Monday, September 21, 2015

The hero cult

In the spring there was polemic in Konami office regarding Hideo Kojima. While earlier Metal Gear Solid was marketed with Kojima's name, this spring saw the winds of change. Metal Gear Solid became the game of Konami, not the game of Kojima. The matrimony of these two drifted to inner conflicts over power, and although the details of it have not been confirmed, it was clear that the schism was extremely large.

Whether it was Kojima's own decision to leave Konami or whether he has been coerced to do so remains unclear as well, but neither side seems happy with the actions of the other. MGS franchise was cleared from Kojima's name, and with the current information Kojima will be leaving the company at the end of this year.

Kojima is widely considered to be a hero and a genius. Neither of these are untrue statements; not everyone would be able to write something like the Metal Gear Solid-franchise. As per usual, the genius coin has another side which is a lot less talked about:

"MGSV was an insanely expensive project, and many other projects by Konami died solely because Kojima extended the deadlines, hogged the resources and ignored the higher-ups of Konami. Partially for good reason of course, but hero worship got to his head pretty strongly too." - Katsu

Nintendolife wrote An Article about Konami's "dictatorial management", and hinted strongly towards the treatment of the genius hero Kojima at the very first lines. While the article states that Konami definitely might not be one of the best places to work at, it is an interesting play for thoughts to contemplate how much of the hate directed at Konami is because Kojima is treated as misunderstood genius.

Japanese business culture appears harsh and difficult to understand for people who come outside the country. I hope to achieve a deeper understanding for it at some point, but from an outside perspective Konami is led in an old-fashioned, authoritative way.

Oh well. Will be interesting to see how it turns out.

In other news, the school has started properly with a kick of busyness on my backside! I have relocated all the important items to the far north and recovered from the initial shock of suddenly moving to a place where I know nobody and I know nothing of.

I have started the school, the learning of C# and asking questions about international exchange possibilities. One of these possibilities involves going to Japan for three months or so, which is one of the options I am going to pursue. Wouldn't mind spending the summer months there, especially if it helps in advancing one's career!

I also participated to my first game jam. It was primarily aimed for us new students so that we could try out developing games before we've been taught how to develop games. Or, as it was put forth by one of our teachers: so that we could develop games before we start to realize that our goals are unrealistic, because as long as we don't know something's impossible, we can make it possible.

Point in question, we made a functioning mobile game prototype. It was only afterwards pointed out to us that it was not likely we would get it to function properly.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Have some Faith

24.8.

I've been really edgy about the moving. Really really edgy. Sure, new exciting school starts and new life at north awaits - both of them things I've wanted for quite a while.

Right now though, on my final work day, knowing that my train will leave tonight and I still don't have an electricity contract and I'm not sure if I'll be able to get my keys tomorrow for sure, I am petrified. I am completely and utterly scared.

I will need to get a new bed, but on the first night I will most likely sleep on the floor. I will need to remember to update the Photoshop on my laptop before going. I will need to arrange all the contracts and everything and somehow try to keep my head from going poof.

Mirror's Edge Catalyst was announced not too long ago. I for one wanted a sequel right after I finished the first one - the story was unfinished, yes, but that was not the only factor. I was deeply fascinated by the way the world of ME works. Plotwise politics, characters, everyday life and everything left me wanting to know more, and game-wise it was refreshing and new.

The most notable part of the gameplay is the parkour implemented to the mechanics. Different situations demand you to learn different tricks, and while the first-person view certain angles frustratingly difficult, it adds a lot to the experience.

The visuals of the game have always held a special appeal for me. Grey world, pale colors with high-contrast colorful highlights are an unique and rare sight, affected by both Scandinavian and Asian design. Pale colors, few highlights with bright hues, very inky graphics - the animation looks like calligraphy. It is very accurate, very spot-on and beautiful, without losing the atmosphere and tone of a comic book art.

I see a connection to flow with this. When you get to the flow state, the outside world dims to white. You only see what matters to you, the key points, the highlights, the steps. In the game it gets pointed out at parkour, but it can be connected to other things outside it as well.

The game has no guns and I like it. Faith is not a warrior; she is a courier. This aspect of the game brings to mind another game where the main character does not fight her way through the plot. Beyond Good and Evil differs from Mirror's Edge in various ways, but I connect Jade and Faith in my mind in various ways. One of them is that while both of them are capable of fighting, battle itself plays very small role in the plot of the game.

