Monday, July 30, 2012

Thought Venting

OK, so here's a post where I'm going to bring up a wide variety of topics that I was going to make into full posts, but couldn't develop them further enough.

- NiGHTS into Dreams is one of the best ideas in gaming history. The art design is spectacular, especially in how it blends real-world settings with dream-like worlds in order to convey the story further; plus, NiGHTS design is one of the best character designs out there. The story set-up is also great in how it brings up realistic problems that kids might deal with at around the age of 12, whether it be a recital or just having a parent who works a lot; I love how relatable it all becomes from start to finish. And then there's the soundtrack; absolutely superb, one of the best ever. The compositions for the NiGHTs games are fantastic and work alongside the art design to create a truly amazing setting. Then, there's the game design: for a game that revolves around dreams, creating a sense of flight utilizing the then-revolutionary control stick, was a superb idea. The only problem with this series was it's gameplay, which just wasn't very deep or fun. Thre probably isn't much that can be done to save this series outside of a full redesign of the gameplay, but I truly respect this series for having creators that really put a lot of heart into it's presentation and "feeling".

- I don't hate FFX and Panty and Stocking (anime) anymore. Now, don't get me wrong, I still don't like either of them, but over the last couple weeks I've come to be a lot more recessive when it comes to opinions, both mine and others. Basically, people like what they like, and creators will always make what they like, so basically everything that is made, be it videogame, anime, manga, movie, etc., there will always be people who like it. As such, my opinion doesn't really mean anything except for it's use in casual conversation. Thus, what's the point in hating something? So someone here's my opinion and decides to hate it themselves? What's the point in spreading hate? Nothing, that's what. So, yeah, I'm back not hating anything; there's plenty I don't like, but, hey, who cares? Don't worry, be happy.

- Is yuri slowly becoming more acceptable in anime? Lately, I've been seeing a lot more yuri subtext in anime, and not just niche anime, but big ones like Moretsu Pirates and Rinne no Lagrange; Pirates even had a canon yuri couple, and two on-screen kisses. Plus, with the popularity of YuruYuri and the now famous "unofficial" yuri couples of various anime like Mio/Ritsu in K-On, or Konata/Kagami in Lucky Star; will it not be long before we have more canon yuri relationships in anime? Only time will tell, but we all know which side I'm voting for.

- Final Fantasy VII is not over-rated. Over-time, FFVII has become less of a videogame famous for popularizing the JRPG in the West, and more of THE game to discuss when it the subject of over-rated videogames is brought up. Honestly, I find it strange to discuss a game that released 15 years ago in such a conversation. I mean, you won't hear anyone bring up the original Super Mario Bros. or A Link to the Past in such conversations, so why FFVII? Anyway, FFVII is a superb game, and, imo, should be considered a classic and no longer have its quality put on trial, mainly due to the game's age.

And, on the same subject, when it comes to discussion of older games, I hope that people aren't talking about such games without actually playing them. It's easy to find FFIV-IX in many places these days. If you really want to discuss such games, why not play them? You may be surprised how well they hold up. Just as I was when I played FFIX for the first time two years ago and it instantly became one of my favorite games ever.

- Can we start analyzing games more fully? Too many times I've seen critical reviews that applaud a game for its graphics or production values while practically ignoring its faults in gameplay and/or execution. The worst example of this occuring, imo, is with Bioshock; where the game truly did deserve the applause it received for its atmosphere, but it definitely didn't deserve as much for it's gameplay and story.

- Okami is still my favorite game of all time. But, Metroid: Other M is really getting more points with me over-time. Actually, I'm becoming more fond of several games more as they age; noteworthy ones being Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Grimgrimoire, Odin Sphere (yes, I've only come to love Vanillaware games more), FFIX, and SoulCaliber V. Though, I'm pretty sure the reason is because of how disappointed I've been with videogames the past two years.

