Wednesday, 25 July 2007
Pokemon - the thinking man's chess
Pokemon is one of the best game franchises in the world. It is. No, it IS.
I am very, very good at the Pokemon games, partially because they directly reward obssessive behaviour. The more you battle your Pokemon, the higher their levels, the more opposing Pokemon Trainers you can gleefully trash. But there's more to Pokemon than cutesy animations and hour upon hour of ceaseless battle.
Pokemon's great strength lies in the fact that it is more multi-faceted a game than any other out there - there are just so many ways to play it. Of course there's the narrative to play through, which combines compelling characters with increasingly apocalyptic plots. In Pokemon Red, Blue and Yellow you were battling bring down a criminal organisation called Team Rocket. In Gold, Silver and Crystal, Team Rocket regrouped and set about kidnapping and dissecting and selling parts of Pokemon. In Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald you had to stop Team Magma and Team Aqua from destroying the world. In Diamond and Pearl you are battling to stop Team Galaxy from destroying the space-time continuum. For a supposed "children's game", it's all pretty heavy stuff.
There are also Pokemon Contests, in which your Pokemon has to perform to a crowd and appeal to a panel of in-game judges in one of five categories: cool, beauty, cute, tough or smart. These are a science in themselves, and there are players who take enough pleasure out of them to spend most of their time in the game competing against each other and the in-game opponents. Then there are gamers that spend most of their time breeding, in which you can exercise unprecedented control over a Pokemon's stats, natures and move-set and provide such an edge that no serious battler would dream of competitively using a Pokemon they hadn't hatched themselves.
Increasingly, games are filled to splitting with different modes and unlockable treats, but invariably these are just add-ons - they're not woven into the fabric of the game-world. All the aspects of Pokemon I've mentioned are not different modes with the same game mechanics and ideas behind them, they are literally different ways to experience the world of Pokemon, and each has an effect on the others. As the graphical capabilities of the consoles increase, sports sims and racing games are touted as being more "immersive" than anything seen before, and yet Nintendo have managed to create a game that is more genuinely immersive than any of those in Pokemon. And they've done that by creating a believable world. The concept of Pocket Monsters that fight each other may be ludicrous, but if you take their existence as assumed then the world that they would inhabit would almost certainly be the one depicted in the games. For example, the beginning of Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald saw your character moving house, and the moving company consisted mainly of Machokes to move the large, heavy furniture around. Thinking about it, it's obvious that it would - if they existed then that's one of the things they'd be doing. People need help moving their furniture. The creators of Pokemon seem to have considered the impact that the existence of Pokemon would have on every aspect of life and the world, from transport (where you can fly on bird Pokemon or surf on water Pokemon) to electricity grids (powered by Voltorbs), from lighthouses (each with it's own Ampharos) to cooking (over heat generated by Slugmas). They've not been afraid to depict the mundane or practical applications of Pokemon, and that completeness is what makes the world of Pokemon so immersive and so compelling.
Pokemon is seen as a children's game, even by some of my closest friends, but that's because they are RISIBLE FOOLS who don't take the time to properly look at a game, or dismiss them just because they have cartoon monsters. If you think that different elemental types being super effective against others is the extent of battling, and that chatting to sparingly animated Pokemon Professors is the extent of character interaction, and that Pokemon Contests can be written of as pandering to Japanese fangirls because they have a competition catagory labelled "Cute", then that doesn't mean that Pokemon is a child's game, it means that you are a child.
Superficially, the demographic that Pokemon is aimed at are children, but to say that it's a "child's game" is derisive and patronising and implies that adolescents or adults can't enjoy or learn from it. There are parts of Pokemon that are quite clearly not aimed at children. For instance, there are moments of clear innuendo in the dialogue at the Veilstone Massage Parlour in Pokemon D/P, the beach in Pokemon R/S/E, and the Viridian Forest in G/S/C. How many children will laugh any of those? Of course, it's the fact that these borderline explicit pieces of dialogue are found in a game most would consider immature that makes it daring and unexpected and ultimately funny. Similarly, the battling mechanics. Most casual gamers get as far as the instruction manual's "fire beats grass, grass beats water, water beats fire" Pokemon battling "strategy". But beneath that is a very complex and even profound system. It's profound enough that the Pokemon community can battle over the Internet and in worldwide tournaments every day of every year for over a decade and still keep inventing new ways of structuring teams, and profound enough that 200 page booklets are being written just on potential movesets and tactics. My best friend and I have studied Pokemon Battling strategy for a long time now and we know a lot of stuff, a hell of a lot of stuff. A volume of stuff that would make many people out there seriously reconsider their friendship with us if they knew.
