On Perceptions and Oblivion

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I don’t know if we’ve ever seen a more ambitious early-generation title than The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  By that time, especially following up on the critical and commercial hit Morrowind, the whole Elder Scrolls series was known for two thing; giant, expansive open worlds absolutely full of stuff to do, and not actually having any elder scrolls in the game.  Oblivion carried out all expectations of the former with aplomb, but shockingly, broke drastically with series tradition on the latter.  The gall of these folks.  But, when you’re leading a new generation, sometimes you have to move past your limits.

Perhaps as a result of being perhaps the most ambitious early-generation title in history, I don’t know of a game that’s aged so drastically and instantly as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  Although a multi-console release, it was developed around the Xbox 360 architecture from it’s nascent days, releasing a mere four months after the system did.  It’s scenery looked lovely, but its characters, looked……..

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Yeah.  Visually, even the best parts of it, most of the launch titles available at the time well outpaced it.  They were new at incorporating voice acting into a game this size, which led to a lot of awkwardness both as it meant the characters had a lot less to say than they used to, and oddly, everyone sounded so much the same as all characters of the same race and gender were played by the same actor.  DLC was a new thing, and this game was obviously experimenting with the market for that, mixing both the instant-joke expensive but useless horse armor with the could-absolutely-be-it’s-own-game bargain Shivering Isles expansion.  And they had tried to correct some problems of the old games that didn’t really need to be corrected, leading to a lot of clumsily-implemented features, such as the counter-intuitive leveling system that quickly became infamous.

Thing is, the presentation may not be much, but the foundation of the game is very solid.  The Elder Scrolls have always been at their best making you buy into the world, at feeling like it was a living, breathing thing that you were truly a part of.  At its best, the Elder Scrolls would make you forget about this dumb meaty world where all your problems are and get you believing in this place where adventuring rules the day and people will regularly hire warriors to collect the laundry they lost at the end of a monster infested cave.  It really excelled at that.  The engine may have been hopelessly glitchy and the quest streams may be endless, yet they did serve the immersive experience this game really drove.

What’s really strange to me, though, is just how much my perceptions of this game have been driving by the video games environment I played it during.  Usually I’m well able to isolate things, and just enjoy them on their own merit, but not so much this game.  I remember playing it shortly after Morrowind.  Back then, I experienced the game as a definite step forward in terms of engine, a game that was more directly interactive and less reliant on behind-the-scenes dice rolls and bore a lot more quality of life features that really enhanced the experience, even as it did simplify a significant amount of the gameplay.  It was lacking character compared to its predecessor, having followed up a very alien realm by turning what was supposed to be a very Roman-inspired jungle nation into the standard fantasy thing you’ve seen over and over again, and the advent of voice acting significantly cut down on what people had to say, but it was still a really full and solid experience.  Coming back to it after Skyrim, I found the game somewhat obtuse, somewhat inelegant, and again lacking in character and depth of world in comparison, and clearly outshone in different ways by both games on either side of it, but still a very solid experience.

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And now?  Well, I enjoyed it enough to give 70 hours of my life to it, but even so, once again, I’m getting a very different perspective on it.  It’s builds its worth on the whole open world thing, of making you feel a part of this whole experience beyond just your screen, and it has a giant world of its own, so it definitely should be able to stand on its own, but I still find myself constantly and incessantly comparing it to other games.  The Elder Scrolls has become the standard in open-world design, and open world has become so in vogue right now.  Zelda does open world.  Mario does open world.  Monster Hunter does open world.  From the 2D Platformer to the 3D Platformer to the 3rd Person Shooter to the Open World game, that now seems the default for basically everything released.  And so many other games have taken and absorbed everything that once made Oblivion unique, to the point that I now have the same experience I do with so many other historically important games, the developmental milestones in the form that were once unique to this game but have proven so influential that all the ground they broke has been paved into a superhighway.  It’s interesting to see where it comes from, things have gone far beyond it now.

I think every time I’ve played this game, I’ve had a different take on it.  And when I come back some years down the road, when, at the rate things are going, everything is a Battle Royale game, I wonder if I’ll have a different take on the game then.

