Category: Portfolio

What Final Fantasy XIII and Heavy Rain Have in Common

Gaming is about the experience. Mashing buttons and keys is how I spent the nineties–I stomped on Goombas, explored dungeons in Hyrule, and bunnyhopped in Quake. When playing Doom in my early years, I was terrified of the demons that the gates of Hell unleashed. And I’ll never forget the first time I saw the rain streaked sky in Donkey Kong Country’s second level, swinging vine to vine.

I had a blast with gaming then and I have a blast with gaming now. My experiences have been memorable and positive–most of the time, at least.

As titles both released in 2010, it stands within reason that Final Fantasy XIII and Heavy Rain should have a lot more on the classics of yesteryear. They should have evolved significantly in the overall quality of experience–from gameplay to graphics, each title has had more than enough time to improve itself. But for some reason, I feel more immersed playing Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest than I do when I play as Ethan Mars.

Video Games Are Undeniably Art

Video games are art.

It’s boring, it’s been said, and it’s been argued against. But it’s true. Game developers are this generation’s unnamed Ansel Adams and Andy Warhols. The video games they work to create are their own unique worlds imagined and they bring to life these visions with precise direction and immense effort. By any definition, the entire process is an art form; writers weave a story out of nothing, artists turn barren worlds into illustrated societies, and coders bring it all to life in an interactive formation.

The entire process is undeniably art–almost magically so.


Playing Video Games With an Open Mind

I thought the pigeons in Grand Theft Auto IV were pointless, but I found them all anyway. I spent hours getting Tonberry as a Guardian Force in Final Fantasy VIII although he was underpowered as a summon. I even saved Cybil in Silent Hill through some extra legwork.

I try to play video games with an open mind and to completion. I avoid reading previews or reviews before I dive into the latest video game release as well. I strive to complete side quests, embrace even the most fruitless of storylines, and play my heart out until the end credits roll. I save the complaints for later written analyses and prefer to get lost in the moment, attempting to remain objective until I can see the sum of the whole.

Every once in a while, however, a video game and I don’t start off amicably–and it takes a lot to get us back on track.


My Darker Competitive Side

My hands hurt from holding my mouse so tightly and my heart’s pounding. In a few seconds, I will be wiped out by several siege tanks, but I don’t know this yet and what I don’t know is killing me. It’s a mirror match for 1v1 ladder play in StarCraft 2. I just placed platinum in the previous game and although I should be pleased, all I’m doing is panicking instead. Whoever said the most stressful part of SC2 multiplayer were the initial five placement matches hasn’t played afterwards–or at least hasn’t played them as someone as competitive as me.

The enemy appears as I’m debating taking a third expansion to support my burgeoning army. As I see him coming down the map, my mind stops and my stomach sinks. Seconds become minutes as I realize I am about to lose.


On Morality and Making Choices Matter in Video Games

I take my choices in video games seriously. Although their concept of morality is usually nothing more than a ruse to present players with a common thread to characters, I still care about the illusion it generates–repeatedly finding myself entangled in the web of choices that are presented. Moreover, I always find a sense of satisfaction in doing right by my character and surrounding world. I even go as far as to debate both the mundane and monumental at great length before taking any action.

Early on in Rockstar’s most recent release, Red Dead Redemption, John Marston walks into a saloon where he happens upon a man whose wife has left him. In a continuation of an earlier quest, the man explains that he has information to spill if the price is right. In-between sips of gin, he offers Marston the chance to either find his wife and bring her to her senses or to slip him some money instead.

While both choices would move the story forward, they would do it from opposite ends of the moral spectrum although which end each task belonged to was unclear. Erroneously, I chose to help him and would immediately end up regretting this.


There’s Narrative in my RTS: StarCraft Told a Story, Will the Sequel Make People Listen?

The next great American novel won’t be inspired by a zerg rush, but Kerrigan and Raynor want their story to be told nonetheless.