- PlatinumGames is beginning to disappoint me. Bayonetta and Vanquish were two games that I flooded with praise when they first came out, but, imo, they haven't aged too well, especially Bayonetta. Now, don't get me wrong, I do greatly enjoy both games, but they really haven't held up as well as Viewtiful Joe and Okami have. Mainly due to VJ and Okami feeling like very full experiences, while Bayonetta and Vanquish were games that needed sequels to feel full. At the end of the day, I find the creative team now known as Platinum to have been better when they were Clover Studios; I don;t know what changed over the years, but I hope they go back to their more charming days. Hopefully, Project P-100 will reignite that Colver fire from those bygone days of old.

That's it for this one. I'll probably do more of these as time goes on, as I have a lot of ideas and opinions floating around.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why I don't talk about sexism in games/manga/anime

I'm going to get this out of the way right now: no, I don't think that sexism in gaming is a topic that shouldn't be talked about, nor do I think the people who criticize such elements in videogames/manga/anime are in the wrong. That said, this post is about why I don't write about such things in this blog, even when it seems like something relevant to what I'm writing about. Now, this isn't a subject that I completely ignore. I do talk about it from time to time in forums and with my friends, but only when it it brought up; rarely, am I the one to bring up this topic, and the reasoning as to why is what this blog post is about.

Now then, the reason why I don't discuss sexism in gaming comes down to only two points:

1) I don't get it.

What do I mean by that? Well, simply put: I don't get what counts as sexist and what doesn't most of the time. Now, of course, there's the obvious stuff where women are objectified and disrespected, but it seems that sometimes the line blurs between what is OK and what isn't. For example, why is it that a character like Samus is ridiculed for her portrayal in Metroid: Other M, but Juliet Starling's character portrayal in Lollipop Chainsaw is just fine? Why is it that Nami and Robin in One Piece are criticized for their clothing in One Piece, but the female characters in Fairy Tail aren't? Why is it that I am a pervert for watching Queen's Blade, but suddenly I'm cool for watching Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt?

I'm not looking for an answer for these questions, because I know that answer: that's just how it is. There's no fighting against the vocal majority. Some things are established as fine and good before they're even released, while others are ridiculed far after they see release. Why? Well, my guess is that the reasoning behind if something is OK or not comes not from the people who do know what they're talking about and should be determining if it's OK or not, but rather, the vocal majority that lies within the sea of fandom known as the internet. If a fanbase is larger than another, it doesn't mater what the smaller fanbase says, the larger fanbase's opinion is what the majority of people will see and hear, and thus it will soon become fact. It's in this sea of chaos that is thousands (if not millions) of people's opinions that I just find myself not understanding the logic of this chaos. Why is it that Panty & Stocking, an anime that literally made me sick to my stomach, is a cool and awesome anime to watch? I don't know. And that's the answer I find myself coming to when faced with the many other questions that delve into subjects like portrayal of female characters and sexism. I don't get why some things are OK and others aren't. And, you know, I'm fine with that. I have my own values and opinions on the subject of sexism, and I stand by them. I feel that as long as I stand by my own opinions, I'm doing fine. I'm not going to change my values just so I can try to understand something that confuses me; after all, in doing that I'd feel like I'm betraying myself in a way, and, furthermore, I basically just don't care much. I mean, yes, I respect women very much, but as I said in my fanservice discussion post a while back, we have to understand that these are creations of fantasy and there are limits to how much fantasy can be limited and criticized. This leads to my second point ...

2) It doesn't matter.

Now, don't get me wrong, discussion on the subject of sexism and portrayal of women in games has made great strides in how women are portrayed in the entertainment medium, but what needs to be understood is that there are limits as to how much can change. Just because female characters are getting more respect in the media most people see, doesn't mean there won't always be manga like ToLoveRu and Air Gear that but T&A center stage in their portrayal of female characters. "Bad Fanservice", as I called it in my previous post, is something that will always be present in all forms of social media. Sex sells; it always has and it always will. Now, I'm not saying we should tolerate everything bad with a female characters portrayal, but we have to understand that there will always be smut in the world.

