Thursday, January 28, 2016

General RPGs' Players Changing Opinions Due to Annoying Fanbases

Crappy title for this one, but I don’t really know what else to call it. Also, this is another one of those rants that applies to RPGs, but it really also applies to many other avenues of storytelling, as well. Like my rant on Resurrection Abuse, or Hot Springs.

Guys? Girls? Ad bots?* Don’t let an annoying fandom ruin something for you. Seriously, don’t.

It seems silly, but it happens. People will like a game, cartoon, anime, movie, TV show, or whatever--we’ll say a game for now, since that keeps it relevant to this theoretically RPG-only blog. They’ll like the game a lot. But as they go online to talk about it, to draw fanart or write fanfiction or make fan videos for it, they find that there are other fans of this same game who are loud, obnoxious, crude, and/or hostile morons. And sometimes, there are a LOT of them. Enough of them that the person’s feelings for the game’s worth change by association.

Worse still, repeated encounters with an annoying fandom for a game someone has not played will convince that person that he or she doesn’t like the game solely on the basis that he or she doesn’t like its fanbase. This is something occurring with unfortunate prevalence for Undertale right now, in face.

Please don’t let either of these things happen to you.

Again, it seems silly. Why should anyone let their opinion be changed about something just because the other people who like the same thing are morons and/or jerks? Worse still, why would anyone let their opinion be formed by such morons and/or jerks? Okay, sure, maybe seeing that you’re in inordinately poor company means you should at least give that thing you like a second look, just to make sure you weren’t overestimating its value. And maybe seeing that you would be in inordinately poor company means a reasonable amount of caution about trying the game out. But beyond that, it seems ridiculous to let a game’s popularity sway your own opinion one way or another. You’d be like the pretentious hipster stereotype who hates everything solely because it’s widely loved.

But silly or not, it does happen. Back in the days when I debased myself by frequenting the Gaia Online Final Fantasy forums, I’d frequently come across people who had initially liked Final Fantasy 7, but then began to look down on and even despise the game, simply because the fanbase for it was so absolutely full to bursting with illiterate, self-important jerks who lived their lives according to utterly concrete first impressions that they based on the shallowest surface level of all they saw.

I could never figure out why someone would do this. I like Final Fantasy 7 a lot because it’s a strongly written, creative story that covers many themes of personal identity, self-determination, self-delusion, self-forgiveness (a lot of focus on the self in this game), and so on, conveyed through a cast which contained several deep, dynamic characters. Does the fact that I see the beauty, wisdom, and art of Final Fantasy 7 change just because for every 1 of me, there’s about 50 drooling doofuses who like the game because Tifa has breasts and because they (the drooling doofuses, I mean, not Tifa’s breasts) erroneously think Sephiroth is a badass? So I like Cloud as a hero for his depth as a character and his dynamic change from a delusional loner to a man who has accepted his past and weakness and becomes stronger for them, while 50 other gamers who don’t know why blue boxes keep popping up on the screen while they’re trying to play happen to like Cloud because he has a big sword and broods sometimes. So what? I’m supposed to pretend that Final Fantasy 7 is less of a masterpiece of the RPG genre just because it happens to have a massive fanbase of people who like it only for the most base, unimportant surface qualities?

Hell NO!

My opinion is not the lesser OR the greater for who stands with me! I’ve observed Final Fantasy 7 several times. I’ve given substantial thought to its every aspect. I’ve discussed it at length with others who have also analyzed it. I’ve challenged my own opinions on the game multiple times, as I do with virtually every opinion I form. My perspective on the game is as valid as any opinion can be, because I’ve put the time and thought into it, because I can refer to the evidence for it and argue my point. Whether that puts me in the company of some giggling fangirl who just finds Cloud hot, or of the brilliant Chris Avellone himself, my opinion of Final Fantasy 7 stands the same.

Obviously there are certain joys to finding yourself in accord with people you respect. And obviously there are certain irritations to finding yourself in accord with people you can’t stand. And I definitely do not want to imply that you should never allow your opinion to be changed--one should always keep an open enough mind that they’re willing to have their perspective challenged, and even proven wrong.

