Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Drink That Bun!

I've been trying to think of a way to describe what makes a game click for me, and what kills something that is otherwise quite perfect. I could sit down and play Rune Factory for hours and hours, even though its just a grind sandwich with teaspoon rewards. On the other hand, I loved the funny antics in Red Alert 3, but couldnt play for more than half an hour before quiting, eventually just shrugging it into the bought-and-never-beat pile.

I opened and closed the new post tab again and again, trying to come up with an idea of how to describe it. I dunno what made this idea come to mind, could be my kitchen sink for all I know.

My favorite games are the ones where I can drop right down, stare at the world, and feel it all around me.  If I can describe the smell of the world I'm in, then I know I'm having fun. Pounding action doesnt do it, that tends to make me put down the game and try to calm down. If I can be calmed by a game, if I can stop, take a deep breath, and smell the air, then that to me is a great game.

So, examples!

Wind Waker smells like salt water, an ocean breeze. Most dungeons have that salty smell soaked into them, mixed in with a sort of algae-like mildew.

Half-Life 2 smells like rot, decay, and corpses. Even in the city environments, hot concrete still stinks like blood, like iron.

World of Warcraft has a loooooot of smells, but the magical effects smell a lot like ozone and frosting. Yeah.... frosting.

Guild Wars, the first tutorial area had a wonderful smell, fresh grass and flowers. Even down in the catacombs, you could smell the living over the long dead. Which only made its destruction all the worse... I was so glad to get to the fresh air of snow and pine in the mountains. Destroyed Ascalon was copper and sand and ozone, very metallic, and overwhelming.

Shadow of the Colossus has no smell. This is a strange one, because it was a world I loved to explore and stay in, and I did just stop and look around, breathe the air. The lack of smell comes from my perception of the area Wander is entering. A sacred place, an empty prison, a sanitized and uninhabited land. A strange dimension of reality that doesnt follow our laws, the land of gods. I imagined, even with all the plant life, this land was desolate, and existed in the same state that it always had. The rotting buildings were always like that, and always will be. There was nothing in that land to make any smells. Thats how I saw the environments that I wandered around in, a pet interpretation.

Minecraft smells like soil after a rainfall, unless my dirt texture is the Oklahoma red soil stuff. Then it smells like clay.

Some of the best horror games, Silent Hill 2 and Amnesia, are ridiculously immersive, but in the opposite way. No way do you want to sit and breath those worlds. Silent Hill 2 smells like corpses and mildew, and Amnesia is too damn freaky to really try to smell. Plus, Amnesia focuses too much on audio. I hear the insanity scratching and I think "mice, oh god, mice in the walls, they're going to bit me while I sleep oh crap." I play these in short bursts, beating them over the course of um... months?

This isnt completely why I play games, nor are those all the games I liked. For example, I really liked Persona 4 and Phoenix Wright. But those were more like watching anime than playing a video game. I have completely different standards for those. In short: those characters better be goddamn amazing or the anime will burn.

With all of this in mind, I've been recommended Borderlands over and over and over by my friends (all two of them). And I did give it a try, on my boyfriend's computer. I got up until the second questing zone, which probably isn't nearly enough time to get a grasp on such a large game. But after I got to the first town, looked around, and tried to get a grasp on this place... I couldnt. I love desert space planet settings, I like Trigun and it addicted me to the idea of space frontier GONE CRAZY. But Borderlands didnt feel alive. I couldnt just stop and get a feel... so it felt really weird to play. Maybe it was the art style, it seemed almost plastic. Or maybe it was the low interactivity of the world, it only seemed like a giant ammo/weapon dumpster. Or maybe it was the splash screens at meeting each new character, like we should be really, really excited to see a random human. Whatever it was, I couldnt breathe the world. I cant think of the place clogging my breath with sand, I cant imagine the stench of the mutant dog things. It just smells like rubber and plastic and numbers. It doesnt matter how funny that crazy scientist lady is, Steve! It wont make the color cartoon land of plastic prizes become Gunsmoke!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Puella Magi Madoka Magika (Its over!)

I'd just like to say, I often describe myself as a recovering anime fan, trying to get into American comics and video games, like a proper lady should.


The finale of Puella Magi Madoka Magika came out last Thursday, but I didnt bother looking for a sub until yesterday. The show was interesting, though it had its flaws. It wasnt nearly as super over-the-top dark as it wanted to be (somewhat because of censorship). But the fact that the entire show was about Madoka's choice to become a magical girl was fascinating. The tenth episode made me freaking cry, so I was hyped for the two-part finale.

