November 26, 2004

Game Over?

It’s the same song every year around this time. Coming up to the holiday season, the mainstream news media latches on to the video game industry and makes up a bunch of big stories. Are video games too violent, which system should I buy, which games are most popular, video games make more money than Hollywood, blah blah blah. People, none of this is news anymore. Most reporters who are outside looking in haven’t hit upon a worthwhile topic in years. It’s just a big excuse for them to either ride on the coat tails of a popular topic or incite fear in the hearts of worry-wart soccer moms.

Well I’m not going to talk about any of that stuff. Rather than talk about how games are popular, I’m going to talk about what’s wrong with the industry right now. I’ve been playing video games for a long time, and I see a whole host of problems that hardly anyone seems ready to acknowledge.

1- Mature Games: Too many gamers out there have this high and mighty attitude about them, thinking they are too “mature” to play anything that isn’t dark and violent or what have you. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they go out of their way to make fun of the games and the people who enjoy them, totally closing their minds to the possibility of these games actually being fun! People, that’s not mature. That’s immature! What’s worse is that the business itself is doing nothing to buck this trend. If you haven’t played games like Super Mario Sunshine, Pikmin, or Katamari Damacy just because you think they are “childish“, then I honestly pity you because that’s just sad.

2- Online Gaming: So playing online is supposed to be a big revolution, right? Well, that’s great and all, but when developing an online mode takes away from the single player experience, or worse yet, takes away from actually making the game good, then who cares if it’s online or not? Especially if it’s a game where there’s hardly anyone online to play with. And then there’s the other extreme, where a brilliant game comes out with plenty of great features, but the included online mode is a throw away extra with several limitations. Online shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of a game, nor should the inclusion of an online mode have a significant effect on a review or whether or not a game gets released on a certain system, but if you’re going to do it, do it right! And while you’re at it, don’t make me have to pay extra for it either.

3- Lack of Originality: Too many sequels and too many games based on movies have been big problems for a long time, and everyone has acknowledged that. So why is the problem getting worse? Do we really need a new chapter in the saga of “whatever” rushed out every year? If you’ve got to give us a sequel, spend the extra time to make it worthwhile, and give us something new in the meantime! The real problem here is that people are all too excited being force fed the same sort of games, year after year, and when something new and original comes along, it gets ignored. Come on, folks. Step out of your little box and try something else.

4- Marketing to a Release date: This is becoming a big deal. Look at how many big Triple-A titles have been released or are being released soon for the holiday season. Big, huge games. Too many of them. There are too many games and not enough time and money to play them all, which means that some games are going to be lost in the shuffle. See last year’s “Beyond Good and Evil” for an example of a game that got great reviews but didn’t sell because of over saturation. Must they all be released at the same time, just to capitalize on the holiday buying season? If the gaming market is getting bigger and older like people in the business like to boast that it is, then it shouldn’t matter very much if a game comes out in time for the holidays. We’ve got our own money, and we’re going to play games whether or not Santa Claus leaves some under our tree in December. Instead of rushing production of a game for the holidays, and potentially sacrificing the quality or cutting promised features to meet the deadline, why not release the game when it’s actually done? Spread things out a little so that we’ve got something to play in March or August, when hardly anything new comes out.

5- Games becoming too complicated: People like to brag about being “hardcore” gamers, and the industry has been catering to them. But if so many games are being made for the hardcore, then where are the new players going to come from? The business needs to expand. People who wouldn’t ever think about playing video games are never going to if they’re too complicated. You shouldn’t have to memorize button sequences or navigate menu screens to do anything cool. Make it more intuitive and stop scaring people away.

There’s much more to it than this, like the swelling of budgets and development times, but simply as a player removed from the industry itself but a follower nonetheless, these are my major issues. he only reason why I have these issues is because I love video games, and I want to see the industry flourish. People may think that Video Gaming is huge today, but I feel that if some of these problems are not taken care of, then a snowball effect is going to either severely cripple the industry, or make the future of video games one that I wouldn’t want to play in.

