Fabulous Fiends of Gaming, Pt. 2

The time has come my friends, the time for me to list my all-time favourite game antagonists! Mainly because it’s easier to write lists than a proper piece of flowing text. Plus, people have this tendency to skim through things, and lists are a lot more motivating for them too. So I’m not selfish, I’m doing it for YOU. I think. Apologies if you actually DO take the time to read (part one, if you’re interested: https://pixelpub.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/fabulous-fiends-of-gaming/).

Anyway, without further ado, and in no particular order:

Andrew Ryan (Bioshock)

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A man chooses, a slave obeys!”

Before we begin, let’s just state the obvious – Andrew Ryan built a city under the Atlantic. He built a city. Under. The ocean. Think about how incredibly cool that is for a second. He’s like an obscenely rich Jacques Cousteau with a jackhammer.

Alright, now, as I’m sure you’re aware, Ryan built Rapture in an attempt to escape the social and political shit-storm that was post-WWII society. His ultimate aim was to create a place free from the “parasites” of the world, i.e., the governments and unwashed masses that all wanted a piece of the cake that he, and other self-made men (and women), had baked.  His introductory question at the beginning of the game – “Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?” – sums up his philosophy quite neatly, and the best thing about it is that it makes perfect sense. I love that in a villain, when there’s an understandable motivation that you might even share. It adds depth (see what I did there? Underwater city? Eh, eh?), and depth is good.

So, he builds Rapture, and in order to complete his little Utopia, he crams it full of the intellectual crème de la crème because they pull their own weight and can do what they want without being restricted by red tape and ethics and all that silly stuff. Clearly, Ryan never went to university. If he had, he would have known that putting a bunch of intellectuals in the same place would inevitably result in a fierce bout of dick-measuring. I shudder to think what Rapture must have been like, with the intellectual elites of the world shuffling about.

Another side-effect of the monumentally stupid decision of filling Rapture with geniuses was that no one wanted to do the important jobs, like cooking and cleaning toilets, which meant that Rapture soon turned into a real shit-hole, and everyone blamed Ryan, because he was the “leader”. Of course, all the smarties thought they were smarter than him and wanted his job, and BAM, you got an uprising. This caused Ryan to establish his very own personal dictatorship, effectively becoming what he was so desperate to flee from on the surface. Though I’m sure he didn’t see it that way.

There is something incredibly appealing in a fallen utopia, especially when it’s underwater, populated by genetically modified psychopath junkies, and ruled over with an iron fist by a corrupt visionary, who just happens to be your illegitimate father, who hangs the corpses of insurgents outside his office as trophies, and casually asks you to beat him to death with a golf-club. That’s why Ryan is on this list.

Hugh Darrow (Deus Ex: Human Revolution)

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“For humanity to survive … it must abandon ill-conceived notions of transcendence…”

Genius, billionaire, philanthropist, disabled. Slight deviation from the standard template, that’s a good start. On paper, Darrow doesn’t really seem like a bad guy – he pioneered the human augmentation technology, offering people with disabilities a chance to live normal lives, and he gives away lots of money to good things. At worst, you’d think he was some sort of bureaucratic asshole or white-collar criminal, so it’s pretty neat that he turns out to be a mass-murdering maniac. Oh, and a member of the Illuminati, but that’s less original.

So the general idea is that the Illuminati decide to use a very creepy type of software which will allow them to force augmented people under corporate control and kill them with a press of a button, a plan which really puts a whole new spin on the term ‘corporate tyranny’. Anyway, presumably Darrow wasn’t too fond of that particular plan, and decides to show humanity that it isn’t ready for augmentation technology by activating a global signal that caused the entire augmented population to suffer severe hallucinations and go on killing rampages. In a very twisted way, I guess he kinda got his point across.

What I find interesting about Darrow as a villain is the fact that he committed his most terrible crime by trying to prevent the other antagonist from implementing its  design of corporate slavery. Is the lesser evil really the lesser in this situation? Does Darrow have a point? Obviously, if one man can cause so much havoc, simply because of the way some people are, then the system is flawed – but could he have taken another course of action that would have resulted in the same level of social awareness?

I felt conflicted as I was about to condemn him for his insane scheme, mainly because I felt that his denouncement of the human obsession with perfection was highly relevant today, with all the perfect, pretty people in movies and adorning glossy magazine covers, telling us how we ought to look. I found that Darrow made a massive contribution to the poignancy of the thematically brilliant game that was Human Revolution.

