Saturday, October 27, 2012

Emotion in gaming greatly excites me

I felt horrible taking down a 'Big Daddy' in the first Bioshock title.

I've always connected with games that offered more of a strong narrative with it's characters and story above most other aspects, but now it seems that this factor and the emotional responses it stirs up are becoming even more important to me and changing my outlook on games in general.

I've never been a big stat tracker, I don't ravel in the idea of maxing out characters for the sake of showing them off, I don't give two shits about "presteiging" nor do I care if I beat a game on super hard mode or have the trophies/achievements to back that up.

After finishing my first sit down with PC title 'To the moon', I noticed that I had thoroughly enjoyed the session, possibly even more than I've enjoyed my first forays into both recent titles Doom3BFG and Dishonored. That's saying quite a bit, as I rather enjoyed what I've played of those titles thus far. But it got me thinking. Are there other games, be they smaller or largely publicized titles that have captured me and toyed with my emotions? Strangely, yet wonderfully, the answer is Yes.

Two titles stuck out in my mind as having a stronger grip on me than any others of recent memory; both of which were smaller download titles, but both also seemed to hold gameplay second to the experience and it's really what sparked the idea for this blog.

This, honestly scared me.
The first of these titles is 'Papo & Yo'. A title that gives you control of a boy dealing with growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father. I don't connect with this title on that level, however, as I didn't have a childhood like that, but the effect seemed to be the same. It's kind of cryptic at first as to exactly what is going on and what message it's trying to get across. But by the end, you'll understand what the creator and team wanted to say.

There's a few scenes in the game that really took me back for a second and made me feel something more than just that fulfillment of being entertained. There were times where I felt a simple whimsical joy, I assume not unlike that of a child. I felt uncertainty when it came to monster and trusting him. Then I felt a sense of dread and a bit of fear when it came time when monster did show his aggressive side. This actually surprised me... as I've grown up on video games... I've played tons of them, I've hacked up, shot down and mowed through thousands of enemies in tons of games over the years, laughed at horror games trying to scare me and yet... this game tug at my various emotions. It's not even a groundbreaking game, it's decent, but not something a lot of people would even consider for some kind of "top 10" list. Yet, it is what it is and it stuck with me. There's a particular scene near the end, which the game gives you a solid 5(ish) minutes to take in and think about, as they play out a scene quite slowly and is something I'll probably never forget as long as I'm on this earth. It brought the idea of the game together, but... it made me think of the situations I had just gone through in a different light, pushed me into considering a different perspective... I was floored.

The second title to reach into my repertoire of emotions and bring something to the surface is Journey. Like Papo & Yo, Journey had an air about it that attracted me to it, even if I didn't have much of a clue as to the whole idea behind it. Starting out, you're not really told much of anything, be it a plot line or how to control the experience (outside of 'X' jumps) and you're left to explore, albeit guided very gently to where you need to go. Very gently is a key word as it has more to do with the structure of the levels than it is the game telling you that you should go a certain way.

Exploring the game at first, by yourself, is interesting, you're left to just figure out what the rules of this world are and how you play a part in this space. Later, without (the developers) telling you, you're introduced to levels in which other players (actual people playing at the same time) are integrated into your game as characters that look just like you. On my first run-in with one of these beings, I was excited to see another character and then intrigued by the behavior of (what I thought was) this NPC and then the joy of learning that it was in fact another person. No communication tools are available in the game, you have a jump button and a sort of "Shout" button which sends out a bit of a dissipating orb that grows from your body. But quickly, you learn to communicate with the other player with these simple tools and from there it gets even better.

Journey, with a friend is rather rewarding.

As you Journey with your friend (if you two stick together that is, if you go ahead by yourself, new players will load in instead of waiting for the player you were playing with first) you learn new things about the world. About who your character is, why they are here, where here is and what happened to this place. I don't want to ruin the experience for others, so I'll not tell you about how the game ends and how everything comes together. But suffice to say, it's one hell of a ride. Aside from the varied reactions I had to learning I was playing with another person, I also felt a bit of partnership with said character. In one play through I stuck with the same person for the whole game and we helped each other out. I felt pride in finding some hard to find pieces of scarf, I felt fear when a dark element is introduced in the game. Said fear turned into hand clenching excitement and a furthering of that fear as I tried my best to hide and then flee wildly from said dark force once spotted in a certain cavernous part of the game. I felt guilt and dread if a friend happened to get caught by this dark force. But it's the end of the game (much like Papo & Yo) that really shocked me.

Again, not detailing it, so as not to ruin it. The end toyed with my emotions so much... I felt drained when I finally let the credits roll. I felt anger, a bit of regret, then sadness then a weird acceptance and ultimately joy and calm as I hurled towards the end goal, completely at peace with what exactly happened. When I did put my controller down, I noticed my hands were shaking a bit, I was on a bit of a high of emotion and I just felt like I had been on the emotional trip of a life time in the matter of a few hours.

I never would of guessed that these two titles would of evoked such emotions in me and it makes me excited to see what else I can experience. Hard to say if 'To the Moon' will hold a similar experience, but it's kind of leading that way and I'll be pleased if it does. Thinking back on it, games like the Mass Effect series and the Uncharted series, which are a couple of my top games this generation in gaming, are in my top lists because of their characters and the emotion they're able to bleed into them. Perhaps it's not quite the same thing as the titles mentioned above, but it's interesting that the human connection is what draws me to them more than the game-play. I have no doubt that such a thing is connected to my maturing as I continue to grow as a person, my values changing as I do, but it's still kind of surprising and exciting at the same time.

I hope 'To the Moon' is just as powerful as the above titles.

