Category Archives: video games

Is The Witcher Romantic Fantasy?

Working on a new setting that draws heavily from The Witcher and considering starting a new campaign in the forseeable future, I was remembered of how Joseph and Trollsmyth defined Romantic Fantasy and it’s application in RPGs.

And all of them really lines up very well with The Witcher. It’s not actually wrong to describe Geralt’s story as him trying to save the last true heir to the throne of Cintra from being murdered in a struggle between ruthless monarchs. But it’s much better described as the story of an aging warrior who stops at nothing to rescue an orphan girl he has taken in his care from impossibly more powerful foes. And despite being the protagonist, he’s not doing it alone but is always a part of a greater circle of friends.

I think it’s actually one of the best examples around for what Joseph is talking about.

Friendship is Magic.

In related news, I just learned that the Witcher RPG by Talsorian Games is still being worked on, and from what scraps of information have been released recently, it appears to be very far in the development process, already dealing with the layout of the book. It was announced well over two years ago with barely anything heard since then, so I don’t know how soon we can expect it, but it’s nice to see that it hasn’t completely faded off the world.

My Star Wars Headcanon

While writing about the Star Wars games that I played, I noticed that almost all of them are pretty old by now. So I got to work to create some kind of timeline of what I consider the important books, comics, and games of the Expanded Universe and the result I got is this.

You can get the 90s Kid out of the 90s, but you can’t get the 90s out of the 90s Kid. It really seems like the golden age of Star Wars to me, which is not terribly surprising given how old I was then. If I would have been into anything else, I probably would still vonsider the 90s to be the best period it ever had.

Another thing that surprised me in hindsight that there were six years between the release of Episode 1 and Episode 3. Such restraint! It almost seems like they were making those movies one at at time. Which seems incredibly slow by today’s standards. At least I got to be relieved that the time between 3 and 7 was not nearly as long as the time between 6 and 1, which by this point would no longer have surprised me. Still, in trade school I have classmates who were not even born when Episode 1 was out.

My Star Wars Game List

There are a lot of Star Wars video games that have been released over the years and I have played a substential part of them myself. But I have not played any new ones in quite a while, which got me to make this list. These are a roughly chronological order, as far as I can remember it.

