An Early Christmas
December 14, 2000

It's been rather exciting these past few months. The release of so many phenomenal RPGs is no doubt sucking away our free time like mad, not to mention being a drain on our wallets. Those of you who have read my Skies of Arcadia Review, already know how impressed I was with that game. In fact, I went out and imported a copy of the Eternal Arcadia Limited Edition Box, filled with goodies galore. I'm sure The GIA won't mind, but here's a little plug to their website which has some scans of the goodies I now possess. Drool. Get pissed at me for having something you don't have. Send me hatemail. Or not.

With all these new games to play, I suppose I'll let the sudden decrease of editorial submissions slide this time. But I expect to see more come in, or else I'll.... well.... I'll end up doing nothing. Of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

Rather than babbling on, dig right into the good stuff.

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End of the Road?

I have heard countless arguments for and against the use of 3D in games today. Some of these people sagaciously noted that polygons often lack the detail and emotion found in 2D, while others bluntly yelled out that 3D is just plain better. Now, many new arguments are appearing concerning the new-and-improved 3D graphics of such systems as the X-Box and the GameCube. From what weíve seen, these technological titans may be capable of taking the best of both worlds and fusing them together in a delightful blend. However, if this happens, how much further can we go? Weíve already hit some stuff that can almost be mistaken for reality, so how long can we continue to progress before we hit the final wall to break down in the world of graphics?

The first big advancement graphically in gaming occurred when the Nintendo Entertainment System hit the shelves. This amazing system took a concept that Sega designed (Making the objects in the game look like what they were supposed to be) and expanded upon it greatly. Any old-school game fan can tell you that NES titles such as Super Mario Bros. 3 were considered incredible back then, although I doubt I ever heard the word beautiful used to describe one. However, things were just starting.

When I first saw the Super Nintendo, I was stunned. There was so much detail, so many colors, so much graphical power there that I was literally shocked. I decided then that games could not possibly get any better. I was wrong. After a few years of quasi-friendly competition with the mud-slinging Genesis, new gaming creatures like the Jaguar and the Sega CD appeared, bringing a shadow of doubt upon the trusty old SNES. However, while they did have some large advantages over it, many believed that graphics were not moving along all that rapidly. The PlayStation changed all of that.

With a cold, efficient mixture of shockingly detailed 3D effects and the now-commonplace juggernaut known as FMVs, the PlayStation basically slaughtered all of the competition. If it were not for the SNESí long history and reliability, it would have ended up on the back shelves of history like its competition. Sonyís dynamo ran the industry for quite some time, but it did not show its true force until the N64 arrived. Nintendoís new one-trick-pony seemed great at first, with vibrant colors and a handful of visually impressive titles like Super Mario 64, but after a brief moment in the limelight, it was thrashed completely by an old friend. Squaresoft shocked the world when it announced that it would be deserting its long-time ally Nintendo, but when it joined Sony, Square truly dealt the N64 a fatal blow. Final Fantasy VII changed gaming forever. The FMVs seemed years ahead of their time, and I can remember thinking as Aeris crossed the streets of Midgar in the opening that Nintendo was doomed. Another great advancement had come, and then things slowed down.

Letís rush to the present. Very little advancement came after that point. The PlayStation continued to improve the quality of both game and movie, but not remarkably. The N64 slowly fell in quality, rarely making games that even came close to those of its starting line up. And now, new systems are appearing. The DreamCast, the X-Box, and the GameCube shall be bringing graphical marvels to the world the likes of which weíve only seen in reality, but is this the end? Perhaps when 3D television technology comes around things will improve, but is that it for the moment? I can see no way that any great industrial revolutions can come until then, but hey, I said the same thing for the SNES.

Innovative companies have always managed to pump out some sort of new hardware to shun all other systems or new software to take advantage of it, so I think I can safely say that you CAN hold your breath for better things to come and I will not have to fear countless lawsuits*.

*-Not to be taken literally. Iíve never cared for lawsuits.

- Dancin' Homer

Personally, I don't know what to think. Just when you think things can't possibly get better, game companies turn around and try something new, and more often than not, it ends up being something amazing. Personally, I'm still a big fan of cartoon-style characters, as I don't get really excited over realism. I'm guessing that the environments for the worlds in RPGs will get larger and larger, and spells will probably get even more spectacular than they already are. We'll all see soon enough.
Graficks Suxx0r!

Now, I'd like to think of myself as a seasoned video gamer, my first experience being with Donkey Kong on the Coleco Vision, various games on my friend's Atari, and Oregon Trail on the Apple IIe. I've been around during the so-called good ol' days of gaming and seen many of the greats, like Zelda and FF6. Then, about a year ago I'm guessing, I visited RPGFan for the first time. Very cool site, I thought, and I've been visiting it ever since. Here is the first place that I've experienced some very strange things. Namely, people more than 5 years younger than me saying they miss the good ol' days. Some of these people aren't even out of high school, and they're saying RPGs should all go back to roots, when many of them weren't even around when the roots were established. To me, that would be like me saying the good ol' days were when all the members of Led Zeppelin were still alive. I wasn't even alive yet.

