Archive for March, 2008

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The Moment I Realized Just How Bad Video Games Are

March 31, 2008

(Alternate title: The real reason I haven’t been writing much on race in this blog for a while now.)

So I watched two of the Grand Theft Auto IV trailers a few days ago - “Move up, ladies”, and then this final trailer that was just release. And I was morbidly fascinated – while I have very little interest in playing any of the GTA series from a gaming standpoint – it’s not really my type – it seemed like there would be plenty of interesting racial subtext. The “Move up, ladies” trailer in particular seems to rip off Scarface in the twist of the American Dream for gangsters, pimps, mark-ass-tricks, trick-ass-marks, punk bitches and skanks, skeezers, skip-skap skanks and scallywags. (Side note: I will never understand the appeal of Scarface or Tony Montana as a gangster icon. He just seems so unhappy.) So I thought, maybe it’d be worth my time to play through a few of the GTA games for a bit and see if I come up with anything interesting. For you guys, you know? For the blog.

Then I remembered that I really can’t bring myself to play most of these games – True Crime, Saints Row, etc. – for more than an hour or two before getting bored. Just not my thing, I guess.

Then I realized that the reason I haven’t found a whole lot of interesting stuff to write about race and games is precisely because I DON’T play these kinds of games. Which is to say, people of color generally only show up in games about the “real world”, and most of those games these days center around an urban gangster fantasy. Other than the potential subtext in FFCC: Rings of Fate about “heathen moon-worshippers”, I haven’t come across anything particularly interesting because I’ve mostly been playing fighting games, or DS games, the former has almost no character development and the latter isn’t used as a vehicle for “realism” or “mature” games.

Blah.

On the plus side, I reinstalled Urban Terror. Been craving a little multiplayer action lately. Back to the classics for me.

pat m.

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Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates

March 29, 2008

Beat the story mode and can’t really be bothered to play it again. Too bad I don’t have anyone to play the multiplayer game with, I guess.

I was pleasantly surprised by the relatively strong emphasis on platforming; having played through a few action-RPG “dungeon crawlers” in my time, I expected it to be fairly rigid, particularly when it came to the dungeon puzzles. However, your different characters can pick each other up and throw each other around, jump off of each others’ heads, balance items on top of their heads while double-jumping, and summon all the other party members to their present location – all of which can be used to creatively solve the different puzzles without bothering to figure out boring things like how it’s “supposed” to be done. This is good, because I hate switch-flipping puzzles.  GameSpot called this a “12 hour game” in their review, but I finished it in just under 10.

I imagine the game is supposed to get progressively harder after multiple playthroughs, but I certainly don’t see myself doing that anytime soon. Managing a whole party in a boss fight is clumsy, but most of the time you don’t have to do much more than blindly hack away with the character you’re controlling to win the fight. I didn’t even bother with any of the special abilities, charge attacks, or myriad combinations of spells besides the stock revive and heal spells. Just slash-slash-slash away.

It’s worth noting that the reason I didn’t bother with any of the advanced high-damage stuff wasn’t because I didn’t want to, but because the stylus control is so damn awkward. In order to use most of the special combat abilities, you have to use the touch screen to choose an enemy to target. This means you have to take a hand away from the buttons or the control pad to fiddle with the stylus. It’s a total pain in the ass. Same goes for changing characters – you have to use the touch screen to pick who you want to control, even though the select button would have been a much-appreciated alternative option. This means that if I want to cast Fire 3 (to hell with the post-FF6 naming conventions for spells, by the way), I have to pick the red magicite (right hand – touch screen), select a location (right hand – X button, then d-pad to pick a location, which takes FOREVER), then pick out two other members with red magicite selected with the touch-pad. And if they don’t have it? Oops. No Fire 3 for me. I suppose this might be forgivable, since the game is presumably designed around the multiplayer, with the party controls added on afterwards, but it’s also the worst use of MANDATORY touch screen controls. Ugh.

