Category Archives: my view

Gaming in a Bubble

It doesn’t look so bad, at first. Gamers start with structures and routines and improve our mental reflexes, test our psychological boundaries and have varying regard for the morality of life. Yes, the absolute morality of family and integrity upon which world culture was founded. Now that we understand that, there is a very real problem arising in gaming that is far more severe than an economic bubble.

Let’s not get lost in who is right, because where raising children is concerned, shaking off responsibility for them is never correct. The point here is to focus on the impact of confirmation culture in a more pervasive yet subtle medium. In no other media can you be confronted with a moral choice and then be enabled to perform an action that can form your response.

Even the capacity to affect a moral choice is determined by the game developer: Some games present choices as having no consequence. Even rooting through a stranger’s home for goodies has established itself as a trope in adventure role playing. Since, developers have taken the issue more seriously and introduced mechanics of voluntary assistance from Non-Player Characters in such games.

Invariably it is up to the developer to decide how they will portray the impact of the player’s actions in their reality. However, there is something deeper bubbling under the surface of all the achievements and accomplishments that gaming has to offer: Futility. What is the ultimate value of saving the world, even if you can express how much fun you had with the others who played the same title?

As with all media, the accepted fact that there is little ROI (Return On Investment) to be had in most games, as we want more than we can have, and appreciate what we acquire even less. Games are so easily had now that there is almost no satisfaction, so we must look to other things. Can we share the experience? Will YouTube, Twitch or Patreon make it possible for us to attain some measure of celebrity to passify our discomfort?

Therein lies the quandry. Having obtained an accomplishment, we want to put it to use. In that way, gaming is limited. Unless the skill we acquire translates to practical application, then we are bereft of purpose. What’s more is some of these activities only reinforce behavior that in some cases is actually criminal.

Understand that all game genres have their extremes, but do we play fast and loose with the acceptability of these things? To justify them, we often do. Violence in games is the most obvious example, but “cultural differences” that extend to the treatment of both sexes can quickly become questionable. The sexualization of children and victimization of others is never right. What is the extent of our awareness and involvement?

Some of the most powerful examples are “hidden” behind levels of difficulty and time requirements so that the general public is unaware of them. Mortal Kombat is a sensational of gore satisfaction, and does not carry with it the emotional investment of games like Bioshock, The Walking Dead and others. Visual novels, in particular, invest the player emotionally as a core mechanic by simulating dates and – in some cases, debasing – sexual encounters.

Harmless fun, to wit? Mass Effect’s romance options were seen at first as mind blowing, but are now looked back on as awkward and cringe worthy. Why carry on with someone who will never do more than follow a script? Is that not fit cause for jealously? If not, why not? Don’t you deserve every bit of the devotion you entered the relationship to share?

We’re playing in a dangerous bubble, friends, and is there not enough of an example of where that train will end up in the so called leader, who shall not be named? I know I’ve asked more questions than provided answers in this post, but I intend to follow this path to it’s logical conclusion. Let’s start with being honest about the things we participate in.

To Be Continued.

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Chrono Trigger – The Underdog

This article was originally featured at HonestGamers.com

Where I Began
I have a vague recollection of the first time I picked up a Super Nintendo Entertainment System controller that vaulted me into Chrono’s distinctive reality. Memory can be vague, and I could imagine that it was in the company of a friend, or with a “Rental” sticker on the cartridge; perhaps it was the time I relived the adventure in retelling to another Role Playing Game fan who had yet to discover the ground breaking, time travelling tale.

That is perhaps part of the inspiration for Chrono Trigger, I could easily ascribe such, logically. However, my experience with the game was probably not much different than yours. I ran around, stole lunches, drank competitively, beat up a robot; checked on the girl I’d knock over first and definitely did not wait around for her to decide what candy she wanted.

Then I was judged summarily guilty as a subversive terrorist against the Kingdom and locked up in a tower. What a morning! To suggest I wasn’t have a great time would be a mistake, even though I learned, much to my chagrin, that the game was taking notes about my choices. That there were tangible consequences to my actions was a lesson I did not forget.

