Monday, December 19, 2011

In the News...

I know this announcement is strictly for the toys that will be available in the summer of 2012, but I’m still doing a happy dance about the prospect of a LEGO Lord of the Rings video game. I don’t read a lot of fantasy novels, but I have read The Hobbit...for a creative writing class…in high school…so I am sure that qualifies me as a super fan. Plus I’ve totally seen all of the movies (the extended films) and played the Risk version once…at a friend’s house…where I moved a ring around a map? I am obviously an expert.

Tee hee! Tiny LEGO Legolas! Priceless.

I am currently halfway through LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7 and, as anticipated, I am enjoying it immensely. Exploring Hogwarts feels a bit less lighthearted this time around, understandably, considering the source material, but moving through the stud-filled storyline managed to almost completely erase all of the downtrodden feelings I had about the series after trudging through the final licensed title. It’s sort of amazing how TT Games has managed to tell the story in LEGO form in a far more satisfying way, using mini cut scenes with a combination of tense emotion (well, as emotional as a LEGOs can get) to keep the weighted tone of the story while still saying, ‘Hey, it’s LEGOs. Don’t be too sad.’ with cheek pinching adorableness. I am having a great time. The team has learned several new spells, tiny Luna Lovegood is oh, so pretty, and no one had to die in the final chapter, except the man himself. Voldemort’s disintegration = Freakiest LEGO scene EVER.

Unlike Pirates of the Caribbean, I haven’t run into any bugs in Harry Potter, which is surprising. Normally the LEGO games lie in wait for you to step off the right platform and get stuck in some sort of digital quicksand, your only hope of salvation a total reboot (after mashing every button into oblivion, of course). To me, this says that either using the same environment as a previous game is a total win (Hogwarts and the surrounding areas are the exact same in both Years 1-4 and 5-7), or that TT is getting better at this whole LEGO video game endeavor. So, once again, although I know that no one has said anything about making a LLOTR video game at this point, I am still going to call it my Game of the Year for 2012...or let's say 2013, just to be safe. It’s obviously going to be amazing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Make Peace, Not War

Around this time last year I compiled two lists in my head. The first one, titled ‘Fallen Soldiers’, was about the video games I started but never finished. The second was a compilation of my favorite moments in gaming from the previous year. I was happy with both and assumed that I would end 2011 using a similar theme. But you know what? In terms of great, memorable experiences, the 2011 pool to choose from has been pretty limited. In fact, if a complete stranger ran up to me on the street and hot spotted me into naming the game I would suggest as a stocking stuffer for anyone who ‘plays video games’ in some capacity, my instant response would be Skyrim. And I haven’t played Skyrim, basing my reflexive decision solely on grand forum focus, so that should tell you just how tepid my memories of the previous year are scaling right now. But this isn’t really the start of my end of the year gaming series, just some typed out thought bubbles, so let’s talk about my post-play impressions of Assassin’s Creed Revelations instead, the only game I have played in any real beginning to end capacity in the last month or so.

First off, let me say that I loved Revelations. When the credits rolled after my 30+ hour full scale, nothing-left-behind run through, my chin started quivering and my eyes welled up with fat crocodile tears. Quiet weeping ensued. But it wasn’t because Revelations had any real Oscar-worthy moments (new category – best animated performance in a game of the video variety), it was because of the sheer volume of time and emotion spent with the character’s and their continual devotion to the cause, their constant struggle to outwit the Templars, and because it finally marked the end of four years’ worth of strange Italian accents and awkward Ezio flirtatiousness. And that’s very sad. As much as I am eager to dive into a new time period with a new assassino, a poignant melancholy settled over me when saying goodbye to both Altair and Ezio. I mean, crap, I first met Ezio in AC2 shortly after he emerged from the birth canal, so a fond salute to his fifty year old distinguished self seems natural and completely necessary. Truly, the best moments in Revelations came via cut scenes and flashbacks, the character drama the highlight of the final chapter. Meeting Sophia and Yusaf was fantastic, and their roles in Ezio’s Constantinople chapter vital and engaging.

But Revelations was no Brotherhood. With the exception of some hiccups here and there (I hate you, race missions, die in a fire), Brotherhood took on new mechanics with ease. I thought the restoration of Rome was a tad silly in the beginning, but grew to like it over time. Leonardo’s weapon missions were a little disjointed, but not enough to distract from the beauty and overall gracefulness of the ancient city spires and outer buildings, and having clandestine meetings with the man himself via special benches was such a wink and smile that I couldn’t help but love it. Sometimes a cathartic ride through the grassy fields alongside the city walls on a magnificent horse (totally hijacked from a guard) between missions was all that was needed to prepare for the next assignment. In playing the original game again, I can see the advantages of keeping it simple and allowing the player to merely explore the territories without any pervasive urgent qualities. Toss in the well-earned Cristina missions in and, to me, Brotherhood was spot-on perfect. Any additions from AC2 were either discarded or nurtured, and no one shoved any more or less than you wanted into your repertoire.

