Saturday, April 12, 2014

Preparing to Die

So I last wrote about the problems that go with using zombies as the object of violence in a video game.  I was hyperbolic and self-righteous, but there's nothing in there I would want to take back, short of pointing you to some of the more recent research into the Kitty Genovese case that shows I maybe should not have used it as an example.  All the same, I'd like to talk now about one of very few games that actually does something interesting with zombies and undeath: Dark Souls.

The undead of Dark Souls are essentially ordinary people, but afflicted with a curse that gradually eats away at their memories of home and self.  The game is set in and around an asylum where the undead are sent in hopes of preventing the curse's spread.  Their ultimate fate is a violent madness, such that other undead serve as the game's foes as well as merchants and allies.  By far the most important thing about undeath in Dark Souls, however, is that it represents a real-world affliction that the game gives genuinely sweet and sincere perspective on: dementia.

There are two storylines in the first Dark Souls that I'd like to highlight.  Anyone who plans on playing the game should probably stop reading, since I'm going to spoil the ways one's interactions with these characters unfold.  While these aren't story spoilers in the usual sense, they're a part of why Dark Souls is a brilliant and challenging game and I recommend letting the game reveal itself to you naturally.

The first character on the list is Big Hat Logan, a ravenous scholar who has ditched his apprentice and keeps getting himself captured:
Initial meeting:
  Mm, you seem quite lucid! A rare thing in these times.
  I am Logan. I'm a bit cooped up, as you can see.
  I have a bright idea. Suppose you set me free?
  I'm old and empty-handed, but i could repay you with my knowledge, and sorcery.
  This place is melting my mind. The inactivity is repressive!

In the Duke's Archives, after rescuing him:
  A great pool of knowledge, the fruits of superior wisdom and an unquenchable desire for truth.
  Some would say Seath had an unsound fixation …But his work is a beautiful, invaluable resource.
  All progress demands sacrifice.
  And I certainly bear no antipathy for that wonderful scaleless beast.

After defeating the area boss in the Duke's Archives:
  Oh, there you are, it has been a while.
  Or were you just here?
  This fascinating place defeats my sense of time…

Then later:

Later still:
  …Who are you…
  …Stay clear…stay clear of my work…
  …Curses upon you!
  …How dare you disturb me!

After this you find his clothes in a heap, and if you search carefully you'll find him in another area of the archives running around naked.  He attacks you on sight, wild and paranoid.  The player has witnessed Logan's decline from celebrated intellectual to babbling fool, and there is no "good path" to take with Logan to prevent this fate.  It's a sad perspective on the fragility of intellect, where we witness perhaps the heaviest fall from greatness in the game.

But for me the most poignant story in Dark Souls will always be that of Siegmeyer of Catarina and his daughter, Sieglinde.  It's always been a heartbreaker, but when I sat down to write about it I realized it was even sadder and far more real than I had thought.  Siegmeyer is an undead adventurer.  He's friendly and good-natured, but not really up to the task of scurrying around Lordran getting into scrapes.  Time and again the player helps him out of a bind, and eventually comes across his daughter.  She's not undead, but she's come to Lordran to track him down and make sure he spends his remaining time comfortably instead of being a burden on others and getting into trouble.

Sieglinde is just as sweet and kind-hearted as her father, but when the player eventually comes across their reunion it's the aftermath of his inevitable decline: he has gone hollow, and it was up to her to put him down:

My father…all Hollow now…has been subdued. He will cause no more trouble.
It's finally over…I will return to Catarina.
You assisted us both greatly. I can hardly return the favour.
Oh, father…dear father…

Rather than leave him to his fate in the Undead Asylum, Sieglinde sought to look after her father herself.  When the time came for him, it was left to her to pull the plug.  This is the scene that rewards the player for helping Siegmeyer through all of his difficult troubles, and it's representative of the tone of Dark Souls in general.

Dark Souls 2 made a tiny change that drives these themes even further.  Instead of being called "Humanity", the item that returns the player to full human status is called a "Human Effigy".  Upon creating a new character, the player is not prompted to decide the character's appearance or background until Strowen the firekeeper bestows one of these, saying it is a doll made in the image of a famous adventurer.  She then says it is the player's image, and this is when appearance and background are decided.  The doll is in fact completely vague in appearance, but the act of trying to make it out as one's self allows one to recall one's own self by trying to project it on the effigy.  Instead of a magic soul item, it's a definite focus for "getting it together" and recovering one's sense of self.

A few years ago my father was diagnosed with vascular dementia.  It's been a long and gradual decline, full of worry and crisis and hard decisions.  The worst thing about it is that whatever hard decisions you make, and however correctly you make them, the result is the same.  The best you can sometimes hope for is to make him comfortable for a very slightly slower decline.  Most players won't even realize it, but Dark Souls forces these kinds of decisions.  At the end of the game it's up to you whether to prolong a misguided and exploitative source of warmth and life for a little bit longer or plunge the world into an age of darkness.  Fans still can't agree much on which is the "good ending", because there isn't one.

Ultimately, Dark Souls is far kinder to the player than it is to its characters and world.  Advertisements for Dark Souls 2 proclaim that it's not about death, but life and learning.  This is an optimistic spin, but not untrue.  As with all stories that dwell on themes of the inevitability of death, Dark Souls teaches us to hold on to what we love and make the most of our time.  It also brazenly confronts the fact that not all of us live out our days as ourselves, and sometimes we lose those things we cherish before our time really comes.

The undead aren't always cannon fodder, hellspawn, or an apocalyptic plague; sometimes they're our parents.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Villains in video games are a troubling thing.  I don’t even mean villain characters like Sephiroth and Kefka, or anime conventions about saving the world from a malevolent ham.  Now that we’ve actually developed the medium to a point that moral questions become relevant, the question for all video game violence is: “Just whom, exactly, are we supposed to have fun killing?” Video games are generally violent and almost always supposed to be fun, and while most negative reactions to this violence are ill-considered and reactionary, I don’t think it’s responsible to neglect the issue entirely.  The fact is that we have found solutions to the problem of video game violence that are in many ways more socially dangerous than the problem itself.

