Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Not dead yet!

I'm currently in the middle of studies and will be on hiatus for a little while. I need to re-think how I'm going to structure this blog but in the meantime, I just thought I'd post and let you guys know that I haven't abandoned this blog and it will evolve soon enough. I just really want to make sure I'm on the right track with school for now. Once I know the ropes I'll be back and hopefully this blog will take off again.
Thanks for following and for your patience! <3

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memory Card #2: Team Ico part 1

I wouldn't be very credible as an art and story-centric video game blogger if I didn't mention at least one of Team Ico's games. And considering the release of the HD edition of both their PS2 masterpieces is coming up this year, as well as their newest installment Last Guardian, I thought I should cover another game that has helped shape my perception of storytelling in games. (Sidenote: Since there's much to be discussed about this wonderful game company, this will be the first of a series of articles. This article will focus mostly on Ico, while the next will most likely be more about Shadow of the Colossus)

Much like Prince of Persia (4), Ico didn't receive a very big round of applause from all gamers when it was released, despite it's big ambitions and exquisite art direction. Team Ico have since become a cult-gaming phenomenon known for their minimal, elegant and quiet games. Shadow of Colossus was (in my opinion) Japan's answer to God of War with a character questing vast lands and fighting huge, ancient Colossi for which the game was named after.

I was relatively late in discovering Ico, which is a shame to admit. However, this did not affect my affinity for it in the least. In fact, if anything, it secured its place as a favorite that much more, because it proved that despite its aging, it was a timeless piece of work that only became more poignant with the passing of time.

My family had a copy of Ico laying around that we'd found for very cheap somewhere. I'd tried to start a file in it once back in, oh, 2003 was it? I was still in the early years of high school. Even then, something about the quiet elegance of it's minimalism stirred interest in me. In some ways, it reminded me of the more dark aspects of Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea novels. But I hadn't the attention span, or the time between homework assignments (curse you, principles of math!) to sit and play through even the very first of the puzzles.

2009, my family had already played and loved Shadow of the Colossus dearly. Yet, although it was only the spiritual successor to Ico, it felt as though there was a missing piece in Ico that one had to play through to discover. I'd always felt guilty that I had never finished the game and so, I ventured back to the old castle where Ico fatefully met Yorda in search of it.

Team Ico has a knack for creating dream-like worlds that seem to have arisen out of the debris of ancient times. Playing through one of their games feels like witnessing a firsthand account of legendary folklore that has been passed down through the eras. It's like bedtime stories for adults. There's a subtlety to their storytelling that is lost on many. A fine interweaving of shadow and light, much is left up to the player to imagine and ponder upon. Nothing is simply right or wrong in the stories of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. There's a moral ambiguity which is refreshingly gray.

Another thing that is always astounding and humbling is the vast and monumental scale employed in their environments. Ico set the tone for the company, with it's genuine exploration and desolate locales. It's duality of hopefulness/hopelessness.

The final boss battle against Yorda's mother, The Queen is a wonderful case in point as a friend of mine once mentioned. You're fighting against this large, nameless, menacing entity as a scrawny little boy with horns and a sword that he's lugging around that's the length of his body. You can barely swing the weapon and it keeps getting knocked from Ico's hands as The Queen tries to turn you to stone. Yet no matter how many times you get knocked down, or how many near-misses you get, Ico manages to best the Queen, though still at some cost to himself.

The biggest whoop about Team Ico's games is that they make every part of themselves a work of art. Chief developer Fumito Ueda, even went so far as to reference fine art history with his own painting for the cover art of the Euro-release of the game. The cover looks like this 

And is a sort of tribute to the surrealist painter Giorgio Chirico who painted The Nostalgia Infinite


Fumito Ueda's background in fine art really lends a certain edge to his games. And what's lovely is that he's not afraid to show it. In a gaming market that's 90% about flash and bang, Ueda's understated yet poignant approach is a breath of fresh air. Many key game developers in the industry still draw inspiration from Ico today and it's easy to see why. The game is to its industry what Lawrence of Arabia is to the Hollywood industry. A reference point on how to do an epic game, and how to do it very well. It was the first game to completely envelop the player in it's unique world. A lot of games up until that point were simply about experimenting with the simple Super Mario A-to-B objective. Ico blew that out of the water with a huge, richly imagined, interactive world that could be explored to its limits. Its easy to see how video game developers like Hideo Kojima, Eiji Aonuma and Jordan Mechner would cite Ico as a huge inspiration for games such as Metal Gear Solid, Prince of Persia: Snads of Time and Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.  In regards to the last, without even having known the creator's intentions it was easy to see the parallels in both design and story, from meeting a ghostly vision of Princess Zelda in an abandoned castle to the way that castle was re-imagined in the Twilight Realm.

Team Ico has made a landmark in the industry and I guarantee that if you appreciate artwork in a videogame that Ico will be a must have/must play on your list.

Let's meet at the next Save Point!

P.S. I may edit this later and add a few points (and more pictures) I may have forgotten. I thought it was about time I stopped messing around with this post and just throw it out there! 

