Browbeating

  • Reading time:8 mins read

Toups: hey I assume you’ve read this.
aderack: Now I have!
aderack: “We don’t have any highbrow games.”
Toups: it’s good, until he actually starts talking about what a highbrow game would be like
aderack: I imagine that will be… problematic.
Toups: and then… he starts talking about will wright
Toups: and the whole time I’m thinking “dude have you even PLAYED shadow of the colossus”
aderack: Myst is kind of highbrow.
aderack: Except a lot of people deride it as not a “real” videogame. Less so than about six-seven years ago.
Toups: maybe that says something doesn’t it!!
aderack: I guess so!
Toups: either a) a “highbrow” videogame can not truly exist (the more highbrow it becomes, the less it is a videogame), or b) people have come to define “videogame” in an inherently lowbrow way, so that when something highbrow comes along they are inclined to call it a “non-game”
aderack: And before yet another idiot pipes up with Standard Asinine Comment #1 (“but FUN is the only thing that matters!”), let me just say: No, it’s not. Shut up and grow up. Our overemphasis on fun—kiddie-style, wheeee-type fun—is part of the reason we’re in this mess in the first place. To merely be fun is to be unimportant, irrelevant, and therefore vulnerable.
aderack: I like that way of defining “fun”.
aderack: “Wheeee-type fun”.
Toups: yeah
aderack: Yeah, the problem is, I think, that we just don’t have the medium down yet. It’s been too caught up in “wheeee”. For the sake of “wheeee” itself, that is.
Toups: shadow of the colossus provides “whoa” type fun?
aderack: And also, it… at least strives to do more than simply entertain.
Toups: though, you know, I think “whee” can be highbrow
Toups: miyazaki’s movies have lots of “whee” in them
Toups: if any of the mario bros. games (save part one maybe) had some class, they could be highbrow
Toups: (class in their visual style, etc)
aderack: Honestly, I think that Tarantino is somewhat highbrow. Or at least could walk around in said company. And there’s “wheeee” all over.
aderack: That’s the benefit of virtuosity. You master a medium, you manufacture your own class.
Toups: I think he’s really just arguing against visceral thrills in games
Toups: which is a good thing, but for the aim of “high brow” is maybe a little misguided
Toups: it’s just sort of reactionary
Toups: can’t really blame him
aderack: I know. It’s… he’s on the right track, so far (page two).
Toups: that part of the article’s fine!
Toups: great, even!
aderack: “The serious games movement will help a little with this problem because serious games aren’t just for fun, but by itself that’s not enough. People write comic books to help teach kids about fire prevention and healthcare, but that doesn’t change the perception that comics are for kids.”