And…Revelations took the peace and quiet away. Along with my beautiful Italian countryside, I lost my horse. In its stead, I gained a hook blade and ziplines. Instead of freedom to restore and evolve Constantinople to my liking, in my own time and via my own design, the Templar presence was now ubiquitous, and any actions that could be construed as subversive are tracked and noted via a gauge that needs to be constantly monitored to ensure that a den takeover does not ensue. If it does, a mini tower defense game follows, which is so rare and clunky that there was never a chance to perfect it. I spent a lot of wasted time avoiding them by circling around blocks to pay off heralds in order to keep the meter on simmer, not boil. Revelations injected urgency into a game that responds best to stillness and stealth. It shoved bombs into my pockets and encouraged assassin/guard shoving matches. I couldn't even finish Desmond's journey, the sudden first-person perspective so abrasive and ill-suited to the normal flow that I gave up after the second chapter. And where these moments didn't fully deter my normal grinning from ear to ear Assassin’s Creed experience, because of course there was rooftops and running, it certainly made me long to repeat all of the Constantinople missions within the sanctity of Rome, regardless of how grand and glorious the sun appears when setting over the spires of Hagia Sophia.

If the franchise was scheduled to continue along the same vein, I believe without a reassortment of mechanics it would start to crumble underneath the sheer weight of its toolbox. My hopes for Assassin’s Creed 3 is not necessary a complete reboot, but possible a reimagining of how to breathe spirit and soul back into the game. The majesty of this series is built upon the grounds of silence, not explosions and noise. If they stop peering so heavily into the weapon wheels and instead continue to focus on the tightly coiled tenseness of each narrative situation, I think they will find all the tools they need to keep the series colorful through characterization and not silly video game mechanics. I’ve continually called this series a book, with many different chapters and volumes, and I hope the next in the series repaints a picture using a color palette and an ink quill pen, not a strategic war board.

Even through the smears of lamb’s blood and poisoned gas, Revelations still had meaningful glances and tulips. And sometimes the details make all the difference.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

New Alan Wake!

Love this!

My World

Okay, I have a confession to make. Deep breath. Here goes:

I have never, in my entire 32 years of living here, on Planet Earth, in the United States of America, in the shape and form of a female of the species Homo sapiens, been told that I should or should not do anything based on my gender.

When I was eleven, no one told me that I shouldn’t collect baseball cards with my little brother because I was a girl.

When I was in high school, no one told me I shouldn’t play soccer or baseball or kickball or whatever-ball because I was girl.

When I was in college, no one told me I shouldn’t sleep in the boys dorm...wait, yes they did. They had strict separation rules about those things, for good reasons. Wink wink. Teenagers are naughty.

But more than anything else, no one ever told me that I shouldn’t be playing video games because of my ovaries and XX chromosome pattern. Not once. Never ever.

Maybe I’m lucky. My first video game memory is playing Atari at my neighbor’s, a home that contained primarily three women as the man of the house was often away on business. When my little brother received a NES for Christmas one year, affectionate fights starting breaking out as to who was going to play it more often, him, me or my mother. When I was twelve years old and moved away from my hometown to a bigger, scarier environment (rural Idaho, population 4000), I was welcomed into a new community of peers via a Tetris watch that I started lending out during study hall. A GameBoy on my belt never attracted any negative attention, and falling for a pixelated Setzer in FFIII (SNES) and later a white-haired villain named Sephiroth in FFVII delivered nothing but amusement and affectionate ribbing amongst my friends. In art class I painted silhouettes of Magus and taped video game posters in my lockers. And all of that was a-okay. I never encountered a single soul who thought otherwise.

In fact, I can’t recall a single instance in my youth when the notion of being a female gamer evoked anything other than admiration from the gentleman in my life. With the exception of a few incredulous “I can’t believe you just kicked my ass at [Killer Instinct, SSX Tricky, Soul Calibur 2, etc]” moments that at first prompted some swearing or controller throw-downs, all my guys, after learning I was ‘adept’ at gaming, would want desperately to play alongside me, as though they had been awarded some precious gift to be treasured. The idea that I would sit silently and just watch an entire run through of a JRPG was something new and refreshing, and I was never admonished or berated for my hobby. And none of them told me I shouldn’t be doing it. After awhile, any excitement or surprise would peter out, and playing video games would become part of normal life, just as any other chosen pastime between couples or friends.

