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December 24, 2013

2013: Endless Possibilities


This year’s just about over.  Let’s have a special end-of-year post, shall we?  It’ll be fun.

At least, I hope it will.

*reads first 2 ¾ pages of Word document*

…Let’s just get through this.  I promise there’s a glimmer of hope in here.  A Christmas miracle, I know.  And on that note, HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

Now let’s get the despair party going.

  
If you’re reading this blog, there’s a pretty good chance you’re either familiar with GameInformer, or have more than a few issues lying around.  I certainly do.  They’re scattered here and there, but I’ve gathered a fair share of them over the years.  Say what you will about the whole “print media is dying” thing, but there’s always a level of excitement that comes with holding the latest issue of a gaming mag in your hands.

But the other day, I noticed something odd.  I was looking for my PS3 pad, and I spotted one of the latest magazines beside the window.  This one, in fact.


I kept up my search for the pad regardless, and spotted it on the desk.  But a few shelves up, I saw another issue.  This one.


I held the two magazines next to each other to compare, as if I’d tried to weigh them in my hands.  I didn’t, though.  I just tossed them both aside and sighed.

You can probably guess why I sighed, couldn’t you?  I know what you’re thinking, and you’re exactly right: in spite of my complaints (and hundreds, if not thousands of other complaints), we’re getting more gray games.  More desaturated, if not almost-missing colors.  That in itself isn’t such a bad thing, but it becomes a problem if that’s all anyone’s willing to do, as discussed.  But the reason for my distress goes further than that.  Not too long ago -- just slightly before the release of the GI issue -- The Order: 1886 had its gameplay revealed beyond the CG trailer from E3.  What sort of game would it be?  How would it play?  What could it do to make a name for itself in the gaming canon, and prove the power of next-gen consoles?



As far as I can tell -- in the absence of any straight-up gameplay footage, because of course the devs would wait as long as possible to show it -- it’s pretty much just steampunk Gears of War.  Or if not that, then another sci-fi third-person shooter, barring the promise of the odd-werewolf.  But this isn’t just me going off a few scant details; the GI article suggests the same.  The weapons are pretty much steampunk versions of the basic shooter armory, with maybe one or two tweaks like shooting lightning or something.  The article seemed more interested in describing how the clothes were rendered or how the physics engine affected textures instead of selling the game, unless the mention of wood is enough to get readers revved up.  To be fair, there is a bit of dedication to the story (including -- gasp!  A female character!), but when I turn the pages and confuse one white guy with facial hair for a different white guy with facial hair, I hope you’ll forgive me for being a little worried.    

Indeed, “worried” is pretty much my default setting when it comes to games these days.  And I have GI to thank for that.  Like I said, I’ve got plenty of the magazines lying around.  And out of curiosity, one day I decided to line them up and give their covers a look.  An examination, if you will.

Notice a trend here?





I will be fair.  I’ve taken a look at the games, either in the magazines themselves or wherever they may pop up on the net.  I know that Infamous: Second Son actually has color in it, as does the upcoming Lord of the Rings game.   Then again, I’m more than a little nervous about the former, because setting aside the fact that its announcement presentation had the clumsiest segue from controversies on personal freedoms to flipping superheroes, its story of fighting DA MAN and the threat on our privacy and overzealous government control sounds eerily reminiscent of Watch Dogs and The Division to a lesser extent...meaning that that's probably going to become the theme du jour of another dozen or so games.  Also, those games are giving me PTSD flashbacks to DmC.  You don’t want to do that.  But I’ll talk more about that in a bit.

What I find interesting is that even if the games on the cover aren’t exactly boasting a full palette -- even if, again, a lack of colors doesn’t necessarily signal a bad game -- GI seems to be going out of its way to make it look like everything is dark, or gray, or featuring heavily armored/cloaked tough guys.  I’d assume it’s for visual consistency -- or maybe some kind of united aesthetic when you get the mags together for a photo shoot.  But what if that’s not the case?  What if the guys at GI are resigned to the fact that this is what our industry puts out nowadays?  Or better yet, what if the guys at GI are trying to teach us that this is our industry now?  Games that threaten to miss the very point of being games?  


It’s farfetched, I know -- but wouldn’t that make so much sense?  They’re not just out to inform us; they’re out to show us that “Hey, this game might not be original, but it’s all right.  It’s still a game.”  It’s a consolation.  It’s an attempt to soften the blow dealt by the homogenization of the industry. 

