained eye can tell if a character is male or female is breasts. If the pretty character in question has breasts as big as footballs, it's female. Anything less, and it's male. The "manly" male characters are usually massive, 7 foot tall monstrosities that eat muscle for breakfast, and have jaws so great and square you would think they've partially swallowed a brick.

Well, so they're exaggerated a bit. No big deal, right? Well, not quite. In both cases, the characters are objectified, though the females get the worst of it. The women characters typically are more valuable as a walking pair of titties than as an important aspect of the story. Myuria in Star Ocean could have been left out entirely and no one would be the wiser. The only people who would notice would be those familiar with the Anime genre, who would wonder where their giant tit archetype went. Women typically wear a lot less than the men do, even when it makes no sense. So you're a woman knight, huh? Well, you're hot and all, but... uh, why is your midriff exposed and un-armored? Won't that be the first place you're enemies target? Of course, it gets a lot sillier than that.

Men are objectified as well, though. There is huge appeal in the markets (I'm looking at you, Japan) for the pretty male character in games. There is always at least one. Final Fantasy XII, for instance, was originally designed with Balthier as it's main character (a rather stylish air pirate in a badass embroidered vest and slacks). However because of the "pretty boy" demand, the story was told through the eyes of Vaan, a scantly clad teen in armored pants and a tiny vest. (I'm talking 10 sizes too small). And no shirt either, just the vest. The reason for the change, I can only surmise, is because the developers knew the Japanese fangirls wouldn't stand for a non-pretty main character that be couldn't paired up in yaoi fanfiction and art. (Or maybe not, who knows?)

Manly men are designed to appeal as well, but not in a particularly sexual way. "Manlies" are essentially the idealized male. Massive muscles, big jaws, "I'm gonna kill you" attitude; (cookie cutter stuff, really), these are the dudes men wish they could be, but are too lazy to put the effort into becoming. So you get to live out your muscely murderous wet dreams through the character instead.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Misogyny? In My Videogames? Part One

My last post net me an interesting comment. Now, I like bewbs as much as any other guy (maybe a bit more than the other guy), but I play videogames for the immersion; to be able to lose yourself, if only for a moment, in another world. Call it escapism, or a distraction, or maybe even running away; I really don't care. Anyway, part of the whole immersion process comes from the games presentation; it's graphical, aural, and artistic appearance. Games that look and sound good are easier to get into than games that don't. The other aspect of immersion is the gameplay. Challenging gameplay, tight control, clever level designing, etc. all contribute to the "feel" of the game, which again, allows the player to really sink their teeth into the whole experience.

We have to keep in mind that Video Gaming is an entertainment industry, just like Film. As such, developers must focus not just on making entertaining games, but good-looking games too. Sexy games, even. Just like Hollywood cakes its actors' faces with makeup to make them more flawless and appealing, so too will developers "pretty up" its characters for the same effect. Fortunately for developers, videogame characters are complete fabrications. They are as flawless as they are designed, essentially.

So how do you make a flawless character more appealing? Exaggerate, of course! Make the hips wider! Make those legs thicker! Pinch down the waist! Her breasts need to be as big as her head! And why is she wearing so much clothes? For female characters, size is everything. Breasts are usually #1 on the super-size list. Developers have the fortune, as I said before, of working with fabrications. They don't need to hide "imperfections" ; they design their characters without them.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

On a lighter note...

I noticed my last few posts were rather negative and, well, pissy. I suppose I've just been having a crappy week. So instead of focusing on the disappointments in gaming I've been coming across, let's look on the brighter side of things.

Platinum Games' "Madworld" was released a few weeks ago, and looks bloody awesome. While I haven't picked it up yet, I will when I get my tax return.

With Madworld, I'll also be picking up the "Legacy of Ys" for the DS, just because "Ys" is an insanely cool series that, unlike Zelda, actually knows what it is and where it wants to go with its gameplay and story.

A brand-spanking new trailer for "Bayonetta" was released yesterday, seen here:
Damned sexy, as you can plainly see. Hideki Kamiya is at the helm of this project, the father of the first Devil May Cry, and Platinum Games is the developer, the same Platinum of "Madworld", who coincidentally, were originally team "Clover" at Capcom. So yes, these guys brought us DMC, and Resident Evil, and Viewtiful Joe, and Okami, and God Hand, etc. You can expect frantic, fast-paced, challenging action goodness from Bayonetta, to be sure. I know I am.

