Last gaming post for a while. Promise.

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Mass Effect was so pretty I couldn’t stop taking screenshots.

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I was smitten with the game almost immediately: it has this iron command over it’s narrative and setting, and a grand cinematic sweep almost consistently throughout. And I have to admit, I have a soft spot for games that allow you to choose and customize your main character.

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I loved playing as Jane Shephard (the default name for a female main character, pictured below, on left). The voice actor playing her part nailed the role perfectly, adding a sense of gravitas and weight to an already emotional story (where, for once, the romance is actually not embarrassing and quite sweet, in an odd gamey way).

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Heteronormativity rears its (ugly) head

What’s also incredible is the realization that, inspite of the level of customization possible with your main character, and you can create some amusingly grotesque protagonists if you so wish, the engine seems to create an extraordinary amount of expression for him/her, and its impossible not to be charmed by your character’s repertoire of faces: alternately grim, confused, angry, heartbroken and even amused.

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The plot is engaging, intelligent. The gameworld is intricate and carefully thought out: it’s a far cry from the traditional masculine sci-fi fantasy realms we’re so sick of in gaming. Even the choice to play either as male or female is an interestingly weighed one. A lot of games that feature the option seem to do it out of mere tokenism: where, apart from slight changes in grammar, there’s little difference otherwise.

Of course, one could argue that there doesn’t need to be, but that sounds like a slightly lazy approach.

In Mass Effect, this choice, and I could be mistaken, seemed…important. It seemed to offer a distinct variant of a gameworld depending of choice of gender.  Consequently, the game confronts a lot of interesting issues, and offers surprisingly contemporary viewpoints on xenophobia, and gender, and sexuality. And being a game, and therefore interactive, it packs quite an emotional punch.

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Marc, before you ask, these ARE in-game screenshots

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It’s lovely. Please play it if you can.

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Happy Birthday, A!

June 13, 2009

Today is A’s birthday! A, you’ll remember, is my friend and frequent partner-in-crime, who sometimes features in the comic strip. Like so:

 (She looks nothing like that, by the way)

So today is her birthday, and in celebration and acknowledgement of the fact that I’m currently 3000 kms away from her current location: we have a little celebratory bash happening. Performing the Birthday song, we have none other than….Sex Bob-omb

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Happy Birthday, A!

 

More photos of the mysterious guitar guy follow:

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Good night, peoples. 

 

The best kind of games bleed temporarily into your real life. 
The original Thief, The Dark Project made me wary of streetlights, summoning an inexplicable urge to shoot off the bulbs with arrows.   
The much-maligned but oft-magnificient Mirror’s Edge converted what was previously a patchwork of urban rooftops into pathways, routes, and opportunities for multiple fractures. Often with an ambient soundtrack playing through your head.
The Phoenix Wright series, whose depiction of the justice system was about as accurate as Cricket 97’s idea of cricket, made me seek out every opportunity to shout Objection! and Hold It! (getting the exclamation marks in was the difficult part) in every conversation. Many friendships were lost in that brief, heady, uncertain time.
Vampire The Masquerade goes a step further. Whatever blood-fuelled frenzy channeled the mystic energies responsible for this title (it was undoubtedly blood-fuelled) had uncertain side effects i’m sure the creators were unaware of. What manner of alchemy, pray, makes one return to this game like a ghoul to her sire in the dead of night, promising yourself, rather uncertainly, that just one more quest would satiate the hunger till the next break of dawn. 
Infact, after a few days, dawn itself begins to lose its allure. Sunrise is too bright, too piercing. And when the real-world doorbell rings in the middle of your sneaky break-in into a kine apartment, you’re half-tempted to turn and hiss, like a kindred channeling her feeding frenzy. 
See what it did, there? Bloodlines bleeds slang into the real world: it bleeds its language, its unique visual grammar. The very rules that govern its twisted, dark characters and places. 
It’s the most effortlessly intelligent game I’ve played: with a script that oozes style and edge, and situations that make the quests in even Fallout 3 look positively childish.
But you can’t get over the sense of tragedy that underscores the title. It’s costly development led its creator, Troika games, to financial ruin. It’s an unfunished, often buggy game that was rushed through the door before the studio shut shop. It could have been the template for all future RPGs, but it wasn’t. 
We’d all have our own personal holodecks by now if that had happened. Instead, we have this:

 

The best kind of games bleed temporarily into your real life. 

The original Thief: The Dark Project made me wary of streetlights for nearly a month, summoning an inexplicable urge to shoot off the bulbs with arrows.   

The much-maligned but oft-magnificient Mirror’s Edge converted what was previously a patchwork of urban rooftops into pathways, routes, and opportunities for multiple fractures. Often with an ambient soundtrack playing through your head.

The Phoenix Wright series, whose depiction of the justice system was about as accurate as Cricket 97’s idea of cricket, made me seek out every opportunity to shout Objection! and Hold It! (getting the exclamation marks in was the difficult part) in every conversation. Many friendships were lost in that brief, heady, uncertain time.

Vampire: The Masquerade (Bloodlines) goes a step further.

Whatever blood-fuelled frenzy channeled the mystic energies responsible for this title (it was undoubtedly blood-fuelled), they had side effects I’m sure  even the creators were unaware of.

