Archive for the ‘Not-So-Casual Commentary’ Category

Most Personally Memorable/Favourite Games (21 – 30)

November 22, 2014

30: The Sims: I never played this as a game where I tried to guide my “pet” to a good life. I always tried to build a story out of it, although the game was often a bit cumbersome to do that really well. A lot of the expansions added really cool options and not just new items and clothes. And this is a game where I commented that my Sim had a better life than me, and posited that that was because he didn’t own a TV … but did own a hot tub. There was enough storyizing there to keep me interested, and the sequels haven’t managed to do as well.

29: Master of Orion 2: I love hotseat games. I really do. What I loved to do in this game was create a Babylon 5 set of races and pit them against each other, all of them played by me. My only regret is never being able to get the council option to kick off in the version I had, which might have let the game end.

28: Infiltrator: Your job was to infiltrate various bases, given various tools and various missions. You started out flying there in a helicopter, then walked around using sleep gas and the like on guards, finished your objective, and got out. A lot of fun to play.

27: Turrican: A simple C64 platformer, with varying weapons and power-ups and the ability to stand still and generate lightning that you can guide to your enemies. One of my most memorable moments with this game and in high school was trying to beat it late into the night with a friend and managing to, well, not succeed [grin]. Hurt by the lack of ability to save … which is why we played it so late.

26: Curse of the Azure Bonds: Probably the first AD&D game that I played that had a strong enough story to carry my interest. The story was turned into a very good novel, and then a trilogy. It had all of the standard tropes that AD&D games had at the time, including creating your own party. I never managed to finish it, but it was probably one of the first RPGs that I got addicted to.

25: Star Trek (arcade): From Spock’s opening “Welcome aboard, Captain” — which I always answered, which probably led other players to think I was insane, and maybe it’s untrue — I loved this game. It didn’t have the Star Trek feel, as it was nothing more than blow up Klingons and dock at Starbases to get repairs to blow up more Klingons until you clear the level. But it was a lot of fun to play.

24: Mass Effect: A friend of mine kept pushing for me to try the series, but by the time I was interested you couldn’t get this game. So I tried Mass Effect 2, and might have gotten past the first stage before ditching it. Then the pack for the PS3 came out that had all three of them, and I finally sat down to play the game. Started out by creating an Ivanova-type character but after trying to build the avatar said “Hey, that’s Michelle Forbes from when she was in Star Trek!” and decided to make her a Helena Cain ex-pat. Playing as her without the full on insanity was very interesting. I loved the heat sink mechanism and hated that ME2 ditched it, because it let me blast away at things without just giving me infinite ammo, and let me choose the weapon I wanted without having to worry if I could find or purchase enough ammo for it. Even though I didn’t care much for the MAKO, I liked its way of exploring systems better than ME2′s. For me, this game is far superior to ME2, which is why I can’t really get into playing ME2.

23: Pirates!: A mix of RPG, sailing combat, and trading game. One of the first games that really let you be free in who you were and what you did, and a game where sometimes if you were good enough with a sword you could take ships that you had no business taking. This is regarded as a classic and for very good reason.

22: Majesty: Instead of being the hero, you’re the guy who pays them. Again, a light-hearted simulator game with some good humour and a very interesting take on the fantasy-type of story.

21: X-Men: Legends: The first of the X-Men: Legends/Marvel Ultimate Alliance style games, the success of which started that franchise off that has now, lamentably, seemingly passed into history. It had an interesting way of handling combat, and let me essentially take on Wolverine and attack things while letting my reasonably competent companions fight. It required you to take along certain characters a little too much to solve problems for my liking, and the final battle was massively difficult, but other than that it was definitely a fun game to play.

Most Personally Memorable/Favourite Games (31 – 40)

November 21, 2014

40: Fatal Frame 2: This is one of the games that justifies my deciding to not simply add entries by series. Anyone who’s read my blog for any length of time knows what I think about Fatal Frame. Obviously, I don’t think of this game anywhere near as highly. It’s not a bad game, and they added a number of things that should have made it better, but changing from a mansion to a town reduces some of the cramped creepiness, even if adding a pet makes it creepier in some ways. But the biggest knock against it is the section where you lose the camera, which I never got past. But it’s still memorable.

39: Marvel Ultimate Alliance: I think that this game manages to generally do Quick Time Events right, as you don’t get DIAS but instead just have to stay alive for one extra round if you miss it, and there’s usually a good scene after the QTE so you don’t have to miss anything cool. Unfortunately, this game is also the one that ramped gimmick fights up to 11, after they were done well in Age of Apocalypse. But this game also ramps up or introduces the idea of consequences for your actions, albeit in a very minor way, which is a nice touch.