These two points come together and basically form how I take in such subjects of sexism in gaming. For example, when everyone complained about Samus' portrayal in Metroid: Other M, I thought about it for a while, but ultimately came to the conclusion that I just didn't get what everyone was talking about, and whether that was due to ignorance on my part for not seeing something that was there, or ignorance on other's part for not fully understanding the story was something I just couldn't pinpoint in the sea of chaos that is the internet and a vast amount of people's opinions. But, in the end, it didn't matter, because the majority group had spoken (on the internet at least) and the game was labeled as a poor representation of Samus and her character. Do I disagree? Of course. Does anyone really care? No. And for that reason, I don't really care. I know it's the coward's way out, but that's just how I feel about the subject. I have my own views and I stand by them, but I don't plan on dealing with the madness that is the internet in order to voice such opinions. That may seem hypocritical to say because I'm writing this in a blog on the internet, but, in all honesty, I don't really expect anyone to take my views to heart, as I'm doing this to basically vent my thoughts, not to make a statement.

Now, I'm not saying that people should just sit back and let the entertainment medium do as they like when it comes to the portrayal of women. I'm just saying that I have no place criticize such matter because I am simply too ignorant on the subject itself, too far flung from the sea of chaos that is the internet, and simply too set in my own views on the subject that I really have no place to criticize the subjects of sexism and portrayals of female characters. Thus why I don't discuss the subject. I'm not ignoring it, but I don't believe me discussing the subject will do much good.

Bottom Line: people can like what they like and hate what they hate, and that includes me. I like Samus' portrayal as a female protagonist with weaknesses and strengths in Metroid: Other M, and I hate Panty & Stocking for being a perverted mess of teenage boy fantasies with female characters who are simply sex-crazed sluts. I don't get why people don't like Samus' character portrayal, nor do I understand why the anime Panty & Stocking has such a large fanbase, but, in the end, it doesn't matter, because anime like P&S will always exist, and fanboys will always hate change in videogames. These things will never change. I may disagree, but such opinions on the internet just don't fly; so, I'm damned if I do, and damned if I don't. Sure, there's a world out there where if I try my damnedest, I might get some people to understand my opinion, but, for a normal guy like me, that's just too much work. I'll leave that people like femalefrequency @ Youtube.

In the end, all I gotta say is: don't worry, be happy.

Vanillaware and Immediate Satisfaction

It's no secret that I love Vanillaware-developed games. And over time, I have only come to love and appreciate them more and more; not just for story and graphics, but gameplay design as well. However, I have come to wonder why I love these games so much; after all, they aren't the best games in terms of gameplay, and their content can be really small in comparison to other titles, but, hey, for games made by only around a dozen people, I think they can be forgiven for that. But, after reflecting upon my time with their games, I figured out why I enjoy Vanillaware's games so much: immediate satisfaction.

In many games I've played, even those I have come to enjoy the most, there is often the problem of "long-term satisfaction", where the player must go through a lot of, let's call it "work", to get to what they really want. This "work" is stuff like traversing across a large overworld in an RPG having to deal with many random battles in order to get to a dungeon (the actual goal), or having to fight many weak enemies in order to get to a boss fight or story section. Many mission-style games have this type of "long-term" satisfaction where a player has to compelte many monotonous and boring missions before getting to take on a more interesting and challenging mission. These "work" sections of a game are often padding or "fluff" for games that would have a very short length without them. The end result is "long-term" satisfaction where the player has to perform chore-like sections of gameplay in order to get to the sections of gameplay/story that they really want. 

Now, this style of gameplay isn't always bad; for example, traversing an overworld can be fun if it is beautiful or filled with many interesting things to do, such as the overworlds of A Link to the Past or Okami. Or a game can allow for exploration that will lead to benefits for the player, such as in Metroid games. However, if possible, I prefer my game experiences to be very focused affairs, where nothing is kept from me or left dangling in front of me as a tease; rather what I want is given to me right away and the game just keeps on delivering throughout the entire experience. Of course, a game isn't going to give you the best weapons/upgrades at the beginning, nor is the story going to be at its best right away, but I don't expect a game to begin boring and then get interesting later; rather a game should begin interesting and only improve upon those humble beginnings. 

