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New Look, Same Great Taste
June 8, 2001

It's been way too long, I know. Thank the Lord our new news system is a success, the last thing I would have needed is more stress had it not worked.

I would like to make mention of something. My laptop has been working on and off lately, and this has put me in a nice situation. Namely, a lot of editorials "magically" disappeared. If you do not see your work here on this update, it was either lost into the depths of nothingness that is my laptop's hard drive, or it was rejected ( =P ) by me for some reason or another. If you're sure I didn't reject it ( =P ), feel free to resubmit your editorial if you still (I hope) have a copy on your hard drive, which obviously works better than mine. And not being able to answer emails doesn't help things either. Earthlink certainly has made things go wacko, now that they've pretty much bought out nearly every ISP in the nation. Anyways, onward with the writing, and keep the submissions coming. I'm using a desktop now, so I won't lose them anymore, I promise.


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This Week's Question: Where do you see the MMO genre going from here?
 
 
Counterpoint: Just One Piece of the Artistic Puzzle

In taking up the pen, or in this instance, keyboard, to rebut Mr. Harnest's arguments on the need for cultural and artistic adventurism on the part of the gaming community, I, admittedly, am taking up an argument that I, originally, did not put much stock in. I've always believed, much as Mr. Harnest apparently does, that the masses, of any community, mind you, not just the RPG community, needs to broaden its horizons. The act allows certain of the masses to find their own unique persona and, consequently, demarcate one person from another, thereby allowing members of the masses to take on the form of individuals, rather than be labeled into one set group or another. However, my qualm isn't with Mr. Harnest's opinion about the need to expand said artistic horizons but, rather, with the target of his argument, namely the RPG community.

When I first read Mr. Harnest's article, I was struck by the following statement, "The opinions of distaste, or perhaps more correctly disregard, for the other disciplines of art by many gamers have been exemplified through statements of ignorance and disrespect." First of all, I've seen these opinions of distaste or disregard coming from those who consider themselves eclectic and adventuress in matters of art, directed towards videogames themselves. I believe that one of the fundamental reasons why these gamers that Mr. Harnest mentions seem to take such positions towards other forms of art is that it is a direct reaction to the criticism they receive from supposedly "broad-minded" individuals and groups who constantly bash or simply disregard video games.

I myself am wary of even using the words "video games" to describe my interests because of the looks of condescension the admission garners from most segments of the population. God forbid I expound by including the acronym RPG in there anywhere. My interest is categorized as tangential at best, repulsive at worst. Mentally (for doing so publicly would have no effect) I often react against such treatment by eliciting a disdain for those art forms that are "acceptable". It's an ego-preservation response, probably along the lines of the giant counter-culture response of the 60s to 50s values and restrictions. I want to feel as if my opinions and tastes are as good if not better than those of the ones criticizing me, so I seek out others who share my tastes and elevate those tastes to a status above all others.

Now, it may be said that broadening the horizons of RPG players would allow a greater level of acceptance in the aforementioned critical culture. Not so, mainly due to the fact that many gamers already have broadened horizons. I wondered, after reading Mr. Harnest's editorial, who these gamers were that had such disdain for other art forms, since most of the gamers I am acquainted with, both closely and tangentially, have a wide range of artistic interests. In the mix are art lovers whose tastes range from Monet and Rodin to Pollack and Jones, Dvorak and Tchaikovski to Nirvana and Eminem, Aristophenes and Shakespeare to James Joyce and Alan Ginsburgh, Cecil B. Demille and John Ford to Stephen Speilberg and Penny Marshall. They enjoy many different forms of artistic expression, as do I, and in fact I find that RPG enthusiasts are some of the most well rounded people, in terms of academic ability, artistic appreciation, and cultural diversity, of any of the artistic sub-cultures out there, save perhaps the beat poets (some of them are just too out there, at least in New Brunswick). I personally believe Mr. Harnest is setting up a straw man here.