It doesn't get any easier than this.
Nazis, for example, are the ideal antagonists: they’re never the underdogs, they’re maximally white, they fought to build a fascist empire that committed one of the most appalling genocides in human history, and they lost the war.  It is a convenient moral loophole that a fighting force existed who were so ideologically repugnant that any act committed against them could be considered, at worst, justice.  Over and over again the victory pornograph played for us, until Nazis became cartoonish impossibilities.  Instead of a terrible lesson about unchecked nationalism, instead of an illustration of the tendency toward racial scapegoats in the face of poverty, we have Snidely Whiplash and his Silly Accent Brigade.

After too much of this we risk feeling sorry for them.  So once the buzz of moral superiority wears off and the crass repetition is impossible to ignore, whom do we kill?  Monsters and aliens were always fair game, of course, but those can still be conceived as having rights and morals.  Self-defense takes some writing to make plausible, too, and you always risk the audience identifying with the people he or she is slaughtering.  This is where horror films supplied the next step, and it is my position that despite its grounding in kitsch and classic horror the zombie is as morally problematic as any human antagonist, and probably more so.

There are thousands of games that are just this.
It’s not just that Zombies are a lazy device, or that there is only a small number of stories you can tell that include them.  The problem is that zombies are such a forced black-and-white morality, the nuclear option of unsympathetic antagonists, that people who are specifically into them as a genre are probably sociopathic.  Nothing about them is particularly interesting, so the only exceptional characteristic they have is that you can laugh and smile as you shoot them or blow them up.  Or set fire to them.  Anybody who is, as a rule, a fan of anything with zombies in it is probably just a fan of setting people on fire.  The very thing that made Zombies terrifying in early horror (their lack of moral agency) has made them a flashpoint for contemporary disaffected blood lust.

It’s like that scene at the beginning of Bad Boys II (yeah, we’re doing this) where the heroes are performing a drug bust, but there’s no reason for the audience to care that these people are doing drugs.  They’re having a party in the woods, and happen to be popping some pills.  Is this gunfight going to be a thrill ride?  What if someone in the audience has ever done a drug and it wasn’t a big deal?  Well, what if we also make them members of the Ku Klux Klan?  Problem solved, fire away!

A 2000 Penny Arcade strip that almost makes a point.
It’s a mostly unspoken rule these days that it’s okay to hate anybody who is a member of any form of the Nazi party, or the KKK, or is a pedophile.  That’s probably fine, since those are some spectacularly terrible things.  It should not be okay, ever, to delight in their being the victims of indiscriminate violence.  And here is where the problem has turned itself around.  We needed a scapegoat, an easy target that wouldn’t make us uneasy.  But now that very desire has revealed itself as reprehensible.  In this way Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty are no different: one has virtual innocent victims and one has virtual victims that are sanctioned by the community, but both revel in the violent act itself.

The common theme is one of dehumanization, and it’s a serious problem.  The fantasy of video games, the escape from reality they provide, is that nobody in them is a real human being.  Once a person becomes accustomed to looking at people this way, the danger is developing a solipsistic lack of concern for one’s fellows.  I would like to make, or at least see made, a game that explicitly reinforces this tendency.  Thus made concrete, we will have the opportunity to confront it.

In this game the player will commit no violence, witness no shocking images, and be exposed to absolutely no sexual content of any kind (in fact, this lack of agency and exposure is the goal itself).  The game is set in a nondescript New York apartment, which should be fully interactive.  There is a television with compelling dramas playing, a newspaper, Monopoly, and other everyday distractions.  The player can make coffee, order pizza, call a friend, etc.  The only remarkable thing about the setting is that outside, in an alley, Kitty Genovese is being murdered.  If the player tries to interfere, call the police, or even look outside then he or she loses the game.

Kitty Genovese
This is not a murder simulator (per se - it is, arguably, a second-person murder simulator), and it won’t train anybody to become violent, yet it is perhaps the most base and monstrous game imaginable.  What it will train is a lack of concern for other human beings.  It is the worst kind of role play, explicitly encouraging the player to not help anyone, ever.  To this end, care must be taken in ensuring that the player is never ignoring the game itself, but instead focused exclusively on the task of ignoring the atrocities that occur within the game (for example, if the player is idle the game will automatically start toward the window or the phone, forcing the player's hand).

Jack Thompson once proposed that no video game developer would dare make a game about killing video game developers, since they would be training their own murderers.  Thompson assumed that video games so perfectly aped human experience that a player would find himself confused about what was real and what was the game.  Whatever apprehensions one has about games and technology, it's flatly evident that no such confusion exists.  I want to emphasize that the game I propose here is very different, because even though the murder in the game is a mere simulation of a real-life event, the player's active ignorance of it is real.  Part of the threat, too, is that once a person sees, face-to-face, the victim of a savage beating who is in danger of being murdered, involvement is inevitable.

The real murder of Kitty Genovese, as told and retold in college classrooms of every discipline in the humanities, was made possible because everyone who could have helped her was able to ignore the sounds and suggestions of her fate that reached them.  While these indicators are more urgent and real than anything we encounter in a video game, they nevertheless can be desensitized even where an encounter with the murder itself can not.

Ultimately, whether the target of your simulated violence is a simulated Nazi or a simulated game developer or a simulated woman in an alley, we have to have our debate about violence in games in a way that ties into the things about them that aren't fantasy, aren't simulated.  We have to wonder why we want to pretend the things that we pretend.  Video games aren't going to train us to do anything other than the things we're already inclined to do, but they can have a more powerful effect on our ideas about race and sex than any film or book ever has.  They can also have an effect on our ideas about humanity itself, and threats to the way that we care are considerable indeed.  I don't think we're going to prevent any real-life violence by preventing simulated violence, but we can maybe hope to exert some control over our apathy, and that's a start.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Poverty as Art

Several months ago the National Endowment for the Arts announced that it would be expanding its definition of art to include video games. There was a lot of predictable confusion about what this meant, but now that the storm has subsided I'd like to take a look at some of the truly positive things we might see as a result of this.

The fact that it's now possible for authors of video games to receive federal grant money has fascinating possibilities, not least of which is the divorce of game development from the corporate bottom line. NEA grants are available only to non-profit organizations, which means more or less that money is available only to authors more interested in making games than in making money. The paradigm of the starving artist has been missing from video games, instead represented by the risk-taking entrepeneur. When you hear "video game exhibition" you think of a trade show like E3 instead of an art exhibition. And while I believe it should be possible for artists of any sort to make some proper money doing what they love, the only way to keep it from staying merely a business venture is to make it somewhat impractical.

