Introduction to Myself, Influences from Gaming and What I’m Currently Playing

So, it’s occurred to me that I haven’t done a proper post to introduce myself, despite talking about myself in a few previous entries. That, and it’s a course requirement that I write a blog entry to introduce myself, so it’s probably a good idea.

At the time of writing, I’m 22 years old. I was born in Australia (still live here) and fell in love with video games as soon as I was old enough to figure out how my thumbs worked. I hated high school as I went through it, though I loved spending time with my friends there. I dropped out of High School after Year 10, and started studying film at TAFE. While I enjoyed it (and I think I was a fairly decent camera operator and producer), I couldn’t see myself doing it full time. Unfortunately, there was no chance to study game design where I was living, but I wanted to follow my greatest passion, so I moved to Melbourne and started studying where I am now.

I really just aspire to work in the Game Design industry in any capacity I can, though I really like the idea of writing for games. At present, a lot of games don’t even hire writers, but it’s definitely a legitimate existing job (and my personal dream). Though, as I said, I’d be ecstatic to be employed in the industry in any way, at least initially.

My last post was about influences from outside gaming, but most of my major influences come from video games (of course). I’ll try and narrow it down to three major influences, but I might accidentally go a little overboard. Firstly, my biggest influence in the world of gaming and my personal favourite series, Metal Gear Solid.

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It’s just about impossible to summarize the plot in a single blog post, but I’ll give it a shot. The story follows two characters with terrible names, Big Boss and Solid Snake. The story is essentially split into two major acts across about 8 games, roughly split in half for each character. Initially, the story follows Big Boss, who is the ‘genetically perfect soldier’. Solid Snake is his clone – they look the same (at least, at first) but have vastly differing personalities.

I don’t want to go too much into the story – well, I do, but then I’d be here all day. The story is vast and convoluted and rightly receives criticism for use of retroactive continuity and some terrible explanations, especially in Metal Gear Solid 4. Despite that, I’ve always found the story to be incredible. It combines extremely thought provoking themes (such as struggling with self identity, genetics and genetic memes, technological determinism, the dangers and realities of Orwellian society, and many more). What I really love about this is that it covers these themes through an absolutely ridiculous story, complete with Vampires, giant nuclear-equipped walking tanks, cyborg ninjas, and cyborg ninjas fighting vampires on top of giant nuclear-equipped walking tanks (no, really, that happens).

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It’s not all narrative, though.  I’ve always loved the gameplay, and the way the narrative and gameplay tie together. Hideo Kojima (the creator) is often criticised for lengthy cutscenes and I’d certainly agree, but the attention to detail in his work is amazing. Not only are there hundreds of hours of recorded (and completely optional) dialogue to be had with the support team in any given game, the way you interact with the world has always been deeply detailed. Examples being that the aforementioned conversations with change if your character is hiding inside a cardboard box, or wearing a crocodile hat, with characters praising or criticising the protagonists decisions accordingly. Each object usually has some level of interactivity, such as being able to shoot any bottle or interact with most things long before it became the industry norm.

I’d like to just write an entire blog on Metal Gear Solid, but I’ll move on (for now). This next one is a game I loved for everything but the story, which is practically non-existant, as is typical of the series; The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

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If you somehow haven’t heard about The Legend of Zelda, I’m not sure why you’re on a blog about games. Just in case, each game follows that little green guy (named Link) as he travels the world to save the princess Zelda. That’s not always the case – often Zelda doesn’t need saving – but it always follows Link on his Zelda-related adventures.

The games are very light on their plot and what I just described pretty much covers every game. Where they really succeed is the gameplay – the sense of adventure is great in every single entry, and each brings a change to the formula of the series. I remember when I first played this entry – Wind Waker – and I remember hardly sleeping for days.

The change that this particular game brought was that it was set in a world mostly covered by an ocean, which meant that the player primarily traveled by boat. This was a first for the series, as no other game had any form of sea travel, but it otherwise stayed true to the regular formula.

WW Boat

The other obvious difference was the art style. This is the quintessential example of a cel-shaded game, and the sense of adventure and fun it created is still unparalleled for me. I’ve never wanted to see the world as much as I did when I was playing this game the first time, and I’m not sure I ever will. Sure, some of that was probably because I was quite young when I played it, but there’s no doubt this game is a masterpiece of the genre and has been a huge influence on me. If you look through my blog, the turn-based RPG I made a few months ago was largely inspired by the feelings that WW instilled, but also the graphical style.

