Friday, December 18, 2009

The Game Overthinker

How is it that I only discovered this guy recently?

Seriously, our videos are so similar in style and subject matter that it's amazing I stumbled on his series literally weeks ago. And I know he didn't get the idea from me because he's been around longer. Crazy.

Anyway, the reason I bring him up is for those of you who haven't seen him yet either. I highly encourage checking his videos out. I don't always agree with his take on every topic, but he always puts together a strong argument and manages to keep a pretty objective viewpoint (despite his admitted Nintendo fandom). Like my own series, the main point is to get people thinking and talking, and his videos definitely succeed in that regard.

Another reason I'm recommending him here is because ... well, I know my own release schedule is atrociously slow. But now you know of another guy who does similar videos that you can enjoy while you wait. Go ahead and check him out. I won't hold it against ya.

In other news, I just made it through two of the busiest months I can remember ever having. Now I've got a nice long holiday break, during which I plan to get started on the next episode. Yay!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Talking About These: The Soundtrack

Quite a few people have asked me about the intro and outro music I use, so I figured an in-depth post might be in order.

Long before I started making these lectures, or even thinking about games in depth, I was part of a community called OverClocked ReMix. If you haven't stumbled across the site before, it's a community full of musicians who rearrange and remix video game music. I've been a contributing member there since 2003, though I haven't had time to remix anything new over the last year or two (I use the remixer handle "sephfire" there, if anyone is feeling curious).

Anyway, all of the music I use in my videos comes from the artists at OCR. If you ever wished you had a longer version of any of those outro tunes, you can find free downloads for all of them at the links below.

Penguin Cap by CarboHydroM
Mario 64 remix. This has been my intro music since the beginning. I wish he would submit more of his work to OCR. Fortunately, you can download most of it at his website.

Burning Up by Dj Redlight
Dr. Mario remix.

Star Fox remix. djpretzel is actually OCR's creator.

Walk on Water by housethegrate
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 remix.

Bumpin by Joshua Morse
ToeJam & Earl remix.

Illusional Hop by Anthony Lofton & Joshua Morse
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night remix. Another track that was never officially released on OCR, it was part of a separate remix project by Bad Dudes. They've released multiple full length albums devoted to numerous games, from Chrono Trigger to Zombies Ate My Neighbors. You can download them all from their official site.

Mega Man 2 remix.

The Passing of the Blue Crown by Sixto Sounds, Steppo & Zircon
Mega Man 3 remix. Truly bad-ass.

I highly recommend exploring the site and enjoying all of the repackaged nostalgia it has to offer. All of the music is 100% free, spanning every genre from classical to techno to metal. You can use the official torrents to download large chunks of their library en masse, or you can peruse the site and pick-and-choose at your leisure.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Digital Cowboys' Latest Guest: James Portnow!

I don't think a lot of viewers realize just how key James Portnow is to my lecture videos. Even before he and I officially teamed up, his articles and columns had informed my views on games. He is where most of the real gaming insight is coming from. I'm just the parrot who sits on his shoulder and squawks it out for the world to hear.

That said, I (like the rest of you) had never had the opportunity to hear his actual voice before. Until now!

The Digital Cowboys brought him in to appear on their latest podcast, where they discuss the terms "Game" and "Gamer" and what impact those terms have on our medium. It's a great discussion and an absolutely fantastic episode. I highly recommend giving it a listen.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Lecture Update: About 60% Complete

Our next video lecture, discussing Controversy, is well over halfway finished. I have a couple days off from work and I finished my school assignments early, so I was able to sit down at the computer all day and hammer out a huge chunk of the next video. At this rate, I expect the next lecture to be released by next weekend (hopefully earlier).

Again, sorry for the long delay since the last episode. This is the longest gap I've ever had between lectures and I'm not thrilled about it. I plan to have the next episode underway much sooner.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mini-Retrospective: Final Fantasy X

I'd been feeling cravings for my PS2-era Final Fantasy games, so I recently played through Final Fantasy X again. I have many fond memories of the game: it was the first game my wife (girlfriend, at the time) and I played together, start to finish. But now I'm older and my critical analysis muscle is much more developed. Years later, I have realized two things about Final Fantasy X:

1. The translation and voice performances are worse than I remember.

This isn't really news to anybody. Whether we loved or hated the game, we all knew the vocal work wasn't perfect. It didn't stand out so much when it was released, back when voice acting in games was pretty mediocre across the board. But looking back today, it's pretty poor.

