Archive for March, 2014

Persona!

March 24, 2014

So, I started playing Persona on the PSP over the past few days. I like it better than Persona 2: Innocent Sin, mostly because the story is much better. I felt that in Innocent Sin the early story, at least, was a little bit ridiculous, and that they mixed in too much humour with the seriousness. Having humour around serious issues can be good, but it was far too intermixed in Innocent Sin. In Persona, there is some humour, but for the most part — at least early — the game sticks with a fairly serious overall story, which works fairly well.

However, I really hate the dungeons, and especially hate how it isn’t always clear where you need to go, and what level you need to be at to take them on. And I haven’t managed to get a spell card and so no new Persona yet, and to be honest that system bugs me in Persona, since it seems like most if not all party members can take on more than one Persona, and since early in the game it pushes the idea that you’ll develop Personas as aspects of yourself. I’d really like to see a Persona game where Personas come up as part of character development and the choices you make, instead of from negotiations with demons or as random cards given out for winning battles.

However, it’s not likely I’ll finish Persona any time soon, since after watching P4tA twice in about a week or so I really wanted to play Persona 4: Golden again, and so that’s what I’m doing now.

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Persona 4: The Animation

March 19, 2014

It may not have come up here that often, but I’m a massive fan of the Persona series. I’ve probably put well over 500 hours into the various incarnations of Persona 3 (including FES and P3P) and Persona 4 (including Golden) each. Those are my favourite games ever.

I was browsing through TV Tropes during a slow time at work, and noticed that they’d done an anime series based on Persona 4. I went to Amazon and found the English translation there in Blu-Ray, and decided to buy it, and give it a try. And so for the past two evenings instead of writing on my blog or writing comments or doing, well, anything else, I sat down to watch it. And I have to say … it’s very well done.

If you’re a fan of the game, you’ll appreciate the little touches that make it look like the game. You see the calendar as days advance. The commercial break cuts are showing the status of the MC’s main attributes, and you see them go up and up over time. Those will look a little weird, however, to people who haven’t played the game, but only the calendar is really something that you’re actually supposed to pay attention to. One failing of the series is that what day it is isn’t really made important to the game, although the weather kinda is. But it’s very easy to completely ignore all of that information since it doesn’t directly play a role in the series, at least not as much as it did in the game, and the calendar is very obvious so it might be a bit confusing and annoying to people who haven’t played the games.

But, of course, this is a short anime series tracking a game that could easily have 40 – 50 hours of gameplay, so they were going to have to cut some things out and change some things to make it work. Now, this is the sort of thing that tends to ruin video game or book adaptations to movies or anime, since deciding what to cut and what to keep is actually really hard to do. Cut too much, and you end up leaving out what everyone actually liked about the original media. Cut too little, and you end up with something that might play well to the die-hard fans of the original media, but doesn’t work at all for those who don’t know anything about that and just want to watch a good movie/anime. That was exactly my problem with Watchmen. And you have to add to that that most writers and directors don’t want to just copy the original media. They want to put their own stamp on it and make it somehow different, something that reflects thought and artistic merit. So there are always going to be changes when you convert from one media to the other, and this is where most adaptations fail.

P4: The Animation makes a fair number of changes, some of which might be controversial. As an example, the introduction is greatly shortened, and leaves out one of the better scenes and one that, in hindsight, reflects the relationship between Chie and Yukiko better than almost any other: after Chie convinces the MC to walk home with her and Yukiko, she eventually asks him if he finds Yukiko attractive. This embarasses Yukiko, and the MC can react in many ways. This scene highlights what each get from the other: Yukiko is shy and reserved, and so wouldn’t approach or talk to the MC, so Chie’s boldness works to get her into the group, effectively. On the other side, Chie at least feels that she’s using Yukiko’s looks as an in: the MC might not want to walk with Chie, but almost everyone will want to walk with Yukiko. This plays out with their Shadows later who make it explicit, and is left out of the anime.

However, notwithstanding that, the things left out aren’t usually that important, and some of the additions are brilliant. In the game, I never really felt much sympathy for Yukiko; she seemed more whiny and in some ways at least obliviously mean. However, her Shadow gets a full episode, most of which is setting up her backstory more than the game did, and seeing her not only working really hard at the inn and the subplot with the bird she saves really shows her as someone who does care, but is frustrated and feeling trapped. The reference to the bird’s escape and the link to Yukiko’s realization works really well to bring it all together, better than the game managed. So it’s a major improvement over the game.

