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What I’ve Been Doing 14 Nov 2011 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Nov 14th, 2011 by Dan

Watched all of the 7 Minutes in Heaven clips that were out there. So funny! So awkward! So great!

Movies

Sorry, guys. No movies this week.

TV

The Walking Dead – Glenn remains the best thing about this show. Getting the rope around the fat zombie, hooking up with Maggie, and overall being funny and awesome. That part where he tries to be all cool in front of Maggie was hilarious and understated.

Homeland – Terrorists attempting to kill terrorists! It’s exciting. Alcohol makes for very bad decisions. I really hate using polygraphs as a plot point. Don’t we already know that they’re unreliable. Man, this show is so good, though

Up All Night – Line of the week (I watched like three episodes this week): “It’s like hair coming out of hair!” (referring to the birth process. It’s as gross and awesome as you’d think). When Up All Night makes a masturbation joke I laugh. When 2 Broke Girls does it I cringe and feel grossed out. That’s pretty much all that needs to be said about which show is better/funnier.

2 Broke Girls – “What you need is a good nine inches” WTF? When this show tries to be edgy and funny I just get grossed out. I’m not bummed out about the fact that my DVR often doesn’t record this.

Fringe – Best line of the week: Referring to an experiment that will blow up a papaya named Mr. Papaya: “This is unpleasant because he is the friendliest of fruits”. Fringe is so schlocky and bad and awesome that I love it. I really dig having something X-Files-y in my life and they’re just now starting to hint about the multiverses. Can’t wait to see the alternate realities!

Glee – Meh. Ok episode, but I don’t really know West Side Story so a lot of the songs didn’t really appeal to me. Better quality than anything in S2 though.

New Girl – Kind of funny how poorly they all hit on Cece, but I really hope the “will they, won’t they” stays firmly in the “won’t they” phase (w.r.t. Nick and Jess).

Community – Great episode. They’ve gotten back to their stride. This was a totally awesome, non-gimmick episode. Good on you, Community.

Parks and Recreation – Model UN stuff was really funny. I could watch Aubrey Plaza in this role all day. April’s role has really grown and I love it

Prime Suspect – Great episode this week with the abusive mom. Chilling! This show is pretty good. I’m liking it a lot for a cop procedural.

Persona 4: The Animation – The Social Link episode was AWESOME. They’ve done a fantastic job of converting the game into the show. A lot of the interface stuff carries over and I’m a real sucker for that.

7 Minutes In Heaven – The clip above is of this show. They’re these brief interviews that are super hilarious and awkward. It’s hard to explain without watching them, but I love it.

Music

Listened to a lot of my old Fall Out Boy tracks. Not the greatest band in the world, but their tunes are so catchy!

Books

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) – Been learning a lot about how Mindy Kaling came to The Office and how her career path has gone. Pretty funny and still a good read.

Video Games

Dungeon Defenders – Beat the game! Min, Jason, and Lee all helped me do it. Lots of fun.

The Binding of Isaac – I’m up to five mom kills, but the game has gotten much tougher (it specifically tells you it does after five kills). I’ll keep going because this is a fun little game to pop in and out of.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – Beat the game. Not as satisfying as U2 mostly because the Chloe/Elena subplot was better in 2, but still a fantastic game. A fine swan song for the series if this was the end. We’ll see what Naughty Dog does in the future.

Batman: Arkham City – Finished most of the sidequests. I suppose a second playthrough will earn me another trophy, but I’m not dying to do it.

Resident Evil 5 – Dave and I beat the Ouroboros boss of Chapter 5-1. We’re closing in on the endgame. I think he’ll like the ending. It’s still plenty of fun to play, except for that boss. I brought a rocket launcher to speed that up. He takes forever, but maybe I’m just doing it wrong, I dunno.

Ico – Got in about an hour of this. Absolutely beautiful game. The way Ico and Yorda interact is neat, if not a little awkwardly animated. The save points with the bench are so sweet and nice. I like this game a lot. It’s fantastic.

Metal Gear Solid 2 HD – Started the HD edition of this game. Dave is mad because I bought this and he got it for me for Christmas. My response: Why are you buying me Christmas presents already? It’s only November! Wait until December, dummy! Thanks for the thought, though. I would have really enjoyed it. I got three dog tags, but I don’t know if I’m gonna try to get the rest. It’s kind of tough and it would take forever.

The Subtle Art of Deconstruction [FB/GO/BT]
Sep 19th, 2011 by Dan

Colonel: Raiden, turn the game console off right now.
Raiden: What did you say?
Colonel: The mission is a failure. Cut the power right now.
Raiden: What’s wrong with you?
Colonel: Don’t worry, it’s a game. It’s a game just like usual.
Rosemary: You’ll ruin your eyes playing so close to the TV.
Raiden: What are you talking about?
Colonel: Raiden. Something happened to me last night when I was driving home. I had a couple of miles to go. I looked up and saw a glowing orange object in the sky. It was moving irregularly. Suddenly, there was intense light all around. And when I came to, I was home. What do you think happened to me?
Raiden: Huh?
Colonel: Fine, forget it.
-Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

Adaptation is a postmodern deconstruction of the difficulties faced by the screenwriter in adapting a work from one form to another and even the act of screenwriting in general. It’s a truly bizarre little film in which the screenwriter himself is a character tasked with writing a script which he writes to be the movie that you, the viewer are watching. It really does make sense in context and it works brilliantly…except when it doesn’t.

My problems with Adaptation, as a film, begin when Charlie Kaufman, our screenwriter and protagonist, begins to call out the very act of deconstruction. It’s entirely possible to deconstruct a genre or the act of making a movie itself (see Singin’ in the Rain for a pop culture example) without pointing out that you are doing just that. Again, I’m not against deconstruction or lampshade hanging or exposing tropes. What bugs me is when you point at it and say, “Hey, look at how clever I am here!”

Kaufman’s arc through the movie is one of insecurity and struggle as he tries to find a way to turn something that would otherwise be unfilmable without “Hollywoodizing” it and an honest portrayal of the often pointless and uneventful nature of life as it is. In fact, that is also a central theme to Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, the book which Kaufman was charged in real life (and in the movie) with adapting. At a loss with how to proceed with his screenplay, Kaufman attends a “hacky” seminar recommended by his twin brother (who exists in the film, but not real life) where real life screenwriting instructor Robert McKee systematically tears down everything that the movie has done to this point. It’s not the most subtle moment in the film, but it’s still not as bad as when Kaufman deigns to ask a question asking if a pointless, non-event driven film could be successful (never mind that Seinfeld already proved in the 90s, without a shadow of a doubt, that non-entertaining entertainment was equally viable). When Kaufman highlights what he’s trying to do in the film is precisely when I stop being interested in it. I don’t want him to usher me along, I want to cleverly figure out the parallels he’s drawing.

There’s another similar scene at the end where he is speaking in voiceover and he explicitly calls out how McKee would hate this. We already got it, Kaufman. You didn’t have to do that. Let us earn our payoff.

