REVIEW: Folklore

The Playstation 3 hasn’t exactly enjoyed the world’s greatest library since its launch. A number of titles that fans were counting on to give them some much-needed value faltered, seemingly because of motion controls, time pressure, or both. Lair and Heavenly Sword arrived to much fanfare but little welcome, as they both were found to be overhyped and deeply-flawed games, moreso in the former than the latter.

In recent weeks, however, things seem to be picking up for the beleaguered Playstation stalwart. Folklore, Ratchet & Clank Future, and The Eye of Judgement have all landed on store shelves. Today, I take a look at Folklore, the fantasy action-RPG from Game Republic. Continue reading

Platform Agnostic

There’s a particularly interesting term thrown around by people in the industry. The definition given is someone who owns all the consoles, or is otherwise not biased in any one direction.

From a linguistic perspective, though, it sounds as though it is someone who is uncertain as to the existence of consoles. Less literally, and likely what the originator was going for, it would mean one who can’t decide what the best system is.

It’s a console war term, and for all the absurdity of the console wars, they do exist in a way. The three-way mudfight that it consists of, however, is not best suited by religious metaphor.

No, that’s the domain of politics.

In politics, each side of an issue, equally unmovable in their resolve, will debate until the discourse degenerates into “No fuck you!” “No, fuck YOU!” ad infinitum. The console wars are the same, just accelerated by the miracle of the internet, so it reaches the destination a lot quicker.

A better term would be a platform independent, someone who chooses the best console for them at the time.

After all, religious debates historically end when one side kills the other. Political ones usually stop at cane fights.

REVIEW: Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction

As this is the first full review on The Chaos Fold, I’m going to take the time to explain my methodology.

I review games based on their play value. If I buy a game that is graphically amazing, but with lackluster controls, a piss-weak storyline, or flawed design principles, I’ll say “Skip it” or something along those lines. If I play a game and enjoy it thoroughly, and believe it is worth the price of admission, I’ll say to buy it or possibly rent it. No arbitrary numbers or star ratings.

And now, without further ado, on with the show. Continue reading

Lots of updates tomorrow.

I’m planning on throwing up at least five game reviews tomorrow. I’m likely to expand the site to better organize the editorial stuff. A look at what’s on deck:

  • Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. (PS3)
  • Folklore (PS3)
  • The Orange Box (PC)
  • PSP Slim & The Daxter Bundle
  • World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade (PC)

The WoW review is a slightly different angle on things. As a casual MMO player who didn’t get into WoW until after the expansion, I’m going to look at what drew me in, what kept me in, and why I’m still paying monthly.

Also, there will be an editorial/frothing rant about the terminal clusterfuck that is the Halo film.

(Edit: The updates are still coming, real life threatens to intervene, bear with me.)

Assassin’s Crap.

One of the earliest PlayStation 3 games to jump out at me was, well, one of the earliest PlayStation 3 games to jump out at anyone.

Assassin’s Creed, from UbiSoft, appeared to be if not unique, at least polished to a mirror shine. The trailers showed an intensely stylish evolution of the recent Prince of Persia trilogy, starring the enigmatic Altair, an assassin bounding along the rooftops of third-crusade-era Jerusalem.

Today, I read in this month’s Electronic Gaming Monthly, what is perhaps the most ridiculous statement to ever emerge from a game producer. Continue reading

International Politics + Gaming Forum = Hilarity

So I’m posting on boards.1up.com today, when I come across a thread that asks if it is right or wrong to play a game based on the Iraq war/GWoT.

Short answer, No.

Long answer, No, but that doesn’t mean developers will actually make them. As I intimated in the thread, those are dark and dangerous waters inhabited exclusively by things designed to kill you. Even a respectful game that takes an evenhanded look at both sides and tells a story with the utmost respect to everyone involved, that is to say, a perfectly done Iraq Game, would get endless flak from at least 20% of the population.

Why?

Politics. You can’t please anyone when it comes to this sort of politically-charged topic. Why have there been acres of World War 2 games and almost zero Vietnam War games? We all agreed on World War 2, and we can certainly all agree on its righteousness in retrospect. Well, everyone who isn’t a white supremacist that is. And the white supremacist demographic is a historically marginalized one in the field of global marketing and sales.

Vietnam and Iraq will never be suitable topics for game makers to approach with rationality, because the divisions are too deep and bitter. Revisionists will inevitably say the same thing about Iraq that they said about Vietnam after the fact. “We would have got the job done had we just stayed in there and got the job done!”

Its hard even for me to bring it up without falling into the political us v. them aspect of it all. There is nothing at all wrong with any aspect of making an Iraq game. It just isn’t good business.

P.S. How did that thread end, again? Yeah, someone called me a traitor. And then I laughed. Serious fucking business on this here internets.

