The Death of Single-Player

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , on December 15, 2011 by pixeltheater

Back in August, game consultant Mark Cerny made waves in the gaming community when he predicted the death of single-player within the next couple years.

Pictured: Game Consultant Mark Cerny

I hate to say it, but he may be right. Even a lot of series that began as single-player-only have added or will add multiplayer in later iterations. Dead Space, Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock, Dead Rising, Resident Evil… hell, even Mass Effect 3 will have a multiplayer component.

Whether it’s co-op or multiplayer, or something in between like in Demon’s Souls, inserting multiplayer anywhere and everywhere is the trend.

And it needs to stop.

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Final Fantasy VI (Part 2)

Posted in Game Analysis with tags , , , , , , , on December 15, 2011 by pixeltheater

This is part two of my look at some of Final Fantasy VI’s best scenes, which I could not do without mentioning (drumroll)… the opera scene. Never has Pixel Theater been more literal.

The Opera Scene:

Celes was a general in the Empire who was branded a traitor for speaking out against the poisoning of Doma Castle.

When the party needs transportation to the Empire, they are told that an eccentric gambler named Setzer owns an airship. Setzer can be a hard man to find, but he is enamored with a local opera singer named Maria and has vowed to kidnap her on the night of her big performance.

Because that’s how he rolls, that’s why.

As luck would have it, Celes looks just like Maria, and so the plan is for the former general to take her place. Now this military woman, who has no singing experience, must get in touch with her more delicate side to fill Maria’s shoes.

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Final Fantasy VI (Part 1)

Posted in Game Analysis with tags , , , , on December 15, 2011 by pixeltheater

For a long time, especially during the 90s,  if you were talking about compelling video game narratives, you were talking about Final Fantasy. The series pioneered the art of cinematic video game storytelling like nothing else. 1994’s Final Fantasy VI is, in my humble opinion (and I know some may disagree), the greatest of them all.

(If anyone’s wondering why the box says “III,” it’s because at the time, only two Final Fantasy games had been released in North America (the first one, which obviously had no number, and the fourth, which was called “II”). To maintain their American numbering continuity, the sixth entry was labeled “III” in the States. By the time Final Fantasy VII was released in 1997, the world of video games had become flat enough to the point where publishers could use the actual Japanese numbering and not confuse us Americans. Stateside re-releases of the fourth and sixth entries (on the Playstation, Nintendo DS, etc.) retained their actual numbers as well. Got it?)

I distinctly remember being a child and watching my older brother play Final Fantasy VI for the first time. As an inflamed Figaro Castle submerged into the desert sands to foil Kefka’s evil plot, I exclaimed, “It’s like a movie!”

What I meant, in my youthful enthusiasm, was that the storytelling, although still using text rather than spoken dialogue, had an ambitious cinematic flair that no game before it had been able to achieve.

What makes the sixth iteration particularly remarkable is that I cannot, off the top of my head, think of another RPG that features a genuine ensemble cast. As in, there is no one protagonist. Each of the game’s characters are so memorable and well-developed that it makes you roll your eyes whenever another game forces you to play as Generic Hero Guy.

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Silent Hill 2: “For me, it’s always like this” (Part 2)

Posted in Game Analysis with tags , on December 5, 2011 by pixeltheater

(This is a continuation of my last post. Make sure you read Part 1 first.)

Spoilers ahead!

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Silent Hill 2: “For me, it’s always like this” (Part 1)

Posted in Game Analysis with tags , , , on December 5, 2011 by pixeltheater

I’m not ashamed to admit it: horror games scare the crap out of me. And yet I love them, and none more so than the Silent Hill series.

When Resident Evil was released in 1996, it ushered in a new era of “survival horror” games. Technology had finally reached the point where a game could be truly immersive and scary.

Well, not that scary.

Three years later, Silent Hill was released on the Playstation, and while both series were lumped into the horror genre, they each had a distinctive way of eliciting scares. RE relied more on surprising the player, such as the infamous hallway early in the first game in which a Cerberus (the game’s zombie hounds) bursts through a window without warning.


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Shadow of the Colossus: The Price You Pay

Posted in Game Analysis with tags , , on November 30, 2011 by pixeltheater

2005’s Shadow of the Colossus for the PS2 is, if you’ll remember, one of the games being honored by the Smithsonian as a work of art, and with good reason.

Yes, its minimalist design may make for an odd elevator pitch; for one thing, the game consists of 16 boss fights. That’s it. No dungeons. No lesser enemies. No items to collect or equipment to… um, equip. Just you, a horse, and 16 colossi to slay.

"I'm gonna need a bigger horse."

On paper, that might seem like a flimsy excuse for a game, especially in a gaming world filled with content-rich titles like the recent Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. However, anyone who’s played Shadow of the Colossus knows that it’s an amazing experience and proof that quality trumps quantity.

The graphics are gorgeous (granted, it came out in 2005, but I think even today they still hold up) and the plot, like in Braid, provides another example of how in modern games, protagonists are becoming more nuanced and morally complex. It’s getting increasingly difficuly to tell who’s “good” and who’s “evil.”

Although sometimes it's still pretty clear.

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Braid: “Saving” the Princess

Posted in Game Analysis with tags , , on November 26, 2011 by pixeltheater

It used to be that when you were playing a game, you could be fairly certain that your avatar’s quest was a noble one. You were the “good guy” out to vanguish the “bad guys,” which of course you did and then everyone high-fived and watched the credits roll.

In the modern era of gaming, however, developers are increasingly moving away from such simplistic plots. Protagonists can be flawed or misguided (and if you’re playing a choice-driven game like Fable or Mass Effect, they can be baby seal-clubbingly evil, too). Narratives are becoming more complex, so naturally protagonists are following suit.

Braid is an independent downloadable game first released on XBox Live Arcade in 2008. In many ways, it’s an homage to the 2D platformers of the 8- and 16-bit eras, in particular the first Super Mario Brothers for the NES, the game that created the platformer as we know it.

Oh, I see what you did there.

But once you reach Braid’s final level, you realize it’s also a modern deconstruction of video game tropes.

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