38: Elder Scrolls: Oblivion: After Morrowind drove me to a homicidal range after about an hour of gameplay, playing this game didn’t seem like a very good idea. And I think I played it on the PC first for a very short time. And then I got it for the PS3 and didn’t finish it despite my character’s lack of pants. But when I took the game on as Angel without the vampirism, I actually started to enjoy it a bit, and did manage to finish it. So far, no such luck for Skyrim.

37: Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday: This was not my first AD&D style RPG, nor was it my first space-based RPG. But it was the first time I played that combination, and I did remember Buck Rogers from my youth. The new classes were interesting, and it let me create a full party … and I never finished it.

36: Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land: A JRPG version of Wizardry, trading in the Western RPG tropes for the JRPG tropes. Including meeting friends in the dungeon and having to bond with them to be able to pull of your more impressive moves and tactics. I never did manage to finish it, but part of that was because the disk was a little less perfect than the others and so when my first PS2 started to go it stopped playing it first … while I was playing it. It’s simplified compared to Wizardry 8, but was still fun.

35: Age of Wonders: And soon after justifying my not simply adding entries by series … I hit a series where other than 3 — which I never played — the two games are pretty much the same in quality. This game let you play hotseat and create your own maps, and wrapped that all around an interesting magic and combat system with a personalized leader. You can’t really go wrong.

34: Age of Wonders 2: This game just added more to the original game, which gives it the slight nod. But the two are pretty much interchangeable.

33: Lord of the Rings: The Third Age: I have a weakness for works that insert themselves into an existing canon and talk about other events and the like without contradicting too much the original works. I love “I, Jedi”, which arguably fixes the “Jedi Academy Trilogy”. And I love the parts of “Legions of Fire” that does the same for some things in Babylon 5, as well as the “The Passing of the Technomages” which does that for the technomages in B5. This is probably because as a writer I’m actually better at writing those sorts of inserts than I am at writing original stuff, which might make me a natural fanfic author (which means I should write some, I think). This game actually, in my view, manages to pull it off fairly well. The characters are interesting, the story doesn’t seem to contradict at least the movies too very much, and I managed to finish it. More than once. It implements the interesting system of “Use your skills to level them up” but hurts it with “But they depend on MP that you can’t always restore easily”. This is a game I would consider playing again.

32: The Old Republic: When I play MMOs, I have a strong tendency towards altitis. This is the one MMO that’s an exception to that rule, which is both to its credit and its detriment. It’s bad because there just aren’t as many combinations of unique characters as there are in other games, given the class and story restrictions. It’s good because the story drives you forward more than you see in other games and so you want to stick to one character more than you would otherwise. That means that this is the only game that I’ve hit the initial, at least, level cap with, having a few characters that have hit level 50 and having completed a few stories (Sith Warrior, Sith Sorcerer, and Smuggler I think). I still play this game fairly frequently, and am looking forward to another Christmas vacation burst with it. The biggest problem with the game is all the other people; I tend to try to play when no one else is on, which sometimes is hard to do. So I guess my biggest complaint about this game is that I would have rather seen it as a single player successor to the Knights of the Old Republic games, and think of the MMO portions as necessary evils. In fact, think about that for a second: take all of the stories — which do interconnect — even in their slight shallowness, and build a single player game where you walk through all of them, on both sides, and only then do you get the entire picture. How cool a game would that be?

31: Icewind Dale: I tried to play Baldur’s Gate repeatedly, and hated it. So I didn’t try Baldur’s Gate 2 until very recently, and then simply forgot about it. But I loved Icewind Dale when I started playing it. Part of the reason was that it let you create your own party, which Baldur’s Gate didn’t. I don’t mind companions, but at the time I really did want to create my own characters and play with them, and build the stories and relationships that way. This was, of course, before I became fascinated with JRPGs, which broke that a little. But this game let me create my all-female evil party and play it for a bit. Shame the old-style combat was just a bit too annoying to me to finish. The only thing that IWD 2 had over this were the extra classes allowing for greater diversity of characters, but overall it wasn’t as good a game as this one, that managed to let you feel like a party of inexperienced adventurers suddenly thrust into the role of the only hope for the Dale.

Most Personally Memorable/Favourite Games (41 – 50)

November 20, 2014

50: X-Men: Next Dimension: I don’t play fighting games to fight. I play fighting games to experience or create my own story. This game’s story was too difficult for me — I got stuck at the fight where Forge has to win only to lose in a cutscene — but taking on the Arcade mode ran through multiple locations and multiple opponents in each, which could let you build a story out of the encounters with some kludging, if you knew the X-Men canon well. Which I do. And you tended to face a main adversary at the end — Wolverine always fought Sabertooth last, for example — which allowed for more story-based fun.

49: M1 Tank Platoon: I think I had already started my practice of putting my friends into games before this, but I definitely did that in this game. Which made it interesting to see them get promoted … or get their tank brewed up and have to replace them. Other than that, the campaign was interesting and the combat easy enough that it didn’t frustrate me but deep enough to give me some choices and require some strategy. A good game to play when we were still in the Cold War.

