Lightning Returns – Now With Jiggly Boobs!

EDIT:  In the days since I wrote this, I’ve seen several other opinions online and participated in a few discussions.  Let me point out a few things my original article did not.  My outrage at this character change was maybe a little too great, as I’ve several such changes have been happening in games for years (as a few people have brought to my attention).  I stand by my annoyance at the developers for mentioning something so superfluous in an interview, and the tone they take on Lightning’s new breast jiggle is still a little creepy.  However, I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  It may be just as ridiculous as Dead or Alive’s tech, but it also may not.  She may also act exactly the same, just with bigger breasts.  We won’t know for sure until the game is released.  I do think I wrote this article with a bit too much of a hothead, and it maybe isn’t as bad as I originally thought.  However, I still do not appreciate the strange PR tact that the developers took in their interview and would much rather learn more about the character’s journey through the game instead of all the creepy ways gamers can look at her voyeuristically

Final Fantasy XIII was a rather divisive game.  Many fans of the series hated the streamlined combat, extremely linear areas, and ten-hour tutorial that frontloaded the game.  I personally thought it wasn’t terrible, mashing an interesting (if not a little boring on anything but boss fights) combat system with some neat story ideas.  Probably my favorite part of the whole game was the female “lead” of Lightning.  Here was a female character who was strong, independent, and not shown as being lesser in any way because of her gender.  She was simply a woman living her life.  I won’t say that parts of her character, and the other characters for that matter, weren’t terrible, but her basic design was very sound.

The newest game in the series, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, is set to feature her as a playable character again, as you can probably tell from the title.  I was very excited about this–until I saw an article posted on Destructoid today.  They linked to a Famitsu interview with the director of development on the title, translated by another site.  In this interview, it is mentioned that Lightning has been redesigned with larger breasts, because it was intentionally requested by the director of the project.  She has not only been altered, but the interviewees made sure to note that her breasts will now jiggle suggestively, even giving tips on the best ways to get the perfect angles and amount of jiggle.

What the fuck.

Is there any meaningful purpose of such a redesign, other than the perverted whims of the lead on the project?  It doesn’t make a single iota of sense in the context of the game, essentially meaning that her appearance was solely changed to broaden her sex appeal (or to appeal to the perversion of the developers, at least).  This is such a poor reflection of gaming culture at large.  I have no problem with a character expressing his or her sexuality, but only if it makes sense for it to be exaggerated.  Changing the appearance of a character who has already appeared in two games–on the same hardware, mind you–just to make her more attractive and to even make her breasts jiggle ridiculously is not a good use of sexuality.  It is just ridiculous and juvenile.

As a huge fan of the original character design, I’m more than a little offended by this change.  How can I be proud to be a part of gaming culture when actions like these are often rewarded by more sales and a wider general approval of a product?  What does this tell those outside the hobby about those who partake in it?  I’m not saying that this change ruins Lightning for me as a character, but I do think it hurts what she stood for.  The original character was such a good design, a perfect blend of femininity, normality, and strength.  I could have lived with a larger bust size because it doesn’t really matter (even though it is still crazy that it was even brought up in the first place), but the immature jiggly breast tech just about makes me want to give up on games altogether.

Source:  Dualshockers

The Swapper (PC) review

The Swapper is an indie puzzle game with light platforming elements and a unique visual artstyle.  Don’t roll your eyes; I know you want to.  While I have to admit that this particular kind of game has become a bit tired over the last few years,  I still think The Swapper is a fantastic product, one worth your time if you’re willing to give it a look.

As a puzzle game, The Swapper is mostly about its puzzles.  There is no combat to speak of and death is a rare thing (with a very forgiving checkpoint system).  The mechanic here is a device, the titular Swapper, that lets you create up to four copies of yourself.  As you move about, so do all of your current clones in the same direction.  Your device can also swap your control between the various clones.  An important note to make is that you can’t take back a clone’s creation with a simple button press, as it would simplify several of The Swapper’s puzzles.  Your only options to recover clones are to kill the clone–usually via dropping them from high ledges–, touch them with the body you have control of, or touch a checkpoint, which instantly resets the puzzle to its original state.  Each of the puzzles has the same goal: reach the orb, used for powering various gates that bar your progression, with the clone you control.  Touching the orb with a non-controlled clone does nothing.  The puzzles start off extremely simple and predictably get harder as you progress.  Colored mist becomes an issue with later puzzles: red light prevents you from swapping to anything within that light, blue light barring creation of copies in that area, and purple light blocking both these actions.  Through a variety of switches that move barriers or dissipate the colored fog, block pulling, and clone manipulation, you must figure out the way to touch each orb.

