Wednesday, January 28, 2015

5 Most Influential Games of Last Generation

With the advent of the previous generation of video games (colloquially referred to as “Generation 7”) we’re left with an excellent opportunity to examine what this generation brought to the gaming world. Since gamers seem to love lists, is there any better way to show my picks than in this form? Without further ado, I present: 5 of the most influential games of last generation:

Minecraft – Indie Games

First, if you haven’t played this game, shame on you. As a creative outlet, it is easily one of the most satisfying games I have ever played. The beauty of open-world games of this kind is that the goal is whatever you make of it. It was clearly one of the most successful games of all time, spawning an entire merchandise/gaming/culture franchise that has become pretty ubiquitous with today’s world. But this doesn't even cover the impact that it had on the gaming community.

Why is this one of the most influential games? Easy; it made indie games a thing. You could argue that Braid pioneered the indie game market as the first game that proved indie games could be good. However, when it comes to success stories, no game ever has even come close to comparing to the success of Minecraft. Starting with humble beginnings, the company was eventually sold to Minecraft for an excess of 2 Billion dollars. Is that even a number we can comprehend?

Call of Duty 4 – Multi-play

Released on multiple platforms in 2007, and being part of the Call of Duty franchise, it had some pretty big shoes to fill. It ended up having amazing action sequences and great levels – some of which are still regarded as some of the best FPS levels in gaming. It turned the Call of Duty franchise into a monster that consumed the entire gaming market, and it's easy to see why.

This game changed the entire landscape of the gaming world for years. CoD4 was one of those rare nexuses of excellence in gaming where everything comes together. It had the story mode, the multi-player, and the cut-scenes. Everything they did here was excellent. In the years to follow, FPS games became a staple of the gaming industry. Even more, modern shooters became a genre unto their own. With a leveling system and an inclusion of randomization in multi-player, this game made FPS games more accessible. If you've played, you know how addicting this game could be. This game continues to be emulated, and its predecessors have largely failed to capture that rare completeness it brought to the industry. This game changed the industry so much, that I (an FPS gamer) became so fatigued with FPS games that I switched to Minecraft, a game on which I'm still stuck...

Wii Sports – Casual Play

If there’s one thing that you could use to describe this gaming generation, it was the rise of the casual gamer. With the introduction of the Wii, gaming became an activity that was widely introduced to the average person. For years, Nintendo couldn't keep up with the demand for their console, and there’s a reason… it was fun.

Of the games released on the Wii, there was really only one that perpetuated the casual gamer influx – Wii Sports. There was no other game that became so accessible to everyone. Showing your friends, parents, or grandparents a video game that used simple motions, Nintendo brought gaming to people who loathed the activity and complained of it being unsocial. Unlike the stereotype, this game was completely based on being social, and that made it more fun. It’s easy to see how this game impacted the industry. Without this game, the rise of the casual gamer probably wouldn't have been so complete.

Left 4 Dead – Co-op

Released by Valve in 2008, yes the company that brought PC gaming back from the brink, this game brought a whole new way to play FPS games. Being a stupidly fun game, Left 4 Dead brought us the fast-paced, super hectic world of zombie hordes-that-run that we fell in love with in such films as 28 Days Later. Like your typical zombie games, this game takes place post-cataclysm. Your goal is to get out of the city to a safe-house. Fortunately for you, your party members are all immune to the virus ravaging the country.

Left 4 Dead is one of the most influential games of the previous generation because it changed the way that co-op was done in games. In this game, you have 4 people… no more, and no less. If you lose one of your party members, that character is immediately taken over by an AI character. Before this point, there were very few games that offered a co-op campaign that was anywhere near as integral as this one. Making a game that was actually fun to play co-op was a difficult task. Halo did a pretty good job, but you were limited to 2 people. So well did their formula of 4 players and only 4 players work that a sequel was released just over a year later.

Gears of War – Cover system

When Gears of War first came out in 2006, there was only one FPS game that anyone played… Halo. Before this, there was no game that even stood a chance taking on the giant that was the Halo Franchise. It’s a good thing that we did, because this game gave us a new universe to play in, with new enemies, new toys, and new game play mechanics.

Gears of War brought a cover system to shooters that became a staple of the industry for a long time. For years, any first/third person game that came out didn't really have a choice – they had to have a cover system. There were some games that predated Gears of War that had good cover systems, but so few of them actually built their game around this aspect. They did it so well with Gears of War that it became a staple for the entire industry. You’d be hard-pressed to find a game that changed the landscape of gaming like this one did with one simple mechanic: cover. In fact, you probably wouldn't have thought that seeking cover would be fun, but they managed to do it. Easily one of the most influential games of the previous generation.

There you have it, folks. My 5 picks for the most influential games of Generation 7. There were a lot of games to choose from, but I think these 5 stand out as having the largest impact. I’m sure some of you will agree, please tell me in the comments below.


