Tag Archives: videogame

Tomb Raider II, Level 3: Bartoli’s Hideout

A Note on Format

Oh TR fans, you have no idea what I’ve been through to bring you this post. What follows is a sordid tale of technical woe; if you don’t care about that and just want to read about the level (which is understandable), please skip to the next section.

As much as I appreciate being allowed to use Katie’s excellent screen shots, I decided it was time to buckle down and take my own. Sadly, the Playstation Vita doesn’t allow you to take screenshots of non-Vita games (why?), so I had to change systems. I bought Tomb Raider II for the PC, thinking this would make life easier; oh, how wrong I was.

First, I needed to set up a controller. I’ve never been a PC gamer, and the chances of my actually completing TRII with keyboard controls were about nil. Fortunately, we already had a Steam controller, except I couldn’t get the buttons to map right. If you’re using the Steam Overlay (which gives you access to general Steam features no matter what game you’re playing, and is on by default), the action button is reserved for Steam functions, so I couldn’t use it to have Lara grab and fire her weapons. Obviously, I was not going to fight about 20 years worth of muscle memory with a different button configuration, so I had to turn off Steam Overlay, then I was able to map the buttons to the classic Playstation configuration. Except, without the Steam Overlay, I lost the ability to take screenshots within Steam; more on this later.

I was doing okay with the Steam controller, until the lack of a dpad became a problem. Lara just kept getting stuck in corners, and the analog stick liked making her turn in circles instead of setting up for a running jump. So I had to get a separate USB controller, with a dpad…which would have been great, except the game didn’t know that the dpad was there. Eventually my husband resorted to what I can only assume was evil sorcery to get the game to realize that the dpad exists in this reality, and play resumed as normal. Except pressing “s” to take a screenshot, a feature of TRII, wasn’t working for some reason (no idea why), so I had to resume my general method of taking screenshots on this machine.

This wouldn’t be a big deal, except I happen to be running Windows via Bootcamp on a Macbook, so my screenshot command is the somewhat arduous shift+alt+F11. Three buttons, which makes it impossible to take a screenshot with one hand on the controller. This means that when I want to take a screenshot while holding the look button (or any other button), I have to keep one hand on the controller, one hand pushing shift+alt, and use my big toe to push F11. Most of the screenshots in this post were taken in this manner.

If you put aside the fact that I still need to do a gymnastics move worthy of Lara herself to take a screenshot, I have a workable system now, but uh…is it just me, or was this all a helluva lot harder than it should have been? It feels like I’ve taken all the frustration and tedium inherent in the early games of this series and tripled it, all in a uniquely personal way. For a moment during this whole process, I believe I began to hate Steam, Tomb Raider, and even Lara herself, but that’s all passed now. I think. Probably. Mostly I just hate the Steam controller. But hey, I can take screenshots now, as long as I don’t pull a muscle in my thigh!

Thank you to those of you who have joined me for this sad tale of trying to play old video games in 2018; we now return to your regularly scheduled level write-up.

Raiding the Clubhouse

Ironically, considering everything I went through to take screenshots, there wasn’t much in this level that I wanted to take a picture of. Venice is a much prettier level, and a more iconic one t’boot, but I find this one more fun to play. We’re inside Marco Bartoli’s personal stronghold, so the “where are all the civilians?” concern no longer applies; besides, we see more than enough muscular henchman for the area to feel populated. The only really strong, memorable idea in the level is the chandelier-hopping sequence, but somehow, even when you’re solving typical, bread-and-butter Tomb Raider puzzles, there’s something appealing about this level to me.

Despite my enjoyment of this level, I think this might here might be the dumbest looking trap in all of  the Tomb Raider games. These sword-swinging robots just look totally out of place in Bartoli’s mansion. Makes me feel extra-stupid when I time it wrong and get Lara cut in half by one of them.

Maybe it’s because the difficulty balance finally feels right– we may still be fighting a ton of gun-toting baddies, but it’s a lot easier to take them on in this terrain than in the watery canals of Venice. I think TRII starts out a bit too hard, and this level is where the difficulty eases up a bit and allows you to get your bearings. The level also strikes a good balance of giving you decent-sized areas to explore at your own pace, while still having linear parts to move things along briskly.

When I first played this game as a teen I didn’t realize that you could totally bypass these blade traps by jumping into the water; now it seems very obvious. I hate this burner trap though, it’s like a redux of the Palace Midas burner trap only with no grandeur.

There’s also something kind of fun about knowing that you’re in Bartoli’s house, jumping on his furniture and taking his stuff. It’s like the guy posted a “No girls Allowed in Treehouse!” sign on his front door, and Lara just ripped it off and went through without a care in the world.

Library Raider

This game has a pretty sparse script, so we don’t get to learn a whole lot about Bartoli; we probably learn more about him from exploring his home in this one level than anywhere else in the game. I know he’s a crazy, power-hungry cultist dude who just wants to become a dragon, but I’m beginning to think the guy might have hidden depths; no one who has such an awesome library can possibly be all bad.

The whole sequence of climbing up library shelves, shooting out windows, frolicking in the garden and canal outside, then going back into the library to solve more puzzles is an example of the kind of thing that this game does really well; putting several different types of surroundings adjacent to each other, and letting you jump around between them before any of them have a chance to wear out their welcome. All of the TR games do that to an extent, but when TRII is firing on all cylinders, it’s really good at making you leave and reenter the same space about 40 times without even minding that you’re doing it.

At one point I screwed up the resolution and went to widescreen, making Lara look like she just gained 50 pounds. Lara dear, I know those Italian pastries are delicious, but please put down the cannoli! We have work to do.

There’s one thing I want to call attention to here, something that I’ve never understood: the uzis hidden in a pool of water towards the end of the level. Why is this not a secret? Like, you should pick up a dragon, hear a little “ding!” sound and then get the uzis, but no, they’re just there, lying on the ground, as if this is a totally normal pickup. Then when you get the actual Jade Dragon, all you get is shotgun shells or whatever. It’s like the uzis are openly mocking the entire concept of secrets, and I’m not sure how to feel about this. Respect the sanctity of the secret, developers.

One more thing: you know that last enemy, the guy who shoots you from the balcony right after you blow up part of Bartoli’s house? I think he owes us a pickup, at least some automatic pistol ammo or something, and it’s morally wrong that he doesn’t give you anything. Seriously, I shimmied all the way over to that dumb balcony for nothing? Lame.

I feel bad that I wasted a small medi-pack, but there are just too many of those gun-toting guys in the library and I haven’t memorized all the secret ways you can ambush them without taking damage yet. Hopefully I can get through Opera House without using every single medipack I have.

Best: The entire ballroom area, jumping from chandeliers and all. Obviously I’m keen on the library too, but the library is infested with an annoying amount of enemies; the ballroom has just enough opposition to keep you on your toes, but you can primarily focus on solving the puzzle. See, if they made the game nowadays they would probably make the chandeliers swing and stuff in accordance with the laws of physics, but I actually like it better this way.

Worst: That stupid burner trap. I know it’s actually quite easy if you know how you’re supposed to do it, but it plays on the seasoned TR-player’s desire to turn everything into a running jump, and that’s just not cool. Plus it’s just kind of plopped randomly in the middle of the level and doesn’t have a good reason for being there, as opposed to the similar fire trap in Palace Midas.

This is why no one comes to nice parties at your house, Marco. Because you have a fire hazard right in front of your ballroom.

Rating: Three Uzi Clips out of Five

A fun level to play, but it lacks the big ideas and beautiful views of the best Tomb Raider levels, landing it somewhere in the middle.

Up Next: Opera House

So named because completing this level always takes me longer than an entire opera, complete with Valkyries.

Summer 2018 Anime Season Preview

While last season was absolutely loaded with big-name franchises, this one only has a few; most of the shows listed here are new to anime. Because of that, anime fans seem a lot less excited for this season than they were in the spring, and maybe they’re right to be? I think a lot of people are secretly hoping for a severely sub-par anime season, so they won’t be watching much and can devote the time to catching up on their anime backlog.

You know what though? It’s never going to happen. Even if this season is horrible, I just don’t believe anyone is going to get around to finally sitting down to watch Tatami Galaxy, or the second season of Arakawa Under the Bridge. It’s probably just as well; I hear tell that if you ever finish watching everything in your anime backlog, you get transferred to another world with nothing but your smartphone and a box of Strawberry Pocky, and who needs that? I wouldn’t be caught dead in another world without Almond Crush Pocky.

I’ve used English names where appropriate; in most cases, these shows haven’t been licensed yet and do not have official English titles.

Attack on Titan, Season 3

The biggest name of the season, and consequently the show it would make the most sense to cover here at Otakusphere. Unfortunately, I jumped ship on AoT somewhere in the middle of season 2; I respect a lot of the things that it does, but I just don’t enjoy it anymore. When a story has a tone of not just darkness, but the kind of oppressive bleakness that AoT has, I think it benefits from being concise. This story has gotten dragged out past my capacity to care about this particular world.

If you’re psyched for the return of the show, hey, more power to you; I wish I could be on the same page. But unless I hear that the Survey Corps found a beautiful, Titan-free Utopian city with infinite food, where Eren and Mikasa can get some much-deserved chill time, I’m not watching this.

Free!-Dive to the Future (Season 3)

Yaay, a returning third season of a show that I’m actually up to date on!  This doesn’t happen often. Free! is really the perfect summer show. You could say it’s all pretty visuals and light on substance, but considering what a refreshing take on masculinity the show often displays, that may not even be true. What I particularly love about this show is that it makes me get off my ass and go swimming…like, I’ll be sitting around the house, about to be lazy all day, then I’ll think of how beautiful the water always looks in Free! and actually go outside. I don’t know if it’s even possible to watch Free! without jumping into the nearest pool immediately afterwards.