But one of the joys of finding yourself in agreement with people you respect should never be that this fact somehow, on its own, validates that opinion. One of the irritations to finding yourself in agreement with people you can’t stand should never be that this fact somehow, on its own, invalidates your opinion. And if your opinion is to be changed, let it be through proof, through logical and emotional truth, through a new and better understanding of the subject matter, and never by the simple presence of others who share it. Similarly, if your opinion on a game, or anything else, is to be formed, let it be formed by the game itself, and never by the nature of those who have played it before you.

It’s a pretty universal occurrence that once something, ANYTHING, reaches a certain level of popularity, its fanbase becomes bad to some degree. That’s a truth of the internet that’s pretty important to embrace, because without understanding that, you open yourself to taking a bad fanbase too personally and letting it ruin your enjoyment of something. And when you do that, when you decide that Final Fantasy 7 is too beloved by morons to be good, that Undertale’s fanbase being pushy means that the game itself must be awful, that the varying levels of obnoxiousness in the fandoms for The Hunger Games, Star Wars, My Little Pony, Steven Universe, Doctor Who, or anything else means that those products can’t be worthwhile, you’ve given up your own free will to those you despise. And do not fool yourself on this point: when that happens, when you refuse to try something or refuse to allow yourself to enjoy something because its fanbase annoys you, your decision to let others dictate what you dislike will not have any lasting negative impact on them. The only person who loses out will be you.

* I have no misconceptions about where most of my page hits come from.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Fallout 4's MILA Placement

Fallout 4’s a pretty big deal. It’s got a strong plot (far and away the best of the series), a good cast, and, like all Fallout titles, a ton of allegorical (and sometimes direct) commentary and analysis on United States history, culture, and mentality. There’s more intellectual content, subtle nuances, and cultural and historical references to contemplate and discuss in this game than you can shake a bladed swatter at. And, of course, today we’re going to ignore every last one of these worthy topics of discourse, and instead nitpick an utterly meaningless detail that you could not possibly care about whatsoever.

Because I’m me.

So! MILAs. They’re observational doohickeys that you have to place at high places throughout the Commonwealth in Fallout 4 during a series of quests for Tinker Tom of the Railroad. Tinker Tom wants them at the tops of various buildings around the area so he can measure atmospheric conditions out of an irrational paranoia that the Institute is filling the air with mind control or something, and his boss Desdemona wants the MILAs up there for the completely rational paranoia of being able to monitor potential Institute movements throughout the Boston area. Either way, if you want to get in the good graces of the most moral and humanly decent group in post-apocalyptic Massachusetts, you’re gonna be climbing some stairs.

So here’s how it went for me on my first MILA placement quest. I travel over to the assigned building, MILA burning a hole in my standard-issue physics-defying RPG pocket. I get there, go inside, and begin to systematically wipe out the super mutants within as I climb stairs and fallen debris from 1 floor to the next...all the while grabbing every random piece of trash I can see, of course, because somehow my character can perform whatever forbidden alchemical arts are necessary to turn a packet of pencils and a few kitchen knives into a 12 x 18 foot solid wall of steel. I finally find my way to the top floor, and step out onto the roof. Time to find the little green box that indicates the exact spot to place the quest item doohickey.

...Wait. That can’t be right. There?

Allow me to explain what I am seeing right now. I have located the little green quest box that indicates the exact location of my mission objective. It is hovering over a loose board of wood, 50% (often more than that) of the length of which is extended over the side of the roof, weighed down by a single cinder block to keep it from succumbing to the seductive caress of gravity and falling 6 stories down to the ground. That is the spot where I am to place a large (think about the size of a big microwave), sensitive piece of equipment.