The Stranger (The Walking Dead)

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“I hurt her … so bad”

When the  concept of revenge figures into a game, the player is usually the one dealing it out. That’s why the Stranger was so intriguing – not only was he seeking some sort of retribution, but he was pretty damn well entitled to do so! Why? Because I stole all his food, which ultimately led to the death and zombification  of his wife and child. Granted, it wasn’t just me, and if you’re stupid enough to leave your supplies unsupervised in a post-apocalyptic zombie world, you probably deserved a slap in the face, but I do see where the guy is coming from. It’s a bummer.

There was this really tangible sense of moral ambiguity when you killed him too, which is also part of what makes him a memorable antagonist. It was probably merciful, and he had the nerve to touch Clementine (NOBODY. Touches. Clementine.), BUT everything he did, he did because of YOU. Which sort of makes you indirectly responsible for what happened to Clementine, and for everyone dying while you were trying to save her. In a sense. it is the Stranger and Lee put together that form the over-branching source of antagonism for that particular arch of The Walking Dead. Not to mention the fact that he indirectly kills you, as you get bitten while you search for Clem…

This was of course, how things played out during my play-through. Now I’ll have to re-play the game to experience all the different outcomes… *sigh*.

Tim Curry (EVERYTHING)

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“At least I know you aren’t my son – there aren’t many who could say that…”

I don’t even know where to start. Tim mo’bleepin’ Curry! Premier Cherdenko from Red Alert 3, Arl Howe from Dragon Age: Origins, Doviculus from Brütal Legend – this is the most villainous man in all of gaming! There really isn’t much to say – his voice is the voice of evil! He’s an icon, a symbol, a beast with a microphone, and I love him and everything he does. Instantly recognizable.

I rest my case.

A Hastily Formulated Stream of Thought Concerning Fanaticism

After a long sojourn to the great outdoors with the aim of sampling some of the extraordinarily rare Swedish sunlight, I was relieved and excited to return to my gaming den as the summer rain finally came around. I was casually carousing the internet, and came upon a snippet of information regarding Dragon Age: Inquisition, as a result of my insatiable thirst for news on that particular title. The news, which I’m sure is pretty old for the rest of you, was that Bioware was “revising” the dialogue wheel of DAII, as the fans thought the paraphrased dialogue choices were the worst thing to happen to human speech patterns since motor neuron disease (what Steven Hawking’s got, and yes, I am paraphrasing).

It feels like I write about Bioware 80% of the time – but this isn’t just about Bioware! The company and its games do present a fascinating case study however, as I can’t think of any other fan-base so whiny and arrogant, so divided, and so tremendously spoiled by continuous appeasements and “compensations”. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed when I heard of the plans for the new dialogue wheel – fans are demanding what I presume is an actual transcription of the spoken dialogue when choosing what to say, supposedly because the tonal inflections were far too ambiguous for the player to be able to consistently convey their character’s true personality (Hint: the comedy mask icon means “funny”). Personally, I think it’s a bad idea because I like the spontaneity the paraphrasing provides for Hawke, as it seems less scripted when he/she is free to choose the words used to convey the point YOU are trying to get across. I find it especially amusing when the personality you’ve established for Hawke through dialogue choice shows when he/she chimes in without the player doing anything, e.g. party banter, cut-scenes. It makes for more of a character and less of an avatar. Then again, those are my personal preferences, and have no value on the internet.

HOWEVER! One of the more rational aspects of my worry are that the fans whining about the dialogue wheel will cause Bioware to spend time on that instead of the important bits, like Isabella’s curves for example.

She does put the wind in my sails though...

She does put the wind in my sails though…

I kid. Seriously though, there’s a LOT of dialogue in a DA game, and having a guy transcribing the PC’s every word just seems like a disgusting waste of resources to me. Improve the dialogue wheel by adding more options and tones? Yes please, here’s my money and a pat on the back! Waste time typing out every single word so that people who have a hard time with reading comprehension can breathe a bit easier? NEIN, NEIN, NEIN!

Then again, there’s no proof that’s what they’re doing, but it does serve as an example of the negative effects of fanatical nitpicking that are prevalent in the gaming community. I mean of course, the customer is always right and the producers have an obligation to give us what we’re paying for and all that, but we also have to understand and accept that the these guys created the freaking franchise that we are playing and loving. They have a vision, they do this for a living and know the limitations of their capabilities, and I think it’s safe to say that most of us do not. Granted, game developers have done a lot of shitty things throughout the years (I’m looking at YOU Gabe Newell!), and we are right to criticize those failures and shortcomings, we are right to demand improvements, results, whatever – it’s our money. BUT, if they listened to every loser on the internet, we’d be infinitely worse off than we are now – we’d have a lot more to worry about than a vague dialogue wheel. Just the other day, I saw someone on Youtube campaigning aggressively for an Elder Scrolls/Dragon Age crossover – just thinking about it makes me shiver.