Since I actually have ONE READER (gasp!) I think I'm going to be a little vauge on the details of the show. Mostly because every episode is a spoiler for the depths of darkness it tries to delve. Its only twelve episodes, this stuff is packed in!

The first half of the two-parter answered so many lingering questions of the fanbase, and quite a few of the guesses wound up being right. Which is actually kind've wierd, you know? Fan guesses usually all get thrown strongly into a crazy direction, and then they call foul once the show refutes them. Especially after this long of a wait... but almost all of the popular theories were right on. The episode sets everything up to be nice and hopeless with the undefeatable end boss. After, you know, Homura fires ten million rockets, slams and explodes a propane tank into it, summons missile launchers out of the ocean, and blasts the witch into a massive silo with ten gajillion proximity mines, you kindve suspect it's not going to work. If you're prepared and overpowered, anime always tells you youre screwed. So we have a nice little setup for the absolute most depressing ending to a pretty dang depressing and deconstructive show. I'dve seen it coming a million billion miles away.

And then Madoka turns right around and says, "Hell no. No more sad ends. I will become HOPE ITSELF."

Doesnt that sound equally like cop-out bullshit?

...why am I cryyyyiiiing.

Maybe because it worked. No "gotcha!" moment where the man behind the curtain yanks despair out from under you. Whats funny is that because of that wish, the world becomes as it should be. A standard magical girl setting. Its ridiculous and silly, but I'm just blown away by the reconstruction. And by all the bombs and rockets. And the floaty star nudity.

Oh yes, my favorite thing about this show? Lesbians.
Yep, thats all folks, girl just loves her lesbians. Screw yaoi, gimmie more yuri, anime. That's all I want from you, as a straight adult female.
Okay, I'm joking, rather, what makes me happiest about this show is the damn HANDLING of lesbians. Most anime are just so damn glad to pander, especially those magical girl shows aimed at the oldah boys crowd. It's right there in the opening. "Here there be lesbians!" It invites you into a common trope/joke about magical girls, and then takes it seriously. It shows a relationship that doesnt have to have a gender. It shows true love, in a nonphysical way. It shows the purest devotion to a single person, doesnt matter what gender said affection is, it just so happens that her love is for the same gender as herself. They share a hug, a lovers lament, but they never go full blown crazy like the do in the opening.
That is something I wish we could see more often. A love that would be no different if it was "proper," if one of them was male. A strange relationship handled without comment or judgement, simply presented. Something like this had full rights in a anime to take it too far, but they just let it stand as what it should be, a purehearted young love. Almost all of my friends have been gay or bi ever since I've gotten to college, and hanging out with them, it almost seems that simple. "I just like him, so I went with it. I'm not letting society stop me."
Okay, I'm going on too long about the lesbians.

One final gripe: What the hell was Walparugi then?! Was she a collection of witches, like her name suggests? Was she Homura herself, and the depths of her despair, building and building, make Walparugi that much more powerful? Was it an alien? Was it the nature of the wish/curse cycle? Hang on.... yeah, I checked the wiki, it has no goddamn clue either. Kindve a big thing to leave hanging. I mean, this is a Cosmic Horror Story, but Walparugi isnt the source of the horror, only a looming and understood threat to hang over the whole show.

Single reader! Internet! I've gone on too long about this! GO WATCH THE SHOW 8I

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Glass Box

There's a school of thought surrounding media called Matrixism, which pretty much is exactly what it sounds like. Games and shows arent like real life, they're symbolic representations of it. Sometimes they can be close, but often they're not. What Matrixists claim is that media no longer symbolizes the real world, but only refers to other symbols. When you see a hot chick in an ad, its not trying to represent any kind of normal hot chick, but a kind of symbolic ideal of a hot chick.
That doesnt even remotely resemble a burning chicken!

But Matrixism is kinda silly. Of course it looks like a chicken on fire, or a chicken and a fire. Where do these symbols come from? When I draw a little stick figure, it's not a representation of a human, but a representation of a representation? Then what the hell is a human? Maybe I just suck at drawing! It gets silly, it doesnt really hold water.

Wait, why am I talking about Matrixism? What does this have to do with anything?

Today one of my favorite game writers, Shamus Young, wrote a blog post I pretty much agree with. He rants about how people were conducting a downvote attack on at Portal 2 because it had alternate costume DLC you could buy. If I may describe it in one joke, Shamus yelled at the manchildren for complaining about a broken cookie, while the rest of manchildren's video game meal was a big, brown, goulash shit.