I didn’t care for a second that it was genius world building, mechanics-in-story seamlessly interwoven. This is a game that defined how time travel mechanics, world building and character design needed to work. No one aspect of its design received less attention than any other, and this is apparent even in detailed analysis.

Chrono Trigger is a masterwork of pixel art, eight channel orchestral character themes, strategic turn based combat and some of the most memorable characters you’re ever likely to meet. With character designs by Akira Toriyama, music by Yasanori Mitsuda and Nobou Uematsu, this is no doubt the console’s most ambitious title. Many of RPG gamings most familiar tropes got their start here, even if it did not originate them.

A Fantasy of Power
Chrono Trigger’s defining quality is its ability to allow you to become invested in your choices. Even if you don’t care, personally, for Marle, the rudderless princess you knock over, concern for her life and your impact upon it places you squarely in the middle of events. Your personal involvement with each of the characters not only dictates how much work you put into them, it also determines the outcome of the game.

To quote Nick Fury, “Ever been in a war, Councilman? Did you feel an over-abundance of control?” Each choice you make has an ever outward scaling knock-on effect that draws you to an apocalyptic conclusion seemingly beyond your control. You can escape death, rescue the princess, thwart the tyrant and even befriend the monster, but can you prevent the destruction of all humanity? Perhaps the ultimate answer we seek is addressed by Chrono Trigger: We can decide the outcome of the future.

Grandmastery
The heads of the creative team behind Trigger are considered grandmasters of their respective art. Their music, character design, pixel art and world design have inspired countless people to try their own hand at it. I submit there is no greater achievement than that. Let us not forget that the programmers also achieved an incredible feat on the aging console.

I remember being astounded that I could talk to someone and then run around the screen with the dialogue page still on screen. At the time I called it “multitasking”, though in truth it’s probably closer to task switching. Ever the techhead, I was impressed at the performance of that little grey box. Spell effects were impressive, many of which filled the screen in a showy fashion not before thought possible.

To say that these developers and creators were at the top of their craft is a fact, and they pushed the SNES to its limits and proved it still could awe the fans … without the use of any in-cart accelerators, I might add. There is no substitute for creative talent, and Chrono Trigger stands as a testament to that fact. So why is it so easily overlooked?

Progression and Heroism
I stared in heartbroken awe as Chrono’s sixteen pixel tall figure was disintegrated by Lavos’ vicious attack. Then, as Undertale would say, I was “filled with determination”. I had rescued Marle from death, and didn’t believe for a moment that he would succumb. I knew in advance that he was locked as the first party member for a reason.

It wasn’t cynical anticipation; I knew something terrible was going to happen. I’d watched games try new things and was curious what was next. Excitement may be a strange attribution to player death, but I trusted Chrono Trigger to continue to give me choices. When given the opportunity to restore the timeline, I got right to it. I know now I didn’t have to bring him back, but here’s the thing: When I play Chrono Trigger, I can’t bring myself not to.

I feel obligated to bring order back, to restore what is ruined, to vanquish darkness and win the day. I know it stems from the deeply rooted sense of right I have within me, and here’s something else: I’ll never try to get any of the other endings. Stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this.

Your Ending
There are thirteen distinct endings in Chrono Trigger, and each can be effortlessly pursued thanks to New Game+, which grants you all of your prior equipment. You can defeat Lavos at less than half of your party’s maximum strength. That is a clever hint; all of the game’s potential has not been exhausted, and neither has yours.

In 1995, no one was told Chrono Trigger had multiple endings. The Internet was slow and communication was sluggish and not centralized. Translation: We didn’t have Facebook, Skype, Discord or any social media forum of significance. I don’t know how long it took for word to get around about alternate endings, but our perception of the game as complete was transformed. I didn’t have access to Chrono Trigger to explore the other endings, so for me, it was, but I don’t recall wanting very much to pursue them.

Did I find the man in the spacesuit underwhelming? Mechanically, not at all. “Core Lavos” can still be a tough fight if you’re not on your toes or privy to its defenses. Akira’s designs have a tendency toward silliness, so I wasn’t exactly surprised. Defeating Lavos, though, isn’t the point of the game.