On a similar topic, check out this livejournal post from a former Electronic Arts employee who was fired. He’s speaking out against the policies of his former employer in the hopes that something will change. It’s long, but very fascinating reading from someone who’s worked on the inside.

Anyway, what am I playing now? Well, I’m about a year behind the times, but since it recently became a Player’s Choice title, I picked up a copy of “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker“. I love the Mario games, but I had never really gotten into the Zelda games until now. It’s an amazing game, far removed from the problems I’ve just listed, and I’m really enjoying playing it. So while all these other folks are shooting hookers in Grand Theft Auto and killing evil Teletubies in Halo 2, I’m cutting grass and breaking clay pots with my sword for rupees! It’s great!


November 23, 2004

Freshly Baked Japan

I have a really hard time believing when people tell me that they don’t like anime. They may think that they don’t like anime, they may not have ever seen an anime that they like, they may only have ever been exposed to the dubbed, edited, and sanitized anime found on TV for children, but still, for them to say that they don’t like anime and just be done with it, never to give it a second look, is just ignorant.

Anime is not a genre. It’s just a medium, another way to tell a story. Any story. To say that you don’t like anime is like saying you don’t like movies or books or vegetables. There is such a wide variety of anime out there, encompassing all genres for all age groups, that I refuse to believe a person can’t at least find one that they enjoy. And once you find one and start to become accustomed to the culture behind it all, it’s really easy to get right into it and start widening your horizons. Soon you’ll be checking out all sorts of various shows based on topics that you’d probably never even think to watch and find yourself enjoying the hell out of them.

Case in point is the show I just started watching this past weekend. It’s called “Yakitate Japan” and it’s all about making bread. Yeah, that’s right, I said bread. Now, I’ve never once baked bread before, and I can’t say that I have much interest in the expansive universe of bread, but I’ve totally gotten into this show. Essentially it starts off with the typical anime cliche of a young boy who has a natural gift and a lot of potential, but is quite clueless of the details regarding the world he is about to enter. He has but one goal; to create a bread that will overtake rice in the hearts and minds of the Japanese people and become worthy of being known as Japan’s national bread. Sound exciting? Ok, no, not really. But in it’s execution is where it really shines. The animation, direction, characters, wild imagery, and storytelling take this topic that most would find boring and turn it into a very compelling series. Plus, the attention to detail is fascinating. All of the science and chemistry that’s involved with baking is in there, so even if you had no interest in the topic beforehand, it becomes a lot of fun to learn something new through watching a cartoon.

The other quality I like about this show is the cultural quirkiness about it. The Japanese language makes for a lot of potential puns, and this show is full of them. Even the name of the show itself is a play on words. “Yakitate Japan” essentially translates to “Freshly Baked Japan” or something along those lines. “Pan” is Japanese for bread, and thus the word “Japan” in this context is a clever way of saying “Japanese bread“. Luckily, the people responsible for the fansubs have taken it upon themselves to explain all the puns. Makes me feel somewhat cultured to learn about the subtleties of the language like this.

This is the kind of show that would never come out of the US animation industry. While the suits in LA are worried about key demographics and selling toys, shows like this are coming from Japan. It may seem strange at first to admit that you’re watching a cartoon about bread, but it’s so entertaining that you can’t help but to enjoy it. I’ll be watching this show for awhile. So for all you haters out there who refuse on whatever principals to watch any and all anime, I urge you to branch out a little and try something new. I guarantee that if you look hard enough, you’ll find a freshly baked series that you’ll enjoy.


November 17, 2004

Don’t be a Gun.

Finally, after years of delays, the Special Edition DVD of the spectacular animated film “The Iron Giant” is available today.

Words can not express how much I love this movie. It’s easily one of the best animated movies to be released within the past 10 years. It’s an all ages movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s a kiddie movie. It’s just as thrilling and gripping to an adult as it is to kids. There’s no singing animals or dancing teacups, it’s just a solid movie that happens to be animated.