The thing is, much as I love it, it’d be a pretty boring show to cover episodically…unless I go to town commenting on the manservice. Then I’ll feel like a dirty old lady, but is that such a horrible thing? Is the anime blogosphere even ready for Dirty Old Lady coverage of Free!? Probably not! But now that the idea has occurred to me, I don’t think I can resist.

Everyone who isn’t a fujoshi, go hide. Find the deepest, darkest cave you can find, and hibernate. Make like Green Day and only Wake Up When September Ends, you don’t want to have to see this.

Gintama: Silver Soul Arc, Season 2

I mention Gintama out of a sense of obligation, because it’s a very major franchise that must have a whole lot of fans. However, it’s one of few big shounen franchises that I have no familiarity with whatsoever. I may not have seen every episode of Naruto, Bleach or One Piece, but I’ve seen a bunch; Gintama, not even one episode. Furthermore, I don’t even remember talking to another fan who was into Gintama. It’s always been weirdly invisible to me.

This anime has been airing in different forms since 2005, so it’s not like I’m going to catch up between now and the start of the season. But I feel a sense of what I can only call Gintama Guilt; as an aniblogger, I should at least know what this show is. Maybe I’ll just watch the first episode of this season and then try to make sense of it. I’ll be like those movie reviewers who went to see Avengers: Infinity War and then complained that it made no sense because they hadn’t seen the previous 15 movies…only in a funny, self-aware sort of way? Maybe this is a bad idea.

Overlord, Season 3

This series is a member of the elite club of “Wilson’s shows,” AKA shows my husband will sometimes watch on Saturday morning while I’m still asleep. So I’m not that familiar with it, but I have woken up in the middle of it, and let me tell you: that’s disorienting. Plus, whenever the main dude says his own name, I always think he’s saying “Own goal” and for some reason find that hilarious.

This is another one I won’t be watching– well, I’ll probably see like 5-10 minutes of random episodes while I’m semi-comatose on the couch before coffee, but that doesn’t really count. I do think it’s worth noting that in a season swamped with isekai shows, Overlord stands out as having a clear identity; there just aren’t that many shows where the skull-headed leader spends half of every episode lecturing his legions of minions on the day’s agenda.

Marvel Future Avengers, Season 2

Buh, what? Before putting pen to paper to write this season preview, I had no idea Marvel Future Avengers existed period, let alone that it was returning. Apparently it’s a kids show that hasn’t been too well-received. I wonder: does it deserve all the bad ratings it’s gotten, or is it getting slammed in the reviews because a bunch of adult Marvel fans are trying to enjoy something aimed at 6-year-olds? No idea.

Thinking back to how the X-Men anime turned out, it seems like these Marvel-to-anime productions never go that well. I guess this might have some use if you’re still hyped from Infinity War and need to get your Captain America fix from something…or if you’re six years old. Do I have many six-year-old readers? Kiddos, if you’re out there, please do not read my upcoming posts on Free! S3, okay? Kindly avert your innocent eyes.

Banana Fish

This manga is an institution. I remember hearing about it as far back as the ’90s, although I never got around to reading it. Looking at the description, it really doesn’t look like my cup of tea, but…I kind of want to try it anyway. I think I’ve always been subliminally impressed at how cool “Banana Fish” sounds when you say it out loud; it’s euphonic.

Stories about ruthless teen-aged killers and their evil mob bosses usually don’t hold my attention for too long, but you never know; it all depends on how the story is told. Maybe there’s a good reason I’ve been hearing about Banana Fish for decades now; time to find out.

How NOT to Summon A Demon Lord

One of the aforementioned flood of Isekai shows hitting this summer, this one sounds pretty typical. I’m pretty sure we have a few light novels for this series, but I haven’t read them yet. I could actually read them, then talk about what changes they’ll make to the anime adaptation like a knowledgeable person, but let’s be honest: that’s not going to happen.

The premise involves an awkward gamer guy enslaving (albeit accidentally) two hot girls, so expect the usual suspects to be freaked out by the fact that male fantasies exist. I’ll give it an episode; it’s certainly not being made with me in mind, but it at least has the potential to be funny. If it’s not bringing the humor though, I can’t see why I’d continue. I guess it’s possible that it could have an incredibly interesting fantasy world or something, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Back Street Girls

I usually don’t do this, but this is one time where I think the capsule description should be included in its entirety:

A group of 3 yakuza failed their boss for the last time. After messing up an important job, the boss gave them 2 choices: Honorably committing suicide, or go to Thailand to get a sex reassignment surgery in order to become “female” idols. After a gruesome year long training to become idols, they successfully debut, with overwhelming popularity, much to their dismay. This is where their tragedy truly begins.

…Uh….

….where to start here….

It’s like you rubbed a magic lamp and said “Genie, please give me more representation of trans people in anime!” only to find out too late that this wasn’t a friendly, Disney-style genie; no, this was a true djinn, a proud and vengeful creature of fire and air that has existed since before the beginning of time, slumbering for strange eons, and now it’s insanely pissed at you for waking it up. So it grants your wish, but only in a way that’s more painful than killing you outright; that’s the only explanation for how this show exists.

It’s theoretically possible that this could plumb some interesting gender-bending territory, but most of the people who would be really interested in that sort of thing will probably be so put off by the premise that they won’t stick around long enough to find out. See, now I’m not sure if I want this to be good or if I want it to be terrible; defending a seemingly offensive show that actually has some redeeming value is my typical MO, but it this case….maybe it would be better if it was just God-awful from the getgo, and I never had to think about it again.

I have to try an episode of it though, because…because I just have to. Because otherwise, I’ll never believe that this was a real anime. What kind of whacked-out, fringe studio thought this would be a good adaptation to add to their catalog? It’s got to be some obscure, no-name, little…oh…oh, I see….

It’s J.C. Staff.

That makes a warped kind of sense, actually. J.C. Staff’s output is like a box of chocolates; a box of delicious chocolates that occasionally includes a sheep’s eyeball, for no reason.

Hyakuren no Haou to Seiyaku no Valkyria

One of the aforementioned torrent of isekai shows hitting this season, this one involves a guy who uses his “solar-powered smart phone” to help his allies. Geez, was In Another World with My Smartphone really that popular? Or just a harbinger of things to come?

This fantasy world appears to be Norse-flavored, so we’ll see if dipping into that rich mythology is enough to make this show stand out from the pack. The only anime that comes to mind that’s done a really good job with Norse mythology is Oh! My Goddess, which is a different genre entirely, so maybe there’s some room for them to do something new here.

Huh, now that I wrote that, now I’m sure there are probably about 30 famous anime that are heavily based on Norse mythology, and I’m just forgetting them all at the moment. If you know of any, remind me in the comments; I’ll feel stupid, but you’ll be spreading valuable knowledge.

Shichisei no Subaru

One of the absolute tsunami of isekai shows hitting this summer, except…I think this one may take place entirely in an MMO, without the MMO becoming “real,” so does that even count as an isekai show anymore? Who makes these rules?

Apparently it deals with someone who died in real life but still exists in the game, and I’m having serious .hack flashbacks. Hey, remember .hack//SIGN? Twenty-six episodes of characters saying “How is it that Tsukasa can’t log out?”, “What do YOU think of Tsukasa?”, “Is Tsukasa alive in the real world?”, “Are you waiting for Tsukasa?” “What does Tsukasa think about the fact that he can’t log out?”, oh my God, it was excruciating. But we all watched it for that gorgeous Yuki Kajiura score, didn’t we? Pretty sure Subaru doesn’t have that going for it.

I’ll give this a shot, although to be honest, I can’t be sure if I’m hoping it’s something like a new .hack or dreading it; like, I don’t want to go through another .hack//SIGN experience, but I kind of feel like it’s something we need every once in a while, like an annual physical or something? It’s hard to explain. I’m just going to have to try to get past the fact that every time someone says “Subaru,” I’m immediately going to think “Emilia-tan! Emilia-tan!”

For those not in the know, that last bit was an in-joke about the anime Re:Zero; yes, while talking about anime, I make dumb jokes about different anime. Because I feel the need to show off that I watch a lot of anime; just having this blog is somehow not enough.

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger

Vampires and werewolves fight each other in the 1930s; this could be fun. However, it’s being done by PA Works, which I do not associate with this kind of material. In fact, even though they just did Uma Musume and that should be my new association, I will always associate this studio with Hanasaku Iroha, a show that was as interesting as watching individual blades of grass grow. Like, they were beautiful pieces of grass, filled with morning dew and reflecting the sunshine and all, but you were still sitting there, watching grass grow.

It would be entertaining if PA Works applied that kind of languid pacing to supernatural creatures beating the tar out of each other, but they probably won’t; it’ll probably be paced appropriately, but just not that exciting. The best thing for this show would be if the vampires turned out to be crazy-ass Hellsing-type vampires, but then it would be so firmly in the horror camp that I wouldn’t want to watch it, so uh…yeah. Probably not one for me, but there’s potential here, at least.

Happy Sugar Life

LB called my attention to this one a few weeks ago, and I’ve been mildly afraid of it ever since. It’s about a teenaged girl who will do anything to protect her (underaged) love interest, including murder. These kinds of stories just don’t appeal to me, and I’m not entirely sure why.

I could say they make me uncomfortable, but it’s not like I’ve ever had an experience in real life that would give me a basis for being any more uncomfortable with this than any other story with a dark edge to it. I could say that I don’t like it because one of the lovers is underage, but a)age tends to be really arbitrary in anime anyway and b)the two girls may not even have sex, or get anywhere near having sex, so I’m not losing any sleep over that.

Basically the only thing that’s of interest to me about this show is the use of the phrase “Happy Sugar Life,” which should win some kind of prize for Most Ironic Title of Summer 2018: Ezo’la, I may not enjoy your show, but as a fan of smart-ass titles, I salute you.