I will also submit for your consideration the bad joke that is pointed out as such. Sure, comparing an issue of Spider-Girl to a film by Charlie Kaufman hardly seems fair, but within its pages we have Anya crack a joke at an enemy that is marginally bad only to have the Hobgoblin mock it and call it terrible in the next panel. Pointing out how terrible it is doesn’t make it funnier and the enjoyment derived from laughing at a joke being not funny will never equal laughing at a joke that is funny. The gains end up being less than what you’d expect, plus future jokes, regardless of quality, will seem worse to the reader because the narrative states that the hero is not funny.

All I’m saying is that pointing out what you’re doing or pointing out that something is not very good undermines the effectiveness and the humor of the media. It’s cutting yourself off at the knees and it reeks of insecurity and a lack of confidence. It is assuming that you’re not talented enough to get your point across effectively and asking your audience to forgive you for it.

I don’t know Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty‘s script top to bottom, but there is a brilliant piece of art that doesn’t outright tell you what it’s doing. It is a game that actively derides the player and insults him for playing it, which is bizarre, and it withholds everything the player wants from it. After the prologue, the character is forced to control pretty boy Raiden instead of series hero Solid Snake. Raiden is generally whinier, has an annoying girlfriend, and was trained to do his job by video game simulation rather than practical experience. When faced with a task, Raiden seems to succeed, but often his efforts are a waste of time, at best, or a complete failure, at worst. At one point the game even strips Raiden of his clothing and equipment and all he can do is a melee attack.

The game widely cites meme theory and the propagation of media while simultaneously telling you that it is a video game even to the point where it addresses the player and asks the player to turn it off and do something else. It gets precariously close to approaching the outright, “Hey! This is a deconstruction!” territory that Adaptation inhabits, but the key difference is that it never does. Where Adaptation readily admits it’s a movie about writing a movie and has Kaufman and his twin brother talk about naming a serial killer “The Deconstructionist” in Donald’s screenplay, Metal Gear Solid 2 only says, “I am a video game,” but doesn’t stretch to “whose purpose it is to deconstruct the player/narrative boundary.”

Maybe I’m the one missing the point here. Maybe there is a sublime art to deconstruction where everything is fair game. If breaking the rules of cinema is the point of your movie, shouldn’t it be ok to break every rule, including “show, don’t tell”? Am I just angry that I can’t pat myself on the back for figuring all this out because Charlie Kaufman already told me it was all true? In any case, here I am some 900 words later writing about this movie and maybe propagating the desire to see it to someone else.

5-10-15-20 [GO]
Jun 2nd, 2011 by Dan

Dan helps Tony with Pokemon

I got this idea from Kill Screen (who got this idea from Pitchfork) to talk about my gaming life in five year increments. Pitchfork does it with music and really it can be done with any media, but I’m doing games.

AGE 5 (1991)

One of my first video game memories is sitting in my parents’ living room in Hialeah watching them play a Bowser level in Super Mario Bros. I remember being scared of the creepy black castle level. This was the launch year for the SNES, but I’m sure we didn’t get it until 1992 or 1993. Instead we mostly amused ourselves with Contra, Mega Man 2, and Bubble Bobble.

AGE 10 (1996)

I’m pretty sure my brothers and I discovered the JRPG in 1995 or 1996. We would have played Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and Super Mario RPG over those two years and changed our gaming landscape forever.

Of course 1996 also marks the genesis of 3D gaming for me. The N64 came out that September, but we didn’t open it until Christmas. Super Mario 64 would be the first of many great games I had for that system.

AGE 15 (2001)

Big things were happening in the gaming landscape on the PS2, but I knew nothing of that. A $400 system was way out of my price range, so I missed the launches of GTA3 and MGS2.

It was freshman year of high school and we learned partway through that we were going to be moving to Tampa. My dad got a new laptop from his job that I used to finally play the PC version of FF VII on road trips to and from Tampa. I remember breeding a Golden Chocobo and thinking that it wasn’t really all that hard. Don’t think I ever beat FF VIII. I think I also played a lot of Final Fantasy VIII that way too. More importantly, that year I got Civilization 3 and tons of Lucasarts adventure games including the Monkey Island series, Grim Fandango, and Day of the Tentacle.

We also got a Gamecube that year for Christmas and Super Smash Bros. Melee along with Pikmin, I think.

What a banner year for gaming, wow.

AGE 20 (2006)

By now I’m a sophomore/junior at university and I’ve got a job to help me pay for my video game habit. I picked up a PS2 in 2004 and started working through the back catalog of games I’d missed. Early in the year I remember playing two RPGs, Kingdom Hearts 2 and Shadow Hearts: From the New World.

They’re fun, but 2006 is a year of PC gaming for me. I spend WAY too much time playing World of Warcraft in 2006. I started the summer of 2005 and I end up quitting around Christmas of that same year, but I come back to it over the summer and it consumes a lot of my days and weekends as I try to power level my Horde character to join a raid guild with my friend Chris. It’s funny, I couldn’t remember why it was that I didn’t play so many console games this year until I remembered that my WoW habit started in force during 2006.

I also grew into the PC shooter this year with a lot of Counterstrike: Source with my roommate, Simon. We played that to fill a lot of our spare time and I also pushed through Half-Life 2: Episode 1 way too quickly.

Unfortunately I’m only 25 now, so I can’t really continue the feature until next year. I keep much better track of what I play nowadays, so it’ll be even easier.

August: Violence [Fukubukuro 2010]
Jan 9th, 2011 by Dan

It all started with Metal Gear Solid.

Hideo Kojima is a pacifist. How do I know this having never spoken to him? It’s the only logical explanation behind Metal Gear Solid. Big whoop, I mean, the games themselves are about as overtly in support of pacifism and nuclear non-proliferation, but I’m not talking about the overt, obvious messages. Anyone can put hours and hours of cutscenes in a video game (although few can get away with it like he can), but Kojima is special because he emphasizes the holiest of modes of expression for a game designer: mechanics.

I came to the Metal Gear Solid series way late in the game, around the spring of 2008. Metal Gear itself was 20 years old at that point and I was looking forward to playing these games that my buddy Lee so adored. Thanks to my cripplingly completionist attitude toward games, I found myself looking up MGS on Gamefaqs to ensure that I didn’t miss any limited items via careless play. It was there that I learned that the game scored you higher based on how few enemies you killed. It was a sneaking mission, after all.

Deciding to challenge myself and impose arbitrary limitations on myself like “kill only the enemies that are required” changed my life forever. Real life is decidedly unlike video games, which is just fine by me. God help us if psychopath mass murderers were as common in life as they are in games, and that’s not even counting the villains. How weird is it that Metal Gear Solid, a game featuring a trained special-ops soldier armed to the teeth with pistols, automatic rifles, and explosives, turned me into a pacifist by forcing me to value digital life.