You know what? You need a visual. Here’s an example of a mission objective spot like that which I just described:


And here is what it looks like with the MILA placed:


Just look at that. Look at it! I know this really isn’t anything that matters, but the logistics bug the hell out of my nitpicky fan nature. Here you are, on a perfectly solid, serviceable roof where you could just put the atmospheric thingamabob down and know that it’s relatively safe and secure, and instead you’re sticking it on a single, extremely unsecured board of wood to jut out over a fatal drop. There are just so many things that make this a dumb placement!

First of all, the damn MILA is twice as wide as the board of wood it’s sitting on. There’s nothing to stop a playful breeze from unbalancing the thing and sending it hurtling down to the ground. And the weight! The MILA definitely looks heavier than the single, halfheartedly-placed cinderblock counterweight. One radroach larva happens to flutter over and land on the wrong end of that board, and the whole thing is toppling over, mark my words. And that’s all just assuming that board of wood, which has clearly seen better days, won’t just snap under the weight of it on its own* Do you really think that thing’s stable enough resist gravity when some nearby huge explosion (there are a lot of those in the Fallout Commonwealth) shakes the roof? Or when a Brotherhood of Steel vertibird flies low overhead, its rotors pushing air down from above? Hell, the heavy footfalls of a big supermutant exploring the roof might be enough to dislodge this damn thing. Or a raider in scavenged power armor. Or a Brotherhood of Steel goon in considerably better power armor. Or a deathclaw. I’ve seen all these things on roofs during my explorations, most more than once.

Even assuming that gravity does not claim the MILA for its own within 10 minutes of your having placed it there, the thing is jutting over the edge of a building, completely and totally visible to anyone looking up from the ground, or over from another building’s roof! Tinker Tom thinks that the Institute is monitoring absolutely everything everywhere, yet he wants to have his junk hanging out for all to see!** And even beyond his paranoia, it’s a fact that the Institute DOES have many agents, be they conscious or unwitting, active in the Commonwealth. Any of them could travel by 1 of these MILA points and happen to see this device and wonder about its use, which could lead to massive disaster for the Railroad. Even just a regular traveler happening to look up would be a bad thing--any given tech scavenger would probably see such a doohickey as a prize to acquire and sell off.

And hey, let’s not forget the other enemies of the Railroad, the Brotherhood of Steel...yes, the intelligent, scientifically advanced individuals with enormous resources who are specifically out to collect any and every piece of interesting technology they come across. The BoS is also the group whose members are always zooming around the Commonwealth in their vertibirds. Meaning that all they have to do is fly over a MILA, happen to be looking down at the time--which I can only assume is usually where vertibird passengers are looking; that’s kind of the point of aerial patrol ships--and they’ll see a cherry piece of tech they’ve never encountered before, just begging to having the information it’s sending out traced straight to the Railroad HQ!

And that’s STILL not the end of why this placement is so dumb. Let’s say that, miracle of miracles, the MILA does not fall and does not get noticed by anyone who would steal it or use it to harm its creators. It’s still out in the open, exposed! Say some idiot super mutant decides some time that he wants to have a staring contest with the sun. He looks up, and happens to see this weird box sitting on a board jutting out from a rooftop. Will he know what the hell it is, or have any interest in taking it? No. But will he be struck with the notion of using it as target practice? Quite possibly! Hell, we know from Fallout 3’s Galaxy News Radio dish quest that mutants have taken potshots at machinery located high above them before; there’s no reason they wouldn’t again. And if a super mutant doesn’t try shooting the MILA for shits and giggles, a raider certainly might, or a Gunner might decide to hone his aim with it. Hell, even totally unnoticed, the thing’s still not safe if it’s out in the open--the Commonwealth, particularly the Boston area where most of the MILAs get placed, is a constant warzone. There’s every chance of a MILA getting damaged in crossfire or by a stray missed shot, out in the air as it is. That’s especially true considering that a lot of fighting occurs between the Brotherhood of Steel and the dregs of the wastelands, meaning a ton of bullets and lasers firing up from the ground and down from the vertibirds.

And, that’s about all I have to say on the matter. MILA placement is dumb several times over. At any rate, congratulations on making it to the end of my most pointless rant ever! You have my condolences.

