Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Games Based on Existing Media: The Right Way to Do It

Batman: Arkham series of games are considered the best super-hero games ever made. But why? Simple, they didn't try to rush it to coincide with other launches, like movies or TV shows. Arkham is it own world, its own story. Because it did not had any tight schedule to meet and had any compromise with a previous existent product. Arkham could be its own game.

Most games based on existing media suffer from the fact that they can't deviate from the established universe because either the original creators don't allow it or because the developers involved don't want to deviate from an established world. And that hurts more than help.

Take the Lord of the Rings universe as an example. If you create a game base on the books, you can't allow the player to deviate from the story. For example, if you are in the role of Aragorn, you can't just take the ring from Frodo and do all the Mordor trip yourself. And nobody wants to play a game where you can't be the main hero. Or a game where they know the fact that they have no effect in the world they play.

The Arkham games do it right because you are the goddamn Batman and you still play a game without knowing what happens next. And that is fundamental to make a good game based on franchises that people already love. They don't want to just press buttons while a story they already know happens around them. They want to feel like the story is happening because of them.

We will hardly see changes on the way the cross media happens. It is easier and cheaper to just tag famous franchise on the box and sell bucket loads to unsuspecting consumers. But successful attempts like Arkham can make more developers and publishers wanting to run the risk of creating something truly new with existing franchises. One can only hope.

Because all we want is to be the goddam Batman!

Harassment is NOT OK, No Matter Where

Image from
From Wikipedia, Harassment covers a wide range of behaviors of an offensive nature. It is commonly understood as behaviour intended to disturb or upset, and it is characteristically repetitive. In the legal sense, it is intentional behaviour which is found threatening or disturbing. Sexual harassment refers to persistent and unwanted sexual advances, typically in the workplace, where the consequences of refusing are potentially very disadvantageous to the victim.

Yesterday we had the news about sexual harassment acusations in Cross Assault, a reality show about fighting games promoted by Capcom. I will not enter in the merit here if the accusations proceed or not, because that is a great problem, but a bigger one exist in the declaration of many gamers that it is OK to do the harassment and that it is a 'normal' thing in fighting games. the thing is, no, it is not OK.

People defended the harassment as just 'trash talk'. Trash talk is what we see in some sports, where the players will talk how they will 'completely destroy' an adversary or how the adversary is so bad that 'their sisters could beat them'. This is trash talk and I find acceptable. It is talk about the players abilities and mocking them, no matter if could or bad. It is a bit of psychological game.

It stop to be trash talk when it become personal and not anymore about the players skills(or lack of) and become about personal attacks, no matter if it is about the adversary's gender, ethnicity, nationality, faith, sexual orientation or appearance.

'HAHA, you have red hair! I will mock you till you cry because it is funny!'
.In the moment that someone starting mocking you and don't stop, even after you ask him to, it is not funny and it is not OK. I have being bullied for pretty much all my school years, because of my accent and my weight. it is not just kids being kids, and it hurt a lot. What is even more awful about the situation at Cross Assault is that the involved people are not a bunch of ten years old who don't know better about the consequences, but it is a bunch of adults behaving like school kids.

A lot of gamers tried to defend the practice as just harmless mockery. It is not harmless mockery. It hurts and it should not be supported or cultivated. Te moment someone ask you to stop making jokes at them and you don't stop, you are not being funny. You are a bully and an asshole. 

You talk funny! I will mock you till you disappear!

It is sad when I remember a time that liking videogames were enough reason to be mocked and now I see that gamers can be as cruel as anyone. We always get in arms when a non-gamer try to vilify or mock our hobby, but when it is about ourselves we aren't able to agree on it.

We shouldn't support, agree or tolerate people who harass others, no matter if this people think it as funny or just 'part of the game'. It shouldn't be 'part of the game'. It should not be funny. And above all else, it should not be accepted.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

There and Back Again: Replaying Games

I rarely replay games. One of the reasons is that many, many games don't give you enough reason to play them again. They don't have anything to be discovered or to be done, like the Uncharted series. It is a beautiful, fun game to play and have interesting stories, but once you finish it, the only reason to play them again is either because you want to challenge yourself in harder difficulties or because you want all the trophies. But to someone like me who play games because of its story, it is not to me.

Other reason many people replay games is because they have many content to explore. Mass Effect have high replay value because you can play as male and female and try to see what changes in the game. Maybe you want to see how the romance options goes or how it changes the world if you make a different choice. Those are the kind of games I like most to replay.

