Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Assassin's Creed: Liberation and Dido Elizabeth Belle

As I have a ton of homework to attend to today (and have caught a nasty cold), here's a very short post.

I finished Assassin's Creed: Liberation last week and found it rather good! I hope they port it to PS3, the mechanics of the game felt as if they were struggling with the PSVita. It felt like it was a bit big for a handheld game. More on that later.

Here's a random observation I stumbled across. I was studying for my eighteenth century literature class the other day and found the portrait on the right included in the textbook. The mixed lady in that painting is Dido Elizabeth Belle, niece of Lord Mansfield, the Lord Justice of the Peace who served on the James Somersett case in eighteenth century England. She was apparently treated almost as an equal in the household and was friends with Elizabeth Murray (the other lady in the painting below). Although Dido Elizabeth Belle is not the only case of a mixed race girl in the eighteenth century, I feel her unique position within her household and having been raised as a lady must've been one of the rarer instances. I wouldn't be surprised if she was one of the historical figures that inspired Aveline's character. I'd like to look into this further, not just for the video game's sake, but also because it's an interesting historical study in itself.

Let's meet at the next save point!

Image Credits: Creative Uncut, The Brimstone Butterfly

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

There can be no Death...

Almost immediately after finishing Darksiders, my family stumbled upon a copy of Darksiders II at a local pawn shop. Score! Now I have more reason to gush over this series, which may sadly not see at least one more sequel due to some messy business over at THQ. Or if it does see a sequel, it won't be under the care of creative director Joe Madureira.

First off, I'd like to say that I have a favorite Horseman, but I can't. For one, I haven't met all of the Horsemen and for another I find that the writing is tight enough in both games (so far) as to have me connect with both War and Death's plights equally. What made War compelling to me is very different from what makes Death compelling. With War, we followed the quest of a classic avenger, with Death we witness a reaper attempting to resurrect life and save his brother.

As I was talking with my sister the other day, she mentioned a point about Death's character that I find very fascinating and quite wonderful. That despite being what he is, and knowing what he's capable of, there's almost a kind of...gentleness that lies beneath the mask. That, to me, makes Death a lot more impressive than just making him a garden-variety bad ass.

Having said that, please don't read me wrong. I'm not someone who believes every tough guy has to have a soft side. Some characters need to be assholes for their respective plotlines to work. I find it just as refreshing to pick up a game that has a cast that includes a few hair-rippingly heartless characters in it, if they are handled deftly. However, I do think that in this particular case, having mentioned archetypes briefly in my last post, that it was a very good decision to make Death multifaceted as a character.

Death (as we experience it and as a concept) is multifaceted. We cannot sum death up in just one aspect. Although we have many ideas of what death is like, none of them have too much concrete proof. Just as War (as a concept) is never as simple as it's superficial level. In Darksiders, many of the characters had already made their mind up about War before he had even officially started his quest. In Darksiders II we see something similar with the Makers interactions with Death. In both cases, it's understandable why characters would have serious misgivings about the horsemen trying to make a difference. War wanting to find the truth and Death trying to restore life? At first it doesn't seem to follow a very logical path, but that's what makes the storyline so interesting. And as cliche as it sounds, if there is no more life on the earth, Death doesn't have as much of a purpose anymore. As with War being called in to play scapegoat for The Council, the untimely apocalypse has upset the balance.

I look forward to playing more of this game, and hope it doesn't end too soon.

Let's meet at the next save point!

All images taken from Creative Uncut

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Lesson Learned from Darksiders

I must confess on two matters regarding the game I’m giving an impression of in this post. First, is that I’m a visually picky gamer. By visually, I mean strictly the artistic style as well as the character and environmental concepts of the game. I don’t so much care if the graphics of a game are not absolutely top-notch. Depending on how strong the narrative of a game is, I can forgive quite a lot in that regard, because sometimes the narrative strength combined with a novel (I swear that was the first word that came to mind, no puns intended) gameplay system will make the experience immersive enough that I forget that the graphics are somewhat unpolished. However, if the concept art for a game doesn’t interest me, sometimes it’ll be enough for me to pass over a game. I know this is very shallow and silly of me, but it’s simply that I want and need a connection to the world of the game I’m gonna spend at least several hours exploring in. If the visual style is not to my taste, it can be more distracting than it is disappointing and I find distractions very annoying in gaming.

Darksiders was almost a game I passed on experiencing and I feel very ashamed of that. I think this game taught me a lesson about not judging games solely on their initial visual pull. When I first saw a demo for the game that my dad had downloaded awhile back, I was quite detached from the concept design. That’s not to say I disliked it, it was just that games like Gears of War and God of War had kind of brought about this norm of having gorilla-like protagonists that are gigantic in proportions and so exaggerated that it put me in mind of a very archetypal comic book style. That's not to say I can't enjoy very stylized art, but this particular kind of stylized art was not very interesting to me. I tend to dislike it when characters have a sort of template feel to them, the male characters have a general bodytype that they all share, more or less: chiseled square/rectangular jawlines, hugely-set shoulders, boulder sized fists and barrel chests, to name a few traits. The female characters also have their own template, but it's not even worth running through that list, because it's pretty obvious what's emphasized and what isn't there.

