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A Discussion of Playdead Games’ Endings

INSIDE_01

I know I’m late to the party with these titles, but honestly, grad school didn’t leave me much time to play games in an involved manner. Even for my major research project (which was on the rise of the “AAA indie” or AA genre of games) I had to rely on video game titles that I had previously played a few years prior. Doesn’t matter overall though, I did finally get to play both Inside and Limbo, albeit in reverse order (I got them both through different PSN flash sales).

For those who are unaware, Inside + Limbo are puzzle-platformers, which are games that are alike in level design to retro game classics like Super Mario, Metroid, Mega Man and a whole host of others. The difference with puzzle-platformers being that there are elements of puzzle games thrown in.

Playdead Games’ puzzle-platformers are known for their silent (or nearly silent), and darkly atmospheric environments and situations. Their level design and controls are minimalist, which has garnered praise from game designers, but has left some gamers (like me) unsure of what the goals of that minimalism are (or whether the goals were as effectively achieved as they could’ve been). This sentiment of unresolved design brings me to the main point I want to discuss in this blog. The endings to Playdead’s games and how Inside in particular left me colder and more detached than I would’ve liked.

***It’s all spoilers from here! This post deals exclusively with discussions of Playdead’s endings, and a mention of an aspect to the ending of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.

I would also like to make a disclaimer here that as Playdead Games encourage speculation, I’m not making any claims that my analysis of Inside‘s ending is more legit than other analyses. There’s a lot of interesting takes out there on these games’ world building and storytelling, and I’m pretty sure some of my takeaways are what I project onto or was reminded of when engaging with the experience/text of Inside.***

Continue reading A Discussion of Playdead Games’ Endings

Beyond: Two Souls’ David Cage – Full Keynote Speech – D.I.C.E. SUMMIT 2013

 I forgot to upload this with that large video post as an appendix. Ah well, here it is. One of the videos I watched this past year that made me think a lot about where video games are headed. If you haven’t already watched this, I think you’ll enjoy it, and for those of you that have, I’m sure it’s worth a re-watch.

Hopeful Notes to Self

I’ve been struggling lately with a couple things:

1. What I hope to accomplish with this blog, because it’s not as clear to me as it was when I started out. I suppose that’s only natural though, given how distracted I can get from my personal writing goals. I want to continue this blog, but here comes the second point–

2. Format. I don’t know if I trust Blogger as the best blog site for this blog anymore. I’ve read some stuff in the past little while that makes me a bit nervous about backing up copies of my articles. I want to continue blogging, but I think I might seriously consider moving this blog to another service. WordPress perhaps…? It seems a bit more user-friendly as well.

I’ve actually been working on another article that’s story-related for this blog, but I want to really draft this one a few times before posting it. I won’t go overboard, but I feel that the subject is one I’d like to explore fully before sharing it with you guys.

Sorry for my absence, but believe me when I say I want to continue writing this blog. Even if I’m not sure of where I’m going with it at this point.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron opinion piece

So I can’t excuse my absence from my blog too much. Although I have been spending some of time working at a creative writing magazine as an intern this summer, I haven’t been terribly busy outside of it. I’ve needed a bit of downtime since my finals ended, to be very honest. There was so much essay writing to do in the last little while that I got burnt out. However, I do plan on becoming more active on here in the next little while. I’ve been listening to video game-related non-fiction books and generally reading tons of all kinds of material in and out of my internship in the past while. If any of you follow my twitter @Natohamae, you’ll probably notice how many Goodreads updates there have been. I apologize that I’ve been rather absent from my blog, but I feel that I needed the mental break.

So, naturally, this post will be a quickie just to get back into the swing of things.

If you want to read my reviews of both Extra Lives: Why Videogames Matter and Reality is Broken: Why Games Matter and How They Can Change the World, check out the following links below. Both were rather underwhelming to me, but I appreciate what both authors first set out to do. Of the two, I believe McGonigal’s was more successful in proving her thesis, even if a lot of the information she had to present was stuff that any hardcore gamer would probably be aware of. Her book struck me as a book you’d give to someone who’s very skeptical of video game culture.