So now that I am old and couldn’t care less what anyone thinks about the things I choose to do or not do, I tend to ignore all of the he said-she said sexism debates ever-circulating around the gaming community. Because none of them have ever offended me, personally. Getting all up in arms about my role as a female gamer is silly and divisive, when all I want is to have the best experience I can have within my chosen hobby. I don’t really play online, as I enjoy the more personal aspects of video games, so I get to avoid all of the icky name calling and colorful adjectives spewed by shabbily parented twelve-year-olds. But if I was in the middle of an amazing run in a multiplayer environment and someone with a XY called me any of a dozen offensive female-directed four-letter words, I am smart enough to realize they are just totally uncivilized and ignore them completely, not run straight to my blog to write about how oppressed I am as a female, and how misrepresented I am by developers and how giant boobs on female characters in Dragon Age games makes my self-esteem plummet or other such nonsense. My husband occasionally swears at the television and the Xbox during particularly difficult gaming moments, but I don’t think either device takes it personally.

Recently, a mini s-storm started up online because a particular journalist said that adult women don’t know about Skyrim. He meant it as a gentle riff towards nerdy male gamers, but sectors of the female gaming community got all miffed about it anyway. The truth is, he is probably right. If I polled my female-dominated workplace and asked all the ladies over 25 what Skyrim is I would primarily get one of three responses: my child plays that, I saw a commercial for that during Modern Family, or I is that a new type of airplane? (I work in the travel industry.) Notice I said “primarily”, as sure, statistically a few of them would either recognize it offhand or know about it intimately based on a primary source, such as a friend/roommate/significant other playing it or playing it themselves. But jeez, the response demons his offhand remark summoned were genuinely boring and tiresome. It’s as though a team of female gamers have a telephone tree and a template standing by just in case someone steps over the line and offends them, even in jest. And I can’t help but think that these people are supposedly defending me as an female gamer entity, right? So why do I feel like they are talking about the opposite of me? Why can’t we all just be gamers, play whatever we want and feel free to say things that are probably true without being terrified about offending half of the community? Can’t we just take things in stride? Why is everyone so defensive about what is, for most people having the conversation, a hobby, not a life imperative?

And before everyone starts stabbing me with lectures and reminders about our oppressed sex*, let me remind you that I have never experienced any of those things. I have received nothing but encouragement and praise from primarily male blog writers and friends. All of those who have requested words or opinions from me concerned gender neutral topics, and no one has flamed me about any of my overly romantic paragraphs concerning Assassin’s Creed or my loving attachment to Fenris in Dragon Age 2. Maybe it’s because I am so openly a girly gamer. I play what I want, I say what I want, I feel what I want and I have no shame about any of it. I have never censored myself or tried to be anything other than what I am. My non-gamer friends love and support me, and get excited when I get excited about something in my virtual habitat, even if they have no idea what I am talking about. If someone were to try to provoke me based on my gender I would shake my head and ignore them, as any child is told to do in the schoolyard when being bullied. To be honest, after reading and writing within a teensy little corner of the gaming world for almost two years now, I can visualize my fellow ladies being more critical towards me than any of the gents. This sort of sharkish mentality is famous amongst women, as we tend to be way cattier than boys concerning anything that can be construed competitive in nature.

Bottom line is, if a huge balloon of sexism exists in the gaming world, I have never experienced it firsthand. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe it exists, but I think that angry dog-piling onto anyone who makes even the slightest mention of a potential line between the male-female gaming community is probably the wrong tactic. Whether video games are something you play on the bus, via a handheld, or in your living room, via a controller, it is a personal experience. And no one can disrupt that experience if you don’t give them the power to. If you like Call of Duty multiplayer but hate the boy chatter, mute the damn thing, or find a group of girls to play with every night. Yes, the whole environment should be sunshine and unicorns, but reality says differently, so instead of beating against a brick wall, just become empowered and create your own world.

And while all of you are nitpicking each other to death, I will continue to play video games, unheeded by anything or anyone, because I love them like peppermint and ice cream and I can do whatever the fuck I want, as no one ever told me I couldn’t and even if they did I wouldn’t listen to them anyway.

*Total Disclaimer: Of course, I don't believe that all female gamers have these streamlined opinions about gender exclusions within the community, because I believe the majority of them are like me, and enjoy it as a face value experience, without analyzing its deeper sociological meanings. They are awesome.