The protagonist is named and voiced, and that adds a lot to the anime as well, as it gives him a personality beyond the Stoic. He has a rather odd sense of humour at times, which adds to the humour of the anime overall.

The dungeon crawls are left out, which I don’t mind that much, except that they tend to add small scenes in the middle just to remind you that they happened, but which often feel like they’re facing overwhelming force rather than something manageable but that just wears you down. Also, the boss fights are much more action-oriented than tactical, which was disappointing to me. Yes, you can see the tactics involved if you look closely, but I shouldn’t have to do that.

But the key to the Persona games is the Social Links, which are also the things that it would be the hardest to adapt. And for the most part they get truncated a lot. In some cases, you can’t even recognize them if you’ve played the game. However, they are also all there, and the highlights do tend to get hit. More focus is put on the key relationships — with the party members and with Dojima and Nanako — but for the most part they get used as breathers from the major story events that end up as hopeful, funny and touching, often all at the same time. But if you watch the anime, you will really miss out on the S-links.

The story events get much more focus, which makes sense because they provide an arc and a focus that an anime really wants. And they work fairly well. The main murder mystery events are hit and sometimes expanded, and even the small side events generally get a decent treatment. This is the part that those who haven’t played the games should still be able to appreciate, while those who have will be able to see it a little differently and sometimes with a bit more depth, since in-game all the reacts of the MC are just yours, while in the anime they can play with the MC’s personality more and thus give you funny and heart-rending reactions that not only work, but also make sense.

And I really like Aika, and the small subplot of Aiya’s deliveries was interesting. And how the dungeon crawls were done eliminated any need to explain how they could get their weapons into the TV all the time.

Overall, it’s a very good series, and I recommend it. The biggest problem I had with it is that it’s a little expensive for the amount of time it runs, so if you aren’t a huge fan of the games you might have a hard time justifying the price. But it should be enjoyable both to those who love the games and to those who’ve never heard of them.

One More (Down) …

March 9, 2014

So, in a surprise move if anyone’s been following my list of games to finish to see what I’m currently playing, I finished Persona 3 for the PSP this afternoon, despite my list still saying that I was playing Dragon Age: Origins. What happened was, well, the Olympics. I was indeed playing DA:O, but figured that my evenings would be spent watching the Olympics and since I can’t — at least right now — play on the PS3 while watching TV (at least not easily) I needed to either give up on playing games or pick one that I could play while watching TV. And I’m finding that the PSP/Vita is ideal for playing while watching TV, as I can sit down in my comfy chair where I can see the TV and play at the same time. So I restarted P3P and played it during the Olympics.

But what was funny was that I didn’t watch the Olympics in the evenings all that much. I tended to get home early enough to catch the recaps of the day’s events, so I knew what happened, and the channel I was watching — remember, I don’t have cable — didn’t really show the events I wanted to see in the evenings anyway, even if they’d be fun to watch with my already knowing the results. Which it wouldn’t have been. So instead I watched DVDs, with A-Team being the one I watched the most (I also got a cold in that time period, and A-Team is a great show to watch when you don’t really want to have to pay attention [grin]).

The most interesting thing to me, though, is the power difference between the PSP and the Vita, especially as compared to the PS2. P3P is inferior in graphics and gameplay and everything else to the PS2 version, while the Vita version is arguably superior to the PS2 version, implying that the Vita might actually be more powerful than the PS2, despite being something you hold in the palm of your hand. It’s amazing how things have advanced in such a short time … well, a short time for anything other than technology [grin].

So, now it’s back to DA:O, and hopefully I’ll finish it off before I hit the year point on the list again.

The Problem of Evil: Obsolete?

March 6, 2014

So, “The Problem of Evil” is probably the single atheist/anti-theist argument that’s the most at least intuitively convincing. It’s been brought up again by Jason Rosenhouse here, and while I was pondering why I find the argument less and less probable every time I read discussions of it I suddenly had an insight: The Problem of Evil has been made obsolete in the face of advancing philosophy.

The Problem of Evil was easily justifiable when we could believe that there really existed “evil” in the world, when we thought that we could actually have evil objects in the world. Since God was responsible for creating everything that exists, that meant that if evil things existed either God was responsible for those evil things Himself or, alternatively, that something else put those evil things there and God was powerless to stop it. Neither of these outcomes preserve the tri-omni God. Sure, you could work around it by trying to argue that the existence of evil entities was somehow better, but I don’t blame atheists for finding that unconvincing.