David Cage, director at Quantic Dream, behind games like Omikron and Heavy Rain expressed his love for this very thing (the human connection) and communicating it through his titles. I wasn't sure if I agreed with him in saying that games need to have this sort of thing to strike a cord in the hearts of players... but I'm starting to believe he may be right. No, not every game needs this all of the time, as games are wide in variety and genres, but for me at least, I think I'm going to start needing these kinds of things for a game to stand out with me as I get tired of mindless violence and by the numbers gaming that never gets me invested into it's story. It's exactly why Call of Duty, especially it's multiplayer, means almost nothing to me.

Granted, I've also made connection with various games over the years, cared for their characters, shed a tear at certain events, felt a heavy heart at others and had those experiences stick with me over the years, but the impact seems to be greater now.

In closing, I'm loving this new breath of life in gaming and hope to see more of it as time goes on. Do you, readers, have an suggestions for stronger emotional titles?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Street Fighter 25th: Sometimes collector sets are worth it

When it comes to collector sets, with any medium really, it's often a situation where the team behind it are making something of a love letter to fans of the content, or are looking to cash in.

My mother got me a nifty looking box one Christmas, housing the collector's edition of the Tron: Evolution PlayStation 3 game which turned out to be a rather cheaply made $150 (okay, $90, as the game was $60) Tron light cycle with case, as the sole item included in such a 'special' edition. I was happy with my gift and loved her for her thoughtfulness, but as a set, the company behind is was so milking fans for their cash. Had the quality of the product been bumped up, I can see it being worth it, especially for fans, but as it stood, it was a bit of a stinker at that asking price.

Then you've got sets that come along and are worth every damn penny you drop into the purchase. Street Fighter's 25th Anniversary box set is one of those very things.

One could argue that even more could of been packed into the set; and sure, that's always something some are going to argue, but I am completely happy with this set and would of kicked myself if I had chosen to cancel my pre-order (which is something I actually thought about doing, as the set went for $150 and I was short on cash at the time it shipped).

Bare with me here as I take you through the contents of said box:

The box was contained in this cardboard sleeve, which too was in plastic, but here the plastic is removed. It's a heftier box than I had imagined. Which is a good sign, yes?

With the sleeve off, we've got a nice looking velvet like finish, with metallic logos and even metal on the corners for decoration. Let's pop this sucker open.

Open sesame. A mixture of cardboard and that faux-velvet material on the inside (it actually looks nicer than I detail), chunk-ing each section up into compartments. The top part of the box, shows the certificate with an address to fans written by Yoshinori Ono, along with an indication of the numbered box of the set (of 30,000 made). Behind that, is the large artbook for the set.

With the certificate aside, you can see the cradle for the book; the book itself is a soft feeling, hard cover book, filled with completely wonderful art pieces by fans. A lot of them are pulled from DeviantArt, but it's honestly a better showing than a book full of official art would of been, in my personal opinion.

A quick example of the art and layout of the book. Each piece lists the artist, their website (or deviant art account) and a small section written by them about the piece or their fandom of Street Fighter in general.

A hovering shot of the box (before I removed the book), showing the contents before I start plucking them out. On the left, the Ryu statue - which to my surprise actually takes batteries and lights up. The two PlayStation 3 games, Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition and Street Fighter X Tekken. A card with a code for Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix, Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition and DLC packs for SSFIVAE and SFXT. The Blu-Ray housing a ton of content, the 11 discs containing a head spinning amount of soundtrack content spanning the entire series and finally the full size replica Ryu belt.

Ryu in all his glory. The build quality is decent. I've seen more detailed figures out there, but this is far from a cheap knock off. His iconic pose is held in place by those blue swirl pieces and are what light up.

Took a shot in the dark to give you a feeling of what it's like. It's actually quite bright and has a better glow than this pic shows. (Image quality suspect on this shot, as it was in the dark, with my phone instead of my camera).

The first of many of the audio discs included in the box, giving a pretty extensive collection of the series' musical tracks. I believe there's even a 'fan's remix' CD included in the mix as well. I just took one pic and left the rest in the soft foam holding they're sitting it.

Now on to the thing that brought everyone into fandom, the games. Included in this pack is the Arcade Edition of Super Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter X Tekken. Both are housed on their own discs, in this single box. I haven't actually put them in my system yet (had SSFIV prior) but will at some point. The included code card (pic after this) includes a bunch of DLC for both games.

The 'code card' as I like to call it has a code on the back (just one sadly, not separate codes for each of the items) entitles a download of SSF2 HD, SF III 3rdStrike Online and a heft of DLC packs (costumes really) for the two disc based games above.

The Blu-Ray disc housed in the box is feature packed. It includes a documentary on the series, two Street Fighter IV featurettes, the SF2 animate movie and the original Street Fighter Animated series. Would of loved to see some SF Alpha content, but perhaps that's for another box set ;)

Last, but not least, is the mega cool, full sized replica belt that Ryu wears in game. Often times, collector sets end up packing in some kind of half-assed version of a replica, but this thing is well build. Quite impressed with it. Am I going to use it? No, probably not, but it's still very nice. Too bad they didn't include his red bandanna as well.

The last image I've taken is of the little passage, Ono wrote to fans, which I thought was kind of cool. Thought you might like a peak too.

In closing, I am so satisfied with this package and feel that a lot of love and time was put into it's production. Unlike other collector sets that feel cheap and more like a money grab, this one seems to have been made for the fans. I'd hope other companies take notice and see exactly how things are done. Sure, there could of been more things put into the set, but as it is, it succeeds as a wonderful homage to a great series.