All it took was a slight shift in philosophy. Long before (and long after) Metal Gear Solid, gamers have been penalized for shooting innocent victims or bystanders. All MGS did was flip this on its head a bit. The game rewards you for not killing hostiles. This changes everything.

It sounds stupid when you think about it, but the mechanics are slight and subversive enough that the shiftcomes on gradually. Little things, like giving Snake a tranquilizer gun from the get-go, just reinforce the idea that there’s another way to do things. Most of the time it makes the game significantly harder. Snake (or Raiden in MGS2) has a pathetically small non-lethal arsenal when compared to the rest of his repertoire. The tranq darts are significantly weaker AND enemies eventually wake from being knocked out, which heightens the alert level on a given stage.

Reinforced by mechanics, the message is crystal clear. Doing the right thing (because playing this way usually yields nice rewards) is not easy. There’s only one instance throughout the Metal Gear Series, to date, where pacifism makes things easier. During one of Kojima’s more overt narrative moments, Snake faces a spiritual adversary, The Sorrow. Wading through a long river, Snake must avoid every enemy he’s killed prior to that point. Players like me have relatively little problem, since there are no enemies, but the trigger happy player has quite the obstacle course ahead of them. While I’m partial to a more subtle narrative, This was also unlike anything I’d ever played before.

I think Kojima’s crowning moment, throughout his entire catalog of work, is the final battle against The Boss in MGS3 where he attempts to get the player to the closest approximation he’ll probably have of killing another person. I’m being a little overdramatic since it depends on how much you care about the narrative, but it goes something like this.

If you’re me, you’ve gone through this whole game without killing a soul and suffered for it. Our in-game avatar, Snake, has suffered the betrayal by the figure he most respects and he’s spent all mission grappling with his orders to kill The Boss, who was an absolute loyalist to the United States, but who had been turned on when she got in trouble.

The battle begins and ends. Snake stands above his mentor, holding her gun to her head. She tells Snake to end it.

Nothing happens.

It dawns on me that the game is waiting for my input. I had spent the entire game not killing a single soul. Saved and reloaded after every accident. Taken hours to get through things that could have been cleared much faster. I pushed the button and the gun fired. The only way not to bloody your digital hands is to not play. The Boss’ message transcends the fictional.

Two years later it was 2010 and I went to see Kick-Ass. I think Roger Ebert put it best when he said, referring to the high degree of violence that an 11-year-old in the movie inflicts and is subjected to,

Shall I have feelings, or should I pretend to be cool? Will I seem hopelessly square if I find “Kick-Ass” morally reprehensible and will I appear to have missed the point? Let’s say you’re a big fan of the original comic book, and you think the movie does it justice. You know what? You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in. A movie camera makes a record of whatever is placed in front of it, and in this case, it shows deadly carnage dished out by an 11-year-old girl, after which an adult man brutally hammers her to within an inch of her life. Blood everywhere. Now tell me all about the context.

When I left the theater that day I felt sick. It took me a while to realize why, but when I did, it blew my mind. Video games had sensitized me to violence.

Best Video Games of the Decade [Game Overview]
Dec 30th, 2009 by Dan

You may notice some games that are missing from this list and are on every other list. Well, I didn’t play everything because I didn’t have the time or the money, so that accounts for some of the big misses like Pyschonauts or Resident Evil 4. Other games are deliberately omitted :cough: HALO :cough:

This list is also way long, but I didn’t want to limit myself to an arbitrary number like 10 or 20, so here it is:

Half-Life 2 (2004, 2006 – Episode 1, 2007 – Episode 2)

There are two divergent paths for shooters in the aughts. Halo and Half-Life. In the first corner you’ve got everything on the consoles since then: Regenerating health, aim assist, silly physics, and general jackassery. In the better corner you’ve got everything that’s come out of Half-Life and the Source engine: more realistic weaponry, realistic physics, and a much better legacy. Say what you will about the future of shooters and the PC market being antiquated, but this is a damn good shooter. I’d call it the best I’ve ever played. Valve has completely mastered the art of environmental storytelling and player manipulation. They can make you look where they want you to look and feel what they want you to feel all without ever wresting control from the player or relying on cutscenes. This game has brilliant pacing and amazing characters that you actually care about. Who’s ever heard of an NPC sidekick that you don’t hate? H-L 2 and its episodes are among the greatest gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

Rock Band 2 (2008)

Ok, so rhythm games are kind of saturated now, but Rock Band 2 is the pinnacle (only because The Beatles: Rock Band doesn’t let players bring their dlc in) of music gaming. It hits at just the right sweet spot, four players, and its filled with music from all kinds of genres. Better yet, the interface and note tracking isn’t sloppy like that other franchise and it’s a fantastic way to get people together for a fun time and even grow as a person. It’s probably the game I’ve played the most since 2008 and a ridiculously fun time.

Left 4 Dead (2008) and Left 4 Dead 2 (2009)

There are a lot of Valve games on this list. The Left 4 Dead series is on it because it has done cooperative, first-person multiplayer right in a way I’ve yet to see done better elsewhere. Everything about these games is top notch, tons of fun, and worth returning to time and time again. Beyond the mechanics, the games also feature great environmental storytelling and fantastic voice acting putting it at the top of my list for the best games of the past two years. Zombies may be getting old, but this series will always feel fresh.

Braid (2008)

Jonathan Blow didn’t revolutionize video gaming when he released Braid last summer. What he did do was bring indie games (and XBL games, in general) firmly into the spotlight for consideration. A self-funded and self-made game, Braid proved that one man (and one hired artist) could still create a top-notch, professional caliber game. Braid is deep and complex and tons of fun to play, especially when you’ve figured out a tricky puzzle.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2005)

OBJECTION! This game should be higher on the list. Overruled, this list has no numerical ordering.

The Japanese sensation that brought visual novels and a resurgence in adventure games to America may have a niche audience and play real loose with the legal system of the real world, but it’s tons of fun. Just think quirky anime and you’ll get the idea of what playing this game is like. It just feels right to present a damning piece of evidence while Phoenix screams OBJECTION!

Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

I have yet to beat Shadow of the Colossus, but I absolutely love what I’ve played so far. Ueda is among the genius game designers in how well he understands presentation. The game world feels absolutely empty, as it should. All you come across, as the player, are the giant Colossi and man, they are wild. Each one is a dungeon/level to itself and the player is tasked with taking them down to save his love. But what have these giants done to you? Each one I take down makes me feel sad inside and a little empty. I usually find myself thinking What have I done? What did he ever do to me? The best art makes you think.

Final Fantasy XII (2006)

I had my choice of any Final Fantasy game between 9 and 12 for this spot, but I really couldn’t go with anything but the best. X was definitely a close second, but there are just so many things that XII did right in its evolution of the series that I couldn’t pick anything else. Maybe it’s because I’m in love with the world of Ivalice, but everything about this game just grabs me in a way I hadn’t been grabbed since VI. Maybe it was because I wasn’t being assaulted by too many belt buckles and leather by Nomura. It was probably because the story was mature, the characters way less annoying than before, and the battle system was finally revamped and moved into the 21st century. In any case, the best FF game of the decade.