And it's understandable. This was Square's first attempt to include voice acting in their biggest franchise. You can't expect them to nail it perfectly the first time. And considering it was their first attempt, they did a decent job. Much better than many of their Japan-based competitors were doing at the time.

But playing through FFX today, especially after seeing the amazing translation and voice work Square-Enix pulled off with Final Fantasy XII, the flaws really do stand out. The occasional awkward sentence structure, the prolonged pauses, the unexpected shifts in dialogue pace from "very slow" to "very fast", etc.

The easy place to assign blame is with the voice actors themselves, but I don't really believe they were the ones at fault. Most of these performers have proven themselves to be capable -- if not exceptional -- voice actors over the years. I imagine the real source of the problem lay in other factors: most of them to do with Square's localization pipeline.

But once I got past the awkwardness of the voice work, I noticed something else:

2. The story is actually better than I remember.

I was a bit shocked to realize how strong the underlying story to FFX was. If you can see past the translation and voice acting, there are some powerful themes and character arcs happening under there. The death cycle that is the world of Spira, the recurring theme of accepting death, the reality behind a summoner's pilgrimage and the weight that realization adds to earlier scenes. Even the love story that develops much more subtly than that of FFVIII, but turns out to be so much more moving by the end.

It's a shame you have to look past the animation and voice performances to see the quality underneath. I started watching the cutscenes and shutting out the voices, focusing on the text and not the speech. I was impressed by how much easier it was to take the story seriously.

In fact, I'm prepared to say that Final Fantasy X might have the strongest story in the entire franchise. It's too bad it was told so clumsily.

I'll probably move on to Final Fantasy X-2 next. It should be very interesting to see how well that one has aged.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Lecture Update: Script Finished / Narration Recorded

First off, I want to apologize for updating this thing so infrequently over the last couple months. Life has been pretty jam-packed for me lately, but the whole point of having this blog here is so I don't vanish for long periods of time. I'll be working to keep the updates a little more frequent.

Second, the script is complete for the next lecture episode and the narration is recorded. James is back at the wheel and has some great topics lined up for us. The upcoming topic: Controversy.

Third, if you haven't checked out the Digital Cowboys podcast yet, I highly recommend it. They asked me to join them again last week to talk about storytelling in games and I think the resulting episode turned out rather well. Why not go have a listen?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hatin' the Sports Games

Kotaku's Luke Plunkett recently put up an article examining why we gamers get so cranky over sports games. Quite an interesting read.

I recall feeling some indignation over sports games in years past, but I can't really remember why. I've actually enjoyed plenty of sports games throughout my gaming "career." Tecmo Super Bowl and Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball on the SNES. Madden on the N64. Since then, I've drifted away from the licensed "simulation" sports games and stuck with the "video game-y" type. You know, the kind that abandon realism to ramp up the fun: NBA Street, the SSX games, Mario Tennis, etc.

I've been wondering exactly why so many of us get riled up over the sports genre. I've come up with a few guesses.

1. Electronic Arts.
Until recently, EA could be counted on for two things: making piles of money and making gamers angry. They've been working hard since 2008 to make up for past transgressions, and I forgave them completely when I heard they were picking up Tim Schafer's Brutal Legend after Activision abandoned it. But for years, you could always rely on EA to bring gamers' blood to a boil. And a lot of the time, it seemed like their sports game franchises were at the center of it. Like when EA got exclusive licenses to NFL teams, eliminating competitor franchises. Or the fact that each annual full-priced release of a franchise felt almost exactly like the last with a new roster.

For better or worse, when you think "sports games", chances are that your first thought involved an EA sports franchise. And that connection probably didn't help sports games gain favor with the gamer crowd.

2. Not "For Us."
I'm not sure what causes it, but we gamers tend to act openly hostile towards game genres and franchises that don't cater to our tastes. I don't know why we do it, but it happens all the time. We hate on sports games. We mock "kiddie" games. We scoff at fishing games, hunting games, movie tie-ins, Hannah Montana karaoke games. We seethe with anger when we see a developer "dumb down" a franchise to appeal to people besides ourselves, the hardest of the core. Maybe it ties into the same part of us the drives fanboyism. I don' t know.

