A small change can make a huge difference

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UPDATE:  Now that Bioshock Infinite is out, I now know that both outfits are in the game.  This may seem disappointing, but the events surrounding the outfit change are handled well and there is enough of a good reason for the outfit being a bit risque.  I am still very satisfied.

Bioshock Infinite was one of my most anticipated games of last year (and this year, since it was delayed).  I was already pretty hyped after the reveal trailer, knowing how much I enjoyed the original, but it was the lengthy gameplay snippet from E3 2011 that made me unable to contain my desire for the final product (if you still haven’t managed to see it, I advise you do it NOW).  After I saw the demo and a video showing some of the VO recording process (also great to watch), I knew that I needed to go into media blackout until the game’s release.  This is something I will often do with games I really want to play.  The less I know about the game, the better.

A few days ago, I received the latest issue of PC Gamer.  I saw that Bioshock Infinite was on the cover and knew I was going to avoid reading the article about it immediately.  While flipping past the article, I noticed something about one of the images.  It showed Elizabeth, the character you escort around for most (?) of the game, just standing in a shop.  What caught my eye about this image was that the outfit she was wearing was entirely different from the one I remembered from the demo.

Why would I notice something this small?  Well, if you’ve seen the outfit she was wearing in the E3 demo, you would know why it stuck in my mind.  It was a blue dress that was quite over-the-top with the amount of cleavage it revealed, especially considering the time period the game takes place during.  In the PC Gamer image, she was wearing a much more modest white shirt (pictured above) that fit her character much better.  It took me entirely by surprise, because I hadn’t seen anything from the game since the middle of 2011.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that this had changed.  Elizabeth seemed like a very interesting character in the demo, but her outfit had always been a bit of an annoyance to me.  I’m not saying that displaying cleavage, or femininity, is a bad thing; it just seemed glaringly out-of-character for her, even from the little we actually know about her design.  It almost felt as if the outfit was meant to appeal to the large segment of males in the audience.  Ken Levine, the creator of the game, didn’t seem like the type to let something like this be in his game, so it seemed very odd at the time.

This makes me wonder if the change was a response to the forum chatter about the character’s design around the time of the demo’s release.  I know that I wasn’t the only one that thought the outfit was a little unappealing and distasteful.  Others wanted it toned back as well, and it would seem that Levine listened to us.  Of course, this could very well just be a costume change that happens partway through the game, but I’m not so sure.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see that this is just the new design for Elizabeth for the entirety of the game just because it fits the idea I have of her so much better.  If this is the case, I applaud Levine for making the smart choice to change the outfit and doing so in a way that speaks more strongly to the character wearing the outfit.  I feel this sets a strong precedent for the industry at large.

I really hope other developers notice this design choice and try to implement it into  their future games.  All too often, I’ll play a game where a female character is dressed in a way that obviously doesn’t fit the character and just seems like it was meant to pander to the large male audience.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen poor design choices like stealthy spies wearing high heels or hardened warriors wearing midriff or cleavage-exposing suits of armor.  It breaks my immersion into the world and just insults everyone by saying we like this kind of thing.  It is entirely possible to design an outfit (or even armor) that is both appropriately feminine and doesn’t seem out of place in the world the character inhabits.  Fire Emblem: Awakening does a great job of this.  All the women wear armor that covers them entirely while also emphasizes their beauty and character.  It is possible to have it both ways; it just takes a bit more creativity and work.

As someone who already has a bit of trouble immersing himself in a video game’s world, I really appreciate developers that make intelligent decisions with their character designs, ensuring that the outfits make logical sense in the world they inhabit.  I’m not saying there isn’t a place for crazy outfits and designs; I just think that those types of costumes belong in a game that suits them better.  Take Bayonetta with the outfit made from her own hair and her absurd high heels .  Even though she looks quite ridiculous, her outfit really seems to fit in that world and with her character.  That’s all I want from my games, really.  Creativity shouldn’t be squelched, but I think more developers should pay attention to the different pieces of their world, ensuring that everything fits together a bit more logically so it doesn’t ruin what the creators originally imagined when they came up with the idea.