Thus far we've seen publishers trying to fill a double role. A field like video games can only advance if boundaries get pushed, and companies need this advancement to compete. This is why Namco has anything like a Digital Hollywood Game Laboratory, and why they would give Keita Takahashi a million dollars to "proactively ignore" corporate marketing instincts and make a game like Katamari Damacy. But that story more resembles a gifted engineer producing an inventive patent from the lower levels of a company than an artist setting up a work of art within or against a particular culture. It's unheard of for the artists to not intersect with the industry, but that intersection has at least managed to change in recent years.

This change has enabled small companies to get their games released on a global scale without signing all of their intellectual property over to the publisher. This appears to be the arrangement that Jenova Chen (né Xinghan Chen) has with Sony, who have contracted him for three games to appear on the Playstation 3, two of which (Flow and Flower) have been released already. Chen has repeatedly shown a willingness and desire to give up the easy, profitable path for more artistically fulfilling work. He co-founded a company called Thatgamecompany (TGC), which he indends to keep small and personal, and he gave up a secure position at Maxis to do so. They've apparently made action games that follow traditional formulae internally, and these games were allegedly quite promising, but Chen says he decided not to spend his time on anything that wasn't pushing him creatively.

All of this is just marketing, of course, if the games don't show this personal touch. His newest project, Journey, promises to live up to this talk by alienating most core gamers. It's an online game that seeks to remove all of the convenient chatter from the online experience. No gamertags, no voice chat, no text. All the players get with which to interact are a unique identifying mark (so that you know if you've played with that person before), a shout, and one's actions within the game world. The goal of the game is to traverse a vast desert and reach a mountain on the horizon, but the reasons and the method are left unstated. The players are supposed to work toward that goal, either together or independently, and presumably the story will become more clear as they do so.

What excites me about this project is the attention to how players interpret the actions of others in a video game. Anyone who follows professional Starcraft has seen how playing a game can be a form of expression, but most online games do little more than provide a list of canned animations and phrases. Starcraft's example is that the game itself ought to be enough, and the question is whether an inteface on the PS3 can allow for expressive gameplay rather than relying on a layer of menus and XBox Live features to pretend that anything like communication is happening.

Emmanuel Levinas, a 20th-Century Jewish philosopher who worked hard to develop an ethics out of the work of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, concentrated on the "face-to-face" of human interaction. For Heidegger this meant a recognition of the other as being fundamentally the same as oneself, but Levinas went further. He said that when one encounters the other there is always already a responsibility for the other, and that this innate commandedness is fundamental to any such experience. Every human interaction, then, is already a response.  Furthermore, it is this act of being "singled out" by the other that establishes one's own identity.  That's right: "face-to-face" interaction with others is fundamental to our being in that the gaze of the other establishes us in our being.

I'll try to leave the explanation of Levinas to just that, but outside the context of philosophy it seems a relatively odd claim. In context it's clear just how bold a claim it is: that such relations, such responsibilities, are the primordial foundation of all human interaction. More to the point, it is the experience of being faced with another person that allows us to recognize our own personhood.

So far online gaming has built its social elements by making chat programs bleed down from above into the games, but a project like Journey promises to start from scratch, making us interact in ways that are similarly primordial for a video game. That is to say, reducing our social gaming experience to the initial revealing made possible only through gameplay itself. My hope is that this will make it possible to have an online game without a "gamer culture", letting us discover for ourselves what playing a game together really means.

Anyone who played Ico has experienced the prototype of this experience: Yorda was a character within the game world whose plight was the same as the protagonist's, and as the player one couldn't help but feel that connection by proxy. But Ico only shed light on how far video games have to go: ultimately the character players felt kinship with was a mess of pre-scripted weakness and extremely convincing animation. Once the façade breaks down, once the glass darkens and the player recognizes the experience for what it is, this interaction becomes tiresome and irritating. The great promise of a project like Journey is for us to experience Ico's fellow feeling on a truly human level, one that never reduces to rote interactions. As a commercial enterprise, the odds are against this project's success.

The core ideas behind Journey are, to me, a breath of the freshest air. The question marks that plague the game all have to do with everything we haven't heard: how the gameplay is actually going to keep people working together for an extended period, and how the game is going to make its multiplayer experience last more than a week after its release. My fear is that TGC is going to undermine itself by removing all of the traditional or comfortable elements from its game; without the hook of engaging and satisfying gameplay--elements of game design that Jenova Chen apparently considers himself to be above--to hang it on, all the audacious and brilliant social commentary in the world isn't going to make a mark on the industry. Which is probably fine, because the industry would only have learned all the wrong lessons from it anyway. But this brings me back to the point I started with: that sometimes the industry is better served by an unprofitable, audacious disaster than it is by another blockbuster hit. Maybe in the next few years some new artists can get just enough grant money to push the boundaries of what video games can and should do, and the lack of executives looking over their shoulder is going to let them do just that.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Kotaku's Gamecenter CX Localization: It's terrible and it's a crying shame

Way to go, Gawker and Kotaku. Way to fuck it all up.

As you may have heard, GameCenter CX, the Japanese Video Gaming show about Section Chief Shinya Arino and his gaming escapades, was finally picked up for U.S. broadcast by the gaming blog Kotaku. The format for this release being that they would post episodes on the Kotaku website on a weekly basis.
For fans of the Japanese show, and even for those that may have only vaguely heard of it, this was a big deal. Only a handful of episodes had been fan translated prior to this announcement, and now that it would be officially available, spreading awareness of the show to gamers that wouldn't otherwise have access to the show would be much easier. And the more support the show gets, the more GCCX gets made. It was a time of great excitement!

And then the first episode was released...

...and it was terrible.

Now when I say terrible, I don't mean it in an elitist-snob "I only watch foreign movies+shows in their purest form, in the original language with subtitles" kind of way. If you've seen other Japanese shows ported to American TV like say Iron Chef or Ninja Warrior, those are perfectly watchable with dubbed-over dialog and announcers and such. In fact, you could say that it makes it even more accessible for viewers that have very little experience with watching something made in Japan. When I say the Kotaku dub is bad, I'm talking flat-out unwatchable to the point that I wouldn't want to expose new Gamecenter CX viewers to the Kotaku dub, as it might turn them away from watching the show completely.

