Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Need for a New Lead – Part 1

Video games have come a long way since its humble origin; graphics have improved, game design has become more intricate, and consoles/pc has become vastly more complicated to develop for. However, in all this time, the protagonists of the games we play have stayed mostly the same. Not that there is anything wrong with the generic male lead, but I believe it’s time for more diversity. It’s time to bolster up the female leads, but not at the expense of personality, and there are examples within the industry already to learn from.
Samus, at the very end of Metroid
Makoto Kano probably didn’t realize what a big deal he was going to make in 1986 when writing Metroid. He just helped to create a game with a strong lead going up against insurmountable odds. The player was taken on a journey with Samus, and when you finally got to the end of the game it no longer mattered that she turned out to be a woman. She was strong, bold, fearless, and thanks to the trials during the adventure, the gamer had an affinity with her. She has attained lasting fame, not only by being the first, but also by having a mostly great series of games (We'll ignore Metroid Other M). Nintendo has treated her, and the Metroid series, with tremendous respect, and this helps to explain why after 26 years she has remained relevant.
This is how a badass dual wields
Nariko from HeavenlySword (voiced and modeled after the wonderful Anna Torv), was another female character cut from the same cloth as Samus. She was strong, brave, and driven to protect her people. With her fiery red hair, she cut through the enemy, despite the physical toll it took on her. It was because of this sense of tragedy that the player got to care for her; she was trying to save her people at the cost of her life, and everything the player did hastened her death. She knew what she was getting into, but she showed such strength of character doing all she could to protect those she loved. These simple acts speak volumes, far more than Marcus Fenix’s four letter words and bulging muscles. I one day hope for her return, outside of an assumed All Star’s appearance.
There can only be one
But not all characters are created equal; Tomb Raider’s Lara was… different. She had big boobs and short shorts, and, that was kinda it. She was sold on sex appeal, and whatever personality she may have had was forgettable, but the game play was good for the time, and her world was intriguing. This may change in 2013’s reboot, but only time will tell. The Boss (we need a solo game with her), Alyx Vance, and Zelda are all great characters, but they are not leads. So those were some of the strong female leads that have graced video games, but the industry needs not only look within; film and TV is a great place to get inspiration from too.
Out in the wilds of fan fiction, these two must be kicking ass together
Ripley (portrayed by Sigourney Weaver) from the Aliens universe and Olivia (not surprisingly performed by Anna Torv) from Fringe are great female leads. Like some of the others mentioned above, they’re bold, strong, brave, and extraordinarily protective of those around them. When put into tough situations, they have the fortitude and patience to think things through, and act with deliberation, most time outsmarting their advisories. They’re honest and hardworking, almost to a fault, and they don’t compromise their core beliefs on a whim or fancy. They have constantly been the best part of their respective universes, and please note, carrying big guns or having superpowers are not a defining trait, just incredibly cool.
Korra, just doing her Avatar thing
Recently the show The Legend of Korra not only had a female lead character, but one that was a minority too. And unlike Japanese anime, Korra was not a caricature of a strong female lead. She didn’t need over sized boobs, tight barely visible clothing, and big luscious lips to be strong. She was independent, trying to discover who she is and where she fit in into her world. It was a fascinating and honest journey (who hasn’t struggled with their identity while growing up), and handled with integrity. And she isn’t the only strong female lead this show has offered. LinBeifong, and her mother Toph were just as well rounded as the young Avatar.  
Hey, what about us?
There are plenty of female characters I didn’t mention (Jade from Beyond Good and Evil, Chell from Portal and Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but there is plenty of room for more games with strong engaging female leads. Most of these women are strong, brave, smart, and willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. You could write nonsense about it only being maternal instinct, but it’s deeper than that. These leads are good people who have been thrust into difficult circumstances, but managed to rise to the occasion. It just so happens they are women. This industry needs more diversity, something the movie industry and the TV world has, by and large, failed at; for every Ripley, Korra and Olivia, you get hundreds of male leads. It’s time for the video game industry to move beyond the limitations that have defined other forms of entertainment, and take bold steps. Gamers are intelligent (you need to be for games like Portal), and I have no doubt that we can handle a shift to more diversity, so bring it on, I would welcome this opportunity. Next month I’ll write about the need for stronger, better fleshed out and engaging minority leads.