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Persona 4 Golden Review

Let me preface this review by saying I wrote it specifically to post on Giant Bomb, knowing that that community is pretty deep in with Persona 4 already.  I absolutely ADORE Persona 4 (and Golden is even better!) but didn’t feel like writing a full review for it.  Instead, I just talked about the new content, something I knew might interest people on Giant Bomb.  If you want a real review of the game, you should probably look elsewhere.  If you’ve played the original and want to know more about Golden, read on.

 

This really isn’t a review of Persona 4 Golden.  I’m not going to talk about the gameplay systems or the story or any of that.  It’s been done before, by writers much more skilled than me.  Instead, what I wanted to do was mention some of the new features in Golden, and why they make the game so much better, as a HUGE fan of the series.  It may not be much of a review, but I still feel it is worth writing about.  WARNING: I will spoil a bit of what can be found in the game, but I don’t discuss all the new plot points.  Be warned if you don’t want to know any of this.

First off, let’s just talk about some of the changes made to the game, not the new stuff.  Skills were changed around a lot in this update.  Your team members end up learning things in different orders or even entirely new skills as they level.  Most notable is the fact that their Personas no longer automatically lose their weaknesses; now, a resist skill of the correct type is learned at max S-Rank.  This is more of a pain than a blessing, because the skill has to take up one of the eight skill slots on their Personas.  There is also the opportunity to go out on dates (different from Social Link events) with each member to either relearn moves you have previously forgotten or to learn new moves from (what seems like?) a random list.  This means that, for example, you could end up giving Yukiko a Mudo skill or something similar.  These are small changes, but they are smart ones (a common theme in Golden) that let you have a bit more control over your team members’ moves.  While talking about skills, I have to mention probably the most amazing change in the entire gameplay part of the game—you can choose which skills to pass on from fusion!  No more endlessly pushing X then O to cancel until you get the right set of skills; just pick the ones you want from a list and go.  I understand why the original game didn’t have it, but it feels so much nicer to have the ability to pick what I want instead of waiting for some RNG to give me what I wanted.  This is a change I pray is in future Persona games.

A smaller change is the ability to leave your house at night, whenever Dojima isn’t around.  You can find your Social Link friends outside for dates, pray for relationships at the shrine, or go to work via the bus.  I consider this a change, not new content, because it’s just the town you already know at night.  It’s a small change but adds a lot of flavor to Inaba, flavor that wasn’t exactly needed but fits in so well.  Books have changed a little too.  You can now read whichever book you want when you sit down, instead of being forced to continue reading the same one until it is finished.  There is a new menu that keeps track of them all and how many chapters are remaining in each individual book.  Even cooler is that there are new books with actual effects, such as faster reading speed or better ability at the fishing minigame (which has also changed slightly).  There is actually a reason to read books on second playthroughs now, as some of these effects can be useful even for a fully-maxed stat character.  Finally, the developers thought to put in a fast-forward option which is a godsend for multiple playthroughs.  By hitting Start during any dialogue scenes, the game will fast-forward through it all at a blinding pace, complete with VCR sound effects and screen distortion.  It will shave hours off a new game’s time, and it is a great tool for those just wanting to play through the game again and ignore the story.

Now, let’s talk about the more interesting elements of Persona 4 Golden—the new stuff.  This release is PACKED with new content that matches (or even surpasses!) the original content of Persona 4.  The most enticing elements for fans of the original are probably the new scenes, Social Links, and areas to explore.  A shocking number of new scenes were added to Golden, and they are great additions that rarely feel superfluous or like they didn’t belong there in the first place.  Many of them are tied to holidays such as Halloween or winter break.  A few tread entirely new ground, like when the group has to form a band to perform a concert at Junes.  As crazy as that idea sounds, it works beautifully and isn’t something I made up.  As for the new Social Links, there are only two.  Adachi was a character in the original game but had no options for conversing outside of cutscenes.  Now, he has a Social Link that ends in a very shocking manner, something you really need to see for yourself if you’ve seen the True Ending of P4.  Marie is an entirely new character, but she plays a big part in the story too—if you finish her Social Link and see her arc through to the end.  She’s a very unique character and manages to stand out surprisingly well in a game full of crazy, memorable characters.  I came to enjoy my time with her very much.  Last but not least are the new areas in the game—Okina City (which fans of the original probably remember) and Shichiri Beach.  Neither of these areas is as fleshed out as the town of Inaba, but each has its own distractions and events to entice you to visit.