But how terrible is it, really? Let me count the ways:

1. The English narrator is subpar, and his pronunciation is terrible.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure he's getting paid peanuts for this obviously low-budget localization job, but considering this is probably his big break into the entertainment industry, you'd think he'd do a better job. Did he even watch the original version before he did his voiceovers? I guess the main thing about his voice that bothers me is that his announcer voice isn't very compelling. If he were more natural about his delivery, which highs and lows in his level of excitement, then it would make it easier to connect with the audience. As it is, it just feels so fake and insincere.
Also, why is his pronunciation of all the Japanese names so terrible? His pronunciation is so off it makes me think that he's doing it on purpose, like he's mocking us.

2. No music.
Just watch even a little bit of the original show, and you'll see why this is so terrible, it adds so much to the show. As it stands the Kotaku dub is a guy in a quiet room playing videogames while his friends are talking.

3. A lot of the title cards and on-screen graphics are cut out.
Gamecenter CX has a lot of funny graphics that are lovingly crafted and very funny, many of them involving photoshopping Arino's face on the body of the main character of the game he's playing. Even if the main character is female. These are all cut. Boo.

Here are some of the title cards you are missing out on.
4. None of the on screen Japanese text is translated. AT ALL.
This is the deal breaker. This is ultimately is what makes the show pretty much unwatchable for most American viewers. They don't bother to translate any of the on-screen text, which makes it kind of hard to follow certain games (Clock Tower probably being the most egregious example) because Arino doesn't necessarily read all the text aloud. You also miss out on a lot of the explanation text that shows up, as well as the witty comments from the King and Queen mascot characters. The explanation text is a big deal too, because even if you are familiar with whatever game is being played, they point out some pretty obscure game information sometimes.

5. The Kotaku dub lies to you. BIG, FAT, DIRTY LIES.
At the end of the Mighty Bomb Jack episode, the announcer says something along the lines of "And that was the end of the Might Bomb Jack challenge," even though RIGHT THERE ON THE SCREEN it says that Arino will challenge the game again, live in front of a studio audience. Well okay, the on-screen text is in Japanese, but the Mighty Bomb Jack Live Challenge is one of the best episodes of the show, and the fact that the Kotaku dub deceives the viewer of this fact is a pretty big slap in the face to those unable to read Japanese.

So yeah, as a huge Gamecenter CX it pains me to say this, but the Kotaku dub is terrible and you shouldn't watch it.

However, it's not all bad news.

In a somewhat miraculous set of circumstances, there is now a team of fan-subbers that are actively translating the show, in a not terrible way. In fact, the translations are really well done, with all the Japanese cultural and video game references intact. Here is a link to point you in the right direction. Kacho, On!!!

(Images blatantly stolen from the SA GCCX thread)

P.S. - You may have noticed that I didn't point out how the Kotaku dub doesn't have a lot of the side segments that are in the show. While this does indeed suck and they should have them, it is most likely a licensing issue that is out of their control so it would not entirely be fair to put that in as a negative point for the Kotaku dub. The fansubs have it though if you know where to look, wink wink.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Spiel und Zeit

A lot's already been said about Braid. Back when it was released everyone was in a froth about the limitless potential of indie gaming, or (again and again) about whether games were finally art yet, or about how it's a game for smart people and did I mention how much it appeals to me? It was an enormous flurry of New Games Journalism, one which served as a model for a lot of other releases that didn't have as much going on under the hood. I've honestly avoided writing about it, if only out of a desire to distance myself from the enormous reflex action. Call it my inauthentic moment of the day.

In case you missed it, Braid is an independent, download-only game on XBOX Live Arcade and, as of November 12, on the PlayStation Network (which serves to make this post timely on some level), made by Jonathan Blow, the guy who described World of Warcraft as "unethical" for many of the same reasons I previously complained about Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The level artwork was done by David Hellman, who did the art for a comic called A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible, (a title which is an interesting inversion of one of Braid's core themes). It was a real nut-up-or-shut-up moment for Blow, who had been talking shit about the state of game development for some time without ever releasing a game of his own. I think he succeeded, and not just because Braid has an interesting story.

Many audacious things have been tried with video games over the years. Usually the developers responsible have eyes bigger than their stomachs, and resort to things like quick-time events (Mavis Beacon for idiots, as a dude once scoffed) that result in the simulation of a video game. I love playing Typing of the Dead as much as the next guy (this isn't an oblique jab--the game is a lot of fun), but it succeeds mostly on the merits of its exquisite perversion of the rail shooter genre. You can't say that you've made a game out of an everyday task like waking up and making coffee just because you played a video of it to someone who had to play Simon Says to keep the video going. This is why I have a hard time getting excited for such supposedly iconoclastic projects as Heavy Rain.

What I've wanted to see games do ever since I decided to be pretentious about them is make a point with the game itself. Games have had stories, music, and pictures that make points before, and they have certainly been art before, but very rarely does it all come together in a way that couldn't have happened as anything but a game. Most people, when pressed, will (rightly) cite Hideo Kojima and maybe a little Shigeru Miyamoto before shrugging it off as a pseudoproblem. I guess I think too much, but I'm still waiting for the medium to come to presence and establish itself as a part of our lives rather than as an escape from them. I was delighted to find that Jonathan Blow agrees:

You can go to a movie just as escapism--and be swept up by the visions and emotions, or whatever. Or you can attend a movie with a more expansionist mindset: you want to experience those same visions and emotions, but you're doing it to connect those things to the rest of your life, to bring them back; not to escape from the rest of your life. The goal is, maybe, to expand yourself into perhaps a greater, more experienced person. Even just a little bit.
Games can provide this kind of mental, emotional and spiritual expansion, and they can push it in a different direction than movies, or books, or music, or whatever.

[All Jonathan Blow quotes were taken from this interview at the MTV blog.]

Braid, for all its pretense and boisterous ambition, is the perfect example of how to provide this kind of expansion in a new and fascinating way.

There was a time when, for various reasons I'll try not to enumerate, we were willing to put up with a lot of grief from games. We were so happy to just be in control of what was happening on screen that we put up with all kinds of spiteful design to make it happen. There are still some rude dudes out there keeping it real (God bless you, Treasure), but as many will lament we've moved beyond that. There are so many games, so many worthy games to play, that most aficionados are unwilling to hammer away at a game anymore. Worse, the very idea of playing through a part of a game more than once has become a deal-breaker. When a modern-day game player has the idea in his head of what he wants done, he doesn't want to fuck around figuring out how to make it happen. It has to happen, like that. This instant gratification, what Blow calls "the Skinnerian reward most modern game design", has been a serious problem as games have tried to establish themselves as a serious medium of expression.

