A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “Starflight

Too Old? Never!

Today I was talking to someone at work about how they’re redesigning Batgirl and she’s looking really great (and practically dressed which is a plus with me). Another person mentioned that they thought I was too old for comics and I said something to the effect of “I’m a Toys R Us kid! I’m never growing up!”

Obviously, such a statement, “you’re too old for that,” is thrown around by people who aren’t aware of the breadth and depth of mediums such as comics and even video games. As this is a gaming blog, I’m going to tackle the game portion.

First, let’s look at the games themselves. Do they have an age ceiling? Nope. Do they have a minimum age? Some do. So, some can’t (well, SHOULDN’T) be played too young, but they’re available to anyone over that age up to the limit of our natural lives. Cool.

Although, I’m sure she’s not referring to LEGALLY aging out of them though. How about maturing past the content?

Sure, there are some games that I’m way too old for and I’m definitely not the target market any more. I grew up playing Number Munchers, Mixed-Up Mother Goose Rhymes, Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego? and several others that were obviously designed with children in mind. I don’t really have a desire to play them today and they’re all far too easy for me now. No real challenges there (except maybe Carmen Sandiego). How about the other games I grew up with? Well, Starflight, Civilization, Sim City, X-Wing, and X-COM were all marketed to adults. Starflight was such a massive game, my Dad took a very methodical approach to it, mapping out every wormhole, each special artifact, and more on the map that came with the game. If you ever come across the map we have, you could probably beat the game with it. Civilization and Sim City are powerhouse franchises today, made by and played by people of every age group, but back then they had rather steep learning curves and it took some serious dedication (that children usually don’t come pre-built with) to master. X-Wing was one of several flight sims from the age when you were either in the Star Wars camp or the Wing Commander camp (I didn’t play Wing Commander until WC3 came out and I finally played the first two when I got to college) and there was no guarantee you could get your computer to play them without a potential video or sound card upgrade (which typically required being an adult). X-COM scared the crap out of me as a kid (those damn Chryssalids and their creepy grins) and still spooks me today, but I played that for almost 20 years, and even then, I’m playing the remake which will probably keep me playing another 20 or more years.

I think this issue with being too old for something is more a misperception of the medium in question. Comics have been viewed in the past as only a thing for children, but now the stories are more mature and tackle a wide variety of issues. In fact, they’ve been extremely mature for decades now.  Someone saying that you can be too old for comics hasn’t educated themselves enough regarding the material and thus, probably should either be given an opportunity to educate themselves or, failing that, should be left alone in their old-fashioned beliefs. No longer is it just Garfield bemoaning Mondays or Snoopy stealing Linus’ blanket. It’s a young woman being paralyzed by a murderous villain but surviving and becoming a source of inspiration to many. It’s a group of uniquely talented people coming together in adverse conditions to address a threat to society and life as we know it, overcoming their own personal foibles in an effort to do good. It’s a being from another world, or even just someone who’s different somehow, just trying to fit in.

So too it is with video games. They have never been solely a child’s plaything, they have given us incredible mental challenges to overcome, they’ve taxed our resolve, they’ve allowed us to step away from our daily grind and into a fantasy realm that was once only the purview of movies, music, books, and art. While some games attract children for the bright colors and flashy graphics, other games attract older folk for deeper, more nuanced reasons and can be appreciated in a much wider way. I can say with certainty that I have been as equally drawn into a good game as into a good book, a good movie, a good song, a good comic book. There’s that feeling upon finishing such a thing that is nearly indescribable. You know you’ve experienced a significant thing and you’re simultaneously breathless and sad and happy and lost and you don’t know whether or not to restart and try to recapture the experience or to step away and digest.

If growing up means being too old for comics and games, then I’ll never grow up. Of course, it helps I’m a Toys R Us kid.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. This feels appropriate.

 

 


Gaming Inside of my Comfort Zone

I was going back and forth yesterday on Twitter with a friend of mine and the concept of playing outside of one’s comfort zone came up. That said, I want to talk about playing INSIDE the comfort zone first, so I’ll get to the outside part next time.

There are a lot of games out there. The ones I feel most comfortable playing are the ones I can pick up and just run with without a second thought. When I sat down to play Dragon Age: Origins, for example, it was like pulling on a new pair of shoes that looked and felt extremely similar to my last pair. I still needed to break them in, but I was already familiar with the process and it was pretty quick since I wound up doing a lot of walking in a very short period of time.

