Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ghost's Angry Reviews - Why the Modern FPS is Killing Gaming

OK so maybe that title is a little harsh but it got your attention.  This one isn’t so much a review as it is a discussion about the state of what’s going on in the video game world.  Obviously this is just my opinion.  If you don’t agree with me then that’s perfectly fine; and if you don’t agree with me I’m not going to say that you’re an idiot or any of that bologna.  The reason I state this is because I’ve already mentioned the idea of this one to a friend to which I was (jokingly) given a particular response.
Ghost here, thanks for joining!

Man…. What to do a review on?  I’m running out of Inspiration here and my battery is running low.  I mean my last 3 reviews have been an educational game, a random list of pokémon, and a little girl’s game.  I’m losing it.  I mean this is called Ghost’s Angry Reviews and I haven’t even been that angry.  I just… I don’t know.  What do review, what to review...


… I just want to be loved

That running gag is getting really old….You know, I just gotta get out of this house. The same old stuff is getting old. Maybe something in the outside world will give me inspiration.  Let’s head to Gamestop in the mall.  Maybe I can find something there to talk about that I'm forgetting or something I can buy to talk about that looks intriguing.

Call of Duty?  What part of "heck no" is so hard to understand there?  And it’s taking up a whole window?  UGH… no Ghost… just walk away; no need to get on THAT tangent.  Ok let’s just walk around the mall and see what I can find.  Maybe the T-shirt place will have something.

 OH GOODIE… We have Halo 4 and MORE Call of Duty.  For crying out loud!  OK I know both of those games recently came out but give me a break here.  I … no no just let it lie Ghost.. leave it be.  *sigh* Fine let’s just head to Wal-Mart and rummage through the electronics and just nose around the store for a while.  I need some shampoo anyway.

Please Note this was legitimately found.  I did not plant this item here.
 WHAT?  CALL OF DUTY FOUND ITS WAY INTO THE TAMPON SECTION???!! REALLY??  I’M JUST MINDING MY OWN BUSINESS HEADING TO GET SHAMPOO AND THIS FRANCHISE FINDS IT’S WAY INTO SOMETHING COMPLETELY UNRELATED AND…. No just calm down… you’re supposed to find inspiration not irritation.  Well this was a wasted trip.  Let’s head home and search the internet.  Maybe it can give me some ideas of video games.

 And the first thing I come to is CNBC’s Top Selling video games of this generation…. Which references Halo and the list has 3 Call of Duty games on it while the rest are Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Wii Fit, Wii Play, and Mario Kart Wii?????

Obviously Nature wants me to talk about Modern First Person Shooters so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. 

The video game industry has been incredibly rocky over the past few years to the point that some would probably call it just plain bad and not without reason.  However there still have been a few diamonds in the rough as we go with titles such as Assassin’s Creed 3, Skyrim, and… wait… well despite these being good titles they still fall to some of the pratfalls of games by them being dumbed down versions of their predecessors but I can’t complain about that too much.  So, even the diamonds in that rough aren’t of perfect quality but they’re better than the fossilized dinosaur crap we so often get which is why the gaming industry as a whole leaves me rather malnourished and woozy at the end of the day.  But what is the precise reason for this.  I’m glad you asked!

If you were to bring up the topic of video games to a generalized crowd I guarantee that 7 out of 10 times you will hear the words “Halo”, “Battlefield” or “Call of Duty” somewhere during the conversation.  The fact of the matter is that the First Person Shooter genre has been dominating the world of gaming for the last decade.  People sometimes ask me for my opinion on these games and I’m here to generalize my entire theory.  

They suck.
Now now, put down your sniper rifles, rail guns, energy swords, and noob tubes and allow me to explain what I’m talking about.  Individually I have little doubt that these games are engaging and fun, quite possibly more engaging and more fun than a great number of games that I have tortured myself into playing.  If you truly enjoy these titles then that is up to you; please continue to like them.  I have spent several hours watching a friend of mine play most of these games online while I make commentary on his failures.  I can somewhat see the appeal, however collectively these franchises stand for what I am utterly opposed to at the core of my being: stifling creativity, a continued main focus on casual gaming, oversaturation in the market, and above all, corporations attempting to make a quick profit at the expense of a good and unique experience.

Before I get into those however, let’s explore some of the most commonly cited justifications for the past decade of FPS games being prevalent.

“Every era of gaming has a genre that rises to popularity and dominates the shelves.  This is no different than the Side-scrollers that dominated the 8-bit and early 16-bit eras.” 
Yes, there is a slight point to this comment.  Each era of gaming does have a genre that is more prevalent than others, however there is one major difference now than there was in those days.  During the eras of the 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit times of gaming, the technology and capabilities were expanding rapidly and there were many new ways and avenues to explore development.  So this put games into two categories.  Publishers who had the know-how to expand on the technology and take risks, and publishers who didn’t quite have the budget or knowledge to really continue developing ideas so they had to stick to what was already established.  Even with that knowledge most games during that time took the time required to ensure that they at least felt different or had a different atmosphere; something that is not true of modern FPS but I’ll get to that eventually.  On top of that, for the most part many of these copy-cat games just jumping on the genre bandwagon are completely forgotten and many of them did not turn into franchises that continue to exist (Castlevania 2 is an obvious exception here.)  Most of these games are lost to that obscure section of time where they are only really known either for how infamously terrible they were or because James Rolfe has done a review of it
If it’s not in one of those categories and it’s not an amazing piece of gaming history then there’s little chance you remember or even know about it.

“It’s just supply and demand” / “The fact that these games are selling to a larger number of people will help video games as a whole because more people are interested and investing in the companies.”

