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Thread: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

  1. #1
    Stranger in a Strange Land lr-hr-rh's Avatar
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    Default Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    Oooo, a nice hidden away section for random writerly things. Awesome.
    I always have a modest aspiration to write more than I ever actually do. I therefore start this thread with the even more modest goal of occasionally putting to text some of the more casual, asinine things I rant about in my head. The expectation is that such writerly doings will gradually get me in to fitter writing shape, and maybe even help me refine a style of writing that feels like my own.
    Mostly (if I actually stick to doing this for longer than a week) it’ll just be me monologuing about stuff. Stuck up on the internet on the off chance someone else wants to talk about the stuff I rant about.
    And so on.

    --- Update From New Post Merge ---

    Pinocchio Story is kinda darkly hilarious

    So chances are you’ve heard of a dude called Kanye West. If you’re a big fan of his the fact that I’ve mentioned him combined with the title thing of this post should’ve tipped you off that I’m talking about the song “Pinocchio Story” on 808’s and Heartbreak. If you haven’t heard the song go listen to it, it’s a good song *thumbs-up emoji*.

    Regardless of whether or not you’ve heard the song imma put in a short run down of the relevant points. The basics are that the song is ostensibly Kanye singing about himself in a semi-improvised fashion. I mean, I’m pretty sure he said, or his friends said, or whatever, that the song was improvised. Or maybe it was just the performance? Anyway it sounds kinda improvised. The lyrics are functional and don’t rhyme particularly well (but at times they’re still pretty great don’t get me wrong) and the timing of his line delivery sometimes sounds off enough to me (and remember I’m as far from an expert as you can get so if you don’t agree and you know anything about music you’re probably right :P) that it makes sense that’s improvised.

    Anyway not the point. Point is the song is Kanye singing about himself as a metaphorical Pinocchio. He aspires to be a “real” boy, which in the context of the song mostly sounds like he’s talking about being recognised as a real person. Seen for who is and not the construct of “Kanye” that exists in the minds of people that have seen “him” but never actually met him. In a sense Kanye is preceded by “Kanye” whenever he goes anywhere. And he talks about how people are demanding of him because he’s famous and how it can affect him negatively and so on. It’s fairly emphatic and sincere.

    But that’s not the weird part. Since the song is notionally improvised the recording on the album is of a live performance he gave in Singapore. And that’s where the weirdness kicks in, cause while Kanye is singing this song about his struggles with fame and his own identity…there are people in the background (i.e. the audience) constantly cheering and yelling. Standard concert fare, they’re woo-hooing, yelling “Kanye I love you” and so on. And it is *such* a weird fucking experience to listen to separated from the context of a live music event. Because their reactions are completely divorced from what he’s singing about. So the song ends up, perhaps unintentionally, making its’ own point better in the strange nature of its recording than it does via the actual lyrics. Cause what better demonstration could you want of the disconnect between Kanye the human who wants to be real and to be seen as real, and the anonymous mob in the background cheering and hollering. Cause they’re at a Kanye concert. But they’re not there for Kanye, not really. They’re there for “Kanye”. They’re there for the celebrity and the sounds he makes, with no connection to what the real person Kanye is saying on the stage. And that’s hilarious.

    To top the whole thing off there’s the last part of the song I haven’t actually mentioned yet. See back when Kanye was writing and performing this album, around that time his mum died. From complications with some sort of cosmetic surgery that she got against the advisement of a different surgeon who was worried about potential risk factors she had. This is all kinda vague, you can read about it on the internet. And she was apparently a big influence on him. Going to his shows, supporting him when he was a nobody and so on. So the end of the song talks about how she’s gone, how he doesn’t have her guidance anymore. And since he’s talking about how the fame he always aspired to has kinda served as this double-edged sword he also talks about how the lifestyle he brought them in to might’ve lead to her death.

    Y’know, it’s pretty sad stuff. And of course, while he’s singing all this about his grief and his dead mother and so on…the crowd’s in the background cheering. Jubilant. Delirious even. Halfway through that verse a few of them start screaming out “I love you Kanye!!!”. And it’s hilarious. Not in a positive way. Not even in a negative way. Just surreally funny. Like what else you gonna do but laugh at something so strange as a man getting raucously cheered while he sings about his guilt over his mother’s recent death?

    Anyway who knows? I ain’t a live concert person. For all I know any musical event by a performer that touches on similar subject matter gets the same sort of response. They’re just there to have a good time, cheer and dance. Ain’t nothing wrong with it. It’s just kinda funny.

    And so on.
    Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

  2. #2
    Stranger in a Strange Land lr-hr-rh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    Falling out of love with Pokemon

    Wherein an old man complains about how why he doesn’t like Pokemon anymore.

    Now before I get in to all the complaining (light-hearted complaining but still), I figure I gotta clarify something important first. See in my head, there’s a difference between Pokemon the concept and Pokemon the video game series. And to try and keep that separation clear I’ll be bolding the former and italicising the latter…and hoping I don’t mess it up at some point :/. Anyway Pokemon exists essentially as a construct entirely in my own head, distinct from Pokemon which has its’ meaning and identity defined by the features and design philosophy of the member games of the mainline Pokemon series (i.e. all the games that make up Gen’s I-VII).

    Now while the conceptualisation of Pokemon is pretty easy to figure out (you could do it in a fairly simple fashion by just looking at the overlap in game features between the different generations) what I mean by Pokemon is a bit more…personal, I guess? That is to say that it is essentially what I, from my experience with the early game series, the anime and so on had come to consider the “ideals” of Pokemon. And it’s important to make it clear that this is *my* personal conceptualisation. If you do not share it that’s fine, and I make no claims as to its’ universality. Why this is an important distinction will be clarified a bit later. But to stick with Pokemon for a minute, Pokemon to me (necessarily) was about exploring this massive world filled with strange exotic creatures and finding them, fighting them, befriending them, training them and working together with them over the course of some grand journey. Now the thing is I didn’t realise I had this ideal that was distinct from actual Pokemon as it is substantiated in the mainline games by Game Freak. Nor did I realise that it was the ideal of Pokemon that was motivating me to continue to buy the Pokemon games even though they were never likely to give me the experience I was looking for. The realisation of this disconnect is what prompted me to fall out of love with the Pokemon series. And is the motivation for this monologue :P

    Now to keep things short I’m just going to stick a handy list of how I’m defining both terms here:
    Pokemon:
    - Standard JRPG combat, with a focus on incremental character progression as a consequence of many repetitive, relatively short and simple battle encounters
    - Turn-based combat
    - Limited creature control in combat (you can only select from one of four moves)
    - Lack of creature AI (this is in regards to the Pokemon in your party, and could probably also apply to the poor intelligence of the creatures you fight in the wild as well)…
    - …which leads to a lack of creature personality
    - Creature encounters dictated by RNG (i.e. if you go to place X, you have some % chance of finding creature Y in the cave, tall grass, water etc.)
    - Capture mechanics dictated by RNG (a key component of capturing difficult creatures is reducing them to a particular diminished state and then throwing Pokeballs at them and hoping one of em sticks)
    - Progression through a linear story that is highly scripted and (mostly) inflexible

    Pokemon:
    - Flexible adventuring that allows for the development of my own narrative of my adventure
    - Creatures with agency and personality that affected how they behaved and how best to interact with them
    - A Pokemon finding process centred on the idea of discovery (e.g. you might find out that a Pokemon is in a given location by piecing together pieces of lore, or just reasoning yourself that you’d be likely to find a particular Pokemon somewhere based on its’ expected habitat and so on)
    - The ability to utilise most every Pokemon with a bit of planning and specialised training…
    - …speaking of which, specialised training is a way bigger one than it should be! The idea they introduced way back in the before times with the first season of the anime that that asshole who trained his Sandshrew with a whip could teach his Pokemon to be particularly resistant to the types of damage they’d normally be weak against has always sounded awesome to me.
    - Following that train of thought, I also expected that there’d be so many more ways to specialise and train your Pokemon than the standard, 7 (or however many it is) main stats + IV’s + EV’s and super training stuff. I wanted to train my Pikachu to be more proficient at electric attacks than any other Pikachu. And I wanted to work on that proficiency in a creative way, instead of hunting down the same Pokemon to kill over and over again to specialise my EV’s or whatever.

    Anyway. This can probably all come across as whining. Which is good. Because it is. Essentially. But to some people the standard response is the usual “blah blah, so they didn’t make Pokemon the way you wanted. Sucks to be you but it don’t mean the Pokemon games are bad”. And so on. Which is…a response, I guess. And I know no one’s said that (yet), but I see enough of it that I figured I’d try to cut it off at the pass with a few clarifications. The most important of which is the following: none of what I’m going to say about Pokemon has any bearing on whether or not I think the Pokemon games are good or bad games. That question (whether they are good or bad) is completely divorced from what I’m “complaining” about here as it relates to a different set of criteria.

    The following is essentially my (long-windedly) trying to cover my ass against criticism that probably won’t ever come, because this probably won’t ever be replied to. So I’m just going to spoiler tag it below :):
    Spoiler:
    Now the above clarification might all sound like much of a muchness so I’ll try and clarify just a bit further. This monologue type piece of self-indulgence proceeds from a few key axioms which frame it. So to put the long form version of my reduced-down-to-it’s-core point here:
    *if* you share, at least broadly, my conceptualisation of Pokemon the media series as relating to an idea that is suggestive of more freedom and agency in both the journey you take and the Pokemon you meet and train, *then* it can be argued that the Pokemon series of video games are a bad instantiation of this ideal.

    Now. If you don’t share that conceptualisation, then great. I don’t claim that it is universal. I don’t claim it is a necessary part of the marketing of the Pokemon series (and therefore that the Pokemon games are dishonest because they do not match the ideal sold to us). It is just “my” conceptualisation of a media series that always seemed to me to be, at its core, about catching and befriending Pokemon on a journey of discovery through the Pokemon world. If you don’t agree that’s fine.

    But. The conceptualisation is not any sort of claim I am making. You cannot “refute” it as that wouldn’t make any sense, because the conceptualisation is essentially, “X is what lr-hr-rh thinks of Pokemon”. And how could you feasibly refute that, given it is a claim about how I think about Pokemon? It does not intersect at all with what you, or anyone else, thinks about Pokemon. So if your rebuttal to what I’ve written is anything along the lines of “well I don’t think of Pokemon that way” then – and I mean to convey this in the most polite, neutral way possible, entirely free of any negative affect– that’s cool, but it has no relation to what I’m talking about, and therefore I really don’t care.
    Now obviously that doesn’t mean that what I’m writing can’t be criticised, it just means that that the points I’m making need to be related to the premise I preceeded from. If you share a conceptualisation like I’ve described mine, or you can at least entertain how you might perceive the Pokemon series if you did have such a concept, *and* you disagree with my complaint that the Pokemon series fails to capture the spirit of Pokemon for some reason then that’s fine and may very well produce a reasonable counterpoint. The key difference is that you have proceeded from the same fundamental premise, and reached a different conclusion. :)

    End ass-covering.

    So to jump past a few more minor gripes (as this is getting pretty long already :/) I guess the key question for me is; if you were to, using the technology available today, design a game with the *aims* of Pokemon as I’ve described them, to what extent would it look like the games we see today? These aims would include things like capturing all the Pokemon in the world, building a team of Pokemon to fight with you, bonding with your little monster friends, exploring the Pokemon world and having your own adventure. Why in a game attempting to mimic the spirit of looking for rare animals would you have a random, high frequency, probability based encounter mechanic? To my eyes you'd be more likely to want rare Pokemon to be consistently encounterable, but only in very particular locations in the game world. Maybe you'd even have to piece together lore and hearsay about what a certain Pokemon is like to try and figure out where you might be expected to find it. If you're trying to befriend these little monsters and develop an affection for them, why would you have them have no agency of their own? I understand that's because the turn-based, spreadsheet gameplay means you really wouldn't want that sort of randomness in your game, but that just moves the question to why you'd have your gameplay so at odds with one of the core visions of your game.