We get especially indignant when we see games cater to the "frat" demographic, the "bros". It almost feels like a personal insult or being cheated on, in some weird way. "Games are our thing! We're your dedicated audience!" Our resentment of the audience causes us to resent the games that target them. And sports games tend to fall in that category.

Is this reasonable of us? Hardly. But it still happens.

These are just a couple of possible explanations for the sports game hate, and I'm sure there are many others. What about you guys? Why do you think we whine about these games so much?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Yet Another Podcast Appearance! (yeah, same guys)

I have quickly become a fan of the Digital Cowboys podcast. I've been listening ever since Alex approached me about coming on the show. This week's episode is a fun little deviation from their usual format: they've pooled the guests from multiple episodes and given them each a chance to rant on something they hate about video games.

I actually had a hard time thinking about something to hate. Sure, there's the standard complaints about DLC money-grubbing, Quick Time Events and everything Activision does, but that seemed too easy. In the end, I chose to whine about game difficulty. I'm not great at thinking on my feet (as you may have noticed with all the stuttering I do in these shows) but I think it turned out well. It's a solid episode, so go to that fancy new website of theirs and check it out.

And if you haven't seen it yet, those guys made a great little Project Natal/Milo spoof too.

One of the things that has surprised me is how much I actually consider these guys to be buddies of mine now. I've appeared on their show like twice and played a few hours of Rock Band with them (they aren't lying when they say Paul is a top-tier vocalist), but I already feel like I've made some new friends. And that's pretty damn cool.

In lecture news, the script is coming along nicely. I think it's going to end up being a shorter episode, but James has really nailed it this time. I'll keep you guys posted!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Busy Busy Busy

I've thoroughly enjoyed reading all the commentary on the new lecture over the last few weeks, both here and on other sites. Hearing all the feedback and seeing debates spark up everywhere is the best part about this whole series.

Soon after the release of Video Games and the Female Audience, James sent me two drafts for new episodes, both awesome. I've started writing the script for the first one, but I also recently started a new job. Keeping up with that, school and life in general has kept my hands tied over the last two weeks.

For those of you who might have been hoping for more "Game Design Corner" episodes, the lecture after next will grant your wish. Stay tuned!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Update: Next Lecture is Nearly Complete

I'm between school quarters this week, so I've spent almost every day working non-stop on the next lecture. It looks like it's going to clock in as my longest lecture yet: over ten minutes.

After I have the audio recorded, I usually start assembling the video from beginning to end. I just passed the seven minute marker last night, so I'm pretty much in the home stretch now. If all goes according to plan, the lecture should be ready for release tomorrow!

Back to work ...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Animation: Class 3 Reel

One of the main reasons you guys don't see lectures more often is because I'm pursuing a career in animation. I'm currently studying at Animation Mentor and set to graduate this March. With some luck, I'll be working as an animator in the video game industry soon after.

Anyway, I figured I'd post my latest progress reel as proof that I'm not just sitting around playing Team Fortress 2 all day.

For some extra good news, releasing this reel marks the end of the school quarter for me, which means I now have about a week and a half to work on the next lecture. Hurray!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Some Additional Reading

In case you guys just can't get enough games-related reading, I have a couple other blogs to recommend.

Firstly is Sexy VideoGameLand, run by industry journalist Leigh Alexander. She has some great insights into our hobby and I tend to really like her perspective on things.

Secondly, one of my readers pointed out another game-related blog some of you might enjoy: Gamentropy.

I just started putting the video together yesterday, so things are moving along!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Update: Narration recorded

Welcome to all newcomers!

Just letting you folks know that the narration for the next video is recorded and ready to go, clocking in at just under ten minutes long. Work on the video itself may finally commence!


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Storytelling and Interactivity

We're all pretty used to video games telling stories by now. I've gone at length about the topic before. But one aspect of game storytelling I didn't cover in that lecture is how games are equipped to tell stories in a completely unique way.

Games have told their stories using several methods: cutscenes, scripted events, texts scattered across the world, NPC dialogue and others. Our medium has taken narrative conventions from literature, cinema and theater and used them to great effect.

But games are more than just a combination of other media. What makes games a truly unique medium is interactivity, and games rarely take advantage of that feature when telling a story.

I should qualify that statement: a certain level of interactivity is usually present. You aren't just sitting there watching a story being told from beginning to end. You are fighting the battles, navigating the world and interacting with the characters. You are accomplishing the goals necessary to keep the story moving forward. But outside of this common system, interactivity is rarely taken advantage of. And I think that's a shame.