Portal (2007)

Portal really does everything right. The game gets you acquainted with its mechanics quickly, gets you doing neat things with them right away, and then finishes up with a climactic and cool boss fight all comfortably within the span of 5-8 hours, if you’re slow. With mechanics and dialogue that are beyond brilliant, the only thing that could make this great game better would be to give it a hilarious end credit song penned by Jonathan Coulton. Oh wait, you’ve gone and done that already, haven’t you Valve? Bravo.

Burnout Paradise (2008)

Realistic racing games are kind of boring to me. Until Burnout Paradise, I would have said that I only enjoyed Mario Kart games, and those were starting to wear on me too. Then Criterion put out the first open-world racing game (that I can think of). Burnout Paradise would be tons of fun if all we had to do was run into walls and other cars. The fact that the game is so easy to get online and play (and purchasable as a digital download on the PSN) is brilliant and makes for tons of fun.

Mass Effect (2007)

Shepard. Wrex. It’s brilliant. It really is. Hard science fiction is always tons of fun to me, but when you go and flesh out this world to the nth degree, you’ve got me drooling already. Add in characters I genuinely cared about and enjoyed having in my party and a morality system that was finally free of cheap moral choices and I’d say that Bioware had a genuine hit on their hands. I anxiously await the sequel in January.

Eternal Darkness (2002)

I’m really not a big scary games guy. It’s simple: I’m too jumpy and I’ve got an overactive imagination. Those things don’t combine to make a pleasant gaming experience. Now you want me to play a game that’s actively trying to mess with my head to freak me the hell out? I’d normally say “No thanks,” but I was eventually convinced to try this Lovecraftian horror game and I found myself loving it. The plot is interesting and the characters are neat, but the insanity effects are what stick with me to this day. I can still see that image of Alex lying dead in a bathtub filled with her own blood when I think about it and it still gives me the chills.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009)

You know what? I really loved the old-school Mario games. Those 3D ones are way too easy. This game does it right. What makes it even more awesome is that you can play it with four dudes, making it both infinitely harder and easier while also making it more fun and frustrating. Use the multiplayer mode at your own risk, it may start fights.

Rhythm Heaven (2009)

Scratch-O, HA! The Rhythm Heaven (Paradise in Europe) series is loosely based on the bizarre Wario world, which is totally obvious after three minutes of play, which is great, because that series is brilliant (if stale by now) too. This game features simple rhythm mini-games, but man are they fun AND catchy. As I write this I’ve got the Moai statue song stuck in my head. Go play this.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004, Subsistence – 2006)

I love this game. MGS 2 may be the biggest practical joke (and most significant of the four), but this is undoubtedly the best. The epic cycle of the Metal Gear universe is made clear in this game that does its best to subvert war in every way possible. I do truly find it significant that in a Cold War game focused on stealth action, you can make it through from start to finish without killing one person. Well, almost. Metal Gear Solid 3 is almost heartbreaking when you play it non-violently and the ending still has a strong effect on me to this day. Definitely Kojima’s finest work.

World of Warcraft (2004)

I would give anything to get the time I spent playing this game back, but I definitely can’t deny how truly great it is. We’re talking about a bona fide phenomenon here. The absolute refinement of social engineering to such a degree that escape is nearly futile. Blizzard has truly outdone itself with this one.

Team Fortress 2 (2007)

What a surprise, more Valve. The Orange Box was a groundbreaking offering in value and Team Fortress 2 continues to be a huge part of that. I bought this game at launch back in 2007. Since then they have added achievements for nearly every class, new weapons for nearly every class, new game types and maps, hats, and an item crafting system. I’ve never seen so much free support for a game in my life. It’s no reason that Valve is my favorite developer of all time. They really know how to treat their customers and put out a great game.

The Sims 2 (2004)

Yes, I did create Sims of my friends and family. You’d better believe I killed some of them, turned one into a vampire, another into a werewolf, one into a zombie, and bargained with death to revive another. The Sims certainly don’t feel as relevant as they did at the start of this decade, but man were they a success and tons of fun. Sure, I should feel a little guilty that I spent so much time in what amounts to a digital dollhouse, but I really don’t. It was fun.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008)

If you don’t think that this is the best in the series, you’re wrong and you’re clinging to the past. Tons of characters, great level design, fantastic music, and all the right refinements to the battle system are what makes this great. The fact that I can listen to Snake Eater or the Love Theme from Mother 3 is just icing on the cake.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2003)

I know most of you saw that Spaceworld Zelda trailer and expected another realistic LoZ on the Gamecube. When you saw that it would look cartoony did you A) Claim that you would never play it or B) Realize that maybe you should give it a chance. If you were an ‘A’ person, you’re too impulsive and need to lighten up a bit, because you missed out on the best Zelda game since Majora’s Mask (another one that most people hate). Celda, as it became known, was a great retelling of the Zelda story and actually kind of explained the world somewhat. It was also really fun to sail around and hunt for treasure.
MLB Power Pros 2008 (2008…obviously)
For some reason I really can’t get into the next-gen baseball games. The pitching and hitting just don’t make sense to me and I’m overall just not that fond of it. Lucky for me, the Japanese are still keeping it real with their Pawapuro and Pro Spirits line of games. I wish I actually had gone and picked up the 2009 editions in Japan, but I’m sure these will come out in the states again someday.
Mother 3 (2006)
Masterpiece. Shigesato Itoi really outdid himself with this game. It’s dark and serious, but also lighthearted and funny. It’s a game that has actual authorial control and, therefore, is a game that is actually art. Itoi’s fingerprints are all over the scenario and the little quirks. It’s no wonder that anyone who’s played a game in this series instantly falls in love with it.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009)
I really credit Amy Henning most for the great decisions behind Uncharted 2, a game whose characters are so fully realized that they’re almost real people. It’s not that surprising to me that hearing Nolan North voice other characters makes me wonder why Nathan Drake is moonlighting as a voice actor. Everything about this game is just fun and every aspect of it was polished and enhanced from the previous version. The showcase came for this generation.
Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002, The Frozen Throne – 2003)
WCIII was the last great RTS I played. I don’t expect to play anything better until StarCraft II comes out later next year (if it comes out). While the story seems mostly lifted from StarCraft, it’s still quite good and an innovation in the way that RTS stories are told and plotted. It also lead right into the most successful game of this decade, WoW.
Dead Rising (2006)
The first game I ever bought for my Xbox 360 and the best (non-L4D-related-) zombie game I’ve ever played. Trust me, I’ve covered wars, you know.
Street Fighter IV (2009)
When you’re reviving the most loved fighting game franchise in history, a lot can go wrong. Do you stray too far from the original and innovate too much or do you go back, reevaluate what was good, and make incremental changes? Sure, the latter is a bit more cowardly, but I love Capcom more for it. I’ve never been much of a fighting game guy, but the instant familiarity of SFIV made it the perfect game to try and break into and I really got into it. My twitter became a repository for my win percentage after each day of play and I devoted hours upon hours of time into developing my Cammy playstyle. In the end, I’m still pretty bad at the game, but I also have tons of fun with it and I’m awaiting Super Street Fighter IV in 2010
Sid Meier’s Civilization IV (2005)
The best series I’ve ever played, bar none. I mean, the number of hours I’ve sunk into Civilization has to dwarf any other game, I’m sure of it. The number of days and nights spent completely developing one civilization is ridiculous. My favorite part of this fourth incarnation was the loose competition Eric and I developed as we would send each other save files intended to compare winning scores against each other. One more turn syndrome got its start here and this is a game that I find myself returning to at least once every year.
Persona 4 (2008)
Remember the days when I was posting every episode of the Giant Bomb Endurance Run on this blog? That series motivated me to finally finish this fantastic RPG and to really get into its characters and events. I’m especially proud of the review I wrote because it feels like my first foray into New Games Journalism, but this game is great for more reasons than that. A fine return to the world of hard RPGs that should be on every person’s queue to play.
Game Overview: ABDN Reviews MGS4
Aug 29th, 2008 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