That aside however, if I had dismissed Darksiders simply because I didn't immediately like The Horseman War's design or the overall style, I would've missed on so much: the excellent world-building, the tight dialogue and the unique blending of different theologies and mythologies, not to mention an amazing soundtrack. This game is like the new Soul Reaver saga for me. There's a very cinematic feel to the action, that starts from the very start of the game and only grows stronger throughout. At first I just tuned in a couple times begrudgingly while my dad played the game, and eventually found myself taking up the controller to defeat a couple bosses, explore the expansive environments and help solve some of the challenging puzzles there are to be had in the game.

The art style grew on me eventually, as well. It reminded me of when I used to watch Batman and Robin: The Animated Series and Gargoyles as a kid. Speaking of those cartoons, the voice cast for Darksiders is fantastic as well, including Liam O' Brien, Mark Hamill, and Phil LaMarr among other actors/actresses of note. The style upon further inspection, had a great charm that was both thoughtful (I especially love that these war-torn characters have many visible battle scars) and nostalgic. I'm also highly impressed with the fact that almost all of the creative work was handled by Joe Madureira.

Alright, second confession. If a game inspires me to research the mythology and theology behind the world it’s created, it’ll usually become a game of interest to me. I love to sharpen my research skills, especially when it is concerning things that I love, and if I've learned anything over the past few weeks I've played Darksiders it's that I have an unabashed love of the world they've created. I want to devote another post to the world building they've done, specifically.

I'm unfortunately a little late in making this post again, because I'm still trying to get a handle on what my school schedule's going to be like. I have creative writing this semester so it's going to be a bit of a challenge getting used to posting here regularly. I will make an effort to put something up each Tuesday regardless though, even if it's a couple of lines.

Alright, that's a quick one, but I may go back to add on more to this tomorrow.

Let's meet at the next save point!


 Images from Creative Uncut

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Some sidenotes on Fumito Ueda and Team ICO

As I might have already mentioned, I am fascinated by games that aren't afraid to explore the different possibilities of presenting narrative and concept art. Particularly, when games reference literary and  fine arts history, without being pretentious about it. Fumito Ueda, the director of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, is such a case in point. He's managed to mix artistic qualities into his games without compromising gameplay. In fact, as I've already touched upon in my first Team Ico post, he's created a unique aesthetic that many game developers still draw inspiration from even today. What's even more interesting is how this Team Ico aesthetic has affected not just those within the game industry, but also those in varying creative development circles as well. Guillermo del Toro admits that Team Ico's games are part of his influences as a director and John Greenwood of Radiohead considers Ico one of his top ten games.

I love it when I stumble upon bits of trivia like this because often I find there's a tendency to think that games are very separate from forms of creative entertainment. And they are, to an extent, being that not many creative entertainment industries (like films, to use a tired example) have their audience take control of the narratives being presented to them and directly interact with the narrative. Although that envelope gets pushed regularly now. I recently caught up on an issue of Comics & Games that discussed games that are borderline movies with minimal game play. Asura's Wrath, Dear Esther and Journey were the main examples used here. I confess I have yet to play Asura's Wrath because I heard that you have to buy the ending and I've been boycotting it as I already have enough DLC from Assassin's Creed and Batman: Arkham City to deal with for the moment. Dear Esther I actually hadn't heard of until reading the article and I may check that one out in the future and Journey I've only just now gotten my hands on and I love it to bits....blagh! I apologize for the messiness of this article. I'm rambling because I'm actually flying by the seat of my pants writing this. I usually plan my articles slightly more before I dive in, but this week I was more concerned about meeting my new years promise that I would start regularly posting to this blog.

Getting back to the earlier point, games are unique from other forms of creative entertainment but they don't exist in a vacuum. Games are influenced by other creative mediums as much as other entertainment industries draw inspiration from them. Many, many fantasy MMORPGs are heavily influenced by sword and sorcery fantasy literature. Suda 51 references American cult classics like Evil Dead and Fumito Ueda brought his fine arts' sensibilities to his game design. It hardly needs to be said that scores of movies helped Kojima form the singular experience of the Metal Gear Solid universe.

There's probably many more examples that I'm missing right now, but I guess that's what happens when you leave the updating of your blog to the last minute like I have. I have no excuses this week. I apologize once again, but at least I'm keeping my promise. Next week I'll have to shoot higher than that.

Let's meet at the next save point!

P.S. Definitely have to proofread this one later on...

Image from Forbidden-Lands