E3 2014 Overview

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Whoo, buddy. E3 2014 was my first time to the big show, and what a show it was. All three companies came out swinging with solid showings, highlighting a variety of titles that seem to have a great deal of potential. For Sony, I found myself most interested in their reveal of LittleBigPlanet 3 and Uncharted 4 (though I’m really hoping that installment isn’t the end of the line for the series). Microsoft wowed me with its Master Chief Collection. That’s the sort of fan service that I’ve only ever seen come from a company like Nintendo, but I don’t think even its ever done anything as ambitious as what Microsoft is attempting. Nintendo, though, ran away with the show, as far as I’m concerned. Nearly every game on its show floor was a must-have, and the lineup was packed with both familiar faces and pleasant surprises. All in all, Nintendo had the complete package, and it was very apparent.

So, here’s looking forward to the rest of this year and beyond, and please check out my little gallery of pics, below!

 

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Intermission

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Getting tired of the semi-hiatus here at Retro(spective)? (All five of you, I mean). Me, too! I did warn everyone though, so I’m not losing too much sleep over it, but still, nothing worse than dead air. What can I say, school has been a beast lately, Nintendojo (which you all should be reading) always has something percolating, and well, I can’t write about games if I don’t play them! Summer approaches, though, so expect things to start getting livelier as we move deeper into June.

Mario Kart 8 will be getting the old review treatment, and expect the same for Tomodachi Life, too. Beyond that, E3 is going to be huge. What I don’t post for Nintendojo will be here, so look forward to hands-on time with whatever amazingness lies in wait for this year’s show. I’d also like to point out, Retro(spective)’s one year anniversary is also fast approaching! Maybe I’ll… give something away in celebration! Exciting times await, dear readers! I hope you’ll all be along for the ride.

In Defense of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes’ Ending

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Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers for all of you who haven’t seen the end of MGSV: Ground Zeroes.

“There’s a bomb in my…”, Paz trails off, as she jumps from the helicopter in order to save her rescuers from the impending explosion building within her. It’s a powerful moment, as the player realizes that Paz, who was a traitor in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, is sacrificing herself in order to save the very person she betrayed. It’s also powerful, or at least jarring, to realize the implications of where the bomb is inside her, exactly. Players had just been subjected to the sight of Snake and a medic removing a bomb from her stomach, sans painkillers. Blood, guts, and screaming filled the scene, which was brutal to watch. Thinking she was safe, it was more than surprising when she declared they’d missed another explosive hidden away. It’s this moment, however, that is stirring up controversy across the internet, because the implication is pretty explicit that the bomb is either between her legs or in her anus.

There’s really no other place for it to be, though I will grant that it doesn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t another bomb in her stomach that they simple missed. However, if it were that straightforward, I’d think that Ground Zeroes‘ director Hideo Kojima would have made it so. It is then reasonable to assume it was, for all intents and purposes, an intentionally vague descriptor. The resulting speculation has lead many to decree Kojima incapable of the mature storytelling he claimed to be striving for with this twist, that it was just more violence and abuse against women in media. Which is unfounded, for a number of reasons.

First of all, Paz had a history that exists beyond the confines of Ground Zeroes. Again, her story is detailed in Peace Walker exhaustively, and to a lesser, though no less illuminating, extent in the recordings scattered about the game. People have complained that Paz was simply female fodder, but the truth is that her actions had come full-circle that night and culminated in her death. She also goes out somewhat redeemed, too, because rather than kill everyone else on the chopper, she hurls herself into the sea, instead. Ignoring the sexual implications of her murder, the ending itself for this character was tragic, but part of a greater narrative.

To segue just a bit to the narrative of MGS, there’s also no escaping that Ground Zeroes is one of many games in the series. Just because it might be the first exposure for some players, that doesn’t excuse an ignorant dismissal of the overarching story at play. To say Paz is just randomly inserted and used as a piece of meat is ludicrous. It’s like stepping into an episode of a TV show and claiming that a story element is inappropriate or out of place without doing the slightest bit of research to see where it fits within the greater context of the series. The tapes that catch players up on the story are enough of a resource, but the player bears some responsibility to educate themselves beforehand knowing they’re arriving in the middle of a story.