    Now perhaps the quintessential example of this disconnect that finally got me to notice that it actually exists in my mind is the way that people talk about their Pokemon in the Pokemon games. And as I came to be less invested in the series it would always sound weirder and weirder to me. People would say things like, “oh Pokemon X really carried me through that gym”, or “Pokemon Y really pulled through in the clutch there”. And so on. And those are such weird things to say about Pokemon in the Pokemon series as they have literally no agency whatsoever. You control most everything about them. Your Pokemon has absolutely no capacity to behave outside of how you yourself dictate they do and how the RNG dictates they succeed or fail. But why *should* that be the case? Why, if I’m supposed to be friends with this little creature, if it’s supposed to be an (approximation of an) actual, sentient being, with the capacity for thoughts and feelings and predilections and moods of its’ own, is it completely impossible for any aspect of my journey, my success to hang from it? My Pokemon don’t exist. Not really. And if that sounds kind of strange, imagine how much the Pokemon series would change mechanically if you didn’t fight with Pokemon. If you caught a Pokemon and that gave you some sort of essence. Or body suit. Or what have you. And you could choose to use an essence during a fight and that gave you some combination of abilities, stats, resistances and weaknesses. If it was essentially just your sprite (or your 3D model – btw, fuck do I hate that they decided to put 3D models in the newer games >.<) from which the animations extended to or from. How much would that actually affect the mechanics of the battle system? Of the training system? I’d say it wouldn’t affect them much at all. Because your Pokemon is just a skin you wear for the abilities it offers you in combat.

    Now maybe the idea that your Pokemon could fight on their own, with their own personalities and mental capacities dictating how they act, with you on the sideline offering advice and encouragement, filtered through their own agency, is an implausible one. In my mind it might work kind of like those sports manager games work. And if you’ve never heard of those chances are you’ve at least heard of regular sports games. Where you control a particular player on a team (or you control the whole team at different stages with complete dynamic control over whichever player currently has the ball, or is nearest the ball or what have you). Well the manager type games remove that aspect. Instead all other players, coaches, trainers etc. are given their own list of stats that affect not only their performance but also their personalities, whether they wilt or shine under pressure, what types of feedback and encouragement they prefer and so on. And you are essentially the coach. You pick players for the team based on your understanding of their stats and your conceptualisation of their personality and mental capacity (the latter two aren’t revealed to you, you’ve got to discover what works through trial and error). You train them, give them instructions before games and then during games the AI controls both teams and you the player have the ability to give instructions, time-out talks, halftime talks, what have you. And these have effects based on the current moral of the players, their personalities, what you choose to say, who you choose to say it to. And so on. Now maybe that sort of gameplay wouldn’t work with something like Pokemon. I don’t know, I ain’t a game developer. But at least something like that feels like my Pokemon would have agency. That during a battle where I’m coming up short I could throw in my Pikachu, cause I’ve learned from experience that when the pressure’s on, he makes the right calls. And that sentence, that thought, would actually mean something.

    And that’s kind of my fundamental gripe with the series. I kept coming back to it hoping to go on some grand adventure with my Pokemon friends. To carve out a narrative of our journey together. But that was never what was offered, and it probably never will be. So once I realised that, about a quarter of the way through Moon after I’d failed to get more than halfway through X (and didn’t even play Omega or Alpha) I decided that the series was no longer for me.

    Now I’ve got other, more petty gripes with the series too that probably combined to create my current colossal disinterest. The linear gym/trial system is too inflexible. The base games are too easy (I didn’t find Sun & Moon to be any harder than any of the other games). The lack of definition of the 3D models compared to the Sprites from Gen’s III-IV depresses me. Especially when they probably sunk loads of time and resources adding 3D models when the games continue to use the same turn-based, static combat. The world design is uninspired (hooray for Pokemon Europe, New York and Hawaii, and hooray for the creative laziness that says “yeah, the Pokemon world develops culture exactly like ours”). And even more pettily, the overly simple way that building an in-world beating team works in the base game clashes really harshly with the fictional world that’s presented. I mean, c’mon Champion you’re like, 45 years old. I’m (supposed to be) like what, 10? 12? How are your strongest Pokemon only level 60-70 when you’ve had something like 30 years to train them? :/

    But those are all less important. I guess most everything I’ve written here is pretty unimportant. Although I do feel satisfied having written down some poorly edited version of my dissatisfaction with Pokemon.

    Kudos to you if you managed to read this all the way to the end.
    Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    I'm not sure your conceptualization of how Pokémon are supposed to have agency/independence really fits into games. Even in the anime, they bond with people and have personality but in combat they're still being told what to do step by step. I think it tends to be frustrating and/or boring to have automated combat where your role as a player is limited to cheering them on or something and making it even more RNG than before. They've already tried to make it more personal by letting you personally interact with your team (the latest iteration being Pokémon refresh). It's limited, but it does end up affecting combat performance since the more of a "bond" they have with you, the more they'll dodge attacks, survive fatal blows, heal status conditions, etc. It would be hard to extend that to true individuality/agency in a believable and balanced way. I think they have the right idea in focusing on you feeling like you raised something up from scratch and adventured together. They could maybe find ways to deepen that a bit, but I still think there are huge limitations if they're going to give you the freedom to choose from hundreds of different Pokémon that can at any time be swapped out or traded or whatnot. Especially if they still want to appeal to an audience interested in the more general RPG experience.

    I've been recently replaying Ni no Kuni with Noqanky and it maybe slightly achieves what you're talking about better than Pokémon. It's still a very similar concept, but since it's semi-action based in combat there is more individuality and diversity. The Familiars have varying run and attack speeds so even if you do control them and tell them what to do, there is variety, and since you actually see them individually animated in real-time, a lot of personality comes through. Also based on their type/personality, they have different actions available in combat. Some can block, while some can evade but not block, and some can power up but have no defensive capabilities.

    But overall it still sounds like your standards are kind of unrealistic (do you have any examples of anything else that even comes close?). But I'll agree with you on some details such as that it would be cool to have more lore-based deductions of where to catch things, to heighten the wild encounter experience beyond "oh look another patch of grass!" Although that said, they DO have that, to an extent. For example, in-game exposition (and also the Pokédex) tells you that the Corsola population is threatened by Mareanie/Toxapex, which feed on them. That's your only clue to the fact that to catch a Mareanie, you have to fight Corsola and sometimes when calling for help a Mareanie appears instead.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    That's a lot of stuff to take in.

    Part of the problem I feel at this time comes with how there are so many pokemon that what may at one point may have felt unique is no longer unique. When there was 150 or 250 something pokemon while a lot felt a bit more manageable in numbers and having something somewhat unique. Now with each new iteration you have another starter of a standard water, fire, and leaf type, and even with a second type attached it doesn't really change much. Then you have the fact that each generation has the Pidgey, bird with 3 forms, and an array of various canine, feline, and what have you. Then throw in some random designs and you got yourself the new pokemon for the new generation. While playing Sun I was enjoying my time, but I never felt that something I came across was unique, and just felt it was X version of Y.

    With so many options it hits one of your grievances, the idea that the pokemon have no agency. When you can have over a dozen of one type and the move sets can become the same there doesn't feel to be much individuality outside of what the pokemon looks like. Options can be nice, but when you have so many it becomes more of a burden than anything else, or in this case catching a certain pokemon doesn't feel like it matters based on the fact that why care if you have x or y water type when either one can get the job done. I think a bigger problem is how the interest in some ways comes down more for the versus battles against other people. In the main game you don't really need to concern yourself with what you use since you don't have to put a whole lot of thought, but in versus mode you have to be more careful. Suddenly which lightning pokemon you use can be important, and that's when other factors are important. However, the main game never gets me invested or really teaches me how some of those mechanics work, and I end up never using them.

    Lastly, I feel that only having 4 moves can be really restricting. Having the strong move is nice, but when I can only use it 5 times before having to restore pp isn't fun, but can really help out at times. I want to have a back up move, but then that gives me only 2 other spaces, and I have difficulty choosing which ones to have. I feel like SMT and Persona got things down pretty well. You have 8 slots for abilities and skills, which while at times you have to decide what to use there's enough options to customize to an extent, but the characters are still unique in their own right.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    I'll probably be responding in about as much quantity since this is something I care about.

    Just off the bat, as a whole I kinda have the same desires for what pokemon should represent. I really love the concept of adventuring and finding particularly unique creatures that, combined, define who I function as a trainer in a universe where everyone else is defined by their own particular things. I also am really into the notion of wanting to see my pokemon and my specific teams as actual allies/pets/friends, w.e. else one could call them. I also grew up with the anime and as a whole it's the world and the notion of freedom that really sells it.

    Ultimately it's not far off, I'm pretty sure a lot of people feel that way and a lot of mechanics exist to promote that feeling. The savvy of us know all about EVs, IVs and natures and all that, but for the most part those values consistently remain mostly hidden because they contributed to the feeling that even pokemon of the same species could be entirely different for each player, since they'd be shaped by their own particular experiences.
    Regarding agency, there's rng mechanics that activate every now and then. I won't forget things like my Mantyke curing itself of paralysis in a crucial battle against Malva's Pyroar and because of that being able to sweep her entire team with it. There's also stuff like pokemon not obeying you when they're overleveled and you don't have badges, which admittedly I don't encounter much anymore but recall loving when I was a kid and my cousin sent his level 100 starmie to get me to complete Blue faster.

    The problem, ultimately, is that pokemon, and I suppose Pokemon Company, finds itself needing to satisfy multiple different people with each iteration. You need to create new designs with personality and character for collectors and fans of that aspect, but you can't give them too much agency in-game without harming the competitive value that the game has developed. The fact that there are tournaments scheduled so rigorously and orderly means you cannot change battle mechanics just like that without harshly alienating a really important segment of pokemon fans.

    What you mention about agency is the reason a game like The Last Guardian works while simultaneously failing. Tricko (treecko?) as a creature was designed with mostly self-indulgent AI and to be as response as a real life animal. And to a lot of people who love the narrative aspects of games that was amazing, and fun, and made the creature lovable, more so when they made it later in the game and the creature becomes more friendly and responsive and does things you would not expect just to save you. But to the other half of people, the gameplay early on being so slow and unresponsive as a result of AI was infuriating, tiring, boring, etc. Sure, the creature would get more responsive, but if an individual doesn't find themselves properly engaged in the first moments of a game, the designers risk losing that player.

    It's the same with pokemon. The same conventions remain over and over, because as much as people want change, pokemon company and gamefreak know that adjusting it a bit is fine, but too much and you lose what you had. And right now it's not just about keeping the franchise for current fans, but also about making each and every game just as accessible to kids as previous ones were. Design-wise, it's a really difficult thing to have to handle a main-line pokemon game... too many people with extremely different needs to please.

    Personally, I still highly enjoy the games. Sure, part of me really really wishes pokemon could be more of a thing like you describe, because that's the sort of notion where I would lose my shit. But mechanically I also realize that we simply are not there yet, either because the development cost would be too high or simply because Pokemon Company wouldn't want to do it because of economic reasons. But still, in-game I still get to follow my own narratives. Yea, the game forces me to want to do the league and catch them all, but I still get to just focus on my story of wanting to be a fairy gym leader, so I just catch them fairies and train them and breed them and make it a part of how I play the game and how I interact with it outside of it as well. I even have spreadsheets where I just plan out my gym and which pokemon I would use at different trainer levels, etc. It's dorky and silly, but it's just what gets me hyped about pokemon. Sometimes it really is like the games are just there to drive the hype and the franchise further.
    It'd be super awesome if at one point the games allowed me to actually literally have my own narrative in-game, but for now the power of imagination shall do I guess?

