Two Minute Game Crit – Metro: Last Light or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the World

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Transcript:

Hi, this is Two Minute Game Crit, and I’m Stephen Beirne.

When we talk about a game’s first level, it’s usually to note it as an entry-point to the game’s mechanical design–how to move, what to collect and what to avoid.

Less often do we consider it in terms of narrative design, in a broader sense than just what we learn mechanically. This is what a first level does, as well – it introduces a world and a story which we have to understand and relate to, rather than merely operate in.

Look at Metro: Last Light.

At the start of the first level we’re woken from our bed by this happy chap, who quickly gives us some exposition and our first objective – “go to Point A”. The second he leaves we’re taken to the table to pick up our stuff, and another, different conversation kicks in.

The instinctive thing is to go look for who’s talking, and in any other game we’d be allowed to, but here you only gain control after he’s finished. Straight away this puts us off a bit, since it goes against the way we feel things should be.

Once we have control, it’s fun to spend a few minutes just skirting around the bedroom for some environmental storytelling, to get into our character’s head. See what kind of music he likes. Check out his guitar, to which the game responds…

[Footage of screen briefly brightening and the sound of distant chimes.]

Whatever that means.

So we leave the room and yet another conversation starts up with these two lads in the far corner, and at the same time a tutorial box opens. So which do we focus on?

Everywhere you go, there’s this constant overlapping of things begging for your attention. It’s in how you manage your resources, figure your way through a level, and just whenever you enter a new room.

This narrative noise, and our ability to wade through it, is a key dramatic point all throughout Metro. The story here is about how fear and cynicism have destroyed humanity, and how we can repair the damage by opening our hearts to everything around us.

We may not realise it at the time, but what we’re being taught here is to choose how we see the world of Metro from the onset. Is the clutter a source of hostility and frustration? Or are you willing to filter through it and find the sense within?


Video description:  Continue reading

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Thoughts on nearby covers

Thoughts on some covers - Alien Trilogy

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One of my most vivid videogame-related childhood memories is this. In July of 1996, my brother, the middle one, had done our mam no favours by asking for a copy of Alien Trilogy for his birthday. Despite the game having launched four months earlier, which in modern terms would have made it a hundred years old by July, nowhere in our area had any copies in stock. By which I mean, none of the three local video rental shops had it in stock, because this was Ireland at a time when the commercial exchange of games was a novel quirk and not a viable business angle.

Packed into the car were we for a rare trip to The Tallaght Square, famous in our minds for reason number one of being the only remotely accessible shopping centre in the greater Dublin area at a time before Blanchardstown and Liffey Valley. Reason number two for its fame was that it was pyramidal, not square, and this for us, pre-internet, constituted a joke whose humour was always worth revisiting.

So it was immediately a bit of a journey just to find this game, and when we did recover a copy in The Square, it felt all the more of a treasure. I’m sure there were other errands on that trip but my memory tells me it was the only thing we came away with. My brothers and I passed the box around for the long drive home, poring over the manual and delighting in anticipation of what the box cover suggested, foreboding the Alien’s imminent pounce. Once at home we put it on and certainly thrilled in the experience, but now I suspect I didn’t enjoy it half as much I did its prelude.

Perhaps it’s because back then we had fewer games and an over-abundance of free time that we would so patiently gorge on a game’s extra material like aesthetes at an art museum. Now, as I have no lack of the former but absolute lack of the latter, I seldom consciously dwell on a game’s cover as intensely as I used to. While I still variably note my appreciation for or dislike of any given box art, I don’t study what I enjoy about it and savour the anticipation or place it in context, beyond exceptional circumstances. I miss that.

So, with my limited vocabulary, I’d like to take a spell to put that sort of mindfulness to a platoon of games stationed at hand beside me, them dust-coated sentries what have kept me company these past years of working and writing. Continue reading

Two Minute Game Crit – Zone of the Enders 2 and AI

 

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Transcript:

Hi, this is Two Minute Game Crit and I’m Stephen Beirne.

In a recent issue of Five out of Ten Magazine I wrote an article about the idea of technological determinism in Zone of the Enders 2. Technological determinism is the theory that a society’s forward direction is defined by the technologies available to it. Or in other words…

NOHMAN: “Since the dawn of history, Human beings have realised various forms of energy. Civilizations have progressed with them.”

I want to expand on this with regards to artificial intelligence, which crops up in Zone of the Enders through the characters of ADA and Viola.

So as you can see this is a hack and slash action game based around mech combat, and ADA is the AI installed in your mech.

KEN: “ADA, please look after him.”

ADA: “If I have to.”

She’s gas, and even though she’s clearly her own person, at the end of the day she’s still got it in her head to be subservient to humans because of her programming. Despite how some people encourage her, she doesn’t value her own life.

DINGO: “How can you throw away your life for no reason?”

ADA: “I don’t need a reason.”

On the other side of things is the Viola AI, a rabidly destructive machine modelled after the personality of a tenacious soldier named Viola. The AI’s a success insofar as it mimics her combat abilities, but totally fails to capture her essence.

Whereas the original was “immortal” through sheer force of will, the Viola AI replicates this passion for life through deceit – it’s actually just being mass-produced, not resurrected.