Extra Lives review
Reality is Broken review

If I had to choose a game that is a perfect example of how some games use their own unique aesthetics (and history) to refer to themselves in a Postmodern manner, it’d be hard not to pick El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. The game is full of self-aware moments. Its genre-switching/bending is a particular point of interest. For instance, one level will be a side scroller, while another a race course remniscent of Final Fantasy VII’s motorcycle chase scene. Speaking of FFVII, during that race course level (a fallen angel’s futuristic dystopian world in which you are decked out in armour complete with a tin-can helmet riding a high-tech motorcycle as you flee giant mecha locusts), there’s a wonderful scene that heavily references the infamous Sephiroth-through-the-flames scene in Nibelheim. Not surprising such a reference would be made, considering Takeyasu Sawaki’s intention to make El Shaddai a traditionally Japanese-style game.

Check out the following video if you’re not afraid of spoilers (not even sure if this counts as a spoiler since El Shaddai is not very linear in its storytelling at all).

Some Inspirational Videos

I have been naughty and have neglected posting for a week or so. It was willful neglect too, but as I have said before, my absence is school-related and not for lack of things to talk about. There is still much, much more I want to talk about.

For instance, I’ve only just now clued in that TED has some great Transmedia-themed talks, some of them by the likes of Rhianna Pratchett. I feel downright shameful that I was unaware of how involved she’s been in the videogame writing community. She’s contributed to Tomb Raider, Heavenly Sword, Mirror’s Edge and Prince of Persia (PS3) to name just a few. Check out the video below of her TED talk about how storytellers are important to video game development. 

On a slightly different, but related note, Amy Hennig is a big inspiration of mine. I’ve always loved how tight her narratives weave into the games she’s involved in (again, if you haven’t already guessed it, I’m a big Soul Reaver fan) and the following interview with her only increased my admiration of her work.

Although, I don’t completely agree with all of her argument (mostly where online gaming is concerned) Jane McGonigal has done some excellent research on how video games and video game culture can improve society. See below two videos of note on this.

For the record, I don’t hate online games…I spent years on PSO I and II for Dreamcast and FFXI. I do, however, believe that the typical online experience is flawed. I’ve met some really obnoxious individuals and encountered elitism in the extreme in online communities. While McGonigal has made some excellent arguments for the bright side of online gaming, I feel that she’s painting it a little too rosy. Also, World of Warcraft is a good example to use for online games, but I feel her future talks could do with a bit more variety. That last critique is just me nitpicking, however.

That being said, I finished Journey last weekend and I’m happy to say it’s restored some of my faith for the positive aspects and potentialities of online gaming, both as an interactive art medium and as a wonderful gaming experience. See below a video on the theories and research Chen did for the making of Journey.

Alright, that’s enough for now, I’ll save the other videos I’ve watched for another post.

Let’s meet at the next save point!

P.S. More of a note to self, but I need to compile a video games backlog and make a list of topics I’d like to discuss in the future. 

999 and Critical Thinking

I must first apologize for posting late, however, I have a good reason! I’m doing a bit of creative writing volunteer work at my university. So, towards that end, yesterday I had to attend a reading. I’ve also been crazy busy getting ready for a presentation at the end of the week. Ah well.

My sister suggested I do a post on 999: 9 Hours 9 Persons 9Doors, because it’s awesome. If you’re looking for a good DS title, pick this one up for sure. It’s got a thriller/mystery/survival vibe, with some great puzzle gaming thrown in for good measure.

The story is simple at the onset, being of nine individuals that must complete grueling puzzles in a race to find an escape route from a cruise ship that’s been rigged to sink in nine hours. However, as the game progresses this Saw-like concept gets increasingly intricate. There’s multiple endings, so there’s plenty of replay value, but more importantly there’s character development.