The game that blew everything wide open was Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time. Not only was it an inspired revival of a celebrated and, in retrospect, probably painful franchise, but it introduced the idea that when the player had something go against his plan he could just rewind to before he screwed it up. It reminded me of cheating with save states in a Super Nintendo emulator, only it was built into the game itself and I was encouraged to go hog wild. Suddenly, we were all making tool-assisted game runs. If you've ever done anything like it, you know that the experience can be a little less than fulfilling.

What Braid does that is fairly mundane is give the player this absolute control. Every mistake, be it major or minor, can be reversed. Where Sands of Time let you cheat death by rewinding under certain conditions, Braid offers no genuine way to lose. "Rewind was going to be the basis of the game", writes Blow. "If rewind conflicted with some other element of the design, then I would throw away that other element--regardless of how traditionally necessary it was."

It iterates on this idea, presenting challenging and immensely creative puzzles around the theme of time control, but never strays from the constant of being able to undo your mistakes. What Braid does that is profound is explore the ramifications of this mode of interaction. As the game itself puts it:

Our world, with its rules of causality, has trained us to be miserly with forgiveness. By forgiving too readily, we can be badly hurt. But if we’ve learned from a mistake and become better for it, shouldn’t we be rewarded for the learning, rather than punished for the mistake?

What if our world worked differently? Suppose we could tell her: “I didn’t mean what I just said,” and she would say: “It’s okay, I understand,” and she would not turn away, and life would really proceed as though we had never said that thing? We could remove the damage but still be wiser from the experience.

Tim and the Princess lounge in the castle garden, laughing together, giving names to the colorful birds. Their mistakes are hidden from each other, tucked away between the folds of time, safe.

[Braid "Chapter 2: Time and Forgiveness" parts 4-6]

While presented in blocks of text between levels, the story of Braid is more than just a bit of writing hidden behind the façade of gameplay. The two are not only intensely related, but they rely on each other to fully realize the game's argument. In playing the game, the player is not only controlling Tim on the screen but experiencing his (quest for) perfection firsthand.

Many games present brief windows of opportunity to catch secrets. Missable items, characters, story scenes, etc. are part of the structure of video games. An unexpected consequence of this behavior is that some players obsess over getting "the perfect save file", even to the point of arbitrary self-punishment. A friend of mine, while playing Final Fantasy Tactics, would reset if an opponent stole even a cheap and replacable item from him. The game never counts or keeps track of whether you've been robbed, but he didn't want a save file that had done anything but an optimal path.

In Chapter 3 of Braid we see the consequences of this behavior:

For a long time, he thought they had been cultivating the perfect relationship. He had been fiercely protective, reversing all his mistakes so they would not touch her. Likewise, keeping a tight rein on her own mistakes, she always pleased him.

But to be fully couched within the comfort of a friend is a mode of existence with severe implications. To please you perfectly, she must understand you perfectly. Thus you cannot defy her expectations or escape her reach. Her benevolence has circumscribed you, and your life’s achievements will not reach beyond the map she has drawn.

Tim needed to be non-manipulable. He needed a hope of transcendence. He needed, sometimes, to be immune to the Princess’s caring touch.

Off in the distance, Tim saw a castle where the flags flutter even when the wind has expired, and the bread in the kitchen is always warm. A little bit of magic.

[Braid, Chapter 3: "Time and Mystery" parts 2-5]

The message, as I take it, of Braid's storyline is that a quest for perfection, for the "thought in the mind of God", the pursuit of an ideal that makes no mistakes, is fundamentally missing the point. The world and one's life are more about mistakes than successes, more about flaws than perfection. By pursuing those areas of science that "follow the rules", one is forcing science to be what one expects of it, forcing the Princess to please you "perfectly". At the same time, one is penned in by these expectations.

This has, of course, been said before. While in my opinion quite well written, the words and story of Braid are only a part of its message.

Through its time control mechanics, Braid the game has the player make the same decisions as the character in Braid the story. All the trappings of gameplay serve to reinforce the idea of escape, of trying to attain an ideal, of trying to protect everybody all the time and maximize the result of every action. Much like with Shadow of the Colossus, the player's complicity in the game's events serves a greater role than any cutscene or passage of text. The final level of Braid uses the current of its gameplay to accomplish the single most poignantly expressed storytelling I have ever experienced.

While surely unintended, a part of Braid's tale that alludes to the Manhattan Project reminded me of this bit from Simulacra and Simulation:

...the real danger nuclear power stations pose: not lack of security, pollution, explosion, but a system of maximum security that radiates around them, the protective zone of control and deterrence that extends, slowly but surely, over the territory--a technical, ecological, economic, geopolitical glacis. What does the nuclear matter? The station is a matrix in which an absolute model of security is elaborated, which will encompass the whole social field, and which is fundamentally a model of deterrence (it is the same one that controls us globally under the sign of peaceful coexistence and of the simulation of atomic danger).

[Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, "The Beaubourg Effect: Implosion and Deterrence", p. 61]

Here, too, we see a perfect system of coexistence. Here, too, we see "absolute security", an encompassing of "the whole social field". This dance of repetition until perfection is achieved, this absolute terror of impermanence, of failing to maximize on the immediate opportunity, is one of the most dangerous tendencies of our age. We have a hard time remembering that we usually don't understand an event until we reflect on it, and that our quests to save princesses may not always be advisable, or even welcome.

The risk of nuclear annihilation only serves as a pretext, through the sophistication of weapons (a sophistication that surpasses any possible objective to such an extent that it is itself a symptom of nullity), for installing a universal security system, a universal lockup and control system whose deterrent effect is not at all aimed at an atomic clash (which was never in question, except without a doubt in the very initial stages of the cold war, when one still confused the nuclear apparatus with conventional war) but, rather, at the much greater probability of any real event, of anything that would be an event in the general system and upset its balance. The balance of terror is the terror of balance.