A few games that didn't make the list, but were very close can be found below.

Honorable Mentions:
Oblivion – what game showed the capability of Generation 7 better than this one?
Portal – This made us look at what a game actually was, do they need to be violent, and what happened to puzzles?
Uncharted – Storytelling doesn't have to be a secondary part of a game, it can be a primary one.
Day Z – This game made survival games a genre to be reckoned with… and all as an alpha-build. Think of the games that followed this, how many tried to clone its success?
Mass Effect – Sci-Fi games were largely off the map for popularity until this game was released. This was one of the first space operas in a long time, and they exceeded all expectations. A beautiful game with a beautiful universe.
Halo 2 – Very hard to not put this game on this list. Halo 2 is remembered as one of the worst halo games, but would Xbox live have succeeded without it? I don’t think so.
League of Legends – This game has an influence that can be felt across the world. When you think about monetization of games, this game has done it better than anyone else. It’s not pay-to-win, but they’re still making money hand-over fist. It’s a model that has been replicated in countless games since.
Angry Birds – Before this game, mobile gaming was a joke. Now it’s still a joke, but everyone does it. Thanks to this game, we have all sorts of silly/fun games on our mobile devices and we love it. Thanks for making puzzles so fun!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Man of Steel: A Commentary


A Commentary on "Man of Steel"

by Jack Glasken

It’s been 18 months since this movie was released in theatres, and it’s now just over a year until its sequel comes out. I think this is a decent time to write the review I’ve been wanting to. I want to, because my opinion of this movie isn’t a popular one. At the time, the film made a killing in the theatre, which suggests that this was a pretty popular film, and that it was liked. Back then, people spoke about this movie very highly. My opinion does not seem to be the popular one, and I will try to stay away from nit-picking. While I don’t like writing negative articles, I think it’s important to talk about why this film is terrible, and why you should be wary of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Best scene of the movie? I know some ladies who agree.

Let’s start by talking about the major themes of who superman is and what he represents. They call him the Big Blue Boy Scout for a reason. The things he stands for, and routinely preaches, are “truth, justice, and the American way.” This makes sense, considering the character was introduced to us in 1938, which was an interesting time for nationality and our isolationist country. Superman always stood as a symbol of freedom and democracy, going so far as to fight organized crime and defeating corrupt politicians. As a man from Kansas, he was portrayed as having humble beginnings where he was raised, giving him intimate knowledge of the average American, or the Common Joe. This is very important to who the Superman character is, and it helps to understand how he is motivated.

His origin is not limited to his upbringing in Kansas, however. We sometimes forget that Superman is, essentially, an all-powerful alien from a technologically advanced civilization. This is extremely important to the themes that he represents as well. Krypton was a shining jewel of galactic achievement. It was a paradise in which all of the hopes and promises of the universe were made real. The Kryptonians were an advanced society in everything – technologically and culturally. Which is why the destruction of Krypton is extremely important to explaining why Superman is a hero. The sacrifice of his biological parents and the world from which he came only mean something if he lives up to those ideals. When you look at what was lost, you can easily understand what motivates Superman.

Who would want to live here?

What “Man of Steel” gave us and represented was something very different from what Superman is supposed to represent. I will have some spoilers, so please keep this in mind. Let’s start by looking at Pa Kent. In the film, he routinely tells Clark that he needs to suppress his powers and hide his identity from the world. This sets up the first major theme of the film: humans are not ready for an alien, and will react in the worst way to knowing his existence. We have several scenes from several different characters where they talk about how dangerous it would be for him to reveal himself, both for humans and for Clark. Pa Kent believes this so strongly that he sacrifices himself to a tornado (oh Kansas, you so silly) for fear of Clark using his powers and revealing who he really is. This death is completely unnecessary not only because Clark could have easily saved his father, but also because more sacrifice was not necessary to establish who Clark was. He lost his planet, his entire race, and his biological parents – all because of hubris. Do we really need to add MORE to this? Does adding more loss help move the story along or solidify any of these themes more than has already been established in the first 30 minutes?

Dystopian gray on dirt brown is always a good color palette

The film then goes immediately to some multi-year trek of Clark’s where he uses his powers to help people. Not only was Pa Kent’s sacrifice physically pointless, now it’s ideologically pointless. “Hey Pa, I’m really sad that you sacrificed yourself when I could have saved you, so I’m going to do the one thing you never wanted me to do, immediately after the last thing you told me was to never do this thing.” Good going, son. What’s worse, Pa's opinion/fear that is completely justified in the final act of the film, but more on that later. This should frustrate you, because Superman’s father, Jor-El makes a speech about his son being the best hope for their civilization, even going so far as to make him their Codex (some McGuffin they used for no reason). The entire first act is about Superman’s legacy and how he can/will grow beyond that to become the greatest symbol in the galaxy.