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Smash DLC Predictions

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I’ve fallen for the new Smash Bros.  Hard.  This has happened before.  The original, Melee, Brawl, I’ve got hundreds of hours in all of them.  I ended up kind of meh about Smash Bros. 4, for whatever reason, so I wasn’t expecting too much about Ultimate.  Just picked it up on a lark, really.

And yet.  And yet.  I can feel it.  I’m falling off the wagon.  I am so into this game.  It’s just clicking for me, when I had assuming either the magic was lost with the last game or I had just moved past it.  It’s good.  I’m loving it.

So, in case you haven’t been on the internet for a while, one of the fun things to do with Smash is speculate about which characters are going to get into it.  Used to be that this sort of hobby would dry up after the game came out and cut through the knot.  Now, though, thanks to the magic of moneygrubbing, we have DLC to keep the questioning alive post-release.

We know there’s going to be at least six DLC characters for the game.  Two of them are already out, Piranha Plant from Mario and Joker from Persona 5.  So four to go.  And I am excited for it.  I reaaaaaaally don’t get excited for DLC; usually if it’s not in the base game, I have a hard time trusting the quality of it in advance.  But here, I find myself already getting the season pass.  I can’t understate it, that is quite a shift for me.

So let’s join in on some of that same fun speculating.  There’s going to be four more characters.  Who are they going to be?  Here’s my predictions.  I’ll say I’m probably wrong on all of these, but you know what, that’s not the point.  The guessing is fun.  I’ll also say that I’ve not yet exhausted all the spirits, unlockables, and probably assist trophies in the game yet and I’ve been avoiding looking these up for spoiler’s sake, so there may already be information I’m missing.  But based on what I know now, here are my best guesses as to which Amiibo’s will soon be adorning LightningEllen‘s shelf.

Ryu Hayabusa-Ninja Gaiden

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Yeah, yeah, I know.  Even through just a cursory search online, this one’s a really popular guess.  Not leading with something unique here.  It seems strong to me, though.

Koei Tecmo and Nintendo have seemed to have a strong relationship of late.  They co-own Fatal Frame, Koei Tecmo has contributed a lot of games towards the NES classics available with a Switch Online subscription, Hyrule Warriors was a big success that was supported and updated longer than any other game on the Wii U, they followed that up with Fire Emblem Warriors, there’s a lot going on across the two companies.  But as yet, the only representations Koei Tecmo seems to have in Smash Bros. Ultimate are a Fatal Frame-based assist trophy and a few assist trophies from the same series.

I’m pretty confident that Koei Tecmo is going to get one character in on the upcoming DLCs, just based off of how strong their relationship seems to be with Nintendo.  And of every character Koei Tecmo has, Ryu Hayabusa seems most likely.  Even with Bayonetta and Snake in the mix, Nintendo’s still keeping things mostly family friendly in Smash Bros, and I don’t think they’re going to go any stronger on a horror game series like Fatal Frame than they already are.  Ryu’s probably the most prominent character Koei Tecmo has, and would represent both the Dead or Alive and his own Ninja Gaiden series here.  He’s the biggest part of gaming history of any of Koei Tecmo’s characters, as well as having the biggest presence on Nintendo systems, which isn’t a perfect indicator of Smash inclusion anymore, but it still does seem to be something of a factor.  And he’d have plenty of content to be drawing from.  If Koei Tecmo is getting one of these DLC characters, as I believe they are, Ryu Hayabusa seems the strongest option.

Jibanyan-Yo-Kai Watch

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Yo-Kai Watch is a property published and marketed outside of Japan by Nintendo, with Nintendo of America making key release announcements about the system.  Nintendo seems to be innately involved in this game.  It’s a multi-media property that seems to have developed a very dedicated following.  And yet it seems to have absolutely no presence in Smash.  I find that rather suspicious.  It seems to me the only way there wouldn’t be a spirit or an assist trophy or something from Yo-Kai Watch would be if they had other plans for the property in Smash.

Hence, the DLC character.  I know next to nothing about Yo-Kai Watch.  Seriously, this is a series that has almost entirely escaped my notice.  I know the people who like it really like it.  Just hasn’t come across my desk.  I picked Jibanyan because he seems to be the most visible… thing.   Yo-kai?  Mon?  Of the game.  The one that always pops up on all the art and posters and stuff.  He’s the Pikachu of the Yo-Kai.  I can’t speak with any nuance as to why it’d be him specifically outside of that, or what he would play like, but just you watch.