Cause Without Root
The emotional resonance we talk about as reviewers, players and critics, is a blustery way of saying “I felt that.” Determination to win was what the characters, quests, music and art gave me. I remember feeling joyous – happy-sad – when Marle was re-united with Chrono. It may be ironic that Chrono Trigger doesn’t have a lot of emotional resonance.

All of its storytelling force comes from its ability to make you want to complete the goals that you own. They aren’t your goals; they’re preset, and can be broken down into a flow chart of relatively simple cause and effect events. We know that doesn’t lessen their meaning, because we make simple choices all the time. The difference is we get to see the resolution, or conflict, that comes of those choices in a short time frame.

Stories struggle with multi-universe scenarios. Chrono Trigger’s successor, though not direct sequel, Chrono Cross, is a branch of that narrative root. Players, when presented with forty characters to chose from, would chose not to play the game. Would a direct sequel have worked better? Would it even have been possible? I doubt it; other games have tried to recapture the magic and been panned in the attempt by critics and fans alike.

Chrono Trigger speaks to the power of our choices, and the uncertainty of consequence. Perhaps if it had just one ending, it would be more favourably regarded. It does not pretend that your choices do not matter; that there is only one possible outcome. It takes a risk and entrusts you with the fate of everyone within its world.

Why do I call this an underdog? Chrono Trigger changed how RPGs played and our expectations. It is easily glossed over as one of the best RPGs of all time, possibly because of its signature art style and narrative themes. When the world had moved on to Final Fantasy Tactics, critics still recognized Chrono Trigger’s deeper influence.

Is it preservation that has caused Squaresoft, and now Square Enix, to shut down every reinterpretation of its work? Three dimensional worlds do not suffice, novels of great respect, nor even a modest upscaling or remastering of the original assets behoove. Their narrow path of marketing does seem puzzling in the face of so many remasters of their other franchises. Let’s wrap this up.

Conclusion: Infinite Inventory
Chrono Trigger is a seminal classic. It has a novel presentation that relates the power and powerlessness of choice. Its music is some of the industry’s finest, and extolled strong female characters well before it became an industry focus, thanks to Lara Croft (also released in 1995). It continues to sell in a largely unmodified form, ported to many platforms.

It’s greatest weaknesses are indeed simple: Akira’s particular art style may just rub you the wrong way; the main storyline is uncharacteristically short. Some music themes can overstay their welcome, rarely exceeding a minute in length as was typical of the SNES. Multiple endings can be a chore to pursue.

Nonetheless, this is widely regarded as a must play, and is available on mobile for Android and iOS. If you’re retro-curious, it was also ported to PlayStation One and Nintendo DS with additional features including animated cutscenes, additional endings and more. ‘Nuff said.

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Planning for failure

I spent twelve years composing music (“tracking”) for Trideja, and having officially retired sometime in … 2001, I’ve stayed in contact with those still active in the scene and even contribute here and there when time allows. Tracking is a time consuming process, moreso than picking up any instrument, though that’s not the measure of its value. Continue reading

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Messy Transition (Hopefully Not)

I’m going to migrate the content of my gaming blog to this, as I realized there’s no reason to segregate the material. It may upset the cart a little here as I play with themes that incorporate the images I use in the reviews posted there.

Thank you for your patience.

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David, Thank You

My thoughts are small at this time, they certainly seem so in the wake of the loss on such a great scale. I have never known a man able to connect with experience so honestly, and I know I never shall again. He was a man of the time, greater than any time lord, more fragile than any child, stronger and broader than any foundation. Continue reading

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How To Make a True Random Playlist

‘Psuedo-random’ is how I heard a programmer refer to most number generators. What makes one truly random I have no idea, but a real impact of this process is seeing the same numbers on rapid succession, hence the psuedo. Continue reading

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Retail Rocks

We seem to have come at it from the wrong end of things: if it’s broken, throw money at it. My nephew made an amusing and accurate observation while we examined the purpose of three waist-high rock laid on the corner of access to a parking lot. Continue reading