  • X-Wing: (1993, PC) My first “proper” videogame that I played at my home for serious amounts of time. After having first played it at a friend’s place after school for dozens of hours, it was the very first game I got for myself when we got our first computer. Wonderful game that I still never completed.
  • Tie Fighter: (1994, PC) Much more polished than X-Wing with better graphics, a much wider variety of ships, and a much stronger campaign. And to my knowledge so far the only game that lets you play as a loyal Imperial from start to end. This one I did actually finish.
  • Rebel Assault II: (1995, PC) An okay arcade game that I played quite some time when I didn’t feel like X-Wing or Tie Fighter, but ultimately it was forgetable.
  • Rebel Assault: (1993, PC) I got this one because it was a Star Wars game and I needed more! Of this one I remember almost nothing and I didn’t play it much.
  • Shadows of the Empire: (1996, PC) A game that I think is objectively pretty poor and probably aged terribly by now, but back in the day I thought it was really awesome. A fun third person console shoter that captured the style of Star Wars pretty well but had a really weird 3D-Engine that handled perspective in a rather wonkey way.
  • Rebellion: (1998, PC) This is a strategy game that was very different from the Command & Conquers and Warcrafts that were the mainstream of that time. Pretty much the whole game takes place on a big map of the galaxy on which you place orders to produce ships and train troops and send them to guard or attack various systems. There is a 3D space battle mode that lets you command your ships in a way somewhat resembling Homeworld, but it never worked well and took really long and you always had the option to simply let the computer calculate an outcome for the battle instantaneously. Still, as a strategy game it was pretty cool and I played it a lot.
  • Rogue Squadron: (1998, PC) This game has lots of big fans, but I am not one of them. I just wanted more stuff like X-Wing and this one is more of an arcade style console game. And I thought it also looked rather ugly with its very limited range of sight and pretty small combat areas.
  • X-Wing Alliance: (1999, PC) This game looks much better and sophisticated than Tie Fighter, but in the end it left me somewhat lukewarm. I still played it all the way through two or three times, but the campaign just couldn’t compete with Tie Fighter.
  • Episode I: (1999, PC) This is one of the worst games I ever played, and certainly the worst one that I finished. It’s just awful in every way and I was actually very hesitant to get it, but it was a Star Wars game and I needed it!
  • Racer: (1999, PC) Making a Star Wars racing game that is really just a reskin of Wipeout sounds like a terrible idea, but the end result was actually really great. It’s really fast, as you would expect from Podracing, and the tracks are just gorgeous. When I got Wipeout HD for PS3 a while back I was actually really disappointed how poorly it held up compared to the cool tracks of Racer. I might actually hunt down an old N64 just to play this game on a big TV.
  • Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast: (2002, PC) This game is awesome! Kyle Katarrn is awesome! And you run around slicing stormtroopers to pieces with a lightsaber! The plot and the villain are crap and the levels not very pretty, but fighting against Dark Jedi with lightsabers is just such amazing fun. I actually played this one online for quite some time, which was always a blast with pretty much every match having force jump and force push set to maximum.
  • Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy: (2003, PC) And this one is even better! You don’t get to play Kyle Katarrn and your new generic Jedi apprentice isn’t that interesting, but the level design is much prettier and the various levels have a lot more variety. And more lightsaber action.
  • Knights of the Old Republic: (2003, PC, Xbox) Widely considered to be the best Star Wars game ever made. And for good reasons. It’s a pretty standard BioWare RPG and actually the first of the post-D&D games style that has now become the standard with Mass Effect and Dragon Age. For some reason I completed the game only once when it came out and started a second short-lived attempt years later. Now 14 years later I am finally giving it another go. (And so far it doesn’t disappoint.)
  • The Force Unleashed: (2008, PS3) This game really is just a Star Wars reskin of God of War/Devil May Cry. And I have to give it to the game that it is pretty fun to play. But as a Star Wars story it’s just terrible. The plot and especially the protagonist are just completely bonkers and have no place in Star Wars. Unlike what I hoped for, this game is in no way a substitute for Jedi Knight. (Still got a Platinum trophy on PS3.)
  • Racer Revenge: (2002, PS2) I got this game when I first heard that Racer was also available on PS2. Though only kind of, as it turned out. It’s the same engine, but this game has completely different tracks. Which just nowhere come close to the awesomness of the original game. A straight up port would have been much better.

Upcoming

These are games that I have not played yet but plan to do so, or which have been announced and that I am looking forward to to see how they turn out.

  • Republic Commando: (2005, Xbox) I’ve heard pretty good things about this game many times and always planned to try it myself some day. Until just recently I never realized that it’s actually been out for 12 years now. I finally got the game and play to give it a try after I finished my new KotOR run.
  • Battlefront 4: (PS4) Battlefront 3 is the most impressive looking game I’ve ever seen and I’ve been planning to give another shot at serious online playing for a while, but all the reviews for it just made it sound too simplistic to invest more than a few hours into it. With Battlefront 4 I am hoping that they won’t be repeating the same mistakes and the announcements for the campaign actually sound like something that could potentially be pretty interesting. Not expecting much from it, but it’s something I want to keep an eye on.
  • Visceral Games RPG: (PS4) I know very little about the game except that it’s an RPG that is being made by the developers of Dead Space and has the director and writer of the Legacy of Kain and Uncharted series. And as a huge bonus it is set during the Rebellion era, which means it probably is going to ignore the Clone Wars and New Wars material for the most part. This could potentially be huge.

My favorite style of fiction I never knew I had

Having recently seen Drive and looking around for interpretations about it, I came upon a term that I had never really paid much attention to.

Neo-Noir.

What is Neo-Noir? It really is pretty much the same as Noir except that it’s used for works made from the 80s forward instead of up to the 60s. Other good recent examples are basically the whole Nolan movie catalogue, with Inception and The Dark Knight standing out prominently. (Memento and Insomnia also really look like it, but I have not seen them yet.)

Inception is my second favorite movie of all time, beaten only by The Empire Strikes Back. And when you stop and think about it, that movie also has Noir aesthetics all over it. Pretty much everything happening in Cloud City is prime Noir material.