Faith. The comic series atmosphere is mostly present in the cutscenes; the rest of the game is different style-wise. The strong use of black and the animation always remind me of comic (/film) Persepolis, although I can't exactly explain the connection.
Jade from Beyond Good and Evil, featuring her most important weapon throughout the game: the camera for capturing evidence. BGaE was a very political game with not only strong narrative but also a powerful message and beautiful visual realization.
There are some similarities with how Jade and Faith look, but they are quite minor ones - raven-black hair and tomboyish look aren't exactly rare cards in the gaming world. The most notable similarity is their character. They both have strong sense of justice, they appear cold but have their soft spot - for both of them the said spot is the people closest to them - and they are very devoted to their cause.

A minor, although peculiar, connection between the two games and the two characters is that both Jade and Faith wish to live in peace without having to compromise their values and things they believe in. Neither of them fights for the greater good; both of them only wish for safety and future for themselves.

I think this is something most people can get behind, and most people can relate to. With the ever-growing strain in politics everywhere and the sudden rise of radical right wing in my own country, "living in peace" loses its place as a given term. It becomes a privilege, something to fight for. As far as I am concerned, these kind of games are not only pleasant - they are needed to remind us that we shape our own world, and we claim our own freedom.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Professional at being offended

I stumbled across an article from bulimia.com which stated that "These days, there’s rarely a media type that isn’t criticized for its body image depictions, and video games are no exception."

While I kinda agree with her legs and arms for the stronger impression, the belly bump is a BIT pushing it for someone who walks around as much as she does and fights using martial arts.

I will open up my mouth regarding this issue once.

First time I ever considered the matter of graphics and realism in video games was when World of Warcraft came out and I picked my very first character. As I frolicked in the night-elven forests with my new hunter I did contemplate on how I would look like if I would do a similar amount of running, swinging sword and gathering flowers as my character. I'd say several pounds thinner, and I'm by no means overweight.

There are two views I have on how women are depicted in video games.

1) The lore

I welcome anyone to play WoW for 4-6 hours a day for three months. After that I want them to live 4-6 months where, every day, they do exactly the same things their character has done. Climbing mountains, frolicking flowery hills, riding, swimming, swinging a sword. Four to six hours per day. After that I want them to come to me and tell me what their body type is.

Whether or not it is likeable, sitting at the computer does not equal sports. It would be awesome if it did; I hate jogging, but there are some things I hate more than going outside with my running shoes. Namely my back, my wrists, my shoulders going through horrible pain if I don't exercise. And, yes, I dislike my thighs getting flabby when I don't run.

Claiming that a character should be overweight despite the incredible amount of exercise he or she goes through on a daily basis makes me irrationally upset as a lore-oriented gamer. It is just not plausible.

2) The visuals

While not all women should be stick figures and being a stick figure does not equal to being beautiful, there is a certain truth to the images we see in video games. This truth is simple: those characters are what we like to look. They are escapism from reality, yes, but they are also our ideals.

There is an old saying going around the internet claiming that what is wrong with women is the following:

When men see an unrealistic image such as James Bond, they aspire to be that man. The man becomes their mountain top. They aspire to climb this mountain top even when it seems unreachable.

When women see an unrealistic image such as Lara Croft, they start complaining about the unrealistic standard set for them. Instead of attempting to conquer the mountain top, they claim that they have to be declared the new mountain top.

I find this true, and I find this obnoxious.

Ladies, not being able to separate fiction from real life is an illness. Eating disorder is a mental health issue. These are both problems not to be toyed with, and if you suffer from either of these you should seek help.

However, world will always have things which will make you reconsider everything you believe in, everything about yourself and your values. If you don't like the mountain top, nobody forces you to climb it. Pick your own mountain top. Climb it.

But don't let the mountain top destroy you. That perfection is unobtainable is not an excuse not to strife for it.

Monday, August 31, 2015

"Nah, FFVII will never get a remake"

FFVII is getting a remake and I'm positively hyped about it. There, I said it. Now, if you don't want to read anything positive related to the said remake (I have met a great number of people who seem to only want to wallow in the negativeness of everything that might not go the way they want to) you have my permission to sod off.

*clears throat*
*shifts through notes*

To me, FFVII always felt like an incomplete experience. A positive one, regardless, with heartbreaking moments and adventures to like - but an incomplete, unfinished one. Comparing it to FFV, my first ever Final Fantasy experience, or god forbid, FFVI - a true masterpiece, FFVII was definitely missing "something".