I remember seeing it when it first came out. Aside from my dad, my sister, and myself, the theater was pretty much empty. I left thinking what a shame it was that only a handful of people turned out to see such an amazing film. Sure enough, when the box office results came in later that weekend, The Iron Giant was buried in 8th place. How sad. Warner Bros. did very little to promote their own product. But the movie’s reputation would spread over time. When it was released to video, I was working at a video store and did my best to use my position of authority over the masses of pop-movie consumers to make sure that everyone knew how great that movie is. Nowadays most people who know what they’re talking about know how great this movie is, but it’s still largely unknown to the general public.

There has been a standard DVD available for quite some time, but it was a barebones release. The promised Special Edition was constantly pushed back and was released now in order to capitalize on director Brad Bird’s new movie, “The Incredibles“. It shouldn’t have taken so long to get here, but it’s here now. So if you love animation, hell, if you just love good movies, then go and show your support for this underrated gem of a film and check this movie out.

Everyone should see this movie. Everyone. Don’t be a gun. Watch it.


November 15, 2004

Into the Dungeon.

Had an interesting and somewhat difficult time teaching yesterday. Not because of the students, though. They were great. It was because of the building and the people running it. The rooms that we usually hold our classes in were occupied and became change rooms for some sort of ballet recital. There were little girls in pink tutus with their panicking parents all over the place. It was insanity. So it was arranged for me to have a room somewhere else. Unfortunately, this room was pretty far away from the usual place where the students know to show up, throwing a huge monkey wrench into the operation.

The Dungeon

So this is the room, sort of a dungeon/nursery in the lower floor of the Community Center’s library. I don’t know exactly the sort of activities that take place here, but I can tell just by looking around that I am far too old to take part in them. Not the ideal place to teach how to draw anime, but I had to roll with the punches. But the thing is that no one else who was working there knew that I would be occupying this room. So as I’m setting up before the students were to arrive, someone involved with the library looked inside with a “What the hell are you doing here?” kind attitude about her.

She says to me “Can I help you?
And I say “Nope! I’m good!” Heh heh heh.

That’s not all, though. See the projector on the left side of the picture? I usually get a TV in my regular room that I can hook a DVD player up to show anime and illustrate certain points I try to make. I didn’t have the TV this time, so I hooked my DVD player up to that projector instead. There was a gigantic roll of shiny white paper there, so I decided that I’ll tape some of that to the wall to use as a makeshift screen for the projector. Well the aforementioned employee who tried to “help” me earlier came back as I was cutting a piece from the roll and was all upset, asking about if usage of this paper was in the contract with the building operators. All I could do is tell her who my boss was and to go talk to him. So a bit later he comes down and asks about this white paper he was told I was using.

How dare I use this precious paper.

I pointed to that. Already frazzled by the day’s events being sprung on him like this, he just sighed and said “Oh my God“, as if to wonder what the hell was wrong with these people.

So we go back upstairs and start rounding up our students. His students were put into a different room around the corner, while I had to wait for mine in the lobby and then take them through the library and then down into this dungeon. I did the class as best as I could under the circumstances, and the students were good sports about it. I was able to turn the experience into a running joke through the lesson, talking about how our classroom had been overrun by dancing zombies in pink tutus. I was not too far off from the truth.

I usually plaster the walls with anime posters, but this room already had a permanent set of decorations for young children that the students didn’t enjoy so much. Case in point is this politically correct, self affirming series of images taped to the wall.

Everyone can be a star in the dungeon!

Everyone can be a star? Yeah, except for the dude in the green shirt on the right. That guy is hopeless.

What a tiring day. When I got home I just crashed with exhaustion. I hope I don’t have to deal with that sort of thing again. Though I’m sure I’ll be dealing with some other disaster eventually anyway.


November 12, 2004


You know, sometimes I’m am simply forced to sit back and scratch my head in utter bewilderment. This doesn’t happen very often, but when people prove, over and over again, just how dumb they are, I can’t help but to wonder… WHY?

If there are people out there who dislike my website so much, then why do they keep visiting it? If someone could please help me answer this question, perhaps I can finally find enlightenment. So please, tell me your theories, because it just doesn’t make any sense.

I would think that the concept of not exposing oneself to something they find unpleasant is fairly rudimentary, is it not? If you don’t like this website, then just don’t go to it anymore!

Is that so hard to understand?

Logic, people!