The XP Rat Race, and Why I’m Starting to Fall in Love with Single-Player Games Again

Hey Y’all, been a while! ¬†You’re looking beautiful as ever ūüėČ

Thought I’d give you a little bit of an update on¬†my gaming life: ¬†of course, as soon as I started recording FFIX LP eps, I saw that Legend of Dragoon was on the PlayStation Store. ¬†So, naturally, I abandoned the LP and started playing.

I finished last night, and I’m slowly realizing that I’m turning back into a single-player gamer again.

I’ve played a lot of WoW in my day. ¬†I’ve played 931 hours (hours. ¬†That’s almost 39¬†days) of Team Fortress 2. ¬†I’ve played almost 450 hours of Awesomenauts. ¬†And y’know what? ¬†I wouldn’t trade that time in for the world. ¬†I’ve had an awesome time playing those games, preferably with friends, but also just flying solo. ¬†For the most part, it’s been really, really fun.

However, after finishing LoD last night, I’ve figured out what has kept me going for those hundreds of hours in multiplayer games, and why I think that single-player, at least for me, is the smarter, healthier, less-time-consuming way to go.

It’s no secret that multiplayer game developers want you to¬†get addicted to their games: ¬†I’m sure most large sellers of… ¬†well, anything, are doing everything they can to manipulate human psychology into making people buy what they sell. ¬†That’s not inherently a bad thing; ¬†it’s just¬†the easiest way to sell stuff. ¬†This addiction is extremely valuable, especially in the case of multiplayer games that never end, and¬†especially¬†if there’s a monthly fee attached to a game. ¬†If the devs can keep coming up with new and exciting ways to keep you, the player, pushing the “reward” button, then bam, they’ve got what’s likely to be a loyal customer.

Recently, however, I’ve been feeling like there’s something… ¬†missing.

After one of my classic rage-uninstalls of Awesomenauts (something I’ve done countless times), I began to think ahead: ¬†what’s my end-game? ¬†What’s the¬†point of playing all these Awesomenauts matches, and being so pissy when I lose? ¬†Say I get to the top of the heap, become numero uno in the entire world. ¬†What then?

The answer?

Nothing.

There’s no point. ¬†Of course there’s no point. ¬†I’ll get to the top, probably feel really excited for a moment, drink four or five Miller High Lifes (nah, I’ll go Heady Topper. ¬†This is a special occasion), and plummet right back down the leaderboards. ¬†Even in the best-case scenario, I’ll be #1 at the end of a season, then have to start right back from square one.

I’m being needlessly negative here – of course, I love playing Awesomenauts. ¬†It’s a great game. ¬†It’s really fun, especially with my friends, and fun is¬†a totally legit reason to play any game in and of itself. ¬†If you’re enjoying it, that’s the point of the game. ¬†Good job.

I digress.  Getting back to Legend of Dragoon.

I beat it last night, and seeing that “The End” screen gave me a sense of satisfaction unlike anything I’ve experienced in Awesomenauts or TF2. ¬†My total play time was about 51 hours, and I accomplished every goal I set for myself in the game: ¬†got a bunch of super-dank weapons; ¬†leveled my party to almost-godlike proportions; ¬†kicked the final boss’ ass (and the optional superboss, to boot). ¬†I did everything I wanted to do in the game, and at the end… ¬†That was it. ¬†There are no leaderboards to climb, no rankings to compare myself to my friends. ¬†It was a personal journey, one with a beginning and an end, and now it’s over.

When I play Awesomenauts or TF2, I look at the characters less as “characters in a game, each with their own personality, and trying to accomplish a goal”, and more as stat blocks: ¬†anonymous avatars whose abilities will, hopefully, allow me to crush the opposing team’s anonymous avatars. ¬†There is nothing wrong with this. ¬†The personal connections I feel¬†to the¬†characters in single-player RPGs is certainly stronger. ¬†I root for them¬†to achieve their hopes, their dreams, their goals; ¬†I am with them through times of happiness and sorrow, and feel empathy for them. ¬†This is because I feel like we’ve been on a journey together: ¬†it’s not a 20-minute match¬†that can simply be restarted again and again. ¬†Both the characters and the player grow and learn throughout the process of playing an RPG, and when the journey is over, there’s a sense of finality that, while playing these multiplayer games, I forgot I was searching¬†for.