However, the idea that there are actually evil things in the world isn’t particularly credible anymore. Sure, you could get it for things like Satan, demons, and the like, but their existence was never what people were worried about when they talked about The Problem of Evil, and those things were among the more plausible ways out of the problem in the old days (the main issue with these is explaining why God didn’t stop those entities from doing evil or putting it in the world, not with them existing). But as we moved forward and examined both The Problem of Evil and the world, the real issue isn’t about the existence of evil. We don’t think that there really does exist evil, per se, and we don’t think that The Problem of Evil is about evil in the world, but is instead about suffering. Pretty much all modern statements of The Problem of Evil and almost all modern arguments for there being “evil” in the world boil down to there being suffering in the world that it is believed that God could prevent but doesn’t. And if God could stop that suffering and yet doesn’t, then God must be at least uncaring, and likely immoral … especially since we all believe that if we could stop that suffering, we would be morally obligated to do so.

Thus, we may now rename The Problem of Evil to what it is today: The Problem of Suffering. And instead of asking “Why is there evil in the world?”, the modern problem asks “Why is there so much suffering in the world?”

The problem is that under the two main theological takes we can have with at least the Judeo-Christian God — essentially, any religion that includes Genesis — The Problem of Suffering isn’t, in fact, a problem at all.

1) We can take a Biblical perspective on God, starting from Genesis and working our way through to get a God that is supposed to care for us, and yet allows this suffering to continue. Except that if you start from Genesis, we have an explanation for all the suffering in the world, natural and otherwise: the eating of the apple. The punishment for eating the apple is to be ejected from the perfect world into a world that explicitly contains suffering and toil. And since we ended up that way because we disobeyed God, we’d still be capable of disobeying God — and therefore acting immorally — when we leave the Garden. Thus, the answer to why God allows this much suffering in the world is: Because God never promised us a suffering-free life, and in fact promised us one where we did indeed suffer.

Now, you may counter that the Genesis and Adam and Eve story conflicts with modern biology if you take it literally, and has problems for at least Christianity if taken figuratively. That’s true, but the issue of The Problem of Suffering is the least of the problems under those conditions, at least for Christians. If Christians have to drop Original Sin and thus the reason for Jesus’ death and resurrection, there’s almost certainly not enough Christianity left to worry about the disproof from unexplained suffering. So for those who start from the Bible, they have an explanation and if they have to abandon that explanation their religion would be disproven far stronger than The Problem of Suffering could ever disproof it.

2) You start start from classical/Scholastic theism, which is the one that actually justifies the tri-omni God. Except that it justifies the tri-omni God independently of the condition of this world; as seen here, they start from Ground of Being and derive their qualities from that. As long as that argument holds, The Problem of Suffering cannot get a foothold, as if God as they conceive it exists then it is tri-omni and that we think there’s too much suffering in the world just reflects our lack of understanding (and, additionally, is likely simply the result of the world not being the perfect ground of being, and so merely reflects its lack). And if you manage to demolish the Ground of Being argument, then again the classical/Scholastic model has much more serious problems to deal with than worrying about whether or not there’s too much suffering in the world.

Thus, I declare the argument obsolete. Philosophy has moved on past the simplistic “There is evil in the world” interpretation, requiring a move to a “There is too much suffering in the world” argument … but the two main theological tacks that you can take here have no problem with suffering if their fundamental assumptions are correct, and if their fundamental assumptions are incorrect then they are false regardless of whether you could make The Problem of Suffering stick.

Epic …

March 4, 2014

So, soon I’ll finally get my hands on the so-called “Epic” series of Battlestar Galactica … the original series (not 1980). When I first started shifting over to watching DVDs almost all of the time, I was disappointed that all of the versions of the original series were out of stock, and remained that way for a long period of time. However, I read that an important anniversary was coming up, and figured that they’d re-release it at that time … and, sure enough, they did. So I ordered it.

Interestingly, at about the same time — it actually started last year — DVDs are being released covering off the old Yu-gi-oh! anime/cartoon series (the dub), and I’ve been picking those up when I come across them. I still actually quite like it, mostly because the duels — even if not accurate to the card game itself — build well and dramatically. I finished off the latest one — Battle City — this weekend so that I could free up my schedule to watch Battlestar Galactica when I get it.