Click here for articles on Dishonored, Metal Gear, and E3 2012.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

1 Sentence Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan gives us a real world Batman's inevitable fate with style, emotion, and class while giving us hope for a better tomorrow (plus SUPERMAN trailer).

Bane - Did you see the Superman trailer?
Batman - Yes. Looks like Cla... Superman is tackling the fishing industry.
Bane - Indeed!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dishonored Arcanum

Dishonored is next anticipated game from Bethesda Softworks of Fallout 3 and Skyrim fame. From the trailer, the game atmosphere takes on the combination of the Fallout and Elder scrolls series that meet a dystopian middle ground. I am both excited and disappointed by this Victorian supernatural assassin game; am I missing any other adjectives? Excited, because it is Bethesda's next big game and, generally, they do good jobs with their games. Well, if you choose to ignore all the glitch issues. Disappointed, here was a chance to revisit one of my favorite game worlds of all times: Arcanum:Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura.

Which means more fun, obviously

Come again, Arcanum? First off, as everyone may not be familiar: the team behind Arcanum is the same team. behind the original Fallout series. With this team, the game kept that rather dark yet humorous approach to semi-open world isometric RPGs but with steampunk and magic. Judging from the trailers and interviews, Dishonored seems to be just dark and linear missions, which is seems a bit out of place for Bethesda.

Arcanum was game where its gameplay and plot were not the greatest but this is where the world just dominates. I would argue that this is what made BioShock, and Bethesda's main games. Let think about BioShock: the gameplay was bland and the plot was good but made only greater thanks to the world. The world, basically a watery retort to Atlas Shrugged, and its exploration was the waves (sorry could not resist pun) crashing back in 2008. The personal joy was exploring Rapture and piecing together the various individual stories that make up the fall of the city. Kinda like WorldWar Z but replace zombies with libertarianism.

And why Ron Paul never gets that nomination...

The worlds of Arcanum and Dishonored can be easily confused. After all, they involve magic, steampunk, monocles and Victorian darkness. Since we've seen only glimpses of the Dishonored world, let's just focus on Arcanum. The Arcanum world most visibly seen as magic vs steampunk science. Simply put, neither can exist next to each other as the mere present of one disrupts the function of the other. Magic and science come to symbolize old world mysticism and new world progression, respectively. While the magic part carries itself in the Tolkien tradition, the steampunk science does give a nod to Tolkien also.

So yes, you can visit Middle-Earth

Lord of the Rings was not heavily influenced by World War II as one would expect someone living through that time and penning an epic of defeating a great evil. If anything, Tolkien reflected on the destructiveness of industrialism towards the environment. A prime example is Saruman chopping the forest near his tower-fortress to manufacture the supplies for Sauron's armies. Arcanum reflected upon this by giving a side mission to side with or against an orcish labor union strikers. While not dealing with union politics, you can the slums of the biggest industrial city in the game or explore the vast plains that once was forest but was cut down for industrial progress. Then again, what RPG is complete without the slum dive? Oh, there is a bit more but you might as well as play the game to get the full pleasure.

What makes this world great is the exploration of all sides of magic, science, politics, fantasy racism and such. While you do have your obvious evil and good, there is mostly an explanation instead of 'that's just how it is.' A sequel to Arcanum could have sent time exploring these topics a bit more and give a more personal yet open-world. With Arcanum, you've got a origin story established and now your sequel(s) can focus on a more personalize story as BioWare had done with Baldur's Gate and Mass Effect series. Let's explore the old mysticism and politics of magic and compare the pros and cons against the progression of steampunk science. Let's dive into the rise of capitalism against feudalism, with wizards and gunslingers thrown in for the mix. Sure it sounds like that horrifying history class with an overenthusiastic teacher you always dreaded; but look at BioShock.

Not sure if we should be scared or admiring that one student in the bottom right corner...

Bethesda seems like it is weaving something of a personal tale with Dishonored, which is a stark contrast with its two biggest titles. Sure, it could be just the game that breaks from its typecasting. Perhaps it will deliver on the new spin on stealth games. But still, a missed oportunity.