Of course, I have since reinstalled Awesomenauts. ¬†I fully intend to keep playing it. ¬†It’s fun as shit. ¬†But I don’t think I’m going to be quite as… intense about it. ¬†I’m out of the XP Rat Race, the endless quest for higher standing. ¬†It brings me passing, hyperactive joy, but not happiness. ¬†Not satisfaction.

I had forgotten where to find that feeling, the reason I fell in love with games in the first place. ¬†Thanks to Legend of Dragoon, I’ve found it again.

Necron: The Really, Truly, Seriously Most Underrated Villain in All of Final Fantasy

Hi Everybody!

I was thinking about the feedback that I got from the Kuja post, and I was amazed by the response;  I’m glad I got people to look a little further into the character of Kuja, and see that he wasn’t all pomp and flair, and could actually stand on his own as a great Final Fantasy villain.

That said, I was just talking with a buddy of mine, and we were talking about the end of FFIX.  We are both huge IX fans, and the subject turned to the final boss, Necron.

‚ÄúYeah, the less said about Necron, the better,‚ÄĚ ¬†he said. ¬†‚ÄúHe was definitely just thrown in there.‚ÄĚ

Now, I think this was the first time we had truly disagreed on something FFIX-related.

‚ÄúWait, what? ¬†What are you talking about?‚ÄĚ ¬†I sputtered, and we proceeded to have a heated debate about Necron‚Äôs purpose for a few minutes.

After these few minutes, my friend said, ‚Äúy‚Äôknow, I think this would make a great blog post.‚ÄĚ

SO HERE I AM! ¬†ūüėÄ

Anyway, here goes:

Yeah. ¬†Necron. ¬†Gets shit on by pretty much everybody, right? ¬†You may think he’s one or more of the following: ¬†useless; ¬†never referenced; ¬†no purpose in the game?

Image

Let me begin, like I did with my Kuja post, by saying that I don’t expect to turn you into a huge Necron fan. ¬†I’m just trying to give you a bit of my perspective on why I think he’s fantastic. ¬†Maybe I’ll even get you thinking that there is a bit more to him than you previously thought. ¬†That’d be great.

From what I’ve read, it seems like Necron may be mentioned once or twice throughout the game, but these claims seem shaky at best. ¬†My question is, how is one supposed to know of the existence of an entity that exists outside of normal spacetime? ¬†This, of course, is kind of a flimsy excuse for making a final boss, but, in Pixar’s “22 Rules of Storytelling“, ¬†#19 says “Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; ¬†coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.” ¬†Again, not saying that this is a great excuse to just throw a final boss into the mix, but this is the perspective with which I look at the final battle.

I’ve read that Necron is “summoned” by Kuja’s hate and fear. ¬†I have a different perspective.

kuja ultima
Kuja, right after he casts Ultima.

Now, here’s what I see in the above gif:

Р The main characters disappear.  The only time you see that in-game thus far is when someone or something dies.

Р The Crystal is no longer behind Kuja.

So, here’s what I’m thinking:

– ¬†When Kuja casts Ultima, it destroys the Crystal. ¬†The Crystal’s destruction is what prompts Necron to come start kickin’ ass, not just Kuja’s massive amounts of butthurt.

– ¬†The heroes were the first people to die after the destruction of the Crystal, which is why they’re in this weird quasi-death-realm thing.

– ¬†When Necron is defeated, the crystal is restored due to the “nothingness-vacuum” caused by his absence. ¬†Because Necron is the personification of oblivion/nothingness, when he is defeated, he’s gotta be replaced by…¬†something,¬†right?

Huh. ¬†Weird. ¬†Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that Necron made… some sort of sense existing, at least. ¬†He’s also a great foil for… ¬†well, every protagonist in the game.

These characters have been through¬†hell. ¬†Homelands have been laid to waste. ¬†Family members, loved ones, and thousands more have been slaughtered, many of which were at the hands of Garnet’s own mother, gone mad with greed. ¬†Freya’s lover, Sir Fratley, who she has been searching for for¬†years, has no memory of their past. ¬†Eiko’s family was dead or missing. ¬†Steiner and Amarant’s most long-standing philosophies, one of blind loyalty to another, and one of blind loyalty to self, that had kept them alive through the most dire of circumstances, are dissolved before their eyes; ¬†the same thing happens with Vivi and Zidane, except instead of their philosophies, they face an even more harrowing question: ¬†the status of their humanity itself.