48: Gunship: For a C64 game, this was a surprisingly strong flight simulator. It popped to mind when I was trying to remember what C64 games I loved, and definitely deserves to make the list.

47: Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe: This was one of the first fighting games I played where the story was both easy enough and fun enough to satisfy me when I played it. “Khaaaaaaaan!”

46: Injustice: Gods Among Us: This one, though, had a stronger story than MK vs DC Universe.

45: Star Trek: Birth of the Federation: This is actually a pretty good implementation of a Star Trek turn-based strategy game. You get the main races. You get the minor races. You get the planets. You get the ships. What you don’t get, which makes it inferior to Star Wars: Rebellion, are the characters. This was a game crying out for academies to train characters and special units, and it didn’t do it. But, otherwise, it did manage to get you feeling at least a bit like you were in that universe, and probably more so than any other Star Trek game I’ve played.

44: Dungeons of Daggorath: One of the first games I played on an actual computer, a Co-Co 2. A very entertaining dungeon crawl with an interesting hit point system — you died when your heart rate got too high — and some decent strategy options as well (when you use magic, and the ability to leave items around for the monsters to try to pick up so that you can wail on them, but since that increased your heart rate …). I never managed to finish it, but I definitely played a lot of it and would like to see some of those elements back again.

43: Risk II: You might be thinking “How can a game that just implements a board game make it onto the list?”. And “Axis and Allies” didn’t make the list, so it isn’t that it’s based on a board game and let me automate all of the annoying things that board games can have (I’m looking at you, “Babylon 5 Wars”). But this added something that the board game couldn’t do: Same Time resolution of movement and battles. So every player gave their all their moves, and then the game resolved them all simultaneously, which include border wars (you attacked me and I attacked you) and mass invasions over multiple borders. Sure, I played it against myself hotseat – which is not abnormal for me — but that was still a very interesting innovation, and made it more fun to play. I always played this game with Missions and Same Time, and it definitely kept me entertained.

42: Tropico: This was a very cute little game. The later games added more options that really do seem interesting, but that I’ve never managed to play them for long enough to really get attached to them. This game I did manage to play a bit. It was a unique little “God Game”, that also mixed in a lot of humour and didn’t take itself too seriously.

41: X-Wing Alliance: I could have selected X-Wing or Tie Fighter here, but this is the game that I most remember out of all of them. The story is strong, but the best part of it for me was the simulator, where you could create your own set-ups of fighters and fleets and fly them against each other. This even let me set up little mini-campaigns and storylines, which is something that I dearly love.

My Top 50 Most Personally Memorable/Favourite Games

November 19, 2014

So, Shamus Young did a list of the top 64 games. At the end of it, he said this about the project:

But the other thing I learned from all this is that these lists really don’t mean anything. My list isn’t really meaningful except as “List of Top 64 PC Games Played By Shamus Young that He Felt Like Talking About.” There’s a bit of value in that from the standpoint of trivia and curiosity, but it tells you more about me than it tells you about videogames.

Now, I had already decided to do a list of my own before he posted that — again, I’m scheduling things ahead and I’ve had content lately — but that sums up one of the main reasons that I decided to go ahead and do this. As I write more and more about video games, it’d be nice to have an article or set of articles that can sum up what sorts of games I like and what kind of player I am. And while a summary article would be shorter, it really can’t sum it up as well as a list of my favourite and memorable games and the reasons why they’re on the list and in the positions they are.

So despite the fact that I’m all about objectivity (well, not really), this is going to be a completely and totally subjective list. I’m not going to make any claims about whether these games are objectively better or worse than any other games. Any games that don’t make the list are either games that I haven’t played, or didn’t like or remember enough to make the list. In fact, how I generated the list was to first scour my memory to pick out the games that I remembered fondly, and then went through the games that I had handy to find ones that I when I saw them I thought “Oh, that game! I loved that game!” and then added it to the list.

Note that unlike Shamus I’m not limiting series to one entry. This is because I guess I play less games than he does ([grin]) but mostly because in a number of cases I liked one game in the series a lot more than others, or didn’t even like or play some entries in the series. It’s not reasonable for me, then, to try to judge the quality of various series, and I do have the room to judge each game individually.

I ended up with 50 games in the list, with some honourable mentions left over, and so will run these starting with 41 – 50 every day until I get through them all (the honourable mentions will come last). So if you’re here mainly for the philosophy … well, I have a lot of those sorts of posts in the archive and that will unfortunately have to hold you for the next week or so. For those who like video game posts, then this might interest you.