Looking back at it, the first works of this style that I really fell in love with were Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell (including the TV series). Of course, you could argue that these are perhaps the two biggest cyberpunk movies ever made. But what is cyberpunk other than Noir with futuristic elements?

Which reminded me of Mirror’s Edge, one of my favorite videogames that I’ve always been thinking of as “cyberpunk without the futuristic elements”. Yeah, once you consider Neo-Noir to be a distinct category, it falls perfectly into it. The socially isolated protagonist living in a blurry gray world on the edge of legality. Characters looking for meaning in a heartless world and coming to bleak realizations about their own lives. And they hang out in a place that looks like this.

And suddenly it all came together: Mass Effect 2 is also a work of Neo Noir. The first game had already blown my mind, but I was amazed when I came out to the street on Omega. And never had a game felt so perfect as when I first stepped through the door into Afterlife. It is my favorite game of all time, with no contenders.

After the really cool opening and time jump, the game starts with the Illusive Man smoking in a dark room with his Femme Fatale henchwoman Miranda next to him. I could write a whole article about that. (And I probably will, eventually.)

It might be a bit of a stretch, but I feel that there are at least a great deal of thematic elements of Noir in the Witcher books. The world went to crap, there’s no justice, characters with questionable morales are trying to do the right thing when dealing with those who are morally bancrupt, and there’s always a slight doubt that maybe everyone getting conquered by the Empire might not be the worst idea. And while it would probably be a bit nonsensical to call Bound by Flame a noir fantasy game, the mood of dignified despair is certainly there.

Bonus content: All my favorite episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. You know, basically everything with Garak in it. (The Wire, Improbable Cause/The Die is cast, and In Pale Moonlight stand out.)

It comes as a bit of a surprise after all these years that there’s an umbrella term that encompasses pretty much my entire top list of greatest works of fiction ever made. But then, many of the works I mentioned are considered to be really great by a lot of people around the world, so it’s not like this is a style that hasn’t proven itself over the past decades. The period of their making also started just before I was born, which probably isn’t a coincidence either. It’s a style that I’ve been exposed to all my life. While the aesthetics of Noir and Neo-Noir are generally pretty easy to pin down, definitions of the genre are usually rather blurred and unclear. Yet at the same time, works tend to fall into a pretty narrow band of stories. Socially isolated protagonists who are living with one foot in prison and one foot in the grave whose lives have become empty and who are searching for any kind of meaning in their seemingly bleak worlds. Sometimes they catch a faint glimer of hope they can pursue, other times they doom themselves.

Questions about identity and filling an inherently meaningless existence with meaning are the basic foundations of Existentialism, which to me is really the only thing worth exploring in a story. I’ve been watching, reading, and playing stories of this type for all of my adult life and so I probably already do know most of what there is to know about it on an intuitive level. But as someone interesting in writing my own stories this seems like a great opportunity to refocusing my research.

Update: Some more that I totally forgot and didn’t think about: Hellboy, Thief, The Big Lebowsky, Leon the Professional, True Detective, Breaking Bad. I think it’s probably much harder for me to come up with a list of movies, videogames, and TV shows that don’t have a strong Neo-Noir aesthetic.

Moderately Hyped

I’m not really keeping up with video game news these days and the last time I heard about Star Wars games was when LucasArts became defunct and Battlefront 3 ended up being a gorgeously looking disappointment.

But this week I became aware that there appear to be new Star Wars games in development, which to the rest of the world has already been known for a year. After having sat throught the last two movies besides my better judgement I made the descision to banish pretty much everything post 1999 from my headcanon (except for Jedi Knight games and KotOR) and didn’t really have any hopes of anything new coming out that I would care for. But the details about one particular game in production did get a curious raise of an eyebrow.

The game is being made by Visceral Games, who made Dead Space (“interesting”), with the team being led by Amy Henning who was also in charge of Legacy of Kain and Uncharted (“nice”). And it’s being set some time before the first movie, putting it straight into the Classic Star Wars period (“oh, sweet!”).

This could end up being not terrible and worth playing.

