danalwyn: (Default)
So, for something lighter and a bit more amusing to inject into your life, here's some music.

Now, it's hardly a secret that I like video games. Sometimes I even cop to liking video game music. Video game music is a weird field. First, it's very much like movie soundtracks, in that the music is supposed to evoke a set of emotions, and hence a game will contain a number of pieces with a completely different feel. Even action games with very similar settings will often create several different-sounding pieces with similar roots in order to emphasize differences between different levels. Second, they have to fit a much wider variety of circumstances than even movies, as the number and type of different scenarios in video games makes for more that you have to fit your music to.

RPGs tend to have the most widely varied music (IMHO) simply because they have the most varied locations, and exploring their exotic nature is often part of the game. In contrast, many action games stick to variations on one or two themes. But you can do a lot on variations. For an example, here's the theme to the Ace Combat series spread over three games.

Ace Combat Theme )
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I've been reading a lot of the early commentary from the international relations wonks about the remake of Red Dawn and I've found that some of it mirrors some very perceptive comments made about some video games, like Homefront and Modern Warfare 3. It's a recognition of a trend that I find disturbing in a way that's hard to quantify.

Namely, America really, really, really wants to be the Taliban.

We want to be the ones wearing the ski masks and hefting AK-47s as we fight foreign occupiers from the ruins of our own towns. It matches our view of heroism, of the plucky little guy fighting insurmountable odds though skill, guile, and the willingness to take risks. We don't want to be on the side with all the firepower, or all the people, or all the rules, because that takes the fun out of it. We want to feel the exhilaration of taking incredible risk, of the adrenaline rush of danger after danger. We want to be the perpetual victims, so that our righteousness covers all possible actions and is rarely dimmed. We want to be the ones avenging a family wantonly slaughtered by foreign bombs. We want to sit, huddled beneath an outcropping of rock near our shattered house, and laugh at our latest narrow escape, because that's what heroism is for us, that's the kind of person we want to be. Who wants to be the foreign occupier who has to trudge back to home base and fill out paperwork? Given a fight between an outnumbered band of locals and a well-organized foreign army, we instinctively go for the locals every time.

You could talk about a lot of things here. You could talk about the inherent sexism - righteous revenge requires atrocity, atrocity requires victims, and in American media victims often require women. You could talk about modern racism - the most recent versions of this trope tend to make the enemies uniform in race, and non-white at that. You could talk about the almost pathological need Americans have to be a victim, as it's the only way we can safely dim our moral hazard lights, to ignore that voice of our consciousness. You could even point out that all you would have to do is change some names and digitally add American flags to the occupying, foreign forces and you would turn a Hollywood movie into a Taliban recruitment video.

But it's difficult to talk about the final lesson. This isn't the US. This isn't us. This is not the America that exists in this world. This is no longer what we are. For the foreseeable future America will remain on the other side. And it bothers me to see us continue operations on foreign soil, often in the role of occupiers, when at home we yearn to be the ragtag bunch of civilians, waiting in ambush for the foreign troops to walk by.
danalwyn: (Default)
So, I've needed some distraction from my life recently and I've managed to get it by indulging in the secret, forbidden passion of video games. Specifically, despite my despair over JRPGs in general, I've been playing Final Fantasy XIII, which is for the most part a fairly good game. It took me most of a week (and over twenty hours of gameplay) to realize what about the game bothered me, before I realized that it was basically the second coming of Final Fantasy VIII. And so I decided to complain about it.

Disclaimer: I am not done with FFXIII. I am not even close to done. I am still in the first "half" of the game, as I guess the plot. So I have no opinion on the game as a whole, just what the beginning looks like.

Minor Spoilers for FFVIII follow. Also a great deal of my own opinions.

Wait, Haven't We Seen This Before? )
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Having given up temporarily in despair on JRPGs, I've been playing Heavy Rain. Unfortunately it's short enough that I've already finished it, leaving me nothing to do but rant.

Heavy Rain is an Interactive Fiction game produced by Quantic Dream for the PS3, which means that it's almost entirely story-based. When played it feels like someone took the concept of the old item-based adventure games, the idea of a character or group of characters exploring their environment while trying to unravel a mystery, and updated it to new hardware. They replaced the usually frustrating item-based system with a simpler and more obvious action-command system, and turned what was once a linear plotline into a branching, twisting storyline with multiple endings.

The game involves four viewpoint characters, whose lives become tangled with a serial killer known as the Origami Killer, a killer who abducts pre-adolescent boys and drowns them, only to leave their bodies decorated with an orchid and an origami figure. The characters all have their own motivations and flaws (physical and mental), and intersect with each other's storylines as they each chase after the illusive and evasive figure who ties them together. The environment is well-built, interactive, and has a very gritty noir feel in the trailer-homes, rundown offices, and empty industrial buildings in which the game takes place. The game itself is extremely intense, and its immersive, interactive style effectively draws the player into the game.

I wish I could recommend the game. In fact, I would recommend the game, if it were not for several points that I think a gamer should be aware of before playing that I have listed below (while trying to avoid spoilers). They don't make the game a bad game, they just made me break out in random swearing, bash my head into books, hold a staring contest with my PS3, and in one case break out into an eruption of vitriolic victim-blaming so intense that I don't think that the fact that it was against a fictional character can redeem it.

Commentary (and Complaining) )
danalwyn: (Default)
Nothing's been happening here except me wallowing in self-pity, so I haven't really posted anything. Except that fall's started. And I'm slowly accumulating things like new frying pans and power strips so that my apartment is no longer falling apart quite as badly as it used to be.