The Objectivity Myth …

November 17, 2014

So, in Shamus Young’s Twitter feed that I read at his site I came across a link to this video about a presentation at a conference by Maddy Myers about “Gonzo” journalism and, more importantly, and the issues games journalism is having due to an overly strong focus on objectivity. Now, it’s a video and I don’t see a transcript handy, so you aren’t going to get a lot of quotes, for which I apologize. But it seems to me that this video illustrates the main problem with the “Gonzo” style of journalism.

When the title of the presentation is “Why Games Need Gonzo Journalism”, it’s pretty safe to presume that the main goal of the presentation is to argue for that position, and to do so in a way that will appeal to people who either disagree that it does or are at least on the fence about it, and aren’t sure if games need “Gonzo” journalism. The problem is that this video doesn’t spend a lot of time arguing for that position. What it does is, it seems to me, follow exactly what Myers thinks is the way “Gonzo” journalism should be done: it talks a lot about her own experiences and the experiences of others, lists people she thinks are doing it well, and makes a few minor points — mostly about how other forms of journalism have already shifted towards this sort of model — but doesn’t make a coherent case for why this sort of approach is good and works for games. Now, it might be fair to say that my attitude is part of the problem, as I was looking for an objective approach and she thinks it better to have an experiential approach. But my counter is that if you want to convince someone to side with you — especially if they already disagree with you — it is a difficult thing to do by focusing on your experiences and your perspective. Chances are, if they shared your perspective and experiences that closely, they’d already agree with you. So what you’d need to do is appeal to their experiences and perspective, and try to guide that towards your desired conclusion. Or, alternatively, you could present the facts and arguments, and let them filter it through their own experiences to come to the conclusion you want, or express their perspective through facts as well. And that can indeed include facts about your experience.

See, part of the issue here is that I think everyone has an overly strict idea of objective and subjective. Myers talks about using “I”, and while I’m sure she doesn’t really consider that a definitive criteria for subjectivity, I just want to note that I use “I” all the when talking about philosophy, and even in formal papers (see my pages that represent my actual essays) but don’t think that I’m making any kind of subjective argument or appeal to personal experience. Those are as objective as they come. As I also just said, talking about your own experiences doesn’t make that critically subjective either, as long as those are treated as facts that need to be considered and not as simply a statement of opinion. So when it comes to game reviews, there are indeed going to be times when you have to talk about how you experience it, and when you have to acknowledge your own biases. That’s not an issue. The issue is to make sure that we don’t conflate opinion and fact.

Why this is important is that I definitely see the worth of the sorts of works that she cites. I definitely think there’s value in people reporting on their experiences at a conference, or with a game, or with game journalism. I think there is value with people talking about how they experience games, and in fact my whole “Not-So-Casual Commentary” line was spawned from my considering what my experiences as a gamer were and noting that they were a bit different than anyone else’s. But I also see the value in objective assessments as well, where people list the facts of what was presented at a conference, the technical specs of a game, and an objective review that lets me decide if this is the sort of game that I’d want to play. Again, you don’t have to be limited in a review to just listing off the features, but you do have to present it in such a way that the experiences are more facts than opinions.

And I see it as being very hard to effectively mix the two, as someone who likes both sorts of works but doesn’t generally want them at the same time. If I’m trying to decide whether I should buy the full series of Star Trek: Voyager, I probably shouldn’t really watch Chuck Sonnenberg’s reviews of them to decide, because he’s clear that these are just his opinion and that while he does analyze them in a semi-objective way, it’s not necessarily a good representation of its features in order to allow me to decide “Will I enjoy watching this?”. While I bought Saint’s Row the Third after reading Shamus’ comments on the game, I had to do that by filtering his comments through my own goals and desires and ended up distilling it down to one precise note about something that he liked and really pushed my own buttons. The more you appeal to your own perspective in talking about a work, the harder it is for me to distill it down to a set of facts that I can use to then build up my own opinion about what that would all mean for me, who is rather definitively not you.

If you mix the two, then I have to wade through a lot of subjective experiences in order to get to what I’m really interested if I’m looking to decide “Buy or not?”. On the other hand, I also encounter a lot of “dry” technical data if I happen to be interested in the author’s personal perspective and experiences. To paraphrase Miles O’Brien’s mother, if you try to combine personal accounts and reviews, you’ll end up doing neither very well. The two do have different goals, and combining the two just ends up with major portions of your work not appealing to people who aren’t explicitly interested in both right now.