Grand Blue

Remember how I said I was happy to be done with Amanchu!? Apparently I’m not really done with Amanchu!, because this show sounds exactly like a gender-swapped Amanchu!; a scuba diving show featuring a boy who hangs out around his family’s eponymous, diving-based business.

It’s possible this show will hash out it’s own identity, but I’m afraid. I’m afraid that instead of bitching every week that Pikari and Teko aren’t going scuba diving often enough, I’m instead going to be bitching that this kid and his buddies aren’t going scuba diving often enough, and I don’t want to be that person; I don’t want to be the girl always complaining that an anime isn’t doing exactly what she wants. But, gosh-darnit, is it so much to ask for a show about scuba diving to heavily feature scuba diving? IS IT?

In any case, I’m going to do my best to put thoughts of other shows out of my head when I watch this and give Grand Blue a chance to prove itself. Plus, on another level I’m kind of happy there’s going to be another ocean-centric show; just like FREE!, this kind of stuff really belongs in the summer season, after all. But God help me, if they start pulling any magical realism shit mid-season, I’m going to be pissed.

Harakuna Receive

Another summery show, this one focuses on beach volleyball. Typically you would guess that this show would be full of fanservice, via tons of bathing-suit clad babes and convenient camera angles, but I wonder; that’s not a given these days. Lately these shows about female athletes seem to focus on the athletics more seriously than you would expect. How much fan service was there in Uma Musume? Scorching Ping Pong Girls? Keijo!!!!!!!!?…okay, forget Keijo for a second, but still. There’s definitely a trend of some shows being more subtle with the fanservice and leaving the “lewding” to the doujinshi, and I’m wondering if Harakuna Receive will be one of those.

See, now that I’ve said that, this show will probably be 99% bouncing boobs and I’ll feel like an idiot for suggesting otherwise. Still, if it’s all boobs I won’t watch it, but people who enjoy boob anime will have one show they’re into this summer, so it’s all good. I’ll give this a chance to see if they’re going to take the volleyball angle seriously, but I won’t be terribly disappointed if they don’t.

Hanebado!

Another girls’ sports anime, this one about badminton. You know, a few years ago I would have passed over this without a second glance, but now I’m looking forward to it. If Scorching Ping Pong Girls could make ping pong exciting for me, when I have no interest in it, this show can probably do the same thing for badminton.

Come to think of it, whether or not I care about the real-life sport seems to have no bearing on how much I like a sports anime. I couldn’t possibly care less about football, but Eyeshield 21 is one of my favorite series of all time. Hmm, now that I’ve made that connection, I’m kind of hoping Hanebado! will turn out to chronicle the adventures of a girls’s badminton team managed by Satan, but I’ll probably have to settle for a non-hellspawn team. I’ll manage, somehow.

Cells At Work!

Of all the things to anthropomorphize, now red and white blood cells are getting a cuteness makeover. It’s a clever premise, but I feel like it might be unhealthy for me to watch this show; I’ll over-identify with all the different cellular organelles and it’ll start seeping into my daily life.

“Wow, I feel so energetic today, thank you Mitochondria-chan! I’d better eat a good breakfast to keep White Blood Cell-kun strong!” No thanks, I have enough problems overthinking my biology as it is. I approve of the fact that this show is being made in a general sense, because it’s different, but I’m not watching.

Aguu: Tensai Ningyou

This is going to be a dancing anime, which is cool; we don’t get a lot of those. I haven’t seen Welcome to the Ballroom yet, but supposedly that’s basically a shonen sports anime with dancing, so Aguu: Tensai Ningyou may be more artistic. However, instead of just being about dancing, it’s also about little palm-sized spirits and some kind of civil war going on between them: the war between the “Seamstresses” who somehow create these little spirits, and the “Saviors” who…fight them? Dance the tango with them? It’s all a little vague.

I keep thinking about the fact that “seamstress” used to be a codeword for “prostitute,” and I should really put that out of my mind, because that slang hasn’t been used in like 100 years, but I can’t help it. Now I’m imagining all sorts of things that likely have no relevance to this show, and it’s making it hard to focus. I definitely want to give this show a try, but I really have no idea what to expect. If it seems like the anime is inspired Black Swan, it will trigger my deep-seated fear of all things related to Natalie Portman and I’ll have to bail. Hopefully it won’t come to that.

Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro

A girl tries to get to school; mayhem ensues. This could possibly be really clever and fun, but it also could be really repetitive and stupid. It would be great if the obstacles that Chio encountered on her way to school started off mundane and became more and more elaborate over the course of the show, until there’s a full-fledged alien invasion or something getting in her way, but I’m not sure; the fact that one of the scenarios that Chio is going to have to fight is “a sudden urge to go to the bathroom,” does not exactly fill me with confidence.

I’m assuming this is a short, because it’s hard to imagine a full-length anime with this premise, but I’ve been wrong about that before; we’ll see. If if it’s not a short, it might be downright painful to watch; some things are charming in three-minute installments and should never break out of that mold.

High Score Girl

Hell yeah, an anime all about video games circa 1991! I’m excited for this one. I want to remember my childhood, but of course I didn’t grow up in Japan, so it won’t really be my childhood; still, it feels like a good opportunity to remember someone’s childhood.

Remember the ’90s, back when we thought Francis Fukuyama was on to something with his whole “End of History” theory, and we thought life (and video games) were just going to keep getting better and better forever? Well, we were kind of right about the video games part, but damn, things have just gotten dark since the ’90s. Granted, plenty of awful stuff happened during the ’90s too, but we weren’t aware of it at the time, so it sure seemed like the world was becoming a better, safer place every day….

Okay I’m getting too far afield of the anime preview, but I’m really interested in seeing what this anime does. If it focuses on the culture of ’91, that will be really interesting, but even if it only focuses on video game culture specifically, that too appeals to me. I just hope they don’t make the mistake of making a production that feels identical to 2018 shows with a thin overlay of ’90s era style. I want this to be so ’90s that I’m thinking about Pogs, Tamagotchis and the cool jacket that kid in the Crossfire commercials used to wear. Remember that game? I had that game. I bet you’re jealous now!

Phantom in the Twilight

A supernatural cafe in London, full of hot guys, that only opens at night; if you’ve ever read Otakusphere before, then you probably know that they had me at “cafe.”

Seriously, I’m cautiously optimistic about this one. This could be one of those classy occult shows that anime (and seemingly only anime) do so well, like Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits or Mushi-Shi, but that’s far from a guarantee. Studio LINDENFILMS has a kind of odd back catalog of work, but they did make Poco’s Udon World, a lesser-known show that I really liked, so they’ve got some cred in my book. My fear is that there’s going to be too much emphasis on all the mysterious, handsome men, and the show is going to try to get by on attractive character designs instead of good writing.

The thing with mysterious, handsome male characters that writers often screw up is that if you bring them too much to the forefront, they cease being mysterious. They they’re just handsome, which is boring on it’s own. If the hot guy characters remain enigmatic figures in the background, and the story focuses it’s energy elsewhere, this could be a good show. If.

Kyoto Teramachi Sanjou no Holmes

It’s a mystery series that takes place in a coffee shop…oh wait, no it doesn’t. It takes place in an antique shop. Well then, fuck you and the horse you rode in on, show! I only watch coffee shop anime!

Okay, I am capable of watching things that take place in other places of business, I just don’t know if this series sounds that appealing. Whenever I’ve tried to watch an anime mystery show, it’s always been pretty poor– GoSick, God’s Memo Pad, etc. Then again, maybe this’ll be the one with good writing that will make me feel bad for my negative opinions toward mystery shows? The fact that the leads are chasing down the mysteries of these old antiques means that the show does have the potential to be interesting, and even poignant, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Tsukumogami Kashimasu

Another antique shop setting…not really antiques, but miscellaneous household goods, which is close enough. Except, this one is a historical taking place during the Edo period, and the household goods tend to be haunted. I kept getting confused between this show and Kyoto Teramachi Sanjou no Holmes, trying to remember “Which is the show where the items are haunted, and which is the one where they’re worth a lot of money?”

Another show with the potential to fit into that “classy occult” category that I like so much, but it also has potential to be a bit of a snoozefest, I think. It might be entertaining to watch both this one and Kyoto Teramachi Sanjou no Holmes and see which one comes up with better episodic stories about inanimate objects. I might make a spreadsheet.

Senjuushi

Oh no. Oh noooo. It’s a gun anime. It’s a post-apocalyptic dystopia where people are forbidden from owning firearms, and then the spirits of classic guns materialize to fight for the good of the world, or something.

I have to admit, sometimes I have trouble separating a show from how it’s going to be perceived in the Western fandom, which is unfair. Because all I can think about is the complaints this show is going to spawn about “conservative propaganda” and “alt-right talking points,” and I’m already tired of that discussion, and the show hasn’t even started yet.

Look, I’m not saying that the show is going to be any good, or that political criticism is automatically bad, but can we just remember one little thing here? That this show is Japanese, made from a Japanese perspective, and applying American politics to it (especially fringe American politics that aren’t that well known outside of the U.S.) doesn’t make a helluva lot of sense?  Can we let it exist in its own proper context without dragging it into a minefield where it was never meant to survive?

I don’t know, maybe this will actually be fun to watch, but the so-called “discourse” around this show is probably going to make me want to stay far, far away.

Ongaku Shoujo

It’s about c-level idols, and I’m sorry, but isn’t this called Wake Up, Girls!? I’d like to say that I liked Wake Up, Girls! enough the first time, but the fact is that no one liked Wake Up, Girls! the first time; it’s a show that keeps getting sequels despite having , seemingly, zero fans. It’s one of those anomalies of nature, like how bumblebees can fly when all the laws of physics say that they shouldn’t.