I think it’s key to note that you never get any new abilities in The Swapper.  You can always create four clones and swap between them–nothing more, nothing less.  One minor new mechanic pops up near the end, but the game really that different with it in play.  I really liked knowing there were no more tricks to find because it let me know that I could solve any puzzle immediately.  If the puzzle seemed impossible, it was through my incompetence and my incompetence alone.  To be fair, however, not many of the puzzles were difficult enough to annoy me (only one kept me stumped more than a few minutes).  Later puzzles scale the difficulty by trapping one or several of your clones in an area that leaves them out of play for the puzzle at hand.  These tended to be the more frustrating ones, as you often get so very close to a solution, only needing that one extra clone to succeed.  Of course, there is always a way to solve it.  The biggest puzzle headaches, however, come from those puzzles that need a bit of precision in lining up clones, especially since your movement makes the clones shift too; in these, one misstep requires you to do the whole thing over again.  I think these puzzles could have been handled a bit more elegantly, as they hurt what is otherwise a fantastically crafted puzzle game.  Thankfully, these annoying puzzles are few enough that the overall experience is a great deal of fun; it challenged me just enough to be rewarding and only required one anger-induced Youtube visit for a solution.

The Swapper takes place on a derelict space station.  This station’s original mission was to scan the nearby planet for anything interesting to study.  What they found, and brought onboard, were the Watchers, creatures that resemble rocks but share some strange hive-mind.  This ability somehow affects the minds of everyone on the ship and leads to a steady thinning of the ship’s crew from insanity-related deaths.  You quickly find the Swapper device and use it to try and escape from the station.  The story is told through very sparingly-used radio chatter and text logs scattered throughout the station.  Due to the nature of the Swapper, a device that allows you to create clones of yourself and swap your consciousness between them, some interesting moral quandaries are raised.  For instance, when you drop one of your clones off a high ledge, watching their body crumple and dissolve, did you just kill a person?  Or was the clone devoid of a soul and moving only through your guidance?  Is it sadistic of you to drop these clones to their deaths just to solve a puzzle?  These themes build and build as you progress to the ending, which poses an interesting choice to be made along these lines.  It’s one of those stories that leaves a lot of questions and doesn’t like to fill in the gaps, but it fits in so perfectly here that I didn’t care.  It made me think about some very intriguing concepts that I had never considered before.

The overall tone of The Swapper is quite eerie.  Everything about the game is dripping with atmosphere.  The artstyle is quite unique, as it was built through claymation.  It looks rough around the edges and textured but in a good way, giving every object a good deal of flavor and realism.  The amount of layering used in the backgrounds is also quite striking at times, almost like a diorama that you’re peering into through your screen.  The music is perfectly sparse, rising and falling to match the events and keep the unnerving tone constant through the length of the game.  It doesn’t get in the way, something I like in an atmospheric game like this, as frantic scores often remind me I’m playing a game.  Even the the somewhat low-res look and font choices in the menus add to the overall feel.  It’s a fantastic overall aesthetic made all the more impressive knowing that it comes from such a small studio.

The Swapper is a fantastic package.  While the creepy space station tone has been done in games before, I have rarely seen it done so well.  The claymation design is something that is absolutely worth seeing, if only for the skillful usage of detail and layering at work.  The story is interesting enough to make you think, and the puzzles are well-designed and fun to solve.  It doesn’t overstay its welcome either, only taking about four or five hours to complete.  All in all, it’s an extremely well-designed indie puzzle platformer; if you aren’t completely tired of those, I highly recommend The Swapper.