There are definitely uses for both, and I think that both need to be represented in games journalism. But neither is inherently superior to the other. Neither are inherently more interesting or more boring than the other. Can the same person do both? Sure. Can the same person do both at the same time? I argue not very well. If people can do so effectively, then I say more power to them, but I don’t agree with holding that up as some ideal that everyone should strive for, because even if done well it often is less effective than a more focused work. To cycle back to my first paragraph, as I think this video highlights: as someone interested in the debate, I found the lack of facts … disturbing, and found the focus on experiences to be distractions from what I personally needed or wanted to know to decide if she was right or not. So I don’t consider it an effective way to argue for the position. This is not to say that the presentation was bad or boring or whatever, just that since I came to it as an argument it seemed to lack the things needed to convince me. As a presentation of her experiences with “Gonzo” journalism and what others have done with it, it would be quite effective. There is indeed room for both, and they don’t have to be in the same car all the time.

Rebellion!

November 16, 2014

One of my favourite RTSs is a little known title called “Star Wars: Rebellion”. It picks up the struggle immediately after the Battle of Yavin, with many of the Rebellion’s greatest heroes out on the rim at Yavin and the Imperials spread out throughout the galaxy. You played as either the Rebellion or the Empire, and you usually had two sets of goals: capture or destroy the other side’s main headquarters (Coruscant for the Empire, a mobile HQ for the Rebels) and capture two important characters from the other side (the Emperor and Vader for the Empire, and Mon Mothma and Luke Skywalker for the Rebels). To aid in this, you had a plethora of characters, ships and units from the movies and from the EU, most of which you had to recruit or research before you could build or use them. Ultimately, success was measured by how much of the galaxy you controlled, but each planet had an approval rating that said whether they supported the Empire or the Rebellion. If you held a planet that didn’t care for your side, they would rise up against you, costing your their resources and potentially the use of their facilities, and requiring a large garrison to maintain order. They might even flip to the other side if you weren’t careful.

The characters you gained had four main abilities. They had Diplomacy, to sway popular support to your side, Combat, to let them fight for your cause, Leadership, to command troops, and Espionage, to snoop out what the other side was doing, see where they were vulnerable, and even to sabotage their troops and vessels. But importantly, these characters were characters. They were more than just stats. Sure, the stats were important, but what was really interesting was the ability to put Grand Admiral Thrawn or Garm Bel Iblis in charge of one of your main battle fleets, or send Leia or Darth Vader out to woo a planet to your side. There were even special events for some of the characters. Han Solo occasionally had a run in with bounty hunters, and if they ever captured him the main characters would run off to rescue him. Characters traveling with Han Solo moved twice as fast. Luke ran off to Dagobah to train at one point in the game. In general, it really did capture at least some of the feel of the movies like no other Star Wars game has, in my opinion … and the only real criticism I have of it is that it could have done so much more.

In one Rebellion session, I ended up looking up at about 3 pm or so, and thinking that I needed to start thinking about eating soon. The next time I looked up, it was about 9 pm, and I realized that I never had actually eaten, which makes this one of the only games to make me lose track of time and I think the only one to make me lose track of time that badly. This is because there was always lots to keep you occupied. You wanted to see if that planet would join you, and when you saw that you wanted to get your Star Destroyer and move it into your fleet, and then move that fleet to attack a planet and see how that turned out, and so on and so forth. You had to wait for things to happen, but you were always waiting, things were always happening, and you could increase the speed if nothing was happening so that you never got bored. This made the game very addictive. Even the end game was fun, as you hunted down the last few planets of your enemy on the Rim and sent a massive fleet to crush them.

Star Wars: Empire at War attempted to combine that feel with the feel of Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds, but without popular support it seemed a bit hollow to me. In my opinion, an expanded Rebellion was what was needed, and what we didn’t get.

My Top Ten Best Female Characters.

November 14, 2014

The “Not-So-Casual Commentary” tag originally referred to a column I wrote on a now-defunct gaming site. In order to reproduce the content that is now hidden behind links that go no-where, I managed to get my friend who kept a backup of the articles to send me them, so that I can now reproduce them as articles on my blog. Here is the one that I’ve probably missed being able to reference the most.

10) Margarete G. Zelle, Shadow Hearts: Competent, skilled, irreverent. She basically takes the events in stride — mostly — and takes no guff; she in no way indicates that she’s out of place on the team, and always presents herself as an equal partner. She’s fun to watch in more ways than one.

9) Karin Koenig, Shadow Hearts: Covenant: She leads the military force that starts the game. Sure, she doesn’t do much, but she’s fighting Yuri, so she isn’t going to be successful. She remains a competent fighter the entire game, and can bring Yuri up short in conversation. Her outfit is revealing but they lampshade it; she’s not exactly happy about it but it’s what was available, and there’s a very funny scene about it . And she does have a very, very strong desire for love, which might count against her, except that while it does drive plot points it doesn’t define her character.

8) Mission Vao, Knights of the Old Republic: For a teenager, she’s competent and reasonably intelligent. She’s hopeful and naive enough to give a hopeful vibe to the ship without going overboard. And killing her is your proof of being a dark sider in the game, making her a useful morality pet. Almost every time I go dark side in that game, I try to find a way to save her life, but I can’t . Why? Because while Carth will run away when you go dark side — even if you’re supposed to be in love — Mission won’t leave you, and will still try to convince you to do good. You have to kill her because she has guts.

