A couple of exciting videogame-related things happened this week. One is that I've been raving on about Indie Game: The Movie, which I watched for the second time this week (and for the first time on the big screen!), and the other is that the Museum of Modern Art in New York announced plans to add videogames to their collection. It seemed like a perfect time to write a bit about why I love the movie, and my thoughts on videogames as art and inspiration in general.
Indie Game is a documentary that follows the story of three independent game developers - Edmund Mcmillen and Tommy Refenes, who created Super Meat Boy, Phil Fish who created Fez, and Jonathan Blow who created Braid (all three games are on Xbox Live Arcade, Super Meat Boy and Braid are available on Steam too I believe). It is a brilliant, and pretty emotional insight into the journeys of these game developers, their backgrounds and inspirations, the pressures and rewards of being a one or two person team creating something for millions of people. I don't think you necessarily need to be a videogame fan to enjoy this documentary - if you've ever been inspired, or created something, you'll probably find something here you'll relate to.
One of my very favourite things that the film conveys is the power that videogames have as a medium, to inspire generations. There's some debate going on about whether videogames should be classified as 'art' and be allowed to feature in the museum. Personally, I can't see how it's even a question, as it seems like a no-brainer to me. Granted, 'art' is a fairly wide and subjective term, difficult to define, but most of us would probably agree that a creation such as a painting or illustration is art, that musicians are artists, and even that skilled programmers are good at an 'art'. So, illustration, music, technical skills, and we haven't even started to consider story and writing.
Videogames combine all of these things, and then allow you to not only interact with the creation, but personally become part of it, and affect it through your own actions. Another thing people may say about art is that it should invoke emotion, convey something personal, inspire you. I can definately say that during my life, games have touched me and invoked as much, if not more, emotion in me than any piece of static art I've looked at, or song I've listened to. Of course, not all games are of the same quality, as not all art is, and not all games effect everybody in the same way, again much the same as any other medium.
There's a particularly poorly informed, substance-less, and - in my opinion - fairly laughable review on the Guardian website, whose arguments for games not being art include statements such as "A work of art is one person's reaction to life", "Art may be made with a paintbrush or selected as a ready-made, but it has to be an act of personal imagination.", and "No one "owns" the game, so there is no artist, and therefore no work of art." To me, these statements actually only serve as reasons for why games are art.
Let's take one of the most well known and loved videogame series as an example - The Legend of Zelda. Along with many other Nintendo games, this game series began in one mind, that of Shigeru Miyamoto.
"When I was a child," Miyamoto said, "I went hiking and found a lake. It was quite a surprise for me to stumble upon it. When I traveled around the country without a map, trying to find my way, stumbling on amazing things as I went, I realized how it felt to go on an adventure like this."
This was the beginning of Miyamoto's inspiration for The Legend of Zelda, and 26 years after the first game was released, millions of people around the world have fallen in love with and have been inspired by something that came from the childhood memories of one man. That to me, is pretty damn amazing. As for the last quote from that article, that nobody 'owns' the game, and there is no artist, I really have no idea what he is talking about. Miyamoto had an amazing imagination, but no technical skills, and so he worked with technicians and no doubt artists and people of different disclipines to create the games. Yes, many games are created by large teams of people, skilled in different areas, does this mean they are any less art, because there is more than one artist?
Going back to Indie Game, one of the people we learn a lot about is Edmund McMillen, the mind behind Super Meat Boy. Edmund grew up playing videogames like Super Mario Bros, and also being very creative, imagining and drawing monsters/creatures, and things inspired by his personal feelings at the time. Super Meat Boy is a unique game for sure, but is also a self-confessed homage to the games he grew up playing. Indie Game follows the game through development and then we watch its release, as people play the game, write reviews, upload YouTube videos of themselves playing it. Edmund starts to see fanart of Super Meat Boy. Drawings, creations. Why do these exist? Because his videogame inspired people. He comments at the end of the movie, how weird it is for him, growing up doodling Mario and drawing things inspired by games, to then, create a game and have people draw fanart from his game.
