Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Regarding Joe Staten's Departure from Bungie Studios

As a seasoned member of the Bungie community, I feel the need to put in my two cents about Joe Staten leaving Bungie. The news came to us on September 24th of 2013, a day before the anniversary of Halo 3's launch. With Destiny in full production and Bungie in full swing to meet the game's launch date, the timing here seems strange.

"Dear community friends,
After fifteen great years at Bungie, from the battlefields of Myth to the mysteries of Halo and beyond, I'm leaving to tackle new creative challenges. While this may come as a surprise, fear not. It's been my pleasure building Destiny these past four years, and after the big reveal this Summer, our hugely talented team is on track for greatness. I'll be cheering all of them, with all of you, when the game launches next year. Thank you for your support of me, and your continued support of Bungie. We couldn't have done it without you.

Per Audacia Ad Astra!
Joseph Staten"

This was Staten's official statement on It's saddening, yet strangely uplifting. Here's why.

Bungie has always been about the community. Yes, they are game developers, they are story tellers, they are world builders, they are artists, but before all of that they are community creators. What's beautiful about this is that it's just so rare. That so many people are inspired by the men and women behind these walls is an amazing thing, and the same can't be said for many developers. 

Bungie is more than just a collection of talented people; it's an idea. The idea that the community will take what the studio creates and forge something fantastic out of it, something beyond the wildest dreams of the developers. We've heard this from Bungie themselves. "The universe will become the fan's just as much as it is ours." We've seen the creativity of the community shine through the Halo series and we'll see it again with Destiny, and this is why Joe Staten's departure should not be lamented.

Joe Staten is part of the Bungie community now. We have to remember that not everyone will be able to be at Bungie forever; not even Jason Jones and that's beautiful. Because the community cycles into the studio and the studio cycles into the community. The grizzled ancients of Bungie's past will become seasoned members of the community and those inspired by Bungie's games and universes will join the studio, taking inspiration from those who've gone on to other ventures. 

This is not the end, it's a new beginning and I wish Joe Staten the best of luck. I know that when Bungie finally achieves their goal of world domination, Joe Staten will have a special seat waiting for him by the slingshot, and I look forward to meeting you all there as well. 

Per Audacia Ad Astra. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

America vs Video Games: Enough is Enough

In the wake of the Navy Yard shooting that occurred two days ago, news outlets are happily bathing in the opportunity to place blame. I love video games. I'm passionate about the people who make them and the ways in which they bring us together. Obviously, I am enraged. I'm disgusted at the agendas these news organizations bring forward to try and blame video games for every single problem that has ever happened. Too often are we portrayed as villains and it's about time we stood up. Let's get started.

"These crimes have never happened in human history."

So this 'expert' suggests that crimes such as Sandy Hook have never happened throughout human history. I'll go on to destroy the rest of his arguments later, but let's focus here for a moment. What happened at Sandy Hook? A man who was bullied, who didn't fit in, who exiled himself from society, who had access to weapons went and killed several children in an elementary school.

Apparently, Sargent Cunt isn't aware of the history of school shootings because the very first school shooting happened on July 26th, 1764; The Pontiac's Rebellion School Massacre. As many as ten children were killed along with the school master. From 1764 to 1985 (The year video games began to take off) there have been over 155 school shootings in American history averaging about 3 per year. These individuals didn't have access to Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, or Hitman. They were simply insane. 

In actuality, the frequency of school shootings since 1985 have not increased but have stayed at the static frequency they began to achieve in the 1930's. "These crimes have never happened in human history?" On the contrary. In fact, I seem to remember even more children being slain in a little thing called the Holocaust. SIDENOTE: The Holocaust Museum was shot up by a 88 year old white supremacist who was a frequent watcher ... of Fox News. 
Interesting. Moving on.

Why do we hear so much about school shootings now? Because we have access to information. Now we know about an incident the second after it happens, firearms today are more powerful and effective than they have ever been, but more importantly, now we have people trying to achieve political goals like Sargent Cunt in the video above.

Now, on to the Navy Yard shooting.

Even MSNBC is filled with ignorant reporters.

Look at how straight up fear mongering this is. This is the textbook definition of fear mongering. Everything from his words to his inflections. Now, let's educate this impressively dim individual.

"This is the latest Xbox 360 that cost over 250 Million Dollars to Produce."

You know you're not qualified to talk about video games at all when you refer to a video game case as the latest Xbox 360. No, Ed. That is a video game. The Xbox 360 is the system that that particular game runs on, and it's available for PS3. 

This is a lot like me holding up a copy of Django Unchained and saying, "This is the latest DVD player that cost blah blah blah." It's a game. Not a console. Learn words.