* Yeah, okay, so the MILA doesn’t actually have a weight value when it’s in your inventory. I contend that’s for gameplay purposes, so you don’t accidentally exceed your carry weight with a plot item, not because the kitchen sink-sized device of steel, copper, and plastic actually is supposed to weigh less than a marshmallow.

** You’re welcome for that image.

Friday, January 8, 2016

General RPG Lists: Best Bad Endings

Happy New Year, folks! As the year of You Are Not the Hero, Xenoblade 2, Fallout 4 DLC, a romance-oriented Fire Emblem that actually caught up to 10 years ago by providing homosexual options, and oh holy shit TORMENT: TIDES OF NUMENARA!!!, 2016 shows great promise for the RPG genre. Let's see if I can write up some rants so mentally stimulating and entertaining that they can keep pace with that exciting lineup!

(Spoiler Alert: I can't. You'll just have to be satisfied with the usual fanboyish, nitpicking garbage I spew every year).

In my Greatest Endings list, I covered the best of RPGs’ good endings...but you know, good endings aren’t the only ones to be found in this genre. A lot of games also have Bad Endings, intentionally dissatisfying conclusions that let the player know that somewhere or other, they done fucked up. These are the endings whose purpose is to create regret and discontent, and encourage you to do a better job next time. There’s a lot of these lesser finales in RPGs, and most of them are pretty by-the-numbers, but sometimes you’ll come across a Bad Ending that’s extremely well done, surprising you with just how much quality the developers put into even the conclusion that represents failure. And today, we’re taking a look at the best of the bad!

Note: I’m trying to be objective here, so endings that are just representations of playstyles I don’t agree with don’t count. So, for example, even though an ending where you empower Caesar’s Legion in Fallout: New Vegas is pretty bad from any decent human being’s perspective, I’m not counting it, because it’s not based on a failure so much as it is a social philosophy, even if that social philosophy is shitty and poorly thought out. So, no Renegade Shepard, no Chiaki Discipline, no negative karma Lone Wanderer, no Yamato meritocracy, etc. None of those are meant to symbolize a failure on the player or characters’ parts (besides, perhaps, a moral one). They’re endings meant to be as legitimate as their counterparts, not Bad Endings.

Note 2: I’m sure you can figure this one out on your own, but, uh, spoilers.

5. Live-A-Live (Sad Ending)

What makes this such a good Bad Ending is that it’s so poignantly underscored by the tragedy of Orsted’s fall from grace. It’s not just about the fact that he wins, that he changes the fates of the other 7 climactic battles to result in the defeat of each hero and the dominance of the demonic force Odio. After Orsted’s victory, as the credits roll, we see him leave his fortress of evil and journey through the now empty and lifeless kingdom that he was once a hero to, quietly visiting the place of each of the losses, misunderstandings, and betrayals that pushed him from a hero to a demon, as well as the sites of the triumphs that gave him so much to lose in the first place. What this ending is really about is reminding you that the ruination of this man’s life, the circumstances that drove him to embrace darkness, is what caused the triumph of evil now in multiple places in time and space. The fickle, quick judgments of the people, the deaths of the only true and good people Orsted knew, the vicious betrayal by his best friend over petty jealousy, the emotional betrayal of the princess, she who had symbolized the pure, redeeming goal and light that he had clung desperately to when the rest of his world was falling apart...Orsted visits the site of each to remind himself and us of his tale. The people in Orsted’s life failed him with their petty, stupid vices, destroyed him...and now, in this ending, we see the tragedy compounded as his retribution seeks out not only the humanity that did him wrong, but the innocents of other worlds and times, as well.

4. Eternal Senia (Ending 2)

Ha! The real question is, are any of Eternal Senia's endings not a Bad Ending?