First off using “supply and demand” as a reason for anything is garbage; it’s just an answer to give when you don’t really want to think about an actual logical answer to give and goes right alongside with answers like “just because”, “God moves in mysterious ways” and “because I said so.”  So I’m dismissing that one on merit of theory alone.

As far as the second statement above, I have a two-fold reason against that one as well.
1. Corporations and Publishers today rarely care about what would make a game good or bad.  It’s not very often you hear of a game that takes its fan base complaints or ideas and make them a reality.  If more did, they wouldn’t have removed Mewtwo from Super Smash Bros Brawl, but I shall not be embarking on that rabbit trail soap box today.  Instead, they listen to money and what sells.  The only way to make a statement of any notable size to get any attention is to simply have a mass of people not purchase something that is created.  The more and more people continue to buy these games, the more companies are going to produce these games and attempt to produce them faster to keep on this current decade-long trend before it ends.  The only thing that having more people buying the modern FPS games is doing is telling the gaming world “YES please give us more of this exact thing here. You are doing great!”

2. I know I’m stepping into the bounds of stereotyping here but I’m speaking mostly to those nerds among us; those that grew up with video games and are true nerds at heart.  It’s my philosophy that the rise of so-called “nerd culture” becoming mainstream is a double edged sword and it something that I will eventually write a rant about.  But ask yourselves this…all of you… Is the fact that more people are playing games a good thing or a bad thing?  I’m not entirely certain how to respond myself.  On the one hand I enjoy thinking that many new people who never had the chance at gaming are now giving it a shot.  On the other hand this trend to bring in casual players and have gaming, and what they believe is nerd culture, become mainstream to them also means that we have to contend as a community with the likes of and great numbers of those who don’t really care one way or another as long as they can have some fun in the process.  If their numbers grow higher than those true game fans of us, then we no longer have the ability to influence in any way how games are made by buying or not buying products because those that don’t care will still buy them.  If you will for a moment just think about all your friends who play mostly modern First Person Shooters (especially Call of Duty).  I’ll give you a moment… if you are honest with yourselves, you would say 60 - 70% of them fall into one or more of the picture categories below.

And I don’t know about you but I don’t necessarily want them dictating the direction of the gaming world with their monetary influence.

Now, let’s get into the actual problems that prompted this to even be started to begin with or in other words..

The Genre is Stagnant
I don’t believe many people will disagree with me here.  The genre as a whole of first person shooter is stagnant.  It is not moving forward it is just sitting exactly where it is and multiplying like the algae in a stagnant pond.  What sort of things do you do in a first person shooter?  You move around and you shoot things for the most part with a little bit of stealth due to the environment as well as maybe a mine or two.  Pretty much everything that goes on in modern first person shooters has been done before in countless iteration over the course of gaming.  Granted some of the weapons may be unique from one game to another or perhaps the scenery you fight in is different but the core of what is going on is the exact same.  Here as an example, please take a look at these two images below.

Which one is Battlefield and which one is Call of Duty?

Unless you’ve played the games, it’s not that easy is it?

Why are these all the exact same?  It is because games such as Call of Duty have, in fact, peaked.  They are at the pinnacle of what current technology can allow.  There is virtually no room for improvement upon the gameplay or the experience as a whole. To quote the Game Overthinker “Face it, at this point we’ve pretty much perfected the gameplay mechanic of walk around, fire gun.  If you can license the Unreal engine, most of that work is already done for you.  So there’s really nothing left for the genre to improve on other than obsessing over who has the most detailed textures. Graphical refinement is pretty much all there is now.”

That’s the truth of the matter.  It’s not necessarily that these games are bad games it’s that there is no room for improvement given the current technology constraints.  There is no way to move the genre forward without changing it into a completely different type of game.  You may be asking what I mean by current technology constraints.  How do humans interact with the world around them?  They use their five senses: Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste, and Smell.  These modern FPS games we play engage only two of those, sight and sound.  I’ll give partial credit to touch due to the effect of a rumble feature on most controllers but even that isn’t really engaging their sense to touch their surroundings in-game.  Until there is a technology developed that can allow you to feel your way around the world, smell what’s going on, or taste anything within a gaming world there is no way that the FPS genre can improve and it will remain a stagnant yet peaked genre.

Continued Emphasis on Casual Gaming
Now, I touched on this topic a little earlier, but it really is a sticking point for most gamers.  The term “casual” has become a bigger insult than any combination of f-bombs you could ever present to someone, especially someone who is a gamer.  I’d rather insult Mike Tyson than call any respectable gamer a “casual.”  A Casual gamer as you can probably guess is someone who doesn’t spend much time playing video games.  They come and go with it and just want some sort of fun experience to play for a little while with friends or out of boredom and then move on.  They don’t really want anything to be a true challenge because they don’t want to get too invested into it.  While it’s nice to reach out to this demographic to fulfill their needs, it’s ludicrous to have your main focus be on this group right?

And then this happened.
The introduction of the Wii was both something glorious and equally devilish.  It ushered in something new, motion controls that didn’t suck… well I use the term “didn’t suck” lightly because at least it works 40% of the time unlike other things.  I’m looking at you Kinect.  It was a step in a newer better direction and something very inventive and fun.  Unfortunately with the advent of this new system came the advertising giant that caused all of the gaming industry to shift its focus.  The Wii was marketed as a system central to the whole family and to everyone so that anyone can enjoy something on the wii from gamers, to new kids playing to even old timers who have never played a game before in their life.  From a company standpoint it was brilliant and allowed them to sell millions of wii’s.   From a gamer standpoint it was nothing short of betrayal.