Maybe Ongaku Shoujo will stake out an identity of it’s own, but I have enough trouble getting invested in idol shows that are happy and optimistic from the getgo; I really don’t want to watch a show about sad, wanna-be idols who are living on instant ramen to get by. Only way I’m watching this is if I hear good things about it after a few episodes have aired.

Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight

This looks to be the more typically bright-and-happy idol show, as opposed to Ongaku Shoujo, so maybe try this if you haven’t had enough Love Live!/Idolmaster/etc. I mean, it’s hard to believe that there’s someone out there who hasn’t had enough of that, but I’m sure this person exists, and they too deserve to feel joy.

I might check out the first episode because one of the girls is named Karen and I like keeping tabs on my anime doppelgangers. But unless this show has something different to offer right out of the gate, I’m focusing my attention elsewhere.

Sunoharasou no Kanrinrin-san

This looks like it’s going to be a cute-girls-doing-cute-things show, except one of the girls happens to be a boy. This might end up being the show this season that does some exploration of gender identity, without being ridiculously offensive to 99% of the audience right out of the gate the way Back Street Girls is.

It’s hard to predict with this one; it all depends on how main-guy Aki’s issues with gender are treated. If they use them as a source of cheap jokes, that sounds pretty bad, but if it’s a CGDCT show, it’s hard to see how they could avoid those kinds of jokes even if they wanted to.

I’ll give it a shot, but if the pattern is Aki tries to act like a boy–> the girls treat him like a girl and giggle–> he gets mad, rinse and repeat, I’m not sticking around. Sadly, I think that’s the most likely scenario.

Yuragi-sou no Yuuna-san

Wow, there are a lot of haunted anime this season. This one is about a hot springs inn haunted by the ghost of a 16-year-old girl, and the poor guy who gets roped into helping her with her unfinished business. I might have skipped this one just on the basis of there being so much other occult stuff this season, but I’ve heard some good things about the source material, so I’ll at least give it a try.

It’s made by Xebec, who are largely known to the world as makers of fanservice anime, and largely known to me as makers of Softenni in particular. I doubt it’ll happen, but if this show takes the Softenni approach to broadcast censorship and covers the girls’ privates with pictures of adorable cows and sheep, this is going to rocket up to “must-watch” status.

Island

Man washes ashore on mysterious island, begins mad quest to save the island from its decline; cute girls are involved. My gut is telling me that this is going to be overly ambitious and boring, but hey, my gut has been wrong before. This was one of the first summer shows to air and the first episode is already up on Crunchyroll, so there’s no need to wait if you’re curious.

Jashin-chan Dropkick

Violent slapstick comedy where a deranged gothic-lolita type summons a demon girl, and the two beat each other up a lot or something. I have a weird feeling that this is going to be like the evil twin to Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid; a story about a relationship between a human girl and a powerful, non-human woman, only instead of warming your heart and filling you with hope for the future, it just makes you want to sit down and cry.

I have a bad feeling about this for some reason, but studio Nomad does have a pretty solid comedy track record with shows like Ika Musume and Ouran Host Club to their credit. So it could be very funny, I just can’t shake the sinking feeling that the jokes are going to get old halfway through the first episode.

SHORTS:

Cinderella Girls Gekijou, Season 3

I always forget if this is a spinoff of Love Live! or Idolmaster (*checks wiki; it’s Idolmaster.*) Considering I’ve never seen any Idolmaster proper, I’m certainly not starting with this, but I mention it here for an important reason: for idol fans, it seems like this is the anticipated show of the season, more than Ongaku Shoujo or whatever else is starting this year. Which is pretty impressive, considering that it’s a short.

You go, idol fans! Wallpaper the internet with your Cinderella Girls fanart, it’s all good. I don’t have to watch the show to share a tiny piece of your happiness.

One Room 2

The big debate with the first-person-perspective show One Room was whether it was really creepy, or just sort of mildly creepy; I found the first episode so boring that I never properly found out. But apparently some people really enjoyed contemplating that question, because One Room is back with another room…or maybe the same room? It’s probably the same room.

I wonder; if I decided I wanted to watch this season, do I need to watch the original? Like, is there serious One Room continuity? Or is it like “Yeah, he talked to this girl in his room, then they went down to the vending machine and got a soda, then they went back to his room, then she said ‘bye’ and that was the end of the season.” Now I want there to be a tremendously detailed One Room wiki so I can catch up on all the lore!

(I just checked…there is no wiki…I am sad. Someone get on that, please.)

BanG Dream! Girls Band Party Pico

I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know what BanG Dream! was until just now. Apparently it’s a K-On-esque show about a bunch of girls who form a band, and Party Pico is it’s little chibi spinoff. If you like watching cute chibi girls do whatever, you probably can’t go wrong here.

See, I’m just mad because after finishing Sound Euphonium S2, I thought I had seen all these ‘girls in a band’ shows, but no, there’s more. I promised myself I wouldn’t watch Kids on the Slope (the boys-in-a-band show) until I finished all the girls-in-a-band shows, and now it looks like it’s never gonna happen. Damn you BanG Dream!, ruining my summer viewing plans!

Asobi Asobase

This isn’t listed anywhere as a short, but I’m putting it in the shorts category because I refuse to believe it’s a full-length show. It’s about girls who play hand games and…that’s it. They play hand games together.

Tonari no Seki-kun proved to me that a show about nothing more than kids goofing off can be great, especially if it’s a short. But unless Asobi Asobase is bringing Seki-kun levels of devious brilliance here, I find it hard to imagine this being entertaining for more than one episode. Hey, maybe I’ll be wrong; maybe Asobi Asobase will be the surprise hit of the season that we’ll all remember years from now. But right now, just thinking about it seriously makes me want to lie down and take a nap– not even kidding, I’m going to spend like two seconds writing something on Encouragement of Climb and then I’m taking a nap.

Encouragement of Climb, Season 3

FUCK YEAH MORE ENCOURAGEMENT OF CLIMB, BEST SEASON EVAH! CLIMB THOSE MOUNTAINS GIRLS, SHOW ‘EM WHO’S BOSS! AOI, TRY NOT TO GET ALTITUDE SICKNESS AGAIN, THAT SHIT IS DANGEROUS! SHOW THOSE LAZY YURU CAMP BITCHES WHAT IT MEANS TO BE OUTDOOR GIRLS!!!!!

…oh yeah, I went there, Yuru Camp fans. What are you gonna do about it, huh? I’d say COME AT ME, BRO! but I’m about to go lie down and take a nap for about three hours, so don’t come at me, that would be bad sportsmanship. Hey, have you ever heard that writing about shows you haven’t even seen for several hours can make you lightheaded and delirious? I just learned that today.

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode 11

Oh my goodness, do I love Fuka. Everybody on this show is having huge philosophical problems negotiating the line between games and reality in a VR world, and Fuka has it all perfectly separated like she’s playing an NES on her grandparents’ couch, and that’s about how much she cares. It’s glorious.

She somehow manages to delay LLENN by tying LLENN’s shoelaces to one of her grenade launchers, and and uses a knot that would make an Eagle Scout proud. So poor LLENN has to spend seriously half the episode trying to untangle her goddamned shoelaces, meanwhile Fuka downright skips towards the enemy team like she’s playing hopscotch on the playground. Then she gets her hands and feet shot off, but no big, she walks it off in time to save LLENN in dynamic vehicular fashion, all while blatantly hitting on her with as much sass as possible.

Guys, I’m afraid. I think I may love Fuka as much as I love Rindou in Food Wars!, and if you’ve read my Food Wars! posts, you know that level of obsession probably isn’t healthy. I’m making a mental note to address that with my therapist, but the meantime, I guess we should discuss the rest of the episode.

CHERISH FOREVER

So Pito plays with some of her opponents before she gruesomely kills them, leading one to ask her if she’s having fun doing this. Uh…well, yes, it’s a video game, sport. Of course Pito is having fun. I get the point being made– at what point do acts of clear sadism stop being acceptable in virtual reality on the basis that it’s “Just a game?” It’s an interesting question, but once again, I think people who are deeply into a game as violent as GGO have probably waited too long to ask this question.

One of the SHINC ladies who got eliminated makes a mean remark that most of the players left in SJ2 are women, and “real men” would play with more guts; it seems really bizarre and out of place (albeit intentionally) not just because this woman is a member of SHINC, but because of what a feminist anime this has been all along. In addition to the obvious point that most of the characters (and the best players) are women, this is a story of a man trying to save the woman he loves, only he’s powerless to do it, and the only person who can actually save her is her female friend; it’s an inversion of the “only this special man can save the woman” narrative.

Yes, I just called an anime feminist and think that it’s basically a good thing; hell has now frozen over. Hell is even available for ski vacations, so get your reservations in before all the good bungalows are taken.

Speaking of SHINC, they seem to have used up their ingenious plans allowance for this month last time, because they don’t have much a of as strategy for taking out Pito and M. Basically the remaining members of the team sacrifice themselves so that Boss-lady Eva can try to sneak up on M from another angle, but it’s a pretty transparent gambit and doesn’t work. So that’s one more team down. We’re now left with Team Death By Loli, Team Batshit Insane Starcrossed Lovers, and some other mystery team who’s waiting in the shadows until the smoke clears; they seem like smart people.

There’s an interesting moment when LLENN starts to break down, overwhelmed by the pressure. I think the problem is that “I have to brutally kill Pito so I can save her, because she’s my friend and I care about her!” is just too confusing to understand in the heat of battle. She decides she’s going to truncate her motivation to “I am going to kill the everloving fuck out of Pito,” and forget about the larger context. I like this; it’s psychologically realistic to me that LLENN would have this problem and need to simplify her thinking.

What follows is a pretty stellar extended action sequence including jeeps, cliffs, multiple kinds of guns, grenades, natural gas explosions, and crazy stunt driving. My hat is off to the animators at 3Hz Inc., because it’s pretty rare to get a multi-part action sequence this exciting and well-animated in a TV anime. I guess I am now eating my words from earlier in the season, when I kept insisting that GGO just didn’t look fun, but hey; I like being wrong when the result is awesome anime.