Sorry, but with you is one night affair.
For more entertainment that gameplay can be with certain games, I tend to grow tired fast of it. And in certain games, I just cannot deal with the gameplay in order to get to the fun story parts (or pass the boring story parts and get to gameplay, depending on the game). That is one of the reasons I defend all games must have New Game +. Sometimes we just want to see that scene again without having all the trouble to advance past the hard parts.

I know a lot of people get pissed off when that lady from Bioware suggested that gamers should be able to skip gameplay elements. But I think she have a point. I would love many games to have a 'Theater Mode' where we can instead of replaying the whole game, to see it as a long movie, where the CPU do all the job. I know many people hate having even the option, but I would love it. it would make me put Uncharted just to see all the awesome scenes.

The only game I replayed more than once was Persona 3, and manly because it offered me a New Game + who basically allowed me to replay the game without needing to bother with leveling up or battling all my way. If more games allowed me to do it, I would replay a lot more. I always says that a game should never become a chore, because it is in that moment that the game stop being entertaining.

So, I would love to replay more games. Maybe I am just too lazy to do it.

Of Squeaking Wheels and the Inaction of the Good

'The squeaking wheel is the one who receives oil' and its variants refer to the fact that is the people complaining the most are the generally the ones who receive what is being asked. The thing is: it does not matter if the complain is fair or not. It is easy to conclude that if there is a very vocal group against or pro something, this group may have something worth listening.

It is not always the case, of course. people behind public relations need to be very careful about what he must listen to or not. The fact the wheel is squeaking not always signify it needs or deserves oil. Sometimes it need to be completely substituted. I always talked about how the comic books are a great example of vocal groups are a bad thing. Even minimal change, like a uniform or continuity mistake can draw the ire of a very vocal group, even if this group is small. And that is why is so hard to newcomers to enter the comic book word.

Because fans demands are so different, we ended up with a mess of resurrected characters, multiple characters sharing the same moniker, a lot of small characters who exists just because there is a few hundreds of fans and reboots and retelling. Because the editors fear to loose those old-time fans, they do almost everything they ask if the noise is loud enough. And potential new readers just can't get into comics because is too confusing and demanding too much back knowledge to be enjoyable.

How dare they to make minimal changes?! RAGE!
But of course, this is also a reflex of another problem we have. Edmund Burke may have said that 'all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing' (disputed) but it can be applied into the world of entertainment media. Go to any site in the internet about movies, books, comics an games and there is a great chance to find lots and lots of articles and blogs complaining about the 'sad state of the industry'.

That is because people will make sure that something that they see as a bad thing is known, while when someone gives them something good they all go silent. It is part of human nature, to rarely sings praise to the things we like and to cast a storm of criticism about what we hate. because of that is very common that we lose something we like because we never said how much we like it while the ones hating that same thing make sure that the world would know their dislike.

That make us entering in a vicious cycle. A group complain about something they hate, the people who like it silence, they change it to contempt the complainers, the change is hated by the silent group who knows become the complainers. It is the infamous 'change it', then all of sudden appears a new group saying 'change it back as it was!'.

What I want to people start doing is to start praising what they believe deserve praise. Don't go silent just because things are the way they are now and you like it. As soon as the only voice being heard are the complaints, things will change, not always for better. Let the industry you like know what you LIKE, not just what you dislike. It is easy to complain, but make an effort to praise.

Everything it needs to the wrong wheel get the oil, it is to the right wheel be quiet.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Videogames and Sex

Poison from Final Fight is probably one of the most controversial characters in games. The reason for that is not her actions, but her gender. See, we still have to this day people who aren't sure if she is a woman or a transsexual. All that comes from confusions caused by problems localizing Final Fight in the US and several conflicting stories about her sexuality. According to the most common legend, she was supposed to be a girl, but the Japanese where afraid that Western public would have issues beating up a women and make Poison and her color swap Roxy were changed to be transsexuals.

According to a video posted on Joystiq, Poison was supposed to be transsexual from start. But why it is that important? There is no event in Final Fight that make her sexuality being important. In the end, it is more about gamers afraid that all the sex fantasies they have with her was in fact they having fantasies with a transsexuals.

Does it matter? No, because this fact have no effect in gameplay. And yes, because it opens an interesting precedent. Games rarely delve into sexual themes. Japanese games will have the classic gay character that serves as comic relieve many times. Western games rarely will touch the subject (with exception maybe of The Ballad of Gay Tony, a DLC for GTAIV that I am yet to play). And that is both a good and a bad thing.