I don’t even think it was intended betrayal either.  They were attempting something new or at least something I hadn’t seen to the extent they pushed the wii and for them it really paid off.  Other companies began seeing the rise of sales for Nintendo due to this marketing of gaming for everyone, so naturally looking to increase their revenue they did the same.  With this shift of thought process came a change in the type of games that were produced.  Now there have always been easy family friendly games out there since the beginning but we had never encountered them at this volume.  What once was 2-3 “real” games to 1 casual game was now turning into 3-5 casual games to 1 “real” game.  The video game industry as a whole had turned its back on the people that had supported it for years and years, those that allowed them to get to the point they are now, in favor of more money for a more mass appeal.

This didn’t only extend to the new games they were producing for this casual crowd, but it started to affect the game franchises that were already established, making them easier and more starter friendly.  Making them incredibly simplistic to pick up and master from the beginning while having arrows and markings throughout gameplay of what to do; holding the hand of the player in hopes of snagging those casual players into a more solid playing role.  Again from a company standpoint this is great, but from the standpoint of a gamer before this happened; now you have taken the playing style, mechanics, and challenge of the games we love and cherish and dumbed them down so that Johnny 5th grader can be a master at video games and buy more products.  This is why Metroid Other M exists.

And don’t you even dare get me started on that.

So where do the modern FPS games fit in?  Well if you are an avid player of Halo, Call of Duty, or Battlefield and have ever made negative comments about casual gaming and casual games then I would like you to punch yourself in the face.  Go ahead I’ll wait.

Thank you!

This is because all of those games are, in fact, casual games.  Now before you go off on me saying things like “How dare you say it’s casual when I spend 30 hours a week playing this thing. That’s being a gamer that’s not being a casual.”  Calm down.  I didn’t say if you play those games that YOU are a casual, but I am saying that those games are casual games.  From what I’ve seen, the single player campaigns hold your hand and tell you what to do, and for the most part you can pick up the controller and “master” the controls and the game within minutes.  I know this for a fact because I do not play these games, yet I spent an hour playing one with a friend a few months back and within six minutes I had everything mastered and was actually schooling him at his own game.


While I realize going online against other players requires a different set of skills and mastery, but that is not mastery of the game or difficulty of the game itself, that is trying to master and predict other people’s moves who you don’t know and can’t see them calculating.  It’s like playing a game of chess against someone in another city where you mail each other the moves.  That isn’t exactly easy, but again that’s not mastery of the game.  You can easily pick up any of these titles and know exactly what button to press at exactly the right time within seconds. 

I don’t foresee the focus on casual gaming to end any time soon because the profit in it is far too high, but these modern FPS games aren’t helping anything in their own right because they are just MORE games with casuals in mind that are shaping the way that all of gaming will slowly turn into in the future.  The age of challenge outside of a multiplayer server is quickly coming to an end and you can place part of the blame on the modern FPS.

Publisher’s Decisions
Everything I’ve said before this section I’m willing to negate.  I’m willing to let go of every single truth and Idea I’ve presented before as completely invalid.  That doesn’t really matter to me.  Because this right here is the ULTIMATE truth about what’s going on and why the gaming industry is heading into the crap-shoot. 

The problem is not the modern FPS genre itself.  It’s not even the mindless repetition that these games provide you during gameplay.  None of that matters.  The problem is how the genre is being handled and how the gaming industry as a whole is being run.  The pinnacle of the “modern shooter” was Call of Duty 4.  It perfected the game as far as it came to the kind of arcade shooters.  On the other hand, Battlefield 2 was the pinnacle of the team strategy shooters.  It perfected the game from that aspect.  These two games are actually meant to be entirely different yet people place both of them under the same banner of bullcrap, but why?

The problem isn’t just one answer, but two.  The first problem is that the publishers of these games continue to push out what is effectively the same product year after year because consumers are buying it.  It’s working for them and giving them money so every single year they will put out another game without really trying to renovate it in any manner.  And from a sales and monetary standpoint why should they do any different?  If the consumers will continue to eat up the exact same thing over and over and sell even more for the exact same product then why should they change?  That change isn’t going to come from them it’s going to have to come from the community.

The second problem is that the gaming community has vilified these games and this genre as a whole because of these games.  But the gaming community hasn’t really done anything about it other than complain mindlessly without presenting facts and even often insulting those who do enjoy the FPS genre.  Yes I know I’m slightly calling the kettle black here but hang tight.  The perception of this genre ruining video games is skewed.   


Yes that’s right I just contradicted what the title of this is about, and yes it was planned.  The shooters themselves are not the problem because we can see the evidence of the problem all over the gaming industry left and right but we have been so focused on tearing down these Call of Duty games and the entire modern FPS genre as a whole to even notice it.  If the evidence is everywhere else then why the focus on Call of Duty?  That’s quite simple.  Call of Duty is the easiest choice to make a poster child for what is bad with gaming because it offers the least amount of changes from game to game.  It’s mostly just the same exact thing over and over again with a different backdrop to the gameplay.

So if shooters aren’t the problem, where should the gaming community look for blame?  The publishers.  If you look all over gaming industry both hardware and software, the problem exists in abundance which is the fact that publishers are just simply repeating what works without even attempting risks.  If a company knows something will sell they are most likely to just repeat the same exact thing and even shoehorn things that aren’t even similar into the same mentality of what has been currently working because they don’t want to take any sort of risk at all.  Look to motion controls.  Sure the Wii came out with motion controls but they aren’t exactly that different from the old motion controls of the Power Glove and Nintendo Gun of the past, just slightly updated technology to it.  The only company that took a risk recently was Microsoft with the Kinect and since that bombed you can almost guarantee that we won’t see any more risks from that company for another decade or two.