Case in point: Vanillaware games. Vanillaware games are a superb example of "immediate" satisfaction games, for they provide everything for the player immediately throughout the entire game experience. While Grand Knights History can be seen as an exception to this rule, it's multiplayer-focused game design slightly exempts it from criticism as a "long-term" satisfaction game, which, again, isn't a bad thing, but in GKH's case, the "long-term" works alongside the "immediate", but that's another discussion entirely. So here, I will focus on Vanillaware's other games which show great examples of "immediate" satisfaction game design. This is due to there being nothing superfluous or unnecessary in the game design of Vanillaware's games. Everything is presented for the player in an easy-to-learn fashion, and yet Vanillaware's games still have a lot of depth. The end result is game design that is very satisfying but doesn't require a ton of grunt work to fully obtain. 

The best way to go about this is by using examples. In Odin Sphere, for example, there is a unique leveling up system that splits the players health and attack power into two separate meters, and the way to level up these two categories is to either eat food to level up a character's health or absorb psyphers to level up one's attack power; and it all revolves around the use of pysphers, which are dropped by fallen enemies. Obtaining food and leveling up one's weapon is done by rationing how one uses the psyphers dropped by enemies, and while this may seem complicated on paper, once set up in the game, it couldn't be simpler, as it simply revolves around utilizing the assets set directly in front of the player. The player never has to worry about saving psyphers for later because there will be more enemies to defeat, nor does the player have to worry about saving items for a later time because there will be many more later. The game design of Odin Sphere was built around using what was given to the player immediately, rather than the player worrying if a particular item would be needed an hour later, or if it was the right time to level up one's weapon. Granted, there is some strategy in choosing which meter to upgrade and saving food for the Pooka Kitchen to make more complicated dishes, but it was never done with the mind-set of having to save an item for something far later in the game. This game design of "living in the moment" is what Vanillaware games truly do best.

Grimgrimoire showed "immediate" satisfaction in how it wasted no time in getting the player into the story and never really hand-holding the player; even the tutorials are directly integrated into the story itself. Grimgrimoire also held nothing back in terms of how deep the gameplay got, but the player was never forced into using complex strategies for winning; rather, everything was given to the player, but only a certain amount was asked for. This makes for a game design that doesn't require any grinding or superfluous amounts of practice; rather it was simply a game design that said: if you play well you will reap the rewards by a high ranking and beating the opponent faster, if you play poorly, you can still succeed but it will be a bumpy ride for you. What I'm getting at is that Grimgrimoire's game design provides everything for the player but doesn't ask too much of the player in return, thus resulting in a fairly unfrustrating game. 

Muramasa was a game with long treks across a world map, but it never felt dull or repetitive; this is because, like Odin Sphere and Grimgrimoire, it's game design gave the player everything right away. In Muramasa, all manner of attacks and combos were possible right in the beginning; of course they grew overtime as the player got more swords and special attacks, but the player was still given a lot right at the beginning. As a result, the long treks across the world map, and the battles that took place there, never felt repetitive or like "work", because they could all be played out differently thanks to the player being given all their assets in the beginning. In many other action-RPGs I've played, the game design was always a grind, because the player was only given a few attacks to work with in the beginning of the game, and while that increased overtime, it was done in such a slow pace that all the new attacks the player was given overtime would become repetitive themselves. Muramasa doesn't suffer from such "grinds" and instead is a smooth and satisfying stroll. 

What this "immediate" satisfaction provides is a very satisfying game design thanks to a lack of superfluous game design ideas, such as unnecessary stat parameters, annoying side-quests, or long grinds in gameplay just to be good enough to reach a satisfying part in the gameplay. Games should never feel like a chore, and Vanillaware games never do, they are always direct and simple in design, yet often hold much depth beneath the surface, and it's that game design quality that keeps me always coming back to their games and enjoying them every time.

As a disclaimer, not all games that execute "immediate" satisfaction well are great games, just as not all games that have "long-term" satisfaction are bad games. For example, Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions and Transformers: War for Cybertron execute "immediate" satisfaction very well, but aren't truly amazing games due to weak gameplay, and games like Dragon Quest VIII and Chrono Cross may have "long-term" satisfaction execution, but they're still two of the best games ever.