I kid, I kid. Because humor is a defense mechanism. And I need it right now. Because the second ending of ES breaks my goddamn heart. After all that Senia has gone through to save her sister Magaleta, and all that Magaleta has taken on herself to save Senia, Eternity still wins out, taking control of Senia while Magaleta is pushed away before she can try to shoulder this last lethal burden. Senia is lost, yet Magaleta cannot bring herself to leave her, even as Senia attacks her...instead, Magaleta simply accepts each injury, as fate’s punishment for failing to love Senia well enough, and failing to save her. After all the hurt and trials that Senia and Magaleta have endured, each girl’s only concern the wellbeing of her sister, her only wish to be with the other...Magaleta accepts death by the blade of her beloved sister, happily, as her penance, and because she’d rather be with Senia in death than attempt to live without her. The sheer weight of Senia and Magaleta’s love for one another is staggering, and the fact that they never had the chance to truly live and rejoice in that love, from circumstance and an inability to communicate their feelings and fears, makes this the saddest Bad Ending I’ve ever seen.

3. Fallout 1

This ending, which you get when the protagonist gives in and tells The Master’s lieutenant about Vault 13, is short, yet extremely effective. The Vault Dweller is taken and dropped into the vats, transformed into a super mutant, the scene nightmarish without needing to be excessive or graphic. Then, we see the result of the Vault Dweller’s loose lips: the invasion of Vault 13 in progress, through security feeds. It’s a masterfully disturbing scenario: hopeless, relentless, terrifying, and brutal. It’s simple, and again, nightmarish without the need for gratuitous detail. Stunningly horrible, this is an ending that leaves you feeling a little sick.

2. Undertale (No Mercy Ending)

Actually, there are quite a few neutral endings in Undertale that might have pushed Live-A-Live off this list, too, but they’re pretty much the ones where you’ve come close to a No Mercy run, but not quite gotten it, so I’m just going to count this one alone, and call it a day.

Okay, so this may seem like it goes against that rule I mentioned earlier about not counting alternate play styles, but the No Mercy is different than just deciding to play Revan as a Sith or something. Going out of your way to murder absolutely everyone you possibly can has no belief or philosophy behind it--even Flowey’s motto of Kill or Be Killed only logically applies to interacting with those you come across and/or possess something you want, not systematically hunting down and wiping out the weak and helpless in totality. Additionally, the No Mercy ending is not shown as an acceptable alternative to another legitimate ending that gives a deviant player what he or she was shooting for--it’s pretty unequivocally a Bad Ending. Lastly, it does not represent a success of the protagonist, Frisk’s, choices or belief. Rather, as the ending makes clear, the violent impulses of the game belong to Chara, the first child, and if Frisk kills, it is because Chara’s spirit is in control. Chara more or less says this, and even mocks Frisk’s assumption that he/she has ever been in control should Frisk try to resist. SO, the No Mercy ending can really only be seen as a failure for Frisk, never a consciously-selected consequence: it’s a failure to keep the influence of Chara at bay and stay in control.

We square on this? Okay, good. So, then, let’s talk this ending and why it’s here, which is because it

As is its intention, of course. In this ending, you’ve unleashed a psychotic, reasonless murderer on the world, one intent on and capable of destroying all existence, a monster that can neither be stopped by even a hero who has been imbued with the collective power of the world’s hope, nor by an unimaginably powerful creature who can manipulate the very laws of the universe. Seeing Chara, hearing him/her talk, realizing that this is truly the end of this world, and then realizing that you’ve given Chara the power to lock you out of restarting and can only ever play the game again by selling Frisk’s soul to him/her, a decision that cannot be taken back no matter how you play the game ever again...this ending perfectly blends the stuff of a living nightmare, and the sinking pit in your stomach that occurs when you realize that you’ve made a choice, an important one, for the worse, and will never, ever escape its consequences.

1. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (Kill Namatame Ending)

This is a pretty intense and emotionally painful ending all around. The scene that leads to the moment of this Bad Ending is heavy with the fresh pain of loss, and the desperation that comes of it. With the universally beloved Nanako dead, the Investigation Team privately confronts Namatame, the man believed to be responsible for her death. Although they only moments before were upset at the idea of what Nanako’s father, out of his mind with anguish, had intended to do with Namatame, the heroes find themselves also quickly blinded to reason by their grief and rage. In this moment of weakness, the team takes justice into its own hands, and murders Namatame.

