God of War III and Exploring the Space Within

The attempt to add shades of gray to Sony's anti-hero in his final installment may have come too late, but is admirable regardless.

Ok, just finished God of War III, and I have to say, one of the best endings to a game I’ve ever played. Although an argument can be made that the complexities introduced to Kratos’ character in the last quarter of the game (that deep down, locked within him, there is some good and that his real weapon is hope) can seem tacked on when viewing the game, and series, as a whole, I had no problem with it. My theory as to why these sort of character inconsistencies never bother me in games has to do with player involvement, being that if a character has you hooked at even the simplest level, it’s easier to project into them your own personality and motivations, and personal contradictions and complexities, regardless of (or at least giving some leeway to) how the character may be written. So when Kratos’ fight becomes something within his soul, as opposed to an arena of demons, on the one hand it feels tacked on, but on the other, I appreciate the effort and I enjoy it immensely, because I really relate to Kratos already, being that I am a very angry guy, but I’m still a human being.

What’s more interesting to me though was that in a sense, moments like God of War III’s trip into the soul, where the player’s interaction with the character becomes in some sense more internal and psychological, has practically become a prerequisite for many ‘Triple A’ games. My four most recent game obsessions, Batman Arkham Asylum, Assassin’s Creed II, Fallout 3, and now God of War III, have all had moments where the player is thrown into the mind of the character, be it due to hallucinogenic drugs, virtual reality, or a plunge into unconsciousness/death. When these are done well, they’re awesome, even if in almost every case that I can think of, the degree of ‘gameiness’ tends to be toned down for a more basic interaction with the ‘space of within.’ In every case, though, the moment is more than just a cinematic or cutscene, and this very basic interaction, which propels the psycho-spiritual events forward, is somehow intensely rewarding.

In Fallout 3, which is perhaps the least internal of these, but which conforms to the requisite of jarringly defamiliarizing the player and game environment, you walk through a Pleasantville ideal that inspires much of the branding within the game’s fictional universe. In Assassin’s Creed II, you pay a hallucinatory visit to Altair, if only to reveal information about his past. In Batman, you take a journey into the world of the mind a few times, but the most memorable is when Batman himself becomes Bruce Wayne in the alley of his parent’s death. In God of War III, Kratos finally forgives himself for murdering his family, and discovers that it is hope, not anger, which has always been his greatest weapon.

While Batman Arkham Asylum’s moment is easily the one with the most impact, if only because there is a rich mythology and the moment has never been captured in a game, most gamers can agree that these moments are prevalent in some of the biggest titles around.

A scene portrayed countless times in comics and films finds a freshness, and power, when brought into the world of this awesome game.

Now I am pretty lapsed, and I missed the PS2 era, in which, I am guessing, these sort of trips into the mind and psychology of the character, where the physical world is left behind for the internal, which is always intensely less familiar to us (but always aiming to feel more familiar, in some deeper or nostalgic way), may have come about to begin with. Regardless, this is an aspect of games that I find tremendously interesting.

The more I think of the possibilities, the more I realize these are just baby steps of a new development in a medium that, as it reaches, ever so steadily, its technical apex, this need and hunger to ask deeper questions and express deeper human needs becomes ever greater. What an exciting time to be a gamer!

musical interlude: Sonic Adventure 2 v.1

yo I’m knuckles the fightin’ freak, pumpkin hill, I know that it’s here, I sense it in my feet!

this music, combined with the most tedious mission objective in the most boring stage with a boring character.

waaat the fuuuuck happened to you Sega?

Voices from the Nerdosphere pt 1: Video Game Developer Blogs

One of the reasons why we started Ninja Dog Corps was to open up our in depth, nerdy discussions to a larger audience. We’re still getting our feet wet over here, but it’s nice just casting our thoughts out into internet-ether.

Sometimes it seems like we are alone, chatting away on facebook or even loudly in public spaces about the failings of Terminator Salvation,  or the sorting out the virtues of Assassin’s Creed. It doesn’t really matter where we are, a nice restaurant, or walking down that most deviantl of streets in Toronto, Yonge Street – our various geekeries are always on the mind. I find it amusing how disinterested everyone looks and sounds as I go about my day. People idly chat away at those “whatever” kind of topics, but no one ever seems really passionate about anything.

At least, not loudly in the way the Ninja’s Dog’s bark.

It’s appropriate, although a bit of a shame, then, that so much stimulating conversation about the the nerdosphere happens on the double-you-double-you-double-you. Recently I’ve taken to reading the blogs of Iroquois Plisken, Leigh Alexander, and Michael Abbot, to name a few on the gaming side of things. There’s also a tremendous amount of good comic’s discussion going on, like Timothy Callahan, or the folks at Funny Book Babylon, to name a few. I’ve included a few on the side bar to the right of this page, and we’ll be adding more in the future as we go along, maybe citing a recommended reading post to go along with it.

