Not getting my Playstation in time for the “Final Fantasy VII” craze, my first experience with the series was “Final Fantasy VIII.” While I could make the argument that I got the better game of the deal, that is a topic of heated debate best saved for another day.
Instead the point in mentioning my first exposure to a “Final Fantasy” on Playstation is to reference that moment we all experienced when playing that series for the first time on that platform when you first saw one of the games cinematics. Though I’m not an expert on human behavior by any means, I still feel fairly confident in suggesting that the majority of people’s immediate reaction to viewing one of those beauties was to pick their jaw up off the floor so they were able to better articulate to anyone that would listen how it was “Just like a movie,” and to wonder “When all video games will look that good.”
Now “FF:VIII” may have been my personal exposure to the wonders of the video game cinema, but it would be far from the last. In fact, you could argue that the PS1 was the heyday of the video game cinema, as console developers began to realize the incredible (at the time) graphical potential in these scripted sequences, and just how much they could add to the basic video game story which previously was viewed by even the most intense fans of the medium as a sort of inevitable handicap thats few exceptions of excellence were best treated as anomalies.
Simply put, cinemas on the Playstation were nearly universally thrilling exhibitions that showcased levels of potential out of gaming that may have been dreamed of, but never really considered in earnest as a viable progression.
However, the Playstation came out in 1994 and hasn’t really been actively developed for in about 12-13 years. Cinemas though, in a format that strongly resembles that which they debuted under, remain.
“But,” you say, sensing where I’m going from both context clues and the headline, “cinemas have improved greatly since then, and exercise a level of quality that makes those PS1 examples look archaic and pathetic.
On that point, I don’t disagree. There is a film like quality in the modern cinematic that even during the mind expanding origins of the PS1 cinemas I wouldn’t have been able to properly envision. What’s more is, cinemas of that quality are so prolific now that they’ve reached a point where their construction and implementation can, from a user stand point, be viewed as effortless.
The ability for a modern game to use cinemas in order to make their stories more in line with the presentation style of films may have reached their awe inspiring peak in the days of the Playstation, but in terms of overall quality you can’t argue that every subsequent year makes them better and better.
However, I hate them. Hate them, hate them, hate them. Hate them nearly every time I see them, and have had the experience of several otherwise great ,or at least enjoyable, titles ruined almost entirely by their presence.
To understand the problem with the modern cinema, you really have to look back at why they came to be in the first place. They existed to invoke the aforementioned reactions of “Wow this looks like a movie” and “When will games look this good?” and gave gaming a needed crutch to improve the outward appeal of its storytelling.
However, gaming no longer needs that crutch and is becoming weaker and weaker by relying on it. The idea of a video game being able to mimic a film may have once been a fantastic notion, but can now be accomplished by nearly any reasonable budget.
As such, that same idea is now insulting. While there may have been a time when films were the only known effective way to tell a visual story, that time is no more. To suggest that is the case is to ignore the tremendous strides that certain ambitious developers have made in the field when it comes to finding a way to present a story that is uniquely told by the abilities of video games.
Yet again and again, game developers from all walks of life see no problem in creating a tightly scripted, high graphical sequence that allows you to do absolutely nothing but put the controller down and watch. When you consider that the one universally defining characteristic of video games is interactivity, putting the player in a position where they are either entirely unable to interact with the game, or mostly unable to do so, is crippling and converts the experience from game to digitally animated film instantaneously.
What’s more, the use of cinemas to such an insane degree have also spawned a number of other flaws in gaming. Among them, the most consistently annoying of which would have to be the rise of the QTE. These sequenced button presses are, on occasion, a well done way to add a level of interactivity to story segments, but for the most part are used as a sort of begrudging solution developers offer to anyone who may balk at why they aren’t able to actually play the game they purchased instead of just watch it for its presumed technological grandeur and “epic” story.
The game that really highlighted the gravity of this problem to me would have to be “The Last of Us.” While “The Last of Us,” has one of the greatest stories in gaming history, it is made nearly unbearable at times because of its reliance on traditional cinemas to tell the tale. The cinemas themselves may be better scripted and acted out than nearly all others out there, yet still manage to be groan worthy if for no other reason than they force you to stop playing the very game itself. A game that relies heavily on keeping you in the moment, and gains much effectiveness from its tense atmosphere which instantly dissipates the moment a cinema appears.