I don’t think Necron is a useless, no-purpose final boss. ¬†Quite the contrary – I think he’s the linchpin of the game, the story, and the transcendent theme of¬†Final Fantasy IX. ¬†Without Necron, the game would cease to have the exact quality which I think makes it the greatest video game in history: ¬†the absolute, against-all-odds, blindingly-bright love of life itself that finally answers the great question that each of our protagonists face when they are staring down the seductive peace of utter oblivion: ¬†“is life worth the pain it brings?”. ¬†Each of the characters above have fan-fucking-tastic reasons to say, “Hey, nothingness sounds pretty great, compared to the shitstorm that I’ve been through!”.

Not one of them does.

After everything they’ve been through, each and every one chooses life.

I think this has a two-pronged effect. ¬†If thought of in this manner, the choice shows more starkly than ever before the fortitude of the heroes, as well as making Kuja slightly more sympathetic and less villainous. ¬†He’s just scared, guys. ¬†He’s been dealt much the same hand as Zidane, and he’s scared. ¬†He doesn’t want to die; ¬†more importantly, he doesn’t want the fear of death. ¬†Who can be blamed for trying to escape fear? ¬†Not that Kuja went about it the right way or anything, but still, he was misguided and scared, and I can’t blame him for that.

Maybe Necron could have been referenced more in-game; ¬†maybe he should have been somehow hinted at, if only for the player’s knowledge; ¬†maybe it’s not an original idea. ¬†But Necron is the character who poses, once and for all, this final question to the protagonists of¬†Final Fantasy IX, providing the single most intense experience I have ever felt from a piece of media in my life. ¬†I was 11 when I experienced this; ¬†it was the first time I had encountered such a question, and Zidane’s response left me in tears.

“I’m gonna live!”.

I can’t call that useless.

PSOne to Xbox One: Feelings After the Xbox One Reveal

Let me start off by saying that this doesn’t have to do with the specifics of the Xbox One. ¬†It also doesn’t have to do with Final Fantasy IX in particular.

For me, this is more a post about the direction that gaming has gone in the past decade or so, culminating (so far) in the unveiling of the Xbox One.

There are a lot of great things that have happened in the past decade of gaming – Hardware technology has increased to an insane degree, giving us almost-real graphics (FFVII¬†and FFXIII¬†were released only 13 years apart; ¬†13 years before VII,¬†the best-selling game was Duck Hunt),¬†and eliminating the need for memory cards (Can I emphasize how awesome this is for a moment? ¬†I remember I had SIX memory cards for my PlayStation at one point. ¬†Six. ¬†Being the messy person I am, a mini-“ohmygodwherethehellaremymemorycardsshitshitshit”-heart attack was pretty much a given every time I wanted to go back to a game I hadn’t played in a while). Thanks to the meteoric rise of the Internet, multiplayer gaming has reached nearly everyone with access to a game console (I’m a Vermonter with shitty DSL, so for me, it’s not quite there yet, but most other people are fine). ¬†Technologically speaking, gaming has never been more advanced, and the community has never been tighter (I could talk forever about the evolution of the community, but I don’t have time at the moment, so I’ll sum it up in five words: ¬†Steam. Xbox Live. PlayStation Network).

However, there’s something to be said for the simpler technology of the days of, say, the PlayStation. ¬†Everything was so simple; ¬†you bought the game, brought it home, popped the disc in the tray, and turned the system on. ¬†It was done; ¬†you were playing. ¬†You didn’t have to connect to the internet, sign up for an account, or enter an activation code. ¬†Obviously, systems can do more now, and the Home and Menu screens allow us to do other cool stuff, like watch movies and surf the web. ¬†I’m just wondering at what price this stuff comes.

I’m going to stop before this turns into one of those “Back in the good ol’ days” posts. ¬†It isn’t meant to be that. ¬†However, it was definitely on my mind when I saw the Xbox One released.

On a side note, that system looks tragic.  Almost as tragic as Nintendo not going to E3 this year.  Idiots.