It’s complete bullshit.  We shouldn’t have to be in a state where things have gotten this bad.  We shouldn’t be in an age where a game like Fuse, the most generic third-person sci-fi shooter ever, made by the guys behind Ratchet and Clank (via some satanic contract with EA), was released with a straight face into stores, and tanked in the same breath, no matter how much lightning the minds behind it wanted to cram inside a bottle.  We shouldn’t be in an age where Dead Space and Lost Planet are indistinguishable from one another, save for the addition of microtransactions because no one can keep their wallets in their pockets.  We shouldn’t be in an age where we’re reminded of just how bad licensed games can be.  We shouldn’t be in an age where games are left fundamentally broken because of completely pointless design decisions.  We shouldn’t be in an age where the first goddamn game worth buying on a next-gen console -- itself being, according to several companies, the “key to innovation” -- is an okay-at-best sequel to an okay-at-best franchise.  A franchise, mind you, that is a sci-fi first-person shooter.  And just the first of several, if Destiny (Halo meets Borderlands!  Riveting!) and Titanfall  (CoD meets Lost Planet!  Unprecedented!) have their way.  To say nothing of the inevitable deluge of modern military shooters bubbling up on the horizon. 

But this is our industry now.  Because this was the year of DmC.


I know what I said at the end of my post on the game: DmC isn’t a game worth remembering.  Well, as it turns out, I was wrong.  It IS worth remembering -- because no matter where I turn, I’m reminded of that game.  DmC isn’t the worst game ever, obviously, but it is indicative of so many problems with the industry today.  SO MANY.  The worthless protagonist.  The insultingly bad story.   The dumbed-down gameplay.  The complete misunderstanding of what it means to be a satisfying game, let alone an action game, and let alone a Devil May Cry game.  The heaven-or-hell spending of its makers on pointless niceties -- things that don’t improve the game beyond having “the most realistic shrugging animation ever created”.  The sheer arrogance of its makers, assuming that they’ll succeed with accolades and wealth, and make everything else (including its far-superior predecessors) look like trash.  The outright nastiness that pervades the entire product, turning what should be a fun, tight, and potentially-thoughtful experience into a mean, nasty, dumb, and theoretically-forgettable game.  And I MEAN game -- not the “experience” that so many have boasted about before.  Just a game. 

You know me by now.  I’m the Eternal Optimist.  I try to find the bright side of things, and believe that there’s hope.  That’s still true, even to this day.  But cripes a la mode -- it’s getting harder and harder to deal with this shit.  Just look at my archive of Let’s Discuss posts from DmC on.  Look how much I have to rag on these games -- games, my favorite pastime.  DmC, Call of Duty, God of War, Final Fantasy 13-2, The Last of Us, and Star Ocean: The Last Hope.  Not all of those were released this year, I know, but by now I’m pretty sure I’ve made myself clear on how I feel about 13-2, a game that deserves to have its badness exposed every year.  And of course, that’s leaving out posts on games like Batman: Arkham Origins and Beyond: Two Souls -- the former having combat so bland I struggled to play past the first hour, and the latter (had I played the full game) being my nominee for the worst game of the year.  But hey, top-of-the-line moist face rendering, amirite?


There were some bright spots.  Let it be known that there were some bright spots.  Metal Gear Rising is pretty much my GOTY, and with good reason (though The Wonderful 101 comes close).  Tales of Xillia and Dragon’s Crown both proved themselves to be fantastic games, as well as Ni no KuniBioShock Infinite is proof that even a game built with a castle’s worth of gold can be good if that wealth is used well.  Same goes for Grand Theft Auto V.  Hell, even Injustice has proven itself to be pretty solid (though the fact that a guy who’s on record of hating Mortal Kombat would put its successor in a theoretical Top 10 carries a LOT of negative connotations).  The Wii U, as mentioned over the course of a month, has already proven itself as THE next-gen console, minus all the inanities that plague the Xbone and PS4 at the moment.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m biased.  The very first.  But I want games to do consistently well, and elevate themselves to the platform I want them to stand upon.  I don’t want to be worried about the quality, or even announcement of a title in a medium with so much potential.  That’s partly why I did those posts -- so people could see that, yes, the Wii U is worth owning, because it stands for something.  Like the DS before it (and the 3DS currently), it can be something more.  And it will be something more, because Nintendo is partnering up with notable developers -- Atlus, Sega, MonolithSoft, Tecmo Koei, and Platinum Games, to name a few -- to give gamers the things they want.  Games that are stylish, or thoughtful, or rewarding, or any of those things.  Any of those things could lead to the fun we expect.

Why people would refuse to give it a chance irritates the hell out of me.  Because by now, you KNOW what the alternative is.  You KNOW just how bad it can get.