I think this was the defining moment of the movie for me, encapsulating the idea of videogames not only being art (created from inspiration, memories, and skill), but going full-circle. Inspiring art and creation that may one day lead to the kids who grew up playing Super Meat Boy becoming the next generation of gamers who create their own game. I believe it is a misconception that videogames are just a passive medium, kids sat in front of the tv, wasting time pressing buttons. Is it a waste of time, if this game challenges them to think in new ways, if it teaches them something, but most of all, if it inspires them, strikes up their imagination. Makes them draw something, want to learn a skill, want to create something themselves?
And of course, not everyone who plays games will go on to make games, or even to create in any form. But not everyone who reads books becomes a writer, not everyone who visits an art gallery starts painting, nor everyone who appreciates music become a musician. Yet for some reason, these mediums are taken for granted as being 'art', or at least to some people, a more 'productive' use of time. Not all games are as personal as others, indeed. Many games are designed to appeal to a mass market, and games like anything else, are trying to make money. Everyone will play games for different reasons. But in written media, as there are novels, there are also trashy gossip magazines. That's not a reason to judge the medium as a whole.
Indie Game shows just how much of a personal creation a videogame can be. In the movie, it's clear that the biggest motivation behind these games is creating something personal, a self-expression. Obviously, the three developers hope that people will enjoy their games, but they are never creating it based on 'what will be popular'. The film gives a really interesting insight into their different reactions when their games are unleashed onto the public.
When Braid was released, it was getting scores of 9 and 10, and it was selling amazingly well. But Jonathan Blow was unhappy about the reviews, because they missed what he felt was special about the game. People were praising it for the platforming or the puzzles, but really only at a surface level, they weren't getting what he wanted them to get. As somebody who likes to create art sometimes, I relate to this in a way, when you create you may hope that a certain bit of it is conveyed, but somebody might see something else. Obviously, it's a pretty normal thing about art that everyone will see something different in it, and I don't think in a way he could have expected everyone to see the game as he did, but I think it's interesting that this mattered to him more than the score it received. Similarly, it was interesting to see Super Meat Boy programmer Tommy, appear incredibly apathetic about how the game was received, even after it started selling so well. He was obviously proud and relieved to have finished the game, for himself, but it was clear it wasn't about the ratings for him. It was, however, a lovely moment, when Edmund showed him videos of people enjoying the game on YouTube, and it feels like this, more than scores and reviews made him feel like the game had succeeded.
Phil Fish, creator of Fez, seemed perhaps the most in need of external praise, he admitted he thrives on and requires feedback for his work, and as a creator myself, that's something I totally relate to. He'd been through a difficult time, with illness in the family, a dispute with a business partner, and a relationship break-up. I think he felt that if his creation could touch people in some way, make them smile, laugh, enjoy it, he would feel like he had achieved something and it gave him purpose. Overall, in many ways, the creations of all three games were clearly very personal, drawn from experience and memories, and I think if you play Braid, Fez and Super Meat Boy after watching this movie, you will likely see something beyond that surface level "it's a fun game".
So, if you're still wondering whether videogames are 'art', or think that they aren't as personal as other mediums, go read about Shigeru Miyamoto, or watch Indie Game, or find out how many things have been created on the back of videogame inspiration. But it's certainly not all about creation, I believe videogames can inspire us - and do, me - to simply live with more reverence and a greater sense of joy and adventure. Can anything else really do that quite as well? :)
It's that time of year again! Or, at least, it was last year, which means it is this year! I don't know why I write about my favourite games in November, not December but I do! Plus it'll be harder to pick if I wait another month, hehe. As with the last entry, this is *not* my 3 favourite videogames that necessarily came out in 2012, though they may have done - I'm always quite behind and have lots to catch up on with awesome games, so when they came out is kinda irrelevant to me - more important is when I discovered them :D
I think most of my gaming in 2012 took part in the second half, including the games I'll write about here. I broke up with my fairly long-term boyfriend this year, which was a pretty weird and tough time for a while, and I didn't really want to do anything, let alone game. However, every cloud has a silver lining, and in the latter half of 2012, I started getting back into games in a BIG way. It feels good to be rediscovering my passion a bit, as well as making some new gaming friends this year :) Anyway! Onwards with the games..