The Last of Us (PS3) review

Story in video games is quite often terrible.  It is a medium littered with trope-laden characters, plots more focused on pushing gameplay forward then making sense, and unfulfilling endings meant to drive fan fervor for a multitude of sequels and spin-offs.  Few games have stories worth paying attention to; even fewer have stories that are as memorable as a great book or movie.  Naughty Dog has managed to deliver a few of these memorable stories in their Uncharted series, creating an Indiana Jones-esque, lovable rogue in Nathan Drake.  While the stories in these games are often silly, they are great rides and packed with fantastic characters, relationships between those characters, and some of the best voice acting in video games.  Their newest game, The Last of Us, manages to have characters that are just as memorable and realistic but in a story that is much more serious in tone.  It grabs you from minute one with the fantastic, unnerving opening sequence and doesn’t let you go until you see the end.

You take control of Joel, a man who was already in his 30s or 40s when the apocalypse started and is still trying to survive some 20 years later.  In those years since, Joel has done whatever he has to in order to survive, even being part of some groups willing to kill innocents passing through just to get at their food and supplies.  At the point you take control of him, he mostly trades in illegal goods under the noses of the military forces that run the camps.  When a big deal goes bad, he and his partner are forced to make a deal with another group, the rebel Fireflies, for the weapons they need.  In exchange, they offer to take a young girl named Ellie across the country for reasons (at first) unknown.  Most of the game’s story takes place as you cross these various locales across the States.

I won’t lie to you; The Last of Us is a bit predictable here and there.  We’ve all seen the post-apocalyptic setting before and having your zombies be spore-based doesn’t not make them zombies, no matter how clever the developers might think they are.  You will see a few characters and plot points that are painfully obvious or cliche, such as the token person who gets bit but doesn’t say anything, turning at an inopportune time.  Aside from the ending, which ended in a way very unlike your average video game ending, the game doesn’t do much to shock you if you’re a fan of the genre.  That really isn’t the point though, being a Naughty Dog game; they are a developer that much rather prefers to focus on the characters and the ways they interact with one another.  It is in this sense that The Last of Us really shines.

Know that Joel is one of the most honest–and darkest–video game characters I’ve ever seen.  I’m not saying he’s truthful; what I mean is that his presence as a character in the plot and his presence as the character the player controls align perfectly.  Many people had issues with the way that Nathan Drake was a carefree, lovable guy in the story cutscenes but would also murder hundreds of people at the hands of the player.  Joel, on the other hand, willingly tells everyone he meets that he has done bad things.  The bits you hear about his history throughout the game sound pretty gnarly.  By the end, you know he has done terrible things, willing to do whatever he has to in order to survive.  In ways, he isn’t any better than those raiders you are supposed to hate.  More than any character I’ve ever played, I could easily see him doing the things I did as him in the game.  Few shooters manage to create such honest characters.

The relationship between Joel and Ellie is one of the most fascinating I’ve ever seen in a game.  I can’t go into too many details, because a lot of the most interesting character moments are plot-based.  They spend a lot of time together, about a year total, and come to know each other really well.  The benefit of this time dilation (you don’t play the whole year, of course) is that you see their relationship grow at a pace that makes sense.  They slowly become more comfortable with one another, their dialogue loosening and becoming more casual.  It’s obvious that they wouldn’t have made it so far and through the shit that they see without trusting one another implicitly.  Fantastic performances from both Troy Baker (even though you might not know it at first) and Ashley Johnson (a new voice actor) help to sell the relationship as well.  As I mentioned above, it really is several of the plot elements that sell this relationship though, something I can’t really get across in this review.  Just know that it is worth seeing, if you’re a fan of story-based games.

Gameplay in The Last of Us really rubbed me the wrong way at first.  Most of your early encounters are with the infected humans, and these encounters are often trial-and-error based.  One enemy in particular, the Clicker, will kill you the moment it reaches you.  These enemies are also harder to stealth-kill, as they require a semi-rare weapon to do so.  Clickers rely on hearing instead of sight, allowing you to sneak around them in relative ease by throwing a bottle or brick to distract them, but one small mistake and you will have a hard time escaping alive.  Several of these early segments frustrated me to no end.  They reminded me of the stealth games of old, forcing you to memorize enemy patrols and make no mistakes or reload a checkpoint (which are sometimes iffy).  I will say that it gets better as you go, as you earn the way the game’s systems work and how to get around enemies in the best way.