“As I lay dying, I have no regrets…except for choosing Barbie Doll Pink as my color for camouflage. Not one of my better ideas.”

I said last time that I would be very excited if LLENN jumped, landed on Pito’s photon sword and then flipped off, and that did not happen; actually, now that I think about that, I think there are some mechanical problems with that. What we do get to see is LLENN stepping Pito’s face and then backflipping off, so I’m still pretty excited; not quite to the level of dancing in my chair, but it’s getting close.

Hello, my name is Karen and I approve of this face-stomping.

LLENN sacrifices the second version of P-chan to get to Pito, so we’re now left with the two ladies with no guns. They’re going to have to settle this with melee weapons, in properly brutal fashion. Meanwhile, I assume Fuka is going to take on M; I don’t expect her to beat him, but I expect her to lose in such a way as to make him wish he were dead, because that woman has a gift.

Well, one episode left, right? I think it would be really funny if the one other team that’s off in the mountains somewhere just sat on their thumbs and did nothing, only to win after the remaining foursome all take each other out in incredibly graphic fashion. In fact, I would bet money on that happening; any takers?

I Want to Play Omega Labyrinth Z

Usually, when Japanese games are censored in the west or denied release at all, it’s a moot point for me because it wasn’t a game I wanted to play. When a risqué feature was removed from the English-language version of the mobile game How to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon: Memoria Freese,  I thought that the game should not have been changed, but I wasn’t that invested in the subject. I am anti-censorship, but I understand that private companies aren’t obligated to localize features they think won’t do well in their market, etc. etc. etc. It didn’t seem like that big a deal overall.

Now the game Omega Labryinth Z has been cancelled outright, and this seems a lot more important to me, only because it sounds like something I want to play. Ever since trying Lightning Warrior Raidy almost (gasp) ten years ago, I’ve been kind of intrigued by the naughty-dungeon-crawler genre. I haven’t devoted the time to play any besides Raidy, but I’ve always wanted to go back and explore the subgenre. I’m not generally a fan of ero media– I’ve seen maybe two hentai anime in my entire life– but something about the combination of really ribald sexual humor and the grindy, meticulous gameplay of roguelike dungeon-crawlers appeals to me. It seems like a fun send-up of the type of masochism inherent to the genre. Plus, I don’t need much of an excuse to play a dungeon-crawler.

According to Eurogamer, the reason why the game was canned (by Sony itself, no less) is because of the youth of the characters: the girls are explicitly minors, making their sexualization unacceptable in Western markets. This is a problem that always leaves me scratching my head, because while I understand the reticence regarding sexualization and children in general terms, anime girl drawings are not minors.

Some anime depict children that look like children and adults that look like adults, but a lot of anime media portrays characters of an indeterminate age, and you need to know the background of the story to know what age anyone is supposed to be. Anime use similar designs for characters that are supposed to be 13, 23, even 33 or 43 at times. Just to pick a recent example, in Comic Girls, Kaos’ mother doesn’t look any older than the rest of the girls on the show; she’s just dressed in a more mature fashion. One of the things I commented on while watching Comic Girls was that Ruki is supposed to be 14 years old, but successfully pulls off an “older sister” act to an audience of 30-something women with only the aid of a little lipstick and eye shadow. Age is just weird in anime and it’s sister media.

I’m not saying “age is weird in anime” is a handwave that can be used to dismiss any criticisms or concerns about the sexualization of minors, but it does make me wonder. The developers could have choose to make everyone in the game exactly 19-years-and-four-months old, and then the sexualization would have been deemed acceptable, even if neither the artwork or writing had been changed in any way other than that.

I’m not getting super-upset here and calling for a boycott of Sony or anything; actually, considering my love of PSX-era games, boycotting Sony would hurt me a helluva lot more than it would ever hurt them. I just wonder what opponents of this sort of game being localized expect to happen. If this continues, when developers of erotic Japanese games want their product to have an opportunity to sell in the west, they’ll just change their premise from “everyone is always in high school!” to “everyone is always in college,” while leaving everything else exactly the same. Does that solve the underlying problem here, assuming there is one?

In any case, reading about this issue has given me an urge to play a hentai dungeon crawler again, and Lightning Warrior Raidy was never really my cup of tea; I may have to import Omega Labryinth Z. If I do, I’ll be sure to let you know how that goes, in exquisite (excruciating?) detail.

Here’s the official trailer if you want to get an idea what the game looks like; for more detail on the gameplay, look forward to my upcoming Let’s Play! HAHAHAHAHAHA…am I kidding? I’m not sure. I might not be kidding.

Cradle Con 2018

I hadn’t been to a con in years and felt like it was time to get back in the swing of things. Still, I didn’t want to deal with the crowds and hassle associated with a major convention. Cradle Con, a brand-new comic convention, held at The Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York, fit the bill very nicely. I ended up deciding to go pretty much at the last minute, so I wasn’t really prepared to cover it anime-blog-style; plus, for some of the time I had a two-year-old in tow, and she was low on patience. Nevertheless, there were some aspects of the con that I wanted to mention here.

The first is the venue. The Cradle has been host to a bunch of cons (including the Long Island Retro Gaming Expo, which is coming up again in August), but this is the first time I’ve actually been there for an event. I’m pretty sure I’ve been to the museum in the past for normal museum-going purposes, but being there while an event is going on is a unique experience. You’ll be cruising through the dealers’ room, looking for good deals on comic books and video games, and next thing you know, you’re navigating around a fully restored WWII-era bomber. They didn’t really separate the museum exhibits from the convention activities, so it was an interesting mixing of worlds. Most of the conventions I’ve attended have been in boring hotels, or the hellmouth that is the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan (don’t get me started on that place), so this sort of eclectic atmosphere was inviting.

The first event I went to was a Jpop concert with Nicole Oliva. I hadn’t heard of Oliva before, but she’s an operatically trained singer, and takes her anisongs quite seriously. She’s got a powerful set of pipes and a really laid-back stage presence that makes you feel at ease, and her concert easily surpassed my expectations. I mean, of course she sang Moonlight Densetsu, which I expected, but then she also sang the Sailor Stars! theme from the fifth season, and the newer theme to Sailor Moon Crystal. Her version of 1000 Words from Final Fantasy X-2 gave me chills, and I don’t even like Final Fantasy X-2.

The A10 Thunderbolt II behind Ms. Oliva made a better backdrop for an anime concert than you might think.

Sometimes while in the shower, I imagine getting up on stage at a con and singing my version of Suteki da ne from Final Fantasy X, or Hacking to the Gate from Steins; Gate. The only problem with this plan is that I’m a tremendous coward and will probably never do this. In the meantime, while I try to grow a spine, we can all appreciate Oliva’s performance, since she actually knows what she’s doing.

Next I attended a panel on self-publishing by comic artist Jay Stuart of Poppycock Productions. Most of his work is horror, which isn’t my cup of tea, but he had a lot of good tips on self-publishing…the kind of nuts-and-bolts stuff they don’t tell you until you’re halfway through formatting your comic for print, and then you realize you have a major problem. His advice will likely prove very useful in the event that I ever get back into making comics, which will totally happen as soon as I catch up on my novels and all of my other projects for this blog. Totally.

I also attended the costume contest, which was a lot of fun. Technically Cradle Con has three costume contests: one for kids, one for teens, one for adults. I’m surprised a new con can get enough cosplayers to hold three separate cosplay contests, but I guess that’s the advantage of Long Island; we are stupid overpopulated. We can always find enough kids who want to dress like Pokemon and women who want to dress like Spider-Woman. Anyway, I only attended Saturday, so I only got to see the Adult cosplay contest. Some of the franchises that were represented on stage included Sword Art Online, Sailor Moon, and Final Fantasy XV. There were also quite a few excellent Star Wars costumes; I may not be a Star Wars fan myself, but man, are those people dedicated.

A  note on cosplay photos: I did actually take photos during the con, but I wasn’t sure whether or not I should post them. People who go to Otakon and AX in cosplay know that they’re going to end up included in photo galleries on numerous websites, but that’s not necessarily true of a local con like this. I also didn’t have a press pass, and there was no indication when I was taking photos that I was taking them for any larger purpose, so it just felt kind of morally questionable posting these pictures to Otakusphere. If I go to Cradle Con again next year, which I hope to do, I’d like to go officially as press and then take photos of EVERYTHING.

Lastly, it wouldn’t be a con without my husband and I spending way too much money in the dealer’s room and Artist’s Alley; here’s our haul:

If you’re wondering “How can you afford all that stuff?” the answer is hahaha, WE CAN’T. We kind of blew all of our fun money on this one event and can’t buy anything else for a while. If I go to Anime NYC in the fall, I’m not going to be able to buy anything there except a keychain and a can of soda.

Our loot included three My Little Pony Classic Blind Boxes (which caused me a lot of pain, since I got TWO freakin’ Princess Sparkles and not one Glory), a bunch of Frozen toys to keep the little one happy, a collection of Suburban Fairy Tales by Francis Bonnet, (which came with a neat-o Rapunzel sketch), Suikoden II for PS2 with the strategy guide, a set of Magic cards that my husband just had to buy because he is a slave of WoTC, some X-Men issues from the early ’90s to fill out my collection, an X-Factor trade paperback, a really cool figure of Saber from Fate/Stay Night riding a motorcycle, and a helpful pocket-sized container of hand sanitizer.

All in all, good clean fun. It seemed like everyone around me was really happy to be there, and I think there’s an excellent chance I’ll be heading back to my favorite aviation museum in 2019 for Cradle Con 2.