"It's got stealing cars, shooting people, and beating up hookers."

That's not the central focus of the game. The game is a satire of the current American lifestyle, a lifestyle that Fox News has had a large role in creating. Also, Ed, are you implying that if something contains bad material, it's not worth engaging in? What about life itself, Ed. Life has stolen cars, shooting, hookers, drugs, wars, and so on. So, to prevent it, should we all just kill ourselves?

"If you let your child watch this, even if they're beyond 18 years old, you're a lousy parent in my opinion."

Look out, parents. The mighty and ingenious Ed Schultz thinks you're a lousy parent. Coming from a person who is likely a lousy parent himself, this is hilariously ironic. Also, it's a game, Ed. You don't watch it, you play it. 

"We're so concerned about the second amendment? This is the FIRST amendment."

This is the point in the video where Ed Schultz becomes a loathsome human being. What has every shooting since the 1760s had in common, Mr. Schultz? I'll give you a clue. It isn't video games, it isn't movies, and it isn't Fox News. It's freaking guns. These shootings happens not because we have access to video games, but because we have access to guns.

Some people will say, "Oh, well those people get guns illegally." That's not the point. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter stole his weapons from his mother. How did his mother get those guns? Legally. The point is, when we all legally have guns, it's easier to illegally get guns. It's a simple fact of life. If things are easy to obtain and in abundance, they will be used. 

"Oh, and the guy who did the shooting yesterday? He was big fan of this kind of stuff."

As are hundreds of millions of people around the world. As are the parents of upstanding children, as are the professors of successful students, as are the workers of the lowest tiers, as are the managers of the highest places. If we're going to find one common influence in the minds of shooters and ignore the obvious evidence that 100% of them are clinically insane, then it's a two way street.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Forgotten Franchises of Video Game History

I look on the shelves at any GameStop or the libraries of any online retailer and think to myself, "What happened to the franchises that didn't last?" What happened to the games we enjoyed as kids that are now nowhere to be found? Did they die? Where they even given a fair chance? Today is dedicated to the games that died young. Let us pay our respects.

The Oddworld Series

This is the only game I've ever played that's ever given me an Oddworld feeling. Let me elaborate. The atmosphere in this game is incredibly unique. It was funny, endearing, and yet dreadful, frightening, and uneasy. It's the only game I've ever come across to give me that feeling, which is why I consider it "The Oddworld Effect."

There's something about the art, something about the voice acting, the character design, the writing, the atmosphere, and the ambience that Oddworld owns. It's a series that is near and dear to my heart and it's something that never really got a fair shot. It died in the Xbox/PS2 generation with Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, despite having a general consensus that the game was an instant classic. I never played Stranger's Wrath, but I have to wonder why something so well received died so silently. 

We've seen demand for Oddworld games in HD a lot recently, so maybe, just maybe, they'll get the revival they so rightfully deserve. 

The Destroy All Humans! Series

Pandemic Studios was a gaming powerhouse. They built some of the most defining games of my childhood. While I remember them most for Mercenaries and Destroy All Humans!, most people remember them for Star Wars: Battlefront and Battlefront 2. Unfortunately, as of 2009, Pandemic Studios has been shut down by EA. This is my main reason for harboring somewhat negative feelings towards EA, but that's a story from another time.

Destroy All Humans! was the first game I played that put the players in the alien's perspective while being as fun as it could possibly be. Inspired by the science fiction craze of the 1950's feeding off of cinematic classics like Plan 9 and the legends of it's time (Roswell New Mexico,) the game felt like it had a personality of it's own. It was funny, well written, and epic in it's own unique ways and to this day it remains my absolute favorite science fiction game on the PlayStation 2. The comedy, the gameplay, and the physics make this game stand out from most other science fiction games at the time. The sequel, Destroy All Humans! 2 was not only a great sequel, but it improved on many of it's predecessor's elements, while also staying true to the theme of the game's personality. 

So, how did it die? Well, Electronic Arts drove Pandemic Studios into bankruptcy, and while Pandemic did later release Mercenaries 2 and The Saboteur on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, EA gave the Destroy All Humans! franchise to a different developer before shutting Pandemic down for good.

Sandblast Games were the heads of the next game in the Destroy All Humans! franchise: Destroy All Humans! Path of the Furon. With the creative team that made the originals what they were gone, we were left with a team trying to impersonate what Pandemic did, and the game turned out, buggy, repetitive, boring, unpolished and uninspired. The game failed tremendously with Pandemic's absence and the franchise was left to die.