When I did manage to pull off an entire area without raising an alert, it was a great deal of fun.  Human enemies are much easier to get around and take out with a chokehold; the trick with them is not being spotted by their gun-happy buddies.  The bow is a great tool for those stealth-inclined, and it is one of my favorite bows in a game yet.  Every chance I got, I snuck through an area by quietly downing guys and retrieving the arrow for the next guy.  It is a bit hard to tell at times whether or not stealth is possible; know that it almost always is, as long as you aren’t immediately thrust into a shooting segment (a rare occurrence).  Naughty Dog also makes a few gameplay concessions to ease the annoyance factor with regards to stealth.  Characters will stack in cover, negating those issues of needing to hide from an enemy and being unable to because your companion is already taking the spot.  It’s also nice that AI companions seem incapable of raising alarms by being seen; the enemies don’t even register them as being there.  While it is a bit immersion breaking, it is preferable to the frustration of having a poor AI routine compromise your stealth.

Of course, you are going to get into gunfights several times throughout the course of the The Last of Us’s twelve hours.  If you’ve played an Uncharted game before, it feels very similar: a loose, somewhat inaccurate shooting style paired with a brutal melee system.  Joel doesn’t have the same abundance of supplies that Drake has, however.  For the majority of the game, you are barely getting by on ammunition and health packs.  Prolonged encounters can, and often will, run you dry and force you to pick up whatever you can find to get through it.  Headshots are crucial, saving you ammo that you need for the other three or four guys around the corner.  You can craft bombs and molotovs with supplies you find around the environments; these can get you out of the hairiest of situations.  I enjoyed this scarcity, as it reminded me of the survival horror genre I love.  While the inaccuracy of the shooting made some situations frustrating, I really liked having to take careful shots and not waste a bunch of ammo or risk having to engage in dangerous melee encounters to get by.  Several encounters left me barely standing, with no ammo or health kits to speak of, my heart pounding in my chest.  Those with happy trigger-fingers may be frustrated when their gun clicks empty, and they still have three more guys wanting their blood.  Unfortunately, that dearth of supplies becomes a non-issue in the final few hours of the game.  You have enough weapons and built-up supplies and health kits that it is a breeze to clear out even all of the enemies.  I would have liked this scarcity to stay constant till the end of the game, as it fit the tone of the world much better.  I have heard that harder difficulties are much more strict with the ammo and supplies, but I haven’t seen it for myself, having played the game on Normal.  If you want a better experience, a harder difficulty may be wise for a first playthrough.

Like Uncharted 2 and 3 before it, The Last of Us features a multiplayer mode that feels very similar to the pace of the single-player game.  You go down fairly fast, spawn with enough bullets to only kill one or two players, and must constantly scrounge for supplies to get by.  This gives the game a very unique feel, playing unlike anything else on the market.  Multiplayer also features a unique metagame.  You take control of a camp of survivors and must keep them supplied.  Playing a match earns you these supplies, based on your score.  As you keep playing, the camp grows and the requirements grow along with it.  Every so often, raids happen on your camp, forcing you to complete a challenge, such as getting so many headshots across three matches, or lose a large percentage of your camp.  If you lose your entire camp, you start over and try to grow larger the next time.  This isn’t really essential to playing the game; only most of the cosmetic unlocks are tied to getting as far as you can, with new guns and perks tied to just how many supplies you have earned overall.  It has some issues, particularly the way that a team that dominates a match makes that match shorter, meaning less supplies for everyone.  This idea is still one of the most creative in years, one that I hope spawns a more fleshed-out metagame for future shooters.  A nitpicky issue I have with multiplayer is that it takes more shots than you might think to down someone; five or six shots with a pistol to down an enemy seems somewhat absurd for a game trying to take a survivalist-based tone.  My biggest concern with the multiplayer, however, is that I feel the shooting is not refined enough for a multiplayer experience.  It never seems to put bullets where I’m aiming, and the hitboxes on the other players seem absurdly small.  I haven’t enjoyed the feel of the shooting in any Naughty Dog games, though, so your mileage may vary.  It is still a multiplayer experience that is fairly unique.

