Archive for September, 2010


Bioshocking!

So, because I love to be irrelevant, let’s talk about Bioshock.

Shit, it’s a series now? Yeah, evidently the announcement of Bioshock:Infinite cements that Bioshock is now a brand name. What a surprise–a popular video game being branded. If I wasn’t so ludicrously pumped for Bioshock:Infinite I’d be cynical and bitter about a unique and bold concept being mass-marketed and diluted by sequeilitis.

Ah, but there are legacies to think about. What about poor Bioshock 2? This poor, sad shell of a game wasn’t even developed by Ken Levine and the original team that’s helming Infinite. Released to lots of good reviews, but also a lot of eye-rolling from the more pretentious crowds, Bioshock 2 has been called everything from a “knock-off piece of shit” to “a glorified expansion pack”–which is what I say it is.

So that's what Bomberman's been doing on his days off...

The problem with Bioshock 2 is that it plays better in every way than Bioshock 1. The levels are better designed (at least from a mechanics standpoint), the gameplay is more balanced, the combat is improved, the weapons are better, dual-wielding Plasmids and firearms makes combat fun and fluid, and the limitations on health kits and Eve hypos, as well as the layout of the levels and the new system for gathering Little Sisters means that hacking turrets and cameras and laying out traps is far, far more necessary than it ever was in Bioshock 1.

See, in the original Bioshock, while it was awesome all the stuff you could do, it was hardly necessary to do much of it. Sure, you could lay out traps, set up a killzone guarded by turrets, hypnotize a Big Daddy and use him as a meat shield–but you never really had to except maybe in Hard Mode. You could just use the Electric Buck shotgun ammo and win the game. And you will. In fact, there’s a Three Panel Soul comic that really exemplifies this:

Dapper!

See, you could do a lot in Bioshock, but you didn’t have to or really need to. In Bioshock 2, the game encourages you to hack everything and set traps and manipulate the environment through providing item incentives or just making it easier and more cost-effective to do so. In every aspect of gameplay, Bioshock 2 is superior to Bioshock 1.

It’s not the better game, of course, because Bioshock 1 has a very, very tight story. It’s totally solid and really well-told, contained with character arcs and all that fun English Lit stuff. Bioshock 1 is also hell of a lot scarier–it’s kinda hard to feel creeped out in Rapture when you’re a Big Daddy yourself.

But Bioshock 2’s story is still quite good–there’s a big theme about family and what that means and the relationships between family members and the search for meaning and identity, and unlike Bioshock 1, this game actually gives us a fucking ending and not that lazy-ass slideshow at the end of Bioshock 1. God damn, what a let-down that was…but whatever. Bioshock 2 is also much prettier than Bioshock 1, which is to be expected.

Yet Bioshock 2 isn’t going to have an enduring legacy. The original fanbase was divided on it from day one, and the fact that it’s really short and adds very little to the overall story doesn’t help. If it had been released as an expansion pack, it would have been amazing. As a proper sequel, however, it just can’t cut it–especially now that we have Infinite raising the bar higher than anyone’s anticipated.

Yet if you ask me, I’m kind of torn. I really, really liked Bioshock 2–it left me wanting more, which is never a bad thing, and I intend to get the DLC, Minerva’s Den, as soon as possible. Bioshock 1 is very different from 2, and depending on what you want out of a Bioshock game, you may be disappointed. But the gameplay changes, the increased customizability in terms of plasmids and tonics, all of that adds up to a really compelling experience. If you’ve not taken the time to play Bioshock 2, now’s the perfect time. You can find it for $20 and less all over the place now, especially Amazon.

As for Bioshock becoming a franchise, well…we’ll see. I’m excited as hell for Infinite and feel that the developers have enough great games under their belt that I’ll trust them. Franchises are the way to succeed in the gaming, for good or ill. Considering the high cost of games, consumers need names that they can rely on, and if Bioshock can continue being innovative, even as a franchise, then I’ll have no complaints.

Gaming is more than just games.

