Digibro’s Games Journal (End of July 2012)

Two months ago, when I started playing video games regularly, I began a journal of all the games I’d played so that I wouldn’t lose track of them before I could find some means of databasing them. I intended that at some point I’d post a list of what I’d played so far with commentary, but before I knew it, the list got out of hand. Therefore, before I end up with half a billion games to go through in one post, here’s my video game journal as of the end of July. I might do these monthly or, like, I dunno, something.

This list is broken up into sections by how much I enjoyed the game, with games listed alphabetically within each section. Recommendations of what I should play next based on this list will be greatly appreciated!

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Adventures in Tera: Chasing Moby Dick

Early into the start Tera, people marveled at the sweeping landscapes, the unfinished areas that they could find a way into by jumping over mountains, and the giant sky-whale flying around the border of Val Aureum. You can find videos of people chasing these worldly wonders, and I’m certainly not the first person to take a hell of a lot of Tera screen shots. Nonetheless, I felt the need to take this journey myself, and to take my own screen shots, for my own memories.

(click images to enlarge)

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Tera Solo Leveling Guide: 1 to 60 With Falario Fa!

This is Falario Fa, my main character on Tera (Dragonfall server, PVE), an Elin Slayer who’s just reached sixty! I played most of the game solo and had a hard time leveling at certain points, as well as finding tips on how to do so. Here I will attempt to make the most in-depth guide to solo leveling in Tera available. I will tell you where I went, how I got stuck, how to get around dungeons, and at what points doing so will mean grinding.

Soloing all the way through Tera means maintaining a balance. If you skip a dungeon, there will be a lot of experience that you’ll need to fill in, not just from the dungeon itself, but from the story quests that you’ll miss out on by skipping them. Story quests provide by far the most experience out of any quests in Tera, but they also will send you to almost every dungeon. There are some story quests that activate once you reach a certain level, and others that only activate by doing the previous quest in the chain. So, for instance, if you skip a story quest at level 19 which sends you into a dungeon, you won’t be able to do the next quest in that chain; but upon reaching level 20, you may unlock a new chain.

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Skullgirls is Sexy, Not Sexist

I’m not accusing Ideas Without End author r042 of saying this, but the idea that being “sexy” is also being “sexist” exists alongside the train of thought that had Australia banning porn of girls with A-cup breasts, saying that it promoted pedophilia. You can see where the leap in logic was made, but it doesn’t make sense.

I’d be willing to accept that, for example, a moe-driven visual novel along the lines of Kanon promoted sexism. I do not, however, think it’s inherently condemnable to imagine a situation wherein there is one male who is exponentially more intelligent than his many female friends, ends up solving all of their problems, and beds them afterwards. It’s a fantasy which, were only one or two of them floating around, probably wouldn’t be seen as a big deal. It’s when the fantasy plays all over the place that people start growing weary of it, and that’s where I think the attack on sexiness comes from. There’s nothing inherently objectifying or wrong about sexiness itself. There’s also nothing wrong with writing a work wherein emphasis is placed on appealing to one demographic.

It can(‘t) be helped that the consumer likes what they like. Why do female gamers like the designs in Skullgirls? The same reason males do: the style appeals to them. Why does the style appeal to them? You’d have to trace their entire life story and its roots in the creation of the universe in order to detail exactly why. That’s how taste works. It’s shaped by experience.

It is only as true that video game designs are skewed towards male tastes as it is true that video game designs are skewed towards the tastes of the original handful of people who incited the graphical culture. Games did not become sexy solely by a sales marketing scheme to capture the interest of men: it came because the men who designed the games liked those designs. Why did they like those designs? It can all be traced to someone else. Maybe they had a taste in women shaped by the movies they’d seen. The tastes of the movie directors was shaped by the magazines they read as a kid. The tastes of the magazine editors were shaped by someone else. At some point, you can trace all of this back to the first person who had a particular taste in women, shared it, found comraderie in others, created something that appealed to them, spread it further until it appealed to others, and then was handed further and further into “mass appeal,” whether shaped on purpose or by accident.