7) Mira, Knights of the Old Republic: Sith Lords: Mira is competent, intelligent, tough, and looks quite good in the dancing girl outfit [grin]. She has an interesting nemesis arc. Her path to becoming a Jedi is interesting. And most importantly, she rejects a romantic relationship with the lead outright. And it doesn’t come across as excessively “feminist”, in the sense of being proof that a female character “doesn’t need a man”; her analysis is pragmatic while conceding that she might find it interesting.

6) Visas Mar, Knights of the Old Republic, Sith Lords: She has an interesting background and is an interesting character. She’s tough enough to be a main character and even a team leader when she has to be despite being technically blind. There’s an underlying romance there and it’s a somewhat interesting one. She’s also clearly intelligent and interesting.

5) Chris Lightfellow, Suikoden III: She leads the knights in her section of the game, and is probably the best overall fighter amongst them. She cares about people and wants to help. She has a strong sense of honor. Everyone’s in love with her, but it’s for good reason rather than as a Mary Sue. She’s certainly a character that you can admire and even feel for as you play her story.

4) Chie Satonaka, Persona 4: Ultimately, she gets to be this high on the list only because when I looked at the artbook I thought I’d like Yukiko and not her. After playing it, I like her and not Yukiko. Converting me is a good way to get on my list of favourite characters! Anyway, she’s strong physically and mentally, really seems to care about people — she’s the first to try to include Nanako, and her S-link is all about that — and while she has a quick temper and isn’t exactly smart and is a bit of a tomboy in terms of personality, she’s really nice and embarasses cutely, which she does a lot. She ends up knowing what she wants to do and her link isn’t about her own personal selfish desires, but is about her figuring out her path in life. That makes her a very interesting character, who made me a believer.

3) Lyon, Suikoden V: Strong, cool under pressure, competent, loyal, honourable. Rose from a tragic backstory with the help of the MC’s father to join the nights and become the MC’s protector. But she’s also a very nice person, and someone who you can really, really like if you like nice people. For me, she’s the reason I’ve never finished Suikoden V; if you don’t get all the Stars of Destiny, I don’t like her ending, and getting all the Stars is pretty hard in that game. Since getting that ending would ruin the game for me, I can’t finish it. That’s how much I like her character.

2) Mitsuru Kirijo, Persona 3: I’ve long felt that Yukari in this game is a strawman of a modern, strong female while Mitsuru represents the ideal. Yukari is strong in a totally uncompromising and often idiotic way; she’s often inconsiderate and has to have everything her own way. Mitsuru, on the other hand, is strong and incredibly competent. When she gets angry, things happen. There’s no denying, then, her strength . But Mitsuru really does care for people, even if she may seem a little cold, and if you follow her S-link you can see that there is much more to her than strength. She ends up looking for someone who can be as strong as her so that she doesn’t have to be strong all the time. That makes her a character that isn’t one note, and I think best represents the ideal of a modern woman: demonstrating strength and weakness at the same time.

She also gets bonus points for being a character that I didn’t think I’d like the most and then becoming my favourite character.

1) Miku Hinasaki, Fatal Frame: Of all the female characters, she’s probably the most real. She’s not a hard-boiled mercenary type, tough as nails. She’s a young girl who decides to go to a haunted mansion to find out what happened to her only remaining family. She doesn’t even start out with the camera weapon; she gets it later. She’s brave, but still demonstrates fear. She gets the chance to feel compassion for the ghosts that she ends up having to free. With only a little effort, you can imagine meeting someone like her in real-life. She’s a heroine that manages to maintain being female without pounding you over the head with it.

Honourable mentions (in no particular order):

1) Alice Elliot, Shadow Hearts: She’s an interesting character, and her heroic sacrifice almost got her into the top ten. She leads the team successfully while Yuri is … incapacitated. But at the end of the day, she’s just too typical a damsel in distress for most of the game to be really interesting, even though she is very likeable.

2) Bastilla Shan, Knights of the Old Republic: She has the exact opposite problem of Alice Elliot, as she’s clearly not the typical damsel in distress but is too annoying to make the top ten. I can tolerate the character, but she really is annoying.

3) Fuuka Yamagishi, Persona 3: She’s really nice and really intelligent, and she gets some growth in the game. But in terms of personality she isn’t all that interesting; it’s a fairly standard “girl with pressure from her parents” plotline. She’s nice and an enjoyable dateable character, but that’s not enough to make the top ten.

Inconceivable!