Plenty has been added inside the television as well.  Rise has gotten a few new skills.  First, she can actually aid you during your All-Out Attacks, increasing the damage dealt.  Spending more time with her on dates will boost the damage she adds to these attacks.  It can get quite extreme and makes those fights where you can knock everyone down that much quicker.  Even more impressive is her ability to buff your team in a variety of ways when she feels like it.  This means party-wide buff spells, extra HP or SP, charging up every member of your party for double damage, and even protecting them if someone is about to die.  These happen extremely frequently, especially during lengthy boss battles, and make them a great deal easier to deal with. It certainly makes Rise feel much more like someone actively supporting you in combat, instead of just an annoying voice in your ear.  Team-up attacks have also been added.  When certain pairs of team members (Chie and Yukiko, Teddie and Yosuke, Naoto and Kanji) are present in your part, they will sometimes initiate an extra attack whenever an All-Out attack fails to kill all the enemies.  These are complete with unique animations and quite often finish off those baddies you didn’t quite get.  Team members outside the party can now also perform their Follow-Up attacks from outside of battle, with the use of their scooters (obtained during the story).  These knock the enemies down, just like any other Follow-Up attack, but give you an extra chance of it happening.  None of these changes are monumental, but they help combat flow a little smoother.

Cosmetic costumes have also been added to the game.  You can buy these items in Okina City, receive them from quests or story events, and maybe even find a few through special means.  They go into their own equipment slot, separate from armor and accessories.  All they do is change the look of your party members, sometimes even giving them new battle animations and quotes when the fight has concluded.  There’s a great variety of them, from the cool and clever to the creepy and fanservicey.  This was easily one of the bigger problems I had with Persona 4, as it got a little tiresome to watch the same four models for hours on end.  The costumes are never too crazy but add a bit of fun to the game as you dress Yosuke, Yukiko, and the others up as you like.

Some of the coolest stuff comes in at the end of the game.  January and February are now playable months in the game (if you’re going for the Good or True endings, at least).  Before, the game skipped from early January to the day before you went home on the train.  Now, these playable months give you a chance to catch up on Social Links and see a few new events before the final dungeon rolls around.  A really neat addition is that you can hang out with your level 10 S Links one last time and get them a third-tier Persona.  These all come with an ultimate skill that does something really special.  My favorite example is Chie’s new skill, which boosts the attack, defense, and evade/hit rate of all party members (for a whopping 150 SP!).  They aren’t all winners but are interesting to use and feature new animations.

This time period is also when the new dungeon takes place, but only if you have maxed out your Social Link with Marie and instigated the dungeon’s discovery.  As great as it is to have a new dungeon in Persona 4, it is not a very well-designed place.  It adds mechanics unlike any other dungeon in the game, such as stripping you of your items and making you lose half your SP after every encounter.  I found myself running past as many enemies as I could here, because it would have otherwise been a slog.  There is a cool new boss fight at the end, and it ties up the Marie story, but it doesn’t really have much going for it other than that.  Worth seeing at least once, but maybe not on every playthrough.

An epilogue has also been added for those who receive the True Ending.  The main character returns to Inaba a month after the events of Persona 4 Arena and sees all his friends again one last time before the credits roll.  Most of them look very different, obviously intentional changes to show the player how much these characters have grown, especially Nanako.  It’s cute and fun but not perfect.  The problem I have with this scene is one of continuity.  In Persona 4 Arena, the cast of Persona 4 all look EXACTLY the same as they did in the original game.  That game took place two months after Persona 4.  This epilogue is only another month later and everyone looks wildly different.  What changed so much in that single month?  It’s a nitpicky thing, I know, but it kinda bothered me.  I know that the creators just wanted to do a bit of fanservice by changing up the looks of the characters we know and love but that continuity slip really bothered me.  Even so, the scene is worth seeing—unless you were angered by what I just described.