However, rumor has it that it’s going to be an open-world game and I absolutely hate those. Though that’s not actually true. What I hate are sandbox games where you do nothing but lame fetch quests and collecting crafting materials with some lame story tacked on that gets swamped by the busywork. It seriously harmed The Witcher 3 and was the main reason I never even bothered with Dragon Age 3 and Mass Effect Andromeda. However, even with an open-world, The Witcher 3 has a great story with actual nice characters very much unlike a Bethesda snorefest and Baldur’s Gate, Gothic, and Stalker are actually all open-world games as well. They just aren’t shitty sandboxes in which “you can do everything you want”, except for playing a good story. So I am not writing this one off as pointless junk yet. The ability to roam in two dimension instead of just one is not at all an inherently bad game element in itself. The Witcher 3 actually used it really well, except that the world was way too big and the density of meaningful content much too low. When this game is out, I’m probably going to at least read some reviews to see what people think about it.

Heroes of Hope

Joseph Manola has made a good case for approaching the style of Romantic Fantasy as something broader than only the settings of “Pladins & Princesses” that takes a central part in the Blue Rose RPG. I only learned a month ago that he’s been working on his Against the Wicked City setting for over a year, which like my own work on the Old World has been greatly inspired by the ideas and concepts of Romantic Fantasy. And apparently it seems that we both idepently decided on very similar tones and priorities. But the term is highly problematic. For a game like Blue Rose the association with love stories works in their favor, but the 20th century use of “romance” has replaced it’s previous use so thoroughly that you can’t really untangle it anymore. (Previously romance meant pretty much the same thing we call fantasy today.) It’s rare to find mention of Planetary Romance these days, but you might have a vague idea what to expect from Sword & Planet fiction. I think there has to be a better way to describe the broader concept that won’t make most fantasy fans “eww… is this kissing stories?”.

There is currently a thread going on on rpg.net, and while my favorite is High Valor, Hope & Heroism seems to be one of the more popular proposals. Which I think has a quite nice ring to it, is easily identified as a name for a style of fantasy, and I think it includes the essential qualities right in the title, just like Sword & Sorcery. If you never heard it (which you won’t, because we just made it up) you probably still get a good idea what it would stand for.

"I wish to see with eyes unclouded."

“I wish to see with eyes unclouded.”

Metal-Gear-Solid-Snake

“I am no hero. Never was; never will be. I’m just an old killer hired to do some wetwork. All the heroes I know are either dead, or in prison.”

"Butt kicking for goodness!"

“Butt kicking for goodness!”

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“Too many men have died at its edge. It may look pure… , but only because blood washes so easily from its blade. “

obi-wan-kenobi

“For over a thousand generations, the Jedi knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the old Republic… before the dark times… before the empire.”

moribito01mass_effect_shepard_female_graphics_gun_16028_1920x1080saskia

"... and engage in jolly cooperation!"

“… and engage in jolly cooperation!”

"We were meant to be incorruptible, above reproach. How seldom does reality match the ideal."

“We were meant to be incorruptible, above reproach. How seldom does reality match the ideal.”

I hope this will dispel any notion that this is Wusses & Woobies. Badassery is not mandatory to personify the ideals of hope and heroism, but I think it certainly helps.

The Force is strong with this one

I’m not just a huge classic Star Wars fan, I am also one of those 90s kids who think Tie Fighter is one of the greatest videogames of all time. And purely be coincidence I found this video that has been around for over a year now.

If you played the game, you recognize that this isn’t just a Star War movie, this is a real Tie Fighter movie. I’ve played this game and X-Wing to no end and this one was clearly done by someone who has not just seen it, but knows how it feels to play. I’ve never seen such a smoothly done attempt at representing game mechanics in a movie. If you haven’t played the game, you probably won’t be able to spot the moments that emulate it.

Very nicely done.

Dressed to kill

I started playing Bloodborne this week.

The game would really have to impress me with the stats on later armor sets and weapons to make me get out of this stuff.

The weapons are from among those you can start with, the hat, gloves, and boots are the first you can find in the game, and I think the coat is right after defeating the boss to progress from the first area of the game.

I am bashing the skulls of monsters in with a pimp cane that also transforms into a steel whip! And in the other hand I have a sawed off shotgun. While wearing a tricorne! There’s no better way to dress to hunt werewolves.