I suppose that by now the reader is wondering when I'll get to a point. Well, here it is. For one to make an argument that old games are the best there'll ever be when that person was not participating in the gaming scene in the early days is completely unfounded and ludicrous. These people were not around in the so-called good ol' days, or at least not in the gaming scene. There's a difference between playing an old game now just to say you've played it, and having played it when it was first available. When I first played The Legend of Zelda, it was one of the best games available at the time. That is one of the reasons I still hold it in high regard. For a contrasting example, I just played Final Fantasy recently. It's a very good game, but it doesn't feel the same as those games I played when they first came out. My point is: just because a person has played a particular old game, it doesn't mean he or she has been there, done that.

Being that I'm only 22 years old and I don't wish to be seen as some grumpy old man complaining about today's youth, I'll offer some specifics. It seems like there isn't a day that goes by where I don't read remarks like "I play RPGs for [storyline, music, gameplay, my dog]." Will anyone say that they play games for graphics? Of course not, because these people don't want to be blamed for ruining today's gaming scene. It's okay for me to admit that I bought FF6 and Xenogears because I like the music, but it's not ok for Joe Final Fantasy VII Fan to say he bought FF7 because he liked the graphics. Joe is tired also of the pizza faced youth saying "3d Graficks suxx0r, d00D! The days of 2D were better!" I suppose that if the internet had been popular in the late 80's, I would have been criticized or flamed for saying I bought Zelda for its graphics. They would have told me something like "Real gamers play A D&D."

Graphics have certainly come a long way in the last 20 years or so. We've seen the beginnings and advancements of CAD based modeling/prototyping systems, mapping systems, and most importantly, realtime graphics systems. Pong was a major accomplishment in its day, and for many people marked the beginnings of video gaming. It was a simple system, having rectangles, lines and very basic collision detection (On a side note, anyone that thinks graphics are trivial should attempt to recreate Pong. Don't get too discouraged when it takes anywhere from 4 hours to a day to draw your first rectangle). Since Pong (and a couple others), 2D graphics systems began to experience many advancements in a short amount of time, partly thanks to a similar acceleration in hardware advancement. By the time the Sega Genesis and Super NES were released, they pretty much had 2D down and were cranking out cool games by the hundreds. About the same time, Silicon Graphics Inc and others were researching the prospect of using 3D in graphical systems. It turned out to be a long, hard road but they eventually started to see some progress. One of the earliest video games with 3d graphics was Descent, which many considered to be an awesome game. Like Pong, it featured primitive geometric shapes and basic collisions. However, the complexity in developing it was exponentially larger than for Pong. The difficulty in producing 3D systems was well known by then, but that didn't stop people from trying new things (as well it shouldn't). When Quake was released, things started to really heat up. Here was a system that could load realistic looking models with hundreds of polygons and textures! Then the Voodoo card was released, and the 3D game market was born. Quake was more or less the Pac Man of 3D games.

The oldest 3D games I've played on a console are Final Fantasy VII and Parasite Eve, though I know there were others before. They definitely had a lot of issues, such as un-natural movement, low levels of detail, etc. What they do have, and the only thing that's missing from 2D, is perspective. In PE for example, there was no doubt where Aya was in a scene, whether X object was above, below, or to either side of her. One could argue that being able to sense where you are in a scene is the single greatest advantage that 3D has over 2D. Then came games like Final Fantasy VIII, Zelda64, Quake III, and Diablo II. They featured high detail in models, textures, and the scene graphs themselves. There were still plenty of problems, but progress was made. The next wave to hit included Final Fantasy IX, Skies of Arcadia, Shenmue, and others. Compared with the last two waves, these new games feature an amazing level of detail and high performance, realtime 3D engines which included dynamic lighting and media such as fog or particles. I can only imagine what the game development community has up its sleeve for the next generation of games, but I only expect things to get better.

What's the moral of this little lesson? It's simple, really. There is absolutely positively nothing wrong with purchasing a game because you like its graphics, or music, or gameplay, or story. Some of these games will end up not being very good in other areas, but that happens with any entertainment medium. The term graphics whore is an insult to both developers and players, and such accusations are unfounded and idiotic. For anyone who thinks that the gaming scene is being killed because of the switch (or mandate as some may call it) to 3D, I know from personal experience that you're full of nothing but hot air, and I hope anyone reading this will come to that realization too. I like where video games are going, and I'm not afraid to say that graphics have a lot to do with it.

- Cid

This is an interesting topic, and just like my response to your email you sent me, with this editorial attached to it, regarding your choosing which game out of the Phantasy Star series to try out for the first time, I'll say it again... Phantasy Star IV.