Every character in this is distinct from one another and they all mix and mingle according to your choices (and in some cases) against your wishes. It is planted in the beginning of the game that one two of your group members is potentially untrustworthy, and once the guessing game starts you begin to reason that any of the group of characters suspect. Even yourself (Junpei). So there’s a double aspect to the puzzles in the game. On the one hand, you must complete the puzzles on the ship or die trying. On the other hand, you have to figure out who are the bad apples of the group, because only a certain number are allowed to escape the ship according to the rules of the game.

The art style is perfect for the game. Not extremely complex at first glance, but distinct enough that none of the characters looks too homogenous. I’m actually quite impressed with the variety of the cast. There’s punks and conservatives, androgynous and manly, young and middle-aged. A nice swatch of different cultures. It may be a more typically moe anime style, but the artwork is not uninteresting for it.

Let’s meet at the next save point!

P.S. I may E.T.A. some stuff later on. 

Images as always from Creative Uncut

Assassin’s Creed: Liberation and Dido Elizabeth Belle

As I have a ton of homework to attend to today (and have caught a nasty cold), here’s a very short post.

I finished Assassin’s Creed: Liberation last week and found it rather good! I hope they port it to PS3, the mechanics of the game felt as if they were struggling with the PSVita. It felt like it was a bit big for a handheld game. More on that later.

Here’s a random observation I stumbled across. I was studying for my eighteenth century literature class the other day and found the portrait on the right included in the textbook. The mixed lady in that painting is Dido Elizabeth Belle, niece of Lord Mansfield, the Lord Justice of the Peace who served on the James Somersett case in eighteenth century England. She was apparently treated almost as an equal in the household and was friends with Elizabeth Murray (the other lady in the painting below). Although Dido Elizabeth Belle is not the only case of a mixed race girl in the eighteenth century, I feel her unique position within her household and having been raised as a lady must’ve been one of the rarer instances. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was one of the historical figures that inspired Aveline’s character. I’d like to look into this further, not just for the video game’s sake, but also because it’s an interesting historical study in itself.

Let’s meet at the next save point!

Image Credits: Creative Uncut, The Brimstone Butterfly

There can be no Death…

Almost immediately after finishing Darksiders, my family stumbled upon a copy of Darksiders II at a local pawn shop. Score! Now I have more reason to gush over this series, which may sadly not see at least one more sequel due to some messy business over at THQ. Or if it does see a sequel, it won’t be under the care of creative director Joe Madureira.

First off, I’d like to say that I have a favorite Horseman, but I can’t. For one, I haven’t met all of the Horsemen and for another I find that the writing is tight enough in both games (so far) as to have me connect with both War and Death’s plights equally. What made War compelling to me is very different from what makes Death compelling. With War, we followed the quest of a classic avenger, with Death we witness a reaper attempting to resurrect life and save his brother.

As I was talking with my sister the other day, she mentioned a point about Death’s character that I find very fascinating and quite wonderful. That despite being what he is, and knowing what he’s capable of, there’s almost a kind of…gentleness that lies beneath the mask. That, to me, makes Death a lot more impressive than just making him a garden-variety bad ass.

Having said that, please don’t read me wrong. I’m not someone who believes every tough guy has to have a soft side. Some characters need to be assholes for their respective plotlines to work. I find it just as refreshing to pick up a game that has a cast that includes a few hair-rippingly heartless characters in it, if they are handled deftly. However, I do think that in this particular case, having mentioned archetypes briefly in my last post, that it was a very good decision to make Death multifaceted as a character.

Death (as we experience it and as a concept) is multifaceted. We cannot sum death up in just one aspect. Although we have many ideas of what death is like, none of them have too much concrete proof. Just as War (as a concept) is never as simple as it’s superficial level. In Darksiders, many of the characters had already made their mind up about War before he had even officially started his quest. In Darksiders II we see something similar with the Makers interactions with Death. In both cases, it’s understandable why characters would have serious misgivings about the horsemen trying to make a difference. War wanting to find the truth and Death trying to restore life? At first it doesn’t seem to follow a very logical path, but that’s what makes the storyline so interesting. And as cliche as it sounds, if there is no more life on the earth, Death doesn’t have as much of a purpose anymore. As with War being called in to play scapegoat for The Council, the untimely apocalypse has upset the balance.