What we need to know how to differentiate is the difference between someone choosing a style because they like it, and choosing a style to pander to a demographic.

There’s not a huge difference between these. I’m either “choosing a style because I like it,” or, “choosing a style because they like it.” It’s the latter which can and will be changed to fit the needs of the public. When games are being designed to pander to men, but we want to see games that aren’t, we try to change it. We want to make our voices heard so that we can have games that pander to us by not showing us what we don’t want to see.

Pandering makes sense from a business standpoint. It makes sense that if the loudest demographic is made up of males who want a certain kind of sexy, then they’ll get it. It also makes sense that if enough people are offended by this that they grow loud enough to change something, then they will be pandered to.

r042 made a point in the comments of his post about the design for female Shepard in Mass Effect 3 having been voted on by the community. This is pandering. Yahtzee said as much about the ending being changed. The fact that this is pandering doesn’t make it “sexist.” The fact that it is pandering, when the male version of Shepard wasn’t allowed to be, is what makes it “sexist,” but by “sexist,” I mean “stupid.”

Pandering is politics. Everyone with a voice on the matter is a pundit trying to make things pander to them. If you’re in the camp asking for more sexy ladies, you’re a sexy-lady pundit. If you’re in the camp for less sexy ladies, you’re a less-sexy-ladies pundit. Only in this world of pandering can sexism be called to exist, because sexism is a perceived thing. It is something we allow ourselves to be offended about. It’s an idea that is not inherent in creative works.

Even if the main character of a game is the smartest man alive, thinks all women are idiots, and is constantly proven correct in-game, and if the creator is in agreement with the game’s sentiment, it doesn’t make the game sexist. It might make the creator sexist, but we’re the ones who read the game’s message as we chose. We can chose to read it as the story of a complete fucking douchebag ponce who happens to have surrounded himself with the eight dumbest, least-representative of their sex women on Earth. It’s a story. It can be of anything. Enjoying it wouldn’t make us sexist, just like enjoying Gears of War doesn’t make us a murderer. Taking the game’s ideas to heart and applying them to the world around us, on the other hand, would make us sexist. (Just as chainsawing someone in half would make us murderers.)

I’m rambling like crazy and have probably contradicted myself at least once, but let’s get to the point. How on Earth can we conceive Skullgirls as in any way sexist or offensive? What does the game’s message boil down to?

“These eight girls kick ass.”

That’s all there is to it. The game is about eight awesome, kick-ass characters, five of whom happen to be sexy. That’s right, only five! Not even are all the women in the game designed to be sexy. Among the roster is a decaying zombie girl, a giant hell-monster, and a little girl who is also a cartoon robot. Among the five that are sexy, they are quite varied. Yes, four of them have considerable bust sizes, but when did that become a problem? It’s not as if real women don’t often have large breasts.

Here’s a noteworthy fact: the weights and proportions of the girls are listed on the game’s website, along with pictures of them. Here’s the main character, Filia:

I realize that BMI is a pretty broken measurement system, but hear me out. At 5’4″, 142 lbs., Filia is at the upper limit of “normal” (18.5—24.9) with a BMI of 24.4. She’s almost overweight. As you can see in this image, Filia is visibly chubby compared to your average video game heroine. At 34C (don’t get me wrong, I know jack shit about bras) I imagine that her breast size is fairly average for a girl of her weight.

Filia is nonetheless seen as attractive and has a lot of fans. Hear that? She’s an average, realistically-proportioned girl, who looks good. My brother and I were in love with her design instantly, and so was my brother’s female friend who immediately wanted to buy the game just for the character designs (she has no interest in fighting games) and is already planning a cosplay of Filia. Her body type, as it turns out, is almost the same!