What’s even worse in that instance is that Naughty Dog exhibits, in the same game no less, the ability to effectively tell a story with nearly no reliance on cinemas. That’s evident both in the banter between Joel and Ellie during levels which does more to enhance both individual characters and their relationship than any cinematic in the game can possibly do, and in the opening moments of the game which show perhaps the most gut wrenching and effective moments of the entire experience and afford you at least some level of interactivity with consequence.
Now even as I type this, I feel a twinge of hypocrisy as I’m among the biggest supporters of Telltale and their “Walking Dead” series, which is more or less an experience made up entirely of cinemas and quick time events. However, the very key difference there is that the “Walking Dead” series openly presents itself as that type of experience. It is a point and click adventure game, which are traditionally expected to be lighter on gameplay, and high on scripted sequences. You know to expect that when you go into it, and the developers are able to put extra work and importance into them since they are the majority focus of the game.
Instead my real problem with the whole idea of the modern cinema, is its appearance in games that otherwise feature an extremely active pace. It’s in those games where I sign up for the action and gameplay, and are instead spoon fed cinema after cinema that, regardless of the overall quality of the individual examples, are with few exceptions nowhere near as thrilling, effective, or certainly enjoyable as the very game they are apart of and, ideally, are only in place to enhance.
There was a time when the cinematic was a useful, exciting tool that showcased the potential for gaming to reach new heights of storytelling excellence. That time has passed, and the entire reason the average pre-rendered scripted cinematic remains is based on nothing more than laziness and an unwillingness, or creative inability, to pursue a viable storytelling evolution that can recreate the feeling and effect of the first time we viewed an elaborate cinema in a game, without harming the game in the process.
Much like 2D gaming or other tropes of the medium once born out of technological necessity, there will always be a place for the video game cinematic, regardless of whether or not it is still universally desired. However developers everywhere, particularly those with budget to spare, need to really sit down and think when designing their next titles if the use of a cinema is actually enhancing the experience in a meaningful way, or is merely preventing the player from actually being able to play and only serving to help the graphic and storytelling teams flex their creative muscles without purpose like the design equivalent of a professional bodybuilder.
Do that, and I think that many of them will come to the same conclusion on cinemas that many gamers have been exercising for years, which is to just skip them all together.
Sony is a company with a checkered history of controller innovation. Sure they hit a sweet spot with the basic original PS1 controller which just felt right in your hands, but the biggest tech additions to that model (analog sticks and vibration) were lifted from the successful innovations of the N64. Even then they were so unsure regarding the whole “Analog” thing, that the original model of that controller had a button that allowed you to disable it, and the first game to require the sticks didn’t come to the PS1 until 1999.
Also, as the SixAxis proved, when it comes to home brewed innovations the folks at Sony lag behind. It would seem they are really vested in changing that image with the PS4 controller, which may maintain the timeless structure of the Dual Shock model, but introduces a miniature touch area, a share button of somewhat ambiguous specific functionality, and LED lights on top similar to those on the PS Move.
While the true test of these features won’t really be applicable until developers have had a year or so to play around with it and explore their full benefits, the folks behind “Thief 4” have provided a small preview of what we can expect from this new controller, specifically as it relates to the LED bar which in the case of “Thief” will remain dark when your character is hidden, and light gradually as you become more and more exposed. They’ve also noted that the touchpad will be used for enhanced menu navigation, and the more accurate motion sensors allow them to incorporate bow aiming mechanics into it, as well as a motion controlled dash option.
They also spoke of incorporating a mechanic that would allow you to blow onto a controller to blow out candles, but that it might be removed if it is “too gimmicky.”
Granted this isn’t game changing stuff, but it does remind me of the first time I played “Tiger Woods” on the PS2, and noticed how the enhanced graphics actually allowed me to better read the course at a glance, thus improving the gameplay through a cosmetic upgrade. It’s a little touch to be sure, but its an interesting first step towards what appears to be a new day for Sony controller integration and innovation.