In the end it can be all traced to one simple fact.  Publishers want games that are done quick and cheap so they can maximize their profit.  Take a look at the recent game Dishonored.  
HOLY CRAP was that concept amazing.  French Revolutionary time period with period weaponry and occult magic dealing with possession and rats?  FREAKING AWESOME!  The advertisements were good, and I was honestly hyped to get it.  But what that game COULD have been didn’t fit in with the publisher’s desires of quick and cheap, so fast deadlines were put on it and many things that could have made it one of the greatest games of recent times made it turn into a decent game with episodic missions.  LAME!  As soon as I heard what was going to become of it my hype for it diminished into nothingness.  Publishers want quicker deadlines and it doesn’t matter how ambitious the project, you must fall within that deadline at the expense of the quality of the game.  And when you are placed with an impossible deadline you have to cut something; so are you going to cut the essentials or anything new and risky?  Obviously you are going to cut out anything new and risky because you don’t want a colossal failure on your hands which produces the same generic disappointing garbage each and every time.  It’s happening everywhere with every game.

To tie this back into the modern FPS, The difference that modern FPS have when dealing with these deadlines and cutting corners is that a shooter has a very large number of necessary essential basics in order to perform what it is designed to do.  Something like an RPG game has varying degrees of what is basic and essential to the gameplay depending on the type of RPG you want to make.  When you take these two genres to their bare bones skeleton minus any bells, whistles, and new ideas and you end up with two very different skeletons.  The FPS Skeleton is very rigid and unyielding because of its nature.  It needs certain elements at all times and the bare bones of one FPS to the other is essentially the exact same.  If you strip Battlefield and Call of Duty to their bare bones there is basically no difference.   However an RPG has many different skeletons that when taken to its bare bones can be vastly different.  If you took Skyrim and Tales of Symphonia down to their minimum, you still would have two unique experiences.  It’s like having a bicycle and a car.  If you take anything superfluous away from a bicycle, they all look the exact same, but if you take away any add ons, you can still have very different cars. 

When games are given breathing room to have those added “bells and whistles” is when you create an entirely different game.  Let’s take the big four shooters from the 90’s: Doom, Quake, Unreal, and Half-Life.  Each of these is a brilliant game and I dare say few would ever complain at length about them.  They are all first person shooters but they all have a different feel to them and evoke different emotions entirely during their gameplay.  They share the exact same core mechanic/skeleton as each other but are still completely different.  Why is that?  The short answer is that TIME was spent on them.  The publishers were worried about making a good game not making money.  Money is always an issue on the table but it never took such a spotlight until recently which is why I can proudly say that I love games like Doom, and Dark Forces, but have no problem stating that I have a great distaste for First Person Shooters when I am talking about modern ones.

Along those same lines Call of Duty and Battlefield if allowed to be embellished upon are two entirely different games.  Call of Duty is more of an arcade shooter with fast paced action, and Battlefield is a slightly slower game in which the focus is all on tactics and teamwork to achieve the goal.  If left to breathe and mature there wouldn’t be a problem, but after they are run through the corporate acid machine of deadlines and quick profit we are left with just bare bones and a tiny bit of flesh trying to hang on.  That little bit of hanging flesh left isn’t anywhere near enough to be able to make a substantial difference between games and is ultimately what makes each version of both franchises the exact same thing over and over, and almost completely unrecognizable from the other franchise. 


I don’t hate the FPS genre and I’m not promoting anyone else to as well.  If you enjoy those games then fine.  Please continue to purchase them and love them for what they are.  There is always a place for a shooter in the gaming industry and I never want it to leave.  In some ways I feel kind of sorry for the genre as a whole because it is the one genre that most easily shows all of the problems with the video game industry today.  It has become the martyr that just keeps coming back for more. 

Honestly with the market for casual gamers being as strong as it is, I’m not certain how this whole “crisis” is really going to end but I would suggest that you as a gamer continue to purchase games from developers who are still out there making good games.  Producers who are taking the time to give those added bells and whistles to the games in order to make a unique and memorable experience.  Actively avoid games from publishers who are at the forerunner of this nonsense and maybe one of these days they’ll get the hint, but until then we just have to grin and bear it and hope this phase of the world all wanting to be part of “nerd culture” comes to an abrupt end.

SHEW… that took a lot of brain power and that basically made my review battery depleted.  It’s time for a recharge as I take a few weeks off.  So I hope you have an excellent Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, or whatever holiday you celebrate during this time of the year and I’ll see you in January for some more awesome reviews that may or may not be a FORCE to recon with.

Guess I’ll start my vacation by watching some Epic Rap Battles.
 what the??

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If you want to see my other Video Game discussions and reviews, click here!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Campfire Morals: The Original W. G.

This is a (hopefully) better and longer version of the speech I gave in Toastmasters on 12/5/2012.  So those of you who were there will know what's going on.  I'm going to not do the usual "The Moral" portion at the end because I feel the ending of this speech I gave is powerful enough without it, but maybe I'm just thinking too highly of it.

The Original W. G.

 As many of you reading this may know, my full name is Wesley Golfe Davenport.  Whenever I mention my middle name it brings up a lot of confusion because I have yet to meet someone who has ever heard of Golfe (pronounced golf) as a middle name before.  I was actually named after family... both sides to be exact.  Since I get my last name from Dad's side automatically, that wasn't enough to really state that I'm named after that side of the family.  Since my grandfather and father are both named Charles, Dad didn't want to name me Charles as well so he went back a few generations and found that there was a Wesley in his background.  So where does Mom's side of the family come in?  Well there-in lies my mysterious middle name.  Mom's father's name was William Golfe Whitley (though not many people knew his middle name as far as I know) so even my first name came into effect with her side as I was now the second W. G. in the family.