Here we have two different degrees of AI, one wholly synthetic, the other amalgamated from some abstract concept of humanity. In practise, the main difference between the two is the Viola AI is in every way a wholly vapid automaton, completely derivative, while ADA is an entirely new type of lifeform.

Viola is a zombie. ADA is a frontier.

Viola’s a T-1000. ADA’s a Tachikoma.

…One more.

Viola’s the Borg, ADA is Mr Data.

Now, unlike Shodan or GLaDOS, Zone of the Enders isn’t interested in framing AI as some harbinger of doom. Instead it’s much more interested in similarities, like the way humankind and AI-kind are equally suffocated by the militarism that results from technological determinism.

People like Viola are made as cogs for this relentless engine, and miraculous creatures like ADA are thought as void of sentience as the soulless Viola AI.

Now, if you’re not convinced that humanity objectifies itself by objectifying AI, just trust me. Because…

DINGO: “You should take time to worry about the meaning of your existence later.”

(Also)

DINGO: “I’ll get rid of it while you’re doing your homework at home.”

 


 

 

Video description:  Continue reading

On the much hated and woefully overlooked Codec radio

On the much hated and woefully overlooked Codec Radio

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In a recent video on Persona 3, I talked about how the dating sim-slash-dungeon crawler uses its menus to overlay a certain optimism towards the glacial crisis that was—and still is—complicating the future of Japanese society. This aspect of Persona 3’s menus arises from an assumption I make, and I don’t think it’s too controversial an assumption, about menus existing in games as a mode of introspection.

What do I mean by this?

In an alternate universe I provided a couple of examples to give this interpretation more weight, one example of which was the codec menu in the Metal Gear Solid games. Unlike that marvellous alternate universe, however, time in our universe runs at a rate of one second per second, and to keep the video short and within its scope the example of Metal Gear Solid had to be cut. Instead, I’d like to expand the idea in this article, partly as a complimentary piece to the Persona 3 video, and partly to justify a shabby and safe assumption about videogames that as far as I can tell nobody has contested. Continue reading

Two Minute Game Crit – The Role of a Menu

 

This video is community funded. To support my work and help me make more of these, please consider visiting my Patreon and becoming a patron.

Transcript:

Hi, this is Two Minute Game Crit and I’m Stephen Beirne.

I mentioned before when talking about Vagrant Story, how menus work as a form of introspection, since a menu always represents something internal to the character you’re playing. You can learn a lot by looking at what menus occupy your time and interest.

Persona 3’s a good example because its menus are very pretty, which helps when you spend so much time in them, and also, usefully, they’re quite poignant.

So, what are the menus where you spend, or I should say where I spent most of my time? You have:

  1. The social links menu, showing all the people you can hang out with and when in the week they’re available.
  2. The persona fusion menu, which is a recipe book for mixing persona.
  3. And the battle menu, where you select the attack options of persona you have equipped.

Each of these menus connect back to your use of persona, obviously, but notably they also represent the planning of these relationships across different frames of time: the long-term, when plotting out your week of social activities, the medium-term, when mixing up which persona to bring with you tonight, and the short-term, when strategising with persona in battle now.

It’s clear that time is a big theme in persona 3—clocks, calendars, the Dark Hour—but what about the mental act of planning? Well, planning is important because of NEETs.

In Persona 3 there’s an epidemic of something called Apathy Syndrome, which makes people so apathetic they stop attending school or work and just fall out of society. When you’re using your Persona to fight monsters, you’re doing it to combat Apathy Syndrome, the jeopardy of which relates the growing concern in Japan over the rise of NEETs and Hikikomori, terms used to identify a category of mostly young people who are falling through society’s cracks.

Some do so unwillingly for economic reasons, while others are disenfranchised with what they see as the oppressive, career-led lifestyle that’s socially expected.

Many Japanese games emphasise community and legacy to touch into this sentiment and rouse interest in social participation, and Persona 3’s no different. It wants you invested in planning for the future by asking you to get active in thinking about an allegorical long-term social crisis. In Japan it’s a population crisis and irresolvable pension schemes and collapsing industry.  In the game it‘s Nyx coming along and eating everyone’s souls.

And the first step to combating this, is by opening your menu and getting involved.

 


 

Video description

Stephen Beirne talks for two minutes on how Persona 3’s menu system links the fictional epidemic of Apathy Syndrome to Japan’s real life youth crisis.

If you like this video, help Stephen make another one by becoming a patron and tossing a few quid his way: https://www.patreon.com/stephenbeirne:

Music: Blind Alley
Composed By: Shoji Meguro, Kenichi Tsuchiya
From: Persona 3

Footage courtesy of:
TaD6644AuxiliatrixieDrawer-samaMoogleBossXxDeadlyViperxXVisualOtakuStudiosAP ArchiveReuters

Further reading:
A LONELY LOCKDOWN: THE HIKIKOMORI PHENOMENON, Post Bubble Culture, March 2011

JAPAN’S POPULATION PROBLEM, Forbes, June 2010

YOUNG PEOPLE AND WORK IN JAPAN: FREETERS, NEETS, TEMPORARY WORKERS AND SHY ABOUT WORKING ABROAD, Facts and Details, March 2012

SHUTTING THEMSELVES IN, The New York Times, January 2006