Also of note: save points are fairly scarce, you CAN’T do any kind of temporary mid-game save outside of a save point (low battery? no luck.), and you can’t even PAUSE the damn game except for closing the DS. You basically have to play this one like you would any typical console RPG – that is, chained to a power outlet with long stretches of free time – because it isn’t designed to be played on the go.

Up next, a post on the moment I realized exactly how fucked video games are about race. Peace.

pat m.

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Sudanese Hip-Hop Artist And Former Child Soldier Speaks Out Against 50 Cent: Bulletproof

March 28, 2008

Sudanese hip-hop artist and ex-child soldier Emmanuel Jal spoke out against American rapper 50 Cent’s music as well as his video game, 50 Cent: Bulletproof, at a conference on African hip-hop hosted by Harvard University.

Jal, whose music has been found in the movie “Blood Diamond” as well as a few Africa-based episodes of “ER”, admits that “I am a great fan of 50 Cent, but can’t help thinking that the generation that has grown up to respect and love him are not being given the right message. I feel that he could be professing more of a positive influence with his young fans.” The verse that specifically references 50 Cent: Bulletproof is found on Jal’s “Warchild” album, due May 13th, in a song called “50 Cent”:

“You have done enough damage selling crack cocaine now you got a kill a black man video game/ There ain’t a Jewish or a white man Chinese or an Indian blowing up the brain of their own fellow man / We have lost a whole generation through this lifestyle now you want to put it in the game for a little child to play / Bugga bun 50 Cent.”

Jal was forcibly conscripted into the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army at six years old, and deserted with 400 fellow child soldiers at 13 years old. He was one of only 16 to survive the escape. Meanwhile, 50 Cent (real name Curtis Jackson III) is widely known for having dealt drugs and gotten shot nine times. There is currently no word on Jal’s opinion of the upcoming sequel to 50 Cent: Bulletproof, which apparently involves 50 Cent and G-Unit performing somewhere in the Middle East, getting stiffed by the concert promoter, and receiving a diamond-encrusted skull as payment.

Sadly, everything in that above paragraph is true.
antiMUSIC News

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Misc.

March 27, 2008

Finished Ninja Gaiden DS just in time for the English-language version to come out. Great. As far as I can tell, I didn’t miss out on much of a plot. The verdict: I had pretty low standards for a hack-n-slash on the DS, so I was pleasantly surprised by how well the input and the visuals worked. It’s pretty slick. Sadly, at about 7 hours or so for my first (and only) playthrough, it’s a few hours too long to basically do the same hacking and slashing against different backgrounds. Not enough variety. On the plus side, I’m ranked 210th on normal difficulty. Woooo.

Played a few minutes of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates. I’ve never played any of the FFCC games before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Seems like it’s worth a little more of my time, at least – I just finished the second dungeon, and the level design seems to be a little more inspired than I anticipated. Certainly more inspired than that Dungeon Explorer DS game I sunk a decent amount of time into a few weeks ago. I don’t know what I was thinking. I loved Diablo II more than I’d care to admit, but Dungeon Explorer DS was no Diablo II.

In other news, a blog on Asian Americans and Popular Culture, which, as far as I can gather, is a class project somewhere, linked to my now-infamous discussions of Indigo Prophecy. I still get people coming in and telling me I’m too sensitive, racist, etc. on those posts. Anyway, the blog post had an interesting take on things:

However, I have a problem with this reading, since this reading rests on the assumption that Lucas Kane is a white male. You see, for the whole time I was playing this game, I was under the distinct impression that Lucas Kane was Asian.

It’s an interesting post, though I disagree with the reading – to be frank, it sounds to me like the author got stuck with a case of wishful thinking. (I hate to say it, but we Asian American men aren’t stereotyped as kickboxing rock gods quite yet. YET.) The writer also thought I was a woman named Pam Miller. Anyway, the really interesting part came in the discussion we had in the comments:

Because I was actually a French history specialist in undergrad, this game just struck me as quintessentially French in the way it handled race. The official government policy of racial equality means for them that race is rarely officially acknowledged.