But there is hope.  Just look at this.


Look at this.  Look at this.  LOOK AT IT.  LOOK AT IT.  Can you believe that that’s being done with the Unreal Engine, AKA the engine responsible for the brown and gray sludge we’re waist-deep in?  Can you believe that it’s possible to make a good-looking, stylish game on next-gen consoles and off of them?  And probably without requiring the robberies of several hundred banks!

Also, let's not forget about efforts elsewhere.  If there's one game I'm interested in seeing more of -- and one of the only things of worth to come out of the VGX awards, because why the hell didn't BioShock's Elizabeth even get nominated for Character of the Year? -- it's Broken Age.  It has an air of thought and sophistication about it.  It has style.  It feels like there's something to say, and a reason for being.  It's genuinely exciting.  It isn't just about power fantasies and faux-drama.  At least, I hope so -- and I get the feeling that my hopes won't be dashed.


Also, let's not forget this is a thing.  It'll either be the best thing ever, or the worst thing ever, but it's still gonna be a thing.


It just goes to show you what can be done with the proper tools, a vision, skill, and of course effort.  The industry is plagued with problems it’s created on its own -- and if it wants to be done with those problems, it’s going to have to stop contributing.  It’s going to have to stop doing the same thing over and over again.  I’m not saying “no more shooters!” or “no more terrible pessimism porn stories!” or “no more lavishly-rendered violence!”  I’m just saying there needs to be less of it.  Or if you’re going to do it, make it better than anything before it.  This was the generation that gave us Mass Effect, which might as well be the gold standard in any number of ways.  Surpass that, and you can boast all you want.

You can do a lot with the tools in your toolbox.  Anyone can.  You just have to have the will to do so.  You have to be willing to make something that’ll prove why you’re allowed to make a claim in the world, gaming or otherwise.

And that got me thinking: what if I made a game?


I’ve mentioned in the past that I don’t have much of an interest in becoming a cog in the industry.  The preceding 2,000 words should tell you why.  There are probably even more reasons than that.  But lately, I’ve entertained the thought.  Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation fame recently did a post on the freeware game he’s been working on, and I thought to myself, “Hey, that sounds cool.  Wish I could do that.”  But not long after, I thought, “Wait.  What if I DID do that?”

What if I did, indeed?  I’ve mentioned some concepts before -- an over-the-top, globe-spanning beauty pageant, a character action game where your attacks make enemies stronger, and a space-faring adventure where you do research and use the environment to your advantage instead of the biggest gun in the room -- but those were all proofs of what could be done instead of GRRRR GRIT AND GUNS or GRRRR REVENGE AND EPICNESS.  Still, the concept is intriguing.  What if I learned how to make a game?  What if, by some stroke of luck, it ended up becoming something worthwhile?  Something enjoyable?  Something that actually didn’t look slapped together in a half-hour?  What if, as it turns out, there was a possibility I’d set aside for much too long?  What if I had untapped potential to become the hero I’ve always wanted to be?

Maybe I do.  Maybe I don’t.  Maybe I’ll give game-making a shot.  Maybe I won’t.  We’ll have to see.

After all, I’ve got D.O.X. 

At least, I did have it.


Eagle-eyed/longtime readers of Cross-Up (I’m sure they’re out there somewhere) may have noticed that from time to time I’ll make a reference to some project I’ve had in the works.  There’s one in the Metal Gear Rising post, and another in one of those blasted 13-2 posts.  I was referring to what one could charitably call my baby.  My grotesque, five-legged, lime juice-spewing baby, D.O.X.  Short for “Day of Execution” (don’t ask), it was set to be THE story that would help me establish myself as a writing hero.  The proof of concept.  The potential, and the foundation of everything to come.  The thing of mine that would entertain others.

Now, let’s go ahead and play a game.  I want you to imagine a number.  Any number higher than…oh, let’s say a hundred.  Then imagine another number, with the same minimum.  Then imagine two single digit numbers, but make the second at most half of the first. 

Got ‘em?  Okay, good.  Because whatever numbers you’re thinking of, go higher.  Because respectively, each number counts for A) the total word count, B) the total page count, C) the number of potential volumes, and D) the number of years I’ve spent on it. 

Now, one more thing.  Imagine what it would be like to wake up one morning and realize that all of that effort was pointless.