Is it the graphics? Well, a good portion of me says yes. The comic-book style cut scenes in the game are numerous, and give you a visual idea of what the characters are doing, or how they are reacting to a given scene. Take those out and play the same game, and it would have felt a lot different. Imagine Lunar without the anime scenes, or your latest Final Fantasy games without the FMV. They sure wouldn't play as smoothly.

I got into console gaming because I was tired of using my imagination back in the days of the old Ultima and AD&D games on my Commodore 64 computer. And I will say right now, they were great to play back then, but I don't want to go back now.
Counterpoint: GO Square!

I have to admit Square is the best darned RPG company ever and I have a feeling not many would disagree with me. Now, all Square games are not necessarily my cup of tea. For example, I love the Final Fantasy series and just about all the games for the SNES. However, Parasite Eve just doesnít get me going (I do not enjoy watching a person attacking a monster by shooting it. Guess Iím used to the old RPGs that took place in medieval times.) But with that said, there are other companies that make decent games, such as GameArts with Grandia or Working Designs with Lunar. However, some gamers may not understand why some games not made by Square are good.

Now in response to Ikari Gendou, you said Lunar was unoriginal, or was not good, when in fact it ranks way up there as one of the greatest RPGs of all time. You might say, "But the graphics blow!!!" But, you have to take into consideration that when it was made, it was made for the Sega CD. It was brought to the Playstation because of how widely loved it was. And Lunar 2 is even better, and is on its way if not already here. So yeah, Square is a great company! I love their games! I have every Final Fantasy, Crono Trigger and Cross, Super Mario RPG, Earthbound, Secret of Mana 1&2, etc... They are my favorite company and will always remain so. But that doesn't mean nobody else can make a good/great RPG. Trust me it can happen. If you donít give other designers a chance, then you will never know.

- RavenGlenn

Short, but to the point. I've only played 2 Square games to completion (Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy VII), and am working on my third (Chrono Trigger), and I personally don't think they're the greatest ever, but I cannot deny that they aren't attempting to be innovative. If I had stuck to my "Sega rules all" routine that I had in the past, I would never have tried Secret of Mana (one of the best games of all time in my opinion), nor would have I even considered getting into Chrono Trigger. You never know what you'll miss out on when you're close minded.
More Bounce To The Ounce!

Lately I've read many views of female gamers pointing out an amount of sexism in videogames today, with titles like Tomb Raider and Dead or Alive frequently topping the list. Quite frankly they're right... but in my opinion its about damn time!! Before all those gamers out there of the feminine variety decide to string me up, just hear me out first.

The last 20 years of gaming have been dominated by male videogame characters with perfect, chiseled physiques and plenty of "pretty boys" as well... Ryu and Ken of Street Fighter for example have perfect physiques, but yet no female gamers complain of seeing all those rippling muscles and pretty faces. However, when the videogame community was introduced to Miss Croft of Tomb Raider, the accusations of sexism were flying from the lips of women everywhere (how come no one complained during the good ol' days of male character dominated games) about miss crofts "overly-developed" physique. The phrase "people only buy it because of her chest, theres no gameplay" come to mind (I for one would have loved Tomb Raider just as much with a male character instead of Lara). When the fighting game Dead or Alive came out though, it became much worse... complaints of the "bounciness" of some of the characters were flying in from "outraged" female gamers. Many people missed out on a very good fighting game because they didn't like "the bounce". These are only videogames people, get over it.

I for one, like the fact that the women characters in games have become more attractive. Think about if you were on an adventure to save a princess, would you rather risk life and limb for "Princess Toadstool", or something that actually resembles a woman? If people want less attractive female characters, then I want more fat, out of shape, butt ugly male characters too.

The "roles" of female characters in games however, HAS to change. The days of the "helpless girl" have gotta go. The programmers have finally made the characters more interesting, only to have them relying on the nearest man to save them. Role Playing Games in general have to change. For years, the role of women has been solely cast as "magic users" or "archers", always supporting the predominently male casts of knights, ninja, samurai, etc., all the time relying on these casts to do the majority of actual fighting, while the women "heal" them or fight with ranged weapons. Fighting games usually make the female fighters faster but much weaker then their male counterparts. That's not always the case either, as there are some women in the world very capable of overpowering many men. In fighting games however, it seems women always have to be the "weaker" sex, and thats just wrong. This is where the TRUE sexism is in videogames.

I want so badly, to see a RPG with a female knight as the central character, but it seems as if the only way I'll ever experience that again is to go play Phantasy Star... it's been all downhill since then though...

- beans

Just like in the last update, this is another one of beans' old articles that he wrote awhile back, and I found this one to be as good as the other one he wrote about Cloud, and he's definitely right about all the points he makes above. Just like the female gamers get attractive male characters, we sexist, macho-pig males want attractive female characters. Note that this is not a bash to the general female gaming populace, since there are a number of you who do not argue these points, and would probably agree with the above article.

But for a moment, just imagine Ryu with a beer gut... or Lara Croft without the breast enlargments. Pretty funny stuff. Or not.


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