Over the many years and the four generations of Pokemon games I've clocked up over 500 hours of gameplay, and I'm proud to say that I still haven't seen it all and it's still fun enough to keep me up at night. How many of your "adult" driving games can do that?
Max the Felicitous
Monday, 23 July 2007
It's the music that does it for me. There is now no need for any of you to go through the horror of playing a Dead or Alive game. Ever.
And just to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I spoil you, try your 'hand' at some m4d b34td0wnz, Marie Antoinette style, with Rose & Camellia - an incredibly good flash game. It is in Japanese, but there is really very little to it. You slap people. nuff said.
Wednesday, 18 July 2007
Sunday, 8 July 2007
Of course, I have no choice but to celebrate by doing something out of the ordinary. So for once, I am going to like, write about geeky stuff. First on the list is a little present for all of you, the readers. (I know you are there, because I only cheated the visitor count by pounding the refresh button sixty times, at most) Eternal Daughter is a freeware game in the vein of those naïve old SNES rpgs. It is mainly remarkable because it is a labour of love from a two man design/programming team who spent two years developing it purely because of the conviction that there is always room for another game like this in the world. It is highly regarded, and is argued to be one of the best garage games ever. One of the most enchanting features of the game is the utterly classic artwork and animation. However, there are little points that do you remind you the game was not a professional production. For instance, when hit, enemies do not have a ‘taking damage’ animation, giving combat a weird ghostly feeling. However, you can taste the love that has gone into this, and therefore anyone who likes the taste of love should check it out.
Next is another little present for our copious readers. Wait a minute; this whole blog is a gift to mankind! Everything here is a present. Be grateful. Densha Otoko is a heart warming drama, taking from what is apparently a true story found on an internet message board. It is all about a well-meaning but disastrously sad geek, and his search for love. Actually, reading that, it sounds shit; but I promise it is pretty good fun. Anyone who has ever had a little heart of dorkness dilemma (come on, Lara Croft Vs. real girlfriend, anyone?) should definitely give this series a watch.
For the members of the Earls court Street Fighter Dojo (they know who they are) and anyone in the global Street Fighter community, there is an amusing article at Hardcore Gaming 101 about the influential fighting games that arrived before Street Fighter II. The piece was intended to refute the idea that fighting games started with Street Fighter II, but reading about the quality of what went before, you will probably wish they did. A lot of the games are a little before my time, but it is amusing to read about them and think smugly ‘I’m glad I never had to play that’ or ‘How tragic. I suppose this is how people amused themselves before Street Fighter II. Why, they were little better than Apes. Apes, I say!’ So, um, yes. You can laugh at some very knowledgeable older gamers here, although it won’t make that recuring dream of falling into darkness, only to realise the gaping cavity is the snarling mouth of one of your disdainful parents, and the accompanying sense of worthlessness stop. Perhaps nothing ever will.
In other news, Shake Before Reading.com have an amusing (and possibly privacy-law breaching) article up about who visits their site, and how they got there. Here's the article The weird leeps of logic that search engines can make reminded me of how people put hundreds of unrelated but popular tags on their videos on youtube in order to generate traffic. I would like to take the opportunity to express my opinion on this practice: NAKED CHUN-LI SEX PICTURES.
Some friends and I all got the new Pokemon on import a while a go, and I had asked one of them (who has played it considerably more than me) to write something about it before it came out. You know, like a real life review or something. That has not happened. So I give you Pokemon in a nutshell: Yes, it is very well carried out. With the number of Pokemon available, and the insane amount of side activities, there is a lot to be done. The game is, of course, technically perfect. And, just like everyone really already knew, Game Freak have naturally (and probably wisely) refused to move an inch away from a formula that has worked with almost scarily clinical accuracy until now. You can not really fault Pokemon for being too Pokemon, but the game was quickly knocked out of my DS by an entirely new experience and an altogether better game…
Those who have not played or heard about the sequel to 押忍！戦え！応援団 should wait, because I am going to squeeze a whole post out of this game. (What am I talking about? You could get a whole novel out of this game!) But for those of you who know and love Ouendan, one more treat; the soundtrack.
Wednesday, 4 July 2007
Online Videos by Veoh.com
The same band also provided this lamazing video (lamazing - simultaneously lame AND amazing - see also; TATTU, heavy metal, and slap bass.)
Online Videos by Veoh.com
Now THAT'S what the Onimusha sound track should have sounded like.