RabbidsRayman Series

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Yeah, I’m not super happy about them.  I really loved Rayman’s Raving Rabbids on the Wii.  But really, one game of these guys was enough for me, and I can’t imagine they’d make the most fun character to play.  Their loud slapstick really doesn’t seem in line with the Smash environment either.  But here we are.  I’m guessing that they’re an upcoming Smash DLC character.

With Smash 4, Ubisoft got the world excited with the news that Rayman was going to be in Smash, then immediately let them down by following that announcement up with the words “as a trophy”.  Seemed rather pointless then, didn’t it?  And it was.  But what’s happened since then?  I’ll tell you what happened.  Mario + Rabbids happened, that’s what.  It got attention in player spheres because of the sheer amount of emotions the developers demonstrated at seeing their game presented by Miyamoto at E3, but it’s since proven to be an actually pretty good game.  And one that Ubisoft has supported and updated for a good long while, now.

I’m operating on the assumption that if they’re already a spirit, they’re not getting into the game as a DLC character.  So that cuts out Rayman himself, as well as several of the specific Rabbids from Mario+Rabbids.  The garden variety version of them, though?  I haven’t come across one of those yet in spirit form.  And they’ve been a series that were born, grown, and thrived on Nintendo consoles from the Wii up.  So, it seems natural that they’d soon be BWAAAAHing up in Smash, too.

On the plus side, if I’m right about this, then that means that both Pokemon and the Ninja Turtles share a universe.  If we can get the Rabbids crossing over with Batman, too, that would be all of my childhood action figure storylines come to life.

Lloyd Irving-Tales of Symphonia

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Bandai Namco, under the direction of the eternal Smash headman Masahiro Sakurai, provided the staff to make this game.  Yes, it’s a Nintendo game through and through, but it was Sakurai and Bandai Namco that actually put it together.  Yet the only character Bandai Namco got into Smash is Pac-Man.  I would be absolutely shocked if they didn’t have at least one character in the DLC lineup.

And Lloyd Irving seems like the most likely option to me.  Not that they don’t have a huge list of other properties to choose from.  It could be Dig-Dug, but I feel he’s lost to the annals of time.  Same with Mr. Driller.  Someone from Soul Calibur wouldn’t be too out of place, but I feel that series doesn’t have a really strong stand-out character.  Heihachi from Tekken also seems a really likely option, but I struggle to come up with ground for that character that’s not already covered.  Lloyd Irving, however…

Tales of Symphonia was one of the best and most prominent games on the Gamecube, and filled a really solid space in the RPG library that was kind of lacking on that console.  They even followed it up with a sequel on the Wii, although that one wasn’t quite so exciting.  And in Smash 4, you could get his costume and hair for your Mii Fighters.  And you noticeably cannot with this game.  You could do the same with Heihachi, as well, sure.  And again, he also does seem a really likely option, but I’m tipping the scales over to Lloyd just thinking of atmospheric fitness.  But what do I know, maybe they’ll both get in.

So, that’s me.  That’s my guess.  Along with all the hundreds of thousands of others out there.  Am I going to look super cool once these characters actually come out and I’m totally right as always?  Is time going to prove me a wistful idiot?  We’ll see.

Analyzing Games the Aether Way

If you’ve read some of my older posts, you probably know that I just love to put too much thought to many of the games I play.  Explore the themes.  Read into the little features.  Even when the developers didn’t intend that to be there.  Especially when the developers didn’t intend that to be there.  You probably also know that I am an amazing human being, and every living human either desires me or desires to be me.  You wouldn’t think that would be related to my tendencies for over-analysis, but to be honest, I don’t know how I make my magic work, so it very well could be.

Maybe you want to be amazing just like me.  You shouldn’t.  You should want to be amazing in your own way.  But if that way involves analyzing video games and other creative works, maybe I can help you with that.  Let’s take a case study, and go over the sort of unconscious method I use to dig into the plots, the settings, the themes, the meanings, the hidden little features of things in a way that makes experiencing them so much more meaningful to me.