    Lastly, I also wanted to share ideas I have had over time regarding how to make pokemon work more like pokemon should work:
    - When amiibo came up in smash as AI you train, I was super excited about the notion of being able to do that with pokemon. Four moves, you train by fighting with them and showing them what to do or not do, and the pit them against other people and watch them go at it. Of course, Nintendo never even tried to do this.
    - I've told foo about this one, but at one point after BotW people were talking about how they would "open-world"-ify other nintendo franchises. The second they said this I began wanting a pokemon game with the exploration/world mechanics of Xenoblade Chronicles X. Imagine the moment where you get a pokemon with fly and can literally fly around freely, but then there's random shit like feral fearows that might attack you. Or this far off rayquaza triggered by specific night-time conditions but then fighting it is actually super goddamn difficult. Even walking around, you would see smallish, weaker creatures running around in specific areas, while other areas have much larger ones that you can't really approach without having a stronger pokemon by your side to face them and catch them. Or fuck, imagine walking into a forest and seeing a random ass giant Xerneas walking around. Or running into a random cave, going in, and seeing a sleeping groudon and consequently shitting your pants.
    Even the battle mechanics would work similarly. You have moves instead of arts, and selecting them has your character say commands outtloud and the pokemon trying to react accordingly. Replace PP with cooldown to balance.

    Of course these would have to be side things at first. Main pokemon games have to be main pokemon games I guess. Now I'm just sad those things don't exist.

    Quote Originally Posted by The Franky Tank
    stuff
    Regarding the similarities of things, it makes sense when seeing them as simply different regions having their own specific things. It's like if you go to new york you'll have pigeons everywhere, whereas somewhere close to the beach will have seagulls everywhere, and so on. Same with the starters, it makes sense that different regions have different pokemon meant for new trainers. Design-wise it's also one of those things that people come to expect, and that helps scale the rarity of things. Nothing helps establish a pokemon being rare in a cave like finding a million and one zubats before it.

    Also disagree with your notion that more is less. I definitely do care about which, for example, water type I want to use, and part of each journey is deciding whether I want to run a specific set or whether I want to just catch whatever appeals at first. And it definitely matters in-game... trying to use something slow and tanky/spongy in-game is significantly more annoying in that anytime you run into faster encounters you have a harder time escaping, and over time the chip damage you get from not going first will accumulate. Then you could have the main sweeper of the team ahead of the pack all the time, but in long caves/gyms/dungeons that just means your pp will be exhausted, particularly if you opted for stronger moves, therefore the need to have a rotation going and a balanced team. They're small things people just adjust to while playing, but it means team composition definitely matters. Ultimately in recent games you can run nearly anything well enough in-game, but some things will definitely be easier.

    As for mechanics, there are definitely specific battles meant to teach specific mechanics. There's trainers designed to spam status moves. There's also now trainers designed with z moves and gimmicky item sets like red card or flame orb. Kukui in SM used entry hazards against my team. I can agree that overall in-game AI is weak at teaching compared to watching actually competitive trainers, and that unique battles are relatively few, but to say the game doesn't teach you anything is just inaccurate to me.

    It's also ironic to say that the game doesn't teach you these things and then complain that 4 moves is not enough because pp runs out. Man, THAT'S an example of the game teaching you something. If you want to be running super powerful moves with low pp, that's the cost, hence needing to adjust by compromising for weaker/more accurate moves in order to last an entire area. Choosing a moveset is part of the challenge, and having the moveset of each pokemon balance its 5 allies is part of the fun in making pokemon teams. Adding more moveslots to individual pokemon is something you do if you want to kill the strategy and just allow one mon to wall/break the entire game by itself. If the four moves you have don't suffice, switch! That's half of the battle, knowing when to switch out your pokemon. Your complaint sounds like you just follow the strategy of overpowering a starter and then spam fire blast/hydro pump.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    Okay, I'll admit it, I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to understanding the mechanics and how everything works together. Also yes, for the longest time I was a terrible player only kept the strongest of moves and tried to power my way through each battle, so that last sentence does ring true. In Sun I did try to balance things out a bit more and admittedly, I jumped the gun on some of the things I said. It does matter to an extent what Pokémon you choose for battle, whether you want a tank or one that can move fast. However, since I only play the story stuff and go against AI, it usually feels like once I have a mixed party I never really have to change things out and while buffs and debuffs can help a little, ailments outside of paralyze never really seemed to matter for me. In the end, I think only playing against AI gives a very different impression about the game than those who battle others and have an innate understanding of the actual mechanics. So if I ever post anything about Pokémon again, I'll try to at least understand the basics of the game before making a fool of myself.

    As for the similarities, your explanation makes sense about why things would be similar. That said, for me it's just become monotonous when you can expect a lot of the same things over and over. Though the bigger thing for me in the end is that after playing Sun I've come to the conclusion that Pokémon just doesn't really appeal to me except if I want a game to mess around in while watching stuff.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    Yea, as a whole the mainline games are a very passive affair nowadays. Replaying them pretty much requires setting particular conditions upon oneself just to make it challenging in some form, like nuzlockes and the like.

    It's also important to note that a lot of gamers constantly ask for "something different", but psychologically it's a proven staple of design that it's the opposite, with people responding far better to the familiar. So as a whole I don't judge Pokemon Company too much for keeping structure the same with minor tweaks and curve balls. I do judge them for quality of experience things like only one save file and no difficulty options.

  8. #8
    Stranger in a Strange Land lr-hr-rh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    Whoa. Wasn’t expecting so many (i.e. any) replies. But there’s a lot of interesting stuff here. So that’s awesome :)

    Quote Originally Posted by Foolio View Post
    I'm not sure your conceptualization of how Pokémon are supposed to have agency/independence really fits into games. Even in the anime, they bond with people and have personality but in combat they're still being told what to do step by step. I think it tends to be frustrating and/or boring to have automated combat where your role as a player is limited to cheering them on or something and making it even more RNG than before. They've already tried to make it more personal by letting you personally interact with your team (the latest iteration being Pokémon refresh). It's limited, but it does end up affecting combat performance since the more of a "bond" they have with you, the more they'll dodge attacks, survive fatal blows, heal status conditions, etc. It would be hard to extend that to true individuality/agency in a believable and balanced way. I think they have the right idea in focusing on you feeling like you raised something up from scratch and adventured together. They could maybe find ways to deepen that a bit, but I still think there are huge limitations if they're going to give you the freedom to choose from hundreds of different Pokémon that can at any time be swapped out or traded or whatnot. Especially if they still want to appeal to an audience interested in the more general RPG experience.
    Regarding the agency/independency of Pokemon (or of characters in games in general) I will say that generally, tempering my preferences by the reality of design and market constraints, I would probably have fewer problems with the series if it allowed for more dynamic gameplay. Or if it seemed to be moving in a direction of personalisation that wasn’t limited to allowing you to pet your Pokemon. I don’t mean to dismiss the inclusion of Amie/Refresh. They do offer more than you got in previous games. But at the moment they aren’t really particularly fleshed out. The ways that you pet the same type of Pokemon are the same, the methods of interaction are the same (petting/feeding/brushing etc.) and it essentially provides a relatively straightforward boon for a relatively limited interaction which in turn serves to make the base game even easier. It may progress to become inclusive of more interaction types, or more personalised interaction (I think if I’m remembering correctly even Yellow had more reactivity in Pikachu’s response to particular circumstances –I don’t think she’d like you patting her early on, or would be grumpy after fainting, or upset if you had stuck her in the PC– but as you say, porting that sort of variability to hundreds of Pokemon would be pretty damn difficult to do), and if it does make more progress down that path, that’s great. But at the moment it feels too much like a token inclusion to hold my interest. I do agree with your point however that, even in the anime, the Pokemon are pretty much guided in their actions step-by-step by their trainers. The appeal to agency and personality kind of grew out of an extrapolation from the idea, presented in the series, that Pokemon are actual beings capable of thought, personality and expression, and how those factors might, in a series that treated these things as the case, produce gameplay (and perhaps even storylines in the anime) that was affected to some extent by the individuality of a given Pokemon. Maybe I was just too biased in my conceptualisation by Ash and his pain in the ass Charizard .

    Although, even though I don’t think the series would need to go fully towards giving each Pokemon agency and individuality, just discussing it as a hypothetical I do think it would (or could) involve more than just cheering them on. Referencing those management simulation games I mentioned in my original comment, there’s actually a great deal you could do within a battle situation to keep you engaged and thinking, depending on the number of relevant variables that might be feasibly considered. You could be encouraging your Pokemon to adjust their positioning, trying to keep close to an enemy or keep them at a distance, taking in to consideration their reach which is something you might be learning about and adjusting your estimates for as the battle unfolds. Say for example you start out thinking that a given enemy has a particularly long reach so you tell your Pokemon to try and keep a given distance between them where possible, and your Pokemon follows these instructions modulated through the parameters of its personality and training. And then as the battle unfolds you realise that keeping the current distance is telegraphing your attacks too much and they’re not hitting as hard or as well as you want, so you tell your Pokemon to close in more. Or you encourage your Pokemon to keep a particular distance and then it’s caught flat-footed when the enemy pulls out an attack with more range than you were expecting. There could also be considerations of terrain, whether to look for the high ground and the concurrent potential compromise in melee efficiency. You might encourage your Pokemon to start the battle playing it safe, probing the enemy, as you get a better idea of what they can do (as the idea of adding more variability in how Pokemon can be trained means you can’t just assume say, ok it’s a Sandslash, it has shit special defense and is weak to water, send in the Starmie). Or you might tell them to go in guns blazing. And a lot of that might sound pretty boring to a lot of people. Or too technically involved to be worth bothering with in a game about adventuring in the light-hearted Pokemon world with your Pokemon friends. And that’s fine. I understand that making the games work that way might not be particularly appealing. Or it might not work at all. But I do find it interesting to think about.

    I will say though that I think as you approach a particular level of algorithmic complexity in your simulations, references to RNG become less…accurate? I guess? And what I mean by that is, there’s a difference between the game saying to you, well this move will only hit 90% of the time, so it’s up to the random number generator if that falls in your favour or not, and the game looking at many relevant variables –where you’re positioned when you make the attack, how telegraphed the attack is, how distracted the enemy is, how well they can dodge generally modulated by how in position they are to dodge (taking in to consideration things like their current momentum and the change of direction they might need to make in order to avoid the attack), and so on– and then determining the outcome based on those factors modulated by probability. Because at some point of detail, appealing to RNG becomes an incorrect shorthand for reality. Why did that sportsperson miss that shot when they’d made a similar one before? Well their timing was a bit off this time, because the processing paths of their vision provided them with the necessary information on more of a delay, and their broad execution of a complicated sequence of selectively recruiting very specific groups of muscles at particular well-timed intervals fell short somewhat, with some muscles not tensing as strongly as necessary, or some tensing microseconds too late. And this in turn was because there’s an inherent variability in how well the neurotransmitters at the cell junction are taken up by cellular receptors on the muscle, and how well the complicated process of protein interactions that dictate muscle tension worked. And so on. To the point that this complicated series of variables, the vast majority of which you can’t see, are essentially waived away as probability. Or with mentalising appeals to mental strength or weakness.