The NCAA revealed today that they are no longer providing its football license to EA, effectively spelling the end for college football video games as we know them after the release of “NCAA 14.” While briefly touching on the issue, the real elephant in the room that caused the decision is the use of player likenesses for which the included students receive no profit. It’s an issue that has been haunting all aspects of college sports for some time now, and the removal of this license is just an example of a larger problem that has no clear answer in sight.
EA, for their part, says they will continue to make college football games, but without the NCAA license. A move that will likely work as well for them as it did for that non NFL licensed 2K football game.
To be honest, first my reaction to this was somewhere between “Who Cares” and “Good Riddance.”
While a little pessimistic, that’s a reaction founded somewhere during the years of “Madden-Lite” NCAA entries, which turned a game that used to be on every cinder block built book shelf next to the Einstein posters and dirty laundry pile in every college dorm room in America ,into another half-hearted EA series.
Yes, if you don’t remember there was in fact a time when the “NCAA” team embraced and implemented the college spirit into their annual entries, and came up with a game that was separate, but equal in many ways to the usually more popular “Madden” franchise. Sporting its own cult fan base, it wasn’t unusual for someone to say they were a fan of “NCAA,” but never played “Madden.”
Of course, as the years went on, the only way to really distinguish the two gridiron series was by identifying the team’s logos (which, of course, are no longer available).
But the more I think on it, the more it becomes clear that this really is sad, due mostly to those years when NCAA was a classic franchise. It was once a rite of passage for every college football fan to have that “one game” that they would forever remember with their college roommate/best friend, and be able to recite play by play upon any future drinking occasion.
Now, barring some serious legal changes, that’s likely gone forever.
Ultimately, it’s true that the quality of the games would have had no bearing on the final decision. However, if the series had been able to maintain that former glory, then maybe this would be a story not entirely built around money, but memories as well.
Next-gen gaming is a strange animal in its early days, as often times the best the last generation has to offer comes out right before (as we are very much seeing this year) whereas developers are still trying to get their footing when it comes to developing for the new systems, and as such don’t always produce experiences that truly exhibit the power and potential of these new machines.
There are exceptions of course (“Soulcalibur,” “Halo,” and “Mario 64” jump to mind) but more than often, the above conundrum tends to be the case.
My impressions of the pending next-gen fell in line with that problem, as while certain games shown certainly look to be incredible on their own full merits, in terms of graphical capabilities, I didn’t see anything from E3 or elsewhere that gave us a true visual idea of what we can expect.
However, it turns out that may have been the result of having to view blurry, second hand versions of all the footage, as Eurogamer has the 60FPS HD version of the “Metal Gear Solid 5” trailer, and it looks absolutely incredible.
Unfortunately the video is too high quality to be uploaded properly, but by proceeding here (or here for the 720p version) you can view it in all of its glory. Just know that it takes some respectable performance power to run them uninterrupted.
Now obviously some of the footage is from cinematics, and therefore not trustworthy when it comes to representing quality. However, the parts that are clearly gameplay show a level of detail and clarity that is simply not possible on this generation of console hardware. Looking at only the gameplay sections, you could make the reasonable argument that MGS5 is the most technically impressive game of all time.
Also, interestingly enough, the pursuit of 60 FPS has been around since the original Playsation days, but never became the industry standard for all releases due in large part to the rise of HD gaming making it more difficult, and somewhat less necessary. The team behind “MGS5” want to make it standard for their game though, which may indicate a shift in the rest of the industry is soon to follow in terms of AAA releases, and if so will only increase the amount of eye candy available for gamers in the years to come.
Don’t attempt to adjust your computers folks, this is still a video game site.
But just for today, I don’t want to talk about video games. Instead, I want to share with you an interesting story about…well…just a game.
If it makes you feel any more comfortable, it comes from Japan, like many video games do, but it’s an extremely detailed hand crafted maze that fits on a 35 X 23 inch piece of paper. It’s already being considered perhaps the most complicated maze of its type ever designed, and is not only impossibly detailed, and impossibly beautiful, it may actually be impossible to beat.
That little tidbit comes to us via the Twitter user Kya7y who introduced this maze to the world, along with the fact that, so far as she knows, there is a good chance that the maze cannot be beaten. That’s not just because it is so mind boggling complex, but because a winning scenario may not even exist within its confines. She would know too, as her father is the inventor of the maze, and he spent 7 long years working on the design, without even being sure if it is possible to finish.