How Not To Argue for More Female Characters in Games …

March 2, 2014

Okay, so I’ve heard through the grapevine that there’s a bit of controversy over a new video game that’s in development called “Deep Down”. It’s by Capcom, and it’s not going to feature any female characters. Or female playable characters. Or something like that, since it seems that no one’s really clear on what’s in it, although it’s pretty clear that at least the last one will be true, and you won’t be able to play as a female in the game. And Brenna Hillier is really, really mad about that, and wrote a long article ranting about how bad that would be, to the extent that a game that she’s saying that she might not play “Deep Down” because of it, even though it is a game, overall, that she might find interesting. And I think this rant is a good example of how not to push for more female playable characters or protagonists in games.

Why? Well, let’s look at how she objects to it:

Why on earth would a game creator deliberately omit the entire female gender from its game? Because of the plot, apparently.

Don’t let this answer satisfy you. Capcom wrote the plot. There’s no reason why it had to write a plot that excluded female characters.

Now, she seems to accept that there may well be plots that work better if you exclude female characters. If she accepts that, then what she’s doing here is saying to Capcom — or, more accurately, the studio that’s making the game — that they shouldn’t have done the plot they wanted to do, but instead should have done a plot that allowed them to include female characters. Why? Because it’s somehow bad to have a game without any female characters. The idea, then, seems to be that just having a game that doesn’t have female characters is bad, and that this is, in fact, an indication of ingrained sexism. Except it isn’t. There’s nothing wrong with having some specific games that have no female characters, some specific games that have no male characters, and some specific games that have a mix. What indicates ingrained sexism in the games industry would be almost all games have no female characters, there being a small percentage of games with a mix of characters, and almost no games that have only female characters. But you can’t point at one game that doesn’t have female characters and say that it indicates ingrained sexism.

Now, you might be able to make a claim that Capcom is particularly bad and we should point that out. Except that she herself contradicts that:

It’s not hard to put women in games. Capcom’s done it itself, with the really rather excellent Dragon’s Dogma.

So … Capcom has, in fact, put in female playable characters, and in fact does it quite often (all of their fighting games do it, although that’s now standard for fighting games). For this specific game, they’re claiming that for plot purposes they aren’t including a female playable character. A company that isn’t particularly bad at, at least, including female characters says that for this specific game they aren’t going to do it. This is worth ranting over? It’s only worth ranting over if you argue that any game that doesn’t include female characters is a sexist game, and since that’s patently false …

Also, she writes out a lengthly conversation between a designer, a producer, and a female (her word, not mine), that she admits is a strawman, but mostly because it isn’t about individual people but instead about an ingrained social system. But if we accept that, then we have to accept that in most cases game designers and producers aren’t intentionally excluding female characters from their games, but are instead following genre conventions, going with the flow, or just not thinking about whether a female character would fit here because male characters always did. But if that’s the case, getting mad and ranting when a game doesn’t contain female characters isn’t the right way to go. It only makes them feel attacked for making the sort of game that they want to make.

So, then, how should one go about arguing for more female characters in games? Let’s look at how I think they should have reacted to this specific case:

1) Question, don’t demand. A game isn’t going to have female characters. As this isn’t in and of itself something bad, don’t demand that they add one or else they’re sexist poopyheads. But definitely ask “Why not?”. Definitely stand up in the gaming media and ask why there aren’t any. If the developers just didn’t think of it, this might get them thinking about it … if not for this game, then maybe for the next. Do remind them that a lot of people might appreciate having a female playable character and so it might help their sales. Again, just to get them thinking about it.

2) They reply with “Because of the plot”. Don’t rant. Don’t rave. Don’t talk about them writing in a different plot that would allow them to include female characters. Instead, wait for the game to come out, play it, and review the plot of it in a manner like, say, how Chuck at SFDebris tends to review the things he doesn’t like: by outlining the plot and showing how it could have easily incorporated female playable characters. Being willing, of course, to stand up at the end of it and say “They were right: this plot doesn’t really work for female playable characters”. Again, if you show how it could have been done better, more developers will try to do it that way, if only to make their games stand out and maybe make more money.

Ultimately, the main thing to remember here is that this isn’t supposed to be adversarial. The gaming companies probably aren’t an actual enemy. Think about things from their perspective and work to help them make better games that also give you what you want, and everyone should be happy.