I look forward to playing more of this game, and hope it doesn’t end too soon.

Let’s meet at the next save point!

All images taken from Creative Uncut

A Lesson Learned from Darksiders

I must confess on two matters regarding the game I’m giving an impression of in this post. First, is that I’m a visually picky gamer. By visually, I mean strictly the artistic style as well as the character and environmental concepts of the game. I don’t so much care if the graphics of a game are not absolutely top-notch. Depending on how strong the narrative of a game is, I can forgive quite a lot in that regard, because sometimes the narrative strength combined with a novel (I swear that was the first word that came to mind, no puns intended) gameplay system will make the experience immersive enough that I forget that the graphics are somewhat unpolished. However, if the concept art for a game doesn’t interest me, sometimes it’ll be enough for me to pass over a game. I know this is very shallow and silly of me, but it’s simply that I want and need a connection to the world of the game I’m gonna spend at least several hours exploring in. If the visual style is not to my taste, it can be more distracting than it is disappointing and I find distractions very annoying in gaming.

Darksiders was almost a game I passed on experiencing and I feel very ashamed of that. I think this game taught me a lesson about not judging games solely on their initial visual pull. When I first saw a demo for the game that my dad had downloaded awhile back, I was quite detached from the concept design. That’s not to say I disliked it, it was just that games like Gears of War and God of War had kind of brought about this norm of having gorilla-like protagonists that are gigantic in proportions and so exaggerated that it put me in mind of a very archetypal comic book style. That’s not to say I can’t enjoy very stylized art, but this particular kind of stylized art was not very interesting to me. I tend to dislike it when characters have a sort of template feel to them, the male characters have a general bodytype that they all share, more or less: chiseled square/rectangular jawlines, hugely-set shoulders, boulder sized fists and barrel chests, to name a few traits. The female characters also have their own template, but it’s not even worth running through that list, because it’s pretty obvious what’s emphasized and what isn’t there.

That aside however, if I had dismissed Darksiders simply because I didn’t immediately like The Horseman War’s design or the overall style, I would’ve missed on so much: the excellent world-building, the tight dialogue and the unique blending of different theologies and mythologies, not to mention an amazing soundtrack. This game is like the new Soul Reaver saga for me. There’s a very cinematic feel to the action, that starts from the very start of the game and only grows stronger throughout. At first I just tuned in a couple times begrudgingly while my dad played the game, and eventually found myself taking up the controller to defeat a couple bosses, explore the expansive environments and help solve some of the challenging puzzles there are to be had in the game.

The art style grew on me eventually, as well. It reminded me of when I used to watch Batman and Robin: The Animated Series and Gargoyles as a kid. Speaking of those cartoons, the voice cast for Darksiders is fantastic as well, including Liam O’ Brien, Mark Hamill, and Phil LaMarr among other actors/actresses of note. The style upon further inspection, had a great charm that was both thoughtful (I especially love that these war-torn characters have many visible battle scars) and nostalgic. I’m also highly impressed with the fact that almost all of the creative work was handled by Joe Madureira.

Alright, second confession. If a game inspires me to research the mythology and theology behind the world it’s created, it’ll usually become a game of interest to me. I love to sharpen my research skills, especially when it is concerning things that I love, and if I’ve learned anything over the past few weeks I’ve played Darksiders it’s that I have an unabashed love of the world they’ve created. I want to devote another post to the world building they’ve done, specifically.

I’m unfortunately a little late in making this post again, because I’m still trying to get a handle on what my school schedule’s going to be like. I have creative writing this semester so it’s going to be a bit of a challenge getting used to posting here regularly. I will make an effort to put something up each Tuesday regardless though, even if it’s a couple of lines.

Alright, that’s a quick one, but I may go back to add on more to this tomorrow.

Let’s meet at the next save point!

  
 Images from Creative Uncut