(SPOILER NOTE: Tim’s review, my review, and some of this post have MGS spoilers. Read at your own risk)

I’ve taken a few excerpts from Tim Rogers’ brilliant review of Metal Gear Solid 4 and I’m going to talk about them a bit. He totally threw us for a loop, revealing the game that is NOT ABDN’s best game of all-time, but revealing a game he firmly believes not to be. Let’s get started:

“If it’s a fact that Metal Gear Solid 4 sucks on purpose, we can hardly blame Kojima for that, either. Given his previously well-documented disinterest in the series, its having been promoted as his “opus” must have turned his stomach. It’s clear that Kojima’s priority was the game’s plot, and making sure it “satisfied” fans: like the world’s fattest kid circa 1989 winning a Toys R Us shopping spree, Kojima struts zombie-like into the warehouse of his past work and proceeds to remove absolutely everything from the shelf, dropping one item at a time into his bottomless shopping cart. He eventually gets up to the cash register, leaves the cart unattended, pulls his smokes out of his jacket, and steps outside.”

In this point I can’t help but hope that Kojima was in fact making a disappointing game on purpose. Sure, MGS4 wasn’t terrible, but after all the hype, after Metal Gear fucking Solid 3, I found myself thinking “Really? After that, this is what you bring to the table?” MGS3 was so good that I suppose surpassing it was either impossible for Kojima or, as Rogers says, not even the point of what he was doing. He made MGS4 because he had to. He made MGS4 basically a checklist for unanswered plot points because he ultimately wanted to be DONE. May Hideo Kojima never have to have as much control over or make another MGS game. The man, despite what Rogers thinks, is brilliant. I like to think it’s just a question of him finding a project that truly interests him again.

“By act three, the game has abandoned its neat little idea in favor of a far neater one: we are now following a guy through a European city. Snake is wearing a trenchcoat, looking like Gillian Seed from Snatcher (the fans swoon), and it’s quaintly foggy. Ironically, this proved to be our Absolute Favorite Part of the Game. Since age nine, we have wanted to wander a European metropolis after curfew, letting a shady man obliviously lead us to his shady headquarters. This is the reason we studied Russian and Chinese in elementary school while everyone else was busy pretending they knew something about sex. We carried this dream in the palm of our hand until college, when it dawned upon us that we could Actually Die from doing Stuff Like This, so we started writing about videogames in the first-person plural instead. Metal Gear Solid 4 manages to get the mood and the pace of Euro-man-stalking just right. Our target is “Side A”, and the enemy troops enforcing the curfew are “Side B”. We are “Side C”. The level design in this part of the game is ferociously cute: both we and Side A are in violation of Side B’s rules; while avoiding Side A’s detection, we have to ensure that Side A avoids Side C’s detection. This ends up pretty fascinating, whether you have watched the opening cut scene or not. Eventually, you get to the goal, and suddenly you’re riding shotgun on a motorcycle in yet another ropey on-rails shooting sequence. It’s like waking up from a dream about the Bahamas to find out you’re actually in Bermuda. Instead of intimately sharing military secrets with a woman you picked up at a poker table, you’ve got your mother asking you to shoot a helicopter down.”

I feel the need to interject that, despite Europe being compelling to Rogers and the ABDN crew, it’s rather dull compared to the actual MGS gameplay that I wanted. The gameplay of MGS3 was not about following a dude, although it’s also not too far. The dynamic of hiding from two forces is decently interesting, but its perhaps marred by the game itself. You CAN just take off the trench coat and continue running around in your octo-camo. You can just stun all the guards instead of sneaking around. Hell, you can just kill all the guards, so long as your mark doesn’t see it happen. The gameplay isn’t quite as compelling as the other sections, to me, even if the locale IS. Wandering throughout a European city in actual MGS fashion would be quite fun and worth exploring in the inevitable, but hopefully not Kojima-directed, MGS5.

“We will disclaim, right here, that we have, for the past decade of jacked-into-the-netness, chuckled and rolled our eyes whenever anyone complained about the length of the cut-scenes in a Metal Gear Solid game. Some people said they just wanted to enjoy the “gameplay” (like that’s a real word); some people said they just wanted to enjoy the “atmosphere”. It puzzled us, to the point of rubbing our bellies in amusement, that someone would dare to want to play Metal Gear Solid with absolutely no invested interest in the characters. It’s not that the story and the characters are necessarily great literature so much as they’re insperable from the game’s progression and atmosphere. If you only like the game mechanics, you’d be better off playing Pac-Man — it’s basically the same thing. Conversely, if you only like the story, you’d be better off reading a book. (Crucial: notice how we recommended Pac-Man for players who only like Metal Gear Solid as a game, whereas we recommended any book in existence for those who enjoy it as a story.) If nothing else, the original Metal Gear Solid had a dignified flow to it: the characters were all rough sketches, all vaguely likable. Conceptual Bullshit was kept to a minimum, and by minimum, we mean “Maximum, in Hindsight”. There was a fucking “boss” who you didn’t fight, who you instead met and talked to, and he died six hours before you even knew he was a boss. The game shows you this level of virtuosity for a while without once flexing its muscles in the mirror; at a certain point, it starts delivering soliloquies about love blooming on the battlefield; by this time, we are so into it that we can’t give up now. The game has worked its spell on us.”

Rogers brings up a vital point about the REASON people play a Metal Gear Solid game. It makes sense that a blockbuster like the MGS series is not only attract people who firmly agree with the gameplay environment, but I too marvel at the people who complain about cutscene length, but claim to be fans. The game IS about long cutscenes. The game certainly has a specific aesthetic created by its controls and actually interactive portions (ie: the parts where there aren’t cutscenes), but without the context, I would think it’s quite boring. Then again, I’d say I’m a person who is mostly motivated by story. I’ve played abysmal games just to see their endings in the past and I continue to play mediocre and great games, like MGS4, just to see what happens at the end. It’s absolutely true that divorcing MGS from its cinematics is divorcing the entire reason for playing from the game. It just makes no sense otherwise.

