Monthly Archives: March 2010

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

It seems to me that people in person as well as those reading this blog are generally dismissive of discussion of video games. No matter what strides the medium makes, people cannot help but to connect it to adolescent power fantasies – an immature notion of control in an otherwise uncontrollable world. By and large, it is true. Walk by any Game$top and find images of larger than life men holding larger than possible weapons, not to mention promises of quests that can only be completed by saviors. Despite these things, I urge people to give the medium another chance. Only with additional consumer input can it reach its potential.

Note: Not a scene from the game I know that I am not the only one that sees what the potential of the medium is, but it feels like even those involved in the industry are still trying to figure out what toys they are playing with – along with being unnecessarily focused on a narrow audience. Games can be more than fantasies for asocial, weak-willed males. Games at their best are simulators conducive for problem-solving, not to mention an untapped source for interactive fiction. I long for the day when video games are integrated into classrooms for more than just game studies. I long for the day when the latest story craze is found on a console or computer first.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is an example of the latter. The problem-solving is a moot matter. The game merely expects the player to think intuitively about interacting with common objects to find keys or open doors. (One of the last keys in the game is found by unvelcroing (not a word) the neck flap on a jacket, pulling a chain out of a shirt pocket, and then grabbing the dangling key.) The storytelling in the game, however, is above and beyond most other games. It does not take much, but I put this up there with Eternal Darkness and Metal Gear Solid 3.

Note: Actual game play footage The game begins with a psychological advisory explaining that the game will be mining the player for data which then gets integrated into game play. After a short video, the game begins with a psychiatry session, the framing device of the story, and the player has to fill out a true-false questionnaire. Then traditional game play occurs after the psychiatrist asks you to start from the beginning. Your player avatar, Harry Mason, loses control of his car on an extraordinarily snowy day, crashes, and then starts searching for his missing daughter who was sleeping in the backseat. The adventure begins, and the only actions you have are shining your flashlight on objects and calling your daughter’s name.

To be honest, I was not a fan of the objective and projective tests employed by the psychiatrist, nor was I a fan of the choice of a psychiatrist over a more traditional therapist. After completing the game, having a psychiatrist makes sense. As for the tests, they could have been made to better resemble actual tests rather than exist to communicate bland binary data that can be deciphered pretty easily once the player knows what it affects.

But the effects of the data is pretty amazing overall. Decisions made at the very beginning of the game affect the atmosphere as well as Harry’s personality. The answer to “Does alcohol make you feel more relaxed?” will litter the world with soft drink or beer cans. Providing different opinions on sex will make Harry either an extremely nice guy or a pervert who comments on every picture (or mannequin) he stumbles across. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, as even thematic elements of the story change, resulting in completely different endings.

I failed to discuss the nightmare segments in the text. They are also dynamically influenced by your psych evals and behaviors. Pictured is a standard demon, called a Raw Shock. They chase you and you can't fight back. Their form begins to change over time, matching with your psyche. On one play my shocks had weird abstract crowns. On another, they had breasts and high heels. I think there are six other kinds I haven't seen... Maybe I my background is too heavily littered with Choose Your Own Adventure books, but I have been waiting for a game that changes based on user actions. Sure, many games have multiple endings. Sure, many games have branching dialogue trees. Few games, however, broaden both elements out and then make the multiplicity make some sort of sense in the end. (Eternal Darkness, I must say, brilliantly interwove its three endings together. That game still needs a sequel…) I just cannot get enough of Shattered Memories.

I hate to put up a subtle spoiler warning, since people might complain otherwise, but the greatest strength the game has is how the ending weaves the framing device and traditional game play together. Harry Mason makes his way to the lighthouse clinic where he finds his daughter in session – except Harry is not there. He died 18 years ago, but his daughter has not been able to let him go. Harry and the world are a reflection of how she wants to see and remember things. When she sees him, he tells her to let go. She is not cured, though, as the psychiatrist notes that further sessions will be necessary. As will starting back at the beginning.

Proudly, this is one of the few games out there that actually deserves a mature rating from the ESRB. Unlike most games that wear the M proudly as a badge for its juvenile approach to violence and sexuality, this game gets there by actually being mature. Well, that and some of the darker subject matter that gets explored, but what else do you expect to find in the psyche of a girl who is discussing the loss of her father figure?

Movie ticket price increase

Is an empty theatre the ultimate goal of theatre owners? I’m not surprised with the announcement that ticket prices for movie theatres have gone up yet again. As of today, there was a slight increase in what most of us already consider overpriced experiences. As the linked report says, 3D films will be hit by this the most. The rest will only see minimal price increases. In checking online, I’ve found that the prices for my local theatre only went up $1. The bargain matinees, for the theatres offering them, remained the same. (Feel envious if you cannot find $4-$5 movies near you. It pays to live in small, unimportant areas sometimes.)

I still call bullshit. The reason for the price increase is not due to theatres trying to make up for loss of revenue but instead because ticket sales increased 10% over the past year. The theory is that theatre attendance will remain static or increase, leading to increased revenue. I will not fault them for trying to make an additional buck, but the reasoning used is disappointing.

I want to demand that we avoid theatres until prices are decreased but to a preferred status quo, but doing so is petty. $1 in my market is not enough for a boycott, and 3D does not affect me because I am not bothering with it until Tron Legacy in December. But the reasoning used by the theatre owners is the same type of reasoning that led to the decreased sales of past years. They do not seem to understand that hiking up the prices because people are going will eventually lead to people not going. It honestly makes me wonder if Disney’s desire to cut Alice in Wonderland’s run in theatres short was based in part on prescience.

I also wonder how popular 3D films will be with their prices creeping closer to (and in some places exceeding) $15…

Thoughts?

Why I hate online gaming…

This is the ranking screen from Mega Man 10. My score does not read 5 days, 2 hours, and 3 minutes. No, that is 5 hours, 2 minutes, and 3 seconds. That means that the top scorer completed the game in 52 seconds – an impossible feat. I wonder what people get out of cheating at games like this. Is there a sense of accomplishment I am not understanding?

For the record, I am not crying foul due to my game time. Mine is not suitable for submission. If I were to play again with the goal being reduction of overall time (and, of course, bragging rights), I would definitely stop myself and ask why I should bother. The number 7 score, by Purrfect:3, is the only one that looks realistic – and that barely broke top 10!

LOP in Underland

EverDisney's first animated adaption of Alice panned by critics for decades before being recognized as something amazing. Maybe my opinion about the current film will change as well. heard the theory about Least Objectionable Programming? It was created by Paul Klein, a former executive of NBC, to steer television programming in the most profitable direction. The theory states that the number of viewers at any given time remains constant, and all they want to do is experience television. They turn on the television just to have it on, and their viewing decisions are determined by what programs offer them the least challenge. “Thought, that’s tune-out, education, tune-out. Melodrama’s good, you know, a little tear here and there, a little morality tale, that’s good. Positive. That’s least objectionable,” he said.

The theory may have been postulated in the 1960’s merely for television, but it is hard to believe that the idea has not been expanded since then and is no longer in use. For every complicated TV show or movie you find, there are at least three least objectionable programs looming around it. Shows and movie writers are often asked to simplify their shows to a less objectionable form. The ones that do not make the cut are often canceled. Well, not unless they are on cable or produced independently.

Did anyone happen to see Alice in Wonderland last weekend? Am I wrong for believing it to be one of these least objectionable programs? No education or thought, a forced moral of sorts, and cheap pandering to teen girls? I may be hard on the film, given that it is a Disney-made film intended largely for children. Then again, so was the amazing 1950’s film.