Thursday, November 09, 2006

I See You Quiver With Antici....Pation!

The Huge post I promised is here, in full glory. You will find it below.

A 30/40 on my group's World Issues poster presentation. It's another one of those bland, ordinary marks, but then we deserved exactly that. We met the criteria, and we presented it fairly well (although the group that reviewed us dinged us marks for communication. huh...I thought we all spoke fairly well, but then I am not without bias). We didn't really go out of our way to have anything exceptional, or at least I didn't. One group did a fantastic-looking (I wasn't in the group that reviewed it, so I didn't see the slideshow itself. I have, however, done a project with the guy who made the slides, and he is good at it). I wondered if there was anything else one could do to have a remarkable presentation, and I had a flash: do a narrated, fully animated presentation. I'm going to look into that one.

I've actually started on my final project for physics. I should have my first prototype motor running by tomorrow, and then it's a few improvements here and there...a little profanity....and I'll be home free.

anyhow, enough preamble.

A Far Cry From Reality

I bought Far Cry for $10 at the Future Shop on Saturday. It was in single-DVD format, as opposed to the 5-CD package. Having both format and price working for it, that deal was a sell from the second I saw it. While I was at the store I had a chance to see the Windows Vista “evaluation copy” running on a few machines, but that's a story for later on.

On the way back to the car, heading home from South Keys, it occurred to me that if one DVD layer is almost 5GB, and a single Blu-Ray layer is 25GB, are 5-DVD game packages going to happen when games get ported from the PS3 or Xbox 360 (assuming that 360 gets games for its upcoming HD-DVD drive)? That also got me thinking: will the new generation of optical storage discs spawn a new “novelty genre” like the CD gave rise to Myst and sequels/clones, just to use up the HUGE amount of available space? One could argue that most games produced these days are all “novelty games”, espousing style over substance, and that no single genre could be singularly titled a “novelty genre”. If it weren't for games like Half-Life 2, FEAR, Far Cry, Ground Control II, Company of Heroes, Oblivion, and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic - to name a few - that are outstanding games (from what I have played of each, ranging from completion to demos and early levels) yet also “flashy”, I would buy that. A real “novelty” genre would be something like a shiney HD interactive slidesho -er- adventure game, or a choose-your-own-adventure movie. Of course, maybe Myst's time has passed, and new novelties will take its place. One can only wonder. Apparently Flight Sim X takes up 15GB on a hard drive (I have seen the system requirements on the box!). Maybe global terrain maps will be the shit this time around. One can only imagine 'The Oregon Trail HD', in which you can “bury your deceased wagonmates in authentic, 1:1 scale desolate path!”. Ok, I hope the real deal turns out better than that, if there must be a “novelty genre”.

You know, Myst was a cool game. I suck at puzzle-solving, but I love the art and backstory to the Myst games. Truly, truly beautiful stuff. If someone made a Myst RPG, where you could write ages into books, and fight/charm/puzzle-solve your way around the meta-verse, that would be pretty excellent. I think URU:live (which will be on Gametap, I think) might do the “age creation” half, which is pretty bitchin'. Speaking of which, could you make yourself a blinged-out age, with a gold-medallion island? That would be pimpin...and totally disgusting (the same?). Either way, there's little life left in Myst itself, but I'll bet there are a million cool related spinoffs that would be pretty original. I mean, Far Cry is kinda like Myst: Hot Lead Edition, in a “look at this beautiful, remote island setting” kinda way. Ironic hat the shooter is less linear than the adventure game there.

Playing Far Cry brought up some questions/issues in my mind, which I will make plain to you soon enough. But first, about a game called FEAR: The weapon handling in FEAR is similar to that of Far Cry (a little better, given that you don't have to hold MOUSE2 to keep your aim tightened, but I digress). Having played the demos of each (I have now beaten FEAR, and working on Far Cry), I found them related in a sense. Their environments are the antithesis of one another, of course, but I couldn't get the two games 'unstuck' in my head. I think there's a good reason. This is where those questions (thought I'd forgotten about them? shame!) come in. I wondered “Even if videogame violence and real violence are separate, do FPS games require a 'real' killer's mindset?” That sparked a debate in my head, the results of which I present to you below:

Far Cry and FEAR are, in fact, connected on a deep level: in both games, you hunt. The player is confronted with superior forces that stand a chance against him or her, which necessitates deliberate play. Headshots are more than double damage, they are sweet relief from enemy fire, and an economical use of bullets. The other important component is the enemies. Both games have human enemies that are soldiers (clones and mercs). Some have cooler gear, but essentially nondescript. Oddly, however, the 'generic' enemies are given character by their radio transmissions, barked orders, and/or scripted dialogue. This is coupled with well-programmed AI, to reproduce fighting people, rather than walking, armed cardboard cutouts. It works, to an extent. As in 'The Most Dangerous Game', gamers prefer to hunt people, or, rather, thinking creatures. It can be an alien, that won't matter. It is the satisfaction of outsmarting and.or outmaneuvering an enemy that's the key. Tactics are key in this area, and thats where the killer mentality comes in. Even though they speak, and joke, they are numbers when you come calling. It is said that 'to kill a man, you must first take off his face”, and that is what you do. 'DOOM', along with most other shooters, is not like this: the enemies aren't believable, and therefore have no 'faces' to begin with. Neither can you call Far Cry a 'murder simulator', because there is a key piece missing.