This year I decided I really needed to get back into a Pokemon game! I've played a few but never got past 2 or 3 gym badges, and I wanted to have a better shot at keeping a game going. I wanted to play one that was fairly classic, so there weren't crazy amounts of new Pokemon, but something on the DS ideally. I often like to have both a handheld and console game on the go, so I have something to play wherever I am ^_^ So I went for Pokemon HeartGold. It's a remake of the original Pokemon Gold, but with improved graphics and some new extras! My favourite, and the cutest addition I think, is having the lead Pokemon in your party follow you around behind you! You can turn around and talk to it, and it does cute little things. My favourite was when I talked to Cyndaquil and he nosed my belly ^_^
The game also came with a Pokewalker, a pedometer that you could transfer a Pokemon into and walk with it in real life to level it up! :D I must admit, I kinda forgot to keep taking Pokemon with me after a while, but it's still a really neat idea, and seeing the Pokemon travel from your DS to the walker and back is pretty cute.
The formula of Pokemon is always a pleasure to play, and I love HeartGold because for me it has enough essence of the original games in it to feel nostalgic, but with improvements, and I think it's a great place in the series for someone who just wants to dip in and play an all-round fun Pokemon game. With my team in the 20s, and a Pokedex of around 50, I'm playing slowly as usual, but enjoying it muchly and hoping to be continuing well into next year :D
Costume Quest on the Xbox Live Arcade was absolutely the surprise favourite game of (my) year. This game made me smile in ways not many games have done since the awesome days of my beloved point-and-click adventures (Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max). That's probably no coincidence, since the game is developed by Double Fine, a company founded by Tim Schafer, the guy behind a lot of the amazing writing on Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle.
Costume Quest is an amazingly adorable, funny, sweet and unique RPG based around trick-or-treating on Halloween. Halloween was obviously the perfect time for me to give the game a try and it definately made it one of the most enjoyable Halloweens I've ever had. Wren and Reynold are twins, you choose which to play as, and after your brother or sister gets kidnapped by monsters, you're on a quest to save them. This quest involves, of course, COSTUMES, and also candy. Looots of candy. :) You do need a sweet tooth for this game, but I certainly have one XD
What's so awesome about it? Well, I'm glad you asked!
The costumes The main theme of the game involves finding various costumes to trick-or-treat with. These are not only charming and adorable, but in battles they become SUPER-AWESOME. Every costume has unique abilities in battle, and some out of battle. You can be a robot, a ninja, and many more that you'll have to play to find out! The battles are super-fun thanks to this, they also include little timing interactions to dodge or improve your attacks which keeps them really interesting. I don't think I ever got sick of the battles as there was always some new ability to try and they always just looked so damn cool XD
The charm The game oozes charm, both appearance-wise and writing-wise. The story and dynamic between Wren and Reynold is very sweet, the graphics and world design is vibrant and lovely. One of the little things that kept making me happy everytime is simply the way the
characters run around, and hit things with a candy pail to get candy. It's simple but just controlling them feels.. fun. XD Lots of little things about the game just had me smiling.
The humour Games that genuinely make you laugh out loud don't come along every day, and I was happy to find that many little moments and lines in the game reminded me of classic Monkey Island moments. There was one moment I kept trying to walk down a dark corridor even though I needed to find a light, and the character quipped "I don't know why I keep trying to walk down this corridor when I still don't have a light". Another great moment was when the characters are launched onto a ferris wheel, and then following a cutscene, they comment on how they are supposed to get down. The screen fades and they are on the ground, and one of them makes a perfect amusing comment along the lines of "well, we got down somehow, let's uhh, just move on.", again an obvious nod to their knowledge of being characters in an adventure game XD
To be honest, the only reason I can really think of to not play this game is IF YOU DON'T LIKE FUN. Haha, but really, it's a pretty short game, I finished it in around 10 hours, and it's not difficult by any stretch. But, I'm always one to play games for the experiences, and this was definately one of the best gaming experiences I've had in a long time. If you want to relive the fun of being a kid trick-or-treating, except with ten times as much awesome, I highly recommend checking it out!