But this isn't about me, this is about the original W. G., Bill Whitley, or Papaw as I called him.  Growing up, I was closer to my father's parents overall.  This was entirely logical because Mamaw and Papaw lived twenty minutes away while I could see Granny and Pappap's front door from my bedroom window but that didn't mean there wasn't just as strong a connection between us.  In fact I see certain similarities between me and my Papaw when I really sit down and think of it. That's one of the first things I say when someone asks me what kind of person my Papaw was.  I tell them first to look at me.  Then after they are done vomiting out of disgust, for them to examine some of my character traits because several of them are shared between us.

One of the big things that can be seen that we share is a great love of having a good time and making jokes throughout the process.  When I think about Papaw, I honestly can't think of hardly any time that I spent with him that there wasn't at least one or two moments of laughter between us or the whole group.  He seemed to be always looking to mess with something whether it be sticking his dentures out at the kids, or making fun of a deer someone had shot with his classic  "Eeeehhh gosh!" before pointing out how small the deer was even it if was a very large buck.  There were few things that he couldn't find some way to get some form of chuckle or elbow nudge out of the situation.  Even in pictures you can see his humorous personalty showing through like the one below with the expression he is making.

Love of Food
To tie in with the picture above, you can see Papaw in front of a grill.  That is one other thing that the two of us share is a love of food.  Now I personally cannot cook that well probably because I haven't practiced much but I can definitely appreciate the art of cooking and turning raw ingredients into something wonderful.  My Papaw was an amazing cook.  Very few people have even come close in comparison to him and his dishes, and I always enjoyed watching him cook even if it was just for a moment.  Deer Burgers, Grilled Chicken Breast, Deer Jerky, Cajun Fish, Stew, Chicken Bog, Christmas Ham Biscuits: all these were so flavorful and amazing that my mouth waters just by thinking of one of them.  He liked to create his own spice mixture and special ingredients for his dishes, most of which he kept a secret as all good cooks do.  He was definitely one of the best.

Those are just two of the ways that we are alike.  Other ways are things like love of family, desire to help others, love of children etc.  The list goes on and on but for sake of time I'll leave it as it is.

For those of you that know me well enough, it goes without saying that looking at me won't give you an accurate depiction of my grandfather because there are a few differences too.
The biggest difference between us is that Papaw was a natural outdoors-man.  He loved being out on the lake fishing or out in the woods hunting deer or turkey.  To see Papaw indoors for extended periods of time was a very rare sight as he always had something to do out there.  He also enjoyed aiding in making the food he was going to produce.  Dressing the deer himself, and helping others make sausage from the slaughtered pigs.  He loved baseball and every Sunday that a game would be on he would be watching it out in the den as opposed to me who will watch sports if someone else just wants to... or it's the Super Bowl.  He was a true Southwest Virginia Country boy, not some "city" nerd like me.

The Greatest Thing(s) About Him
Two of the greatest things about him that always inspired me to be more like him was his love of life, and his willingness to help anyone out.  Papaw loved life and was very active in it.  I dare say you couldn't have found a more animated character in your life.  Throughout the good times and the bad, he always made the best out of whatever life dealt him with a happy demeanor.  The man never sat still.  He was always up and about the town seeing and doing and talking about anything that he could.  You could probably try to go to his house three days in a row and not catch him at home either time because he was somewhere else doing who knows what... till lunch time at least.  For a man in his early 80's you would have thought he was in his late 50's with as much as he ran around town and the house doing anything he could and staying active till he literally collapsed with exhaustion.

While he was constantly out doing things here and there, he would always help out anyone who needed it.  Whether it be a friend down on his luck, a neighborhood boy making bad decisions, or his church needing work on the building; he was always first in line to help.  He would do anything he could to make your day better or help lead you in the right direction.  Papaw was a very wise man who knew just what to say and how to say it.  I wish I had listened more to him.  He knew things and no matter what trouble you had or what you needed to fix he had a solution or at least something to attempt, and he would be right there showing you how to do it, doing it with you, or "supervising" with a smile. 

When i think of the epitome of kindness, charity, and wisdom, I think of my Papaw.  I don't think I've ever met a soul who loved life anywhere near as much as him, nor do I think I ever will again.  As further proof of this, I was lucky enough to take a very dark but very audible video of him and my cousin Lindsay back in 2003.  Just what little he had to say to her in this even though it's just playing with her tells of his character and liveliness especially on his face.

In September, the world as we knew it changed.  Papaw had gone for a regular colonoscopy.  Nothing was strange, nothing was abnormal, but when they removed a part of his colon, the wall remaining was just too little and it burst open.  Papaw went to the emergency room where they took him into surgery to fix the problem.  However things kept getting worse.  He was having trouble waking up from being put under anesthesia twice in one day.  He was having trouble breathing because of that and was put on life support just in case.  The days dragged on as he would have better days then take a nose dive.  We were finally called in to talk to the doctors. 

The doctors gave us three decisions.  We could take him off life support entirely, leave him as-is, or attempt one last surgery that might work.  The doctors left and we began to talk about things.  As we were talking Papaw began to become the most conscious of our presence in awhile.  He looked at Mamaw and noticed us around the room.  The decision was made that because he was always so lively that we would attempt the surgery so that we can say we did everything we could to bring him back to us without prolonging suffering.

So the decision was made and Papaw continued to be conscious of us being there.  After I left, my cousins say that he winked at them, and acknowledged what they were saying.  They told him we were taking care of Mamaw and he understood.  He was interacting the best he had done since he went to the emergency room the three weeks before.  It looked like we might possibly be able to get Papaw back and have his energy and livliness with us again.  He might be getting better finally!