    So while I agree that most people, when provided with an unfavourable outcome as a consequence of an algorithm the intricacies of which they cannot see, would blame RNG. And I do think that a developer who, when faced with objections based on the perceived over importance of RNG, told players that the outcomes were actually entirely deterministic consequences of a very intricate algorithm, might be missing the point somewhat. As it is their job to design a game in such a way as to provoke the desired experience in the players, and if that experience is not had that’s a problem for their game not the players. While I would probably agree with all that, I do think that part of the problem would be on the reflexive tendency to label very different systems of success calculation under the broad umbrella of RNG.

    Christ I’ve already written a hell of a lot here :/. Just to quickly address the point you raise about benching and trading Pokemon, I do think that you can still develop quite a lot of attachment and sentiment under these circumstances. Sports are actually a pretty good example of this, with fans developing attachments to the many players that might pass through their club at different times for their strange quirks, or bit roles they might’ve played in memorable matches. And these fans hold on to these attachments even as they argue for their team to trade a given player. It’s a strange mix of pragmatism and sentiment, with people falling all over the axis between the two, and I suspect you could get a similar thing with Pokemon. I have no way to prove that of course.

    More generally though I would say that I’m not advocating for a shift towards a more agency driven style of play in the modern Pokemon series. The games do very well, people love them and they seem to be consistently able to provide a fun, compelling experience for people who enjoy the type of experience the games provide. A shift towards the type of gameplay I might enjoy, or think would better fit a series about discovery, adventure and companionship, would probably be really difficult to do now, in part for the reasons you mention. There are hundreds of Pokemon to balance now afterall, whereas if you were designing a game from scratch to be about training more individualised agents you’d probably want to have a lot less of them, maybe leaning more on the “Alolan variants” type variety they introduced with Moon.

    Quote Originally Posted by Foolio View Post
    But overall it still sounds like your standards are kind of unrealistic (do you have any examples of anything else that even comes close?). But I'll agree with you on some details such as that it would be cool to have more lore-based deductions of where to catch things, to heighten the wild encounter experience beyond "oh look another patch of grass!" Although that said, they DO have that, to an extent. For example, in-game exposition (and also the Pokédex) tells you that the Corsola population is threatened by Mareanie/Toxapex, which feed on them. That's your only clue to the fact that to catch a Mareanie, you have to fight Corsola and sometimes when calling for help a Mareanie appears instead.
    Examples I have none, with the exception of those Manager simulation games I’ve described, and they obviously fall in to a very different genre of game. Really I’d just be happy to see them move in a direction with more dynamic gameplay. Looking for examples that don’t relate to the agency question but do relate to the focus on exploration, and the construction of a more personal, open-ended journey, I do think a shift towards games with semi-dynamic gameplay (by that I mean something along the lines of Xenoblade or FFXII’s, where combat is in real-time and you can adjust your positioning and select from a pre-set list of skills with cooldowns and what not, but you’re not focussed over much on timing your attacks, counters, dodges etc.), with enemies you can see in the overworld and selectively engage with or avoid combined with a more realistic world where you can happen across strong enemies anywhere (so we don’t need to entertain the strange fiction that the basic competency of Pokemon varies drastically based on which town you’re near) might make for a better experience. While this is purely anecdotal, part of the reason I stopped playing Moon is I just couldn’t justify doing most of the things the game required of me. Why do I need to sit through hundreds of battles against enemies that are lower levelled than I am that never pose a challenge and only incrementally advance the development of my Pokemon? I was spending so much of the game hammering A and just not having any fun, to the point that even if the dressing around the major combat mechanic was fun and interesting, I just couldn’t justify wading through hours of solving the same rote puzzle over and over and over again. And that’s not even a knock against the standard RPG system where you’re constantly battling enemies for relatively little progression. But in games like Xenoblade, where you can choose who you fight (and can therefore choose to fight enemies stronger than you), where the battles can be long and dynamic at least the experience is constantly varied. And it doesn’t even need to be. I could choose to grind out levels on enemies around my current strength that I know the strengths and weakness of and that I know give the best XP for my time investment, instead of getting in to a protracted gun fight as a heavily melee-based character with a flying electric tentacle monster I struggle to hit. But whichever choice I make the choice is mine, and that’s something I really enjoy.

    Just to (last part, I swear) quickly touch on your example of the Corsola dynamic, that to me is a pretty clear example of why the random, probability based, enemy generation system (that still forces you to sit through loads of battles against the more common enemies, or at least sit through the same “musical sting + screen animation + Pokemon appearance animation + throwing pokeball animation” sequence over and over) is at odds with the idea of discovery. In that example (and I don’t know the exact mechanics of it so I apologise if what I’m about to say is predicated on a fundamental misunderstanding :/) unless you’re told that said Pokemon will definitely appear under given circumstances, whether or not what you’re expecting to happen will happen is entirely up to a probability you don’t know while you’re playing. So you’re in the location with the requisite Pokemon, spinning your wheels through the random encounters without any way to differentiate the relevant variables so you could test them independently and deductively. If you don’t run in to the Pokemon you’re expecting after some number of random encounters, is it because you’re in the wrong area? Is the thing you think is a thing not actually a thing? Is it the time of day? Or have you just been unlucky (so far) with the RNG?

    Anyway that all turned out kinda long :/. On an unrelated note I really need to play Ni No Kuni. It sounds great, and I love the art direction.

    Quote Originally Posted by Noqanky View Post
    I'll probably be responding in about as much quantity since this is something I care about.

    Just off the bat, as a whole I kinda have the same desires for what pokemon should represent. I really love the concept of adventuring and finding particularly unique creatures that, combined, define who I function as a trainer in a universe where everyone else is defined by their own particular things. I also am really into the notion of wanting to see my pokemon and my specific teams as actual allies/pets/friends, w.e. else one could call them. I also grew up with the anime and as a whole it's the world and the notion of freedom that really sells it.

    Ultimately it's not far off, I'm pretty sure a lot of people feel that way and a lot of mechanics exist to promote that feeling. The savvy of us know all about EVs, IVs and natures and all that, but for the most part those values consistently remain mostly hidden because they contributed to the feeling that even pokemon of the same species could be entirely different for each player, since they'd be shaped by their own particular experiences.
    Regarding agency, there's rng mechanics that activate every now and then. I won't forget things like my Mantyke curing itself of paralysis in a crucial battle against Malva's Pyroar and because of that being able to sweep her entire team with it. There's also stuff like pokemon not obeying you when they're overleveled and you don't have badges, which admittedly I don't encounter much anymore but recall loving when I was a kid and my cousin sent his level 100 starmie to get me to complete Blue faster.

    The problem, ultimately, is that pokemon, and I suppose Pokemon Company, finds itself needing to satisfy multiple different people with each iteration. You need to create new designs with personality and character for collectors and fans of that aspect, but you can't give them too much agency in-game without harming the competitive value that the game has developed. The fact that there are tournaments scheduled so rigorously and orderly means you cannot change battle mechanics just like that without harshly alienating a really important segment of pokemon fans.
    Yeah I definitely understand the difficult position the creators are in, and I would never call the games bad by any stretch of the imagination. From what I’ve seen they do seem to do quite well walking the line between the competing fan needs, which is their main goal (and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that). That’s kind of why I wanted to frame my initial post as a falling out of interest as opposed to the sort of progressive alienation I’ve gotten to different degrees from the Final Fantasy and Fire Emblem series’ (although I haven’t played Echoes yet so it’s much milder and more theoretical alienation for the latter). Pokemon has stayed true to its design roots and built a lot on top of them, and eventually I just realised that the mechanics I kind of overlooked when I was younger as I, I don’t know, kinda implicitly assumed were a sort of understandable design shorthand, were actually the core part of the series and the Pokemon experience. And those mechanics are no longer for me. And that’s fine, although I’ll probably miss the series a bit and keep an ear out on the forums and such for news of any interesting change in the wind.

    Quote Originally Posted by Noqanky View Post
    What you mention about agency is the reason a game like The Last Guardian works while simultaneously failing. Tricko (treecko?) as a creature was designed with mostly self-indulgent AI and to be as response as a real life animal. And to a lot of people who love the narrative aspects of games that was amazing, and fun, and made the creature lovable, more so when they made it later in the game and the creature becomes more friendly and responsive and does things you would not expect just to save you. But to the other half of people, the gameplay early on being so slow and unresponsive as a result of AI was infuriating, tiring, boring, etc. Sure, the creature would get more responsive, but if an individual doesn't find themselves properly engaged in the first moments of a game, the designers risk losing that player.
    I’ve not looked too much in to Last Guardian, but that sounds really cool to me. Might need to add it to the list of games to get around to at some point. What’s the moment-to-moment gameplay involve in Last Guardian though? The more flexibility you have in the ways that the agent can (and necessarily must) interact with the world the more likely you are to run in to problems. I suspect (and this is a really groundless suspicion so I wouldn’t put a lot of weight on it :/) that, within the confines of a Pokemon battle, with more constrained rules and limitations on what can be done and what can be interacted with you’d have fewer pointy edges on which your AI design might get shanked.

    Quote Originally Posted by Noqanky View Post
    It's the same with pokemon. The same conventions remain over and over, because as much as people want change, pokemon company and gamefreak know that adjusting it a bit is fine, but too much and you lose what you had. And right now it's not just about keeping the franchise for current fans, but also about making each and every game just as accessible to kids as previous ones were. Design-wise, it's a really difficult thing to have to handle a main-line pokemon game... too many people with extremely different needs to please.

    Personally, I still highly enjoy the games. Sure, part of me really really wishes pokemon could be more of a thing like you describe, because that's the sort of notion where I would lose my shit. But mechanically I also realize that we simply are not there yet, either because the development cost would be too high or simply because Pokemon Company wouldn't want to do it because of economic reasons. But still, in-game I still get to follow my own narratives. Yea, the game forces me to want to do the league and catch them all, but I still get to just focus on my story of wanting to be a fairy gym leader, so I just catch them fairies and train them and breed them and make it a part of how I play the game and how I interact with it outside of it as well. I even have spreadsheets where I just plan out my gym and which pokemon I would use at different trainer levels, etc. It's dorky and silly, but it's just what gets me hyped about pokemon. Sometimes it really is like the games are just there to drive the hype and the franchise further.
    It'd be super awesome if at one point the games allowed me to actually literally have my own narrative in-game, but for now the power of imagination shall do I guess?
    I’ve actually tried getting back in to the series a few times doing this sort of thing. Shooting for an all Dragon team (which is still kinda hard even with so many Pokemon available nowadays >.<) and the like. But I’d always get stuck between trying to build a team I liked, getting bored with using the same Pokemon over and over but also not wanting to spend time grinding up a new Pokemon but also also not wanting to just stick them in the party and EXP share raise them (as I find it lacks any sort of personal touch in a game that’s already lacking a lot of personalisation in the Pokemon as it is :/). All of that on top of trying to balance my team’s levelling so at least some of the game’s encounters could be difficult and engaging (something which became harder to do when the gym leader’s switched to having 3 Pokemon per team max) and…I don’t know. The weight of all the work I was doing on my end always ended up overwhelming my endeavours. So I’m kind of envious of people whose power of imagination can pull them through all that, as I’m still really fond of the series :)

    Quote Originally Posted by Noqanky View Post
    Lastly, I also wanted to share ideas I have had over time regarding how to make pokemon work more like pokemon should work:
    - When amiibo came up in smash as AI you train, I was super excited about the notion of being able to do that with pokemon. Four moves, you train by fighting with them and showing them what to do or not do, and the pit them against other people and watch them go at it. Of course, Nintendo never even tried to do this.
    - I've told foo about this one, but at one point after BotW people were talking about how they would "open-world"-ify other nintendo franchises. The second they said this I began wanting a pokemon game with the exploration/world mechanics of Xenoblade Chronicles X. Imagine the moment where you get a pokemon with fly and can literally fly around freely, but then there's random shit like feral fearows that might attack you. Or this far off rayquaza triggered by specific night-time conditions but then fighting it is actually super goddamn difficult. Even walking around, you would see smallish, weaker creatures running around in specific areas, while other areas have much larger ones that you can't really approach without having a stronger pokemon by your side to face them and catch them. Or fuck, imagine walking into a forest and seeing a random ass giant Xerneas walking around. Or running into a random cave, going in, and seeing a sleeping groudon and consequently shitting your pants.
    Even the battle mechanics would work similarly. You have moves instead of arts, and selecting them has your character say commands outtloud and the pokemon trying to react accordingly. Replace PP with cooldown to balance.