Their adventure ends that night, in tragedy, their search for answers ended with a single terrible decision made without the dedication to the pursuit of truth that had united and propelled them up to that point. In the heat of this terrible moment, an act is perpetrated that cannot be undone, a betrayal of all that the team has stood for, striven for. It is an act that cannot be redacted. When it's time, a few months later, for the protagonist to go back to his home and leave the town in which the game takes place, there's no jubilant exit. There's only a small, sad speech by Nanako's father to the main character that sometimes bad actions must be taken for the greater good, awkward and quiet farewells from the protagonist's friends, and an atmosphere of regret. Regret, and perhaps shame, for what was done hastily in anger. It's very, very well done and poignant, and pretty much captures the essence of what a Bad Ending is meant to be--an unsatisfying, regretful conclusion that came about from a deviation from what the story had intended.

Honorable Mention: Mass Effect 3 (Fan-Created MEHEM Bad Ending)

You know, it’s a funny thing. The Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod gives us a satisfying, correct ending for the ME trilogy to fix that sloppy pile of shit that those incompetent, self-important fuckwads at Bioware forced on us...but worth noting is that it also gives us a Bad Ending, too, if you’ve reached the ending by making bad decisions and not gathering enough war assets. And this Bad Ending...really, really works. It’s interesting, it’s intelligent, and it’s meaningful. And it’s even a little artsy, too, with how well it conveys details and intentions without outright speaking them. Seeing that all hope for their cycle truly is lost, Joker and the crew of the Normandy heroically sacrifice themselves to keep their secret contingency plan safe from the risk of Indoctrination bringing it to light, and we cut away to see, someday, 1 of Liara’s capsules being found and activated which details the oncoming Reaper menace to the next cycle, in the hopes that the details of our own failure might be enough to give the galaxy’s next starfaring children a chance to survive. And once the credits are finished, we learn that this was, indeed, what happened.

Yes, obviously this modded ending uses a lot of what Bioware created for the official “Bad Ending” to create its own downer finale, but that’s what MEHEM does overall--it takes the bits of Bioware’s bilge that can be salvaged for something good, and then fills in the gaps with its own fan-created content (which, by the way, is very good, often indistinguishable from the “professional” content) that make for something worthwhile. The important thing here is that, whereas before the message of the Bad Ending of ME3 was Bioware saying, “Oh, you don’t like being left with only shitty options? Sure, here’s a new option for you: EVERYTHING YOU LOVE DIES. Happy?”, this Bad Ending has a theme of hope even within resignation to your own fate, and of heroic, meaningful sacrifice of oneself for the good of others whom one has never even met. There’s a powerful, inspiring nobility to this Bad Ending that shows that even in the darkest of times, when all is lost for us, there is still a beautiful light to be found in our ability to help others as we were unable to do for ourselves.

I suspect not many people will ever see this ending, as the whole point of downloading MEHEM would be to salve the terrible wounds in your psyche, still open and raw years after ME3’s ending created them, so few people are going to bother going into it with the low rating that this ending requires to activate. And that’s kind of sad, honestly, because just as MEHEM proper is an absolutely excellent ending, so too is MEHEM’s Bad Ending 1 of the best you’re ever going to come across. Thankfully, it's not hard to find on Youtube.

And that’s it for today! Personally, I think it’s pretty darned cool that there are games whose creators take such an interest in their work that they can’t resist telling the game and characters’ stories even when they go in the wrong direction. And it’s really neat that the RPG genre has quite a few of these--this list was fairly difficult to narrow down. There are a lot of quality Bad Endings out there, such as the ones for Chrono Trigger, Mass Effect 2, and Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume, amongst others. The Bad Ending really can be an interesting, meaningful, and emotional little flourish that makes an already strong RPG that much more memorable and interesting, and I say kudos to those writers who take the time not only to make a Bad Ending at all, but to make one well.