Still, going back to the real crux of the issue, it’s the notion that Paz suffered some form of rape or sexual abuse prior to her death that’s primarily stoking so many people’s ire. The popular sentiment being that it’s more of the pro-male, anti-female dogma so common in today’s video games. While I strongly support the initiative by those who would prefer to see stronger female leads and characters in the industry, I don’t see what happened to Paz as a blow against that. To repeat, her story isn’t limited to Ground Zeroes. Paz is, to a degree, paying for her own past transgressions. Paying, I fully acknowledge, in one of the worst ways possible, but to address another criticism of the game, audiences have no entitlement to see a narrative end as they please. Like a movie, TV show, or book, sometimes the ending doesn’t feel justified, but that doesn’t mean the creators did something wrong.

There’s this odd opinion that because Ground Zeroes‘ gameplay was fun and compelling, that to kill Paz so horribly at the end didn’t feel earned. That by virtue of playing the game and going through all that trouble to save her, she should have lived. I myself noted much the same thing in my own review of the game. There’s a difference, though, between being letdown and something being inappropriate. From a pure enjoyment perspective, the ending of Ground Zeroes is a letdown. It’s a killjoy. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, though. It’s like the ending of Inception, wanting to see that top stop spinning, and it never does. It’s frustrating, but it’s not out of bounds. Sometimes, things don’t work out the way we want them to, and that includes narratives. It happens all the time in entertainment, so I see no reason to subject Ground Zeroes to a different set of rules.

It’s awful if Paz was sexually abused before dying, but as Kojima himself noted, video games have to be able to broach topics like this in order to proceed further as a viable outlet for narratives. In execution, Paz’s potential rape and/or molestation might be a bit grating compared to previous MGS games, but really, the series has always been edgy and pushed narrative boundaries. Ground Zeroes clearly is a step in a new, grittier direction for the series, and while there were plenty of winks at longtime fans, the overall experience upheld that vision all the way to that final scene. I don’t want to think that Paz was attacked in that way, but there a lot of things I don’t want to have happened in stories I’ve experienced and read over the years, but they did.

I think it’s a healthy response for people to debate the ending of Ground Zeroes, but ultimately I think that it was handled well. I’d like to also point out that Hideo Kojima is no slouch as a director. MGS’s story is very dense and layered, to put it mildly, but the wide array of characters, both male and female, that Kojima has depicted over the years is staggering. Kojima’s run the gamut of character personality types and portrayals in his years with the series, and I’ve never once felt like he treats women any differently than men in his games. Ground Zeroes is a compelling game, and it’s ending is only as offensive as someone wants it to be. I think it deals with Paz’s situation as gracefully as it can and look forward to the rest of the adventure in The Phantom Pain.

Graphics Don’t Get Worse With Time

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I was reading a review for NBA Live 14 back when it launched where the writer described what he considered to be a poorly rendered crowd of fans. His descriptor for this poor representation was “[t]he crowd looks PS3-ish”. It was a pretty odd choice of words, considering that PS4 and Xbox One were barley out of their boxes. at that point. Clearly, by comparison there are some notably big differences between last-gen’s systems and today’s current boxes, but when I look at my PS3 and 360 games, I still see some beautiful, intricate graphics. I also feel the same way about GameCube, PSOne, Nintendo 64, SNES, Genesis, NES, and every other system’s graphics that has ever come out. What was good will always be good, so long as a person knows how to appreciate what’s on the screen in front of them.

The easiest way to think about this is remembering that when any system is in its prime, there are good looking games, and bad looking ones. No console has uniformly spectacular graphics across the spectrum of its titles. Twilight Princess on Wii looked a thousand times better than M&Ms Racing, for example. Particular titles represent the pinnacle of what can be achieved graphically on a console. Yet, the vast majority of video game journalists and critics are quick to dismiss what came before because of how shiny and new the graphics look on the latest generation of consoles. To say that game A doesn’t look good anymore because game B came along on the new system is a ridiculous oversimplification.

Video games suffer from this mindset in particular because of the industry’s ties to technology. Tech moves forward, always, with the idea to make the next new device far more advanced and better than the old. This leads people to categorize what’s old as inferior or lacking, which is totally unfair. Other mediums of art and entertainment embrace what came before. No one is slamming cave paintings or Jane Eyre in their respective communities, yet with video games there’s always some upstart ready to come along and say how a particular classic game isn’t all it’s made out to be.

Ocarina of Time is still every bit as nuanced and visually fascinating as it was in 1998. The vivid pinks of the sky as it transitioned to night, the serenity of the Forest Temple, the frightful depths of the Bottom of the Well, and a hundred other locations and experiences are timeless examples of what Nintendo 64 was capable of. The reason being that within the confines of the limitations of that hardware, Ocarina remains a work of brilliance. There were a hundred Superman 64s, but Ocarina was in a class of its own. Saying Ocarina is ugly now demonstrates a complete and utter lack of appreciation for what made the game so beloved to begin with.