Today I’d like to point out to a few game designers who also maintain internet web journals. Many of them peel back the curtain, and offer an insight into the production/development of games that communicate the struggles and the concerns of game making (and makers). Some of them make games that I haven’t played, some of them make games that I will likely never play, but it’s interesting to see the thought process behind these works. As a gamer, and one who is vocal about the potential of games, it’s cool to know that many in the industry feel the same way, and humbling to see thier struggles made bare.

Steve Gaynor of Fullbright : comes to us from 2k Marin, where I’m sure they’re busy putting the finishing touches on Bioshock 2. Recently he posted of a list, Design of a Decade , which looks at some of the most significant games from the past 10 years in terms of innovative design. I took to heart this post from 2006 about the value of keeping a notebook. I agree, it’s good for the soul.

Jordan Mechner’s blog: includes thoughtful pieces on art, cinema, and comics, all this from the man who brought us Prince of Persia. I find it interesting that he’s remained in close contact with his creation all these years, and in it’s various incarnations. He helped reinvigorate the series with The Sands of Time, wrote a comic, and is even lending a hand in the blockbuster movie from Disney. Even more impressive, Mechner displays a keen understanding of the unique power inherent in each medium.  Lastly, don’t forget to check out his sketchbook entries.

Scott Rogers of Mr Boss’ Design Lair : has worked on everything from the first God of War, to most recently Darksiders, Maximo and even way back, Pac-Man World for the PS1. I’m quite fond of his level design drawings, which have a charm and immediacy about them independent of the game they’re meant for.

Clint Hocking of Click Nothing : comes to us from Ubisoft Montreal. He’s worn several hats but most recently he took up the role of Creative Director on Far Cry 2. One of his most talked about pieces is a thoughtful critique about Bioshock.

Soren Johnson of Designer Notes: has worked on the Civ games and most recently was a designer/programmer on Spore.

There are a number of  God of War alumni: who have blogs but have remained stagnate for months or years now. Too bad though, many of them illuminate the challenges of combat design, and much to my surprise, many of them drew their inspiration from Street Fighter, of all things.

Of course, how can I forget the God of God of War David Jaffe. I love that his writing, and of course his games, come from a sincere, passionate place.

As an illustrator, I naturally gravitate towards other visual artists. I was surprised to find that many developers have some kind of background with the arts, either formally educated or self taught. Steve Gaynor took up illustration and transitioned in the sculpture, and a similar story is shared by Keita Takahashi. It’s something we should probably look into further in another post, perhaps.

I think this is a good place to stop, I’ll have to revist gaming blogs another time, next up – maybe comics!

SNES is one sweet console.

Have you ever wonder what happens when your significant other is a gamer AND a pastry chef?

This happens:

Yes, that’s a cake. A freaking SNES cake. A very nice gift my sister made for her bf. Funny thing is this cake caused him more pain and agony than it is meant to. He was (or I was told) screaming in pain as he cut it. Can’t blame the dude, it’s his all time favorite console. Unfortunately(?) they had some left over and decided to give me the “controller”. I swear I have never hesitated for so long before biting into a cake. The moment I bite into it I felt like something died inside of me. It’s as if I just killed a part of my childhood. Thing taste good though.

And for all the doubters.

Finally Finished Final Fantasy XIII

On a peaceful Saturday, with my sister playing Darksider next door sending over sounds of destruction and screams of rage, there is no better time to relax and write up something for this blog for once.

For some strange reason, I have this urge to play RPGs during winter/Christmas time. Fellow Ninja Dog Corp member Rey also suffer(?) the same problem. Sure there are many RPGs out there on various handheld console but I can’t bear the pain seeing my PS3 sitting there gathering dust (which it did during my run with Persona 3 Protable). So in comes Final Fantasy 13.

One thing Square Enix loves to do with FF is to give them an overly complex story and bombard the user with hundreds and thousands of names and terms. It seriously feels like I’m watching James Cameron’s little speech at E3 again. FF 13 definitely didn’t disappoint in this regard as I have no f’ing clue as to what is going on at first. The fact that they start you off in what’s practically a war zone with people throwing these terms around certainly doesn’t help. Thankfully there is an in game encyclopedia that gets updated as you progress. My advice for people planning on playing this game is read the damn encyclopedia.