Games are often more fantasy than fact. In the real world wars, many soldiers did not shoot to kill. They were normal people, and it went against their conscience. Games about World War 2, for example, are about the war that propaganda would have us believe. No game – to my knowledge – ever had a Christmastime truce and game of soccer with the German line. No game ever had you share the last of your whisky with a dying enemy officer. The reason games don't have these moments is because people would not want to play and kill so much, if they thought of the people on the other side as people. Consider that unintentionally killed Sims are the cause of much grief for players, and that Alyx Vance was successful as constant companion in HL2: Episode 1. There is no question that people can be emotionally attached to virtual characters. Now suppose Valve had made Alyx turn out to be a traitor, and forced the player to kill her. I know I would have been floored in my first play-through, had such a thing happened. To simulate a real killing, a game would have to do the equivalent. Now here's the fun part: I think that it could be better if games involving violence became true “Murder simulators” as the current crop of violent games are erroneously derided. I read an article that talked about studies being done on why other fiction contains horrific violence, and yet gaming takes the flak. The reason is that killing is not taken seriously in a game. In the average shooter or space sim, your body count by the end of the game is enough that you could be tried for virtual genocide (ok, I exaggerate). In art/fiction, characters must reflect on the morality of the violence (and other acts) they commit. If games were of the same level, the player would have to make tough calls about killing. Moreover, there would be consequences.

Now, when I say that games would be better as “Murder Simulators”, I don't mean that they should endorse violence. Quite the opposite: I mean that killing should be a potential solution to problems the player will face, but should never be inconsequential. Friendly fire, however unintended should result in the death of an ally. Killing civilians should turn your companions against you (if they are of good conscience). Any character that the player will have the potential to kill must be as human as possible. For example: Your avatar is in an alleyway, and you instinctively fire upon a shadowy figure that runs past. You move forward, and find the dying body of a normal guy. Over your radio, a sharp intake of breath from the (obligatory) mentor/friend is heard. Your mission being what it is, you must hide the body to avoid detection. The catch: you've unlocked a now-mandatory mission where you have to visit his widow, and tell her what happened. This could show up two or three missions down the road, anywhere really. Or, alternatively, the son or daughter comes looking for vengeance, and you could end up in a 'you-or-them' situation, and you've just killed some poor woman's husband and daughter. I doubt that people would have much fun if every mistake were driven home like this, but I think it would add meaning to games. It would close the gap between gaming and other forms of artistic impression. It would make it harder for politicians to claim that the games endorse violence (ok, they'd still do it for the publicity, but it would be even easier to dismiss this time around). The only real problem I can think of is how to balance the action with the consequence. I can't suggest that action games become 'thriller' games, with brief, intense violence (although that would make cool games). The best solution I can think of right now has actually been done in part. In Half-Life 2, there are moments when rebels mourn their dead (“poor Laslo. The greatest mind of his generation, come to such an end” - Rebel, from “Sandtraps”), or you see injured fighters in infirmaries. Moments like this shown on both sides might do the trick. It wouldn't be for all games, as it could lessen the player's conviction. Still, I hope someone tries it. I bet it would find an appreciative audience.

I'm really only writing about action games, but strategy games with reluctant soldiers and civilian casualties would also be an interesting experiment. I think you would see a lot of gamers who would feel bad about it, some who would stop playing because it would be too discouraging. Everyone likes their troops saying "yes, sir!"...I don't think they would be so amused if they could zoom in on a group, only to hear them lamenting the loss of a comrade. That could be a great game, though.

If anyone reading this has been in actual combat, and I'm totally wrong about all this, please leave a comment and tell me so. I share my thoughts with you for the disagreements, as much as the concurrences.


Bobbleheads Are Funny Things

I must commend the United Church for its new ads. As you know, I'm not fond of religion, but it isn't going anywhere fast. I have only seen one of their new ads, but it could be a step in the right direction. Too often do you see churches looking backwards, and never looking around. Contemporary culture isn't going to change overnight, and the ability to recognize and pose questions about its effect on religion...well, I'll say this: Congratulations for at least appearing open to debate. Follow up on that, and you might have something. No dice on the reeling me in, though.

And here is a link to the story on these things. Have a look, it is interesting.

Ooh, Ooh! Here's someone who doesn't get it. (the ads, neither - yes, I have switched topics, but if you go to his main page, you will indeed find him to not be a fan of 'em). I did indeed think that Colbert was a pompous, Christian, right-wing, professional ass...and he is, but he's really playing Devil's advocate. It's COMEDY. The joke is on the people who think he's sincere. I feel kinda stupid on that note, because I didn't figure it out on my own. Probably why I'm not going to go see Borat right now...I think I saw an ad for it, a while back, and pegged it as something dumb and offensive. On the other hand, I think that Colbert and Borat are only funny as satire because there are real people who do the same thing, only seriously. Is it a sad commentary that I assumed they were joining the crowd?


Only 5 Years

I guess we now know the answer to “How long before reflex ends, and thought begins?”

I am, of course, referring to the big defeats for the Republicans in the U.S. I think I'll leave a full analysis for tomorrow, but I think this will be a change for the better. Especially if it slows down all the scary Antiterror legislation going through even today. I'm sure thousands of innocent Americans will sleep easier tonight, in the hopes that their human rights will still be theirs on the 'morrow.

With that, I bid you goodnight. Please leave comments.

Flying Spaghetti Monster bless America :P

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