Classic games shouldn’t only be playable if they’ve been upscaled to HD or completely remade. These games resonated with players for a reason when they first launched, and there’s no reason someone shouldn’t be just as absorbed playing them today. So go and bask in the waters of Wave Race 64, feel the rush of air as you swoop through the skies in Ratchet & Clank, and feel the chill of the snow in Metal Gear Solid. The good games will always be beautiful, because art never goes bad.

Coping With Videogame ADD

I’d been aware of the problem for a while now, but the severity of it didn’t hit me until I started flipping through the Activity Log (a piece of internal software that monitors your playtime) on my 3DS. Sonic the Hedgehog 2, 0:01, Donkey Kong, 0:01, NES Open Golf, 0:01, PICROSS e2, 0:02, and so on for a number of titles as I scrolled from the bottom upwards. What my 3DS’ Activity Log revealed was what I’ve known for a while. I have videogame ADD.

As someone who has sat and played through hundreds of games, read dozens of books, and read hundreds of comics, I know that I’m more than capable of sitting still and paying attention. I mean, I sit and write blogs on a regular basis, so Cave Story should be no problem! What I’ve come to believe is that the root of my problem is this new, digital age we’re living in.

With resources like the eShop, PSN, and XBox Live, there are thousands of games at the tips of consumers’ fingers. Throw in the plethora of mobile games across tablets and smartphones, and the options multiply exponentially. It’s staggering just how many games a person can have on a single device these days. My 3DS alone has upwards of 60-70 downloaded titles stuffed into the various folders on its desktop. While these digital marketplaces are incredible outlets for classic games and smaller titles that would languish as physical releases, it’s splintering my ability to ingest and enjoy each and every title.

Being torn between Super Mario Land 2 and Attack of the Friday Monsters! is a bit of a first world problem, of course, but honestly, as a videogame enthusiast it really does suck. It’s sort of like suffering through a pixelated version of buffet syndrome; the wealth of options becomes more constricting than freeing because there’s too much to choose from. There is a plus side to my little conundrum, though; conservation.

With each new Pokemon game that comes out, I buy both versions at launch. Part of me is just being a collector, but the other part is looking forward to beating one version and saving the other for some unspecified point in the future. I love knowing that I have a great game to fall back on later when the mood strikes me; it’s like an electronic safety net. With the frustration of great variety comes the luxury of being able to focus on the games I really want to play and saving others for later. Maybe I was quick to judge my gaming ADD as a problem!

All kidding/positives aside, the main negative of my situation is bouncing between games really kills the rhythm of each one. Videogames,not unlike books or movies, are meant to be enjoyed as a singular experience. Spielberg didn’t intend for Schindler’s List to be viewed in pieces along with Seinfeld re-runs, nor did Dumas intend for you to split reading duties between The Count of Monte Cristo and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. While I don’t think every game is necessarily expecting this sort of investment of a person’s time and attention, I do think that some titles require dedication to see it through in order to fully appreciate the creators’ intent. Honestly, there’s no way to properly appreciate a game like BioShock if its being played intermittently between play sessions of Angry Birds Star Wars and Pokemon White 2.

This whole situation makes me think of the dying art of album listening. With things like iTunes out in the world, a lot of people now simply download a single song as opposed to entire albums. It would be impossible to appreciate the intricacies of an album like Soundgarden’s Superunknown if all you hear is Fell On Black Days. The artists sort their music into a specific order with the intention of the listener hearing the songs the way they want them to. A lot of radio stations will play Green Day’s Jaded and Brain Stew together because there’s no real gap between them on the album, for example. Without taking in an album as a whole, the finer details are ultimately lost. The same is true, to me, for videogames.

So while the idea of gaming ADD might be unique to myself, I have the feeling some other people might suffer from it, too. To them I say, never fear, because there’s always a way. I tend to play games in accordance with the level of anticipation I have before release and/or what genre it is. In order to tackle the troubles I’ve been experiencing, I try to stick with the genre I’m most in the mood for and play any neglected games that match it. RPG time? Then pull out Mario & Luigi and have at it, and so on. No matter what, though, I think we should all take the time to play our games to completion and walk away with whatever we were supposed to feel from them. With that, I’m finally going to go see how Sonic Adventure ends!