But he never did.  As I heard of how well he was doing that day, I was afraid it was the "last hoorah" and it was.  On October 13, 2012, Papaw left this world to be with our Heavenly Father.  As we stood in line at Oak Glen for his funeral, we met many people from all walks of life of whom he had been well known, or even touched their lives in one way or another.  Everyone talked of what a wonderful man Bill Whitley was.  I couldn't help but think of how one man's life can influence and touch so many.  I truly hope that one day this W. G. can leave the same sort of legacy as The Original W. G.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ghost's Angry Reviews - Disney’s The Little Mermaid: Magic in Two Kingdoms

This is the standard spoiler warning.  If for some reason you actually find it in your heart to care enough about not having Disney’s The Little Mermaid: Magic in Two Kingdoms spoiled then I would sit back and ponder that decision for a moment… just think about it.

This is Ghost, thanks for joining.

Mini games
Yeah yeah I know!  Mini Games have become a staple of the industry for quite some time much to the chagrin of many gamers.  Why is it that mini games strike a nerve with gamers such as myself, and what exactly do I identify as a mini game?  The true definition of a mini game is a short video game often contained within another video game which is always smaller or more simplistic than the game in which it is contained.  I would like to expand upon that.  If a mini-game is standalone then it is to be considered short and relatively simplistic in nature so stuff like Bloons and Sniper Assassin which you can find online are definitely part of that category.

Those things are perfectly fine, they are free to play and found online with a simple Google search.  They serve their purpose of alleviating boredom for a few moments and are promptly forgotten afterwards.  They understand their target audience and the expectation for that audience and produce a quality product based on these expectations.  They perform very well, especially the two games I mentioned above; give them a try if you want something fun to do.  However you can’t exactly call yourself a gamer or a video game fan if those are the kinds of games you play.  They are good and I have no quarrel with them; it’s the other kind of mini game which I so often have problems with.   

Mini Games as part of a regular game can be very tricky to handle.  There is some debate as to what exactly constitutes as a mini game and not just part of the regular challenge of gameplay.  I like to define Mini Games when it comes to being part of a greater game as any activity that is either called a game inside the world, or any activity that actively changes what you normally do during regular gameplay.   The first things that come to mind when I think of mini games inside of games are things like the shooting gallery in Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, the Game Corner in Pokémon Red and Blue, and the RC Car challenge in Duke Nukem Forever.

Mini Games have their place and can be a very fun addition to the playing experience especially if they give worthwhile rewards and bonuses; something that the Zelda series often succeeds in.   However they can also be an annoyance beyond all reasoning.  The point of a mini game is to do something different than what you would normally be accustomed to doing in order to achieve some goal or just to have a little bit of fun or challenge.  But when mini games become essential or even required game developers are stepping into a whole new realm of bullcrap.  Extremely poor designs, incredible difficulty, and forcing a player to participate in a game style that they may not enjoy or even be terrible at are just a few of the reasons why people hate mini games.  If I wanted a platforming game, I would have bought a freaking platforming game, not an action/adventure game. 

Let’s look at a couple of quick examples from the Legend of Zelda series since I praised it just a few minutes ago
GOOD MINI GAME – Shooting Gallery
Ocarina of Time
This is a very simple straightforward game of hitting the targets with either the slingshot as a child, or the bow and arrow as an adult.  It is a challenge without being overly difficult.  It might take you a couple of tries but you’ll get there in the end.  On top of that, it’s entirely voluntary.  You only play this for the fun of having a challenge if you want it.  Sure you get rewards like a larger seed back or a bigger quiver, as well as money but none of that is required to beat the game it’s just something they tossed in there for some added fun.

BAD MINI GAME – Tokay Feeding
Oracle of Ages
Holy Crap did this suck.  When you land on the Tokay’s Island all of your gear is missing so you’re already really annoyed but in order to get an item that is required so that you can get all of your equipment back and continue the game you are forced to play this mini game where you pick up large pieces of meat and toss them at the creatures as they pass by on the left and right.  First off the Tokays move fairly fast and if you miss a single one you have to pay 10 rupees to play again and keep going till you get it done 100%.  Also it’s a required action to perform.  You have to deal with this stupidity or else you cannot finish the game.  I haven’t played this since I was probably 16 so I have increased my skill as a gamer since then but I remember being SO pissed off over this because I kept having to harvest rupees cause one of the little buggers was always too fast for me to run across the screen and toss the meat properly.

But now we’ve come to the worst of the worst thing about mini games; video games that are nothing but mini games.  You know the ones; the casual pandering bullcrap that they often like to refer to as Party Games.
 Or Game Party apparently….whatever

This is why gamers weep.  There is a place for 5 minute mini games it’s called the internet and you can play them for free usually.  Or at least put them in with another game as a side item.  Don’t JUST slap together 30 or more tiny games and try to market it as its own entity.  That’s just lazy and really shows no enthusiasm or quality control.  Nintendo especially has been overly egregious with things like that especially when it came to the Wii.  Carnival Games, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, Game Party, Wii Play, Wii Music, the crap barrel is extremely deep with this type of thing and it’s filled all the way to the brim.

Now I know what you’re going to say.  Games like that are best suited for multiple people.  Things like Mario Party and Carnival Games are things that you are supposed to share the experience with someone else and have fun together.  So in the spirit of that… OK fine I’ll play a Mario Party game.
OK now we’ve got everything set in place been running around a little bit let’s see who moves next?

And the majority of games centered around things like this AREN’T wifi capable.  Now I understand the thought process being that you are supposed to have fun with other people being present so the banter and hilarity can be both on screen and off but let’s face it... .any gamers only play games alone or only over wifi.  With many of the gaming systems there is wifi capability and the availability of a microphone to chat over so why not utilize these things??  If I have the ability to hear my buddy shouting obscenities over a pokémon battle on the freaking Nintendo DS then why can’t I over some sort of party game on a home console with the technology provided there?