Well, okay, no it isn’t, but you need people to play games in order to fund the industry and, chances are, you’ll want people to talk about games, people to follow gaming sites and keep eyes on the bigger companies and gossip and rage on the Internet about whether it’s Aeris or Aerith. Somewhere in this churning sea of discordant bellowing and autistic obsession emerged what we know as “gaming culture”.

And now it’s today. Sites like 1up sit comfortably atop the gaming media mountain, Yahtzee makes angry reviews to the enjoyment of the Internet, SomethingAwful spawns Let’s Plays like tadpoles in stagnant water, and LordKat plays games…until he wins.

Behold the face of gaming.

Until We Win is a remarkably simple show–basically a simplified video walkthrough of games old enough and hard enough to warrant one. It isn’t in-depth or comprehensive, but it’s sufficiently entertaining and as educational as it can be. LordKat–or Jason Pullara, whichever you prefer–doesn’t do a lot of sketches or dress up in costumes like many of his contemporaries over at That Guy With the Glasses which is almost a shame, since he’s got a very sharp sense of black humor, as many of his crossover videos will display. But he doesn’t need to sing and dance to earn our coppers. That’s not what we watch him for.

Pullara’s website is host to a few of his other projects, and he’s hopped onto the incredibly popular streaming bandwagon as well, often streaming live playthroughs of games or podcasts or videologs. I’ve not really had the time to sit down and listen to a full podcast, though he has one called This Week in Games that’s really quite good. It’s a lot of industry talk and, like most semi-professional podcasts, goes on for quite a while. If you are into industry talk and have a fixation for Brooklyn accents, you may very well find some good listening there. It and many more–such as LordKat Eats, where he bravely stuffs himself with horrifying exotic foods like the fat bastard he is–make up an already quite sizeable backlog of videos, and all of them make for good watching. He also plays D&D or something.

I like Pullara because, unlike many web shows out there, he’s not really reviewing or commenting on anything. He has opinions which sometimes slip into his UWW videos, but for the most part his only interest is the challenge–he yearns for it. You can see his eyes light up whenever he’s about to dig into a particularly hard game, and he has bested–legitimately, according to him and those who know him–games that even professional game critics have balked at. Fuck me, he beat the bullet hell Silver Surfer for crying out loud!

Remember that one blog post I did about the different types of gamer? Pullara, if his show’s name isn’t indication enough, seems clearly a type-A gamer. He’s in it for the challenge–he wants to break the game mechanics over his knee, wrestle the system to the ground and feast on its digitized blood. Old-school tricks that all of us had to sharpen our thumbs on at some point–memorization, quick reflexes, pattern recognition and just plain, simple luck–sit at the top of his arsenal and it’s pretty epic to behold him conquering the hardest games there’ve ever been.

The show isn’t perfect, mind. He repeats a lot of footage (which he uses an emulator and savestates to get, though he says that he always beats the game legitimately beforehand) and it only occasionally follows what he’s saying. He’ll describe challenges or obstacles or situations that you’d expect to see on screen, but don’t. It has to be a stylistic thing too, since he seems to get footage from the whole of any game he plays, so I don’t know what his excuse is. Some episodes as well seem a little questionable–he doesn’t always play Nintendo Hard games, and sometimes seems to give himself a break between particularly tough games.

But those are pretty minor complaints. I’ve given you the links–you should check out his stuff. First and foremost because it’s good, secondly because it’s entertaining, and thirdly because I say so. Just…be careful about any videos that mention strawberries. You have been fucking warned.

Filler

Proper update tomorrow, have an awesome thing instead.

Rated T for Titties

Hey guys! Wow, it’s been a long time since my last post. I apologize–classes have started up and I had to do lots of grown up stuff like find a job and take care of an apartment, so I had no time to ramble about video games on the internet. Still, to you, my small but loveable fanbase, I feel as though I’ve let you down. Let me make it up to you.

…a little disturbing, isn’t it? I understand that we have fancy things like jiggle physics and that we may be tempted to give our lovely video game ladies some more bounce, but one doesn’t need to reduce the female breast to a rubber ball surgically grafted to a 90-pound frame.