Why is Filia an attractive design? It has nothing to do with pandering or idealization. It’s because the designs in Skullgirls are phenomenal and the animation is unbelievable. Filia is drawn masterfully, the same way all the other girls are, from the more “classically” sexy Valentine to the grotesquely thin Painwheel. Everything in the game is gorgeous. The characters, the backgrounds, the effects, even the graphic design of the menus is excellent.

Yes, Valentine (the ninja-nurse) and Parasoul (who looks like a pantsless Russian super-spy) are supposed to look fetishized. Yes, the game has made a point for there to be a character with A, B, C, D, DD, and E-cup breasts, and yes, their three sizes are publicized. You know what else is publicized? Their personalities. What does Valentine like and dislike? (click to enlarge)

I don’t see a fetishized list of interests. I see likes and dislikes as varied and personal as my own. I see a character—a silly cartoon character, yes, but a realized one. Not a one-dimensional “personality” with a pair of tits tacked onto it like you might get in another fighting game. (Or even just the pair of tits, as you’ll get in Dead or Alive). Are you going to tell me that a realized character like this is offensive just because she’s sexy? If I slapped a pair of pants on this girl and closed her shirt, would you suddenly not be offended anymore? This is silly.

Skullgirls isn’t pandering. It isn’t sexist. It’s sexy. It’s also a whole lot of other things, such as excellent.

P.S. The developers have stated intent to include male characters in future DLC. I wonder how these characters would have or will sway claims of sexism.

Games That Are Their Own Reward

R042 of Ideas Without End recently published a series of posts about his disillusionment with video games, concluding with what he’d like to see out of them in the future. He used Dark Souls (my favorite game) as an example of what to do right. The main idea I got from the post is that a great game is one whose reward for playing it is being able to play more of it.

Years ago, I got really into JRPGs. My reasoning was that the “story” was the most important aspect of a game to me, and I liked the stories in JRPGs the most. Nowadays, I can’t stand the stories in most JRPGs, leaving me with little else to care about. JRPGs aren’t particularly fun to play. They can be at times, but when I have to do things like hours of grinding, I grow tired of playing. If the story isn’t rewarding enough to continue, I wonder, “why am I playing this?”

I’m not a completionist. The last two games I reviewed, I did not complete. I was very into Persona 2 for a time, but as it wore on, everything became tiring. A once-interesting story evolved into the same trite “saving the world” BS that it always becomes in JRPGs, and the difficulty became arduous beyond the point of being fun. I made it to the final boss, but by then I cared so little and was so unwilling to keep grinding that I gave up.

Killer7 was very different. I never stopped loving the story to pieces, but the game became more challenging than I was willing to cope with. It wasn’t enough fun to play that I was willing to step up to its challenge. However, I think Killer7 is a great example of a game whose reward for playing it is getting to play more of it. The game has a unique and realized gameplay mechanic which some might enjoy and master. I lacked the patience to do so and didn’t enjoy it enough, but I get why others would go to the trouble.

Since reading r042’s post, I’ve thought about this every time I’ve played a game or watched others do so. I wonder, “what am I getting out of this game? What makes me want to keep playing this?” It’s a primal understanding I have about why I will or won’t keep playing a game. I could easily tell you specific reasons why I disliked a game, but it’s even more interesting to me how I can step back and really get a grand sense of why it is that I don’t enjoy it.

Take Skyrim, which r042 discusses in one of his posts.

A friend told me that he would’ve played Skyrim for 300+ hours if it had the battle system of Dark Souls. More than that, I think Skyrim needs *anything* rewarding to make it better. If it had a gripping and unique story, maybe it would justify the shit battle system. Of course, it’d never have one of those. I can count the number of games that really made me care about the story on ten digits or less. However, were there a real sense of accomplishment from winning battles, like there is in Dark Souls, it would be more interesting. Progress would be marked not by how much time you played the game, but by how well you mastered the gameplay.