November 11, 2014

So, I haven’t been playing a lot of video games lately, which has been bugging me a bit. It’s not so much that I don’t enjoy playing them anymore, but is mostly that whole ennui thing; I just never really get around to starting it. Except for baseball. I started a complete season in about September, and am now about 84 games in, and so am on track to play a complete season of baseball for the second time. But that was about the only game I was playing, and I did want to play a bit more.

Now, one of the issues is that I ended up wanting to watch some things on TV, and I can’t play on the PS3 and watch TV. So that let all of those games out. And nothing on the PS2 was really grabbing me. So I thought that playing on the Vita again would work … but didn’t have any games that were interesting for it. I could have played the Personas on the PSP that I haven’t finished, but that didn’t appeal much to me either. So I started looking around to see if I could build my Vita library a bit and find games that I wanted to play.

So I was browsing in a store and saw “Conception II”. It looked very similar to the Persona games, and was done by Atlus, and I had the helpful store clerk help me look up the combat system, which was also very similar to the Persona games. So, I picked it and another game up without much research into what the game actually was; they looked interesting and what I was kinda looking for, so I bought them. And then after delaying for a couple of weeks, I finally sat down to play it.

Now, I’m a philosopher, and so when I hear the word “Conception” I think of “concepts”, those things that philosophers work with every day. Again, I did almost no research on this game, and had no idea what the premise was or what the original game was about. It turns out that they meant “Conception” as, essentially, conceiving babies. Now, I knew that you produced Star Babies — that was stated on the back of the box — but didn’t know that that meant, well, essentially producing babies. So the game’s entire premise starts from sexual innuendo, which I wasn’t really expecting. And the game does indeed go all in on that; there is a lot of innuendo throughout the game. “Classmating” — how you produce Star Babies — is pretty much always referred to in ways equivalent to having sex. Your clodish friend Clotz takes constantly about that. The girls act as if it’s something similar. The headmaster refers to it that way. Add in normal innuendo about relationships and there’s a lot of sexual innuendo there.

Which, to be honest, doesn’t really bother me much. The only thing I can see about it that might be problematic is that the way it’s done pretty much guarantees that this game will stay niche. For people who want a Persona-style game, there’s quite a bit more innuendo there than they had, and so they might be turned off by that. But for people who might prefer a more strongly sexual dating sim in their games, there isn’t that much actual sexual content there either, so they’d probably prefer a hentai dating sim. So it looks like it strikes between the two biggest markets for dating sim/life simulator games, and only people like me who don’t mind the sex but aren’t really looking for it either will really be able to get into it.

I also find the game a bit confusing so far. The tutorial is pretty good, but there are a lot of options in the game, and there’s no manual to explain them. And since it drops the “timed” idea of games like the Personas or “Sakura Wars: So long, my love”, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing, or what Rest is doing. It moves time, but time isn’t supposed to be a constraint, so if I talk to the three girls that I can talk to before I run out of … something, and then Rest, is that causing issues, or is that what I’m supposed to do to make sure that I catch all of the events? How much does equipment matter? When should I be cycling babies? All of that is a bit confusing to me, and I really want to get into the story and not miss anything cool or important … and I’m precisely the sort of player who will miss things that are cool and important.

Beyond that, though, the game is entertaining. The characters have interesting personalities with some quirks, but those aren’t as overwhelming as they were in Sakura Wars. The graphics are impressive, especially the zoom ins to the girl when you meet them outside of the dungeons. The combat so far is a bit repetitive but not overly boring, and the first dungeon went quickly and had a purpose avoiding the feeling that it was just grinding that Persona 3 gave. Overall, it doesn’t seem like it will be as good a game as the Personas, but it might give Sakura Wars a run for its money.

Gathering Disciples …

November 7, 2014

So, one of my favourite turn-based strategy games is Disciples 2. I love pretty much everything about it. I like the units. I like how streamlined the city management is. I like the magic system. I like the combat system. I like the factions. I love the fact that it has hot seat multiplayer, which lets me play as multiple factions myself (a habit I picked up in my misspent youth liking different games than my brother did, and also liking story-based gaming). It’s a game that I keep coming back to again and again and again.

It just has one teeny-tiny overwhelming flaw: the end game sucks.

The issue is that the random monsters on the field are placed — at least in the multiplayer maps — in a fixed way. They don’t regenerate. Dungeons don’t regenerate either. So once you’ve cleared out all the enemies, that’s it for getting experience. And the monsters vary in difficulty, so this leads to the strategy of leveling up a party or two through them and using them to smash everything else, especially since for many of your party members leveling them up gives them great new abilities that can really turn fights in your favour. But the problem with this is that once you get them to a powerful level, if you should ever lose them if you recruit a replacement party they’ll be too weak to do any real damage to your enemies but have no way of getting stronger except by defeating the parties that they’re too weak to beat. Add in that you can use magic to weaken a party and leave them ripe for the taking — although there are ways to defend your party from magic — and that means that there are lots of ways to beat a party that don’t just involve a straight-up fight. Ultimately, though, the real issue is that once you’ve wiped out an enemy’s leveled up parties, or they’ve wiped out yours, the game is pretty much over … except that as far as I know you can’t surrender to them and, in multiplayer, at least, every starting city has a super powerful guardian that you need to kill before you can take that city. And since you can’t cast spells in things inside cities, that means that you have to take that out through combat. I’ve done it a few times. It’s long and painful.

