Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Top 5 Biggest Influences

I don't really do much myself. I don't draw much, nor do I right much, but I do think a lot. I know that doesn't really count for much, especially in an artistic perspective, but through my thinking my outlook on the things I enjoy and what I have to expect from these enjoyments has been influenced by many people, places, and art. In this blog post, I'm going to list my top 5 biggest influences on my outlook, which in turn effects the way I view the forms of art I focus on and how I judge new forms of art.

NOTE: By "art" I mean things like movies, pieces of art, pieces of music, theatre, videogames, etc. Also, don't expect anything to sophisticated from my list; after all, I'm not a very learned person.

5) Cowboy Bebop - whenever I say something is cool, stylish, or original, I am comparing it to the benchmark that is Cowboy Bebop. The visuals, the characters, the stories, the music, and the animation of this anime was truly ahead of its time, and, imo, still is to this day. There has yet to be any anime (or other art medium for that matter) that can match Cowboy Bebop in it's execution of style across all the senses. Cowboy Bebop is also a great example of style, as it is also very sophisticated in its execution, and never resorts to vulgarities to other "hip" modern mannerisms to be cool; rather it became its own being, and stood on its own two feet. The result was a style that was not only cool but garnered respect from the viewer, and that it the best type of style.

4) One Piece - to this day, One Piece remains the only manga to make me cry, and I don't mean get misty-eyed, I mean cry. One Piece is a story of emotion, and it is expressed so masterfully by mangaka Eiichiro Oda's unique art style, which conveys every emotional scene whether it be comedic or tragic with such power that it is neevr unclear as to what the characters are feeling, and as a result, the reader knows exactly what to feel as well. It is this strength in the conveying and execution of emotion that makes One Piece such a powerful story, and it remains the benchmark of the art of expressing emotions through just hand-drawn art and words.

3) Yasunori Mitsuda - specifically, his musical work in videogames and in freelance pieces, such as Kirite and Sailing of the World. Mitsuda's music in Chrono Trigger was the first time I can say a musical piece really touched me and made me "feel" without any need for visual or story accompaniment. Then I played Chrono Cross, which has, imo, the best soundtrack in any videogame to date. The strength of his works lie not simply in the beauty his pieces have, but the way they stand alone as beautiful pieces of art. Mitsuda's music alone paints a picture in the listener's head, and the power of that experience is very impactful. There are many great composers in the world, but I feel that none have produced music that has touched me quite like the compositions of Yasunori Mitsuda, and thus Mitsuda's music has created the benchmark for just how powerful music without reliance on any other factors.

2) The Legend of Zelda (A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, and The Wind Waker) - A Link to the Past was the first videogame I ever played that truly immersed me into it's world and character, and I will never forget my time playing it. It's truly the first time I felt the factor of immersion with an art medium (not just a videogame), and this feeling was only amplified further with Ocarina of Time, which is the first game that had me in awe as I played it, and the first time I really felt immersed in a fictional world. These four games showed me what immersion truly is and that such a feeling is not limited to just books and movies as many adults want kids to believe.

1) The Films of Hayao Miyazaki - aside from the simple life experiences we all go through in our lives, nothing has influenced my artistic and philosophical outlook on life as much as the films of Miyazaki have. Even to this day, these films continue to influence me and make me rethink my outlook on life not just as a fan of art, but as a person. These films fill me not only with wonder and excitement, but fear and understanding. From the charming fairy tale of Ponyo, to the dark and scary world of Princess Mononoke, and the adult world of Porco Rosso; Miyazaki's films have forged so many ideals of life within my psyche that it's no contest that they are the number one influence of my outlooks, on both art mediums and life. The sights, the sounds, the creativity, the stories, and the experiences we have along the way; I wouldn't trade them for anything.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Charm in Videogames

Odin Sphere, Grimgrimoire, Okami, Paper Mario 2, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IX and XIII, Klonoa 2 .... these are some of my favorite games of all time, and yet they have flaws, some even glaring; so why is it that I love these games so much? It's because they're charming.

The charm that these games have is what makes them so attractive. They don't try to look special with fancy tricks or try to seduce us with big promises; rather, they are games made with the single desire to be themselves, and that's what makes them so charming and attractive. There's nothing "fake" or deceiving about these games, and in that sense, they are pure. This purity is what makes them so attractive to me. They aren't made with the intent to please the player, rather they are made simply the way they are and aren't ashamed of it, as a result, these games may have flaws, but that's part of their charm. These games aren't afraid of who they are, and thus don't feel like tools or simple products.

I know I'm being redundant, but I've really come to realize how much a factor "charm" is when I view a game and judge how much I love said game. For example, Grimgrimoire is a short game without much content and shows its story in a rather simple way, and yet it is perhaps the most charming game I've ever played. The way the setting, the characters, the graphics, the music, and gameplay all come together; it just feels so cohesive and compact that it can only be described in one way: itself, Grimgrimoire. With other games, we see certain aspects of their design and designate it by those aspects, for example we describe Mario games in terms of levels, or Dark Souls by bosses and dungeons; however, if you want to describe Super Metroid, the process becomes harder, as the content of Super Metroid felt so much like a cohesive whole rather than a path of levels.

I believe its the process of creating where the development team works together and creates the game as one focused group that these charming games come into creation. Odin Sphere is a game created by only 12 people; perhaps that is why it is such a charming game.

I'll end this thought bubble on the biggest example of charming vs. uncharming I can think of: Super Mario Galaxy vs. Super Mario Galaxy 2. The first Galaxy was incredibly charming, with its bright yet mysterious world, mysterious princess guide, her depressing back-story, an ending that could be perceived in many ways, and unique gameplay elements that promoted freedom and play. The second Galaxy felt much more "industrialized", where it just felt like Nintendo was making it to simply add stages upon the first Galaxy, rather than developing off of the first Galaxy's foundation. Thusly, Galaxy 2 felt "cold" in comparison to the warm journey of Galaxy 1. That's not to say Galaxy 2 was a bad game, as it is a great gameplay experience, it's just that it lacked the charm of the first game.

Overtime, as gameplay systems are getting more complicated, technology is getting more social, and graphics are getting more detailed I've come to really appreciate charm and the "warmth" it provides a lot more. So much so that I may consider it a major factor in my criticisms of videogames from now on, just like satisfaction before it. After all, graphics can be as detailed as they want, music can use all of the 100-man choruses that they want, and we can have 100-man death matches all we want; it doesn't count for anything if it doesn't create a lasting impression of warmth on the player. It's that warmth, that charm, that sticks with us and never lets go; I think that counts for a lot more than how many game modes or polygons a game has.