Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The North Korean Summit: A Fantasy of War and Peace

One thing I love about E3 is that the sheer volume of gaming news, gaming discussion, and gaming debates drowns out the rest of the world. I could finally ignore all the endless pro-Trump and anti-Trump drumbeats that pollute this planet. Instead I could focus on stupid video games. Children getting thrown into cages? Sorry, I need to think up my Beyond Good and Evil 2 take. Concentration camps at the border? That sure sucks, but so did Square Enix's press conference. My greatest horrors of anti-immigration racism coming true? ...That Tunic game looks cute though! Sadly now it is Tuesday, the distracting circus of hype is over, and the gaming press is currently on a week-long hangover. Time to talk about that other, less fun media circus from last week.

Last Tuesday Donald Trump signed a thing with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. I call it a "thing" because I don't still don't know what it was. The whole affair sure looked like a major peace accord. There was a piece of paper with signatures on it. News people took pictures of two world leaders shaking hands. Somebody even cooked up a fake trailer. In some ways, the Singapore meeting was the ultimate E3 press conference. It was a big self-congratulations full of pomp and glitz, with no real substance at all.

I know this post might seem hypocritical considering what I wrote about North Korea last year. In case you've forgotten: I said we should back down because Trump's threats were stupid and dangerous. So from that perspective, I'm fully behind the president meeting with Kim Jong Un, shaking his hand, and turning down the heat. I'm glad he's defusing the very tensions he stirred up, but I still have to ask: "what does this mean?" I can't say "oh, Trump did something good" before I know what he did. Especially when I suspect the entire thing was a sham from the start. [Insert obvious Final Fantasy VII Remake joke here.]

Thursday, June 14, 2018

E3 2018 Games I Want to Talk About

E3 2018 was a really good E3. If you like games, you probably now have at least half a dozen must-buy titles. I watched the press conferences while doing some mental accounting and realized that this show will probably cost my future self somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand dollars in video games. All indications are that 2019 is going to be a ridiculous year in gaming, as good as 2017 if not better.

As for 2018... well, it's mostly a holding pattern at this point. At least I have time to go back and play Super Mario Odyssey now. It seems like the gaming industry fled 2018 en mass so now the first three months of 2019 will be jam-packed with electronic riches beyond your wildest imagination. Or possibly it will all get delayed to 2020. Take your time, video games, I still need to play Nioh.

What's really crazy is that by usual standards, E3 2018 should have sucked. Square Enix embarrassed themselves by coming to the show empty-handed. I can name more games that Nintendo should have shown than games Nintendo did show. (Where is Yoshi?? I'm angrier about Yoshi missing E3 than Final Fantasy VII.) Even Sony's conference was pretty bleh. And EA was EA, as usual. Yet there's still mountains of games. E3 2018 is like the greatest Christmas toy catalogue of all time. I have no idea how I'll be able to cover everything I want to talk about. So strap in, because there are thousands of words coming.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Solo Makes Star Wars Unimportant - And Fun

I was not excited for Solo: A Star Wars Story. The Last Jedi exhausted me to a degree I never thought possible with this franchise. I wasn't mad. I was tired of it all. The Prequels ignited a burning inferno of passionate rage in me that lasted over a decade. The Last Jedi quieted those embers to dust and smoke. The problem is very simple: Star Wars is stuck up its own ass! The franchise has become this recursive loop of redefining its legacy over and over. So now it seems to have no legacy. When a work of art stops talking about anything other than itself, it becomes boring. We've spent so much time arguing about why Star Wars is so important that we missed the easy truth: Star Wars isn't important. It never was.

The last thing I want to write is another post about "what even is Star Wars, man?". I've written that same shit like ten times now, and I'm bored. The obsession around keeping the movies true to their heritage has poisoned this Disney reboot. Disney has been painfully insecure with these new movies and it makes everything awkward. I even liked what The Last Jedi had to say about the fandom and (again) the legacy of this series. But I don't see Star Wars for a cultural essay. The new Star Wars movies have put so much energy into proving that they are Star Wars that they didn't have time to actually be Star Wars! So how come Solo makes it all look so easy?