It’s a huge controversy right now whether or not they would they will take ethnic statistics in the next census. The drive towards that is led by the right wingers under Sarkozy, who want to use it to clamp down on immigrants.

I know absolutely nothing about race in France other than Zidane’s legendary Headbutt Super Combo…

… so this struck me as another interesting example of how poorly one country’s racial common sense can translate incredibly poorly into another country. Or, alternately, as an example of how utterly ridiculous “colorblind” attitudes are.

pat m.

P.S.: Today we got a visitor who searched for “Why black people don’t like Resident Evil”. I never really asked myself that question, but frankly, if I had to guess, it would have to be related to a healthy aversion to white people with guns. That one I can understand.

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Stuff I’ve Been Playing Lately

March 25, 2008

I haven’t had the attention span to sit down and play a whole PS2 game lately – I think the pick-up-and-play nature of most Nintendo DS titles sits right with me these days. And, sadly, while there are plenty of DS games out there that do interesting things with games as a medium, there aren’t a whole lot out there that tangle with race and gender in any particularly interesting ways. (Not that I know of, anyway – feel free to comment with some suggestions!) So while I haven’t had a whole lot of directly topical material for the blog, I have been playing a few things worth mentioning.

On the PS2 side, I’ve been playing around with the NiGHTS Into Dreams remake. I actually have the original for my semi-functional-but-no-memory-card Sega Saturn, so I was stoked to play a visually updated version with the Dual Shock analog sticks because I never shelled out for the NiGHTS 3D pad back in the day. I haven’t played it very seriously – just a level here and there when I feel like picking it up – but the way it feels to fly in that game, to bounce and careen and soar in its oddly 2.5D space, is completely unrivaled. It’s very Sega – in fact, it feels like a perfect SAT analogy. NiGHTS is to flying in Super Mario World what Sonic the Hedgehog is to walking Super Mario Bros.

Also making a brief appearance on the PS2 is Tori No Hoshi: Aerial Planet, though only for one fairly short session. For some reason, my R1 button doesn’t seem to be accelerating like I’m supposed to be, meaning that flying is kind of a pain. The game is supposed to be relaxing, largely – you fly around a planet that’s mostly forest and ocean on a fairly quiet little glider, and you look for birds, eventually coming to mimic their calls and such. I don’t know if I’m actually going to play it much, but the flying and admiring the scenery alone is worth some time every now and then, if only to mellow out a little bit. I bet it’d be fun stoned, especially if you muted the music and played your own instead.

On the DS side I’ve been a little more active. I played through Apollo Justice, of course, and my love for the Ace Attorney series has not abated in the slightest. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but suffice to say that the writing just keeps getting better, and the storytelling gets ever more interesting. As the title indicates, Phoenix is not the main character, but he ends up being quite significant nevertheless. He also starts looking surprisingly grown and sexy with the hoodie, beanie, and five-o’clock-shadow.

After Apollo Justice I dithered around with Professor Layton and the Curious Village, but it hasn’t really held my interest quite so much. Since then I’ve been playing around with Ninja Gaiden DS (only in Japan so far, sorry), which is awesome in control and visuals and a little bit boring in terms of level design. Seriously, each level has a bunch of fights, maybe a puzzle, and then a boss fight – and the boss fights, puzzles, and fights in each room are largely identical. If the combat itself weren’t so darn fun (stylus input) and surprisingly precise then it would never get away with it. Grrrr. The other game that has caught my eyes lately is Bangai-O Spirits, the DS version of the cult shooter hit Bangai-O, which I never played. I think Tim Rogers says it better than I could, though – “Brain Training for God”.

That’s about all I got for now. Any recommendations? PS2, DS, and (shhhh) emulated systems only! Thanks.

pat m.

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