"Don't worry about it guys, just follow me"

Let’s talk about that first act of the film. We are given a very long sequence in which we see Krypton and life on Krypton before the calamity. It’s really not a great place to live, to say the least. Besides being ruled by some quasi-religious oligarchy, their society is completely dependent on some ridiculous caste system that isn’t explained in any way. The only thing that seems relevant is that no one on Krypton has a choice in anything in their life, and what choices they do make are largely frowned upon. They go so far as to ostracize Jor-El for having a live-birth with his wife (apparently Krypton in the Snyder-verse has cloned/lab births instead of natural births). Thematically, Krypton was shown as this dark, gritty, petty place. Obstinacy seems to be the rule of law on this planet. So why should I care if terrible people lose their civilization?

This is the exact opposite of what Krypton was in the comics. It was always a bright, clean place full of promise. It was a utopia where all of the promise of scientific achievement and advancement were realized. It was an extremely important piece in the character of Superman. In fact, the origin cities in the DC Universe are a character unto their own. Their imagery and themes are often very important for the characters they represent. This film changed that in a way that isn’t representative of what Superman is and has been since the 1940s. People were drawn in to see Superman and they got… something else. I’ll mention this later.

In the final act we see a spectacle of destruction. I’ve heard this part of the film described as disaster porn, and it’s hard to disagree with that assessment given the wide scale of destruction the film exhibited. Why this is significant is that it proves Snyder-Pa Kent’s suspicions that the world is not ready for Superman. I don’t think the world will ever be ready for hundreds of thousands of deaths and billions (trillions?) of dollars of destruction in one freak super powered fight that spanned from Kansas to Metropolis (New York?). The issue of Superman using his powers in populated areas has been addressed several times before. He has spoken about having to tread carefully around civilians… because he’s Superman. Any slight mistake might result in the deaths of normal people that he has sworn to protect… but in the case of this final action sequence, he couldn’t be bothered to protect these people. In fact, when fighting in downtown Smallville, he couldn’t even be bothered to move the fight 2 blocks in any direction to get out of the dead center of town. It’s called Smallville, I’m guessing it’s not hard to get out of town with a car, much less when you can fly/super jump.

This is an INHABITED building

This brings me to a very large point against this movie. Superman does not kill. And don’t argue with me, Superman does not kill. I know there were comics way back when he hadn’t been truly established as a character, blah blah. I know all that. It’s since been changed or the continuity has shifted and it’s no longer relevant. Superman does not kill. No, no, no. Never ever ever. There have been entire comics dedicated to this exact issue and they address things like what the world would be like if superheroes killed. I’ll tell you the ending: it’s bad. Basically, if Superman killed, he become judge, jury, and executioner. If you listen to the things superman says in his comics and cartoons, you know he has no desire to do any of those things because he believes in humanity and the justice system. If you tell me he had no choice but to kill Zod, I will tell you to stop talking to me, because you don’t know what you’re talking about, and you shouldn’t argue. This is why I don’t like writing negative articles… because it can get mean.

No other option, really?

It has been said that they wanted to make this film like “Superman Begins,” where he has to experience taking a life to figure out who he is and what ideal he wants to strive for. This is a ridiculous statement and is insulting to the audience. The entire second act of the film was about him finding himself after the death of Pa Kent. You’re telling me in the years he was gone, he didn’t have enough time to figure out what kind of person he wanted to be? He’s not “I don’t kill unless I really have to” man. He’s Superman. He’s the Big Blue Boy Scout. Damn it, he doesn’t kill, he always finds another way, because he has always believed in a better way.

What they did in this film is make him Batman. He comes from a dark, gritty city where there was no hope and it was ruled by a corrupt class. What city does that sound like? He has a tragic backstory where his father dies and he has to go on a journey to discover himself in order to find out what/who he wants to be. Then it’s up to him to stop a doomsday device (thanks Goyer) using his wits and willpower. Who does that sound like? So what are they going to do with Batman in Batman v. Superman if Superman is now Batman? Make him the Green Arrow? Because they already made Green Arrow into the Green Batman (I do love that show, though). It’s so frustrating that I can’t stand it. Warner Bros, you should be doing better than this. There is no reason Marvel should be kicking your butts this soundly. Get your game together, we all want you to.
I just want to say, I probably would have loved this movie if it was called Hancock. Just sayin’


PS I want to point out that I didn't address some other pretty huge issues like the misuse of an awesome actress in Amy Adams, or her character, Lois Lane. I also didn't mention how the military in this movie are morons and can't figure out who Superman is after he tells them he's from Kansas (Lois figured it out in like 15 minutes). I didn't address any of the Christian themes of this movie, and one of the most unnecessary scenes I've ever seen in a film (Superman in church?). So keep that in mind.

Send me love in the comments!