The final thing I want to bring up is the music.  Persona 4 has one of my absolute favorite soundtracks of all time, and I would have thought that adding anything to it would just take away from the other tracks I already knew.  Man, was I wrong.  There are quite a few tracks and most of them kick an amazing amount of ass.  The two most notable new tracks are the new battle theme (which plays if you don’t get Player Advantage; otherwise the original track plays) and a stellar 8-bit version of the boss theme for the Shadow Mitsuo fight.  The other tracks are just as good but those two are definitely the best of the bunch.  If you like the Persona 4 music, be prepared for even more of that exquisite tuneage.

As you can see, there are a ton of changes to Persona 4 Golden.  I didn’t even come close to talking about all of them here, just the ones I thought were most important to someone curious about this version of the game.  I could (and still can) hardly believe that Atlus was able to make Persona 4 an even better game.  The changes are almost all smart and worthwhile and the new content is a breath of fresh air for those of us who have put hundreds of hours into the original game.  My only regret after playing this was that I didn’t put it on my Game of the Year list for 2012, since I hadn’t actually finished it yet.  It was absolutely worthy of the number one spot.  If you haven’t played Persona 4 yet and own a Vita, GET THIS GAME NOW!  If you’re a fan of the original and want to know if this new version is worth it, GET THIS GAME NOW!!!

Why backwards compatibility isn’t that important

With new gaming consoles looming on the horizons, speculation is spreading throughout the Web.  How powerful will they be?  Are the controllers going to be the same or change dramatically?  Will I need to overcharge my credit card in order to afford one?  This buzz is pretty intense, especially with Sony’s event in just a few short days.  However, I don’t really want to talk about that.  The main reason I bring all this up is to talk about one such discussed feature that is always mentioned when new consoles are about to hit – will they have backwards compatibility?

Backwards compatibility is of course the ability of a console to play games from the system that came before it.  This usually means that the system has to build something either into its hardware or software to allow it to run older games.  Hardware emulation is when the original parts are included within the system and is usually more reliable (but harder to include cost-wise).  Software emulation is a way of tricking the game into thinking it’s being played on the older system, which can be much more finicky and prone to bugs and glitches.  This concept is something that has existed for a quite awhile but only became a sticking point for consumers in the last few generations.

I’ve seen many forum posts in the last few weeks discussing the potential of the new consoles not including backwards compatibility.  It wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility; the time and money it takes to develop these features isn’t usually worth the return, and the last generation of consoles gave up on backwards compatibility pretty quickly (with the Xbox 360 ceasing to add new games to its BC list and the PS3 taking out the feature in newer console revisions).  Some comments I’ve read shock me with the level of vitriol they have for Sony or Microsoft for potentially not including these features.  Some even say that this feature is a “deal breaker” and that they won’t buy a system without the feature.  I think this is absolute insanity.

Is it nice to have backwards compatibility?  Sure.  It means one less thing I need to have plugged into my television if I want to play an older game.  Is it necessary for it to be there at all?  Not really.  Obviously, if I have the older games I probably also have the older system to play them on.  It can be a hassle switching out HDMI ports and power supplies but if I really want to play those older games, I can stand a little hassle.  I still have a PS2 attached to my television, for crying out loud.  I know and understand that many people sell their old consoles when the new ones come out.  If you care that much about these games, how about you just don’t sell the older console?

Backwards compatibility is a convenience, not something we should demand a console to have.  It just creates more problems than it solves for console developers and might even cause other, more important features to be cut out.  Think about the 100 friend limit on Xbox Live, said to be an issue because of holdover from the original Xbox’s infrastructure.  Do you really want stupid issues like that on your next gaming console?

Tutorials have gone a little overboard

Tutorials, as many of you have probably experienced, have gotten a little out of control in the last generation.  Not just tutorials but the constant guiding hand of the game creators leading us through the game.  Assassin’s Creed games are my go-to example for this conundrum, as they are easily the worst I have seen.  Every game takes around 5-10 hours reiterating all the stuff you remember from past games.  During this time, you cannot really freely explore, and the game slowly opens up its various parts for you to access.  It is the main reason I haven’t bothered playing AC3 yet, because I’m dreading that excruciatingly slow build-up until I’m given free reign.  No matter how many games there are in the series, each of them still does (and most likely will continue to do) this.

