Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mass Effect 2 Marathon Under Way

My assistant Fortiscule and I have been tag-teaming the Xbox 360 all week playing Mass Effect 2.

We're both hooked on it, and we're leap-frogging each other's progress as we take turns. It's one of the most absorbing games I've ever played!

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Saboteur takes it off

My review of EA's The Saboteur is up on Techcetera. Check it out and leave comments!

A notable feature of The Saboteur is that it offers to let you see topless dancers in a cabaret if you download the nude content with a special code.

Although it seems tiresome to me that they withhold such innocuous content from a Mature-rated game to begin with, it does present an innovative way to please people who might be offended, while also pleasing less-offendable gamers such as me.

My friend Tee Boan has advocated compromises such as this, to give parents and gamers more control, and I must say that it works well for The Saboteur.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spartacus: Blood and Sand is brilliant blend of blood, biceps and breasts

Spartacus: Blood and Sand is great. I just watched the first episode of this new Starz series on Netflix via Xbox Live. It borrows shamelessly and brilliantly from some of my all-time favorites: Gladiator, 300 and the HBO series Rome.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand is extraordinarily violent, bloody, gritty, vulgar and foul-mouthed. There is unblushing nakedness wherever nudity serves the story, with no pretentious, coy reluctance or shyness. And there is a passionate love at the heart of the tale, driving the entire plot. The combination is shocking, beautiful and engaging.

Although it is visually stylized, often evoking the look of 300, all the elements the show combines help it approach reality more intensely than other films that hold back on any part of the recipe.

These elements are what I've been wanting to see in a video game, especially in a role-playing game. Game makers kowtow to the ESRB by sanitizing games that supposedly are made for an adult audience; no so-called "Mature" game has ever been so bold as to present a story as raw and realistic as Spartacus: Blood and Sand. As long as video game makers surrender to the nannies and sit at the kiddie table, they will never be seen as a mature entertainment medium like film. There is NOTHING in the video game world that compares to this series, no video game rating that really parallels an R rating for movies or a mature show on cable TV.

What a ludicrous, crazy-world joke it is that a game with the kind of content shown in Spartacus: Blood and Sand would never be allowed on the Xbox console. But wait! Hello! I WATCHED IT ON MY XBOX, ON NETFLIX! We can watch the movies on the console, but we can't play games that would appeal to the same audience. Why is that?

Consider these qualities and virtues in Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and how they might be applied to a truly mature role-playing game:

Violence and blood. How can a story about Rome's horrific arenas be anything else? The reality had to be much more awful than anything we could possibly stomach, even in this show.

The exaggerated splashes of blood, reminiscent of anime and Hong Kong action flicks, remind us of how shocking it is. For a freeze-frame instant, a gouting splash of blood is shown when a weapon connects, with a greater volume of liquid than would actually be present. Indeed, in the next frame, not that much blood remains in the scene. The fleeting exaggeration is a visual exclamation point, highlighting the horror of the moment.

Vulgar and foul-mouthed. The dialogue is very much like that in HBO's Rome, which surmised that characters would accent their speech in much the same way their counterparts do in modern conversation. The show takes a guess at what such expressions might have been in those times, and translates them for us. I think it adds a layer of realism.

Nakedness. Look at statues and art from ancient Greece and Rome. Lots of nudity. The natural state of human bodies wasn't such a big deal to them. Our society's sensibilities about nudity have been distorted by centuries of mind-numbing Puritanism, and a show like this tosses off that dour, smothering blanket.

Specifically, in a story about life-and-death struggles in the arena, and your wife being kidnapped into slavery, wardrobe malfunctions had to be last on your list of concerns. There would be no coy clucking over nudity.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand doesn't bother with the absurdly contrived camera angles where wisps of cloth or hair always cover "the naughty bits." To my eye, such silly efforts to hide body parts tend to degrade the human body, perversely calling attention to body parts that are too "dirty" to be seen; the underlying presumption is that human bodies are naughty and evil, not beautiful in their natural state.

BioWare does this all the time, and the gamemakers end up looking like 12-year-olds. It's like they want to peek at the Playboy pictures, but they're too immature to openly admire a woman's body or really have a girlfriend. The result of such stunted sensibilities in video games includes stupid scenes like the gauzy love scene in Mass Effect, and the ridiculous bra-and-panties sex scenes in Dragon Age: Origins. Bethesda is guilty of the same sort of pious, immature nonsense in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Fable and Fable II at least included love scenes, but condescended to black them out in the Mature-rated games, to protect our eyes from the evil nudity.

Passion and love. In a teaser for Spartacus: Blood and Sand, a Roman asks Spartacus how many men he would kill men in the arena for the chance to hold his wife again. "I would kill them all," Spartacus replies.

Ah, there it is: The driving force of all drama. The fuel of life itself. Love. Passion. Sex. The engine that propels the story.

If you reduce our motivations to a very primal, basic level, most everything we do is geared toward finding and securing a suitable mate with whom we can procreate and send our DNA onward to the next generation. That is survival. That is how evolution has shaped us into who we are. It is our most fundamental biological imperative.

An integral part of that motivation is the sex part. What we perceive as beauty are signs of good health and suitability in a potential mate. Our sense of aesthetics is built on that reality. Furthermore, our intellect has enabled us to see physical beauty in a sublime light, as an expression of the Divine. Good deal. That explains why I want to see Lucy Lawless naked.

Sex is pleasurable, so we can't help but seek out that pleasure. This drive has served us well, as we stand at the threshold of exploring the stars, yet we spurn it, shun it and try to keep a lid on it. What hypocrites we are, biting the hand that feeds us! We continue to yield to the tyranny of misogynistic, Puritanical dogma and deny sex the respect it deserves.

We tend to show our respect, our reverence, for sex through our art. Go in any art museum and admire the nude statues and paintings. Glimpses of unclothed beauty in a story such as Spartacus: Blood and Sand are simply less formal expressions of that same aesthetic.

Motivation and Purpose

Video game developers don't seem to know what to do with passion, love, sex and nudity. The answer is obvious, and Spartacus said it plainly when he said he'd kill them all to hold his wife again. Sex is motivation. Sex is purpose.

The main character in Bethesda's Oblivion had no apparent personal motivation at all. Fable comes closer to getting the concept, yet falls short: Your character can get married, yet reaps no reward from it. Neither do you reap any reward for your efforts to win love in Mass Effect or Dragon Age: Origins. How blind can the game developers be? Spartacus told you! To reclaim his beautiful wife, he'd kill them all! Love wins the battles. Love builds the castles.

David Jaffe had the right idea in God of War's sex minigame. When you succeeded at getting Kratos together with some shapely ladies, you were rewarded with red health orbs. Yes, greater health would be a good reward for having sex in any RPG, but the reward should be even greater than that.

Winning the love of your mate should be the prime motivation in an RPG, because that is what life's about. The more immediate reward of love is sex. In a game, the player could be rewarded with a happy scene of naked beauty and conjugal bliss. The long-term rewards of love are endless, with greater health, and the joys of companionship and a family. RPGs should reflect all that as well.

I hope Spartacus: Blood and Sand will inspire video game makers. All the hero wants is love, which is at the root of our most primal drives and desires. Enemies stand between Spartacus and his wife, but to reach her, he will kill them all.

That motivation looks like it will drive a magnificent epic series on Starz. And, if any brilliant game designers are paying attention, it would make for an awesome video game!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Army of Sythbane

Fortiscule and I played Army of Two: The 40th Day all last weekend to complete the campaign and prepare our review.

Take a look on Techcetera!