Banjo Kazooie and the fall of gaming

I’ve been watching Game Grumps a bit lately, specifically the Banjo Kazooie series. Banjo Kazooie was one of my favorite games when I was a kid (I was 11 when it came out), and in watching Jon and Ego play through it, I remembered why I liked it so much.

Banjo Kazooie is one of the first games I remember playing that made me think about a game as a world rather than a series of levels. I was 11, so there’s no way I was actually thinking this as I played, but each new environment I explored felt like a small part of a larger whole. Thinking back, most of the levels are relatively small, but the way that they were enclosed hinted at something outside of the explorable area, places where life carried on regardless of whether or not my N64 was turned on. I always felt like I was invading on some natural area that wasn’t built for me, but arose naturally out of some system.

This idea is fully realized in one of the final levels, Click Clock Wood. I was able to see a forest during four different seasons and witness a myriad of changes, small and large, that the wildlife there had to deal with. Of course, this was probably a decision based on the various gameplay elements that each season brought, but the effect was still impressive.

Many of the games that I love thrive on this mentality of possibility: Pikmin, Donkey Kong 64, Mario 3, Earthbound. It is one of the key reasons that I love video games the way that I do.

When the sequel Banjo Tooie was released, I was as excited as could be. A bigger, better, cooler version of the first game? Heck yes!

Bigger is the key word for the sequel: every level is freaking huge. The unfortunate consequence of this is that every level is also barren, lifeless, and artificial. Whereas I felt like an explorer in the original game, I felt like a player in the sequel, as if every level had been constructed specifically for my entertainment. The result is a decent but soulless sequel to an amazing game.

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts is the total realization of the ideas brought by Banjo Tooie. Each stage is explicitly artificial. The first stage, which appears at first to be a volcano and a farm on an island, is actually constructed out of sheet metal and wood. Trees fall over when you hit them too hard. The clouds are hung from the ceiling and rotated by a big gear at the top of the world. Reaching the horizon is totally possible because you bump into a big blue wall.

Each level continues the theme of being constructed for your benefit. I’m not sure if this was intentional commentary or not, but it certainly feels like they’re trying to say something about the artificiality of video game worlds.

This really mirrors the path of mainstream video games in general. Modern games thrust you into a world where every scenario is created for your pleasure, where every system is explicit and transparent and there to be deconstructed rather than explored. That sense of wonder is all but gone.

Of course, I’m not really touching on the indie side of games, where this mentality lives on. Still, Minecraft is the most successful indie game of all time, and it feels extremely artificial and constructed. Exploration is nice and all, but it doesn’t feel like a stand-alone world.

Is this really a bad thing, though? I used to think that games were the future of entertainment, that someday everybody would be exploring some amazing fantastical world that stimulated their imaginations and intellects. But maybe games aren’t the future of entertainment, maybe they’re the past. I would bet that kids are pretty cynical about games any more, as well they should be. They are, after all, a very artificial construct.

Maybe the future is in injecting that sense of wonder back into the real world. Smart phones have already done this to some extent, allowing everyone to explore the world around them in great detail, turning every object into a hyperlink leading to more hyperlinks. The whole world is a game waiting to be explored and deconstructed and painted on for everyone to see. Perhaps video games are things that old people make and play, limited to the inside of a computer where the only company is a world populated by poor approximations of life.

Maybe.

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Convenient

Screenshot from ConvenientI made a Twine game  for the Game Jolt fear contest. It’s a hypertext game inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, dark rainy days, and fatalism. Click here or the picture above to play the game.

I’ll be doing a piece about the process of using Twine soon. In the meantime, check out this excellent list of Twine games assembled by Anna Anthropy.

 

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I can certainly be a shit head sometimes

Oh god I don’t even know how to start this.

So I just read this and realized I’ve been a total dick recently.

Let me explain.

I’ve long held that we need more women in game design in general. Game design can be a (white) boy’s club and there’s a distinct lack of different perspectives from most any view point (gender, race, non-geek, etc.). Gender seems like an easy thing to point to as “hey we could try not discriminating against that.” Luckily, I feel like the trend has been shifting positively for the better, although there’s still a lot of work to do.

About a year ago, I read about Dani Bunten and her very influential place in the world of game design. I thought to myself “Hey! That’s awesome! Women!” But then I found out she was a transgendered woman, and I felt slightly betrayed. Shortly after, I also found out that anna anthropy/auntie pixelante/dessgeega (what do I call you?) is a transgendered woman as well (how the hell did I miss this for so long?) and was dismayed. I thought “Well crap, two of the foremost women in game design aren’t REALLY women.”

Then I didn’t think about it much more. Not a big deal to me at the time, just a bit of a letdown.

After reading the article above this morning, I realized how much of an assholish, ignorant, shitty person I was being by thinking that either of these two people were not “real” women because they were born with penises. Being a woman is no more related to genitalia than anything else. Just because we tend to assign certain traits at birth because of a specific arrangement of body parts doesn’t mean that these assignments are true for any individual. I should know better by now.

I’m not sure what else to say, really. I’m not an expert in gender or social stuff in general. I just felt that it was important to make a public apology for being a private jerk. Hopefully someone else will read this and realize that they, too, can make strides towards being less prejudiced/closed minded. I also hope this doesn’t come off as primitive or self-serving. I just wanted to say sorry.

So, I’m sorry for being a part of the problem. I will try harder.

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Bloodlust: A game containing monstrous vaginae

My wife is so sick of me talking about this game. Mostly, she’s sick of me using the phrase “Monstrous Vagina,” which I totally understand. I guess I’m just submitting everyone around me to the same horror I had to go through when I played this damned game.

Anyway! I wrote another review/retrospective for the OHR Magazine, HamsterSpeak. Check out the whole issue below:

http://superwalrusland.com/ohr/issue58/index.html

Regrettably, since the audience for HamsterSpeak has a younger demographic, I had to refrain from posting a picture of the monstrous vagina. You’ll just have to play the game to see it. It being the monstrous vagina.

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Check it out, my words are in a place other than my blog!

Hooray! I wrote an article about a game called Missing, which is sort of a horror adventure mystery kind of game, and it’s in the latest issue of Hamster Speak. You can download the game here. It’s highly recommended.

For the uninitiated (read: all of you) Hamster Speak is a monthly magazine for the community surrounding the OHRRPGCE, an RPG maker with a small but dedicated fanbase. Including me.

I’ll be doing another article next month for a game called Bloodlust, which is a survival horror RPG. Also, it has a monstrous vagina, so keep an eye out for that when you play it.

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Weekly Game Blather (Episode 4)

I’ll be doing a weekly round up of some of the games I’m currently playing, or the random thoughts about games bouncing around in my head.  I’ve been playing a lot of Mario games recently, so I’m going to do some mad comparing and/or contrasting, or other appropriate C words.

Mario is better known around the world than Jesus.  No, seriously, I read that somewhere, once, so it must be true. Regardless, he’s been in 250+ games to date, which might make him the most prolific video game character of all time, except for that one NPC who sells shields and healing herbs.

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Games I’ve been playing this week (Episode 3)

I’ll be doing a weekly round up of some of the games I’ve played.  Today, I’ll cover some obscure-ish Japanese games I use to, er, study.

As you may know (or probably not) I’m in the middle of learning Japanese.  Mostly for fun. I’m still learning the Kanji (850 baby!) but part of my setup includes listening only to Japanese music, and playing only Japanese video games.

Obviously, I’m not doing so hot on the last one, but I do have a bunch of Japanese games for my DS that I’ve been playing recently.  Here’s a few of them!

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