So there are games that are, in and of themselves, within the comfort zone. For me, it’s a space flight simulator, a turn-based strategy game, a Baldur’s Gate derivative. These are the kinds of games I grew up playing.

Well, what about the games that don’t fit inside the comfort zone automatically? I can still be in my comfort zone even then, given the right opportunities.

For example, I love playing self-sufficient characters. My favorite D&D character was a Psychic Warrior who, with proper power choices, I was able to fight effectively, defend myself against a myriad of potential harms, and heal myself. To this day, I still play that way where I can. My Captain in Lord of the Rings Online is one such character. When I played Star Wars: The Old Republic as the Smuggler, I chose to be the Scoundrel and went straight down the healing tree. I did the same thing as a Mercenary Bounty Hunter and a Commando Trooper.

If I don’t have just one character, I believe distinctly in the balanced party. While Dragons Age is wholly within my comfort zone, I maintained a solid party of a rogue (for lockpicking primarily), a mage (for healing), a warrior (for tanking), and anyone else (for DPS). Yes, that restricted my play a bit, but it made decisions really easy when I went to make party choices. In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I always had the four types of soldiers represented and then the two extra soldier spots would be where that particular playthrough was different from earlier ones. I’ve had those two spare slots taken up by a heavy and a support and an assault and a support before and that allowed me some considerable latitude in play style.

In Civilization IV, I set up the environment if I can so that my civilization is totally contained and secure before spreading out and taking new lands. I focus on infrastructure so that I can develop a powerful military at the drop of a hat and a few turns. In Star Trek Online, I chose a ship type that can take a lot of damage, then I proceeded to make it deal a lot of damage and be able to handle every situation that could come up. A long time ago when I played the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game, I built a deck that was affectionately referred to as “Whatever you do, I stop and make you regret it” or something like that. Essentially it was a balanced deck that countered many things the other player could do and then could crack them on the knuckles for doing it.

For me, it’s all about the balanced approach. Mixed arms and combined tactics to provide a well rounded and quality experience. I suppose I’m the kind of guy who likes to dip into every style to ensure an approach that can respond to every issue that might arise. In some games it’s just the simple “just shoot them” strategy. In others it’s more nuanced. My particular comfort zone playstyle is a kind of go-with-the-flow thing and it totally works for me.

The real trick for me is finding that comfort zone in each new game I pick up. Sometimes I’m lucky, like with Borderlands 2 where I started playing the Mechromancer and was pleasantly surprised how it flowed with my playstyle. Other times I’m not so lucky, like with Neverwinter where I played a long time as a Cleric before realizing that the Guardian Fighter was where it’s at for me.

An odd little thing: the Mass Effect series started in, I think, 2007 (yup). When that game came out, I played it for a week straight and loved it. Truly loved it. Turns out, I’d played its predecessor, a little game from 1986 called Starflight. Now, it’s quite a stretch to go from Starflight to Mass Effect, but the ship shape was kind of similar, the ground vehicle was (aside from armaments) was remarkably similar, and the stories I developed for my Starflight crew in my head was rivaled neatly by the stories developed for the crew of the Normandy. Look it up. Starflight inspired Mass Effect. Mass Effect has essentially been in my comfort zone since I was 4 years old. How about that, huh? Oh, I beat ME2 and ME3 each in a week as well. I’m that kind of gamer, just can’t put a good game/book down.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with finding and playing inside your comfort zone. It allows you to kick back, relax, and just play.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. There are no quotes I could find quickly about the benefits of staying in your comfort zone because everyone’s trying to be all inspirational on the internet and encourage people to do stuff that’s new and “outside your comfort zone”. I maintain that you need to be aware of what your comfort zone is prior to stepping outside of it, hence why I started with this piece instead of the next one. If you know your comfort zone and you stray from it, you always know where it is for when you need to get back to it for whatever reason.


Saving Games for Tomorrow

There was a recent Extra Creditz video on PATV that has had me thinking since I watched it. It talked about how there’s no preservation of video games like there’s now preservation of movies or books or paintings or what-have-you. There are games that have not only passed from public consciousness, but they’ve also disappeared entirely from the world.

This is a tragedy and it has to be stopped. So, I’m going to see if I can do something about it.

It won’t be today or tomorrow, but some day. I need to build myself up so that I can take care of this.