Solo is not a movie that needed to be made. Nobody needs to know how Han Solo met Chewbacca or won the Millenium Falcon or even what the Kessel Run really was. It's a fan service prequel in the most blatant and pandering way. Maybe for that reason Solo is the most relaxed and lightest Star Wars movie in a long time. It knows what it is, and it isn't high art. It's a SciFi heist flick with a touch of old Westerns and a singing space fish. That isn't a cultural touchstone that will define a generation, and it shouldn't be. Because the only thing Star Wars needs to be is fun. Not important. Fun.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

God of War Needs More Hugs

God of War (2018) is doing something that a lot of people refuse to ever do: take stock of itself and its problematic past. The game never straight-up repudiates the old God of War series, but it definitely seems embarrassed by its previous entries. Kratos in 2018 is a quiet, depressed man, where the Spartan in 2005 was a screaming asshole. New God of War wants to be subtle, emotionally complex, and to push its character into being a fully dimensional human being. They even removed the sex minigames. I respect the goals here. Maybe we could try to fix Duke Nukem or Shadow the Hedgehog next?

The problem for me though is that Sony Santa Monica still wants Kratos to be "cool". This is the character's origins conflicting with the new game's goals. In 2005, all Kratos needed to be was an angry avatar of teenage boy id. You pressed Circle and Kratos made things dead in spectacular ways. Or he banged naked chicks with repulsive low-poly boobs. He wasn't a real person and didn't need to be one. In 2018, we expect more from our gaming protagonists, so Kratos can't "just be angry". He's got a son now, he has responsibilities. Kratos needs to get the kid dressed and off to school and maybe later, if he's still got energy, our war god can slay a mythological creature now or then. However no matter how much of a real person Kratos can become, he still has to be cool. And nothing is cooler, apparently, than emotional abuse.

In God of War I really enjoyed the gameplay. I appreciate the reasonably-sized world map. I liked the bosses, especially the Valkyrie superbosses which are the best part of an already good game. The whole style is like that bloodier Zelda that I always wanted the God of War games to be in the first place. (The loot and crafting systems however can go die in Ragnarok.) But I hated Kratos. Kratos starts this game sealed-up in his own edgelord bullshit, unable to even pat his son, Atreus (AKA: "BOY!") on the back. He can't apologize, he can't really open up, and he doesn't "do hugs". He's stuck as a bitter authoritarian, unable to crack a smile. Kratos continues to act out this stunted ultra-masculine fantasy, even as this behavior is clearly toxic.

God of War (2018) tries to make Kratos a good father, and it fails. Because it couldn't make him a good mother.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Why I Deleted Bloodborne

I am addicted to Bloodborne. I also hate Bloodborne.

Since Dark Souls and Bloodborne came around, the games industry found the courage to be hard again, to be niche again, and to be weird again. Our 2011 Zelda was Skyward Sword, our 2017 Zelda was Breath of the Wild. One of those games takes an hour to get started, has a trillion tutorials, and sticks you with an annoying helper who will repeat all instructions twice. The new game just dumps you naked and clueless in the woods and is so much better for it. I never directly played a From Software game before, but I have played games with Dark Souls influence and loved them. Shovel Knight and The Witcher 3 are two of the best games of the decade, and Hollow Knight made my Top 5 in 2017. I am grateful to the Soulsbornes of this world.

And yet, I've never liked what I've seen in Dark Souls. It is an entirely personal problem, I admit. I don't know how useful this post is going to be for anybody other than myself. There's a blank misery to these games that really puts me off. A lot of it is the color pallet. Dark Souls games are gray and muted, and Bloodborne has one color: brown. The game worlds are truly joyless. The developers do not create characters or really much of a story, so there's no personal connection I can draw from whatever I'm doing. Everything is doomed anyway it seems, so why should I bother? Plus the difficulty is "fair" but also incredibly cruel. I said before in my Celeste post that I have a low tolerance for cruelty. I like a proper testicle cruncher of a hard game, but not one that's actively against me.

So having played Bloodborne now (thanks to it being free with PS+ in March) my opinion is unchanged. I still don't see the charm to the atmosphere or the design. Bloodborne has no story progression and no arc, everything looks the same no matter where I go. There's incredibly vague lore, but since this setting is full of jerks who hate me, I don't care. Youtubers make hour long posts to decipher the lore, but lore only matters if I care. The mystery is just a mystery for its own sake, not any kind of depth. Hollow Knight was dark but full of cutesy bug people and friendly NPCs with personality. Bloodborne has one personality: deathly dark death dark, which then mutates into deathly dark death dark but now with an H.P. Lovecraft theme.

However the combat is good, which only tortures me more. Because I haven't mentioned the real problem here: the grind.