Another game to keep your eyes out for is "Blade and Soul" a Korean Mmorpg, being developed by NCsoft. What makes Blade and Soul cool as hell is that it's an Oriental Martial Arts MMO, set in an obviously Asian fantasy world. I read it's based loosely on the Korean myth called "Song of Genesis", which I can only assume is a creation myth (?). What's more, Korean uber-artist Hyung-Tae Kim is doing the artwork for the game, whose asian flair suits the game's style to a freakin' tee, as you can see by the image to your left. Now, they haven't stated whether or not they'll bring this gem of a game here to the states, but come on. These guys made "Guild Wars", "Lineage", and "Aion", among other titles. It'll happen. Behold the beauty that is "Blade and Soul" in its trailer here:

And lastly, on a completely unrelated note, I was paid this week, finally, for all the work I've been doing for a friend these past few months. A very respectable check indeed, and I'm in a much better mood now because of it. I wuv money =)

Have a great Easter!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Eiji Aonuma needs to stop developing "Zelda": Redux

As I left off yesterday, Windwaker was flawed, but not a bad game. Certainly not the worst of the Zelda's I've played.
Anyway, a few years after The Wind Waker, Nintendo attempted to address TWW "problems" (read: the art style), by making Zelda more "realistic" graphically. Which means it looks like 3d manga, which as far as I'm concerned is the ugliest graphical style this side of Japan. They called this little "gem" The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Of course, none of the real issues with Wind Waker were addressed, except length. Combat was still simplistic and unimpressive, traveling was still tedious and boring ('cept you ride a horse this time, intead of a boat! See, it's different!). What's more, the story got JRPG'd, so now we get long, boring, poorly editted garbage cutcenes. Jeez, at least Wind Waker had charm.

So you see, I've become disillusioned. The once epitome of Adventure is now scrapping the bottom of the proverbial barrel, not even trying to keep up with developers who innovate and invigorate the genre; instead sticking to a model that is two generations too old.

I really think they need to get the father of Zelda, Shigeru Miyamoto (and only Miyamoto) to direct and supervise the next Zelda, because it's obvious Eiji Aonuma has no damned clue what he wants to do with the series. Seriously, there are trains in Zelda now. Trains. In a medieval fantasy setting. Yeah....

Either that, or give future projects to the Capcom team that developed Oracle of Ages/ Seasons, and the Four Swords series. They did a fine job with Zelda, which is ironic considering a third party developer (Capcom) develops better Zelda games than the in-house, "Mother" development team.

Ass-backwards, I swear.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Eiji Aonuma needs to stop developing "Zelda"

Alright. At the risk of sounding crazy, stupid, or both, let me say this:
I hate Zelda.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I do not like the Zelda series.

But wait! Don't leave yet! Let me explain.

I remember back in '94, when my father drove me to some dark, grimy electronics shop (more like a friggin closet) and asked me what game I wanted. I forget the occasion for this, but I know that, because I saw my neighbor playing it, I wanted to play it too. "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past". So the disgruntled shop (closet?) owner pulled a brand new copy of Zelda out from his filthy case, and my father shelled out $65 bucks for it. But I didn't care, I was the happiest little snot-nosed kid in the world.

To this day, Zelda: A Link to the Past, (Alttp), is still my favorite game. I dust off my Gameboy Advance once a year to play through it. So what happened? Why the Zelda hate now?

Honestly, I was let down by "The Wind Waker". Much too short, the last segment (the Triforce shard bullshit) was tedious and felt rushed on the developers part, sailing was less fun and engaging than watching paint dry, and the combat was the same simplistic crap as "Ocarina of Time", the first successor to Alttp. I did like Wind Waker's art style, though everyone and their mom ragged on it and it's cel-shaded, "kiddy" style. And it wasn't a bad game, at the end of the day.
To be continued....

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Storytelling" in games, Continued

The Star Ocean series, and quite a few other Japanese Role-playing Games (J-RPGs) I've played, have poorly conceived and/ or written stories. They are often unnecessarily convoluted, overly melodramatic, and terribly edited. I get the impression from watching the story scenes that developers try to cram as much garbage as possible into the games cutscenes because they have some mistaken idea that more content equals better content. Thus, unnecessary tripe that should have been edited out of a games story, isn't.

What's really frustrating, though, is that I feel that the developers aren't even trying. After all, why bother getting creative when you can spoon-feed your audience the same tired crap you fed them before, and your audience gobbles it up regardless? We need writers and developers who don't mind getting creative with the stories, and don't mind trimming the fat down just enough to keep us wanting more, and not forcing forty minutes of dialogue and cutscenes down our throats. Characters who resemble the archetypes of the genre, but through their actions and speech and mannerisms, are as complicated and interesting as the genre will allow.

To hell with petitioning the developers. Writers unite! We can crap better stories than they can dream!