P.P.S. If anyone recognizes images of Ico they might've used on their blog, please notify me and I'll gladly credit you! I was an idiot and forgot to note where I saved the images from.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Happy Aside

I've been absent awhile, but I thought I should link this to get it more exposure (however little that may be at this point, ha ha!).

Apparently, Zelda: Skyward Sword is inspired by the impressionists' paintings, specifically Paul C├ęzanne. Fine art inspiration is pretty much the reason why I made this blog. I absolutely love these kinds of connections. Mostly because I'm such a sucker for video games that unabashedly go out of their way to create a specific atmosphere. Video games should be fearless. The ones that are (not always, but often times) usually the better ones, in my opinion. Anyways, here's some related linkage...meanwhile I need to finish my Team Ico post.

Kill Screen - Visual Games - Another Legend of Zelda 

Kotaku - Zelda Skyward Sword Is Inspired By...dead French painters?

Let's meet at the next Save Point!

P.S. First post of 2011, whoo!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Saved Data #2: Prince of Persia (4)

 Huh. Deja Vu. I could've sworn I just wrote an impression of Prince of Persia.

Please stay with me, I swear this won't be (too) long. And if it is, there's lots pretty pictures to look at! I just figured that while I was on a roll I should post this in relation to some of the elements I talked about loving in one of the first of this franchise. I know there's Sands of Time (which I have managed to play a little of), but I haven't been able to get a hold of a copy for myself and Warrior Within didn't really cut it for me.
What I love about this Prince of Persia game is the attention to detail. And the new spins on the classic parts of the game's storyline. The turbaned Prince returns and much like the old Prince of the 1989-1990 version is a vagabond. 

I felt a wave of nostalgia playing as this Prince for sure! The Princess (Elika) was a nice addition as the Prince's bantering companion AI and despite a few cheap-ass spots that gave me trouble, is not as head-bashingly annoying as some NPCs that we're forced to be paired up with in games such as this. The tag-team element that Elika brings to the table is a lot of fun.
 Did I mention witty banter? There's tons of chemistry between her and The Prince and it was refreshing to see a couple of characters who progressively got to know each other over the course of the storyline in the game. Sometimes I feel as though female love interests are just attractive to their male counterparts because they look pretty and need saving. Not that Elika doesn't need some saving, but the nice twist is that sometimes (okay, a lot of the time, if you fudge up as many times as I do during the game's tougher spots) The Prince needs saving too ;)  Plus the idea of spinning in some of Persia's Zoroastrian creation myths of Ormazd and Ahriman was very interesting to me and added a lot of depth to the world the characters inhabit. Ormazd being the god of light that, in the game appears to be silent to the pleas of the land which is plagued by Ahriman, Ormazd's brother and god of darkness. The game's storyline consists of you running around to the lands infected by Ahriman's forces and driving them out via Elika's fancy powers (which have a rather dual aspect as well). The exploration of these lands via the usual acrobatics of the PoP franchise, coupled with lots of crank puzzles and tag-team battling make up more than 90% of the gameplay. Which is quite enjoyable (excepting the  'Epilogue' in the Forgotten Palace).

In fact, Ubi Soft Montreal really pulled out all the stops with this one, regarding art direction and story development. The art is very illustrative and graphic novel-like and even retains some of it's paint-sketch qualities from the lovely concept art on purpose. The sweeping landscapes and varied colour palettes were very refreshing as well. I cannot tell you how relieved I am that there are still game developers out there that are not afraid to use colour in their concepts. Also, the soundtrack is quite lush and cinematic, but in a more subtle way. Jordan Mechner's love of Old Hollywood adventure movies definitely shows a lot here.
There were a few rough edges (particularly story-wise) that bugged me quite a lot, such as the redundancy of certain levels. Particularly the ones with a lot of crank puzzles. They're innovative at first until you realize that there's so many of them. It's not enough to knock the love I have for this supposed reboot of the series.  I think it's biggest downfall for me was the double cliffhanger ending (I know mostly everyone's played the game, but I want to mention as few spoilers as possible anyway) which seemed to me like a way to get a couple extra bucks out of the player. The so-called 'Epilogue' of the game that you can purchase on the Playstation Store was mostly just a big ol' rehash of game play and nothing else new save the new location of The Forgotten Palace. The DS game (the one with the chibi version of the Prince) is independent as far as I know and it's debateable whether or not they will finish off this storyline. However, I don't surf the net as much as I used to these days and I may have missed a post somewhere about there being a continuation of this incarnation of the series. So far all I've seen is reports on Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands.
So if you weren't as into the Warrior Within cycle and are looking for a story-driven, beautifully rendered game, check out Prince of Persia (4). It's worth your time. Very short too, which can be a drawback for some, but honestly sometimes you need a short game. Especially if you don't have too much free time on your hands. This is (excluding some of the later levels) a relaxing and inspiring addition to the series.

Similar Games: Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, any of the team Ico games, any of the Vanillaware games.
(All images referenced from Creative Uncut)

Let's meet at the next Save Point!