An Open Letter to Roger Ebert

(Ed. Note: This letter was sent to Roger Ebert and the Chicago Sun-Times editorial staff on 20 October, 2007. It is reprinted here for posterity.  Spoilers abound for BioShock and Half-Life 2: Episode 2)

In recent days, much has been made of Mr. Ebert’s comments on the concept of video games being referred to as “art”. Much more has been made of his seeming refusal to consider their value to the artistic canon of the twenty-first century.

As a writer, one not celebrated by any great awards or known beyond a small circle of dear friends, I can appreciate Ebert’s reluctance to admit such a seemingly infantile form into the pantheon of high art. It is a distinction that took many years to be reached by film, television, graphic novels, and many other forms of former folk-devils. Art is subjective, at its very core. I live in Washington D.C. and as such I have access to many famed museums. At the National Gallery of Art, there are a number of paintings that truly stretch the term. The “White Painting” is a white canvas. The “Black Painting” is a black canvas. Strewn nearby are various paintings of black and white in various mixed patterns.

Surely one could make the connection that the white painting is a stirring portrayal of the innate purity of existence. Likewise the black painting could be seen as a brave vision of the bleakness of uncertainty. You can call anything art if you try hard enough, which is a testament to the breadth of the term. Roger Ebert, as a student of film and a much-respected voice in the field of professional critique, is making a mistake with his view on video games. He’s looking at it, as would be expected, as if the games were film.

Video games, have their own unique challenges, drawbacks, and virtues. Much as film was maligned by theater critics for its essential lack of spontaneity, video games have been criticized for their lack of directorial control, so to speak. A player is in control of a video game. A player sits at something aptly-named the “controller” to work their way through a series of pre-determined or vaguely-randomized challenges to reach a conclusion. What this fails to consider is the breadth of video games.

Just as one can call stunning displays of cinematography art, or revolutionary effects art, everything from sound design, to editing, set design, to the performance on the screen art, there is more to video games than plot. Like the handicap of lacking live players, there are ways to compensate for the interactive nature of games.

Many games forego any semblance of story, or maintain a truly abstract one, and focus on something such as a visual beauty, or a transcendent musical score. These are things not uncommon to film. Some of the greatest and most influential films of all time are incredibly abstract. The same holds true for abstract games, where the player is more of a witness to a world that has been crafted solely for its beauty. Two games in particular stand out to me as excellent indicators of this: Shadow of the Colossus, and Rez, both available on the Sony Playstation 2. To someone who is not playing the game, their beauty might be mistaken for noise, but instead, the act of control is what grants them their depth and appeal.

Still more games take narrative approaches, with the player acting as a vessel, an agent of change that pushes through a storyline. Many times, these protagonists are never seen, they may have some identifiable markings to allow the player to identify, but are entirely silent, as the game is seen through the first person. Two games of recent years, BioShock, and Half-Life 2 accomplish this task admirably.

Half-Life has a central character with a name, but with no spoken lines. He is essentially an observer to the drama, and an engine for its continuation. While his compatriot, the stunningly life-like Alyx Vance provides most of the interaction with non-player characters, Gordon Freeman is the stoic scientist fighting against the world. When Alyx’s father is tragically killed at the end of Episode 2, the most recent expansion to the story, the game fades slowly to black, the only backdrop her unrestrained mourning, as she wails over her father’s lifeless body. The player has no control over the events for the last scene, being held captive, left to do nothing but watch helplessly. In this case, the ability of the player to control an actor, and yet be powerless to change the outcome, enhances the artistic quality, and does not detract from it.

Bioshock, too, employs a similar narrative device. The game is linear, in that there is only one path that can be taken to reach from the beginning of the game to the end. The developers, actors, and artists behind the undersea art-deco utopia of Rapture know their limitations, and instead turn them to advantages. At roughly the game’s mid-way point, the player is greeted with a disturbing revelation, that they are infact a puppet, enslaved by the code-phrase “Would you kindly”. The player is forced to watch, powerless, as control is wrested from them by this revelation. As you watch yourself kill an unarmed man simply because he told you to, the player is filled with a desire for revenge on the one who inflicted this on him. The rest of the game is a rush toward a climactic showdown with that nefarious influence, and ultimately liberation.

If the question of art comes down to emotional impact, I can say with certainty that all of the aforementioned video games had great emotional impact on me. I even cried at the conclusion of BioShock. Am I saying all games are art? Of course not, but I’m not saying all movies are art, either. In any form that can make claim to that name, there are exceptions. Video games, in their infancy, are just starting to ascend to that high throne. Games take influence from film, yes. They also take influence from classical music, from literature, folklore, painting, and sculpture, as have they all from each other.

There is much dreck in gaming. There is also much “beautiful trash” as you put it. Products designed to entertain and sell, with little more to them. If you approach them with an open mind, however, and I do for my part hope to have opened yours a bit, you can find art.

Sincerely and Respectfully,

Andrew Zimmer