Games have its way to go with sexual themes. Most games who have sexual content (and I am not talking about scantily clad big boobed women as sexual theme) usually have no idea about what to do with it. Dragon Age and Mass Effect, two games famous for their sexual content, have sex as a secondary matter and just a side quest. They aren't about sex. And the sex scenes are usually awkward to see, as too teenagers doing it for the first time. Heavy Rain probably deserve the great prize for most hilariously bad sex scene ever.

The classic Leisure Suit Larry games were all about sex (and probably the only sex game many gamers admit to have played), but in a parody way. Not something deep. Most games who has sex scenes have it for the sake of it. There is no exploration of the sexual themes. It is another 'selling point' or attempt to be seem as 'mature'. Only a few games explore sexuality as an important part of its story.

The one I have played and that did it well was Persona 4. It has two characters in trouble with their sexuality. Kanji Tatsumi is a troublemaker with that rebel attitude. But he does it because he want to hide the fact that he love activities seemly feminine, like knitting. If he is homosexual or not is left pretty open to the player decide, but he have trouble to be accepted by who he is instead of what society expect him to be.

Naoto Shirogane is another character who wants acceptance. She is a girl who wants to be a detective, but fear she couldn't be because the world of detectives are, in her eyes, a male world. So she acts masculine in order to be judged by her talents as a detective, not because she lack something between her legs.

Naoto is the one with the hat and Kanji the guy with the skull t-shirt.
Books and movies have used sex and sexual themes as central arguments for a long time ago. It is a trick subject, hardly to get it in a sensible way and avoiding exploitation. Games have just started dealing with storytelling recently. And a risky subject like sex and sexuality is something that must be handled with care. And this industry is not famous for sensitivity while dealing with complex and controversial themes.

One day we might see a game with sexual themes as the main element. I mean a 'serious' game, not a parody like Leisure Suit Larry or straight porn games like many eroge. A game where the reasons of the characters and their interactions revolve around sex, not necessarily games with sex in them.

But maybe part of the problem is games 'audience'. Gamers are still seem as 'immature'. But gamers are getting old too. And as age come by, many of us start wanting something deeper. Maybe one day we will have games with gay protagonists trying to save their boyfriends or others were you discover that your princess were not born that way and must deal with it.

Hopefully, game as a media for storytelling will keep growing and evolving, as the players keep doing it too. And them sex in games will stop being a taboo and start being a subject worth discussing about.

Playing as The Villain (NSFW)

How many times have you played with a character you hate? I am not meaning a character who are weak or have a weird design. I am talking about a character that you despise his/her/its actions. A character that made you want to stop playing because he is an asshole and you don't want to do what the character do. Games have very little characters that way.

Kratos is possible the most well known. There is nothing to like about him. He is a mass murderer sociopath, who will kill anyone (and anything), that dare to cross his path. Or just kill people to accomplish his objectives, no matter what. In God of War III, he kills Poseidon lovers to solve a puzzle. She was not doing anything to stop him. She was just there. And yet Kratos took her and throw her inside a door's gears to keep it open, killing her. He also killed Hera, Zeus' wife, just because she got in his nerves.

He did this to get his revenge against the gods. There is no noble objective here. It is not to save mankind or to rescue a beloved one. He is not being under mind control or being deceived. He did this awful acts because he is an evil character. There is moments in GOW3 that hint he still have some compassion left, but most of the time he is just a merciless killer.

Before Kratos...

After Kratos.

Most games don't give you a detestable character like Kratos. Most justify evil acts done by the character the player controls as either justifiable or beyond the character powers to avoid. It make sense, from a business stand point. Nobody want to be the bad guy. Even when playing with an anti-hero we want him to be a badass with noble heart.

Kratos is not that. He is badass, but far from noble. He is the first (and till now) the only character I have played that made me question keeping going. I will never like him as a hero. To me, he will always be one of the villains in the GOW series. And I think this is a great thing.

Feeling remorse because of something you done in a game is a good thing. Regretting not being able to save a good character or being directly responsible by its death is a good thing. It is all fictional, but it is always good that something make you reflect what just happened.

I think more games must do this, letting the player experience the 'dark side'. If done correctly, it is a powerful tool to lead to reflection.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Chosen One

In fiction, the Chosen One is a common troupe. I am not sure which is the oldest reference about it, but we can find it in the Old Testament in the Bible in many characters. It makes sense, from that stand point. A otherwise common person discovers to be chosen by the gods, destiny or prophecy that he/she is supposed to do things of greatness. Many people dreams of this.