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Don’t Stop Writing

So much can get in the way, but for every successful writer I have witnessed one constant: A trail of countless words. Be a critic, be an editor, find your specialty, but don’t stop for a moment. Get a few words in a day, or every other day, once a week. Continue reading

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On it’s face; Carrying on Anyway

So no quality reviewers. I’ll admit it; but there’s lots to do, so, moving on. Requiring approval has never been a thing for me. All that being said, I have been getting quite a lot thanks to Twitter. What useful tool! More the flavor is followers who think I have money (to spend on them) or might be a source of profit (ditto). Continue reading

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Quietly rewriting Sector Bomb

Sector Bomb is, under another title, at present, a big fat draft. I love big fat drafts. They’ve got lots of ideas, plenty of editing and ‘text grunt work’ – tons of stuff that needs improvement I can’t even see yet. Unfortunately I wrote it from the wrong perspective. That’s the lesson planning teaches you.

How do I know that? Technically this is a story that needs fleshing out, the conflict is concerned with the environment, and the narrative doesn’t reflect that. It’s not the worst problem to have, because switching from first person to third limited omniscient (my favorite) is not only a treat, but it’s what I need to do.

Buddy is too gentle, too narrow due to his nature, and relies heavily on others to shed light on him. He’s one of my dark skinned characters, and I’ll say it now; he’s not black. He’s got his own issues, but as Aaran says “He’s a good kid.”

The re-writing is being done ‘on the back burner’ as I like to call it, and so I do other stuff in the meantime. It means I’m delaying the chapter by chapter release until I’ve got it all started. Concept covers indicated to me that narrative changes need to happen … thankfully it’s all there. No samples, as I normally would, since this new work has to get all the attention.

What about Bold Curves: I’ve changed most of the story titles and Ahead on Machined Shoulders is in the mill. I’d like to be through the first draft of that by the end of next week, so soon after it should appear on Wattpad. It involves a character who does things no one else can, so I feel it necessary to give it the right time to percolate.

Ah, hey, before I sign off, here’s a sample from We Met Haisha:

Sonata was recovering from toxin freeze. I wasn’t happy about it, but I always got upset, even it if wasn’t my fault. Which it wasn’t. Sonata isn’t the strong type – she’s an android, like me, but not a strong one. She’s fast, agile and intelligent.
She also recovers half as quickly as I do from exposure to the toxin. I asked Father about it. He was sympathetic, but direct.
“It’s her body type. You can afford to have denser skin due to your body weight and power output.”
I grimaced at him as if that made any sense. “Just because I’m a robot doesn’t meant I get the … oh. That makes sense.”
He reached up and tousled my hair, which I immediately smoothed back into place with a frown. His words weren’t consoling. I moped around for several days until she was able to start verbally brow beating me about it again. I didn’t apologize for being so mopey, and she didn’t make me.
I guess she understood.
Lady Vanadyl was up and around, but brooding. What about, she wouldn’t say. I asked, too. It wasn’t the usual concern about Windshifter, Lady Sarle, or Grendier, Mishan, or even Ayani. Garen was off on some hunter-gatherer thing, Akai was working, and Winter was offside, visiting Esuna on Talon Colony. That left Natali.
“It’s not your business, pipsqueak,” she growled, not giving me the benefit of eye contact.
“Everything’s my business. I don’t have anything else to do.”
She looked at me as if I’d said something sarcastic, or wry, but knew better. I don’t treat Aaran like that as a matter of respect. Her right arm twitched mechanically and she sighed, letting it drop at her side.
“You need to rescue a friend of mine. I’ve not wanted to ask you because every time Sonata gets exposed you gloom and doom the place up,” she admitted finally. “Sarle’s getting more crysolen. If you go now the weather should hold.”
“Who’re we rescuing?” chimed Sonata’s voice from the corridor. I looked at her. She was already dressed for the trip.
“The only survivor of the Northumberlund Ark. I just got a message from her, so you’d better hurry.”

Read the rest at Wattpad.

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