Also been working on video games. Finally finished Valkyria Chronicles which I recommend highly and have started on Heavy Rain. Valkyria Chronicles was a lighthearted but very good tactical RPG, which suffers in the later levels from badly defined objectives and far too many invincible enemies, but was nonetheless an excellent game. Heavy Rain is much more brutal. For some reason Heavy Rain inspires a sense of anguish in me, which is generally the mark of a good game, even if one that I can't play for too long. It is, however, hampered by the worst control system ever, which creates quite a problem in one of the most beautiful games of its generation.
danalwyn: (Default)
There's a lot of debate in this world about what video games tell us about ourselves as a society and a culture. Having spent a great deal of time recently inside video games, I think they can tell us a great deal, mostly inadvertently, about the culture that created them.

But, having just finished Battlefield: Bad Company 2, that leaves me with a question regarding our realistic first-person shooters and real-time tactics/strategy games. What can America learn from our fixation with being invaded by the Russians? Why is that our most active, one of our most violent, and probably our most patriotic genre addicted to the idea of the United States being victimized by Russia? What does it mean to have an attachment to Russia so deep that in otherwise gritty, realistic games the US is always on the verge of falling to a country that, militarily, is probably now less threatening then France? Where are all the games where the US is getting their butts kicked by the French?

Probably this just says a great deal about the number of countries that we imagine form a potential threat to the United States who are not, also, potential markets for US video games. But at the same time one wonders if this says something about the US, about our need to cloak our violent aggression in the comforting mantle of being the aggrieved party. It may offer a glimpse into the vast contradiction by which America wants to hold on to its title of "the best" to the point of pathetically digging its fingernails in whenever it feels the title about to slip out of its grasp in any category, while at the same time desiring, so badly they can taste it, to be the scrappy underdog. It's a contradiction, a conundrum, a riddle without answer.

Well, Russia is better then, say, North Korea, but why a has-been like Russia? I would totally pay to see someone use the French instead.
danalwyn: (Default)
In other news, I've managed to finish Persona 3. That makes a grand total of two video games that I've managed to finish this year (Persona 3 and Fallout 3). Meanwhile, I've bought more than two.

Persona 3 is probably best known for being the game where you shoot yourself in the head. This is strangely fitting, and actually I think adds to the visual of the game rather then subtract from it, although it doesn't really have much of a point. It should more be known as the game that tried to bring the mechanics of Japanese dating sims to the United States, and partially succeeded. It's a very strange game that, like most games, doesn't live up to it's potential, but that is also strangely addicting, to the point where the game record claims it took me 103+ hours to finish it once through.

Anyway, if you really have a lot of time to burn, it's a game I recommend, but keep in mind, it's not everyone's thing, and if high school drama exasperates you rather than makes you laugh cynically, then it's definitely not for you.
danalwyn: (Default)
So I've been drowning my recent spate of depression in an overdose of console RPGs. At the time, this seemed like a good idea.

Unfortunately, I've discovered that I've finally reached the point where the flaws in a game stand out so much more clearly to me than the good parts. This isn't to say that I didn't like the games, but every time I do something, I now think about how it could have been done better, how I would have done it better, and I spend most of my time thinking about that. So far I've gone through Suikoden V, Knights of the Old Republic II, and Jade Empire, and even though those are all decent games, the number of flaws was on the verge of driving me to distraction. I'm constantly thinking "Well, this is cool, but it could be so much cooler if..."

Does anyone else who plays games have this problem, or have I managed to reach a level of personal enlightenment that would be better left alone?
danalwyn: (Default)
I've mentioned it before, but that was just a preview of what was to come. Apparently I misjudged the kind of havoc that a brand-new game company could wreak in its first attempt to create a viable Real-Time Strategy game based on the precepts of a very badly written work of evangelical porn masquerading as biblical prophecy.

Gamespot, who is usually pretty reliable, gives Left Behind: Eternal Forces a 3.4 out of 10.0, which is, for them, a pretty damn miserable score. To quote pertinent parts of the review:

Nobody has enough faith to endure a game with such a hokey story, terrible mission design, serious problems with the interface and graphics, and loads of crippling bugs.


Well, the battleground between the true believers' Tribulation Force and the Antichrist's Global Community Peacekeepers is a heathenish New York City. Your units include gospel-singing musicians, missionaries, healers, and medics. Enemy units feature college-trained secularists, devils, and foul-mouthed rock stars with their electric twangers.


On a purely basic level, you do have to at least appreciate the interesting twist on the RTS genre the game takes. But beyond that twist, there's nothing remarkable about it--other than the fact that it is a remarkably bad game. Let's hope it inspires designers to experiment with the genre, if nothing else.

I can't say as I'm surprised. It would take a very good team of experienced designers to put together an engine that could deal with the conflicting demands of a peaceable religion fightning non-passive opponents. That game may yet come. What I really find odd is that anyone thought this model could work at all. One of the things I've noticed is that it's hard to create a game based around "converting" other people to a different religion without making the religion slightly silly, and not at all serious. If you try to take religion, and conversion, seriously, you're right back with "Bily Graham's Bible Blaster", and the whole game just becomes silly. There are some things that gaming just isn't capable of doing yet, and converting the heathens seems to be one of them.

In the meantime, while I wait for a decent religious game, I can exhult in the boot that the Left Behind conglomerate has just taken in the mouth. If the other game reviewers agree, they may not churn out an even-duller sequel ("Left Behind 2: Vice City"). I'll take that as good news any day of the week.

The full review is here


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