Why do developers feel this is necessary?  Game mechanics have been suffering a “dumbing down” in all aspects.  If you don’t believe me, go back and play some games from the PS2 era and be amazed at how rough the difficulty is compared to today.  Games nowadays are much nicer at easing you into the rough points, which is a nice feature.  Too many of them go way too far.  Does every third-person cover-based shooter really need a tutorial level?  I can usually figure it out, based on my time with other games in the same genre.  I can understand a developer thinking that someone might be getting into the genre with their game and wants to ensure they know what to do, but I don’t think it is that necessary.  As long as the game’s mechanics aren’t too cryptic, it is fairly easy to figure out what to do, especially today with lengthy (and free!) guides and tips all over the net from day one of a game’s release.

It’s gone too far.  I’m tired of wasting so much time waiting for a game to start challenging me or getting to the point.  When I want to wait five hours for a game to really start, I’ll go play a JRPG.  All a game needs is a decent manual (in-game, like all games now) with all the concepts clearly laid out.  Better yet, offer the tutorial as a separate option, so that those of us who are more confident can skip it without missing anything.  Tying your tutorial into the game is neat, but I’d rather it just be some abstract space where I can learn what each button does.

I really hope that developers change their habits in the next generation.  Games have gotten a bit too easy (at least for me), and I’d like to see them at least offer more options in difficulty, if not just outright making a game harder.  Don’t worry so much about leading us by the hand every step of the way.  A simple waypoint and good level design is all that is necessary.

Old Fogies and Video Games

We have a bit of a problem here.  Too many of the men who run our country (at least in the United States) are old fogies that can’t see reality for what it really is.  They can’t accept new technologies as anything but terrifying creations, bent on enslaving the minds of our youth and causing hundreds of deaths every year.

What am I talking about?  Well, as you may have heard by now, one of the senators for Tennessee (Lamar Alexander) recently made a statement about video games.  He said, and I quote, “I think video games is [sic] a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people.”  Let’s analyze that statement for a minute.  He thinks that video games are more of a problem in our country than guns.  Something that is a virtual form of entertainment with (at best) questionable effects on the human populace is more of a political issue than real-life weapons that can be used to kill several human beings in under a minute.  Something’s wrong with this statement.

I can’t even understand a world where this makes sense, except out of some fear for something you don’t understand.  Even still, it is easy to look at the scientific evidence (or lack thereof) proving that video games are any sort of problem.  Can the same be said for guns, actual weapons that are rightly attributed to a much larger number of deaths than the assumed attribution of video games to similar crimes?  Of course not; guns have been proven to be useful tools for crazies and people who just let emotions get the better of them.  The scary thing about a gun is just how easy it is to kill someone with it.  Unlike a knife or a bat, there is next to no time to second guess your decision to take someone’s life.  Once you’ve pulled that trigger, it’s usually over.  How many deaths may have been prevented by people who acted in the heat of moment when they murdered someone?  Of course, plenty of others would still have done the crimes with a knife or a bat, but it’s a good start at least.

Most news outlets point out that Alexander is one of many senators that has had very strong support for the NRA and their actions.  It would be crazy to say that this association between the two parties didn’t have any effect, but I don’t really think that is the true reason why Alexander said this.  To me, it sounded like one of two things: a hasty call of action to help with public relations or a reaction out of fear of something very unknown.  I don’t know for sure, as none of us do.  It may very well be that the NRA support influenced this statement.  I just don’t think that sounds logical.  With all the talk of violent video games and their potential ties to violent crimes in the media in the last few years, I can understand why someone ignorant of video game culture may jump to those conclusions.  He just doesn’t understand them.

We need to make the world understand.  More studies should be undergone to prove the effects (or lack thereof) of video game violence on the minds of their players.  Definitive answers need to be reached, so that politicians and angry parents stop having an easy scapegoat to toss all the blame at.  Instead of looking at something that may have an effect on violent behavior, we should look at why tools of death that are proven to be the cause of many crimes are so readily available to any enraged person off the street.

Maybe this won’t even help.  Maybe we just need to wait another few decades for the older generations to die out and the newer ones to take their place, generations that understand technology such as video games and aren’t so afraid of its effects.  It’s not an ideal solution, but it is one that can be counted on if all other avenues fail.