Tomb Raider II, Level 2: Venice

So my last Tomb Raider-related blog post was, uh *checks watch,* seven years ago. Look, you can see this as me being lazy and abandoning a project for too long, or you can see it as me valiantly attempting to combat the view that popular entertainment is disposable by refusing to bow to the quiet tyranny of time; the choice is yours.

The Urban Problem

I have a lot of problems with Venice, in fact with this whole Venetian level set, and it makes me feel kind of bad. I know these levels are largely beloved by fans, and I wish I could feel the same. But from the first time I played this level, back in 1998, I found it tedious and frustrating, and I’ve never been able to shake that feeling. Even now, when I have the level mostly memorized and can zip through it pretty fast, I still find it frustrating.

The first problem is that urban environments present practical problems for Tomb Raider, as a franchise. If we’re supposed to be in a city, where are all the people? Well, there are lots of gun-toting Bartoli henchman, but where all the non-packing, non-insane people? Putting in neutral NPCs would probably create as many problems as it would solve, but it still feels weird to be running around a city where no one lives; it’s kind of antithetical to the whole concept of the series, really. The whole set up of Tomb Raider implies that you don’t run into any people, because they all died thousands of years ago; when you’re in a modern city, and there’s still no people, you’re reminded of the artificiality of the situation pretty bluntly.

Yes, in the back of your mind, even in the first game, you always know you’re playing a video game; it’s not like making TRII Venice look more populated would really change that. But I think it’s safe to say that Tomb Raider achieves a higher level of immersion when set in, err, tombs, versus modern environments. Interestingly I think they pulled this off better with the London levels in Tomb Raider III, since in that level set, it felt like it was about 4:30 A.M. there and Lara was exploring mostly abandoned buildings anyway, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first vehicle you can ride in all of Tomb Raider and I…don’t like it too much. Maybe this is just me, but I feel like I’m constantly getting on an off the damn thing when I don’t want to, and it happens a lot less with later vehicles.

The second major problem is I think the level’s primary puzzle is a bit too clever for its own good. Maybe I’m just mad that I blew up Lara about a zillion times on the mines trying to clear this level as a teen, but I still think the boat puzzle is too hard to figure out without the aid of a strategy guide. I mean, this is the first TR level in history where they even give you a vehicle, and you’re supposed to figure out a)that you can completely destroy it and b)you can jump out of it at the last second before an explosion? My memory is a little hazy, but I think at the time, I thought you were supposed to improve your speedboat piloting skills to the point where you could navigate between the mines; obviously, this didn’t work out so hot for me.

On one hand, I complain that this puzzle is too unintuitive. On the other, I know that if this game were made today, NPCs and in-game prompts would probably give you about 47 hints about what you were supposed to do, and there would be no satisfaction when you solved it. Maybe I’m just never happy?

Eventually I destroyed one boat pretty much by luck, and forgot the second one existed, so I completed the level the wussy-way; swimming through the gate and completely missing the harried boat ride through half the level. Imagine my surprise when I started the next level and Lara was in yet another speedboat.

Is it possible that very few players were stymied by this puzzle, and I was just being dense? I guess it’s possible. Besides, I have to admit, when you do know what you have to do and you succeed with the timed boat challenge– complete with taking your boat to places where boats are definitely not meant to go– it is pretty darn satisfying.

The Joy of Awning Hopping

It’s hard for me to see past the negatives with this level, mostly because of bad memories from 20 years ago messing with my perception. However, if I give Venice a fair shake, there are some really nice elements here. Jumping from awning to awning is much more fun than it should be; same with jumping up to the fancy glass windows, shooting them out and then running inside. Somewhere out there, there is custom level that’s all about jumping on awnings and shooting out fancy windows on raised overpasses, and I really need to be playing it right now.

I also like the secret placement; sure, burying two little dragons in the black depths of an underwater catacomb is a little harsh, but if you haven’t figured out by this point in the game that they’ve been handing you buckets of flares for a reason, that’s on you.

Once you get this mysterious door open, that’s when the fun starts. I can never get enough of scouring dark catacombs for shiny things, especially when there are lots and lots of shiny things.

Have I mentioned that love collecting flares in this game? I feel like they’re the closest thing to money in the game, so my hoarding instinct takes over;  I’m pretty sure I’ve finished the game with 60+ flares in my inventory. It’s like a game-within-a-game to see how well I can get along with stumbling around in complete and total darkness without using the obvious tool. Hey, did you know that in a pinch, you can use your pistols instead? Lara’s pistols illuminate the area around her briefly, so if you fire them like they’re tiny little machine guns, you can almost see where you’re going for a little while there. Sadly, this does not work underwater, which is where you tend to need flares the most, but oh well.

Speaking of the swimming element, it’s cool to be swimming along, pull up on a dock, shoot some henchmen, jump back in the water and get on with your day. In practice I always get Lara shot about twice as often as she needs to and end up getting frustrated, but that doesn’t change the fact that the idea of it is cool.

Is there some kind of theme park attraction where you’re in an entirely floating city, and you can climb up on the dock to buy ice cream or something, but then jump back in the water to swim to the next attraction? Because that sounds like it would be insanely fun. I may have to stop playing Tomb Raider for a bit and petition all my local waterparks to implement this feature.

Best: Hands down, the best part of the level SHOULD be doing the timed boat race, which is really innovative and feels exhilarating when you pull it off, but as you now know, I have a love-hate relationship with that puzzle. So instead, I’m going to say that the best part is the whole sewer-like area you enter after getting the first speedboat; you may burn through flares like mad, but it’s a blast finding all of the hidden items and secrets. Those uzi clips nearly buried in the sand in a dark corner underwater…*chef’s kiss*

Worst: The excessive number of enemies in the first area, especially the one that pops up after you pull the switch in the boathouse. We’re just getting used to fighting human enemies in TR2, and you throw like five of these bozos at us? Plus mean dogs? No thank you.

Rating: Two Uzi Clips Out of Five

This is my honest opinion; please don’t hurt me.

Coming Next: Bartoli’s Hideout, where I’m going to try to put aside all my issues with Venice as a whole and just play the damned level.

(Screenshots from Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots; used with permission.)

Are Video Games Art? Part II

Art Is Cooperative

To illustrate how the viewer always customizes the experience of art, let’s turn away from videogames for a moment and look to something that is clearly “Art with a capital A,” painting. There’s a Kandinsky painting called Inner Simmering that I have a special connection with. I don’t know what Kandinsky intended with the painting; if I ever read any sort of commentary on it, I’ve long since forgotten. However, for me the painting is about the turbulent feelings of going from childhood to adulthood.

When I was 11, my mother took me to the Guggenheim Museum to see a Kandinsky exhibit. I was tremendously excited to be going to a museum and not a “kids” museum; a serious art museum for sophisticated, cultured adults. Inner Simmering was the painting that stuck in my mind; I felt like I was “simmering,” boiling over with excitement at taking the train, then the bus, then going to the museum, then going to a trendy cafe for lunch, all being treated like an adult and seemingly being initiated into this beautiful adult world of symposiums and garden parties. But I was also still a child, and I was a little afraid, worried the wonderful day would somehow fall apart, and my mother would lose me somewhere. Maybe I’d get lost in the city and end up begging in Central Park, or run over by an angry cab driver; there were dangers everywhere. My stomach wouldn’t stop churning.

Even now, over 20 years later, I can’t look at an image of that painting without thinking of the “simmering” feeling I had that day, the day when I felt my childhood and my adulthood bumping into each other in the pit of my stomach. This feeling was probably not what Kandinsky intended, but I think most appreciators of art would agree that my personal interpretation is a valid one; that, without getting into a tiresome “Death of the Author” debate, it’s widely recognized that the viewer’s experience of every work of art is customized to their own experience; not by choice, but by necessity. I can never be in Vassily Kandinsky’s head, only my own.

Returning to games now, I have the same kind of customized experiences. Tomb Raider was about the fantasy of overcoming my own natural timidity and going out to explore the world, maybe not ancient tombs but, say, hiking on a local trail without fear. Parasite Eve was about a fantasy version of Manhattan, a Manhattan that, while being full of monsters, was mostly devoid of people, meaning I could explore at my own pace; something I’ve never felt able to do when I’ve actually been in real-life Manhattan (and to this day, I feel far more at home in PE’s horrifying version of Manhattan than I do in any of the actual locations featured in the game, despite having visited many of them several times.) Final Fantasy VII was about…Final Fantasy VII was about a lot of things, and I don’t want to go on for 30,000 words here, so I’ll leave it at that.

I’m pretty sure Vagrant Story was somehow about sex, but I’m still figuring that one out; yes, Ashley’s famous pants played a role there, but that was only part of it. .hack was about trying to figure out why imaginary items in imaginary worlds were so important to me, among other things, and I still haven’t cracked that one; I keep replaying the .hack quadrilogy once every couple of years, hoping to figure it out. In fact, I think one of the reasons why I’ve never been able to get into World of Warcraft is because I’m still waiting for the simulated MMO of .hack to reveal whether or not I should care about real MMOs or not.

I think everyone has these kinds of personal experiences of games; they may not all be as elemental as my association with Inner Simmering, or even Parasite Eve, but they’re still there. However, this is where we get into how videogames differ from other media; because while we all perceive a painting differently, we’re all still standing there in front of the canvas, or the browser; our “participation” as it were, is all in our heads. In videogames our different experiences are acted out, sometimes in relatively simple ways (ex. taking a different route in a platformer), and sometimes in more complex ones, like purposely playing the game “wrong” to create a different experience. In games, the cooperative nature of art– something that has always existed– can be taken to the next level.

My Affair With Yuna

Screenshot taken from Youtuber Hellbent Revenge’s Yuna Only Challenge video.

Time for a confession: while I’ve never recorded myself doing Super Mario Speed runs or tried to beat Resident Evil in under 2 hours with only the knife, I am a challenge gamer at heart. In fact, I am the originator of the Final Fantasy X Yuna-Only No-Summoning Challenge.