Usually when people ask me if I'm hyped about FFVII remake because I'm a fangirl who wets her pants at sight of Seph, no, not really. I've always found myself more or less critical of the game.

The flow of the game was awkward.
The realization of the plot was, at times, awkward.
The amount of the minigames was awkward to say at least.

And Sephiroth is really not that cool of an evil guy. Really. Compared to Kefka he's nothing but a momma's boy with issues. You want pure unrivaled insane evil? Go check out Final Fantasy 6. It's dangerous to go alone, have some tissues with you.

Several years ago I participated in a panel talking about why Final Fantasy 7 will most likely never get a remake. One of the statements given by Shinra -- err, Square Enix was that it would be slightly troublesome to remake FFVII because of its main characters. They are terrorists, and heralding them as heroes could be troublesome in modern world.

Other issue, of course, would be money. It can't hurt to keep in mind that the franchise of Final Fantasy was born in a desperate situation: the first Final Fantasy was titled that because it was the last game Square was going to make after facing a desperate financial state. You can't call it artificial respiration since the franchise has been a great success, but it probably affected the way Square handled its finances.

I did some research and I must say that Square has more familiar titles for me than Enix. I've never played Dragon quest, but just like any successful company, Enix has made one successful title and rode on its back through the years of video game golden age. I should probably play the franchise to find out why Enix was the company to survive the merge in 2003 - resulting in Square Enix - rather than Square, even when I had barely heard of Dragon Quest prior to doing my research.

Ever since Final Fantasy came out, it has not remained stagnant in the genre of RPG. Time and time again it has brought out new sides and stories, sometimes with wonderful success - such as Final Fantasy VI or VII - and sometimes with less success - such as Final Fantasy X-2. It is important to stay on the move, but to not lose your sense of direction it is good to remember where you came from, and to cherish those successful milestones.

Or something.

As I am a storyline-oriented gamer, I can't help but point out that one of the greatest sides of 7 is its story. The characters are detailed, the story is remarkable and its realization was top-notch back when it was released. Such a great story deserves to be retold, and if this happens because Square Enix is in monetary problems, I don't really care. Call me an optimist, but I do believe that retelling the old story can lead to greater future success for the upcoming sequels of the franchise.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Shadows of team ICO

Team ICO has brought many beautiful things to my life. My first occasion with it was Shadow of the Colossus, a game which I have talked previously in this blog and the only game which has produced art I wish to have on my wall, second and more intricate meeting being Ico.

Having played the first two games I think I see a pattern in Fumito Ueda's thoughts. All three games feature a companion: In Ico, our companion is Yorda, a mysterious girl clad in white and in possession of door-opening powers. In Shadow of Colossus, our companion is Agro, a loyal (albeit derpy) horse who is pretty much the only creature not judging you for trespassing in holy land. In The Last Guardian, our to-be companion is Trico, the man-eating eagle.

In all three games we guide, call and ask help from these companions, and in all three games they seem somewhat clumsy. Yorda has brought me to the brink of despair more than once, and about Agro... let's just say that I prefer going anything but linear long distances by foot. My view on Trico is based only on the trailer so it might be that they will improve his movement for the actual game, but I somehow doubt that.

It is pleasing how different three games with similar atmosphere and tones can be. One of the less underlying themes of these three is escaping. In Ico, the main characters attempt to escape from a religious castle; in TLG the escape happens from an extensive ruined building and in SotC you escape from the oppressive people who sacrifice little girls with cursed fate. The last setting differs from the two previous games but the underlying theme is there.

Ruins are a thematical landscape following through each and every one of these games, but none of them features death and destruction in them. Quite in the contrary: every landscape, every place is overtaken by nature. Ruins grow moss and ferns, and even the world of SotC, scolded (and loved) for its emptiness, features animals, nature and life.

I think that this abundant presence of life is a reflection of how Ueda has been intrigued about fish and birds his whole life: he likes watching "things that move", something which is beautifully realized in the games he writes.

The Last Guardian is the kind of game a person like me needs in her life. I need a certain amount of beauty to be able to function properly, and all three games of the trilogy share common elements of aesthetics and thematics.

Still, compared to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, the trailer looks more like it's aimed for a more general audience. To mention one example of why I think this, the trailer features guards. Ico and SotC were both (in)famous for their lack of any kind of NPC characters. It will be interesting to see how the guards in TLG will be realized; will they be like the shadows in Ico, or general all-purpose guards to sate the run-in-the-mill-player's need for interaction with something?