What manner of alchemy, pray, makes one return to this game like a ghoul to her sire in the dead of night, promising yourself, rather uncertainly, that just one more quest would satiate the hunger till the next break of dawn. 

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Ooh. Pretty.

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Ooh. Atmosphere.

Infact, after a few days, dawn itself begins to lose its allure. Sunrise is too bright, too piercing (The game itself is set in a perpetual night. Sunlight, after all, is anathema to the vampires (referred to as the ‘Kindred’, in game)) And when the real-world doorbell rings in the middle of your sneaky break-in into a kine apartment, you’re half-tempted to turn and hiss, like a kindred channeling her feeding frenzy. 

See what it did, there? Bloodlines bleeds its slang into the real world: it bleeds its language, its unique visual grammar. The very rules that govern its twisted, dark characters and places. 

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Heather. Definitely among gaming's best-written characters. Of all time.

It’s the most effortlessly intelligent game I’ve played: with a script that oozes style and edge, and situations that make the quests in even Fallout 3 look positively childish. Forgetting the ‘game’ part of it, even taken as a work of fantasy: its worldbuilding is incredible.

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In the game, some of the Kindred believe that the Biblical Caine was the original vampire.

It’s a game that populates its world with people who have personalities, and not  just quest dispensers, or plot advancers, or monologue-deliverers. Take Beckett, the vampire archaeologist, pictured above, with whom you can have a freewheeling discussion on the origins of vampirism for no apparent gameplay purpose. Or Prince LaCroix, self-proclaimed monarch of the kindred, whose political machinations hover over the plot just out of reach, his intents always just beyond understanding:

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But nothing illustrates the attention to detail in this game more than playing as the Malkavians. The Malkavians are a slightly…unhinged clan of vampires. Choose to play as them, and EVERY dialogue option in the game changes into bizarre, semi-coherent psycho-babble:

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'I Shall Undertake Your Dark Tutelage' may possibly be the best conversation line ever.

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I can't help but say 'lulz'.

Then there’s the sense of tragedy that underscores the title. Its costly development led its creator, Troika Games, to financial ruin. It’s an unfunished, often buggy game that was rushed through the door before the studio shut shop.

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The creepy Nagarajas

If Bloodlines had been the template for all future RPGs,  we’d all have our own personal holodecks by now.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, we have this:

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Jeanne D’Arc

June 4, 2009

The story of Joan of Arc is an intriguing one, one fraught with both the difficulties of reliable historical record, and the manic glee of myth and eulogy. 

The facts of Joan’s life remain, 500 years later, shrouded in uncertainty. But she is an enduring symbol, claims of divine providence and problematic christian overtones notwithstanding. (Her Wikipedia page is excellently balanced)

So when I found that Level-5, the game studio responsible for one of my favourite titles: Professor Layton (We’d really like that sequel now, thank you) had also developed a role playing game called ‘Jeanne D’Arc‘, I was quite pleased. 

The game claimed to be an ‘autre histoire of Joan of Arc, heroine of France.’ Now, Level-5 are an intelligent bunch, and they have a knack for wrapping compelling stories around unique premises. I was expecting a layered interpretation of the Joan of Arc story, perhaps one that cleaved the common ecclesiastical readings of her life, and took a broader look at French society during the Hundred Years War. Joan is fascinatingly divisive as a character: driven, strong, and succeeding against all the odds, but attributing all her drive and ability to a divine hand, claiming to be guided by the ‘voice of God.’

All in all, a fantastic premise for a videogame: and perhaps a chance to prove that the interactive medium can really contribute to a layered, systematic and deeper understanding of complex historical topics. 

Sigh. 

Well, okay. I was a bit wrong. 

Jeanne D’Arc offers what I can only call a Cardcaptor Sakura interpretation of the Joan of Arc tale. It replaces political intrigue with demon hordes from the netherworld, and accurate historical representation with a bonkers story about magical armlets. 

This is all, of course, AWESOME: right up there with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in its importance as historical record. While I still have the faint disappointment of dashed expectations somewhere in the back of my head, most of it disappeared by the time the Lizardmen appeared during the siege of Orleans, and a large anthropomorphic lion claimed to be the leader of the French garrison. 

It’s hard not to be charmed by a game where Jeanne, who looks like this: 

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leads the French, who look like this:

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Against the British, who…um….look like this:

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My favourite is Henry the VIth, who’s transformed from infant monarch to demonic poster-child:

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P.S: I’m surprised at the lack of concept art and wallpapers for this game on the net, which is a shame because the game is visually excellent. The title screen itself is a stunning piece of art…I couldn’t find it in all it’s glory, but here’s a cross section of what it looks like (without the japanese text, of course):

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Excuses, Excuses

June 3, 2009

I have none this time. I’ve been lazy. I’ve drawn just two the last two weeks. =(

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This new scanner’s a bit geriatric, and seems to see everything placed in its 8×6 eye through a misty white haze. 

Meanwhile, while rooting around the house, I located an old digital tablet somebody seems to have bought for some  presumably important purpose. Trouble is, its missing the pen. Without it, all it does is beep morosely, constantly switching its single LED indicator from green to red. Poor thing.