There lies the true nuclear fallout: the meticulous operation of technology serves as a model for the meticulous operation of the social. Here as well, nothing will be left to chance, moreover this is the essence of socialization, which began centuries ago, but which has now entered its accelerated phase, toward a limit that one believed would be explosive (revolution), but which for the moment is translated by an inverse, implosive, irreversible process: the generalized deterrence of chance, of accident, of transversality, of finality, of contradiction, rupture, or complexity in a sociality illuminated by the norm, doomed to the descriptive transparency of mechanisms of information.

[Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, "The Precession of Simulacra", pp. 33, 34-35]

Even after the game's final moments (which I will not spoil) there are meaningful surprises to be had. Like most games nowadays, there is a post-game quest for secrets. A constellation appearing on the hub level can be fleshed out by finding hidden stars throughout the game's other levels, and completing it gets you... absolutely nothing. The requirements for getting them are unreasonable, and I'm inclined to believe Blow put them there to make a point about how much the completionist's attitude prevents us from enjoying or even experiencing games (and life) anymore. In a time when completionists are pandered to, where "Achievement Points" are sought after as ends in themselves, we see how the technological mode of being has affected us here. Tim's pursuit of the perfection of science, of "a principle of objectivity of which science is never certain, of which it secretly despairs" [Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, "The Animals: Territory and Metamorphoses", p. 129], is the same as the player's pursuit of that perfect play-through.

Braid, like any game, can't possibly be for everyone. Nevertheless, I strongly urge everyone who reads this to at least give it a go. It's a spectacular achievement, one that speaks on a personal level and has the ability to mean something to you in your life instead of just pulling you out of it for a few hours. I've thrown down some thoughts here, but there's more in the game than I could ever write technically about, more than I have any right to enumerate for you. As Blow put it, "The story of rescuing the Princess has a literal interpretation, as well as a metaphorical one; and then there are other small-scale levels of change to the interpretation, too. I don't intend for any of them to be the sole truth; the story I am trying to tell is something like the quantum superposition of all these things."

That statement, like Braid itself, is for me about the nature of truth as aletheia, as a phenomenological pulling-back of the curtain on beings in the world rather than a technical attempt to freeze them in time. Please discover and let me know what they mean for you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I Have Lived A Thousand Lives

It makes sense for the Military to use video games and science fiction to try to appeal to this generation (or maybe the next generation?) to try to increase recruitment. It's not stretching to far to say that video games are an almost universal past time of our generation. So with adds like the one below

it's pretty obvious what angle they are going for.

That's not to say its a bad idea, or inherently wrong either. It's just smart advertising, and honestly, a step above their previous adds.

Sorry. Marine or not, no one is defeating a giant lava monster with a tiny sword.

My concern is whether or not enough thought was given to just what happens in games, and especially in FPS's, which is likely the demographic they are targeting. Do they have any idea how many times players repeatedly DIE unexpectedly and horribly in video games? The process of learning through trial and error from death is inherent in games now. You can hardly be expected to play almost any game where you are given control of an actual person/character and not have the game be based around preventing their death to some degree; a task which you are not expected to carry out flawlessly. To take a medium where progress is literally driven by death and use it as a means to encourage recruitment seems slightly shortsighted. The man fighting the lava monster would have died at least 8 times before getting that one critical hit. Seems like a pretty epic boss.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


If you were born in America, chances are you have played a game of Monopoly, and for a good reason. Monopoly is probably one of the most fun games to start out of any board game you can play. Every player starts out with 1,500 dollars, which is quite a lot in the city/country/world/universe of Monopoly. The board is open, every property is unowned, and you have the chance to literally own a part of the game board itself (A feature not present in almost any other board game). That reason alone may be why Monopoly is so iconic, and one of the most successful board games of all time. But despite that fact, it suffers from a glaring and fairly well known design flaw; Monopoly has no end game.

Or to be more specific, Monopoly has a terrible end game. As you reach the end of Monopoly, the game shifts from a dynamic playstyle of spending money, owning properties and building houses, to a static game of rolling dice and simply gaining or losing money. While this is could be an interesting end to the game, the shear fact of how long this process takes ensures that very few players ever choose to see a Monopoly game through. By the end of the game, the board has been set. Properties have been bought and developed. Money is no longer as much of a resource as there is nothing left to buy. Instead, it becomes more similar to Hit Points, serving only to keep alive you in the game until you are bankrupted. All that is left is watch the odds play out. It can take hours.

And that is really where the problem lies. Once all options for the game have been exhausted, the game should be finished. Monopoly lacks a simple and decisive way to determine a winner, and instead deteriorates into a game of attrition. No competive player will ever give up a property that will allow his opponent to gain a monopoly or put themself at a disadvantage. So the board and odds stay set, and you are forced to bleed your friends or competitors dry. Much like real life finances. But damn it, this is a game, and it should be enjoyable to people who aren't sadists, masochists or that have severe autism and enjoy focusing intensly on boring things.

Great games tend to give players options and remain dynamic throughout the entire course of play. Games such as Chess and Go can be decided very early on with little chance for a comeback, but players are is still responsible for maintaining their leads and countering their opponents moves. In games like Street Fighter, each player has the same amount of options, and there is constant potential for comebacks throughout the entire match; regardless of the amount of life or rounds lost. In both of these instances, players are able to earn leads over their opponents without the gameplay becoming limited or stagnant.

So what is the fix to Monopoly? Although there are a lot of options, changing to much of the game or making to complicated is pointless, so a less instrusive way is probably best. One possibility is to add a system similar to blinds in Poker, where stakes are continually raised to bring the game to a close. It would maintain Monopoly's current rule set and allow for the game to end quickly. Games could finish fast without interfering with the classic rule set, and messing with what is arguably a very successful formula.

A second option, which is a lot more interesting, would call for an ammendment or addition to the current rules, and would be the equivalent of creating an alternate version of the game. That is a topic a little to big to explore in this post, but it would definitely be a fun idea.

For people who are committed to playing Monopoly, the current rules are probably something they wouldn't change. Players who play a game competitively often understand a game on a different level and enjoy it for all its flaws. But for the rest of the world, a small change could do a lot to make Monopoly a game that doesn't take the entire night to finish.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sins of Our Fathers

As an avid reader of German philosophy, I so often find myself at the mercy of translators to properly understand the material. Even if I, like Heidegger, refuse to concern myself with fidelity to the philosopher's intent, a poor translation can obfuscate or even completely cover over useful nuances and enlightening tricks of meaning. This problem is as much present for novels and music as it is for philosophical works, and I've found it applies to video games as well. Masterpieces like 7th Saga, Final Fantasy V, Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu II), Chrono Trigger, and even parts of Final Fantasy VII suffered from having poor to nonexistent translations that hid their greatness from view.