I still hope that one day, I'll get that continuation, the Destroy All Humans! 3 that never was. It's unlikely, maybe even impossible, but I can dream. 

The Bloody Roar Series

Nobody remembers this game. Nobody. I have yet to find one person to sympathize with on this, but goddamn, is this good. Bloody Roar was a fighting game on the original PlayStation. Unfortunately, this is one of those games who's brilliance I'm not sure I'll be able to convey. You could transform from human characters to human/animal hybrid and it was FUCKING ENTHRALLING. The animations were fluid, the attacks felt powerful, and the fighting styles were unique. The music was adrenaline pumping, the characters had awesome special attacks. I just don't know, this is something you'll have to play to understand where I'm coming from on this. This franchise needs to come back. Killer Instinct on Xbox One? NO! BLOODY ROAR!

If you can get your hands on this game, play it. I recommend Bloody Roar 2, it's the first one I played, and I fell in love with it.

The Legacy of Kain Series

I admit. I was really young when I played this game and the only game I played was The Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, but I'll say this. The atmosphere in this game was awesome. It was an adventure game about vampires (that's such a simplified synopsis that I feel bad about it) and it had such a feeling of dread about it. It was awesome. In the same way Oddworld had a unique feeling about it, the Legacy of Kain also had something about it that I can't put my finger on.

You could use weapons in interesting ways, the sound design was top notch, and the characters were awesome. I'd love to see this game come back. 

Shadow of the Colossus 

A sequel. Seriously, get right on this.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Destiny: Bungie's New Adventure (Why I'm Beyond Excited)

If any of you either know me personally of have followed this blog for a decent amount of time, it will come as no surprise to you that I have an impossibly large amount of love for Bungie and the universes that they weave. I wanted to write this article several months ago, but there was so little information known about the game that doing so seemed very counter productive to the point. Now, with the release of several Bungie ViDocs (Video Documentaries) there exists concrete information about the studios next adventure. The game is still in alpha and comparatively there is still very little known about the game, but still I think now's the right time to geek out about it.

A living universe to explore with art design straight from the gods.

This game is built for immersion from the ground up. The philosophy behind Destiny is for players to venture out into the world and tell their own stories, build their own legends. I love exploration in games, and it's something Bungie does very well. Even in the later more linear Halo titles, there were days where I would meander off the path and explore the expansive levels on my own. 

Not only is the game built from the ground up to be explored, it's built from the ground up to be played with friends, cooperatively. Let me paint a picture.

Post apocalyptic, yet beautiful and hopeful. 

You are on traversing the ruins of Old Russia on planet earth, you come across a great wall enclosing the abandoned city behind it. As you approach the ruins of the great wall, you see something in the sky.  A spacecraft flying towards you, breaking the invisible curtain of space. The craft curves upwards and someone beams down beside you from the ship. A friend. You venture together in the great wall and defeat the foul creatures who had claimed it. As you head out the other side of the wall you see something in the distance; an alien ship of unknown origin is headed right for the city. From all around the area, you see other players running to join the fight. No matchmaking, no menus, no lobbies. 

You will come across other players as naturally and as seamlessly as you would come across other people in your day to day life. This is something that excites me. To be able to be on my own journey and meet others and unite with other players for a common goal without loading screens or lobbies.

Anywhere you can see, you can go.

Let's say you're on your way to do a story mission, but something catches your attention, maybe you notice a fleet of other guardians ships flying to a particular location and decide you want to go where they're going. You can. A mountain in the distance that would in our current generation would be a 2 dimensional piece of background art? Nope. All playable space. I imagine that there are some boundaries eventually. The game can't go on forever, even with the next gens boost in power, but there's no question that Destiny's landscapes will be large and diverse. 

In Destiny we can customize our characters to our hearts content from our armor and weapons to our gender, class, race, and faction. We can customize our own personal aircrafts (although no word on wether or not we can fly them, but I'm gonna assume we can.) We can join in on public events, play raids, strikes, campaign, competitive multiplayer, or simply play in the sandbox of the games living and breathing world. 

While details on these other game modes are currently still under wraps, it should be expected that they will be every bit as fun as we can hope for them to be. While Destiny isn't exactly an MMO, it does have elements of it, which means the game needs to be connected to the internet to play it, which makes sense considering the game is designed so you run into people and public events are a large part of the game. Though you need an internet connection to play, no subscription fee will be needed, so fear not ye MMO faithful.

Mythic Science Fiction.

