Saturday, April 17, 2010

Still Alive

After a several month hiatus, I'm bringing the blog back. It's been fun living my life, enjoying time with my beautiful girlfriend and all, but after awhile I started to feel like I wasn't contributing enough to the game space, instead squandering my (admittedly long-winded) thoughts to cryptic messages on twitter. To which I say, nay to 140 character limit. This is my space to unwind my thoughts. If not, what am I paying $15 a year on this domain name for?

I can't promise I'll update this often, but I'll try. I think the problem I was running into before was that I was saving my best ideas for published articles and worried I'd squander them here where I'm not getting paid, they're not getting published, and fewer people would see them. Furthermore, I was stressing too much over my other articles so the thought of writing in my free time sounded extra stressful. But one of the greatest advantages of a blog is that you don't have to worry what other people think or if your current article is making the grade. So here I'm just going to throw out random thoughts I have that maybe don't fit into other articles, yet still cycle through my head whenever such topics are broached.

So, without further ado, here's some links to stuff I've written followed by (drumroll please) a new entry!

Challenging Conventions# 10 How Bioshock 2 deals with Fatherhood Better than Heavy Rain

Challenging Conventions# 11 Playing Hard to Get- My take on Pixel's decision to make so much of Cave Story's best content an obscure secret.

The game I'm loving more than anything on the planet right now is God Hand. Yes, it's over 3 years old, on the PS2, has terrible graphics (even for its day) and scored mediocre critical reception. But I don't care. I love it.

Why do I love it? That question is a bit more complicated. Firstly, the game is extraordinarily fun. With all my highfalutin musings on innovation and narrative, at the end of the day, I mostly just want to have fun. At least that's where I'm at right now. Maybe by summer I'll be bored of fun and want something heady again. But I digress. Right now I just want to kick some ass and zone out on something that dazzles my mind and reflexes. And when I say mind, I mean that I'm constantly thinking while playing. Combat is a puzzle, in a sense. It takes quick thinking coupled with reflexes, contrary to the cliche that action games are mindless. It's rather that the type of mental engagement they provide is fleeting. It's not going to change my outlook on life or anything, but when I'm punching dudes and spanking women, I'm certainly not thinking about anything else. And there's a lot of value in that. It's meditative.

But this is true of any action game. What makes God Hand special is just how unique it is. The controls are just plain weird. Instead of learning new combos, you build them by buying moves and setting up your own. In essence, you get to write your very own symphony of destruction. It's a wonder why this idea of creating one's move set never caught on with other action games beyond simple weapon switching.

Character movement is especially alien. The game utilizes RE4 style "tank" controls, where the main character can't strafe and the camera is always locked behind them. There's even a 180 degree spin move like RE4. This should come as no surprise as God Hand was directed by RE4 director, Shinji Mikami, who also created the very first Resident Evil back in the day. Say what you will about those games (personally, I hated RE0 so much that I never tried any of the other early titles, but loved RE4), but you can't deny their impact on the industry. I find it fascinating that after the critical and commercial success that RE4 was met with, Mikami followed it up with this, which in turn no one bought. While the controls are unusual to say the least, Mikami clearly had an original idea as to how a brawler should control, yet it was rejected because it didn't have a controllable camera, jump button, or lock-on- ya know, things that critics at some point decided all third-person action games should have. Admittedly, God Hand's controls do have their quirks, but I find it no harder to control than other action games of its ilk (and indeed easier than the God of War series with its long, unbreakable attack animations) and it just feels so refreshing after years of god of War and DMC clones.

The game isn't deep at all, the story makes no sense, the dialogue waffles between hilarious to cringe worthy, but the sheer madness of it all combined with such excellent combat have made it my go-to game for the past few days. Mikami has said that he made the game just for him and since it failed commercially, he's trying to make his next game, Vanquish, appeal more to Western audiences. I can't say how much it hurts me to hear him say that. Then again, RE4 was a more Western direction for that series and it worked splendidly, so there's no reason to give up hope yet. I just hope he doesn't sell his soul in the process, because God Hand, it's nothing but soul.