As you get past the first story arc (where shit goes from bad to worst) things slows down and the focus shifts to the characters and the events leading up to the war zone at the beginning. This is where FF 13 really shines in my eyes. Unlike other RPGs where once you recruit a party member they become your eternal friend and tags along no matter what, your party in FF13 actually shows emotion and personality and splits up due to disagreement on ideals and goals. From that point on you’ll switch back and forth b/w characters and get to witness the drama that follows.

Fun fact: Around 10 hours into the game, I was sharing my thoughts of this game with my fellow ND Corp members. That’s when I realize I haven’t been to a single town yet. How can this be? RPG with no towns? Considering the story and the setting of the world I’d say it’s only reasonable to have no towns. Its definitely unconventional in RPG standard and I applaud Square Enix for pulling it off.

Character development is one of the biggest reasons why I enjoyed this game as much as I did. I honestly can’t remember when’s the last time where my most hated character (Hope in this case) eventually became one of my favorite in the game as he matures. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of the villains. I find them very uninspiring and everything feels forced about them. Imagine a wrestler trying way too hard to get the crowd to boo him but instead gets no reaction at all. That’s the feeling I got from the villains in FF13. I know they like giving us crazy/strange looking last boss, but the last boss is just….well, lets just say it doesn’t look very threatening.

On to the battle system. To be honest I wasn’t expecting too much at first. Based on the trailer the battle system seems to be too complicated for its own good and stuff happens at a very fast pace. Thankfully that’s not the case. You only control one character at a time but you have a certain degree of control over other characters. The way it works is each character has different roles (attacker, healer, enhancer, etc…). You can preset 5 (or was it 6?) different combination of roles in the menu and you can switch them anytime during battle. Because each role has a rather limited number of skills the AI won’t go casting something stupid or unnecessary. With shit happening rather fast on the screen you really have to pay attention and switch roles accordingly or else you are good as dead. I’m guessing they (Square Enix) expects us to die quite a few times so they made it that when we die we start right before we engaged in battle rather then the last save point. I think I gameover’d at least 20 times in this game (which is very high for a rpg game). Overall I’m very pleased with the battle system. It’s not too complicated or too flashy but has just enough to keep you constantly thinking and occupied.

One thing I must mention is the game is super linear. All the maps are literally one straight line. I can guarantee you that you’ll never get lost in this game. For those who are used to the open world games these days might not find this very appealing, but I’m actually glad they made it this way. With the game being linear you don’t have to worry about the flow of the story being broken by some unnecessary side quest that requires you to travel to the opposite end on the world map while your princess is kidnapped and set to be executed in a few hours.

So, is this game worth the $90 (yes that’s how much I spent importing this)? I’d say yes definitely. It’s a game with a decent story, fun characters, good battle system, and of course amazing graphics. Though it would’ve been better if they gave us more interesting villains and boss battle.

I actually wanted to go more in depth with the story but 1. I don’t want to spoil anything and 2. It probably wouldn’t make any sense  lol

Lastly, for those who are deciding whether to play this or White Knight Chronicles, please just stick with FF13. Having played both I can tell you how disappointed I am with WKC. Unless you REALLY enjoy grinding online getting equipments and trophies, I seriously can’t recommend WKC. The characters and story is total trash and the battle system gets boring real fast.

Dynamic Nerdosphere Interconnectivity – or how I learned to love twitter

Believe me when I say this – but I’m sick of hearing about it too. You know, that blue bird, 140 characters, inane posts from people you don’t really care about…Ashton Kutchener (and no I’m not going to bother to check if that’s how you really spell his name).

Twitter.

It seems like I can’t watch a TV show without the host trying to pimp his twitter, and even the newspapers, already losing relevancy in a world of highspeed communication, have brought themselves so low as to promote their twitter account. Of all the social networking sites that I’ve signed up for over the years, your friendsters, your myspaces, your bloggers and facebook, twitter was the one where I joined in, simply because it seemed like, society demanded it of me.

Even now, months later I’m not entirely sure I’m using it correctly, but a week ago I happened upon an interesting phenomenon that makes me believe that twitter still has a purpose yet. For lack of a better term, let’s call it Nerdosphere Interconnectivity, to which you might argue, has existed since the early days of the internet, it’s called links, and so we’ll further add *science* to my newly invented term and call it, Dynamic Nerdosphere Interconnectivity.

My Twitter account is populated by a smattering of various representatives from different fiefdoms in the Nerdosphere – from “Internet Jesus” Warren Ellis (the comics Planetary, Nextwave), videogame creators like David Jaffe (God of War, Calling All Cars), to artists/illustrators like Paul Pope, critics like Roger Ebert, and even more off the beaten track – architecture site BLDGBLOG‘s companion account, or mixed martial artist Joe Lauzon, and ring girl Arianny Celeste.