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To play along, I ask that you give Loved by Alex Ocias a go.  It’s a quick little platformer, minimalistic, not really heavy on the mind, but it has a lot of features that we’ll be able to apply the following lessons to.  So please, if you have 10 minutes to spare, give that a quick playthrough before continuing on with the rest of this post.

Anyways, let’s get going.  You want to analyze a game?  Here’s how I do it.

1: Understand Your Filters

We’re all on our own lives here.  Every single one of us has our own backgrounds, morals, beliefs, values, set of experiences, and whatnot.  Your family, your friends, your work, all of them will have their own, different cultures.  Every one of us has our own path through life, and have absorbed so many little unique bits into ourselves that make up a huge chunk of who we are today.  And that impacts the way we view our media.

Assuming most of us here are human adults, our brains don’t experience most things in a vacuum.  Rather, our brains will process stimulus by comparing it to what we’ve experienced in the past and basing it on that.  Our past experience color and change the way we have our current experiences.  We have lens.  Biases.  Filters.

Usually, this is not a bad thing.  These lens can become overpowering, to the point where you’re primed to see something based on almost no indication and you ignore the contrary and deeper points and you end up having big, dumb, easily refuted rants about the deeply offensive targeted political statements of Princess Tutu or something, but most of the time, they’re just a thing to be aware of.  They can be helpful to you, in fact, giving you an interesting and unique way of looking at the media you’re going through.  And these change with time as well, as we all go through life.  Our understanding of the world evolves, and with it, the way we enjoy our fiction.  To make the most use of them, however, you need to know what they are and where they’re coming from.  Knowing what you connect with and why, what’s going to make the most impact on you and how it gets there, is really the prime step in going for a deeper understanding.

So, in the case of Loved, it starts of strong with just its title.  For those of you who aren’t playing along, a) c’mon, seriously? and b) Loved is a simple platformer where the narrator is continuously putting you down and ordering you to do things which are commonly not in your best interest.  Obeying the narrator adds more details to the environment and gives the interactable objects distinct shapes, but leaves the world black and white.  Disobeying adds color to the world, but leaves things as indistinct squares.  There’s only two characters in the game, you and that narrator, and you’re given very little details on either.  Because of the title, you know it involves love of some sort, and it’s clearly an unbalanced sort of love, with the way the narrator treats you, but other than that, the specific impression of the relationship between the two, that all comes from you.  So who were they?  A romantic couple?  Parent and child?  Owner and pet?  The game gives little indication.  Your sense of their relationship is going to come from your filters.

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Reaching Out on Mobile Games

I’ve invested into my gaming computer, and although I’ll never be an overclocker, I still have a pretty good rig.  With the exclusion of the Virtual Boy, I’ve owned every one of Nintendo’s consoles and handhelds.  I have the machinery to play any Playstation game I want.  The lower section of my TV stand is an absolute mass of gaming equipment, with a web of power cables that put most spiders to shame.  And yet I’ve never owned a phone that I could play any significant games on.

It just never really mattered to me.  I use my cell phone to call, text, take pictures, and idly surf the internet.  If I’m going to get games, I’d rather use a console.  It’s been rare that I’ve felt the need to even download an app, outside of the ones that are tied to my job somehow, but I’ve got my second cell phone provided by my job to handle that and make my pockets less comfortable.

I’ve had this $20 phone I got years ago, and have been really happy with it.  My service provider, however, has not.  They’ve wanted me to upgrade.  I’ve held up, until lately when they’ve announced my old, reliable phone wouldn’t work on their new network, and offered a lot of credit towards an upgrade.

So now I have a nice phone.  That can run pretty much anything.  That I never really wanted, but ok.  Now, players have denounced mobile gaming as being a haven for ‘filthy casuals’, but they denounced the Wii for the same thing, and you know, I have tons of phenomenal games for the console.  So I’m figuring there’s some real gems in cell phone gaming as well.  But I’ve been completely blind to that sphere of the craft.  So I’m reaching out to you all.  Those of you who’ve been riding the cell phone curve farther ahead of me, what games have  you enjoyed on your phone?