The games don’t just need to be preserved, the source code does, the art assets, the music, the scripts, everything needs to be stored and maintained. An environment needs to be created for students to study them, to learn how these pieces of art were made. This “Vault of Gaming” could in fact be a tremendous learning resource for our future game designers, artists, musicians, writers, programmers, and so on.

This is something I’m passionate about. Preserving gaming history for the future is important. There are games that had such an impact on me as a child that no one really talks about today. For example, take a look at Starflight and you’ll see other games that grew in its wake like Mass Effect.

There is art that is lost to time. I wish to act to save what I can. I’m thinking of eventually going back to school to get a graduate degree or two so people would take me seriously. I’m thinking of proposing this non-profit service to the Smithsonian or the federal government in some capacity. I don’t know how it will all work out, but I do know that this is what I want to do.

I’m passionate about games and, while I have no real talent at making them, I can certainly save them for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

Until next time.

– Elorfin

P.S. “Any great work of art … revives and readapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world — the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air.” – Leonard Bernstein


What makes a great game? – Part 1: Music

Hi everyone! This is part one of my 435 part series, Better Know a… wait… wrong! This is the first part of some kind of series that will be however many parts I feel it will be until I’ve nailed down my perspective a bit.

I want to tackle what makes games great for me (specifically) and to touch on what makes them great for everyone else (generally). Obviously, my perspective is limited to what I like and that’s what this little project is all about so, well, deal with it. For context, I’ve provided links to some of the references I make.

Anyways, I was watching some clips on YouTube that contained some orchestrated video game music and I was wondering why I want to see my game music presented in such a fashion and why I enjoy it when it hits the big music halls. I think I might have an answer to that: I want my favorite moments to be presented in a format that is obviously and without question HIGH CLASS. Orchestrated music is always high class to me. The performers take it very seriously and the audience treats whatever they perform as a serious thing. This probably stems from the classical pieces they typically play which are by definition today culturally serious and historically important. Orchestrated music is the highest form of presentation that any music can achieve to be (my opinion, so nyah). The pure music just washing over you, letting it fill the room and flow in and around you, yeah, the orchestra is the best medium for this.

When I experience an event and it has music associated, I find it easier to recall said event. Music is a very powerful device that conveys emotion and thought and when associated with events that are powerful and poignant on their own, well, it’s a complete presentation.

In my past, I’ve played a great number of games. The games that I feel have incredible soundtracks weren’t the games I started on: Sim City, Civilization, F-19 Stealth Fighter, Starflight, Star Fleet, Empire, or any of a dozen other games. The earliest memory of a game with a fantastic soundtrack that still impacts me today comes from (well, there’s two) Final Fantasy VI (it was III back then) and Chrono Trigger, both on the Super Nintendo. When playing those games, I immediately feel the joy inherent in living through something that I experienced positively back then. When listening to the soundtracks, I remember every event that happened. When I want to relive the games without playing them, I listen to the music.

Off the top of my head, if I listen to the Phantom Forest track from Final Fantasy VI, I remember finding my way to the Ghost Train that carries the deceased away from our world to the next and Cyan watching his wife and son leave. If I listen to the Bombing Mission track from Final Fantasy VII, I remember riding on the train at the beginning of the game, wondering who the hell this spiky haired guy was and further wondering what this mission had in store for me (and what in the world was I getting into?). When listening to Frog’s Theme from Chrono Trigger, I see in my mind the mountain opening before Frog as he wields the Masamune and vows to defeat Magus. Music in video games is a powerful device…

…but it’s not restricted to video games. In Star Wars, when I hear the Binary Sunset track, I can envision a young Luke Skywalker standing and watching the suns of Tatoo I and Tatoo II set, wondering where his future is going. In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the Concerning Hobbits piece makes me think of the Hobbits going about their business in preparation of Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday. So, when I want to experience a movie without watching the movie, I listen to the soundtrack.

It’s also not just memories of scenes. It’s the emotional connections that those scenes have for me. When hearing the Battle with Magus Theme from Chrono Trigger, I remember fighting him and feeling like the fight could go either way at any time as I struggled to keep my trio alive through the onslaught of spells Magus frequently dropped. When hearing the piece from Final Fantasy XIII called Blinded by Light, I feel excitement regarding the battle that MUST be going on right now. Every time I hear Chrono Cross’ Scars of Time (aka Time Scar), I remember the investment I made in that game and all the incredible experiences that went along with it as well as the successful strategies and terrible defeats I suffered while playing. For the record, the final boss fight in Chronopolis was a real pain. *shakes fist* Curse you, Miguel!