Fortunately, Japanese publishers started to catch on that not everyone in the US is a drooling moron around the time the original PlayStation came out. Instead of dumbing down hard games and not even releasing games that were too complicated, Japan discovered that gamers in the US were thirsty for true works of art. For me, the turning point was a game called Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and after the opening scene I knew things would never be the same again.

What follows is an annotation, a sort of recreation of my own thoughts as I relive these precious moments today. You are encouraged to click this YouTube link first, so that you can appreciate these lines as I first did all those years ago.

Richter: "Die, monster! You don't belong in this world!"
We see here a desperate and crucial line being drawn, a dualistic boundary with foundations in Plato that has, much like Dracula himself, endured (some might say thrived upon) the millennia of strife human beings call history. The irony foreshadowed here is that not only does Dracula belong, but this world is contingent on another dualism that he represents. He cannot be banished from this world, because without him there can be no world. Koji Igarashi is arguing here that one cannot banish value, cannot operate outside of it, and cannot simply eschew the uncomfortable and macabre. This becomes important later, but for now one can simply appreciate the claim that worldliness comes after value.

Dracula: "It is not by my hand that I am once again given flesh. I was called here by... humans who wish to pay me tribute."
Richter: "'Tribute'?! You steal men's souls, and make them your slaves!"
Dracula: "Perhaps the same could be said of all religions..."
This famous exchange at first seems to contradict Dracula's opposition to the value of Goodness, but he is not trying to equivocate. He is in fact highlighting his nature as the opposite, that he behaves the same but in the other direction. There is a note of sadness to be discovered here by the perceptive: there is no hate in this exchange, as though Dracula mourns the fact that his foe, whom he respects more than he can ever let on, could just as easily have been his most trusted ally and friend. The futility and contingency of it all throws the attentive player into an authentic experience, fully appreciative of the arbitrariness of the very distinction the series represents. This irony is one of the most compelling moments in video game history, and is possibly the main reason for the fondness so many gamers have for this title.

Richter: "Your words are as empty as your soul! Mankind ill needs a savior such as you!"
Dracula: "What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets! But enough talk... have at you!"
Who knows what secrets lie hidden, deep within a man's heart? Does Dracula? Is it his lack of a soul which clouds the deepest truths of humanity from his vision? Or is it perhaps the very thing which allows him the keenest vision of all, a pure and objective view of humanity which is the source of his contempt? In this beautiful passage we see the heart of Castlevania's meaning, the foundation and culmination of all of its themes. Dracula--dangerous, powerful, timeless--displays a kind of insecurity. Unable to relate to anyone but his greatest foe, he is quick to dismiss the subject. Could he abandon his position, see if the world could survive without his chaotic influences? Best not to think about it. The last time he let himself see humans as anything more the results were too painful to bear. Best to end the discussion and do his duty. Best to go on forgetting, go on hating. It's the best for everybody.

What childhood could a man like this possibly provide? Is it even so different from the plight of any father quaking in the face of the insurmountable responsibility of parenthood? The roles of faith, love, fatherhood, and family legacy all collide here. In this brief encounter with Richter we seem to learn so little of Dracula, and yet one can see his entire person (dare one even suggest a soul?) laid bare in these few lines. It is only fitting that Richter sit the game out, having done his duty: the stage is set for Alucard (Is he his father's opposite? He goes in the other direction, but is made of the same stuff...) to discover his father, and himself. By the end of the game we see not only the purest of good, not only the most dastardly of evil, but the gentle, terrified man who sits precisely between them. And we see the horizon by which to judge him: the balance of all things.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Selective Depth

Fans of 2D games put up with a lot of abuse. Often we find ourselves playing a game simply on the basis of its visual and gameplay sensibilities, while the quality of the game could be worse than quick time events. It's sort of like being a Sonic fan, or driving an American-made car. It's sort of like being a battered spouse.

Still, sometimes being 2D doesn't have to be enough; sometimes Vanillaware makes a game. Now I've only played two of their games, but both have offered a distinctive perspective on action RPGs while delivering the most astonishing visuals I've possibly ever seen in a video game. Odin Sphere was a meticulous and harsh brawler, one where each chapter of its intricate story not only provided new perspective on seemingly clear events but also presented the player with completely new play styles. There was variety to the combat, and each playable character focused on a different aspect in a way that really explored the potential of this variety.

In short, it was a masterpiece, although in some ways having a score by Hitoshi Sakimoto could be considered cheating in this regard. When a Wii successor was announced I got pretty excited, since I seem to be the only person who still wants the Wii to work as a platform for more than Gamecube ports, opportunistic shovelware, and kusoge. After playing several hours of Muramasa: the Demon Blade, the 2D gamer in me feels sated without feeling cheapened or insulted.

Like Odin Sphere, Muramasa proves that sprites are still way, way more detailed and beautiful than 3D models. 3D effects are used for complex animations, especially for some of the more enormous sprites, but always as emphasis for actual frame animation. It's a distinctive visual style, somewhat reminiscent of Flash animation, this time given the same kind of Japanese art flavor as Okami. The colors are phenomenal, the backgrounds lively and deep, and the gameplay excellent.

Vanillaware action RPGs have a flow of gameplay that simplifies or removes some of the more traditional obstacles, like platforming challenges or fetch quests, and instead offers the same variety and depth of experience in just combat and map navigation. In Odin Sphere this was accomplished with parallel systems of food and weapon experience which fed into each other, along with a ridiculously complex item crafting system that was tied into every single aspect of combat and character progression. In Muramasa the item crafting is simpler, but there are still parallel systems affecting what weapons you use. This relative simplicity is made up for by a much more flexible combat system. Instead of cautiously performing hit and run tactics on swarms of durable enemies, combat happens in quick skirmishes that coerce you into using all your abilities without ever explicitly requiring it.

Basically, the theme for these games is that nothing is wasted. Every action you perform is working double-duty, and every action you perform provides toward a goal elsewhere. This is how a game that essentially boils down to running around a simple map fighting random battles can stay fresh and interesting for so long.