    Of course these would have to be side things at first. Main pokemon games have to be main pokemon games I guess. Now I'm just sad those things don't exist.
    I really like that amiibo idea, and now I’m sad they didn’t ever end up implementing it. Also, I’ve been working through replying to these comments from least to most recent so there’s a section in my reply to Foolio where I mention how I’d be interested in Xenoblade type battle system in the games. And funnily enough you describe a similar (more fleshed out) idea here. Which sounds awesome.

    Quote Originally Posted by The Franky Tank View Post
    Okay, I'll admit it, I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to understanding the mechanics and how everything works together. Also yes, for the longest time I was a terrible player only kept the strongest of moves and tried to power my way through each battle, so that last sentence does ring true. In Sun I did try to balance things out a bit more and admittedly, I jumped the gun on some of the things I said. It does matter to an extent what Pokémon you choose for battle, whether you want a tank or one that can move fast. However, since I only play the story stuff and go against AI, it usually feels like once I have a mixed party I never really have to change things out and while buffs and debuffs can help a little, ailments outside of paralyze never really seemed to matter for me. In the end, I think only playing against AI gives a very different impression about the game than those who battle others and have an innate understanding of the actual mechanics. So if I ever post anything about Pokémon again, I'll try to at least understand the basics of the game before making a fool of myself.
    Yeah I tend to come across similar problems with buffs/debuffs/status effects etc. not really mattering after a certain point in the mainline games unless you make a concerted effort to keep yourself equally (or under) levelled. On the other hand the competitive scene has some really cool sounding stuff in it to from what little I’ve read of it. The idea of designing a team around baton pass, stacking buffs and passing them around sounds really cool to me. But the barrier of entry in to that level of play always seemed too high for me to bother with. So I ended up kinda stuck unsatisfied with ease of the AI in the base games but not willing to learn all I’d need to to get good at playing against other people. :/
    Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

  9. #9
    Stranger in a Strange Land lr-hr-rh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    What does it mean to be Superman?

    Hello again. Or hello for the first time.

    This should hopefully be a shorter monologue than the last one. :/

    So let’s get some clarifications laid out here right out of the gate. I don’t read superhero comic books. I don’t watch animated TV series’ based on superhero comic books. I don’t watch superhero movies (with a few exceptions). I therefore make no claim to knowing literally anything about Superman outside of what can be gotten via cultural osmosis. That probably makes me a bad person to talk about Superman.

    But I’m going to talk about him anyway, for two reasons. One: it’s the internet. Since when did a lack of expertise in an area ever disqualify someone from talking about it? Two (and this is the more important –i.e. actual– reason): I’m not really talking about Superman, but rather an idea suggested by arguments I’ve witnessed about his characterisation.

    So, keeping this short. However many years ago it came out I watched Batman vs. Superman. I found it funny at parts, boring at parts, strange at parts and then didn’t really give it much more thought after I left the theatre. Part of the reason for that is I didn’t really have any expectations for the movie or the characters portrayed in it. But I did end up reading arguments and listening to diatribes put forth by people who are familiar with the characters. Most specifically Superman, and how he’s not supposed to be this apathetic, brooding man-god who violently threatens people who cross him. That was one side of the argument. The other side, the side that seemed to like BvS and Man of Steel, dismissed these criticisms, claiming that the movies were instead just a different portrayal of Superman. And that this was good. And made the movies good. Because they were darker and more serious. Why that made the movies good and not just…y’know, darker and more serious (I mean, if you’re going to say something is good because it’s X, why not just call it X?), was never a question I bothered to ask anyone.

    But anyway. This question of portrayals sparked my interest. As I’ve said I’m not a superhero comic book guy, so maybe this sort of thing makes more sense if you’re involved in that cultural sphere? But if it does I’ve never come across anyone who’s explicated an explanation for it well.

    Now I make no claims as to the “typical” depiction of the nature of Superman. From those people I’ve listened to who disliked BvS (and they’re most of who I’ve listened to because it’s funnier listening to people complain about something when you have no stakes in it), supposedly Superman is supposed to be this kind of ultra-good guy? The guy who’s all about saving people, and being this boyscout hero who just wants to do good and inspire people. Be a beacon of hope. And so on. I’m going to run with this conceptualisation for the rest of this monologue. As it’s the only one I know. You may disagree with that. That’s great. It’s also not related to what I’m talking about, as you’ll soon see.

    So my main problem with this idea that it’s completely legitimate to depict Superman as both a boyscout hero and a brooding, more violent, more apathetic hero is…what then is Superman? What does it mean to call someone Superman? If someone told you they were writing a story about Superman, and you believe that these drastically distinct portrayals of the character can exist, what idea is conveyed to you when you receive this information? How do you predict Superman will behave? What his goals will be? What his personality and ideals will be?

    To make that more clear, just imagine someone describing an actual, living person in the following ways: he’s virtuous, positive, kind, empathetic, always striving to do the right thing, always striving to live a moral life, always striving to be a beacon of virtue, always striving to help people and struggling with the fact that he can’t save everyone…and at the same time is violent, brooding, reluctant to help, reluctant to be in the public eye, and visibly indifferent to the perils others face. Just, what?? What would that even mean as a descriptor of a human being? You’d have to conclude that they had some sort of split personality disorder. Or that one side of their personality were a front. Because many of these things are completely contradictory, suggesting as they do very different ways that that person would act and conduct themselves.

    Now maybe you don’t see the problem with this. Maybe you’re rolling your eyes at all of this, complaining about how the different versions aren’t the same Superman. But then that just brings us back to the original question. What does it “mean” to be Superman when you’re perfectly happy calling two, essentially completely different people Superman? In the Venn diagram of these two competing portrayals, what is the overlap? That he’s from Krypton, sent to Earth as a baby, raised by the Kents in Smallville, wants to be hero and help people, wears a red and blue suit to hide his identity, works as a reporter, can fly, shoot lasers from his eyes, has super special hearing and super strength, is invulnerable to a whole butload of things and is weak to Kryptonite. Now that sounds like a lot, right? But how many of those things would inform the “person” of Superman? How he dresses, where he was raised, what super powers he has, those are dressing. They are facts about him like his height or weight, or what high school he went to. Where is the characterisation in that list? That he wants to be a hero? Is that why people read Superman comics? Because the character of Superman has a bunch of relatively consistent powers and is a superhero?

    Maybe that’s enough.

    But then what ever motivates someone to write a story about Superman? How do you even write a story about Superman, he’s apparently a list of facts that wants to be a superhero?? He can be literally anything and everything as a person, so why not just write a superhero comic about someone else? Anyone else. If your base is a non-committal (i.e. it doesn’t lock you in to a particular character depiction) backstory, a costume and a laundry list of powers…how do you write about that? I don’t know. As I said I don’t read comic books.

    Maybe people like the universe of Superman? Metropolis, Krypton, Zod etc. I mean, I like the Legend of Zelda series and I wouldn’t ever accuse Link of being a character (although at least the depiction of the few traits he’s ever given –courageous, good, determined– is consistent). But the 3D and 2D Zelda games have a particular style of world and gameplay that’s consistent. Maybe that’s what people like about Superman? But then I can’t imagine what the consistent theme and style is that comfortably includes the Superman worlds of Zack Snyder and whoever produced the ones with Christopher Reeves and that also isn’t really generic (flying superhero fights crime in a modern city and is also an alien sounds pretty damn generic).

    Now I’m not complaining this confusion I have is unique to Superman. Or hell even unique to comic book superheroes. It could easily be applied to any realm of fiction where the same label is applied to characters with completely different personalities. I definitely have a similar confusion regarding Final Fantasy, and what it means to call a game a Final Fantasy game, as opposed to just a high budget, visually realistic fantasy JRPG with really boring and uncreative art direction.

    Anyway I guess I’ve reached the end point here. I should probably work on how to close these things out. As it stands they just seem to peter out.
    Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    I was already drawing parallels to franchise identity when I was far from you actually bringing it up at the end of your post. But yeah it's a big topic and I'm not sure you can put a formula to it. There are millions of way and reasons to portray things in new ways or associate things with a brand. Some less interesting than others ("if we slap the word 'Zelda' on this, it will sell so much more!"). We could talk about intellectual property and the fact that the creators have the right to portray their creations however they want, whether or not it's consistent. Or conversely how once you put a creation out there, it's no longer entirely yours, in the sense that how people perceive and support something has a huge impact and influence (the Pepe the Frog incident comes to mind).

    I'm not sure anyone is necessarily cagetorically right or wrong about what is authentic or a faithful representation or an allowed representation of a concept. Like yeah, I'm definitely often on the consumer end of game franchises where it's built up an identity and expectations over years or decades, and as a supporter of that particular presentation I get upset when a new entry strays so far that I don't get why they associated it with the brand; it does feel a bit like betrayal at times, like something I had reliable faith in is no longer solid, and depending on the circumstances just outright brand name abuse. So I get that side of things well. Other people get tired of the same old formula over and over, and welcome innovation and exploring new angles or approaches. But of course the question of at which exact point something strays too far and becomes undeserving of the label is pretty much an impossible one. Not sure you're going to get much better than "it just doesn't feel like <character/franchise/brand>." Which is already super subjective and imprecise, but that's how we humans operate.

    It also often intersects with culture and society and history, especially the longer something is around. Back on the subject of Superman, the post-war need for and appeal of infallible superhuman villain-crushers is not likely the same as what people find compelling about superheroes today. The same can probably also be said about anything, including games. I mean now that games have been around for several decades, our expectations of a good engaging game are overall different from the days of Pong. One problem with many comic book characters is that they have this bizarre existence outside of time; a story arc that takes a year to publish might cover a week of in-universe time, if time is ever really observed to pass in the first place. The world and its people change much faster than long-established characters. Now I'm no expert myself but I know there's been a pretty big push in recent years to update a lot of comic book characters and universes to better reflect the issues and mindsets of our times, and not just in cinema. It leads to all kinds of experiments with alternate timelines, alternate versions of characters, time travel, or whatever. Is that bad? Stupid? Inconsistent? Wrong? It probably varies case by case, but I don't think it should be automatically dismissed.

    I also don't think it's a fundamental contradiction. I don't see what's wrong with trying to bring more depth to a perfect, invincible being who frankly isn't that exciting otherwise. People can change, right? The best characters in any genre are flawed, and that should extend to heroes. At the very least give them a more human element. Maybe it turns out even Superman can in fact get disillusioned or depressed, and why shouldn't the potential there be explored? I mean, it would be one thing to completely abandon the entire history and legacy of the character, but you should be able to build on top of it. Though maybe not in the span of a 2-hour movie, but it's another discussion entirely whether things can or should translate to cinema and who the target audience is etc.