Growing up, PC games typically didn’t have great soundtracks. X-COM had a decent one that kept me excited or scared depending on what was going on. Wing Commander III was one of my earliest quality PC soundtrack experiences that sticks in my head. I didn’t experience the awesomeness that was The Secret of Monkey Island until later on (but chronologically, that’s years before WCIII), but that soundtrack is awesome and the theme for the game is nearly iconic for adventure games. So, yeah, they were there, but decent PC soundtracks didn’t come along until later (with Warcraft II and such and yes, I acknowledge that my game timeline might be a little off).

I suppose part of my want to hear orchestrated soundtracks of my games stems from a desire to hear my passions and pastimes validated in a public forum where a large number of people voluntarily pay to experience what I once experienced on a much more emotionally invested level. I want people to look at this music and wonder where such notes came from and then to seek out the original source with the curiosity borne of a desire to experience the emotions that the music provokes. When I hear music, it takes me places that I’ve been before. When I hear the Imperial March, I was there with Vader as he condemned the Rebellion. When I hear Forth Eorlingas, I was there as the Rohirrim rode to the rescue. When I hear Clash on the Big Bridge, I was there to fight Gilgamesh! Um, for that last one, yes in Final Fantasy V and later again in Final Fantasy XII when Gilgamesh is an optional hunt (they remixed the original song for the latter one).

I want to go there. I want to be there. Music is my vehicle that takes me where I want to go and helps me feel the emotions tied to those places and doing those things. For the record, Lost Odyssey has an awesome soundtrack, but it’s very sad (especially A Sign of Hope and Parting Forever). The thing is… well, orchestrated music speaks to me WAYYYYY more than the regular stuff we hear on the radio. Songs with words touch me, but not like A Sign of Hope does. The Indiana Jones theme speaks more of adventure to me than any song with lyrics that was in [insert recent action movie here].

A moving and powerful soundtrack is a must for a good game. The longer I play games, the more I find that I love a good soundtrack. When Final Fantasy XIII was still on its way out here in the U.S., I pre-ordered the soundtrack for myself. It’s awesome and the more I play the game, the more the soundtrack gains relevance and power with me. If the music is good, I suppose I’m more tolerant of the shortcomings of the game.

A great piece sends a tingle up my spine. It makes me go “wow” and compels me to listen to it all the way through. It makes me feel like I’m in the presence of something important or powerful or incredible or whatever. When I hear Frog’s Theme (look above for the link) performed amazingly well, it literally sends chills down my spine. THAT is powerful music. I have a theory that it’s the trumpets and/or the entire brass section, but I’m also a fan of the strings… so yeah, I think I’ll just claim it’s the orchestral nature and leave it at that.

Oh, the clips that spawned this link-heavy presentation of mine were of a Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross medley done this past September in Germany. Here’s part one and here’s part two.

Until next time, let the music move you!

– Elorfin

P.S. Because I played the PC version of FFVII, I must admit that I heard/saw the intro far more than the rest of the game while I tried different sound card settings. Eventually I got it right, after experiencing the same intro cutscene at least six times.

P.P.S. A quick timeline of the release dates of the discussed objects in this particular post (this doesn’t mean I saw Star Wars in 1977 since I wasn’t born until several years later):

  • Star Wars – 1977
  • Star Wars Imperial March – 1980
  • Indiana Jones – 1981
  • Star Fleet I: The War Begins – 1985 (DOS)
  • Starflight – 1986 (DOS)
  • Empire: Wargame of the Century – 1987 (DOS)
  • F-19 Stealth Fighter – 1988 (DOS)
  • Sim City – 1989 (DOS)
  • The Secret of Monkey Island – 1990 (DOS)
  • Civilization – 1991 (DOS)
  • Final Fantasy V – 1992 (Japan Only)
  • Final Fantasy VI – 1994 (SNES)
  • Wing Commander III – 1994 (PC)
  • Chrono Trigger – 1995 (SNES)
  • Warcraft II – 1995 (PC)
  • Final Fantasy VII – 1998 (PC)
  • Chrono Cross – 2000 (US Release)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – 2002
  • Final Fantasy XII – 2006 (US Release)
  • Lost Odyssey – 2008 (US Release)
  • Final Fantasy XIII – 2010 (XBOX 360)

P.P.P.S. I forgot to mention Lunar! Gah! I fail!