While not much is known about the inventor, we do know that he is not a mathematician, architect, or graphic designer, but rather, in a moment of “Good Will Hunting” imagery, is a janitor at a public university. Who, it’s worth pointing out again, spent 7 whole years designing this maze almost 30 years ago, without the aid of quite a few modern technological conveniences.
Which brings us to an interesting point. There are 50 copies of this maze available at the moment, and a rumored second, alternate maze in existence, and already there is a bit of a craze as people formulate ideas on how to try to solve it. While many theories involve computer scanning the maze and using algorithms and programs to see if it is possible, I say to hell with that. If anyone wants to solve this, they need to do so with the same tools available to the creator. If that means we never know if it is possible, then that only means that this incredible design will forever maintain the mystique it so greatly deserves.
Kind of makes “Contra” seem like a walk in the park huh?
Though to be Fair I Still Haven’t Beaten That One Without Cheating
Steam Green Light finally approved its first 10 games to be featured on the site, and (for the most part) they’re proving why this program is such a great idea in the first place. From zombie games, to samurai simulators, to “Half-Life” mods, back to zombie games, just in the initial offering of titles we are seeing some really remarkable ideas that will soon become available for all. Ranking those initial 10 titles is no easy task, but if you want the best of the best of Green Light so far, here it is.
10. McPixel – Probably the type of game that looks fun to vote for, but won’t get that many buys, “McPixel” is an odd title to say the least. It’s made up of a series of 20 second levels where you have to achieve a goal (usually getting rid of a bomb) without many instructions on how to do so. It’s reminiscent of “Wario Ware,” and carries a very unique since of humor, but looks like it may wear its welcome faster than that classic ever did. Nothing to see here, move along.
9. No More Room In Hell – “No More Room In Hell” is a “Half-Life 2″ mod that more than favors “Left 4 Dead,” but this zombie squad based FPS gets some serious points for knowing its genre. I like the variety of zombie enemies, weapons, and appropriate environments, but what I love is the scarce ammunition, lack of crosshairs display, multiple game modes (including an awesome survival mode where you hold down a zombie fort) and overall fun factor. If you’re not tired of “Left 4 Dead,” but crave something new, keep your eye on this one.
8. Cry of Fear – A “Half-Life” mod, this is one of two horror games to make the final cut. “Cry of Fear” uses the old “you have amnesia” story to throw you into a world of fear and constant terror. The goal of “Cry of Fear” is to simply throw as many unexpected atrocities at you as possible and test your limits of composure. “Cry of Fear” reminds me of a really good carnival haunted house, and its use of sound, light, and atmosphere are top notch. Also, you have to see the above video of people playing it and losing their minds to the game’s scares.
7. Heroes and Generals – Maybe the most technically proficient of the initial Green Light games, “Heroes and Generals” looks to breathe a little life in to online FPS shooters. “Heroes and Generals” allows players to either take to the frontlines in a variety of combat situations FPS style, or take the role of a commander and manage the battle in more of an RTS format. This type of game has been tried before, but has never really produced a big hit. However, the media released so far is intriguing, and the team behind the game is some of the same people who worked on the “Hitman” series and “Freedom Fighters.” It’s got a lot of pedigree going for it, and could be a quick hit.
6. Project Zomboid – ANOTHER ZOMBIE GAME? Yes, but don’t hold that against it. This may be the most conceptually intriguing zombie game I’ve ever seen, as the emphasis is on survival and not shooting. Using a sandbox mode and isometric perspective, “Project Zomboid” allows players to scavenge supplies, build safehavens, maintain their hunger and boredom levels, and of course, fight the occasional zombie. It’s so in depth, you have to consider things like hanging sheets over your windows so zombies don’t spot your lights, and already features an active mod community who contribute to the game regularly. I’m a BIG fan of this one, and you should definitely consider it if you’re a fan of the first two “Fallout” games.
It’s been a week since I last plopped myself down in my office and fired up a game of LoL or knocked out a few quests in Skyrim. I always think these holiday weekends will have some profound effect on the way I think about games or the way I play them or even the way I write about them, but it just doesn’t happen. I’m not entirely sure why, just as I am unsure why that would be a good thing.
