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Friday, September 9, 2011

Addendum I - Games and Music

I realize the last post was quite a bit shorter and narrower in focus than normal.  This was only because I started writing it rather late at night, and had classes the next day and had to go to bed more or less within the hour.  That's also why it had so many typos, as you can imagine.  So, here's some more stuff nobody here will care about.

What Am I Playing?  (Related: What Am I Listening To)
Technically, the majority of this section will be about something I'm not actually playing, but is technically still a video game: Touhou.  The self-published top-down shooter is notable not as much for its gameplay, but for the huge cast of characters, the music, and the stories and videos that fans of the game have come up with.

People talk about games, movies, and books having "mythologies" all the time, but for few things does the term apply so very closely than to Touhou.  See, Touhou is popular for its very large cast of colorful characters.  These characters aren't given much more than a basic framework personality within the game, but the community has taken them almost as archetypes, and created their own stories involving these magicians, youkai (think Japanese equivalents to western myths of vampires and werewolves), and generally disreputable beings of god-like power.  This seems to me very similar to the way, for instance, the Greeks had their archetypical gods, and created stories around them.  Also like the Greeks, the interpretations of the characters and setting - and the quality - of these stories varied...a lot.

Perhaps my favorite interpretation of Touhou is the music video for the song Bad Apple!!  The video, which is done in a shadow art style, depicting various Touhou characters going about their daily business, evokes to me an atmosphere of intrigue, like a Masterpiece Mystery production.  An anime - or even live action, though that would be very hard to make look not corny on an average budget - based on the premise of the life and times of the denizens of Gensyouko could not only be very good, but also something very different from the average prodcution: not magical girl, not high fantasy, not slice-of-life, not mystery, but all of them at once.  The lyrics to Bad Apple!! itself deal with the idea of a youkai so old and full of ennui that she can no longer relate to the rest of the world, a theme that I happened to touch on in my previous story as a matter of fact.  Now I can't get the image of Ifekas going "ugoku no naraba, ugoku no naraba, subete kowasu wa, subete kowasu wa" (and should I make a move, and should I make a move, then I'd destroy it all, then I'd destroy it all) out of my head.  Parallel ideas are always weird.

Speaking of music, that's the other thing that's really cool about Touhou: the creator, Junya Ota, really should have been a composer.  The pieces he's composed for Touhou are very complex (very rarely entirely in 4/4 time) and energetic, yet always have a very good sense of tonality and cohesion.  I like to liken his most famous song, UN Owen Was Her (yay Engrish), to if Scott Joplin had sat down and decided to write a rag for player piano roll that would be physically impossible for a human to play.  The arrangement I've linked (technically, the version used in the game is this) would require six hands to play correctly.  If I ever get robotic arms, I know the first thing I'm doing.  In the mean time, we'll let the player pianos do the work.

In other news, Mass Effect 3 is still shaping up to be incredibly awesome.  The one thing I'm currently debating with myself is, come March 6th, whether or not I want to wait until break to get the game, or to reserve it at a Gamestop down hear and get it the first day.  I could make a joke about how I wouldn't get anything done for a good month afterwards, but that's not really true: I did play through Mass Effect 2 last semester without any problems, after all.

The only problem I can foresee is playing it on the TV I have here, but then again, I haven't actually tested to see if the way I have it set up works well or not, so I guess I'll just go and see.

A game that's not getting nearly as much widespread attention is Birds of Steel, a game developed by the same people who made IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey, but focusing on the pacific theatre of WWII.  Apparently, it's going to have MMO (massively multiplayer online) elements, and include not only the new planes for the US Naval Airforce and Imperial Japanese Naval Airforce, but also those from Birds of Prey.  On one hand, this makes it seem very much like this is basically going to be for all intents and purposes an expansion pack for Birds of Prey, but on the other hand, that's not a bad thing in the slightest.  If some of the recent trailers are to believed as well, German planes will finally be getting real cockpits too.  Which is cool, because it was annoying using the translucent nigh invisible hud in BoP, but also annoying, because German planes more often than not had really bad visibility, especially the -109.  Oh well, if you want to go flying for fun, you're probably going to be flying the Spitfire anyway.  I really want to fly it against the Zero to see which one handles better, because I think it'll be very close.

Incidentally, it's being published by Konami, which has given the Japanese version the name "Ao no Eiyuu," which means "Heroes of the Blue."  I dunno what to make of that one.

There's recently been news that the creative director for 343 Industries' new Halo game left due to health and creative differences.  Now, he said that he left not because he thought the game was shaping up to be bad, but that he and his team had very different visions of what they wanted the game to be, and he found it increasingly harder to be creatively exited about the project.  For this reason alone, I think the director made the right call.  A creative director not only has to impose his will on the rest of the team in order for the game not to end up - and I swear if I use a Randian term unironically again the world has no hope - a creative bromide, but also himself to have a strong vision of where he or she wants to go with the project.  Yet, at the same time, whenever a director of anything leaves, that creates its own set of problems.  The team has already produced a not inconsiderable amount of resources for a project that may or may not still even be relevant to the new director's vision.  If the new director tries to pick up where the old one left off in terms of ideas, especially if the old director's idea wasn't particularly strong, then again you run the risk of ending up with a creative bromide.  If the new director tries to star all over, then you get costly delays and angry investors.

I was never particularly confident about this new non Bungie developed Halo project, and this isn't helping things any.  On the other hand, a good part of what makes Halo a great series is the attention to balance and adaptability in the multiplayer, and that's not something that I think either the new director or 343 Industries will be taking lightly.  At least I hope not.

I said the first reason alone would have been good enough, but the second is even more compelling: the old creative director left was because he was diagnosed with depression.  The director definitely made the right decision, in that case.  Yet, in the back of my head, I can't help but wonder what a Halo Genesis Evangelion might have been like.  And that's terrible =P

On a side note, the more I think about it, the more I realize that, while Ayn Rand's concept of the human ideal is tragically insufficient, I agree with a lot, if not most, of what she had to say about art.  Art is the greatest achievement of man, and it's also by definition the most completely egotistical thing imaginable, because it can only ever be egotistical.  If not, it ceases to become a true expression, and ceases to become art.  Beauty may be found anywhere, but art can only ever be an uncompromising vision.  This is why things such as films, which require a great deal of artistic cooperation, only succeed if there is a strong central will behind the project.  I don't think this is something that Ayn Rand realized, with all her ridiculous posturing: it's not necessary that the man be uncompromising, but that the idea be.  I wonder if she ever considered film a worthy endeavor, if only because it requires cooperation.

Incidentally, this is also why so many auteurs are total jerkasses.

Anyway, back on topic, Civilization V is on sale on Steam, so I might be picking that up this weekend. I don't use Steam for hardly anything, and this will be the first time I ever buy something on it.  Civ IV is still one of my favorite games of all time, so lets hope that Civ V lives up to its franchise name and face FULL LIFE CONSEQUENCES.

I guess that's it for now.  Maybe I'll write something else later this next week.  Anything is possible.

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