Enter Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear fame. Now, I won't deny that Kojima has his flaws. He direly needs an editor to trim down his dialogue, but I am perfectly happy to overlook that shortcoming because of what Kojima does right. Though his games tell stories in an almost purely cinematic fashion, he uses interactivity at key moments to tell stories in a way no other game does.

Let me give you an example. I'm about to go deep into spoiler territory, so if you haven't played Metal Gear Solid 3 yet, beware. Also, shame on you.

At the end of Metal Gear Solid 3, there is a scene immediately after the final boss fight where Snake stands over his defeated enemy, a woman who is very dear to him: The Boss. Though Snake cares very much for this woman, he is duty-bound to end her life. After they exchange some parting words, Snake lifts his gun and prepares to fire. We cut to an overhead camera shot, looking down on the tragic scene and we wait as Snake hesitates to fire. And we keep waiting.

And then we realize: I have to do it. I have to pull the trigger.

Suddenly, the already somber event is even more painful. Snake doesn't want to shoot and neither do we. But neither of us has a choice. We can't complete his mission or the game until the act is done. With just a small measure of interactivity, a merely saddening cutscene becomes heartbreaking.

That is a glimpse of the potential this medium has. That is something games can do that no other storytelling medium can. If game designers and storytellers can learn to harness that potential, video games could become something amazing.

I enjoy games as they are now, but seeing glimpses of true potential like this makes me very excited for the future.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Q.T.E.'s Advocate

So we're finally getting some more details on David Cage's upcoming title, "Heavy Rain," and already we're hearing the predictable complaint. Like Indigo Prophecy before it, Heavy Rain will feature a very familiar gameplay mechanic that has become dreadfully unpopular over the last year or two.

Ah, the Quick Time Event.

I never have figured out exactly when we began to hate the QTE so much. I know that it can certainly be a frustrating feature when not implemented properly. The "cool factor" of certain Resident Evil 4 cutscenes is diminished somewhat after seeing the first half of the scene eight times because you suck that much. Some titles (Tomb Raider: Legend, for example) only throw a few QTEs in the entire game, so they pop out of nowhere and you're never expecting them. Some games make the "PRESS THIS" cues too quick or too difficult to see.

Suffice it to say that Quick Time Events have been done poorly in quite a few games.

But it frustrates me that some gamers would dismiss an entire game over this feature. It's become another one of those words that gamers hear and immediately roll their eyes: "Quick Time Events", "Linear", "Motion Controls." I think we get so caught up in our bandwagon of cynicism that we begin to forget the potential these features have when used properly.

Think back to the game that started the QTE craze: God of War. The boss battles in this game were already epic set pieces, but it was the inclusion of Quick Time Events that took the fights to the next level. These sequences took the battle beyond the stock set of fighting animations and static cameras and gave the fight a brutal, cinematic flair. I don't see any way those battles could have been nearly so engaging, brutal or satisfying without using the Quick Time Event.

This feature does have potential. Rather than demanding that developers STOP including this feature, I suggest we start asking that they use it BETTER.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Update: Script in progress

And now for what this blog is really for: progress updates on the latest video.

The script for the next lecture has been sitting at 90% complete for a few weeks now. I wanted to get some feedback from various people before making a final draft. But most of that feedback has come back now and I plan to finalize the script and record the narration by the end of the week. Then it's just a matter of putting the video together (which may take a week or several, depending on how busy life gets).

I'm especially excited about this next video. Not only does it have a great topic, but it will feature our first ever "special guest." Or "second." I don't know if James counts. He's pretty much a regular. Speaking of James, he has several more topics in the pipeline, so rest assured that there are plenty more videos to come!

Also, I'll probably be making an official video announcement for the blog by next week.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Let's DO THIS.

Well, here we are.

If you're here, you're probably already familiar with my little video series. You're also probably well aware that each episode seems to take me forever to release. So I've decided to start this here blog.

I'll be using this space to post updates on episode progress, discuss various video game issues and, occasionally, share my impressions on whatever game I've been playing. I'll be trying to keep this blog updated semi-regularly (to compensate for my slow video release cycle), but I want to be sure maintaining the blog doesn't slow my video schedule down even more.

If you have some suggestions or ideas for what you'd like to see here, please shoot me an email:

floydo_animation at yahoo dot com

However you ended up here, welcome aboard.