The interesting little bit here is how these seemingly disparate elements sometimes converge. Like the time Gears of War designer Cliff Bleszinski (and yes I bothered to check the spelling on that one) posted about reading a certain comic:

Cliffy B: Reading “Old Man Logan” – Mark Millar always delivers. 32 minutes ago from txt

A comic that I had just gifted to my brother for Christmas. And Marvel.com editor Agent M (who I also follow) picked up on this:

Agent_M: @therealcliffyb If you’re a @Marvel Comics fan, we should chat. Maybe do an interview with me for Marvel.com?

I haven’t bothered to check up on this if anything has actually come into fruition, because I’m not very thorough, nor am I a journalist – but it does point to the (dynamic) interconnectedness of our Nerdosphere. Afterall, why wouldn’t Bleszinski be a fan of Wolverine or Mark Millar? In the same way that many FPS games model themselves after Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, or if you’re in the sci-fi mode,  James Cameron’s Aliens. Unlike the call-and-response dialog that would happen before, where George Lucas creates a work decades after being inspired by Flash Gordon and Lord of the Rings, the “lag” between the creator/creation/inspiration cycle is in many ways shortened. George Lucas may have never actually spoken with say, JRR Tolkein, and I never had the chance to meet Jim Henson, but today in our twitter age, you can comment on Iron Man director Jon Faverau’s twitter (and he used to be fairly into myspace, back in the day – weren’t we all…), or David Jaffe’s account, and potentially even expect a response – so long as you aren’t a total internet asshole about it. In the case of Twitter, creators can exchange thoughts amongst each other with something approximating an actual conversation.

You might think my geekier pursuits have little in common with the macho world of Mixed Martial Arts, and yet Joe Lauzon proudly proclaims in his profile “Guy from Boston that fights in the UFC and plays a ton of video games.” Former UFC Heavyweight Champ Josh Barnett‘s account has a painting of the Warhammer 40k universe as his backdrop, you know, Space Marines in impossibly clunky armor, Space Orks, the tabletop board game you play with painted miniatures?

We live in a world where inspiration comes from the most unlikeliest places, and it’s application even more unusual.

Famously, current Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva  watched Ong Bak and became obsessed with Tony Jaa’s reverse-elbow uppercut. Even though it was a move performed in a movie, Silva spent extra time – on his own  outside of his regular gym – perfecting the move. Come fight night, this happened.

Twitter might not inspire someone to achieve a fantastic KO (or a elegant piece of music, or a thought provoking film), but as a vehicle for connecting artists, martial or otherwise, it can help generate dialog, and when all the disparate kingdoms of the Nerdosphere are talking, we just might see something fantastic.

For now though, I’ll just post about Chanukah.

Some Top 10 Picks of the Last Decade

Not only is it the end of the year, it’s also the end of the decade. So, being the comicbook nerd that I am, I decided to throw my own 2 cents about the comicbook world over the last 10 years into the ocean that is the interweb. That said, I wracked my brain on how to divide my kudos to the medium that keeps on giving, trying to jam pack as many of my faves as possible into whatever lists I could think off. The result is 3 sets of top 10 picks that have no particular order that hopefully don’t overlap (ie; Millar & Hitch are in one list so Ultimates won’t be in any of the other 2). Now enough yakking, release the lists!

Top 10 Creative Teams (1+1 = instant magic)

  1. Joss Whedon & John Cassaday
  2. Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev
  3. Ed Brubaker & Micheal Lark
  4. JMS & Oliver Coipel
  5. Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting
  6. Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley
  7. Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis
  8. Jason Aaron & Ron Garney
  9. Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch
  10. Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen

Top 10 Minis/Maxis/Limited Series (Stories spanning from 2-12 issues with a beginning, middle, and end)

  1. DC: The New Frontier
  2. We3
  3. Hellboy: The Wild Hunt
  4. Superman: Red Sun
  5. Identity Crisis
  6. NEXTWAVE: Agents of Hate
  7. Spider-Man: Blue
  8. All Star Superman
  9. Batman: Year 100
  10. Green Lantern: Rebirth

Top 10 Story Arcs (includes specific story arcs that happen within an ongoing title as well as entire series)

  1. Wolverine: Old Man Logan
  2. New X-Men: E is for Extinction
  3. JSA: Thy Kingdom Come
  4. Y: The Last Man (Entire Series)
  5. 100 Bullets (Entire Series)
  6. Planetary (Entire Series + Specials)
  7. Spider-Man: Coming Home
  8. Superman: Brainiac
  9. Negation (Entire Series)
  10. Fables: The Good Prince

So there you have it. Over the next week or so, I’ll try to break down those lists and give a more in depth explanation as to why these lists are the way they are… hopefully. Haha.