    At any rate my point is in 1950 we needed the unstoppable terrorist-crusher, but the current social interest leans more toward complex characterization and the dangers of power. Even if a character gets rebooted or re-envisioned, that can be interesting in its own right. Sure, now you have different versions out there, but you don't have to like them all. And they don't necessarily have to be consistent as long as you have at least some justification for using that particular character (or game franchise or whatever else), and I personally think a "what if" is plenty of justification already -- as long as it's done with respect and care. I think that's a big thing, fans want to be acknowledged and respected. Sometimes creators want to do something different and they do it in a way that does feel disrespectful, and they don't recognize that as I mentioned earlier, the consumers of something also gain some form of ownership in a weird way (that I'm sure has been studied and I have no qualification to really elaborate upon). Of course people are also assholes and think only their opinion matters. I mean I'll always complain when I'm on the receiving end of changes I don't like, but those changes can be for good or bad reasons and handled well or poorly. There's a difference between my individual preferences and the best trajectory of a name/brand, but ignoring an entire fanbase is also playing with fire.

    I don't really know where I'm going with this anymore so I'll just stop, I've been mostly thinking out loud myself so I hope there's something interesting in there.

  11. #11
    Stranger in a Strange Land lr-hr-rh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    I suppose I should clarify that my objection, in as much as I can call it an objection, isn’t that people have flexible definitions of what should or should not be considered part of a franchise, or an accurate depiction of a character and so on. There’s nothing wrong with subjective definitions of franchise/character/brand limits. Those can be (emphasis on can) interesting to talk about. What I object to, or more accurately am often slightly depressed by, is the approach that says that anything branded as officially part of a whatever is part of it. That is to say there are no expectations of anything, just fairly blind brand loyalty.

    I would say, building from first principles, my starting point in approaching this topic is essentially consideration of language use. What that essentially means is that I’m trying to work out what an approximation of the average person (and I say approximation as I’m not here polling or interviewing anyone, it’s all very introspective in the vein of an entertaining thought experiment) means when they say that “X is a part of franchise Y”. Or “X is a depiction of Y”.

    Now there’s an obvious answer to this question at the first level of consideration: X is a part of Y if it is declared to be by those generally accepted to have creative control over Y. So a Zelda game is a part of the Zelda franchise if it’s released by Nintendo, the holders of the Zelda IP. There are different strands of paths and considerations this simplified answer can go down pertaining to who is considered to hold creative control over Y for any given person. And no individual person can be wrong about that necessarily, as it’s a statement of their own mindset (e.g. “for me, a Final Fantasy game is only a Final Fantasy game if it’s made by Nomura” – which is a claim that is true in all cases except when the person is deceiving themselves but has no relationship to what anyone else thinks about who dictates what is and isn’t a Final Fantasy game). But I’m going to let those strands fall to the wayside here, as I feel this general approach can be, even in its complexities, summarised as essentially branding. If X is given the label of “belonging to Y” by the person or group an individual endows with authority over Y, then X is part of Y. That is to say, X is part of Y because it is branded as such.

    But obviously it’s also possible to have definitions of what makes X belong to Y that aren’t rooted in brand familiarity, but instead are developed in conjunction with the release of instantiations of a particular series. Such that the answer to the question of whether X accurately depicts Y is related back to what Y has been previously. The reason I raised this question with Superman is that the debate I’d seen around his depiction in the new movies served as a fairly straightforward exemplar of my confusion about what some people imagine they mean when they can call the different “versions” of Superman Superman. While I may in my own subjective opinion object to the idea of making Superman more human just from a point a personal preference, I wouldn’t say there’s anything fundamentally wrong about a story where he becomes depressed. Or is flawed. I wouldn’t say there’s anything fundamentally wrong with anything involved in this sort of discussion. But the reason the Superman example works so well here is that the various depictions are not only different but contradictory, which is distinct from the idea of building on top of what is already pre-existing. I can get on board with the idea that the depiction of Superman in the DC movies, where he’s brooding, violent and unconcerned by the plights of the innocent, is an updated take on what people need in modern superheros. I don’t get it on a personal level, but I can understand it. But my question remains the same, and unrelated to considerations of inconsistency or wrongness: what does it *mean* to call a character Superman? When someone says they want to update Superman, what does that statement actually mean as a string of words meant to convey an idea to the person interpreting them?

    “Superman is a boy from Krypton who is evacuated from the planet as it’s been destroyed. He lands in Smallville and is raised by Ma and Pa Kent. He gradually awakens to the powers granted to him by his Kryptonian origin and the rays of Earth’s sun. He can fly, has super strength and speed. Can shoot lasers from his eyes and has senses far more capable than any human. Once Superman grows up he decides he wants to use these powers to help people. He wants to serve as a beacon of hope for mankind, to lead it towards a better future. But he also wants to be able to lead a regular human life. So he lives his days as Clark Kent, with an ordinary job in an ordinary company, occasionally donning the mantle of Superman when he needs to save others while concealing his identity. Superman is a great believer in the institutions of man, so he also tries to behave in ways that keep him in accordance with them. He holds himself accountable to the governments who have been granted authority by the people even though they have would have no recourse to stop him.”

    Now we can consider that a baseline. Classic Superman or Silver age Superman or whatever he should be called. Now, considering someone who wants to write a new Superman comic or movie, but updated to better fit our modern cynicism:

    “So what I’m thinking is Superman comes to Earth from Krypton and lands in Smallville. But what happens is he starts to cotton on to his power early this time. He realizes that he’s different to all the other kids. Better. So much better in fact that he can act entirely outside of the normal system of human social functioning. He can take what he wants, do what he wants and no one can stop him. So Superman gets a massive ego because of this. He starts committing crimes. Stealing anything he covets, murdering those who cross him. Superman in this story is a villain, enamoured with his own power and convinced of his own superiority compared to the humans below him. And the story is supposed to be this example of the corrupting influence of power. It depicts Superman more realistically, as a human born in to a position of great privilege who abuses it.”

    Something like that right? As a different take on the character. A “what if” scenario. But if you go back and read those sections, what are you filling in when you read the word “Superman” (or the pronoun references to the word)? Remember, we’re using the same word for both sections here. So it’s got to be the same meaning. The latter is supposed to follow from the former, that’s what it means to update a character. A character has to have something that makes it a “character” and not a backstory or fact sheet. But what is that connective tissue here? Essentially it’s their origin (Krypton to Smallville with the Kents) and their powers. But if that’s acceptable I’m completely at a loss as to what anyone who agrees with that idea is using when they use the word “character”. What is being “updated” here? There needs to be a base, there needs to be *something* that is being referred to when you use the word “character” when you say “I want to update this character for the modern era”. But what is it? It seems impossible to explicate. To call the latter an update of the former there needs to be a fixed frame of reference. Otherwise saying you want to update the character is saying nothing. But I can’t see what that frame of reference is. Substituting a description of the traits of an actual person in place of the word “Superman” in those two sections such that they both make sense seems impossible. Superman here is a human looking alien with some powers who lands in Smallville from Krypton. That’s it. There’s nothing else. So how do you update that? Why do you update that? Or to put it more in the terms you used, considering the statement: “the second section asks the question, what if the character from the first section grew up differently?”, the literal translation becomes “the second section asks the question, what if [a boy from Krypton with super powers] grew up differently?”. But does that actually suggest anything to you? Does that statement have any actual semantic content? I have no expectations of what “a boy from Krypton with super powers” should be, so why do I care how he grows up? There’s nothing in that description that constrains the type of character that can exist, and how is there anything of value in asking the question “a being without constraint can be anything a being can be so what if a being was this type of being?”?

    Most of these questions are supposed to be rhetorical and audience general by the way. I add that now as I don’t want it to come across like I’m trying to antagonistically interrogate you or anything :/

    I’m keeping the focus on characterisation here deliberately. As there are obvious answers to the broader question of why people might be interested in a piece of fiction where Superman comes to Earth and is the bad guy. It might be fun to see the powers you’ve typically associated with the heroes be used for nefarious ends. You can probably get a few cool storylines about the Justice League going up against a villain that has Superman’s power (and no Superman on their side). Superman can also serve as a cultural touchstone or a symbol instead of a character. So you have Superman be a bad, selfish guy and it’s supposed to be indicative of our changing perception of heroes. You call a villain Superman in the modern era to make the point that we don’t have the innocence of the past any more. But you probably wouldn’t call those an update on the character, because it’s not a character that’s being used but the cultural idea of Superman. The difference is that this could work even if the new “Superman” had no powers and wasn’t an alien from Krypton but was just some Watchman style average-Joe vigilante. So the difference essentially comes from the use of language: someone might describe that movie as “a modern take on Superman” but you’d probably be better off calling it a movie that uses Superman as a recognisable vehicle to question the realities of being a superhero in a hyper realistic setting. Otherwise you’re asking the genuinely nonsensical question of “what if Superman wasn’t an alien from Krypton, didn’t grow up in Smallville, didn’t have super powers, worked as a salesman and volunteered as a masked member of his eccentric and slightly racist neighbourhood watch?”

    And I’d say this sort of distinction, keeping a focus on the definition of a label and what it means to use it, can easily be translated to considerations of franchises. Taking Zelda for example, what if Nintendo released a Zelda game that takes place in a modern, realistic world? A Grand Theft Auto style Zelda game. Where Link is some aimless punk with a badass gun who has to go around shooting up joints to eventually save tough chick Zelda from forced service in king pin Ganondorf’s exclusive strip club in the bowels of his massive hotel casino. Would you consider that to be a Zelda game? Does it become a Zelda game if the game is set in “Hyrule City”, if Link drives a motorbike he calls “Epona”, wields a silver and blue machine gun called “The Master Sword” and rescues Zelda at the end from a casino that’s called “Ganon’s Tower”? Is it a Zelda game if they call it “The Legend of Zelda: The Princess of the Desert”? Now this might seem like an extreme example, but by the first answer I gave when considering the question “is X a part of Y” the answer here would obviously be yes. Nintendo called it a Zelda game so it is one. And it’s definitely a new direction for the series, and you could probably call it a game that asks “what if a Zelda game was set in the modern day?”. So would that make it OK?

    I mean, it probably would to most people :P. And the question of “OK” probably doesn’t even make much sense here, it’s not like there’s some sort of moral transgression going on. But I suppose underneath all of this long-winded rambling is probably just my own personal unease. I mean chances are I already know what the answer to the question I’m asking is. There’s nothing complicated about it, it’s just brand loyalty. There probably aren’t many people with overarching conceptualisations of franchises developed from their experiences with the different parts of a series over time. You call it a name I like and I’ll buy it from you. That’s it. And the rationalisations follow behind. “Of course it’s a Zelda game. Zelda games are all about going on adventures and fighting to save some people or someone. And it has Zelda, Link and Ganon in it.” So why couldn’t we have GTA:Hyrule? It’d be even better received than Breath of the Wild :). Or maybe we can have Call of Duty: Hyrule Warfare. And old elitists on the internet will be talked down to by those cherubic youth who are more willing to embrace “change and innovation”.

    And again, maybe that sounds really crotchety and cynical. But I’d say that necessarily, you either have a representation of a franchise, series, what have you, with boundaries rooted in what it has been or you have brand loyalty. Because if you don’t have expectations of what something in a franchise should be, or how a character should be, why on Earth would you be compelled to purchase other things that share the same label? Aside from the fact that it’s familiar?