“Hindsight will tell us that, in concept and execution and everything in between, Metal Gear Solid is better than Metal Gear Solid 4, though this hardly matters. What matters is that we have grown up, and Metal Gear Solid has grown down.”

This is absolutely true. I would have to take a second to very firmly point out that MGS4 is, by no means, a bad game, it does suffer from something no other Metal Gear game does: sequelitis. It tries too hard to be what is iconic Metal Gear for its fans as a conclusion to such a degree that it is less Metal Gear for doing so. Think of the Solid games starting with MGS. Sure, that wasn’t much more than a rehash of the elements of MG2 (in fact, elements of the MG games continually repeat, but that’s actually a major theme of the game (how brilliant is Kojima to make “laziness” translate into “artistic purpose”?)), but getting serious, it’s plain that MGS2 is radically different from MGS. You have a totally new protagonist running around through an environment that is fundamentally different from Shadow Moses. The game felt different enough to warrant significant fan backlash causing low sales of the third, also fundamentally different Metal Gear Solid 3, where you, the player, are now in the past, the tech is old and different, changing the game from Pac-Man to something slightly different. Snake is not the same Snake (although he arguably/genetically) is, you now have a camouflage system, you have to eat to maintain stamina, and you have to treat your injuries.

Meanwhile, here comes MGS4. There are some slight gameplay tweaks here and there with octo-camo and the Drebin weapon system, but you’re not doing anything fundamentally different from the past games. You even have a stage where you revisit an old locale. MGS4 suffers because it is too much like the MGS games of the past. Kojima should have continued to grow as he did with MGS3 instead of regressing to the asinine and stupid with monkeys in diapers and god-awful stupid cutscenes. See Rogers’ treatment of the fried egg dilemma in the same review for more on that.

“…the (seemingly) hour-long sequence in which Ninja Raiden Riverdance-Duels a gay vampire in order to buy Snake, Otacon, and their pet robot enough time to escape from the hell of South America via helicopter is a chief offender: look at those moves! The moment we, as a “player”, behold a scene in a “videogame” and think “Man, someone should make a videogame out of that”, the ghost is essentially given up.”

Also (mostly) a first for MGS4 is the sequence where we cannot control Snake’s (or Raiden’s) bad-assery. The only notably awesome action sequences outside of MGS4 I can think of that we did not, in fact, get to control happen in Twin Snakes (this was widely hated) and in MGS3 in one scene. There is ONE scene in MGS3 where Snake beats up on the Ocelots with CQC. Every other time Snake tries to be fancy with CQC in a cutscene, The Boss, Volgin, whomever, seriously kicks his ass and makes him look like a moron. EVERY OTHER TIME. The player should not ever wish to control a cutscene in a game. Games are created to allow us to control the cutscenes. This is the failure of Quick Time Events too, in my opinion. Too much abstraction involved with making the protagonist look amazing.

“Eventually, the game turned us off to the concept of entertainment in general. Eventually, the game makes us start drinking.”

While MGS4 was, by and large, a disappointment to me as I became a victim to hype and high expectations resulting from playing MGS3, it is not this bad. It’s got its rough edges and, as Rogers loves to state in his review, the cutscenes are a train wreck of awkward acting and dialogue that would make almost anyone embarrassed to be seen playing the game (I’m looking at you Johnny…while I’m at it, you too stupid monkey in diapers), but I still stand by my review stating that you should play it. I’m pretty sure that my review was full of disappointment over finishing a great series off with less of a bang, but more than a whimper, it’s definitely worth a play.

(Just when you thought they were over, welcome to another MGS-full post)

Embedded Reporter: Courage is Solid
Jun 9th, 2008 by Dan

Deep from the trenches, it’s time for your Monday video feature: Embedded Reporter.

So in just three short days the world will see a simultaneous release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots! Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: MGS2, MGS2: Substance, MG Portable Ops, MGS: The Twin Snakes and MGS3 were all released in North America before they saw release in the Land of the Rising Sun. Another little bit of trivia is that Hideo Kojima prefers the English voice acting over the Japanese voice track.

Below is the MGS4 trailer that was actually shown in theaters. It’s pretty slick, but I’m so mad that I’m gonna have to wait until the end of the month to even pop this sucker into my PS3…

Remember everyone: Courage is Solid

Game Overview: MGS5?
May 23rd, 2008 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

Metal Gear Solid 4 comes out in a few short weeks and it will be the end of an era. Twenty years of Metal Gear and we’ve finally hit the end of the series. :sigh: What a great time…wait, what?

Video game news has been abuzz since about last week when Konami made it clear that there will, in fact, be a Metal Gear Solid 5, despite Kojima’s statements in the past that MGS4 would be the last MGS game ever. While gamers are used to having Kojima claim to be done with the series permanently, they certainly didn’t expect to see another announcement so soon.

The basic gist is that while it may not be a “Solid” game (as in involving Solid Snake), there will be more Metal Gear games, even if the numeral isn’t exactly 5. Kojima wants his production company, the aptly named Kojima Productions, to be involved with the game, but he would be willing to put someone else in the actual role of producer.

My reaction is, predictably, bittersweet. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see more Metal Gear games, right? Then again, how would the series proceed without Solid Snake and with his entire story told? I can say from the get-go that I wouldn’t want to see the series keep on extending the story of Snake with Snake retired and whatnot, but then again, would another game that had nothing to do with Snake even really be a Metal Gear game? I suppose if I stopped to think about it, we did have that in Metal Gear Solid 2. Sure, we played as Snake for a while, but the story had just about nothing to do with Solid Snake, aside from him actually appearing in the game. In the end, it was still a good game without Snake being the player character, so I suppose it could work.

I think the main concern that I would have with a new Metal Gear game is that I would want Hideo Kojima involved. Anything made without his strong input in some way would be objectionable to me. We’ll see what happens.

Sony: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
May 4th, 2008 by Dan

SPOILER ALERT: This review may cover plot points that will spoil MGS3.

Whoever wins, the battle does not end. The loser is set free from the battlefield, while the winner must remain there. And the survivor will live out his life as the warrior until the day he dies.

-Big Boss to Solid Snake

The Story

Metal Gear’s story completely revolves around the subjects of loyalty and betrayal. From the absolute first game for the MGX all the way to Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake is always manipulated and even betrayed by the very people he has put his trust in. MGS 3 explores what is probably not the first betrayal in the MG canon, but the first important one. Kojima hops into his way-back machine to take us to 1964, the height of the Cold War. Our protagonist, the man who started it all, the man who will become Big Boss, the man who is the genetic father to Solid, Liquid, and Solidus, and the man who first takes the codename (Naked) Snake. It turns out that the Cuban Missile Crisis was not really averted at all by removing missiles from Turkey. No, it was a direct result of the US returning a valuable weapon’s scientist to the USSR. Well guess what, the US wants Sokolov back and so begins the Virtuous Mission.