However, let us assume that what Mr. Harnest says has some truth behind it, that RPG players are adversely critical towards other art forms, such as film, novel, etc. Perhaps there is a sound reason behind this desultory opinion. In any age, any art form that has become popularized tends to be rife with submissions of middling quality at best. One needs only look at the many editorials on RPGFan in which people claim that RPGs have really dropped in quality ever since they went "mainstream" thanks to Final Fantasy VII. Could it be that gamers, many of who grew up with RPGs as their primary niche art form, would stick to that art form, even when it gets diluted by growing number of poor sequels and middling copycat titles, rather than having to wade through the already large segment of mediocre popular music, art, and literature that have been pushed on them by everyone from Carson Daily to Oprah? When I was constantly being bombarded by, "great works of art and literature" throughout my childhood by the public school system, repeatedly forced to compress these novels into reading times of 2 or 3 weeks amongst all my other schoolwork, having to analyze Bach and Beethoven and Mozart instead of actually being able to enjoy them, is it any wonder that I'd retreat to RPGs instead of great works of narration? With RPGs I am able to pace myself, keep involved, and not be graded on my progress except in terms of Gold Pieces or Experience Points. My future doesn't rest on how well I do in a video game, and yet I did quite a bit more analysis of the plots of Final Fantasy IV and VI when I was in High School than I did on The Grapes of Wrath or MacBeth.

I like to consider RPGs like opera. Both combine various art forms into one continuous whole. The art of the backgrounds, the musical scores, the dialogue set to that music, the animation of the performers, all of these are present in opera and RPGs. With both you get a plethora of artistic experiences, though RPGs are more willing to experiment. You can't find great techno mixed with a baroque harpsichord solo and stunning aboriginal drumming in Rigoletto, or for that matter any opera I can think of. RPGs encompass more genres of more artistic forms than most other forms of media, save, perhaps, film.

And here, I believe, I get to the heart of Mr. Harnest's argument, for he talks about film more than any other artistic form in his editorial (perhaps a bit of bias there?) As a narrative form, film is quite comprehensive in its ability to convey many different ideas in many different artistic forms. In fact, most RPGs have been attempting to achieve the quality of film, in terms of direction and writing, most notably the Final Fantasy Series. Yet there is one important difference that RPGs will probably always have over film, and that is the RPG's ability to let the audience choose their own path, for the most part. Though better exemplified in PC RPGs, console RPGs still give quite a bit of freedom to the player in choosing a path, in customizing the story, shall we say, all within the context of a larger story artfully crafted by talented writers and directors. RPGs remove the passivity of the audience to make them an active and interactive creator of the narrative. As RPGs get more and more advanced, hopefully that quality will improve more and more.

Obviously my argument isn't in favor of closing off your artistic horizons in favor of some sort of xenophobic notion of everything non-RPG as being beneath you. I seriously do not believe that many RPG players actually hold such a view, but if they do, I can understand, even if I don't adopt their reasons. RPGs represent a unique art form that has the ability to combine many others in a way that previous art forms haven't been able to. Presently, video games have been getting big name support, with NiN performing music for Tony Hawk, Tom Clancy writing the plots for PC games, etc. RPGs will soon be combining all those other genres, so there really won't be too much excuse not to broaden your horizons: they'll all be there in one convenient little game. It's a wonderful medium to force feed gamers that great culture that they wouldn't otherwise get. A bright future indeed.

- Sensei Phoenix

Parn:
I learned a new word after you sent me this editorial. Ease up on the vocabulary bro, I'm not majoring in English. =P Excellent piece of writing.

The commentary about mentioning video games to the average citizen... I can relate to that very well. During my time at college at IUP, mentioning that I play video games got me those types of looks from some that shout, "what a nerd." From the rest that did play games, the majority were solely devoted to sports games, and mentioning RPGs reciprocated a sneer from them.

I met a very nice girl at the campus who was into gaming during her younger years, and thought RPGs were stupid, after watching me play them. It wasn't until I asked her to give at least one a chance, and she was hooked onto Panzer Dragoon Saga. Needless to say, she may yet be another player on Phantasy Star Online Version 2 this summer.
 
Save The Princess?

I remember reading a poll that asked what people thought was the most over-used plotline in RPGs. I was a little shocked to see that 20% of the respondents thought that "Saving the Princess" was the most over-used. In a time where such medieval concepts as princesses are used in relatively few games, where did all these people play this plotline that they're so tired of? Not in any recent game, that's for sure. So what gives? Let's talk about it..

Save the princess. It's a staple of this fine hobby of ours. The foundation upon which the entire 8-bit generation of games was built, developing into the industry we see today.

The variations were endless. The S.t.P (Save the Princess) concept was so basic that it was altered into saving not only cute chicks, but also rescuing relatives, partners, politicians, and pets.

But when you think about it, were there actually that many RPGs which featured this theme as their ultimate basis?