Even JRPGs are better about this than something like Skyrim. In Skyrim, the most tactical element is managing your weapons/armor/magic/etc. and stat allocation. In JRPGs, these elements exist alongside the tactics used to win battles. Finding the perfect combinations of summons to breeze through a dungeon in Persona 2 is where much of the game’s satisfaction comes from. The only satisfaction I got from Skyrim was riding around on Applejack thanks to a pony mod. (And, to be fair, I got immersed in the one town I explored, though not as well as I did in five seconds of playing Dark Souls.)

I think I’m lucky not to be a hardcore gamer, because I don’t have to suffer any of r042’s disillusionment. Nor, indeed, the disillusionment of my favorite video game critic, Yahtzee. Unlike him, I don’t play a game every week and find myself drowning in how many shitty games there are. I only play the already-recognized gems handed down by reviewers like him. I generally like all of the games that I play, and I stop playing them when I stop liking them. I’m left with none of the negative emotions towards gaming as a whole that someone who plays them all would have.

I’ve been playing several games lately, but the one worth mention here is Yahtzee’s own recently-released action platformer, Poacher. Action platformers might be the best genre for what r042 calls “real games,” in that they tend to be the most challenging and most rewarding. They’re more streamlined than the likes of Dark Souls, but in Metroidvania games in particular, there’s still a huge amount of player agency in what you decide to do. There are often many things that are not necessary to finish the game, but still actually effect the game, like missile packs and health packs in Metroid. Getting these items is a decision which the player makes and alters the game in a meaningful way, which is important.

Anyway, we have Poacher, and it’s a game which I’m 33% through and don’t want to play anymore. Because Poacher really is a perfect example of a game whose reward is playing more of it, and being challenged further. It is highly influenced by another game that does this perfectly, Cave Story. Both are driven almost purely by gripping gameplay and challenge. And both of them, I couldn’t finish, because I gave up. I reached the final boss in Cave Story and found it entirely too difficult. Poacher is constantly punishing, and I know that it only gets harder as it goes, so I’m pretty much stuck in that one.

What the hell is the point I’m trying to make? I have no idea.

Killer7 Is Awesome, But Seriously, Fuck This Game

If you couldn’t tell when I gave up on the final boss in Persona 2 and watched the ending on youtube, I’m not a completionist. I played nine hours of Killer7—at my play speed, a little less than 40% of the game—before giving up to watch someone else play it. Thankfully every fucking game in the universe has a set of playthrough videos these days.

art by komaq

A good analogy for my experience with Killer7 is my experience with some of Takashi Miike’s films, specifically the likes of Dead or Alive. I love the moments of batshit violent intensity and over-the-top holyfuck, but it always seems to punctuate long stretches of boring who-gives-a-shit. In Killer7’s case, the boring who-gives-a-shit is the gameplay.

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Immersion – Why Talking to Every Person in Town is a Good Idea

I'm sure he'll be psychologically stable later on.....

[Marked spoilers for the first hour or so of Xenogears, but the post isn’t about the game]

Immersion is an elusive thing that every writer hopes to accomplish, I would think. When you are immersed in a work, you become connected to it, and you allow it to effect you emotionally. You take in the world that you are witnessing, and, on some level, allow it to become ‘real’, whether you are a participant in it, or a bystander to the events that take place. In any medium, immersion is how a work truly connects to the viewer/reader and becomes a part of them – an actual experience in their life that they will carry with them. But in some ways, it’s up to the consumer how immersed they will get.

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Rondo of Swords First Impression: Having Fun, Loosing Teeth

What is it with Japan and the word Rondo?

What is it with Japan and the word Rondo?

When the Nintendo DS and even the DS Lite came out, I confirmed them as excellent systems with excellent games; however, I was not a fan. I always found the DS to be too cumbersome to play compared to my favorite game system, the Game Boy Advanced SP. The first game to turn me on to the DS was the system’s second Castlevania game. Right about that time, an assload of great DS games were on the horizon — so naturally, my brother’s DS got broken and my other brother’s Lite disappeared. Nearly a year’s worth of games I want to play later, we finally found the DS Lite. My brother immediately bought 2 new games for it – Rhapsody and Rondo of Swords.

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