Wow, I'm playing a game that actually came out this year! :o Borderlands is a role-playing first-person shooter (RPS anyone? :D). I'm not generally a fan of FPS' or at least, RPGs are my preferred genre, but I originally picked up the first game after hearing comparisons to Diablo, and seeing the stylish, unique graphics that set Borderlands apart from dreary brown shooters ;) I had fun with the first one, but got a little bored of it in single player mode, the story was fairly lacking. I decided to check out this sequel, and in the past week I've played more hours on it than I did on the first game in over 6 months XD
As I say, being a big Diablo fan, I mostly play Borderlands for the role-playing elements and the SWEET LOOT. I love levelling up and the interesting skill-trees for character classes (I'm playing Siren). And the loot is just always so good :D I've never been great with guns, so I'm still like "wtf sort of gun is this?" XD and in the original Borderlands I pretty much stuck with a sniper rifle. In Borderlands 2, I'm experimenting with more guns already, and having much fun with them :) I still like to snipe a lot when possible, but yeah. Although Borderlands is known for being an excellent co-op game, I do tend to like to play any games with a story single player, at least first time around, and I feel like this release has a bit more to the story so far to keep it interesting for those who do want to play solo.
Of course, the shooting-and-looting is the most fun thing, but the whole atmosphere of a game really defines whether I'll enjoy that, and Borderlands has a great atmosphere. It's stylish, badass, and yet also pretty damn funny, especially your lovable annoying robot pal Claptrap. I also love how the setting of Borderlands 2 is very wintery, it reminds me of playing Skyrim last Winter, and I dunno, I always feel more immersed in a game when the temperature matches the actual temperature outside XD
The first Borderlands didn't have much in the way of a character customisation, which kinda bothered me, cos I LOVE customisation :) Borderlands 2 luckily knows how to please me then, as it offers tons of new skins and heads for your character, as well as the option to change them pretty much whenever you want. I am the sort of person who would restart a game two hours after starting it because I changed my mind about my character's hairstyle, so ... yeah. This is pretty yay for me :D I feel that having a bit more input into your character really makes you feel a more unique part of the world.
The runners up
Other special game mentions from this year: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (best 3d on a 3ds game yet!), Final Fantasy Theatrhythm (much rhythm goodness and FF nostalgia), and Micro Machines on the Megadrive, for playing it with other people for the first time in ages and introducing it to someone who is almost younger than the Megadrive XD (and because it is STILL awesome). Also buying a gold Zelda edition GBA SP - yay.
Next year, I'm looking forward to Animal Crossing 3DS, Luigi's Mansion, The Cave (yay Ron Gilbert), and no doubt many more happy gaming times ^_^ And still waiting for Phoenix Wright vs. Professor Layton.. I'm sure it'll be worth the wait :D
It's sorta that time again (November 11th being the last) where I get a little slack on doing web stuff in my spare time and turn my attention to videogames, or one videogame anyway. ;)
This time it's Diablo III that is going to be eating my free time for a while. When a new game, and especially a sequel like this comes out, there's a lot of talk about it and people tend to fall into one of these groups:
The Wtf is Diablo III? people. These people are basically wondering what all the fuss is about and why other people are going on about it.
The Yay, finally another Diablo game! people. (e.g - me ;)
And the Omg Diablo III is different to Diablo II, therefore it sucks! people, who may have been "Yay finally another Diablo game!" people, but are happier to complain about what they don't like about the game :P I'm not really going to talk about game differences in this post - there are differences, but familiar things too, and imo it's still classic Diablo :)
For those in group one - the games in the Diablo series are fantasy action role-playing games, also sometimes described as dungeon-crawling games. The main premise of the games, put simply, is that some terrible fate has fallen over the world, generally meaning lots of monsters are around, including a handful of exceptionally evil ones, and you are the lone hero (unless you choose to play multi-player ;) who has the task of ridding the world of that evil. (How does that not sound totally epic? :D)
One reason people have been so excited about the release of Diablo III is that Diablo II came out a whole eleven years ago, and well, the videogame world has been missing a game like this. There have been RPGs in the meantime of course, but nothing really quite like Diablo (except Torchlight which was heavily inspired by the formula).