Maybe I am being overly critical here. It could be as easily said that shadows of Ico are just the same - are they not aimed to sate the need for interaction and action, too? I try to keep an open mind and not make any hasty conclusions before actually trying out the game.

A part of me feels very protective towards the poetic emptiness featured in these games as many dislike it. But if I know anything about Ueda, he is not going to let critics silence his inner voice.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Sentiments on new school

I am moving in two weeks, and my whole room is in turmoil. There are still pieces of PVC floating all around, paper everywhere, and I haven't even begun to think how I'm going to move my storage of tea and all my house plants.

I never thought I'd get to the school. The exams were really hard, there were so many applicants and it was my second try. But I did get in. I have no idea what I did, but obviously something right - and now I am packing my cups and books and moving even further up north.

I have many sentiments on the matter, and I intend to use this blog post for selfishly gushing about them. I hope it will offer me some clarity when I am done.

First of all, I am nervous. Unsurprisingly. I graduated as a social worker three years ago, worked in the field for three years (and made other bad life choices on the side, too) and burned out twice. That is quite a score for someone who is 25, so I have spent the six months from January to June this year recovering from my previous breakdown as well as rethinking my life choices.

Starting the studies as a game dev means that I will not only manage to choose a career more suitable for me, but also make a conscious choice to turn a dear hobby of mine into a career. It will have upsides and downsides, and the process for that will be long. But, I'd also say it is something I've had coming for quite a long now: I feel less passionate about only playing games nowadays. I have a deep need for analyzing them and figuring out how to make them.

I am also nervous about moving to another city. That, too, is something I've had coming for quite a long time: I don't feel at home in the southern parts of the country as I'm a northern girl by heart, and been looking for an opportunity to move to another city. But it's still a big change; I know nobody from the town and right now don't even feel like getting acquainted with others.

Secondly, I am excited in a good way. I like the idea of finally being able to properly start with a career I feel passionate about and also having some alone time for studies and just trying to find my own way.

Thirdly, I am wistful. Right now I am in a situation where I have managed to secure myself a good, comfortable job with good, comfortable pay, I like my apartment and living with Creli ain't that bad. I have had many conversations with myself about breaking the status quo.

I firmly believe that I am making the right choice in doing so. I work at customer service, and while the job is comfortable, I don't feel passionate about it. If I am to embark on a career, I'd rather want it to be something I am truly into - otherwise I will end up missing chances and maybe even regret.

Something that brings security to my financial worries is the fact that my superior and his boss talked to me yesterday and told me that there is an office in the city where I am moving, and they are looking for part-timers. Their application time ended just before I managed to send mine, but I sent an open application with the recommendations of my two superiors. I was glad to hear that in two month's time I have made such an impression that both of them recommended me without a second thought.

Fourth, but not least, sentiment is worried. My depression has been shit this year and has only recently started to lift. I am worried that it will affect my capability of giving my all to the studies.

However, I am not alone.

Creli will still be here, and Zack and Cloud now live only two hours away from me. My family is the same, as is Katsu, so I will have the option of spending weekend at theirs. I am the type who easily befriends others, so I'd think I will manage to get along just fine with the people who start the same school with me too.

In the face of this change I am nervous, but decisive. I also have a new acquaintance who has promised to help me with C++ (something I need to learn for the school), who goes by the name of Wuff. He is a somewhat new person in my life, but he has turned out to be a really nice person with very helpful tendencies.

In other news, after the wedding our core started discussing that we haven't really played LoL that much anymore together. Cloud got tired with it and my right hand has difficulties dealing with MOBA games, so while we play every now and then, it's not the way it used to be.

We're going to try Tera out just to see how it goes. (I suggested Rift, but the shining candy world of Tera won in the democracy vote.) There will be updates on this as soon as we manage to download the games to our comps!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Friendship is video games and cosplay

In 2010 I did something I had never done before: I went to a convention all by myself.

An acquintance of mine was going to the con but managed to break her leg before the event. She had a spare ticket she offered for me to have. After a moment of hesitation I decided to break away from my social anxieties and just ignore the fact that I hate the masses for a while. It was a rough spot in life and I was in desperate need of new pace. So I put up a pink dress, bought a red bolero and a basket of flowers and headed up north to the con-land!

There I met Zack and Cloud, two cosplayers by nature and sworn gamers by heart. Cloud immediately took me under her wing after hearing that I still didn't have a place to stay at for the duration of the con, and the three of us went to swimming and watched Treasure Planet at her place. They were the kind of people who felt at ease with each other and who make others feel at ease around them.