Zelda. Arguments abound as to whether or not it's an RPG, but let's put that aside for now. I have to bring it up because it's perhaps THE princess rescuing archetype (I mean, her name's in the title for goodness sake). Zelda features prominently in the collective consciousness of the entire gaming culture. Even people who've never played the Zelda series know that it involves a princess named Zelda. Now with that in mind, isn't it possible that such a widespread awareness might contribute to a misconception of the S.t.P theme being overdone?

If you remember the classic RPGs, you'll remember that there wasn't an overwhelming number of princesses running around. In Final Fantasy 1 there wasn't a princess in sight. In Dragon Warrior, it was a fetch quest at the very beginning of the game, and had little to do with the players ultimate goal. Even in the area of CRPGs, there weren't an overwhelming number of rescues taking place. World saving was almost always the outcome.

And that's the problem. How often can you save the world?

When every game is overloaded with melodrama, and grandiose world threatening plot twists abound, doesn't that get just as tiresome as "Sorry dude, but the Princess is in another castle"? Why can't a more personal, simple plot achieve the same goal of engrossing the player? If you can put yourself in the protagonists place, isn't it all the more enjoyable an experience? It's certainly more realistic. It's hard to put myself in the shoes of an effeminate twelve year-old world beater. Who could possibly think like such a character?

Think about it. Say your sitting at home enjoying a refreshing glass of...um...something tasty. Anyway, your old friend (insert name of your wackiest friend here) bursts into your home and says "Holy crap! A band of crazy guys kidnapped our incredibly gorgeous significant others! I think they were members of an evil organization of some sort! Let's go and kick their butts!" Of course, you wouldn't hesitate to leap into action right after finishing your tasty beverage!

However, if someone ran into the room and said "Hey, we've got to save the world! Godlike beings are about to, like, drop big rocks on...everybody's stuff! Only we, who work at Target on weekends, can stop them!" You'd be a little more inclined to debate the pros and cons of such action.

Look, in all seriousness, I can get into a good S.t.W (Save the World) quest just like anybody else. But there is no more inherent value in that basic theme than there is in something of a far smaller (or larger) scale. It's all in the execution.

I've seen compelling two hour movies and plays set in single rooms featuring only one or two characters. I've seen hilarious ten-minute comedy sketches about nothing but a guy and his favorite ink pen. Very simple seeming concepts, taken to a different level. RPGs can certainly do no worse with a little effort on the part of developers.

So I would hope that no one would condemn a game that's not even out of the development phase for having a "tired Save-the-princess plotline". And if it stinks when it comes out? Well, that's not because of the premise, it's because the developers couldn't do anything with it.

There can be great power in even the simplest of things. If games are to truly become the artform many want them to be, then developers, and gamers, have to be able to accept that fact.

- Sphere

Parn:
Hehe, I remember that poll quite well.

You raise an interesting point about the Save-The-Princess routine though. I also don't consider it tiresome, or at least not nearly as tiresome as it is saving the world over and over again. I think rescueing characters in general, and not necessarily a princess, is a necessary staple in my opinion, for any role playing game. Defeating Gods and saving the entire world from some threat that legions of armies fall to, but a small group of teenage kids can defeat, is getting old.
 
Odd Character Designs in Final Fantasy

I have been an RPG fan for a very long time. Probably not as long as many others out there that check this site regularly, but still long enough to be somewhat of a veteran. My love for RPG's started as a friend of mine bought Final Fantasy 6 the day it was released for his SNES. We were hooked from the instant we turned the game on, and played non stop for days on end (okay, we did take breaks and all, but you know what I mean). So just like every other FF fan out there, I was extremely excited when FF 7 was announced for the PSX. There are a lot of people bitching on it now, but I still think it's one of the better RPG's out there. Again, I was hooked from the moment the logo appeared on screen, and I spend quite a long time with the game. I still have my save game, and I'm still working to get all my characters up to level 99.

Then came FF 8. Well, it didn't have the charm FF7 had, nor did it grab me the way it's prequel did but it still seems like a cool game to me. Seems, because I haven't played that much of the game till this day. I want to, but I really can't stand that crappy battle system. But I'm straying off here. So, 8 still has it's charm and appeal, although considerably less then 7.

But then came FF 9 to save the day! When it was released, people were all over the game; yeah, it had it's flaws, but the characters kicked ass and the story....well, at least it had a story *cough*FF8*cough*. So, the faith, or rather MY faith, as this is my article, in the Final Fantasy series was re-established. Right? Well...no. And why not, you may think. Well, I don't like the characters. HOLD BACK THE HATE MAIL PLEASE. At least let me make myself clear first. Okay, here goes then.