The last two examples I put forward are quite main stream titles that I expect most readers to be at least somewhat familiar with – this next one is possibly an exception, unless you’re quite game-savvy. The last of my top 3 influential titles is the Suikoden series, but specifically Suikoden 2.

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Suikoden 2 is a turn-based RPG for the Playstation 1, and actually received a less than stellar response initially. It’s one of those frustrating cases where it didn’t sell as well as it probably should have, but received incredibly positive criticism. Like many turn-based RPGs, the bulk of the game comprises of turn-based combat with multiple characters (6, in this case) fighting various monsters and evil empires with spells, weapons and special techniques. As far as that goes, it’s quite par the course and doesn’t offer up anything particularly exciting.

Where it really excels is in everything else – other than the regular turn-based combat, there are two other forms of combat. Firstly, there’s dueling, which happens at various stages in the plot between two major characters. Duels are essentially Scissors, Paper, Rock, but with an RPG twist. The enemy character will give you some sort of clue as to their next move and you must counter appropriately, with your character stats coming into play throughout. Whether you win or lose, the story will often continue, though you may permanently lose major characters if you lose the wrong duels.

The third form of combat is the strategic army battles, which work like traditional turn-based strategy games, such as Advance Wars or Final Fantasy Tactics.

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Each mode plays well and requires a different mindset, though the player is mostly in the traditional 6-party setup.

The game also has a fantastic narrative – unlike most JRPGs, the game doesn’t focus on stopping a great evil and saving the world. Instead, the story focuses on personal struggles and war, with no clear definition of right and wrong (though, there are exceptions). As well as that, the game includes 108 (yes, one hundred and eight) characters to recruit, almost all of which can be added to the party and be played as. Each of these characters has their own story and personality, and if they are recruited and survive until the end of the game, each character has a separate prologue.

I think I’m rambling a little, but the sheer scope and the brilliant narrative of Suikoden 2 sets it apart from most RPGs to me. If you haven’t, I’d recommend playing it to any game enthusiasts, though it may have aged for those who didn’t play it when it was released.

Finally, what I’m currently playing. As an unemployed student, I still manage to play a fair bit, because eating and paying rent is for people who don’t have time to game. That said, I can’t afford to buy full-price titles on release, so I’m mostly limited to sales. I don’t pirate games, if only because I don’t want my games to be pirated when I start to make them commercially.

I’m currently playing The Witcher 2, because each previous attempt has ended in me getting distracted, and The Witcher 3 looks pretty incredible.

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So far, I’m loving it. As someone who plays way too many games to be socially acceptable, I’ve gotten pretty good at them, so I’ve started the game on ‘Dark’ mode. This means that as a player, I have to prepare a bit before combat, rather than just running in and killing everything.

More than that, I’m enjoying the story, particularly Geralt of Rivia (the protagonist). He’s a morally grey cynical bastard, and I can’t get enough of his interactions with other characters. For those not in the know, he’d fit right in with Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones, though Geralt can handle himself a lot better.

The game presents several difficult (actually difficult, not just good and evil) decisions, each with major repercussions on the plot. As a matter of fact, a fairly early decision splits the rest of the game into two distinct paths, and you’re asked to make the decision quickly without realising how important it’s going to be. When the repercussions become clear, the game does a good job of explaining how your decision led to this moment, making the player really feel the impact of what they’ve done.

All this is without mentioning the deep RPG gameplay and fun combat, but I think I’ve spoken enough about the Witcher 2.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve also been playing Bungie’s “Destiny” (one of my exceptions to the ‘no games on release’ rule). The game was released following the biggest hype train in the world, and for several people, it didn’t deliver.

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The game has famously received mediocre reviews – while I agree with a lot of the criticisms, such as a bad loot system and a lack of content for the development time and cost – I’m loving it. I’ve been playing it with friends, and it’s a blast. The raiding in particular is lots of fun, requiring real coordination and skill to succeed. It’s a bit refreshing after rolling my face on the keyboard for years of World of Warcraft and succeeding. Bungie (the developer) has promised years of content to come, and I can see myself in it for the long run, especially with the lack of a subscription fee.

I think that about sums it up. I could talk for hours on any one of these subjects, but I’m at about 2000 words now, which is probably longer than most people care to read at once. I’ll be updating the blog more frequently than I have been, though I’m not sure they’ll typically be this long. If you did make it this far – thanks for reading!

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