I read a huge, verbose, and well constructed counterargument on the forums that yelled at Shamus for being wrong. The post talked about many aspects and facets of Portal 2, why the DLC was terrible, why the attack was justified, and on and on and on. The guy had a lot of rhetoric, but halfway through it I read one line, and his argument fell to pieces:

"I admit, I didnt play this game myself, but..."

And there, out the window it all goes. He had only heard about all of this through second hand sources, and was forming an argument based on those sources, not on any experience that he had. He talked with great authority on something he had absolutely never experienced. He didnt even say "I heard that it was like this." He recited each and every point like he knew exactly what he was talking about. One of the reasons Shamus was mad. There needs to be some kindve law against this. I decided I wanted to write back and laugh at him, saying that he was silly and I knew better.

Though I hadnt played the game either...

Thats when the curveball came for me.  I've been pretending I'm part of this community, but I've only been watching it from the outside. I havnt experienced game history, I havnt played half the games they've talked about. Sure, mostly because I didnt have the technical capacity to, but I still informed myself on their love and rage. I've been looking in the glass box that is the gaming community, picking sides and defending them based only on secondhand knowledge. Maybe I'll have played a game or two, but that doesnt make me any kind of expert.

How many people do this online? How much of gaming culture, or internet culture, is based around hearing about or reading things online? TV Tropes. Cracked. Escapist. Filled with people who dont know what they're talking about, all clinging to these few authorities they trust, and making thier opinions from that.

In short, Matrixism. A mob rule of Maxtrixism. That's what I'm saying the internet is like. Like those shadows in Plato's cave, and those with skills in rhetoric make shadow puppets.

And I'm one of them.




This post meandered all over the place didnt it?

Monday, April 18, 2011


I just got a shiny new graphics card along with Team Fortress 2. It's a blast to play, and my experience with Killing Floor makes me a little bit better than the standard newbie. I still run up against crazies who can kill me halfway across the map as a Scout, but most the time I feel like I'm on a level playing field. That's not why I'm writing, however.

There seems to be two different philosophies surrounding medic, characterized by two types of people. Those who yell at me for only healing one person, and those who yell at me for trying to heal many people.

Heavy/Medic has permeated through gaming culture, its known to be an unbeatable force. I've been accused of cheating while using this combo, which is an accusation that instantly evaporates when I remember how many times I've been killed right out the gate doing this. But most the time, you stick to your damn heavy, because they're out in the open and taking massive damage. But then somebody screams for medic halfway across the map, and yells at me in chat for not healing them.

However, when somebody runs right beside me and is hurt, I try to offer them a quick blast of heal beam. loosing any number of team member in the arena is fatal, especially in big groups. But even if my primary target didnt die in the meantime, they'll be screaming for me constantly while I'm gone.

I guess this somewhat reflects the hectic nature of the game. You cant see whats going on at every point. The medic must have just abandoned you for no reason. I get this from scouts... they scream for medic, demand I follow them, and then run off like doofuses. I cant keep up scouts, why do you waste my time?!

I try to stick to a primary target, and priorities go from Heavy to Soldier to Pyro to Demo to Engineer. The other three are ridiculous to try and heal constantly. Scout goes to fast, Sniper would only die in one hit anyway, and why the hell are you giving away the Spy's position??? But if somebody runs by me and is hurt, then I'll try to quickly heal them and get back to my primary target.

In closing, man this game is fun! Besides Medic, I tend to go for Scout, and my favorite modes are Arena and King of the Hill. If you see Blondie_Brownie, THATS ME!!!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Writing Practice

I was planning on writing about my favorite video games in my next post. But I guess you'll have to wait, non-existent readers. Soon, internet. Soon.

Right now I'm trying to write an essay about Soulstealing in ancient China, and all I'm really doing is staring out a window. My only sentence is about how the information was gathered, and that doesnt really lead to much. So, my invisible audience! I am going to ramble here for practice! Then I'll have enough writing juices going to get back to my paper! I mean ditch the paper and go play Team Fortress 2! This plan is flawless! I'm going to make every dollar! I'm going to use every exclamation mark!

Okay, okay, Chinese soulstealing, specifically a panic in 1768. It's funny, because the upper class and the emperor didnt believe in that hoodoo. They were really intent on preventing panic as, you know, a panic was totally going on. On the local level, random strangers were being picked up and tortured for a confession, which was totally legal and even encouraged in certain cases. But not in this case. See, you're supposed to actually know somebody is guilty, and under some weird law code, you cant convict anyone unless they confess. So you torture them to get a confession. The emperor was completely disappointed in everybody, because they misused the pure criminal busting power of torture. Also, all the sorcerers were seditious commie bastards intent on taking him down and they needed to be PUNISHED!!! Then in October of that year (the scare started in March) the sorcerers were found to be not sorcerers, and the entire scare vanished. Poof! Book over! Except for a bit where the author says Hungli's grandson was way more betterer at handling dark magic.