I know what you’re thinking, and I thank you for it.  Is there a possibility that D.O.X. as-is is worthy of being published?  Yes.  If the book that ruined vampires can become a cultural phenomenon, then I think I stand a chance (especially since it was going to make vampires awesome again vis a vis invoking the spirit of Castlevania’s fireball-shooting, ever-transforming Dracula).  But thanks to Cross-Up -- and my well-established penchant for overthinking things -- I’m convinced that D.O.X. isn’t good enough, and it never would have been.  The concepts and ideas are there, but not where they should be.  It’s full of silliness, melodrama, and in hindsight a handful of things I’ve raged at on this very blog.  It’s a C-average effort, and I know that that’s not enough for me.  I know it needs to be better, because even before now I’ve toyed with the concept of what-if scenarios.  The fact that I can come up with more interesting set-ups than the actual “canon” story means that something went wrong.

That all said, what I’ve done so far hasn’t been for nothing.  D.O.X. is effectively dead, but its parts and assets are still salvageable.  Useable.  They need a bit of…okay, a pretty big overhaul, yes, but it’s not like I have to completely start over.  That’s precisely why I have that “mysterious file”, AKA the product of my NaNoWriMo efforts.  It’s a rebooted, re-energized version of D.O.X, and while I can see issues cropping up -- I’m not wholly convinced I’m moving the plot fast enough, which was a game-breaking problem with the original version -- I can’t help but look at it fondly.  I feel like this version actually stands a chance of being…well, good.  Good enough.  Good in the sense that it might actually pass my needlessly-high standards.  Shit, it'll probably make more sense than Beyond: Two Souls.


So try-hard...

So yeah, I’m happy.  There’s a phrase out there about “killing your darlings” --basically, being unafraid to pull out pieces of your story no matter how much you’ve gotten attached to them.  If that’s the case, then boy did I kill the hell out of D.O.X.  And that’s a good thing.  I’m doing it to make the story the best it can be, and I can see those changes -- that ideal form -- taking shape.  It’s something that I’m genuinely excited about, and happy to be putting together, piece by tiny piece.  So I’ve decided that if Cross-Up has indirectly made me a better writer by indirectly thinking about D.O.X., then it’s only natural that talking about it directly can have an even greater effect.  Or just give you readers a chance to laugh at me.  But I guess that’s fair, since I’ve taken so many shots at others.  So consider that one of the upcoming changes.  I’ll do quite a bit if it means fulfilling my ideals.

The question, then, is obvious.  What’s going to happen to Cross-Up?

I should start by saying that as of this post, the blog is going on hiatus.  Well, a sort of hiatus.  I feel bad about not putting up SOME kind of content, so here’s what I’m going to do.  For the next few Fridays, I’m going to toss up pieces of a miniseries I posted on Destructoid.  It’s sort of a revamped and expanded version of what I said at the end of the latest 13-2 post -- about Lightning being the villain of this so-called Lightning Saga -- but in a much less rage-filled format, and examining her across three games instead of one.  I know, I know, another FF13 post -- but trust me, those will be there for a reason.  I’ve got plans, and if I’m going to put them in motion, I’m going to have to lay a foundation.  So they’ll be there if you want to read them.  If not (or, you know, if you’re doing the smart thing and enjoying the holidays with friends and family), then ignore them.  No big deal.  It’s Christmas time.


That in mind, the hiatus won’t last for too long -- sometime in January, I hope to get more stuff up.  (Hint: once all three posts are up, I'd recommend checking back semi-regularly.)   Even now, there are so many things I want to do, for the blog and outside it.  There’s a project in particular that I want to piece together, and that’ll be easier if I don’t have to worry about yammering on for a post.  I also want to get back to I Hraet You one of these days, chief among them finally sitting down to implement some edits.  (And update the cast page.  And more bonus chapters.)  Plus I want to actually try using this “social media” thingamajig more effectively, so that more people end up coming to the blog and we can have some real discussions.  An exchange of ideas.  Camaraderie.

I’ve already got ideas for some new posts.  I want to write about superpowers, and how a number of them could make for unique gameplay mechanics.  I want to take a closer look at a certain power armor-filled anime (even if it’s awful) to explore the ins and outs of the dreaded harem as a way to see how I’m doing with I Hraet You and its “harem”.  I want to write another “How to Make a Good ________ Movie”, because there’s one I’ve been hoping to pile-drive into being for a while.  I want to do more.  I want to explore more.  I want to be more.  And if I keep going, someday I will be.