My enjoyment with The Last of Us started out fairly low but climbed fast as I progressed further into the game and figured out how it works.  I’m still not convinced that the way Naughty Dog makes shooters is the correct way; more than anything, I was constantly frustrated by the way I missed at times where it seemed impossible to do so.  There are some elements, like the crafting system, that are promising but without the amazing characters, however, I probably wouldn’t have bothered playing the game in the first place.  Naughty Dog is doing things with characters that few other developers are even attempting to do, a mission I applaud and support by playing all of their products.  I loved the characters in The Last of Us, particularly the way that they felt so honest to the game concept they were part of.  Few other game characters have seemed deep enough to do a character study on, but I think Joel could absolutely make a fascinating one.  I cannot wait to see what Naughty Dog can do on next-gen consoles and hope that they continue to craft some of the most realistic and interesting characters in video games today.

The death of a great man and my love for a gaming website

As a longtime and faithful reader (viewer?) of Giant Bomb, I was struck pretty hard Monday when news of Ryan Davis’ death was made public.  It came completely out of nowhere—no warning signs, no recent illnesses, no bouts of depression.  He was the face of Giant Bomb for many, taking the reins for their podcasts and live events and otherwise just being an affable guy.  Few people were so good at keeping things both funny and interesting; he always knew when a segment was dumb in a way that was worth milking for laughs and when it was just time to move on.  If you’ve seen any Giant Bomb content, you know exactly what I mean (and if you haven’t, go do so now!  it’s fantastic!).  He will be missed by all.

While this news is important and distressing, it’s not really why I sat down to write this post.  I was much more interested in my immediate reaction to the news when I read it after waking up Monday afternoon.  For a few minutes, I just couldn’t believe it.  It seemed like some kind of cruel joke.  Slowly, it all fell into place.  I started to realize why all the guys from the site, usually pretty busy Tweeters, had been so quiet all holiday weekend.  Ryan, in particular, was uncharacteristically quiet, but since he had just been married (what a heartbreaking thing that note is as well), I thought he was just too busy having fun to post (although this is extremely out of character as well, in hindsight).

I started to read various posts on the site itself and linked blogs on Twitter from various individuals making note of why they loved Ryan and how much they would miss him.  Startlingly, I found myself in tears.  Know that I am a person who is often quite devoid of compassion and sympathy for those I don’t know very well and that tears almost never fall from my eyes.  I have also never had to deal with a death of someone even remotely close to me.  Even still, the news of this man’s death, a personality on a gaming website I frequent, nothing more, had me biting back sobs for a good twenty or thirty minutes.

It’s an interesting world we live in now, where we can know someone, or at least feel we know someone, who writes on the Internet so well.  With Giant Bomb, the connection is even stronger, due to the site’s staff being so personable and open in their various videos and also very willing to share personal details outside of the site.  Several of the staff has Tumblr blogs where they answer almost any questions, even stupid ones you would never expect to be answered.  I follow all of them on Twitter and learn tons of stupid, personal stuff about them I really don’t need to know—but I like knowing it.  It gives me a connection to them, a connection that is entirely one-sided but is still one of the most important ones in my life.  They are a unique kind of friend, a constant source of amusement and enjoyment that has kept me coming back for several years.

If you had asked me before all this happened how the sudden death of one of these strangers would affect me, I never would have guessed I would be brought to tears by it.  Giant Bomb has become a permanent fixture in my life, a site I visit a few dozen times a day and consume every last scrap of content from.  I have heard more of their voices then anyone else’s except my close family.  As someone with few friends, I am closer to them than most of the people I have actually met in person.  Even with all of these reasons, I learned something about myself when the tears poured down my face.  It’s a shocking thing to realize, but these people are extremely important to me in several ways.

It’s still not something I can explain very well.  I feel like my words above have gotten the gist of my feelings across, why the death of someone like Ryan Davis, someone I  had never met and who didn’t ever know I existed, could affect me so strongly.  Thankfully, it seems that Giant Bomb will be continuing on at some indeterminate point in the future.  I now know that it is one of the most important parts of my life, featuring some of my favorite people in the entire world.  It may be slightly selfish to wish for that old magic to return only a month or two down the line, but I can’t help myself for feeling that way.  I feel that the only real way to move on from this tragedy is to slowly get things back on track to some semblance of normality.  It will truly never be the same, but an attempt at least must be made.  The loss of Ryan Davis is profound, but I feel like the loss of Giant Bomb might be even worse.

Thank you Ryan Davis for bringing us thousands of hours of unbelievably raucous, filthy, and interesting content through Giant Bomb’s various Quick Looks, Bombcasts, and live shows.  And thank you for teaching me something about myself.