For over a decade now, the StarCraft series has aspired to a daunting task. It’s tried to weave a compelling tale in the real-time strategy genre, attempting to break categorical confines and produce a memorable story in addition to gameplay. In some ways, it has succeeded, but it has generally failed. We still go to series like Mass Effect for our tales about outer space and few if any remember Arcturus Mengsk’s betrayal.

However, if we looked closer, we might see that StarCraft isn’t just a game known for its balanced design and contribution to competitive gaming. It also presents an engrossing story to its players, although it remains to be seen if any are listening.


Alien Swarm is Free, Fun, and Full of Potential

Every once in a while a video game company does something worth telling the world about. Released yesterday, Valve’s new game Alien Swarm is one of those such things–and it wouldn’t have been possible without Steam and its large audience of varied gamers to distribute to.

I remember back when the name Steam wasn’t unanimous with quality and innovation. There was a time where it was disliked immensely. When it was first announced, a lot of the Counter-Strike and Half-Life community–including my whole CS clan, myself as well–were against Steam. Initially, in protest, a lot of us avoided installing Steam and refused to use it during our scrimmages. We went rogue for the first time, angered by the direction Valve was taking our favorite games in. We especially hated Steam because its introduction coincided with Counter-Strike 1.6’s launch. It was probably meant to granddaddy Steam into the gaming world, but the move mostly generated vitriol from then hardcore Counter-Strike fans.


The Inconsequential Game Over: Dying for a Change

It’s 1993. I’m playing on my NES. I’m about to fight Bowser at the end of Super Mario Bros. It’s time for dinner, however, and my dad has called into the living room probably five or six times. I don’t want to eat because I’m about to finally save Princess Toadstool, but I’m seven and I have no choice so I put it on pause.

When I come back, after eating and doing the dishes, my console’s turned off. I stare in horror at my dad who is now watching television. And because the original game didn’t let you save due to technological limitations, I find myself back at the first level when I finally turn the console back on. There are eight more worlds left to go and I will never get close to the end again.

Games have been flirting with their portrayal of failure and game overs for years–they’ve been dodging the subject of death for even longer. Arguments have been made for and against severe consequences in the digital world for over two decades. Each game treats the topic differently. Some don’t let you save often if ever, others put a checkpoint around every bend. Sometimes, a game over screen means starting from the beginning while other times it just means restarting from an earlier level. And, in the case of Super Mario Bros., saving and thus restarting without penalty wasn’t possible until later titles in the series–the game over screen was permanent, whether it was reached by personal failure or an external error. When Mario failed, it was all over.


Why Real ID is a Really Bad Idea

Why Real ID is a Really Bad Idea

Back in the start of World of Warcraft, several years ago, I knew a guy who knew a guy. He was a forum warrior of sorts. He posted inflammatory stuff all day and night. One day, a group of people decided to reign him in and right the wrongs he’d besieged the community with. Long hours spent with search engines occurred and eventually a real life name was found. A few weeks later, a bouquet of roses and a dildo was sent to his door in care of his mother.

With the tables turned, the forum warrior was discovered to be just a helpless boy. He didn’t have an actual shield or sword like the name forum warrior implied. And his mother wasn’t very happy about the whole situation. The troll became trolled–and the realm of the internet carried over somewhat viciously into the real world.

Blizzard wrote today that with their new Real ID system, they hope to “connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before.” They plan on doing this by tying real life names to all forum posts from here on out.

I, however, posit that the community has been connecting in these ways for years–Blizzard is just naively unaware. And this is a very bad thing.


Borderlands, I Love You

Borderlands, I Love You

This is to thank General Knoxx, Scooter, and Mr. Shank for their hilarious monologues. This is to acknowledge that I want my own Claptrap, who dances at random and gets stuck to giant ceiling magnets at the most inopportune times. This is to say that Borderlands’ Pandora is one of the most unique gaming worlds created in the past decade.

This is a love letter to Borderlands and its downloadable content. It’s almost a year late, but my love is strong enough that I know no shame.

And make no mistake–it’s got some tough love in it as well, because sometimes we are prone to be exceedingly critical of what we adore the most.