Naked Snake is air dropped into the heart of the Soviet jungle and instructed to keep a low profile as he recovers Sokolov. On his support squad are Major Zero, the movie-loving Para-Medic, and last, we have Snake’s mentor, The Boss. If you’ve been reading this review at all, you can probably guess what happens to Snake as he begins his escape from Russia with Sokolov. The Boss betrays Snake, her team, the Cobra Unit, abducts Sokolov, and Snake is hurled off a bridge with a broken arm by The Boss where he is eventually recovered by US forces and taken home.

On their way out, the main antagonist, Colonel Volgin, nukes the former research facility that Sokolov was working at using missiles The Boss gave him as goodwill gifts, steals the Shagohad super weapon, and flees with Sokolov, the Cobra Unit, and Ocelot. Snake is debriefed by Major Zero a week later. Both Snake and the Major are in danger of being executed for treason. Khrushchev is not happy about the nuke going off and the US government does not believe that Snake was not involved with the defection of The Boss, his former mentor. Major Zero, Snake, and Para-Medic have one last chance: Snake must infiltrate Soviet Russia yet again, rescue Sokolov, destroy the Shagohad, kill Colonel Volgin, and, to prove his loyalty, kill The Boss. Because The Boss leads the elite Cobra Unit, the mission is given the name Snake Eater and the main game begins.

In many ways, this story is truly the masterpiece of MGS to date. Big Boss was a character born out of the 8-bit days, so his personality and his motivations seem very one-dimensional to anyone who remembers Metal Gear. Naked Snake’s (the future Big Boss) betrayal at the hands of The Boss is absolutely meant to parallel Solid Snakes betrayal at the hands of Big Boss and shows the unfortunate and inevitable chain of events that plagues every protagonist of Metal Gear games. Naked, Solid, even Raiden have all had to murder their mentors and masters as a final test to prove their worth. The final battle between Snake and The Boss gave me chills, I could not believe how well-acted and well-put together it was. MGS3’s ending is also amazing. You honestly have no soul if the end of this game, from at least the fight with The Boss onwards does not touch you in some way.

I raised you. I loved you. I’ve given you weapons, taught you techniques, endowed you with knowledge. There is nothing more for me to give you. All that’s left for you to take is my life, by your own hand. One must die and one must live. No victory, no defeat. The survivor will carry on the fight. It is our destiny… The one who survives will inherit the title of Boss. And the one who inherits the title of Boss will face an existence of endless battle.

-The Boss to Naked Snake

Gameplay

If you thought MGS2 had its gameplay down to a science, wait until you boot up Metal Gear Solid 3. The camera, I think, should be the first things we talk about. MGS and MGS2 featured fixed cameras that restricted your view to preset, dynamic camera angles (less dymanic, more static in MGS) that oftentimes concealed guards, but was assisted by the super-accurate radar, complete with vision cones. Well Metal Gear Solid 3 takes place in 1964. There are no nanomachines or soliton radars to show you where all the enemies are. You have sonar and a motion detector. One makes an audible beep, the other is only useful when enemies are moving. Both can also pick up wildlife. If you haven’t yet figured this out, MGS3 takes out a large degree of the guard stupidity where you would be able to tell exactly how far a guard could see based on his vision cone. It’s another added bit of realism that is quite difficult to get used to at first, but eventually really adds to the game as it starts to feel like less of a game.

On the topic of realism…Snake now has a stamina bar that determines how well he can aim, how long he can hang, and will, I believe, begin to drain his life bar if fully depleted. Stamina is recovered by eating the food scattered throughout the jungle, from snakes to frogs to mushrooms to flying squirrels and more. These animals can be shot dead (or knifed dead, exploded dead, punched dead, etc.) and stored in that way or tranquilized and stored in cages to keep fresh or even use as weapons (ie: throwing a poisonous snake at a guard to freak him out and/or poison him) Food can spoil and actually give Snake indigestion, which brings us to our next point. Snake’s health bar can be artificially depleted through injury. Bullet wounds, cuts and gashes, broken bones, poisonous animals, leeches, and indigestion can all afflict Snake and he must either repair his maladies in the CURE menu or you can also just save and quit and let time do the healing for you.

Even more controversial than the stamina meter is the camouflage system. At any given moment in time, Snake has a percentage bar in the top right corner telling the player how well Snake is blending in with his surroundings. High camo ratings means the enemy cannot see you, even if you are on the floor right in front of him. Of course, if he runs right up next to you and you’re not 100% camo-ed (which is impossible with included camo) you will be spotted. It doesn’t sound all that bad at first pass, but since camo options are handled in the pause menu, it amounts to a whole lot of pausing and unpausing just to swap face paints or camo suits. The new system does help add to the realism and make for smarter guards, but your willingness to suspend disbelief can be tested when, like I said, a guard is standing right next to you, but your forest colored pants are preventing him from seeing you.

The same basic weapons and accessories/items are included, but with a 1960s twist. There are no laser sights and there is no C4, but you get dynamite instead. Included is a new “Backpack” system, where Snake can only hold eight items and eight weapons accessible from the in-game menu, each with individual weights. The more weight he’s carrying at a given moment, the faster his stamina depletes. Items and weapons are swapped using an option in the pause menu.

Snake also still has the option to go through the entire game without specifically killing one human being through his own actions (mostly). As you all know, this is one of my favorite features of the Metal Gear series and it actually made me start GTA IV this week wondering if I could get by without killing anyone (you can’t).

One last word on the setting. MGS has typically had Snake infiltrating modern facilities and bases, not traipsing through the jungle, which I feel is a bit weaker of a locale. Hiding in the grass is cool and all, but I just love sneaking through futuristic settings instead of through the jungle, where I get bit by leeches and have to burn them off with a cigar. MGS4 should include a nice mix of both the more open jungle environments and the typical closed MGS locations, which should be a nice change of pace.

Liquid and Solid hunted down Big Boss, trying to sever the tie that bound them to him. Unless you kill me and face your past, Jack, you will never escape. You’ll stay in the endless loop — your own double helix.

-Solidus Snake to Raiden

Graphics

As mentioned before, MGS3 instead deals with a jungle setting, which means that we get a nice green, damp, jungle-y look. The color is a bit washed out on my PS3, but I’m wiling to forget that. The character models all look superb and only showed their last-gen limitations sparingly. This is one of the best looking games on the PS2 though, it’s not to be missed.

You’re a soldier! Finish your mission! Prove your loyalty!

-The Boss to Naked Snake

Sound

Jungle sounds! Birds, frogs, snakes, etc. They all sound about right. The strength of MGS3 lies in its superb soundtrack. If you ever go to my last.fm page, you may have noticed that I very recently received about six CDs worth of Metal Gear Solid soundtracks, which I am loving to death. The music in this game continually wows me as I listen to it.