I guess what I’m saying is, there are times when we should just try to let developers decide how to develop, without trying to stone them to death with our opinions (this does not apply to Microsoft, fyi – stone away!). I mean, if you’re at a restaurant for example, you don’t demand to come into the kitchen and supervise the cook, or make your own meal (unless it’s that kind of restaurant, or you’re Gordon Ramsey – though I doubt he plays games…kitchen simulator?), but you can complain about your meal when you get it – hell, you can even send it back and ask for a new one (Mass Effect 3).

We have the right to hope for perfection, not demand it, and if a game does not cater to your every preference, it isn’t the end of the world – though a vast section of select fan-bases seem to think so. I find it so frustratingly immature that people who disliked DAII, or ME3, or are frustrated by Valve’s silence concerning episode 3, or who are bothered by the poor port of GTA IV on PC etc, etc, respond by completely denouncing the developers – and are then joined by a horde of random people who are just looking for a bandwagon to jump on to, because they’re afraid of forming a personal opinion.

I realize that this is the way of things, and that fans of every franchise in every form of entertainment tend to act this way. When it comes to gaming however, it is a lot more sensitive. Few industries have such an intimate relationship with their consumer base, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a community where YOUR feedback has more power. Could you imagine Hollywood revising the ending of a film because fans didn’t like it? It’s a sticky situation to be sure; of course we should be getting what it is we want and pay for, but on the other hand, most of us seem rather confused about what we want.

Defend the underdogs!

When Bureaucracy Beats Entertainment into Brutal Submission

So, Don Mattrick, the “boss” of the spectacular fuck-up that was Xbox One, has recently left Micro$oft to work for Zynga, the soulless creators of bland and unimaginative mobile and social network games with terrible titles. You may remember Mr. Mattrick as the douchebag with the bad attitude, who stated that people who didn’t like the direction Xbox One was moving in should just stick with the 360 (see video below). In other words, a reiteration of the budding Microsoft trend of telling customers to “deal with it”. That is to say, taking a massive, upper-class dump on the core aspect of the producer/consumer relationship.

Today, Gamespot revealed that this bird-like asshole of a human being stands to earn over $40m through a combination of regular salary, bonuses, and Zynga stock rights within his first 3 years with the company.

http://www.gamespot.com/news/former-microsoft-boss-mattrick-set-to-earn-over-40m-at-zynga-6411068

I can’t help but think that if Zynga spent less money on their idiotic executives and more on their products, their so-called games would be… better. Though considering their repertoire, I’m not sure how much more mileage they can squeeze out of their pathetic excuse for a game company.

I’m glad that Mr. Mattrick didn’t find his way to a respected developer that creates quality games of course, but the whole idea of someone so obviously lacking in passion for the industry getting such influential jobs with such ridiculous salaries just strikes me as thoroughly perverted and makes me feel sick.

Bitchin’ on Bioware.

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So, E3 (at last!). I was irrevocably obsessed with the event ever since I learned that Bioware would be there with Dragon Age III – and I was not disappointed. We were finally offered a trailer which divulged that the two fan-favourite companions Morrigan and Varric are returning, amongst other things. However, as I was sitting there with the drool running down my chin and forming a gooey lagoon on my crotch, I noticed the comments section of this particular page. It was dominated by comments along the lines of “I hope it’s not the disaster DAII was” and “I lost faith in Bioware after DAII” – is it that gamers are cynical by nature, is it that they love jumping on the hate train, or is it simply because it’s the internet that positive feedback and genuine anticipation are so unfashionable?

Bioware made a game that had its fair share of flaws, and suddenly they’re a company that can’t do anything right? In fact, it wasn’t even that Dragon Age II was bad, it just wasn’t as good as Origins (depending on whom you ask). Similarly, a great deal of features that were practically crucified (e.g. the new party members), were actually very well executed/written/designed, BUT – they were not identical to what we’d seen in Origins, and therefore they were worthless. Essentially, when Bioware attempts to try something new with their game in order to make it more immersive and entertaining, they are automatically shot down by scores of raging “fans”.

Granted, there were numerous changes that were sloppy, poorly executed and lowered the quality of the game, but I feel that amidst those errors there were several wonderful improvements that made those missteps bearable at the very least. I also found that the negative changes were quite a bit smaller in scope than the positive ones were, and yet, the game is branded as a disgrace because of those negative changes, while the positive ones are left seemingly unnoticed. Since I’m quite certain we’ve all heard the reasons for DAII being a total suck-fest more times than we’ve heard Sandal say “Enchantment!”, I feel I want to highlight the things that were as good in DAII as they were in Origins, as well as what was even better. If my opinions don’t interest you, you’re allowed to skip this part and read my final point after the picture of Sandal.