Another good observation.
aderack: In terms of “serious games” being silly things to take so seriously.
Toups: highbrow games would have to teach us things about our souls
aderack: Right. Again, it’s a matter of focus — principlally on the humanity of the art. What it has to tell us about ourselves.
aderack: The problem is in how to achieve that in a way that comes right out of the heart of the medium — and is therefore gripping and entertaining, and not just pasted in. Valve’s on the right track.
Toups: yeah
Toups: I mean
Toups: you can look at a handful of games that, from a design perspective, are on the cutting edge
Toups: really on the right track
Toups: you could say that they are there, if it weren’t for their subject matter
Toups: or, to put it another way
Toups: the games have everything there to make you care
aderack: Yes. It’s… encouraging that the pieces do seem to be out there. It’s just, nobody’s really been combining them into a definitive masterwork that will show everyone how things are done. Hate to say it, a Kane. That analogy needs to be banned, one of these days.
Toups: yeah
aderack: We’re getting there.
Toups: you know
Toups:
Toups: hm
Toups: I don’t know
Toups: I’m tempted to put my faith in Ueda, if for no other reason than he has the right ideas, he just isn’t that great at design
Toups: give him say, valve’s team
Toups: and you’d have… something
aderack: Yeah. I know. He’s not a nuts-and-bolts guy. That’s his only real problem.
aderack: And he pretty much has to do everything himself.
Toups: yeah
Toups: and his designs aren’t even demanding
Toups: they just need a certain elegance that most designers can’t do
aderack: That would be pretty much perfect, you’re right.
aderack: Valve plus Ueda.
Toups: of course, that’s the most frustrating part of this
Toups: I can point to any number of games that have the right parts
Toups: it’s just there isn’t one game that does them all at once
Toups: no one’s really picked up the ball that shenmue dropped, for instance!
aderack: And get the Silent Hill 2 guy in for color.
Toups: yeah
Toups: hell yeah
Toups: get that guy out of EA
Toups: man
aderack: The talent’s buried and scattered.
aderack: And doesn’t communicate.
Toups: see
Toups: if I was really rich
Toups: like
Toups: really
Toups: really rich
Toups: I’d just buy all these motherfuckers
Toups: base the studio in lafayette
Toups: and let the games write themselves
aderack: Feed them gumbo.
Toups: yeah
Toups: man, I had lobster tonight
Toups: for the first time ever
Toups: see the thing is
Toups: we eat lots of crawfish over here
Toups: and a lobster is basically a HUGE crawfish
aderack: It is.
Toups: so seeing one in the flesh (or er, shell), was pretty mindblowing
Toups: what a fucking weird creature, huh?
aderack: Seafood in general, actually, creeps me out. Like fungus. One of those things; hard to get around.
Toups: yeah, seafod is pretty fucking weird though
Toups: seriously though, you eat it here you’ll be converted
aderack: Lobsters — I mean, there’s this huge fucking animal on your plate.
Toups: yeah
aderack: It’s not abstract enough for me.
Toups: yeah!
Toups: it’s raw man
Toups: it’s medieval!
Toups: it’s… primal
aderack: It’s like that scene in Temple of Doom.
Toups: I haven’t seen that in a very long time
aderack: Yeah, I’m into “what would a Merchant Ivory game be?” section. And barf.
aderack: Right.
Toups: yeah
Toups: I mean, in a sense he’s right about the music and the visuals needing to be beautiful
Toups: and yet, way to miss the point
aderack: “In common with literature or poetry, a highbrow video game would include connections to the wider world; it would tell us something about our society and ourselves. Not the cutesy winking references of postmodernism, but real cultural roots.”
aderack: Okay, he’s got that down.
Toups: yeah
Toups: he just misses out on HOW it would do that
Toups: (protip: not with beautiful graphics or art)
Toups: (those games already exist!!!)
aderack: “Above all, a Merchant Ivory video game would be about people and ideas.”
aderack: Right.
aderack: He’s got the right thing going.
Toups: this is a much better question, anyway, then “where is the lester bangs of games journalism”
aderack: It’s a good discussion topic, if you can deflate the idiot arguments right off.
Toups: and, actually, it occurs to me why there can’t be lester bangs for videogames
Toups: because rock and roll was a counterculture… it had that “high brow” to rebel against
Toups: and then it had the means to make its own sort of “high brow”
aderack: Right.
aderack: Videogames… they don’t need a spokesman.
Toups: they need a role model, maybe
aderack: Role model. Yes.
aderack: That’s a good distinction.
Toups: they need a game that people play and say “I want to make games this way”
Toups: or hell, just “I want to make games”
aderack: Role model, not spokesman. If anything, videogames have been tooting their own horn prematurely for way too long.
aderack: Which is part of the perceptual problem.
Toups: yeah
Toups: it’s funny, actually
Toups: reading the history of atari
Toups: way back then, those guys were insisting that game making was an art form
Toups: and, well… look how that turned out
Toups: a lot of this talk is nothing really new. there’s just a lot more money involved now
aderack: Well, they were onto something at the time.
Toups: they were!
Toups: moreso than they were now, at any rate

This Week’s Releases (Aug 24-28, 2006)

  • Reading time:8 mins read

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Week thirty-seven of my ongoing, irreverent news column; originally posted at Next Generation

Game of the Week:

Guild Wars Factions
ArenaNet/NCsoft
PC
Friday

This is sort of an expansion, though it’s being sold as a standalone entity. Think of it as Phantasy Star Online version 2, for the Dreamcast. With Factions installed, you can access either the normal Guild Wars campaign or a new second campaign exclusive to this release. This second bit, which ArenaNet likes to describe as a completely separate game, has your new regions, skills, professions, and whatnot and a whole new feature set for guilds and multiplayer play.

The Car Door is Miyazaki

  • Reading time:4 mins read

The Castle of Cagliostro is better than I expected, even knowing its reputation. What struck me after seeing it — aside from how reminded I was (and with good reason) of Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door — was how imperfect the movie was. How imperfect Lupin seemed, in comparison to how he might have been. After all his effort and his skill and lucky chances, he, indeed, in a move which must put a gleam in Robert McKee’s eye, fails his mission.

This is part of the standard screenplay arc; the hero must rise to a height, then fall so he might rise again. See any boxing movie ever made, and note the moronic misunderstandings every couple must face three-quarters of the way through a romantic comedy, just so the man can make it up to the woman and they can realize how stupid they were for acting like completely different people just long enough to create tension. The difference here is, although we have a pretty good idea that Lupin will succeed, somehow, in the end, it never is certain. When he does succeed, he does it not because the plot demands it (although again, it does) so much as because he has earned it: not because he must, but because he might.