When I read the first reviews on FF 9 I was somewhat excited. Not really excited, like I just had to have the game, but fairly excited. So when a friend of mine bought it, I went by to check it out. After watching the opening sequence, and watching him play through a part of the game, I was disappointed. I didn't know exactly why, but I didn't have the urge to play the game. I didn't want to borrow it as soon as possible and spend some quality time with it. I didn't really care. A cool game? Uhh, yeah sure, whatever.

But still, I couldn't help but wonder where this lack of interest came from. I was even more excited about FF 8 when that first came out, while that game is kinda crappy (yeah, there is this nice love thing going on and the characters are somewhat well developed, but there is virtually no story at all and that battle system...). I was bothered by this, and thought about it for some time.

Then it hit me: the characters. With FF 7, you had the ultimate bad ass Cloud, with his dark and gloomy personality (very original back then) and his huge sword. With FF 8, you had the kinda cool Squall, who was clearly intended to be a pretty boy, but kinda looked wierd to me (with that ugly earring and all). Still, he was bad ass enough. With 9 you have...a five year old kid with a monkey's tail. And that is just the thing that kept me from really getting into the game; the characters all look like five year olds! Forget super deformed, the designers tried to make the models too detailed, too realistic to be super deformed.

How the hell am I supposed to emphasize with a five year old?!? I've been five years myself, sure, but I hate the way I was back then. Some annoying little brat who wanted everything his way. I hate kids in general, actually. But even if I didn't, I still couldn't emphasize with five year olds.

And every time Zidane and Garnett get "romantic", and the game is trying to make you feel for her, I feel like a pervert even looking at her!

Yeah, Vivi looks all right, but what the hell kind of name is VIVI???? The knight (forgot his name) looks cool enough too, but if you check his face....what's up with the mascara???? And I won't even start about that freak Quina......

How much can we, WILL we take? It started with a sidekick, Zell and his idiotic shorts, then you get this whole FF 9 thing, still somewhat acceptable, but after that....Just check out the pics of FF 10. Tidus REALLY looks like someone from the village people (thanks for Sensei Phoenix for pointing that out), and I swear, Yuna, with her weird eyes, looks just like Marilyn Manson! Still, people say "Oh, it isn't that bad!", but don't you see what's happening here? The characters get freakier with every outing and people accept them because it's not that much worse then in the previous game. Before you know it, we'll be playing Final Fantasy 13, controlling a fat trucker in a leather SM outfit, and try to get him together with his "sweetheart", a twelve year old boy in a pink tutu, wielding a little wand. Okay, maybe we won't, but there is no doubt that whoever designs the characters at Square is having his midlife crisis, and should be given a loooong time off.

I guess you can also conclude from all this that graphics DO matter, because if the characters aren't portrayed right, it can ruin the entire game, and the characters' well thought out personalities. Sure, you didn't have this problem in the 16 bit era, but that was simply because all characters looked the same back then, only the one had blonde hair and a cape, and the other one had dark hair and a bandana.

Some may think I'm exaggerating a bit here, but it really bothers me. An RPG is all about immersing you in the game, about making you feel that it's YOU that's going through all this and not some bunch of polygons that represent a character. RPG's are about making you feel what the characters feel, making you feel for the characters. I f a character is portrayed in a wrong way, it can destroy the entire game experience. So Square should just cut the gay/paedophile innuendo and make some normal characters again. If they don't, I don't care how good FF 11 will look like, or how brilliant and revolutionary the new battle system is (yeah, right), I'll stop caring about the Final Fantasy series altogether.

Well, that's all for now....expect another rant when FF 10 is released ^_^.

I'm going back to my game of Skies of Arcadia now. Now there's a great game!

- ~NeoN~

Parn:
I uh... don't like Final Fantasy's artwork, exception going to Aeris from Final Fantasy VII, and everything else I've seen has made me turn away in disgust. I honestly am not too excited about the mentioning of anything Final Fantasy, and maybe there's still Sega bias in me (I don't want to hear it...), but I seriously can't stand the character designs I've looked at (the recent titles, mind you). They're just way too odd.

Maybe I just have preference for the anime art style used in lots of other RPGs? Could be. I'll take Millenia from Grandia II over Tifa from Final Fantasy VII in a heartbeat.


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