Now, it’s true that I might be able to avoid a lot of this by playing better. But I think the fundamental flaw is indeed there: once the experienced parties die, and you’ve killed most of the things to kill doing that, you’re screwed. Which usually means that I end up quitting before the end. The start and middle-game is great, the end game is lacking.

I’ve heard that Disciples 3 isn’t all that great, and so never tried it, and haven’t found a game that I love as much as that one yet, so I put up with its foibles. Despite the flaw, I still love that game.

What you want to see …

November 3, 2014

I was watching the video of Anita Sarkeesian on “The Colbert Report” on this site, and in Colbert’s introduction they show a sequence from the starting story of “Dragon Age: Origins”. It happens to be the City Elf starting story. Which I played. As a female protagonist. Which drove my characterization of her as a bitter, angry person who didn’t really care about anyone but herself and kinda her elvish kin, up until the point they proved to be utter jerks as well. Except that her personality had to moderate a bit because she really liked Leliana, and Leliana was nicer than that, if a bit irreverent. Now, I haven’t finished that game yet, but I was wondering what point including that story — which is just one of six to start the game — was, and if that was something that Sarkeesian herself had actually done. And it turns out she did:

So in addition to helping paint a gritty picture for the rest of the game experience, this kind of sexualized violence against inessential female characters is exploited by developers as a sort of cheap one-note character development for the “bad guys”.

CLIP: Dragon Age: Origins
“Let go of me, stop, please!”
“It’s a party isn’t it? Grab a whore and have a good time. Savor the hunt boys.”

It’s a lazy shorthand for “evil” meant to further motivate the protagonist to take the villain down and help justify the excessive violence committed by the player in these games.

After all, if the random thugs or villains are so heartless and vile they attack helpless women, then the player can feel completely justified and even take pleasure in murdering them in ever more gruesome ways.

I snipped out the other clip she used in this sequence, but I think including these statements helps to keep her argument in context and makes a better case for it. Now, I’ve already talked about her argument here and some of the issues with it, but what I think is important here is to note how the context changes if you are playing as a female protagonist here, which, since this is a Bioware game, the game in no way impedes you from doing. From this Gamefaqs FAQ, the differences between the story with a female protagonist and a male protagonist:

Vaughan will interrupt and take the women including you if you are female.Talk with Shianni and men enter, slaying the woman that resists. Fortunately,Soris enters and gives you a [BORROWED LONGSWORD] and [CROSSBOW], kill the Guards and leave the room. Go to the second paragraph in the Male Characters section and continue from there.

Male characters will speak with Valendrian and Duncan who agree to go afterthe women. Duncan will lend you a [BORROWED LONGSWORD] and [CROSSBOW]. Soris joins the party, so head north and enter the estate. Kill the Guard and then go east to run into two Mabari. Continue south killing more Mabari then loot the single [DEATHROOT]. Turn the corner and enter the Palace.

So, if you are playing as a male protagonist, it’s a fairly standard damsel-in-distress rescue sequence. If you play as a female protagonist, what happens is that with some help, you kill your guards, rescue yourself and your companions, and can end up, at the end, taking revenge on the person who tried to exploit you sexually by killing them (which my character did).

Isn’t this exactly the sort of game and game sequence that Sarkeesian wants to see? And other than not having an option for a male protagonist here (and possibly inventing another story), how could you have done this in a way that allowed for that massive, kick-ass statement of female empowerment and for a male protagonist to have a reason to rescue the women, in this case his bride? Heck, if I recall correctly you can even gripe about the arranged marriage. So, instead of this being seen as a trite example of the villains using violence against women to establish their evilness for a male protagonist, why isn’t this seen as an example of using violence against women to provide a backdrop against which the female protagonist is ultimately empowered and freed? It’s the same scene in both cases.

And, you know, I knew that that happened before creating my character, because in order to build an interesting character I looked up the starting stories — because I knew they were different — and picked one that I thought would be cool … and not Magi, because I had already gone through that one once (didn’t finish that game either). I looked them up in the FAQ on Gamefaqs. It looks like Sarkeesian didn’t, or at least didn’t want to let it get in the way of her overall impression of games as a whole. Which means that she might have seen only what she wanted to see … and, in so doing, missed what she really wants to see.

This shallow analysis does both the game and Sarkeesian’s project a disservice. We can do better than this.


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