This works because we see him fail. Lupin is a flambuoyant man. He swings for the ropes, and although he knows what he’s doing, there’s a certain element of risk built into this behavior. Sure, Lupin can control himself — but that’s different from being in control. And with as small a window of success as his stunts need, if it’s not one darned thing it’s another.

Take a look at the episode on the rooftop, where Lupin intends to cross the several hundred yards of empty space, to a tower. He has one plan; life has another. That he is rescued by a sight gag — should we always be so fortunate — does little to dampen the near-disaster he put himself into. By the time Lupin does so suddenly, and arbitrarily, fall, we are prepared for it. We aren’t prepared in that we expect it; just in that it comes from somewhere. Yes, these things happen — and oh damn, he almost made it. It feels unfair, and frustrating — because we know on another day he might have succeeded. Chances are, he would have. Those are just the odds. What is all the more upsetting is that it is not until then we fully realize all that had been riding on Lupin. Even his archantagonist, Zenigata, had been on his side; with Lupin’s failure comes that realization so many antagonists come to: that without the protagonist, they have no reason to be.

The solution, then, is to stack the odds. The rest of the movie plays out much as one might expect: all the characters play to their strengths; the world is set to its normal order, perhaps a little wiser, perhaps a little sadder. We get perspective on the unending battle of the TV series. We feel wistful. And the oddly-silent credits roll.

Still, what we got is better than it need be. Better than, maybe, it should be, for what it is. A movie based on a long-running cartoon: this ain’t the kind of place you expect to go looking for truth, much less of the standalone sort. The characters jump into play with no real introduction; if you don’t already know the cast, why would you be watching a movie like this? No introductions are really needed, though. Relationships are implied, and used to the extent that the movie implies them. No one needs announce himself, as the personality is evident. One look from Lupin, and you know who Fujiko is — even if you don’t, really. She isn’t in the movie enough for it to matter, anyway. If you’re still burning for information, she clarifies the matter towards the end, saying nothing that first look didn’t.

I don’t know if I need to see this a dozen times. Then, for what the movie is, maybe it would be a failure if I did. It is worth the time, however.

Oh, and Konami almost certainly borrowed from this when designing Castlevania.

I began writing this last afternoon.

  • Reading time:3 mins read

I saw Holes today, partially due to Ebert’s recommendation; partially because it was playing at Railroad Square. Not at all bad; this is a kids’ movie which seems to have been made to last. I can see it holding up well twenty, thirty years from now — as with The Absent-Minded Professor or (indeed) the film version of Willy Wonka.

There was a Miyazaki display in Wal-Mart. It didn’t give prices for any of the DVDs or tapes, and I’m not sure that any real context was provided — but there they were; Spirited Away; Kiki, and Laputa (or Castle in the Sky, if you will) (which I have yet to see, actually). All of them seem to have gotten a pretty decent treatment, according to the packaging; unless my eyes betrayed me, they all consist of two-disc sets of various sorts.

Miyazaki’s name is immediately visible only in the “Miyazaki’s Spirited Away” packaging. That’s also the most tasteful of the bunch, in terms of cover art; it’s the same as the poster (a copy of which I grabbed from Railroad Square a while ago).

Who has the US distro rights to Totoro and Nausicaa? (Update: a-ha!) Those are the two which I’d really like to have on DVD — especially Nausicaa. I still feel that this is Miyazaki’s most original and generally well-done film that I’ve seen thus far. Of course, given the manga, it had years of planning behind it. The extra thought really shows through, though, in terms of unseen depths.

Totoro is probably second on my list. Miyazaki’s films since then have essentially felt like combinations of those two on some level or another. Spirited Away is nice, and of course well-made, but it comes from a relatively shallow conceptual pool. I feel like I’ve kind of been here before. The unseen elements and possibilities of the world seem inversely proportional to the amount of polish and marketing thrust that the film receives. Mononoke-hime is somewhat better on this front, but it’s also the most straightforward film that I’ve seen out of Miyazaki.

Yesterday a boisterous Russian lady said (not exactly to me) that I seem like “some big-shot Hollywood type”. This was evidently because I am “so mysterious”.

And… I’m going to leave that subject exactly where it is.

I could write about a food mixup at the market, but I’m not sure whether I feel like doing so. It’s more exasperating than truly interesting.

So. I will stop here.

An ongoing going

  • Reading time:1 mins read

Something else to note.

Miyamoto has stated in the past that he’s fond of Miyazaki.

I don’t believe that it’s ever been more blatant than in this game.