The female breast is actually something quite familiar to gamers–an enduring image associating with changing times and technologies. With every console generation we have had games that set out with one singular purpose–to render the female body as lovingly as possible. From Lara Croft to Ninja Gaiden’s Rachel, the female anatomy is almost always the very first object to be rendered by a next-gen console, and that’s kind of my problem with it. That it’s an object.

Sex sells. We all know this. In gaming, however, sex doesn’t just sell–it practically drives the market. It’s no big surprise to anyone that women are not particularly well-treated within the context of gaming. When they aren’t being paraded around in tight, skimpy, or otherwise ludicrous outfits then they’re being snatched and held captive atop some distant tower, awaiting our rescue. Neither depicti0n is particularly flattering, and anyone who is confused as to why there are significantly fewer female gamers compared to male ones needs only to play Bayonetta.

I mean, Jesus Christ, what the hell is up with her legs? This is anatomy gone horribly wrong!

And you know what? There isn’t really anything being done about it. There’s no particularly loud outcry demanding that gaming stop representing women as objects and try to at least provide some veneer of dignity to the fairer sex. While gaming journalism calls it out when it sees it, most reviewers seem to take it in stride, or at least see no overarching problem with it. Maybe once we could chalk it up to gaming being an “adolescent” medium, young and still allowed to waste its resources on silly things like boobs.

Except now it doesn’t seem so silly. We live in fairly enlightened times–and I think we’re smart enough as consumers to know when we’re being pandered to. Games like Wet or X-Blades exist solely to cater to sex-starved shut-ins desperate for any sort of virtual love they can find, because real love has abandoned them. Sadly, these developers seem to assume that the mass gaming market falls under this unfortunate description, and you know what? We’re not really all that offended at the suggestion. In gaming, you have trade conventions marked with B-list models strutting the floor in flimsy cosplay efforts just to drive up interest in whatever schlocky, cut-and-dry, bland simulation that company happens to be peddling that day.

Yeah, that’s right. I don’t like E3 Booth Babes. I don’t like the notion that a supposedly journalistic conference–a literal trade show, where writers and experts on a technology (in this case gaming technology) gather to see what major companies have planned for the year ahead–is treated like a Vegas gala, complete with half-naked women traipsing around trying to grab as much attention to their employers as they can. Games with big marketing departments, who can afford the most lavish parties and most gorgeous models get the largest write-ups in the big magazines and websites, regardless of whether the product they are offering is at all newsworthy!

E3 was gutted because of this Caligula-esque hedonistic facade, but that lasted what, a year? Maybe two? I won letter of the month from EGM commenting on how I felt this was a very good thing. And what happened? E3 came “back”, resumed it’s regular circus show, and is scarcely even a credible tradeshow anymore.  The Tokyo Game Show and especially PAX have completely eclipsed the once gargantuan E3, and we’re all the better for it.

This is all game developers think you really care about.

I don’t really consider myself a feminist. I laugh at too many inappropriate jokes for that sort of moniker. That being said, the treatment of women in gaming is absolutely abhorrent. It’s reminiscient of comic books, really. Both comics and games are considered a “male-dominated” medium, and thus they put out a product that not only alienates any potential female customers, but actually drives them away with shameless and insulting imagery while promoting shallow, insubstantial products loaded with nothing more than innuendo and blatant gratification. Comics is, I think, slowly turning away from this sort of disparaging imagery–writers like Gail Simone are certainly doing their best to move their medium away from that, and I’d like to see something similar happen in gaming.

The problem here is that the mainstream gaming audience doesn’t seem to care. Why aren’t we indignant that developers think so little of us? Why aren’t we calling them out on their sexist bullshit? Is it really enough to slap a pair of tits on the cover of a game to get sales? Why do developers need to resort to such petty sales tricks to get the numbers they need? It seems odd to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What do you think of the portrayal of women in the gaming media? More importantly, why do you think they’re portrayed in such a way? I wanna know what you think.

Sorry again for the late update. I’ll be moving to a more regular schedule from now on.