I think part of the problem is that I would like to be playing a wider variety of games. In the past two years I’ve spent the vast majority of my time with just a small subset of games. I’ve pumped more time than I care to tally into League of Legends. I’ve played a lot of Minecraft. I’ve dipped in and out of WoW. I’ve been playing the hell out of Skyrim. I even had a brief affair with Diablo II. It’s a short list, and two of my five games aren’t really all that new. Why such a limited list?
For starters, time. It’s not the amount of time spent actually playing a game that concerns me. It’s the amount of time it takes to learn a game. To get to know its mechanics. To see whether I like it or not. A few weeks ago I was given access to the Star Wars: The Old Republic beta for weekend testing. I spent probably 10 hours with the game over the first two days, but those 10 hours were painful. The storyline wasn’t gripping, the combat was a complete WoW-copy – I was completely underwhelmed. I took my concerns to a couple forums, trying to figure out what I was missing. Plenty of reviews claimed the game was good, even great. What had I overlooked?
According to the internet, I hadn’t even cracked the surface of the game. Granted, 10 hours is a tiny chunk of time compared to the years people have spent with games like WoW, but 10 hours before the game even becomes remotely enjoyable? I’ll pass, as I do on most games. I would say that I’ve “missed out” on some big titles, but have I? What have I really missed? I can count on one hand the number of titles that have truly changed the way I think about games in the last 10 years. Even League of Legends, a game I play and write about on a daily basis, isn’t on that list.
I’m not trying to make the case that every game should break the mold, forever changing the way that we game. No industry supports that kind of innovation. I do, however, wish it happened more often than it does. The next big games on my watch list are Guild Wars 2 and Diablo 3, and I only have high hopes for GW2. Diablo 3 is a load of fun, but it’s fun at its most mindless.
I’m going to end this post here, because I’m not sure I have much else to say. I love games, I just wish there were more games worth loving. You know, variety being the spice of life and all. What about you? What are you playing? What games made you rethink the medium? What’s on your gaming horizon?
I was pretty excited to get some games in today. It’s the first day I haven’t had much work since the patch so I was looking to get some good wins in and push Kennen toward my Top 3 list. I only need to hit 33 wins for him to take Pantheon’s spot, so I thought I could knock out 5-6 pretty easily.
The first game I had another player pick my favorite midget. No problem. We also had a Taric, Jax, and I think an Ezreal. I figured Ezreal could solo mid and I’d let our Kennen 1v2 so I picked Warwick. Big mistake. My team couldn’t manage their lanes at all. Jax and Taric were dying repeatedly to a solo Ryze (the other team had a WW as well), Kennen was getting dominated by a mirror match middle, and Ezreal was getting pushed hard up top. I tried to roam and help out as much as possible, but it just ended in death after death for most of our team. Our Taric was 0-9 by the end of the game with only 2 assists. He was stacking Hearts of Gold.
The next two games went really well. I was quick enough to grab Kennen and I played well with him at middle. I was quickly up a few kills and by the end of both games I was on some sort of spree (legendary in one) and had zero deaths. All around good stuff. Unfortunately the servers went down and neither of those games were recorded on my profile.
Once the servers were back up I grabbed a quick game with two friends. I knew we were sunk as soon as I saw the loading screen. We were running Kennen/Ashe/Malph and our pugs were Zilean and Mordekaiser. The other team went Taric, Jax, Nidalee, TF, Rammus. Let me tell you, Nidalee is infuriating to lane against middle. I was outplaying her by all standards. I was harassing better than she was, I had a better farm, I nearly killed her 3 times, but between Flash, Pounce, and Primal Surge there was nothing I could do. She would pounce into terrible situations, I would lay down a combo, get her to 20 percent or lower and she would pounce away and heal. For her really bad choices she would have to Flash out as well. The game ended swiftly – our Zilean wasn’t great and really, we didn’t stand much chance against four of the most OP toons in the game.
Of course after that game the servers went down for the second time and haven’t come back up. Hopefully I’ll get some good games in tonight. Send me a friend request or an invite if you’d like to join.