    But who knows. I’m kind of getting really off point at this stage. :/
    Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

  12. #12

    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    I mean, brand loyalty can definitely be a problem and lead to low quality stuff selling regardless, and innovation being stifled because creators want to go for the sure money-raker. And yeah, I'm sure in lots of cases a name has been slapped on something that shouldn't have it SOLELY for that purpose, which is in my opinion an instance of the disrespect I mentioned before. But like I said before, once you put a creation out there, it partially takes on a life of its own and the collective perception of it DOES in some ways define it, which is why it's not clear cut.

    But anyway I think the "connective tissue" doesn't have to be grounded so much in base facts or anything. That would obviously help, but you could want to call it Superman even though the character is different in many ways simply because you want to re-imagine the story in the existing universe, which extends far beyond a single character. Building a new world/premise from scratch could be tedious, and it would also probably be contrived to say "oh it's this new character that's kind of like this existing character but not and also we're going to ignore the existing one." The other obvious and less tangible reason is that you want to play with people's expectations. You can't get that if there aren't any to begin with.

    Beyond that I still think the best thing you really have to go off is that "feel" of something. What you or the audience or the creator feel is or isn't still connected to the brand or whatever. And I get that it's frustrating that there is no good definition of that, and that it will change vastly from person to person -- which is why I said it's hard to say someone is entirely right or wrong. Though that said, I do think people can be in the wrong, when they say something isn't X or Y just because they don't like it, while ignoring the fact that it's a valid exploration. It kind of also depends on marketing. If they're transparently selling it as something wildly different, a departure from the norm, then people tend to have less of a problem with it. They can just ignore it or whatever. The problem is when you're tricked into paying for something that's not what the natural expectation would be (you can play with expectations like I said above but not deceive people), or when the creators (permanently) drop the popular/loved concept entirely and do something else, leaving a gaping hole.

  13. #13
    Stranger in a Strange Land lr-hr-rh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    Yeah that's fair enough. I could probably write up a whole 'nother rant about my fears of people's low, homogeneous expectations for the franchises and character's I'm a fan of. In fact it'll probably come up when I eventually find enough time and motivation to complain about Breath of the Wild

    I wouldn't necessarily say that what's part of a creation or a work or whatever needs to be confusing or lacking clarity. I'd say, depending on who you're talking to, it's the sort of thing you'd be able to give some solidification to just by being clear about the frame of reference you're using when discussing what is and isn't part of a particular thing.

    And yeah I agree marketing can play a big part of it. Things that are sold as clearly being an exploration in to a different genre of game or fiction (like the Dynasty Warriors games they've made for Fire Emblem and Legend of Zelda) tend to get more reasonable responses from reasonable people. Franchises and characters, especially those that develop as offshoots of larger series, can also take some time and iterations to grow in to a solid niche of their own identity which is a process that can produce some teething problems. For example I'm a big fan of the latter games of the Persona series (3/4/5) which took till around the third (technically fourth) game to properly separate itself from the larger Shin Megami Tensei series it had branched from. It's been pretty consistent in tone and style since it found it's niche but there are still debates in the fanbase between those who like the newer games and those who prefer the darker, more serious direction (i.e. closer to the Shin Megami Tensei standard) that earlier games took. Can't please everyone I guess.
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  14. #14
    Stranger in a Strange Land lr-hr-rh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    Frames of reference

    Ok! Tryin to keep this one shorter than the other, unwieldy monstrosities I’ve unleashed on this thread. Gonna be talkin about frames of reference, using a particular example I came across ages ago on a discussion forum about a video game.
    What I specifically mean by frames of reference is probably pretty vague though, huh?

    Well hopefully it’s more clear by the end of this as I ain’t got a short, concise definition I can spit out for you here :/


    So, anyway! The exchange went something like this – and note I’m going to be using the particulars of an actual exchange just because I tend to find that people have an easier time talking bullshit when they don’t have to ground what they’re saying in concrete. So it’s easy to say in the abstract that “oh yeah this is totally how things are where I live and I’m an expert on that shit”, but perhaps a bit harder to say, “well I’m one human being in a land of tens, or maybe even hundreds of millions, all with complete lives that have been lived in minute detail. And I’ve met and observed maybe a handful of these people (i.e. something like 0.00000005% of the total population) for enough of those thousands of lived hours to talk about them in any sort of reasonable detail. And I’m going completely on memory here, y’know that thing that sometimes fails you so hard you can completely forget something you’ve done almost immediately after you’ve done it. So with all of these confounding factors in mind, and mind you these are only the very short list of possible confounding factors, maybe I shouldn’t be talking nonsense about how things “typically” are as the average experience of millions of people.”

    Wow, that ended up long enough to be its’ own little semi rant. But that’s not something I ever actually want to go in to detail about :/

    So anyway! The particulars of this exchange. Our friend internet critic is talking about the Persona series of video games, mainly Personas’ 3 & 4. And he’s talking about the social link system. And he says that, in his interpretation of the game mechanic, it is utilised well and in a satisfactory manner in Persona 3 but not in 4. He then goes on to say, cynically, that the designers therefore probably stuck the mechanic in to Persona 4 where it didn’t fit because they didn’t want to give any thought to the fact that his interpretation of the mechanics intention did not fit with his interpretation of the intentions of the design philosophy of Persona 4.



    Now. If you can immediately spot what’s wrong with that chunk of nonsense we’re all good and you can probably bail out here as you probably get what I’m complaining about. If that seems reasonable to you, or at least seems like a reasonable way to complain even if you don’t agree with the criticism or find yourself with no way of evaluating its validity given your unfamiliarity with the systems in question, then I’d like to see if reframing this train of thought a bit might better draw attention to why I find it so objectionable. So copying what’s written above verbatim but formatting the text differently:

    Our friend internet critic is talking about the Persona series of video games, mainly Persona’s 3 & 4. And he’s talking about the social link system. And he says that, in his interpretation of the game mechanic, it is utilised well and in a satisfactory manner in Persona 3 but not in 4.
    He then goes on to say, cynically, that the designers therefore probably stuck the mechanic in to Persona 4 where it didn’t fit because they didn’t want to give any thought to the fact that his interpretation of the mechanics intention did not fit with his interpretation of the intentions of the design philosophy of Persona 4.

    Now hopefully that makes it a bit more clear, and also hopefully clears up why I’ve labelled this ranty thing “frames of reference”. The problem is he starts out talking about his interpretation of what a particular mechanic means. He then proceeds to superimpose *his* interpretation on to the intentions of the designers and determine that, because they failed to meet the standards he imagines they were aiming for, they are deserving of criticism. But of course that’s just batshit insane! Because he has no reason to believe that his interpretation of the mechanic relates in any way to the actual intentions of the design team! And how could it possibly make sense for you to criticise someone for failing to meet a goal that *you* have set for them entirely without their knowledge? *That* is the problem of losing sight of the frame of reference to which the claims you make pertain. Because the first part of the complaint relates to what *he* thinks the game mechanics mean, and of course he, as himself, is in a pretty good position to answer that question. But the question of whether the developers correctly implemented the mechanic relates to their intentions. Necessarily. And if that sounds strange to you, just imagine the alternative:

    “Oh the Godfather is a bad movie. Because there’s no space battles in it.”
    “Oh Star Wars is a bad movie. Because there’s no weepy melodrama and “grey” morality for people with short term memory loss.”
    “Oh One Piece is a bad manga. Because the pirates aren’t raping, pillaging, evil marauders like they would be in real life.”
    “Oh Seinfeld is a bad tv show. Because there’s no drama and no character arcs.”
    “Oh Harry Potter is a bad book series. Because magic isn’t real.”

    And so on.

    And hopefully you can see how completely asinine it is to evaluate the quality of some piece of work, some endeavour, undertaken by someone else based on criteria completely divorced from the intentions of the people who make it. Because of course you can say that you don’t like One Piece because the pirates aren’t realistic. That’s your preference and you do you. But if it’s not the intent of the author to produce a historically accurate piece of fiction, why would it therefore be bad abstracted away from your very specific preferences? Now if you think the Godfather is bad because you’re a “science-fiction” fan, and think that all fiction should have space battles in it then fine. But you *need* to keep the frame of reference of that claim in mind when making it. It’s not, “the Godfather is bad because no space battles” it’s, “if you believe that fiction needs to have space battles in it to be good, then the Godfather is bad because it has no space battles.” In most cases it really is as simple as that.

    Well maybe it’s not. There are probably edge cases that complicate the picture somewhat. Or more than somewhat. But I figure if you’re familiar enough with what I’m talking about here to be contemplating complications and edge cases then the fairly basic idea I’m trying to get across here is already well known to you. And since getting this fairly simple idea across is the main intent of this monologue, I’m not too fussed if people who are already familiar with it think there are other complications that need to be considered.

    Because y’know.
    Long-winded philosophical discussions about minutiae and edge-cases?
    I’m too old for that stuff.

    And so on.
    Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

  15. #15
    Stranger in a Strange Land lr-hr-rh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    Breath of the Wild makes me sad

    Wooo!

    I figured I’d eventually have to get around to putting my many tediously complicated complaints about BOTW to paper at some point and today I’ve discovered that someone else has already done most of it for me! So I’m excited about that. Plus it saves me from having to think of some sort of structural conceit (?) to frame this complaint around. I can just stick a link (hah) to someone else’s complaints and stick some random thoughts on the end as a sort of addendum on the off chance one of you reads the link and for whatever decides you haven’t yet had your fill of people complaining about BOTW :P.

    So here’s the link:
    https://www.destructoid.com/breaking-down-why-breath-of-the-wild-is-highly-overrated-452329.phtml

    Oh and I will say I agree mostly with the substance of what’s written there. Which is mostly just to say that some of the more flavourful stuff (whether BOTW is “overrated”, whether it lacks charm, what the “Zelda experience” is “supposed” to be about etc.) is stuff I wouldn’t say I agree with. Not that I disagree with it either, they’re just claims that require more reasoning, legwork and structured arguing than I can be fucked investing time in for what is essentially just a long-winded complaint about a game I enjoyed so much I played through to (relative) completion (sans the boring Korok shit) twice in the space of a month *thumbs up emoji*

    Anyway. Random addendum:
    Maaan. Zelda in this game is so fucking depressing. And this is kind of a hard one to talk about. Because in a vacuum I suppose it’s not particularly…bad? I guess? Just that the direction that Nintendo went with their newest Zelda compared to some of her previous incarnations makes me sad. And I think that’s because I find BOTW’s Zelda kinda…sexist? I guess? Which is weird. Because I’m not a woman. And I suspect there are a lot of women that really like this Zelda. That like her because she’s cool or strong or empowering or what have you. And obviously women are going to have a better idea about what is discriminatory towards their sex than I (some dude) would. So I’m *definitely* not going to claim I’m in the right (insomuch as there is any sort of right/wrong) here.

    But still…

    Ok. Just take a quick trip down (potentially rose-tinted) memory lane with me for a second.
    OoT’s Zelda. The first Zelda of the 3D Zelda games. Was, to my mind, a really cool character. And a strong-willed one too. She’s one of the few people who can see through Ganondorf’s shit. And she’s really proactive and bold –as a child remember– about trying to undermine his influence, sending her fairy boy errand boy off to collect the stones needed to thwart Ganondorf’s plans while her dopey dad sits there lapping up whatever spiel Ganon is putting down. And when that falls apart and she’s chased off into the night and the whole world goes to shit she’s off, presumably biding her time, learning some cool Sheikah skills. Maybe she’s also learning the songs that she’ll eventually share with Link to aid him in his journey. But she’s still active y’know? She hasn’t given up, she’s not hiding away in some remote village somewhere. And she doesn’t fuckin cry.