That being said I’m willing to take back every single thing I just said.  Yeah I’ll accept all of the above as great choices and excellent games even stuff like Game Party because at least they aren’t what today’s game is; a series of mini games that are attempting to be strung together in a storyline.  At least Game Party and Carnival Games had the common courtesy to know they are just a series of mini games and don’t try to have some sort of narrative string them together.  They are standalone units that you can select from.  But this game… OH this game is one of THOSE abominable ones trying to take different mini games that have been done five thousand times over and giving them the look of The Little Mermaid. 

Sorry for the extremely long intro to this but there isn’t a whole lot to really talk about with this game and I felt you really needed to know where I’m coming from on this one before I start so let’s head under the sea and see why it’s really NOT hotter under the water.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid: Magic in Two Kingdoms was released on the Gameboy Advanced in the United States on October 6, 2006.  As you can imagine given the long intro, the game is comprised of eight different mini games which the player is ushered from and to by the means of cutscenes. 

Why yes, there IS a “plot” attempting to tie all these mini games together and can you take a guess what that is?  It’s the plot of the actual movie.  So if you don’t know what the plot is then go rent The Little Mermaid on DVD and watch it.  It’s one of those movies that I actually enjoy more as an adult but that’s probably due to my gender.  They even went so far as to just simply rip still frames from the actual movie to use them as the cutscenes with text below. 
I assume this was an attempt to give the game a little bit of credibility but the attempt was still born and failed epicly as it comes across as just lazy especially when the actual quality of the graphics in the game portion are amazingly well done for a GBA game even though my screens don’t do it justice.  The mini games you play are varied in style and direction and really don’t have anything to do with the other as far as playing style but at the same time given the limitations of the hardware it all just basically involves moving around or hitting the A, B, L, or R button at the right time… not exactly rocket science here.   But still, the games are so random they really should be standalone units… so if you ever get the chance to create a game and you plan on attempting to string random mini games together with a story then you should at least… actually no I’m going to stop you right there. NEVER attempt to string random mini games together with a story.  Just don’t do it! 

The Games
As stated before there are eight mini games that you participate in during gameplay so I will talk about each of them individually.  I WOULD name them each by name but the game is even too lazy to put up text as to what they actually are, just a picture of the scenario… you know what that means

Game 1 – Dumpster Diving
You start off inside the wreckage of the ship where Ariel meets the shark and has to escape from him.  Except that doesn’t happen at all.  Instead she is running around the ship and can’t fit into holes in the ceiling and floor causing Flounder to have to go in and pop air bubbles/create air bubbles to move items like cups, forks and other such things around so that they go to the main area so Ariel can pick them up.  Supposedly if you sit around in an area with Flounder too long the Shark will show up but nothing was so tricky that there was even a glimpse of action or tension.  And on top of that EVERY SINGLE HOLE you come too, they have the same dialog where Flounder asks if Ariel can get through the hole, she can’t so he offers to go in.  EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.  It’s so annoying.  But once you collect all 10 pieces of treasure you unlock a giant treasure chest and you’re carted off to the next activity.

Game 2 – The One Where You Do the Stuff and Avoid the Things to Get the Doohickey and Magic and Stuff
This happens during the portion where Eric’s ship is sinking and Eric falls into the ocean.  You simply swim upwards to try to save him over four different screens.  You hit A to speed up, avoid falling items that hurt you and slow you down, and if you need extra time just move a treasure into a bubble and that’s it.  When you finally reach Eric just hit B over and over to take him to shore and the game ends.  Again it’s really really simplistic.  You don’t even need the time extension unless you just have egregiously bad aim.  If a barrel hurts you, then within a few seconds you’ll find a health booster.  Your health regains itself on the next section of water and if you somehow are awful enough to actually deplete all your health you just restart again.  There is no “Lives” system in this game you just keep playing the section till you beat it.

That’s right people NO Game Over screen because there are no number of lives you just keep doing stuff over and over till you get it right.  Now for some personal philosophy again but as much as I HATE Game Over screens and the feeling of inadequacy that it gives, it’s also a nice little dose of some form or reality.  Adding a lives system at least gives somewhat of an added sense of “oh crap I can’t screw this up.”  Instead of just holding everyone’s hand throughout every little step of their little tiny lives, then being eventually shoved into the real world where nothing is there to hold your hand and you should have had plenty of experience so you don’t become an “adult” acting like an absolute idiot because society says that children can do no wrong and they are all winners; WELL THAT’S NOT THE REAL WORLD THE REAL WORLD SUCKS AND MOST THINGS YOU DO WILL BE WRONG AND PEOPLE WILL EXPECT YOU TO KNOW HOW TO HANDLE FAILURE BUT THIS UPCOMING GENERATION AND THOSE AFTER IT WON’T BE ABLE TO HANDLE FAILURE CAUSE THEY ….

Sorry… umm… my rabbit trail got a little out of hand there.  What was I doing again?

Game 3 – Merry Melodies: A Bugs Bunny Cartoon
Remember that classic Under the Sea song that Sebastian sang to help cheer up Ariel?  Remember how it was one of the best sequences in the entire movie?  Let’s take something iconic like that and toss a cherry bomb of bad right in the middle of it.  Sound fun?  I didn’t think so. 

So what do they have us do in this iconic scene?  They have us simply hit a directional line or button on the GBA whenever it appears on the screen.  Just at any point it’s on the screen not at a certain point on the screen to keep with the tempo or anything like that just whenever you see the button prompt and have time to get to it during the day.  That’s it. 

This is one that I have some real problems with.  I know it’s supposed to be simple but this is ridiculous.  Since they are going with the whole musical theme they could have had us hit the button right when it hit a certain line on the screen or with the tempo of the song since it is a playthrough of a song.  It’s not a lack of technology to do that because I’ve seen a GBA game where you hit buttons at certain key times and even with the tempo of the song so it’s not that it’s just sheer laziness.