Bungie is fantastic at creating fascinating lore and rich sci-fi universes. So to see them drift a little into the realm of fantasy, makes me extraordinary excited. It's science-fantasy isn't something explored in many games, and hardly in any first person shooters, so the fact that Bungie is not only working with something familiar with but with something different, is a great thing. Destiny's universe looks to be something I could lose myself in for hours on end, and I look forward to doing exactly that when the game releases for Xbox One and PS4 sometime early next year. (My money's on a spring/summer release.)

I wish I could write more, but again, the game is still in pre-alpha, so Bungie is being very conservative with the things they bring to the public. However, since Bungie has stated so many of their promises with confidence, and they never break promises, it's safe to say that what is true today will be true when the game launches. They've been working on Destiny internally for about 6 years already, and they've been working on it on paper for about 9. A lot of planning is going into this game and it's looking better and better every time I see new information about it. 

This is in Halo 3: ODST which released in 2009.
Fun fact: this game will be amazing.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

How Anime Died ... For Me

This isn't game based, but it's something I've noticed a lot recently and it might relate to why I can't find enjoyment out of games like Kingdom Hearts or any Final Fantasy that isn't Final Fantasy 3. However, keep in mind I'm not talking about single films like "Howls Moving Castle," I'm talking in the vein of Death Note, Code Geass, Bleach, Full Metal Alchemist etc.

I've Seen It All Before

It's disappointing to think about, but once I've completed one anime I've basically got a blueprint for how the following series will go. It's one of the shortfalls of animation in general. Repetition is difficult to avoid. I feel like every scene I've ever seen in every anime I've ever watched is a direct clone of another scene from another anime, and it's a strange feeling of Deja Vu and nausea. 

I've already seen the hero shove food into his mouth at mach speed I've seen the clash in the sky, I've seen the pointlessly long opening and closing credits, I've seen the quiet girl who seems to have the same archetype in everything, I've seen the perverted side character and the guy whose art style is slightly different from everyone else's just because. I've seen the confident hero, and cocky anti hero, and the two dimensional villain. I've seen the half naked women bathing in the hot springs, the obvious fan service, the low budget inspired slapstick, the over dramatized groups of thugs that appear perfectly okay with being cannon fodder, the bath scenes, the contrived and convenient methods of bringing back dead characters, the same exact sword sequences, and the heavily choreographed yet still incredibly repetitive fight sequences, the two dimensional characters that stick around forever.

Swords will always lead to this

I've seen it all before. A lot of these tropes are used in film and games as well, but the issue here is repetition. In film people have inspirations that vary from one another. Different styles of conveying different scenes, this is because there are multiple things about film that are actually difficult to replicate. In anime, it's the exact opposite. Mouth movements have been standardized to a single sound to allow for flexible dubbing and due to the detail in the art and animation, studios benefit from retrofitting previous animations with new coats of paint. In fact, Disney is famous for this.

Disney animation takes a long time mainly because a vast majority of classic Disney movies use actual footage that's been traced over frame by frame. Though an impressive finished product, it makes for an impractical way of animating, so they simply re-skin scenes they feel they can use again.

Just a small example

Anime, while not traced over found footage, goes through the same constraints. Unlike Disney movies, however, anime needs to continue to be produced on a frequent basis, mostly lasting to the point of convolution and overstaying their welcome. Because of this basic need for frequency in production, cost effective measures need to be taken, I.E standardized design. 

Design suffers for cost efficiency and become generic

I have to say, I can't necessarily blame the studios for cutting these corners. Anime is expensive to produce and I like to think that the main reason for cutting costs for production is mainly to allow those who work on it to earn a fair living wage. Still, when all is said and done, it's repetition that killed anime for me. There are still shows that I vastly enjoy. I enjoy the nostalgic value of Dragon Ball Z, and the choreography and concepts of Naruto. I enjoy the idea of Death Note, and Cowboy Bebop. I can enjoy Rurouni Kenshin and Ghost in the Shell, but all the interesting concepts explored by these shows lose their value as their stories drift on past their glory days. While Naruto begins as a fascinating take on ninjas and the use of elements, it quickly drifts into mindless caveats and convoluted situations. 

So perhaps it's more than just repetition. It may also be an overstaying welcome. Where most TV shows have learned this lesson the hard way, anime has not. Few animes offer proper closure because they go on seemingly forever. Although this may not count, Avatar: The Last Airbender is my favorite example of a show ending in it's glory. It was a great show, never stale, great animation, and most of all it knew where it was going. It offers closure. I know Avatar is a 'cartoon' not an 'anime.' So? It does what most anime should do, and it does it well. Not to mention cartoons often last longer than animes do. How long has The Simpson's been on again?

Too long, yet still not as repetitive as One Piece