I love the formula of action RPGs but especially Diablo, which I think sets itself apart. These are some of the reasons I personally think there are for making a fuss about Diablo III :)
Playing the epic hero
As I said, from the moment you begin the game, you are the hero. You can choose your class depending on the sort of play style you like, in DIII that includes things like the Demon Hunter, Barbarian, Monk and of course Wizard. I love games where you get to play a completely epic hero or heroine. I suppose that's what I like about RPGs in general, you can be sort of like yourself except much more bad-ass and powerful. ;) I love playing that role in a game where everybody else needs your help and you are the one who has come to save everyone, and I think Diablo games do a great job of making your character feel super important. Diablo III seems to have introduced a bit more in the way of back stories for the class you pick, but I also like just using my imagination for my character's personality and motivations.
Causing tons of death and destruction
(To bad guys of course!) This is also very much related to the sheer amount of monsters you get in this kind of game, especially in dungeons. Most locations in the game are crawling with monsters. It's immensely satisfying (to me anyway) to be a lone hero facing swarms of monsters, and being able to defeat them with your skills and awesomeness despite their number. Wiping out huge numbers of enemies is just.. very fun. xD I know that some people find this repetitive about Diablo games, having to fight tons of hordes of monsters but to me.. it really shows how much evil is around and how much there is to wipe out, and yes, it's inconvenient but that's sorta the whole point ;)
Loot is one of the key things about Diablo's formula and one of the main reasons the game is loved so much. Your character starts off with very basic equipment, maybe a simple weapon they picked up, but along the way, monsters drop tons and tons of items which can help equip your character better for future battles. These could be weapons or armour ranging from chest gear to belts to gloves and boots. Diablo has a system where lots of random items get dropped by monsters so you always have the chance of getting better stuff for your hero. As well as common items they might drop magic, or even rare and legendary items. It's always exciting checking out the new items you've collected or getting a new magic item that boosts your character even more. And because it's random you never know what you might get, which makes the games very replayable I think.
Fun skills and abilities
As you level up you will get new skills to use, which you can generally choose and combine, having different skills on mouse buttons and keys. I think this stops Diablo from being a purely hack and slash game, as you can combine abilities for some very cool effects. One of my favourite things about the Demon Hunter class in DIII so far is having trap skills, so I can lure a horde of enemies towards me, trap them and then fire arrows at them before they know what's happened ;)
Sure, a lot of people play Diablo to build a powerful character, but beyond the gameplay, I love the whole atmosphere, setting and feel to the Diablo games. It's a very dark fantasy setting, and has a range of locations such as towns and outside locales as well as various dungeons and chambers. These always look visually impressive, I think even back in Diablo II eleven years ago the setting always felt very awesome. The various monsters that inhabit the world and the lore around them is always interesting too. For me one thing that stops the game getting boring is discovering a new location, new dungeon, and weird, wonderful, or even grotesque enemies within the Diablo world. (I'm not looking forward to the giant spiders though, they give me nightmares ;).
I think for these reasons, and particularly for the people who grew up playing the previous games in the series, Diablo is pretty much a classic videogame and a unique experience. You can play Diablo co-operatively, and I have good memories of adventuring with friends late into the night, immersed in the world and its demons. I enjoy playing single player, but co-op mode adds another layer of fun and playability to the game. Obviously for people who don't really like the sound of the formula I've talked about above - you may not like the game, but for me epic adventure RPGs don't get much better than this.
When it comes to gaming, rhythm games are one of my very favourite genres. I've spent many an hour in arcades playing DDR (sometimes alone, yes I'm sad like that), or rocking out in front of the TV on Guitar Hero and Rock Band. I've worked up an anxious sweat on the difficult PS2 rhythm game Gitaroo Man, and still enjoy the charms of good old Parappa the Rapper. But one game that's really left a lasting impression on me is "Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan."
"Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan", or Ouendan for short, is a Japanese rhythm game for the Nintendo DS. The title translates as "Hey! Fight! Cheer Squad" and the premise is that you are playing as an all-male cheer squad (the Ouendan), who basically dance and use rhythm to help people out of their problems.
Note - Ouendan was kinda released in America/Europe but as a completely new game (rather than just a translated game), called Elite Beat Agents. They changed the cheerleaders to special agents and all the levels had different (maybe less zany XD) themes, I suppose more to suit an American audience. I played this version of the game too, and it was fun, but I found the original game to be better, more challenging and interesting, with slightly better controls.
So, you are the Ouendan (these really exist in Japan by the way!) and you progress through levels helping people with their problems. The levels are a sequence of graphics that look like a comic strip which show the problem that somebody is having. Obviously unless you can read japanese you may not be able to understand the text that accompanies the graphics, but you can get a general idea of what's going on from the graphics (and it's often pretty random anyway!).
Some examples of people in trouble include an artist who has lost his inspiration and needs help finding some in order to continue making sculptures, another is a guy who is feeling ill on a train and you need to help combat his stomach bugs to help him feel better. A particularly touching level involves a woman who has lost her husband/partner and you help her to feel comfort in his memory. That level actually brought tears to my eyes ;_; So yeah, there's a range of strange, wacky and interesting situations you need to help people out of.
And the way you help them - is by dancing! Don't ask me how that would ever help people, but it's a nice thought, that somehow the music and rhythm are your weapons to combat people's problems. And.. it's just pretty funny in most cases XD
Ouendan has a pretty unique gameplay system. Numbered dots appear on the DS screen, with circles around them that are shrinking. When the circles touch the dots, you have to tap the number with the DS stylus. This is the main crux of the gameplay, but there are variations and other little aspects, such as two joined dots where you have to drag the stylus back and forth, and also spinners, where you have to spin the stylus as fast as you can. It's hard to explain in words, so here's a video of the trailer for the game.
What I loved about the gameplay was how it took me a while to really get the hang of, but after that it had a pretty even learning curve. As you can see from the trailer, the tapping speed starts off fairly slow to help you get used to it, but it gradually gets more tricky. The game begins with two difficulty levels and there are two more that you can unlock after completing the game on the first two (you also get to play as different ouendan in these later levels). I found myself having to start on easy but gradually just getting better and better and working my way up.
There was many a night I would try a level twenty times over and still not quite complete it, but in my determination, stylus gripped tight in hand, I would eventually get there, and it was hugely satisfying. I think the game really trains your reaction times, as in later levels the circles come faster and appear all over the screen. Also I guess learning the layout of levels helps as you can get used to what sort of sequence is coming up next. When you get to the final levels and you're whizzing through tapping circles and dragging, spinning things it becomes immensely fun.
Of course, aside from reacting quickly, Ouendan is very much about getting into the rhythm of the songs and it has an awesome catchy soundtrack that makes that quite easy to do. The songs in the game are fun, catchy j-pop covers including music based on songs by Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Hitomi Yaida and L'Arc-en-Ciel. After I played the game I found myself downloading the soundtrack and listening to the songs even when not playing the game. There are some ballads for the slower levels but I really enjoy the faster rockier tunes where you can really get carried away tapping along. I've got so into Ouendan on train journeys before I haven't noticed the ticket inspector was there, haha!
As I mentioned, the levels resemble comic book strips, and they are all brightly coloured and well drawn. The animation of the dancing is fun and varied too, and the interface screens also look good. Some of the best graphics on the DS in my opinion.
To summarise I think Ouendan is a really unique, funny, involved game with a good learning curve, great tunes and quite a bit of replayability value. Also as it's a DS game, you can take it with you for portable rhythm goodness. As it's Japanese, you'll have to try import game stores or ebay but it shouldn't be too hard to find. You can navigate your way through the interface pretty easily without having to know Japanese so I don't think that's a drawback. And best of all you get to experience this zany game in the way it was originally intended. :)
I would give this game a pretty big 10/10 on all aspects, and I highly recommend picking it up if you have a DS and enjoy rhythm games!