Posted by Richabob         

Monday, July 2, 2012

Draft Time – Metal Gear Edition

If you’re a fan of the English Premier League like me (Arsenal FC FTW), this time of the year can be tough. Football is over, summer signing rumors persist, and nothing is certain until the first two weeks of the next season. It was at this point I was thinking that if I were to draft an ultimate unit from the Metal Gear universe to take over the world, who would I put in my starting 11 (a football term for you yanks). Here are the people who would make the first team.
Manager: - The Boss, aka The Joy

The Boss is the single greatest warrior from the Metal Gear universe. She beat down Big Boss (twice), put fear into Colonel Volgin, commanded The Cobra Unit (greatest MGS unit in the series), sniffed out Eva for whom she really was, and is the catalyst for the entire series. The Boss was smart, calm, steadfast and strong, a vastly skilled fighter, and unwaveringly brave (she did willingly go to her death for her country). She brings the leadership to the team, and if anyone can control the following egos with ease, it’s The Joy.

Captain: - Liquid Snake aka The Brother of Dark

Liquid is quite the badass. In his one adventure he puts Snake through hell. Because of Liquid, Snake gets tortured by an Ocelot, attacked by a mad Raven, looses Meryl to a Wolf, and plays mind games with a Mantis (more on him later). Not to mention, in the final fist fight, Liquid’s punches carry more weight than Snake’s. Further, despite being blown up in then thrown off the top of Rex, and getting shot up in a jeep, Liquid only looses because of a military engineered virus. Liquid Snake was the Liquid Metal Terminator of the series, and any man who can kill Ninja Grey Fox should be feared. He brings the brawn, spite, and tenacity to the team.
Goalkeeper: - The End, aka The Father of Sniping

The End is the premier sniper of the series. He has achieved a synergy with nature to the point where it helps to camouflage him from his prey. He was part of the legendary Cobra Unit who helped bring an end to World War II, and by the time he faces Big Boss, he is well into his hundreds and still more than a match for the man. The epic fight with The End can last upwards of half an hour, forcing the player to look at every nook and cranny. He hid well, and most of the time he had you in his sights before you even knew what was happening. He brings the endurance to the team.
Fullback: - Laughing Octopus, aka The Devil’s Child

The Beauty and the Beast Corps played homage to Fox Hound from MGS, and they were a lot of fun. But out of the four girls you go up against, Laughing Octopus was undoubtedly the best. Her camo suit with mask allowed her to blend into her environment with ease, and she was able to mimic others very well, even down to their voices. Her only downside was her madness (but in Metal Gear that’s par for the course), but more than makes up for that with her tentacle arms and flying bombs. Octopus brings stealth and f**king flying bombs to the team.
Midfielder: - Vamp, aka The creepy guy with a hard-on for Raiden

Dead cell was not the best unit the series had to offer, but there was one star from their lineup; Vamp. To put it lightly, Vamp is a weird guy. It seems he had a sexual relationship with Commandant Dolph, Dolph’s daughter Fortune, Naomi, and was really into Raiden whenever they fought. Nonetheless, Vamp was an extremely skilled fighter. He could not be bested by assault rifles, rockets, and sniper rifles. He piloted a harrier jet, ran on water, made mincemeat of a SWAT unit and almost Snake, and was immortal (providing he still has the nano-bots in him). He was skilled in many types of warfare (hand to hand, vehicle, stealth), and would bring variety to the team (plus he would have such a boner for The Boss).

Forward: - Psycho Mantis, aka The guy who blew my freaking MIND!!!        
Psycho Mantis is still the single greatest boss battle in the history of videogames. He read your mind, could predict you moves, turn you screen off, hurl objects at you while being invisible, and mentally control others. He was just about the best, and that’s exactly who you want up front; a man with extreme confidence in his abilities which will guarantee victory. Psycho Mantis was the original Mindfreak (go to hell Criss Angle), and would bring the supernatural element to the team. 

Substitute: - Revolver/Liquid Ocelot, aka Shalashaska, aka ADAM     
Ocelot would have made it to the starting lineup if I was sure he was loyal to the team. However, he’s double crossed so many people you can never be too sure. Regardless, he is a master manipulator, loves to torture, is incredibly strong (asks Snake’s face), and is the only person not named Snake to ever go up against the legendary Big Boss and survive (sure Big Boss let him live, but that still speaks volumes). With Ocelot on the team, he could trick all opponents to take themselves out before a match would have even begun. He could be the greatest asset to the team, providing he’s playing for it.