I’ve been bullied and trolled by video games this whole year, and years before that.  Indeed, I’ve been let down by fiction a lot this year.  Disappointing movies, TV shows that have strained my goodwill, anime that’s betrayed my hopes and the product it cribs from…it’s all started piling up.  But that’s just how it is.  I know there’s good stuff out there, and there always will be.  When and if I see it, I’ll gladly point it out, and why it’s good, and what valuable lessons are tucked away within.  Likewise, there is always going to be terrible stuff out there.  Always.  Sometimes more bad stuff than good.  But that's fine, because I've seen the good, and I know more good is coming -- AND I'm trying to make something good on my own, whatever form it may take.  So if I come across something bad, I’ll explain why I feel the way I do, and learn from it.  For better or worse, that’s just the kind of thing Cross-Up was designed to be.

And it’ll be that way for a while yet.  It’s true that it’s going to be something that’ll inspire great joy and great frustration.  It’s true that even if there are going to be some changes around here -- and I mean changes -- in essence it’ll stay the same.  It’s true that, like the infamous fighting game technique, there’s no guarantee that anything I do will work or win the hearts of millions or…you know, be good.

But that’s fine.  I’m confident that I’ll get there someday.  Maybe soon, even.  I’ll do my best to become a true hero -- because there’s always going to be that possibility.


Admit it.  You thought I was going to post the Sonic Unleashed theme, didn’t you?

2 comments:

  1. ... "Reach for the Stars" will be lodged in my head all day. Merry Christmas, you jerk.


    No matter the quality of DOX and its "re-vamp", seeing how well you usually write and point at narrative flaws, I'm positive they are FAR more comprehensible than B2S, DmC, the FF13 saga, and even Man of Steel. Easier said than done, but don't beat yourself about it.


    Anywho.


    This was a pretty lackluster year in entertainment. I suffered a severe anime crisis that I still haven't recovered from, and I nearly slipped back into a video game one had it not been for Atlus. Then watching you and other reviewers suffer at the mere mentioning of awful games and movies, hope was dwindling. Three ways to fix that is to at least get rid of all that GREY, strip all military subtext, and for crying out loud, get some razors and hair dye so I never have to see another brown-haired stubbled big burly man Sheploo-Joel-Donte-lookalike with no personality, charm, wit, and/or snark!


    Speaking of which, this 3rd person shooter plague even hit the Harry Potter games. They were once really fun, adventure games. Hell, the second, third, and fifth games were practically open world with lots of secrets that I still can't find after so many years of playing them! ... Then 7 parts one and two came out. ...And I thought the fourth game was the worst. At least the wands didn't turn into guns. At least there still were secrets and puzzles. At least the linearity wasn't so extreme. ... That was the day I truly realized how awful movie licensed games tended to be.


    *sighs*


    But you know what? It's Christmas. I still have a decent number of games to play. I have stuff to enjoy that I got this year, like Fire Emblem Awakening and Shin Megami Tensei IV. Gotta think happy thoughts.


    You enjoy some time of positivity too. And good luck on your projects. And hopefully next year will have a light at the end of a tunnel that comes from the sun, not an oncoming train.

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  2. I like Reach for the Stars, but I'd like to think that Live and Learn is much better at getting stuck in one's head. That, or Eggman's theme. It's so eighties! Well, presumably.


    Jeez, I forgot about the whole "Gears of Harry Potter" thing from a while back. I mean, was there an overlap of HP fans and GoW fans? I know the story got darker and had a bit more action, but a third-person shooter? Really? I mean...yeah, I guess it's easier to make a TPS than anything else, but doesn't that just help show how creatively bankrupt and lazy the genre is? Then again, I guess that's the whole point. Easier = better, in the devs' eyes.


    It's safe to say that brown and gray worlds and burly white dudes are going to stick around for a while, because A) they're easier and B) I'd assume they're just trying to sand down anything that might offend gamer sensibilities or get in the way of enjoying the gameplay. It's a stupid mindset, but I understand it. It's something that's pretty much just talking down to the consumer, but I understand it. But if there's one bright spot that comes out of all this, it's that IF we're doomed to wallow in a sea of gray, when there's a glimmer of color (and there will be, so long as Nintendo exists), it'll shine that much brighter. Now getting people to swim toward it, THAT'S going to be the clincher.


    Anyway, D.O.X. If nothing else, it's...interesting, maybe? Sure, let's use that word for now. It's got some juice, at least, and its cast is probably a strong suit. Lots of other stories might have MCs with the emotional depth of cardboard, but I'll be DAMNED if my lead isn't deserving of the role. But I guess you can look forward to hearing about him and the rest in the near future. Maybe. Possibly. Well, he has the body of Persona 3's MC (albeit with a palette swap or two) with the wit of Spider-Man fused with the ferocity of the common psychopath, buuuuuuuuuuuuut I'll get to that.


    It'll all come together eventually. I hope.

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