From there things escalated at a moderate pace. I participated to a cosplay skit performance with Cloud and both of us ended up catching a horrible flu, drinking enormous amounts of alcohol to offset the bacteria, and snuggling next to each other. I would compare game experiences with Zack and stay at his place when I had my first ever job interview at his home town.

Fast forward five years, to the date of 8.8.2015, and I had the honor of watching these two exchange rings and marriage vows.

It's been a wacky bumpy five years. I never thought I would end up finding two such great friends at a convention I went to on a moment's whim, but there we were, sitting at her kitchen table and drinking tea - Earl Grey with two cubes of sugar and a tint of creamy milk, her favorite. It had been years since I last felt that much at home anywhere.

That feeling of belonging has been a defining factor of why I consider these two to be so important to me. Life had brought us close to each other and as the years rolled by, we were no longer just acquintances - we had become friends.

Ultimately, we started to play League of Legends together. It was that game which ended up forming our core group: me, Marquise, Cloud, Zack and Sinister, Zack's friend who is a kickass gamer and taught us all there is to know about the League.

I remember those days as some of my happiest days in the world of gaming. I would come home and greet Marquise warmly, and instead of just his voice I'd be greeted with a myriad of voices from his computer as they heard I had arrived home. Together we'd rampage through the worst of worst and the best of best, sharing our life as months and years went by.

Those five years were full of happiness and rainy days. When I got my first burn-out at the job, they were there for me. When Marquise was struggling with his depression, we were there for him. When Cloud and Zack ended up dating, then getting engaged and finally starting to plan their wedding, it was a given that they would invite all of us to the wedding. We were among the first ones to hear the announcement, and I had the privilege to be their maiden of honor.

Their wedding had a theme, as these things often do: a masquerade. They met for the first time when they were cosplaying so they wished for the guests to participate to the theme somehow. Everyone showed up wearing costumes, from the elderly grandparents to the little children.

This was me for the first part of the night.
Not only was it awesome to see a wedding theme go so well, but I also had one of my first times during that weekend. Zack asked me to do a cosplay debut at their wedding as their DJ. How could I have turned them down?

Some words of cosplay-related wisdom for anyone who may attempt one of the following:

1. Dancing in a full-PVC suit

It gets hot and sweaty really fast. I drank two liters of water in as many hours and sweated all of it out. I am yet to discover how to cleanse a PVC suit; I don't think I can just toss it on a washing machine and hope for the best. It is sticky and sweaty all over.

2. Dying a wig

As the wedding was closing in I discovered to my horror that I was missing two vital components of my cosplay: Sona's helmet and her wig. I did not deem the helmet as an imperative part of her suit as wearing one might have caused me to die due to a heat stroke, but my thin red hair was not going to be of the right length or tone for DJ Sona.

So, a girl's got to do what a girl's got to, I guess. I tried to dye the wig with blue watercolors and ink.

Before you judge me, those were the only tools I had at hand, and internet said it would be all right to use them.

What I achieved in the end was a badly tangled wig which kept leaking blue to my fingers whenever I tried to brush it, with next to no change in color. So, no matter what anyone tells you about dying wigs and how easy it is, don't believe them. If you don't know what you are doing with the certainty of one-hundred percent, just buy a wig of the correct color.

3. Check the seams before and after

Everyone who claims to have had a cosplay they did not need to fix after the initial test run is either a cosplay pro or a filthy liar. All the cosplayers in my immediate vicinity consider broken parts of cosplay as part of the hobby, and the debut is usually followed by an after-cos; fixing the torn seams, glueing the broken parts back together and so on.

For me, fixing the cosplay has been mostly about getting the ink off my green wig and sewing some seams back together, but also checking the measurements. The bodysuit was tight in unexpected places and did not give as much way for dancing as I had hoped it might. Torn seams, torn seams everywhere!

On the bright news, look forward to seeing horror game videos and me wearing the fixed version of the suit.

The wig is of wrong color, but you might guess who this is.
I had really great time at the wedding. From the dance party among friends from the last night to the late evening where both the bride and the groom were shedding tears of joy and tired, I felt truly moved as I saw these two feeding cake to each other, smiling, dancing, hugging and just being in love.

Zack, Cloud, I wish you all the best in all the adventures awaiting for you in the future. Whether it will be babysitting your sequels or securing your bottom lane, I will always be your support. Sona, Soraka, Aerith, whatever we have. In game and in real life, I got your back.

Anywhere on the map.