The voice acting in this game continues to hold up to the high levels of quality one would expect. Snake, still voiced by David Hayter, is still the man and his team is still funny, if not just a wee bit less interesting this time around. There are still funny moments though:

“Sigint: Uh, Snake… What are you doing?

Snake: I’m in a box.

Sigint: A cardboard box? Why are you…?

Snake: I dunno. I was just looking at it and I suddenly got this urge to get inside. No, not just an urge – more than that. It was my destiny to be here; in the box.

Sigint: Destiny…?

Snake: Yeah. And then when I put it on, I suddenly got this feeling of inner peace. I can’t put it into words. I feel… safe. Like this is where I was meant to be. Like I’d found the key to true happiness.

Sigint: …

Snake: Does any of that make sense?

Sigint: Not even a little.

Snake: You should come inside the box… Then you’ll know what I mean.

Sigint: Man, I don’t wanna know what you mean! Between you and Para-Medic, is everyone but me that is hooked up with the Major strange!?

Snake: …

Sigint: Yeah, well, anyway, I suppose even that dumbass box might make a decent disguise if you wear it inside a building.”

Overall

I’m still absolutely in love with the Metal Gear Solid series, even after three games. The characteristic humor is still there (when you die you get a message that fades into “Time Paradox.” this message can also be prompted by killing Ocelot, a character in the later (chronologically) MGS games), the gameplay is still 100% superb, and the stories all get better with each game. I’m starting to approach a bit of a bittersweet point with MGS4, since I’ve heard it’s the pinnacle of the series, but I don’t want it all to end. Should you play Metal Gear Solid 3? Absolutely.

There’s only room for one Boss… and one Snake…

-The Boss to Naked Snake

Game Overview Special Tuesday Edition: Obsessive 100%
Apr 22nd, 2008 by Dan

If any of you clicked over to Leigh’s post at Sexy Videogameland about obsessively completing games, then you already know where I’m about to go with this post. If you didn’t, here’s yet another link.

Call it a personality disorder, but I have an obsessive need to unlock the full 100% potential for video games that I enjoy. I know what you’re thinking, if he’s gotta include the “enjoy” caveat, it’s not really obsessive then, is it? Let me tell you, that caveat did not come easily. It took years of mental conditioning to be able to realize “Hey, I want to play too many other games to go at this pace on such a crummy game…” Once I did finally realize that forcing myself to 100% complete a game that, honestly, wasn’t worth it, I’m was able to log off of Gamefaqs and get onto another game that will eat up my time. You see, since I’m a university student, I do have more time to play than 9-5ers, but I don’t have as much time as when I was in high school because of classes, exams, homework, and trying to maintain a social life (kids, stay away from World of Warcraft).

Where do I draw the line? Mainly wherever it’s going to just take too much time to be worth it. I loved Final Fantasy X, but when the game asked me to dodge lightning something like one hundred times in a row to get an ultimate weapon, I said screw it. My party was tough enough that I wouldn’t need that one ultimate weapon just to kill Sin. If it wasn’t, I would train up and make do. There were other, less time-consumingly stupid sidequests that I could go waste my time on.

The advent of the Gamerscore on Xbox Live! has brought up some really interesting issues too. Before achievement points and worrying about increasing my Gamerscore (I know it’s low, but I don’t have the time to be a real achievement point whore), I honestly never worried about fully completing an action game or a music game. I’ll tell you which achievements I can resist though – Guitar Hero 3’s asininely stupid ones like playing through the career mode on a controller instead of the guitar (really? play through on my controller for ONLY 15 achievement points), winning 500 matches (grind, anyone?), or even playing through a song on expert with the sound settings turned down (no sound in a MUSIC GAME?). The Rock Band achievements are much less idiotic. Fully completing cities, completing career modes, achieving milestones in the World Tour mode, these are all acceptable to me.

My first Xbox 360 JRPG introduced a new dastardly trick to entice me to get full completes on games that don’t deserve it. Lost Odyssey, mind you, is not one of them, but my progress to the end of the game has been halted by the achievement point list that includes optional bosses and leveling up all the characters in my team. It’s definitely brilliant because those side quests, in other RPGs, usually include neat story details about the characters that you wouldn’t see otherwise, they give you sweet weapons and armor, and they also satisfy my need to fully complete an RPG that I love.

Just because I’m able to resist these urges more and more nowadays doesn’t mean I’m fully out of the woods. I was trying to burn through MGS and MGS2 to complete the series before MGS4’s launch in June, but now that I’m on MGS3 and June’s far away, I’ve taken it upon myself to hit up Gamefaqs to find out where all the Kerotans (strange little frog thingies that you have to shoot) are and all the different types of food so that I can get a whole bunch of sweet bonuses after I complete the game. Persona 3: FES launches today, but will be in Gamestop waiting for me tomorrow, and I have no idea what I’m gonna do about all the Social Links. After reading Leigh’s article, I convinced myself that I should just play the game naturally, but then I went and watched the 1UP show and learned that the Social Links that you max out contribute to your ending. How could I not try to max them out and get the best possible ending now?

I will admit that part of my completionist nature comes from the fact that I have a lot of games on my plate and I want to get to them all. If I can beat them all 100% the first time through, then I don’t have to play them again to see the stuff that I missed. People usually ask me about this when they see me browsing Gamefaqs or another walkthrough when playing a video game, either asking “Why don’t you just finish the game if you can?” or “Why are you looking at the guide? Why don’t you figure it out yourself?”

The answer to both has to do with enjoying the storylines of games oftentimes a lot more than the gameplay. If it’s a good game, I want to see as much of it as possible, so I bother with the sidequests to learn more about the characters. Anyone who has ever wandered through the Phoenix Cave in Final Fantasy VI knows how incredibly moving (maybe this is just me) it is to see Locke passionately search for the one thing he has heard can save Rachel. Most people, I like to think, were moved when (SPOILER ALERT) the Phoenix failed to revive Rachel (/SPOILER ALERT). It’s little touches like this that go to flesh out just why Locke is so committed to protecting Terra and Celes once he meets each woman.

If it’s a bad game, heck, I just want to be done. I don’t care about figuring out the strategy to kill a poorly designed boss with a character I don’t give a damn about. I don’t care about figuring out the proper path through a bland Zelda-ripoff temple. It’s just not satisfying since by that point I’m playing the game only because I like to finish what I start.

Adventure games are the exception to this. I oftentimes love the game, I’m just not willing to try and figure out how I’m supposed to use the chicken with the tree to save the monkey in the swamp. The game type just asks you to think too much like the designer to complete mentally unnatural and unintuitive tasks. Yahtzee makes some good points about Adventure game design in his review of Zachkand Wiki that I totally agree with.

In the end, I guess I’m not that bad about obsessively completing a game, but when the design is just so well-done as to encourage the player to do it, I honestly can’t resist. When you have a screen full of little glass windows to smash open for Super Smash Brothers Brawl, who can resist the urge to just go for the unlockables? Those trophies and stickers are also so cool…

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