Games use it many times. It is common in RPGs or any game trying to be epic somehow. Start as a very common guy, then he discover he is the Dragonborn, Fateless One or other title and go to save the land from the evil forces. The appeal is there.  As many other writing cliches, this one have being over used for years. One game did a intelligent and interesting twist to this: Bioshock

Warning: If you plan to play the first Bioshock, heavy spoilers ahead!

In Bioshock, the silent main character enters the underwater city of Rapture after his plane crashes near it and them he is sucked in what survived of (and in) the city. We them discover that nothing that happened to him was coincidence. He is a clone of city's founder, Andrew Ryan, and have being brought back to the city in order to use his genetic code to help the people that created him to seize control of the city and its technology.

*End of Spoilers*

Bioshock followed the path of the Chosen One, the especial person that have something reserved by destiny to him. But did it in a very clever way. That is why I am not exactly against cliches. They existed because the audience few more comfortable with something familiar than something completely new. But it is possible to use such cliches in clever and imaginative ways.

Writing is hard, I must admit. And trying to create something completely new is the hardest part. But it is those creative twists and surprises that can make something common, special.

Made Without You in Mind

The old 'games are sexist' discussion doesn't seem to be a thing that will disappear soon. Damn, the feminism movement have what? 50 years now? And yet we are not living in an egalitarian society. maybe we will never have, because men and women ARE different, psychologically and physiologic. I am all for equal respect and rights for both, but we must admit that we are different.

Some things are made for men. Others are made for women. Like bras, for example. You will hardly see a man going to the lingerie store and complain that they don't have a corset for men. You will not see women going to a men clothes store and complaining that they don't have suits for women. Because they know that those stores are not made with them in mind.

A few months ago, I said in a old blog how games must be more inclusive.How they make a try to make a game where everyone should few comfortable playing. I partially changed my mind. I still think that certain games, like the FPS, should allow for more diversity. They could make female avatars for the players to choose, instead of forcing all women playing to use the manly men avatars. Also, fighting games could balance the scantily clad female fighters with more sensitive clad ones, or offer second costumes less revealing.

But certain games ARE made with a 'just men' approach, while certain games are made with 'only girls' approach (I will admit that most games made for girls seems to assume that only 9 year old girls play games). The same way certain games are made with kids in mind and others are made for mature adults. Asking them to be more broad would hurt those games in a way.

What we need and I talked before is more diversity. We need more games that appeal to the different audiences. Today, the gaming community is bigger and more diverse than ever. Developers and publishers need to realize that. It is not just the male teen full of hormones that play games anymore. They need to diversify their portfolio under risk of losing a great chunk of possible costumers.

Diversity is a beautiful thing. We should seek for it. And the game industry need to realize that as soon as possible.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Too Complicated...

Sometimes, people make live more complicate than it should be. Updating your time travel machine should be one single step, damn it!

Motion Controls: Everyone is Doing it Wrong

Oh, yes. A Kinect Star Wars Game is coming. And it feature dancing mini-games!

Now that you finished your best Darth Vader 'NOOOOO" impersonation... Not yet?... Now?... OK....

I don't think that Kinect is a flawed tech and therefore not able to do much more interesting things than dance/exercise/mini-games games. Maybe you could say that about the Wii, how the tech behind it was not good enough, but even there I have my doubts. It is more about the lack of disposition of both developers and gamers to explore the tech.

Every Star Wars fan dreamed of fighting with lightsabers and a system who would allow them to swoosh around their plastic swords would be awesome. Or moving your hands and causing Force effects. Since I have no hands-on with the game, I don't know if  you can actually do those things.

But the fact that they felt the need to put dance sections is not encouraging.

Developers have no idea how to be creative with motion controls, so they either do a half-assed job with them or copy what already is successful. Meanwhile, old-time gamers dread motion controls and are in not fair disposition to expend money in them. And the new gamers that were attracted by the Wii and Kinect aren't exactly wanting different experiences.

Sony tried to push their Move as an alternate control for traditional games, but it is hardly working in their favor. Meanwhile the use of voice commands can be done with a headset, which defeats the need for Kinect just for it. All indicating that nobody have any great idea about how to use motion controls in games.

Sure, you probably can point me to n videos of Kinect hacks that are awesome, but can you point me the great ideas used in games? And that is the problem with motion controls. Very few games used it in really creative ways that make every gamer wanting to use it.

And as long developers don't figure a way to use them in appealing games, motion controls will keep being the butt of many jokes.