*Pause for most people to go “the hell’s that?” while everyone who’s actually played FFX winces in terrible, sympathetic pain.*

For a while after FFX came out, people were making up all kinds of difficult challenges for the game, like the No Sphere Grid Challenge and the Tidus-Only Challenge. This sort of thing is pretty common among Final Fantasy fans in general, but it seemed like this trend was reaching its peak around the time X came out. While eventually every character had their own solo challenge, for years, Yuna was left out. Yuna was considered a bad character to try to solo with, because the whole premise of the game was that she was too weak to survive without protection. Yet, if you allowed her to summon her Aeons, then she became the most powerful character in the game*, completely destroying the “challenge” element of a solo run. The conventional wisdom was that a solo run that allowed summoning was too easy (and given the length of the summoning animations, too tedious anyway), while prohibiting summoning made it impossible.

Sometime in 2006, during a cold Albany winter (which was probably more relevant to all of this than you might think), I had a dangerous thought: What if a No-Summoning run with Yuna wasn’t impossible, only extremely difficult? I had to find out.

People on Gamefaqs were skeptical. How will you get past this boss, they asked, how will you survive this section where the enemies can kill poor little Yuna in one hit? And yet, I always found a way. I discovered that if you were willing to spend enough time leveling up Yuna by herself, you could pretty much brute-force your way through the entire game. Between farming for rare offensive weapon drops and power-leveling to get Yuna a support spell she wouldn’t normally learn until the end of the game, it all became possible. Check out this FAQ for more details; the user named Crystal Bangle is me.

What this meant, practically, was that I spent dozens of hours in front of the TV, staring at Yuna’s back. It was a time in my life when I needed a distraction, and did I ever find one. It was also a time when I felt very alone; I had moved to Albany after college with high hopes of building a new life for myself there, only for my few preexisting relationships to sour, while I was stuck in a dead-end job where I never met anyone. It felt appropriate to have Yuna’s companions run like cowards and leave her alone to face the monsters; it felt right for her to be all alone, hour after hour.

Even though I knew I was intentionally playing the game wrong, doing something players weren’t supposed to do, it still colored my perception of the game’s story. When the characters would talk about their duty as Guardians to protect Yuna, I found myself thinking. “What are you talking about? You guys haven’t done SHIT to protect Yuna, she’s all alone! Shut up Auron, even though you’re hot.”

What I essentially did was made another game within the larger game of FFX; a game where instead of being treated as a precious resource who was to be protected at all costs, Yuna was cast aside and had to fend for herself. While I’ve played through the storyline of FFX normally a few times, I can’t think of the game now without thinking of this “alternate” game, where all of Yuna’s companions abandoned her every single battle; hundreds, probably thousands of times over the course of the game.

To this day, I’m not sure how to feel about this. On the one hand, I proved that a challenge that people assumed impossible was not, and that’s kind of cool. On the other hand, I projected my problems onto this game, and spent dozens of hours staring at Yuna’s back when I could have been doing something to actively fix my problems. Maybe in a way I was addressing my problems, and I needed to do something like the Yuna No-Summoning Challenge to process what was even happening to me, but that’s an area of inquiry that goes beyond the scope of this discussion.

My torrid affair with Yuna was the only time I did a “challenge” with very specific parameters, but I’ve still spent plenty of time making games-within-games, albeit in a less anal manner. I’ve played the quest mode in Ehrgeiz as a religious zealot, using the game’s obtuse (and usually ignored) religion system to power up my weapons and steamroll through the game. I’ve played Vagrant Story while only using certain weapons, or certain spells. I’ve played Parasite Eve with a kind of God Eater Aya, using odd exploits in the game to power up the character far beyond what’s necessary to complete it. I’ve played X-Men Legends in an effort to experience the kinds of team-ups I wanted to see happen in the comics, but never did.**

Even when I’m playing the game the “normal” way, I still have certain quirks that usually customize my playthrough to a certain extent. Since I like exploring mechanics and hate replaying boss fights, I’m usually stupidly overleveled in any game with a leveling system. I also hoard items like a Doomsday prepper, regardless of whether or not I actually need them. I enjoy picking my favorite characters and giving them “Most Favorite Character” status: giving them all the best weapons and armor and stat boosts, while their teammates lag behind. This is especially satisfying to do when my MFC is technically one of the weaker ones, and I make her into an insane powerhouse for no earthly reason.

To return to my earlier point, I think having these kinds of customized gaming experiences are very much like my special meeting-of-the-minds with Kandinsky. I know I’m looking at the game in perhaps a different way than was strictly intended, yet looking at it in more than one way makes my personal connection that much more powerful. However, in traditional art, the personal experience is expressed as a kind of declaration: “To me, this painting is about ____”. In video games, it’s more of a dialogue with the game’s creators. Why did you make this character do this, when she could have done that? Why are you trying to encourage me to fight this boss now, when I still have imaginary crops to grow? Why are you trying to sell me on the power of friendship, when I feel more alone than I’ve ever been?

Let’s Play (Another Version of) This: Gaming As Performance Art

I didn’t record my YONS challenge; it was still hard to record gameplay at that time, and to be fair, it wouldn’t have made for very interesting viewing anyway. But the growing popularity of Let’s Plays adds several more dimensions to this idea that we create customized narratives and experiences within games. With an LP you can:

A) broadcast your customized narrative, so other people get the benefit of seeing the game through your eyes

and

B)Turn your gaming experience into a kind of performance art, using custom images, songs, and even roleplaying to add an element of improv theater to your gaming.

and

C)Turn your gaming experience into a communal experience of performance art, with viewers sharing their own custom art, songs and roleplaying.

Obviously I find the artistic possibilities of Let’s Plays and other performative gaming events to be fascinating, but let’s not ignore the obvious; a lot of LPs, perhaps most, are not worth watching. Most are riddled with lines like “I thought there was a health potion over here in this corner, oh wait it’s a green herb,” stuff about the logistics of playing that doesn’t add much to the experience. In a lot of cases the only reason to watch an LP is either because you’re such a huge fan of the game that you’ll watch any content related to it, or you’re stuck somewhere in your own first playthrough and are trying to figure out where you need to go next.

Sometimes though…sometimes people hit it out of the park. Take this Animal Crossing Screenshot LP, where someone turned a seemingly innocuous children’s game into a harrowing tale of psychological horror. Some LP’s can become hilarious screwball comedies, others can introduce a level of poignancy that wasn’t in the original game, particularly when the player shares a personal story that resonates with the games themes. I don’t know if I would consider Let’s Playing an art form– it’s more a weird, bastard child of several art forms, including theater and graphic novels– but to deny that there’s at least an element of art to a good LP seems quite ignorant to me.

Not only that, but the community that can build around an LP– suggesting strategies, coming up with character names, drawing LP-specific fanart, or just making funny quips at the right time– is also a creative entity. It’s art spiraling out and creating more and more art, as art in general tends to do, but this time, maybe even more so.

LPing may not be the most fascinating thing in the world, but let me put it this way; if there aren’t at least 20 Master’s Theses being written about LPing in Media Studies departments all over the world,  right this second, then I no longer have any hope for academia. Because you can scoff if you want, but this is the future of art; not all art, certainly, and not all the time, but some art. Maybe even Art with a Capital A.

In the third and final article of this series, we’ll look at some of the arguments against games being art and why they’re all shallow and dumb break them down a little bit.

*I’m a big FFX fan so OF COURSE I know that the most powerful character in the game is actually Wakka once you get Attack Reels, don’t send me hatemail. Or, do send me hatemail, that sounds interesting, just not about Wakka. 

**Just FYI, Jean Grey is stupidly overpowered in the original X-Men Legends. I mean, canonically, she should be, but what’s kind of funny is I think it might have been accidental.

 

 

 

Are Video Games Art? Part I

This is an interesting topic that I feel doesn’t really get its due. People argue about it a lot, but what they mostly seem to argue about are issues regarding accountability and pretentiousness, and not the very nature of art and whether or not that can change. I want to attempt to get to the heart of the matter, with the caveat that any question about art can go off in a lot of different directions, some of which may not seem relevant.

I should probably start out by saying that I’m conflicted on the existence of a division between art and “entertainment.” Some people answer this question, not just about games but with any medium, with the statement that something can be art, but it isn’t necessarily art just by virtue of belonging to a particular medium. For example, Schindler’s List is an example of the art of cinema; the latest Michael Bay explosion-fest is not. This is a useful way of framing things, because it allows for a pretty broad view of what art is without seemingly cheapening the very idea of art by including any piece of nonsense that just happens to be recorded on paper or film. The reason why I can’t quite buy this is because sometimes, works of supposedly derivative, cheap entertainment have more meaning to me (and are therefore more artfully done, in my view), then so-called artistic productions, meaning I would be a hypocrite to say I really believed in the art/entertainment distinction. I kind of wish I could, because it has a lot of advantages, but that’s just not how I see it.

Okay, disclaimers out of the way, is a video game art or not? Well, you’ve got a bunch of concept artists creating visuals for the game,  sometimes making beautiful watercolor paintings of the characters and settings, which is unquestionably art. You’ve got musicians writing scores for the game, which is unquestionably art. You’ve got writers writing scripts for the games’ story, which is a little harder to justify as art (since a lot of people have a low opinion of games writers, and not for nothing), but nevertheless, fiction writing in general is art. That doesn’t seem to be in dispute.

So in order for a game not to be art, you would need for all of these different artistic elements to be combined, at which point they somehow magically cancel each other out and the finished product is not art. Despite the watercolor paintings, despite the musical scores, despite the character writing, despite the cinematography, they are not art. Art +Art +Art +Art= NOT ART.