Also what makes this fail in comparison is that this came out in October of 2006.  However in March of the same year another game came out featuring mini games of The Little Mermaid which executed the idea of hitting buttons to songs five million times better, Kingdom Hearts 2!
Now I realize this is a Playstation 2 Title so ignore the hardware and visual quality here.  I’m looking at the core mechanics of hitting a button at a precise time like in the Kingdom Hearts 2 version.  That could have easily been done here but as per usual, we can’t put quality work into a game aimed for children right?

Game 4 – Bad Memories of Superman 64
This takes place while Ariel is headed to Ursula’s Lair to become a human.  Flotsam and Jetsam simply create rings of water behind them in which Ariel needs to swim through to keep up.  This formula has been done over and over and over it’s so very stagnant.  However this particular game has the distinction that if you miss a ring, nothing happens and if you brush the bottom or top of the ring at the last second with your tail rather than swim through it, it still counts.   Programming at its finest, people!

Game 5 – Friday Night Wine and Death
This stage is a platformer…. OH GOODIE MY FAVORITE.  My teeth are grinding together with excitement over this piece of
…over this portion of the game. 

You play as Sebastian inside the French Chef’s kitchen.  You are racing to get to the other side of the area before the time runs out.  You get additional time by hiding under leaves of lettuce or freeing fellow crabs from tiny little cages.  There isn’t really anything there to harm you other than one or two open fires which are a little deceiving so kudos on whoever designed that. There are also sticky pastries thrown around to slow him down but nothing too difficult that usually makes me cringe when it comes to platforming. 

Though I do find it highly comical to see a tiny crab perform a double jump over top of a wine bottle that is five times the size of him and that apparently he weighs so little that a bowl of jello can send him soaring into the air.  Dat Physics.

Game 6 – Bob
This game takes place during the rowboat scene in the lake.  You know the one where they sing Kiss the Girl?  Well if you thought this had anything to do with that song then you’d be giving this game too much credit.  Instead, your mission is to keep mood lighting on the boat by moving it around so that it’s always on the boat till the love meter is full while occasionally hitting the a button when prompted to summon frogs.  So… let me get this straight.  You’re now a wizard who can conjure up one of the plagues of Egypt to sing in an attempt to get Prince Eric’s “Love Meter” all the way up?  … Make your own joke there people I’m not touching that one.

Game 7 – When Animals Attack VIII
… I can only imagine this is how the planning meeting went for this mini game.

Remember that 10 second scene where the animals rush in to stop the wedding and hit Ursula in her human disguise which results in the seashell she kept Ariel’s voice falling and shattering?  Well how about we have the human Ursula just walking around and doing nothing with buttons appearing over her head and if you hit it multiple times one of the animals will come from off screen and hit her causing her to be confused, then the seashell will appear and you have to hit the right combination of buttons as prompted so that lightning will suddenly appear and break off a portion of the seashell so that eventually it breaks cause of the lightning.

Yeah that sounds like a fairly good representation of what happened in the movie… if you watched it while stoned off your butt.

Game 8 – I’ve Seen Enough Hentai to Know Where This Is Going
This takes place during the end of the movie where Eric rams his ship into Ursula.  He is on his ship with a cannon and is shooting some sort of white stuff out of his cannon instead of regular looking cannonballs.  So he shoots this white stuff out of his cannon at the tentacles that are coming for him before they touch him while also shooting at the tentacles blocking Ursula in the background revealing her stomach and breasts in the background for him to ram into… WOW COULD THAT SOUND ANY MORE PERVERTED WTF??!

SERIOUSLY, I didn’t even sit here and craftily think about how to turn that entire mini game into something that sounded sexual that’s literally what all goes down in this game. It’s one of those things that it doesn’t even really hit you till you sit down and try to explain exactly what happened. 

Do I even really need to say this?  This game is a colossal waste of time and effort on everyone’s part. The games are ridiculously simplistic some of which to the point of being offensively simplistic.  It really is a shame that something with really good graphics for a game on the Gameboy Advance were wasted on something so sterile and terrible as this.  This is an affront to gaming.  It took me less than twenty minutes to play this game without skipping any of the cutscenes and this was, at minimum, a $19.99 game when it came out if not more.  That’s like a dollar a minute and that’s completely uncalled for.

Now I realize that I, a 26 year old male, am not the target audience for this type of game and even when going into this I tried to keep that in mind but the quality just isn’t there.  You can make a game targeted at younger people that’s no problem.  I’m not even going to harp on the fact that it’s targeted at young girls only because we need diversity like that but if you are going to venture into a product with a smaller audience in mind you need to compensate for the lack of broad appeal by making a good quality experience that will make the game be a cherished memory.  Unfortunately this falls into the  “kids are dumb” mentality that so often the video game industry dives into when creating a game aimed at children by only doing a half job at best and producing something that literally made me ill after playing it knowing how much time and money was put into that thing.

If you really want to play mini games then I would suggest checking out addictinggames.com or getting yourself something like Carnival Games or Wii Play; Heck I’ve heard that Nintendo Land on the Wii U is a fun game and that’s brand new so check that out.  If you’re looking for a Little Mermaid experience then I would suggest either sticking to The Little Mermaid on Super Nintendo, or the first Kingdom Hearts game for Playstation 2.  The SNES title is short but it actually plays like a video game and has some degree of challenge to it.  Kingdom Hearts, sure it has other worlds so you aren’t just having a Little Mermaid experience but the experience you have there makes it one of the best worlds in the entire game.  The boss battle against Ursula is intense, and Ariel even becomes a party member who really puts a hurt on the heartless and villains.  Both are well worth a play.  Just don’t pick up this piece of whale vomit!

This is Ghost fading into the darkness.
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If you want to see my other Video Game discussions and reviews, click here!