    Even WW’s Zelda has her share of boldness and charm, and this is despite her apparently undergoing some sort of weird personality fusion/shift/whatever when she “finds out” (or is reminded?) that she is Zelda and not Tetra. Shit she even gets to help out in the final battle, shooting light arrows at Old Manondorf like a boss. And again she doesn’t fuckin cry.

    Now (and I *really* want to stress this) my objection (although I wouldn’t say it’s a strong as that) to BOTW’s Zelda isn’t that she cries and that crying is “girly” or whatever. It’s more like…Nintendo wanted to give some more characterisation to Zelda and to do that they leaned hard in to the depressingly cliché. So of course of all the characters it’s Zelda who cries. And is sad. And passive. Because she’s a girl, and what else are girls going to do? And, ok, I realise I don’t have any reason to believe that was actually Nintendo’s train of thought but…idk. At least one of the chiefs involved in the creation of BOTW apparently thinks the triforce requires a two cock minimum to maintain its equilibrium so…

    Ok. This is getting really long, and not any more refined. So I’m going to try and explain my reservations(?) with an analogy. Y’know the tv show Modern Family? Notionally it’s a show about modern families, right? But it always struck me as weird that a show that seemed to be, at least early in its run, “recognised” for its more progressive approach to family life had such a stereotypical(?) approach to the designation of family roles. I mean, look. If I told you there’s two people in a relationship, where one of them makes the money and is kind of a goofball, while the other is more the head of the family, who stays at home to take care of the kids, who nags, and is controlling and kinda bossy, what would you guess the genders were of each of these two people? In a similar vein, say I described a different couple in the following way: one is much younger than the other, doesn’t work and is kinda obsessed with fashion and beauty while the other is older, crotchety and wealthy. Which would you pick as the man and which as the woman? Which as the immigrant and which as the American? See I’d be willing to bet money that in none of the above examples would the distribution of guesses be 50/50.
    And that’s basically how I see Zelda in BOTW. It would be totally fine for one of the main characters in a Zelda game to be filled with self-doubt. To cry and be sad and mopey. To have the most fucking *passive*power you can think of (seriously, she just holds up her fucking hand and what? Wills really hard??). But if I was to describe without giving gender identifiers the characters of Link, Zelda and Ganon in BOTW, I’d be willing to bet money that everyone would peg the weepy character as Zelda. Because she’s a girl, and of course the girl has to be the one that cries. Or something.

    Idk. I disavow completely any inkling I may have put in to you, reader, that I aim to declare that BOTW’s Zelda is sexist. That is a claim and an argument that depends on an experience and perspective different to my own. Her characterisation just sticks in my craw I guess. Topping off the fact that it’s really simple and doesn’t really seem to involve any sort of progression or development on Zelda’s part it just seems really lazy.

    Anyway.
    Another addendum:
    I really like the soundtrack for BOTW. I realise that may not be an opinion shared by many. But I enjoy many of the pieces in the game, although I make no claims as to their “objective” quality as game music or whatever.
    I also find BOTW’s soundtrack really disappointing.

    This is because, listening to many of the tracks in isolation they constantly evoke feelings in me that are at odds with the depiction of the events and the world in BOTW. Obviously this whole complaint (actually all of what’s written here really but I felt it would be pertinent to restress this point for what’s to follow) hinges on the (very personal) feelings, ideas, expectations etc. evoked by the soundtrack of the game so that should be kept in mind when reading on. But anyway. There are a fair few songs that are…empty? I guess. Slow moving, with little in the way of elaborate detail. And I presume the idea here was to evoke feelings of emptiness and isolation. Which they do (in me at least). And when this impression is unilaterally superimposed on the experience of the game I did tend to feel whimsically isolated while strolling through Hyrule. Which was fun.

    But the thing is, in the context of the actual game, and the Zelda series as a whole, it feels like kind of a cheat. Because you’re not really all that isolated, at least not in the context of any other Zelda game. I mean there are what, eight major centres of civilisation in BOTW? Plus what, eight or nine more minor ones? That’s a pretty fucking big number for a world supposedly “destroyed” a hundred years ago! There are only five “major” civilisation centres in MM from memory (Clock Town, Romani, Deku + Zora + Goron domains) and seven in OoT. WW has what, four? At least in MM and OoT they had the decency to show you all of these centres actually suffering from the effects of their world ending catastrophes! In BOTW it’s, what?

    Oh no it’s…raining on the water people…
    Or.
    Oh no there’s an extra sandstorm in…the desert…
    Or.
    Oh no we have to eat rocks…lower down the mountain…
    And so on.

    The fuck?? And while it might seem obvious to point out that MM and OoT have smaller overworlds than BOTW, I’m not sure why I’d be expected to believe that the expansion of their worlds would somehow add loads more major civilisation centres. The reality is that BOTW has about what you’d expect in terms of “population density” from a standard 3D Zelda game. And obviously if it’s supposed to be “isolated” and “destroyed” it really shouldn’t. I mean the impression you get is that, if you were a standard Zora grunt the rise and fall of Calamity Ganon wouldn’t have really affected your life at all. Maybe all the monsters on the roads between these major settlements is supposed to be a new development? But again that’s pure conjecture and having monsters on the doorstep of civilisation is a fairly standard Zelda trope and a fairly standard fantasy one. So the sense of isolation really feels unearned upon reflection. Like a cheap parlour trick. There’s no real need for it given BOTW’s overworld is no more barren than you’d expect from a Zelda game.

    Some of the other tracks also do a great job creating a feeling of suspense and mystery. But again I can’t help but think of it as the music filling in for the gaps in the creative design of the world. The best example I often find myself returning to for this particular point is the dungeon theme for Vah Ruta. If you don’t remember what that sounds like I’ve stuck it here in the spoiler tag:

    Spoiler:

    Pretty eerie right? If you hadn’t played the game what do you imagine this piece might accompany? Probably not the tediously, *tediously* generic innards of a mechanical elephant where you run around moving its’ trunk around to pour water on shit right?

    *sigh*

    Idk. This point, moreso than probably any of the others I make here is entirely up to your own tastes. So I don’t think there’s much more to be said about it. Obviously I don’t think all of the tracks in the soundtrack are “guilty” of this sort of cheap trickery.

    Another addendum:
    There isn’t loads of variety in the combat of BOTW. This point obviously depends on the level at which you want to atomise your descriptions of the different features of combat. If you decide that the number of different weapons you can use is your unit of variety than sure, there might be (even though there’s only a handful of different weapon types and each weapon within a given weapon type plays almost exactly the same as any other, and you’re not given the chance to upgrade or improve or modify them in anyway). But if you decide that your unit of variety is where and when you can attack than any of the other Zelda games also have loads of variety. Whereas if you (like me) decide that the unit of variety is the number of different ways you can decide to engage in combat and utilise the tools at your disposal then BOTW has two options: 1) use your good shit and be prepared for it to break and for you to have to scrounge for replacements amongst shit that is generally worse or, 2) kite with bombs. And if I don’t want to do that, if I just want to pick up my favourite kick ass items and use those specifically? Well too bad. That, fairly standard and straightforward, flavour of variety ain’t offered ‘round these parts.

    Variety my ass.

    I also fucking hate the stamina meter. Destructoid person actually reminded me of something I’d completely forgotten. I was kind of willing to begrudgingly accept the “necessity” of the stamina meter as a compromise for allowing Link to run as a way to move faster as opposed to the constant and annoying rolling or sidestepping you had to do in previous games. But then it turns out I’d completely forgotten the Bunny Hood! Which allowed you to run like the wind for as long as you bloody wanted! So now I’m just left holding the stamina wheel in even more contempt. I mean, it’s not hard to find the items necessary to prep stamina replenishing meals, right? So I can’t really think of any scenario where the stamina wheel is going to serve as a restriction on how you play or where you can go. At least hearts require a bit more care, given unexpected damage can push you below your limit faster than you expected so you can’t just sit there and watch your meter whittle down at a fixed rate before eventually opening up your menu and selecting one of your billion foods to eat to instantly solve your “problem”. And no I’m not willing to accept “something something realism” as an argument in favour of having a stamina wheel. Or as an argument in favour of fucking anything in fiction really. And if you need that stance explained to you well…idk. The other problems I have with climbing (that it feels like Hyrule is super mountainous in order to milk more from the stamina mechanic, that just saying “fuck it, Link can climb anything all the time” just feels like a lazy design choice) are already better covered elsewhere…

    Ok I’m getting kinda bored now. Between all I’ve written and all that Destructoid person has written, that’s a lot of BOTW complaining. I might come back and add extra posts about this topic later if I remember that I forgot to discuss something. But I think in closing, my opinion of BOTW can be probably be best summarised as follows: if we could somehow peer in to some separate parallel world, where MM was the new game that Nintendo decided to make in place of BOTW (i.e. MM had not yet been created as the sequel to OoT) with the possibilities allowed by modern gaming technology (faster processing, more memory, better 3D assets and art design etc.), even if the application of these new technologies to the ideas of MM was the most blunt force trauma thing possible (think basically they just turned Termina in to an open world with BOTW’s art design and stuck on loads more side quests in the MM style to fill the space) I would choose to jump to that universe over this one in a heartbeat. That’s how much more I value the design philosophy of MM, a game that’s what, almost 20 years old at this point, over BOTW’s. Fuck voice acting, extra cutscenes, weapon durability, weapon “variety”, stamina wheels, cooking, a billion more menu pages, copy and paste dungeon design, horse taming, Ubisoft towers, tree-chopping, stone-whacking gimmicks and universal problem solving iPads. I would take a modern updating of MM’s thematic/design consistency, focus on side quests and simple, old school Zelda combat any day of the week.

    And that’s why it’s so hard to respect BOTW, much as I enjoyed it. Evaluating it gives me a feeling akin to the one I get when trying to compare athletes from older eras to those of the modern day. I don’t feel right giving credit to the new when its quality is so strongly tied to the advances we’ve made in design and technology, science and culture. BOTW is basically game execution in a sports performance lab on steroids while MM is from an era where they were still restricting the Olympics to amateurs. But in the realm of ideas and design philosophy, MM still reigns supreme. At least for me. And so I don’t care if BOTW can run faster, jump higher and kick a ball harder. I can’t respect if for being the passive recipient of the benefits of the inexorable march of progress.

    And so on.
    Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

  16. #16

    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    I read that Destructoid article earlier; I think it somewhat undermines its own point at times by getting ranty and exaggerating. And it's not written professionally in any sense. But it does bring up a lot of the points that many of us have been making since day 1. I don't agree with everything said by any means but there's a lot not to like. I really hope Nintendo does listen to the minority who have real constructive feedback, and not just the people saying "shut up stop nitpicking a 10/10 game."

  17. #17

    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    My favorite is still that one movie-sized video review some person did.

    Ultimately, my biggest pet peeve is the onslaught of game "journalists" that just slap a 10/10, talk about the game as innovative and a masterpiece, while having such dramatically blind ignorance to what doesn't work in the game.
    It's one of the many examples of gaming journalism being a gigantic failure.

  18. #18
    Stranger in a Strange Land lr-hr-rh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    I'd like to hope that Nintendo is willing to listen to criticism, but if you've got enough people telling you your product is brilliant and perfect... :/

    But yeah, journalist reviews of the big ticket games do, from my limited experience, often seem to run up against the problem of just handing out platitudes as a reward for a game's marketing budget.
    Also, someone did a movie-sized review of BOTW?
    Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

  19. #19

    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    Quote Originally Posted by lr-hr-rh View Post
    Also, someone did a movie-sized review of BOTW?

  20. #20
    Stranger in a Strange Land lr-hr-rh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elahrairah monologues as his water ship goes down...

    Oh cooool. Just watching the first few minutes of that it sounds right up my alley so thanks for the link :)
    Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

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