Does this make sense to anyone? Because I’ve never seen the logic of it myself. I guess people use the entertainment/art workaround to say that in the case of games, Art +Art +Art= Entertainment, but as stated above I’m not comfortable with that distinction. So, just based on very simple logic, it seems clear that games are art. However, that covers the act of making the game: the game was made by different kinds of artists, who expressed their feelings within the game to some extent. Fair enough, not too controversial. However, is there art to playing the game? Are you experiencing art when you level up in an RPG, or are you just like a digital hamster on a wheel, finding a pleasant (if somewhat numbing) way to pass the time? This is where things start to get interesting for me.

The Art of Item Farming

I picked an image from Atelier Rorona as the header for this post for several reasons. One, I think it’s a good game and I had a lot of fun playing it, and two, I think it provides a good illustration of the problem we have if we just glibly say “Games are art, dammit,” and leave it at that.

The Atelier games have pretty, detailed character images, soothing music that makes you long to explore the world, and well-realized characters that all have their own struggles and quirks. The quality of the art that goes into it– drawing, scoring, writing– is always solid, if not exceptional. It seems like a no-brainer that Atelier contains lots of art, and therefore is art, but what are you actually doing when you play the game? Well, if you’re anything like me, you’re hoarding tons of imaginary items, in the hopes of making better imaginary items, in hopes of accessing the area where you can get the very BEST imaginary items, at which point you will no longer need any of them, because you already beat the main game 50 hours ago.

Is that really the food-for-the-soul that art is supposed to be? Is waiting for a rare drop– a kind of playing chicken with a soulless random number generator that seems to be unique to video games– really an enriching experience, something that makes you question your perspective, your entire reality? Does it make you feel and think the way art is supposed to?

Well, from experience I can tell you that hunting rare drops does make you wonder “Why am I fighting this monster for the 500th time to get the rare wand it’s probably never going to drop? What am I doing with my life? WHAT IS MY LIFE EVEN????” so, err, I guess if you want to be strict about it, even the most banal parts of video games are thought-provoking; it’s just that the one thought they usually provoke is that you were stupid to get so obsessed with the damned game in the first place. But, beyond provoking that particular line of internal questioning, does often tedious gameplay qualify as art?

I’m still working this out. To return to Atelier, the game has definitely made me feel things; I am slightly in love with Sterk, Rorona’s gruff but caring protector. I felt pride when I got good scores on my alchemy tests, an almost parental sort of pride that I was turning Rorona into a skilled alchemist. I’ve related to some of the characters stories, which made me experience certain emotions, albeit not super-strong emotions; Atelier isn’t a dramatic type of game, but you don’t have to break down in tears for something to have touched you emotionally, right? So, I feel safe calling at least part of the experience art.

However, the time I spend hoarding items, grinding, and experimenting with the crafting system– sometimes spending hours to accomplish something of no more significance than adding a few points to the stats of one imaginary sword– is that art? If it’s not, does that mean that the experience of Atelier Rorona is only intermittently art? So I’m consuming art during the story sequences, or when a particularly nice track of music plays, but not during the bulk of the experience, which is the play itself?

The idea of intermittent art probably sounds weird, but I think it’s one possible way of viewing the experience of video games. The alternate way is to include the entire thing as art– even those hours of seemingly pointless item farming. This may seem like a stretch, but bear with me here: after all, what disqualifies this experience from being art, exactly? It’s tedious, but as tedious as making it all the way through Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time? Doubtful. Don’t get me wrong, Proust’s saga is a work of genius and all, but anyone who’s read it and claims never to have been even a little bit bored or annoyed is a liar, full stop. The operas that make up Wagner’s famed Ring Cycle take about 17 hours altogether; riveting for some true opera fans, but stultifying for others. And in the visual arts, well…just imagine looking at a whole exhibit full of Jackson Pollocks. The first one is kind of cool, but by piece number 5, you’re left with nothing left to keep you occupied than try to spot the cigarette butts still sticking out of the paint.

So clearly tedium isn’t a disqualification, in and of itself. However, with Proust and Wagner and Jackson Pollock, at least they created things that meant something, right? Sure they could be tedious to consume at times, but in the service of a noble goal. On the other hand, plugging away at video games is completely and utterly pointless, and therefore, not art, right?

Except…what is the point of a narrative where a man recounts his boring childhood in ridiculous detail and never amounts to much of anything? What’s the point of slapping some paint on canvas and putting it on the wall? I’m tempted to say “What’s the point of a Wagner opera?” only I’m afraid music fanatics would hunt me down and shoot me*, so let’s just say that everything that Wagner created is an end in and of itself.

Seriously though, of what practical use is a lot of art? In the pre-photography age, portrait painting at least qualified as a form of documentation, but that hasn’t been necessary for a long time. The only use for a lot of art, maybe most art, is “I enjoy it,” or “It makes me feel something,” and so on.  Those are justifications that can apply to video games too. What’s the difference?

This is where I fully expect to lose people. “Okay, so maybe most art has little practical use, but still, there’s a huge difference between looking at a Rembrandt and grinding for a rare item in Final Fantasy! What the hell are you even saying?”

I admit, I’m not entirely sure yet. But it seems like the tedium of most gameplay is rejected as art not because it’s practically useless (which most art is anyway), but because supposedly it doesn’t make you feel and grow and change. If you spend an hour looking at a great painting versus an hour playing a game, in the first instance you have presumably thought various deep thoughts and in some sense, enriched yourself; in the second instance, you have only passed time with an activity.

Is that really true though? Are we all effectively brain-dead when we play games, and when we stop playing, it’s as though we’ve awakened from sleep? I don’t think so. I know I’ve had thoughts and feelings while doing tedious tasks in games; sometimes, I think it’s because of the tedium that I have deeper thoughts– the front of my mind is occupied with game mechanics, while I’m contemplating something a lot more important in the background.

To bring it all together, if the defining difference between art and not-art is that art enriches as well as occupies you, who decides what counts as enrichment? And if you honestly feel more from playing a certain game than you do from looking at a certain painting– even if the gameplay is derivative and repetitive– is that a flaw in you? Or a flaw in our conception of how art is supposed to work?

Still love this game even though I can't stand gore, go figure
This is what poor Claire used to look like when I played RE2; in desperate need of a green herb.

Nostalgia for Terrible Controls

Another problem with trying to excise the gameplay from the definition of art, while allowing other elements to remain art, is that gameplay can enhance other artistic elements. For example, the early Resident Evil games were notorious for their sluggish “tank” controls; it was hard to get your character to go anywhere fast, which was a problem when surrounded by ravenous zombies. Some consider the controls to be a shortcoming of what was otherwise a good horror series, but personally, I think they were an integral part of the experience.

Traditionally, zombies are slow enemies. The pitiable regular enemies in RE moved at a snail’s pace; if your character was nimble, how would they even catch you, let alone hurt you? The controls, along with the claustrophobic way the environments were designed, were what allowed the game to feature challenge. More importantly, the controls intensified the feeling of helplessness and despair that the game was trying to evoke. Have you ever had a dream where something terrifying was after you, but your legs felt like lead and you couldn’t move? That’s what the RE controls were like. This is a case where mechanics interfaced and contributed to narrative intent. If the mechanics are playing a role in the narrative, aren’t they part of the entire emotional package, otherwise known as art?

Things have changed in regard to game controls. In the ’90s, while people certainly complained about controls, there seemed to be a certain allowance for games having idiosyncratic control schemes that took a while to master. Currently, if a game’s controls aren’t immediately intuitive to the majority of players, that seems to be considered a flaw. So if anything, it seems like controls being reflective of narrative is something that’s becoming LESS important over time, but nevertheless, it’s still a phenomenon worth considering.

Also, don’t get me wrong: a lot of people hated the RE controls with good reason. Making the controls sluggish as a way to control the game experience was not necessarily the best way to create a certain mood; nevertheless, it worked, at least for some players. Another seminal game where the controls were integral to the experience was Tomb Raider; how did we know that Lara was cold, aloof, stand-offish? For one thing, because no matter how you fiddled with the controls, you could never get her to turn around and look at you.**

So if we want to separate game mechanics from the more obviously art-qualifying parts of video games, like story and visual design and music, we would have to discount the way that the controls and general gameplay can interact with those artistic elements. Which they do, always and constantly, in every single game.

So, yeah…being able to make a clean separation between game mechanics and other game content would give us a clear line of demarcation. Unfortunately, in order to divide games into parts that are art versus not-art, you would have to ignore how all the different parts of games play off and resonate with each other, and who wants to do that? No one who cares about video games, that’s for sure.

So far, we’ve looked at the creation of games and the consumption of them as two different elements; in the next part, we’ll go into how a big part of art is creating your own experience of it, and how that applies to video games.

*I’ve read that Wagner always ranks really high whenever anyone does a ‘Best Composers of All Time’ list, and music lovers seem to be quite enamored with him. Saying that Wagner’s work is “pointless” may be grounds for war among chamber orchestra members, and I never pick fights with people holding brass instruments.

**This is an oversimplification: You could see Lara’s face in the early Tomb Raiders, but usually, only if you backed her into a wall…which, err, is not as bad as it sounds. Still, most of the time you only saw Lara’s back.

 

 

 

Final Fantasy, Part 1

FinalFantasy

I figured that it was time to make good on my ongoing threat to start blogging the Final Fantasy series from the beginning. I’ve played many of the games, some of them multiple times, but there are several entries I’ve either left unfinished or never even tried. This seems like a good opportunity to raise my FF fandom level from “considerable” to “nuclear,” and that kind of upgrade is always appealing.

However, trying to think of any kind of structure for this beyond “I am playing the games and writing stuff down,” felt pretentious, so I’m just going to do this in the form of sharing my notes as I play. This may change as I get to later FFs that I could probably write entire books about; I will try to restrain myself (but not very hard.)

Continue reading Final Fantasy, Part 1