To explain more about why I love the game's combat so much, especially in the face of accusations that it's too button-mashy, I'm kind of a sucker for any combat engine that emphasizes mobility. There are simple ground and air combos if you just mash the attack button, but it's usually a better idea to take advantage of the dash attacks. You hold down the attack button and just aim the control stick in the direction you want to go. Combat feels more like a flow from one enemy to another, punctuated by stationary combos, than a simple round-up followed by an attack combo. Dodging and attacking become the same, and just like everything else in a Vanillaware game no single action serves a single purpose, but everything works double duty.

Another feature of the combat, and probably the primary reason people think it's too easy, is the blocking. For the most part (things change in the game's hard mode) you block by attacking while being attacked, which makes sense as far as parries are concerned. The reason this all works is that blocking uses up sword integrity, which is necessary for performing special moves. After a sword breaks it will slowly regenerate, and you can carry up to three at a time, but for the most part you will be more worried about keeping your swords intact than actually taking any damage. Once they all break you're basically dead meat. Think of it like the recharging shields in any post-Halo shooter, only because it's Vanillaware they pull double duty and power special moves, too.

Muramasa has two difficulties, which boil down to Baby and Insane. It's probably better to acquaint yourself with it before going insane, but you can switch at any time. I've found a fair bit of challenge as a baby without wanting to pull my hair out, but I'm looking forward to replaying it on hard mode. I would probably have preferred a GOD HAND-style reactive difficulty system, but that's not Havok Physics ubiquitous yet, so I can't really complain.

The game is brilliant and the game is beautiful, but that's not even why I love it, exactly. It's the same sort of feeling I got when I played No More Heroes and felt like I really got to know Suda 51. We're all used to loading up a game and seeing corporate logos for thirty seconds, but you don't even see Vanillaware's logo until after you press Start. It's a unique touch, and it reminds me every time that the people who made the game are a part of the game experience itself. When the cover falls off of House of Leaves you're left with a book written by characters, and it's the author's hope that you forget about him entirely. If the cover fell off of Muramasa you'd still be spending time with George Kamitani, because he puts so much of himself into what he does. Please join me in loving him for it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The New Prose

Building on my previous post about game designers as the new existentialists, I found these words by Rorty rather stirring:

... deconstruction ... needs a clear distinction between philosophy and literature. For the kind of reading which has come to be called "deconstructionist" requires two different straight persons: a macho professional philosopher who is insulted by the suggestion that he has submitted to a textual exigency, and a naive producer of literature whose jaw drops when she learns that her work has been suppported by philosophical oppositions. The philosopher had thought of himself as speaking a sparse, pure, transparent language. The poetess shyly hoped that her unmediated woodnotes might please. Both reel back in horror when the deconstructionist reveals that each has been making use of complex idioms to which the other has contributed. Both go all to pieces at this news. A wild disorder overtakes their words. Their whimpers blend into interminable androgynous keening. Once again, deconstructionist intervention has produced a splendidly diffuse irresolution.

There is something suspiciously old-fashioned about this way of setting up one's subjects. It is a long time since we have had writers who considered themselves in the business of providing pleasure. ... [Essays on Heidegger and Others, p.86]

Many will tell you of the harm Derrida (inadvertently I think) caused to literary analysis, and that phenomenon is the specific target of that passage. Rorty was concerned with the assumptions Derrida's criticisms of philosophical thinking made about both fields, but this came on the heels of his own significant bias toward prose:

As a way of counteracting Heidegger and, more generally, the kind of post-Heideggerian thinking which refuses to see the West as a continuing adventure, I want to put forward Charles Dickens as a sort of anti-Heidegger. If [archaeologists of the future] were, for some reason, unable to preserve the works of both men, I should much prefer that they preserve Dickens's. For Dickens could help them grasp a complex of attitudes which was important to the West, and perhaps unique to the West, in a way that neither Heidegger nor any other philosopher could. The example of Dickens could help them think of the novel, and particularly the novel of moral protest, as the genre in which the West excelled. From this point of view, the interaction of West and East is better exemplified by the playing of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony by the students in Tienanmen Square than by the steel mills of Korea or the influence of Japanese prints on European painters of the nineteenth century. [Essays on Heidegger and Others, pp.67-68]

Heidegger famously elevated "the poetical" in his later years, and Rorty seems hellbent on elevating the morality play instead. Heidegger's distaste for Western metaphysics and its insistence on objective fact appears, to Rorty, to be a distaste for the considerable social and political strides that have been made in the West. This essay was published in 1991, and I would love for Rorty to have been able to draw on the considerable cross-pollenation of Eastern and Western game development instead of century-old paintings inspired by still older Japanese prints. That said, it makes little difference to his point: instead of trying to express some transcendent quality through poetry, one should instead concern oneself with tackling moral and social problems by connecting them with people, with characters.

Still, it's not as though there haven't been games that tried to address these issues within a narrative. Whatever you think of the results, there can be no denying that Hideo Kojima's impenetrable oeuvre makes various comments on (post-)modern lifestyles and political attitudes. I encourage anyone who plays his games to forgive the failure at achieving the impossible task of tying all his games together into a single narrative, and to those of us who started playing Metal Gear games at the outset his turn to the dissonant and absurd is jarring and sometimes revolting. In spite of all this, one can discern a few central threads that he's been struggling to follow to their conclusion, possibly without even realizing it.

You can disagree, and claim that Kojima has always been playing the philosopher/poetess game. People seem to think that he's always been courting some kind of recognition from the world of acknowledged intellectuals, or that he really still wants to be a film director. I say that he's failed spectacularly at both, to his benefit. I'm not one for Dickens, but what Rorty claims Dickens can accomplish is something that video games can accomplish tenfold. I don't think anybody can play a Kojima game without being bothered by him. Some people criticize the game, thinking they're bothered by it, but it's always Kojima. It's always Kojima making you look at what you're doing, what you're not doing, what you're ever doing. And he always considers himself to be in the business of providing pleasure.

Sometimes Kojima just seems to be a guy stuck in Metal Gear, but if you go back to his other work you'll find that Metal Gear is simply stuck in the broader narrative of Kojima himself. There's never been a better time to find this out, either: Policenauts, his legendary follow-up to Snatcher, has finally been translated by dedicated fans. I urge everyone to find out firsthand what Hideo Kojima has really been up to all these years.