First of all, combat in DAII was an improvement over Origins. Though the animations were a bit too shounen manga for my taste at times, the fast paced fluidity of it all sure beat the stale robotic hacking (or in some cases, staff-tilting) that was DA:O. Don’t get me wrong – I liked combat in Origins as well, but after playing a dagger-wielding rogue with the ‘momentum’ ability, all my other characters felt like they were moving in slow motion. In my opinion, the immersion suffered from this, as the game was very good at creating anticipation for a particular battle which unfortunately tended to result in something of an anticlimax when that battle was actually joined, e.g. the march on Denerim. What made the new combat system even better was the fact that the speed didn’t come at the price of tactical depth. In fact, they made a rather neat addition with the various effects caused by a certain class’s abilities which could only be exploited for increased damage by another class, but only if they had a power with the corresponding effect. This resulted in a lot more planning when building the characters of your preferred party, as you’d naturally want them to be as effective and cohesive as possible.

Another positive aspect of DAII I think is worth mentioning is the voice acting. Though, generally speaking, it was on par with that of Origins (that is to say, wonderful), DAII deserves credit for the addition of a voiced player character. I think it was a great atmospheric tool to have Hawke’s voice (and the facial expressions that went with them) colour the plot development. Female Hawke’s voice in particular is very well done – she makes me want to hit the gym so that if I ever meet her, I can impress her.  While we’re still on the topic of audio, I should also mention that the soundtrack was just as good as in Origins, albeit a bit different – I’m still not quite sure which theme I like more, though I will say that the wonderful end theme of DAII, performed by Florence + The Machine, provided an incredibly heartfelt post-game sensation. Very pleased with the way they handled that.

Now for a very sensitive issue, namely the story. Criticism of DAII’s story is rather commonplace on the webz, which is something I don’t quite understand, as DA:O’s story, which I think is rather cliché in comparison, is often lauded with praise. NO, that does not mean I didn’t like the Origins story – it’s the classic fantasy plot, with an antagonist wielding god-like power and an army of grotesque humanoids bent on destroying the world, and a select group of heroes struggling to stop them. Much like vanilla ice-cream, you never get tired of it. However, it also means that the story in DAII was undeniably more creative, and also brought the concept of ambiguous morality (qunari, mages vs. templars etc.) into the spotlight, whereas absoloute evil (darkspawn) took on a secondary role. That was refreshing. I also enjoyed how they linked the two stories together,  the idea that the macrocosm of DA:O was the cause of the conflicts in the microcosm of DAII. The concept of Origins being the thrown rock and DAII being the ripples in the pond provided an interesting contrast that added depth to the universe as a whole.

I could go on, but I’ve probably mentioned most of the things I’d say previously on this blog, so if you’re terribly curious, have a butcher’s at related posts.

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Anyway, my point is that: MORRIGAN’S BACK BITCHIZZZZZ!!!!

A. DAII wasn’t as bad as everyone wants to make it out to be, and:

B. Bioware is the company that rewrote the ending of Mass Effect 3 as a direct result of fan feedback, AND decided on the appearance of the female version of their main character based on a fan vote. When a company is so obviously dedicated to their fans, why would your first reaction to DAIII be negative based on the fact that you didn’t like DAII? Maybe I’m just too much of an optimist to traverse the dark void that is the internet.

Oh and, on a completely unrelated note – THE WITCHER 3 is at E3 asdnkaösknaölskdjaösdnhaosdhaspcjcbpsdifcpidsfbisdbfipgbsib (excited sounds)!

The Saints Are Marching In!

It is almost here. Saints Row IV. The return of pure, unbridled politically incorrect nonsense! Naturally, hordes of die-hard GTA fans are doing their best to put it down and declare the unworthiness of the Saints Row franchise. I bask in their hatred.

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On a more philosophical note, I find that Saints Row isn’t just a ridiculously entertaining series, but it also serves to highlight the freedom and creative potential of the video game medium. You want to play as the US President trapped in an extraterrestrial version of The Matrix, using your superpowers to fly around naked and shoot things? Why not? You want to play as a fat, balding blue-skinned gang leader who talks like a zombie whilst smacking people over the head with a massive purple dildo? Go ahead. 

Saints Row is a statement. You can do anything in a game, and make it seem relatively legit. The things I mentioned above would never work in cinema for example (maybe Tarantino could pull it off) – the concepts are just too extravagant, too silly for people to simply sit back and watch. However, if they were allowed to take part in the chaos, like they could in this game, it would be an entirely different story.

I hope you’re as excited as I am!