See, I can write a silly and sarcastic version of my paper. I could go on and on for ages about it, I know this scare and its components backwards, forwards, and flipways. But I've already gotten points torn from my fingers for using any kind of metaphor or slang term, and my Chinese teacher is going to totally deathglare me if I turn in six pages of quips.

But those quips got me A's in other classes! Even when I completely write the paper wrong, teachers are freaking enamored with my possession of voice. You read a million droning I-dont-care-doing-this-for-the-grade papers, and you'd go gaga over a couple quips too.

Ah well, paper! Ahoy!

So I wrote my paper as seriously as I possibly could, going over and over it to make sure it was all proper and correct. And the teacher still said I wasnt taking it seriously, that I wasnt writing correctly, and knocked me down to a B+

Okay, my style of writing is a little train-of-thought like. With improper grammer structures abound. But... she really picked on this, and it killed what she actually considered a well-put-together paper.

Probably because she's foreign. "This is the right way to do it! Why dont you use the right way?!"

Ah well...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Half-Life 2

I just beat Half-Life 2 the other day, which is by far the most popular game I've heard almost nothing about. Sure, I still see headcrabs, Civil Protection, and crazy Gary's Mod stuff pop up in the media from time to time, but you hear almost nothing  about what actually goes on in the game, or at least, I've heard almost nothing, compared to the amount of stuff I've heard about other Valve games.

But man, maybe that was a good thing.

As I've made clear before, I'm not a shooter person. My little brother called me the other day to rave about how awesome Killzone 3 was... I just shrugged. Over the phone. Too much BLAM BLAM KAPOW WHEE! Where I like to sit still, stare at whats around me, and participate in combat sparingly. My last game purchases were Rune Factory Frontier, Persona 4, Amnesia: The Dark Decent, and Pokemon White. Two relationship sims, a thing I cant play because graphics card wahey, and something to play on the bus.

But, you know, for all the BLAM BLAM KAPOW WHEE in the game, theres a lovely chunk of just sitting and taking in the scenery, my favorite part of any game. And despite being ultra linear, theres plenty of stories behind the placement of a little side root, a body, a ton of rockets, and two Civil Protection burning corpses. Every place feels like it was something before the distopia, even when you take a second look around and realize how absurd some setups must be.

There's so many things I could say about Half-Life 2, but I'm going to just say the one thing that stuck out. There was an amazing bit around the part of chapter "Follow Freeman!" when you're trying to break into the Citadel (does that count as a spoiler?). This is when you pick up NPC squad members left and right. And they die... left and right. I began shouting at them after a while. "No, dont follow me you fools! Just because I am a tank doesnt mean you're safe! Nooooo! Dont you die on me Bandetto! You were the medic, now the rest will drop like FLIES!!!" I was seriously affected by this. Tossing antlions at people was one thing, they're freaking bugs, but people, real people entering a meat grinder? I saved and reloaded so often, just to see a few more resistance fighters live.

I went to jebus (I'm borrowing the game from him) and said "why do they keep fighting?! why?!"
"Yeah, their AI is kinda dumb, isnt it?"
" D8 " Not really a good answer, did he even get into the game at all?
I restarted the game and began griefing the tutorial area. I listened to Breen before... he was talking about instinct, submit to the aliens, dewp dee do... wait a minute. Reproductive urges suppressed?!
Resistance: "Oh god, we cant bone, all thats left is fighting!"
" D8 " That cant possibly be the answer!
I later thought that the reproductive thing was an elaborate way to not have any children in the game. Clever, Valve. Very, very clever...

I love this game, it thinks of everything and tells you only if you care.
And it really, really makes me understand the desperation of resisting a huge, overwhelming power... I'm in a roleplaying game right now, trying to incite that kind of rebellion.
It's now a little scary to think of people when they're desperate, willing to throw their lives on on the line to fight beside a sliver of hope...
But I cant protect you, Resistance! Aug, noooo!

There are games that dump mountains and mountains of dialog behind characters, and still cant flesh them out. There are games that dump mountains and mountains of dialog, making people into awesome characters, and I can still watch them die and know they'll be fine. Then there's Half-Life 2. Sure, all members of the Resistance are a little interchangeable, but god, I dont want them to die.